WAITING FOR THE MARTIAN EXPRESS: Cosmic Visitors, Earth Warriors, Luminous Dreams

WAITING FOR THE MARTIAN EXPRESS: Cosmic Visitors, Earth Warriors, Luminous Dreams

Richard Grossinger
North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, 1989; paperback.

Richard Grossinger is a New Age Tom Wolfe or Hunter S. Thompson in applying the New Journalism to New Age reporting. The present volume is a collection of eighteen of his essays, most previously published but now revised.

These essays range over such “New Age” phenomena as UFOs and extraterrestrial visitors, martial arts, shamanism, a stonework human face on the surface of Mars, holistic health, and symbolic dreams. But a subtext runs through most of Grossinger's writing –a concern about the social problems of our time: the threat of nuclear holocaust, homelessness and poverty, drugs, and child abuse. The tension between these two focuses gives his writing its special quality.

On the one hand, Grossinger seems fascinated with the promise of New Age movements to give cosmic insight and natural harmony to their practitioners. He grooves on Chogyam Trungpa, Gurdjieff, Don Juan Matus, and Da Free John. On the other hand, he recognizes the plastic, feel-good optimism of much of the New Age-the low comedy of initiation by bathing with dolphins and of an Aboriginal shaman who talks like Father Divine. (Does anyone these days remember that proto-flower child, Father Divine?) The New Age as spiritual playtime for the yupper classes is reminiscent of the French nobility under Louis XVI who liked to play at being shepherds and shepherdesses in the gardens of Versailles until the deluge came.

New Age pundits reveal hidden mysteries and cosmic truths above us, but ignore the agonies of the poor and the immorality of the exploiters around us. It is this contrast that hovers ever in the background and sometimes in the forefront of Grossinger's critique of society and the New Age movement. That critique has one villain-narrow-minded intolerance and bigotry-with two main faces: the orthodoxy of scientific materialism and the orthodoxy of religious fundamentalism. But the New Age movement has its own band of true believers with their own brand of salvation, the questioning of which can call forth reactions just as intolerant and bigoted as those of the rationalist or the pietist:

I consider all the present talk (vintage, 1987) about channels, mediums, extraterrestrials, shamanic trances, healing crystals, and chreodes to be relevant and exciting, but I resist being told exactly what any of these things mean, and particularly how they relate on a one-to-one literal basis to our evolution, personal or planetary. Such spiritual  authoritarianism is always someone else's interpretation of their own experience for their own reasons. (158)

Such rejection of external authority is in the great esoteric tradition-but it is fruitless unless joined to a realization of internal truth.

Grossinger's command of New Age movements is impressively broad, but correspondingly shallow. His prose is poetic but sometimes consists of little more than New Age name-dropping. He is fascinated by the externals of the New Age movement and intuits the enduring inner reality that the dumb outer show of New Age business masks as much as it reveals:

...the world must change according to esoteric principles at its core. But the marketed
New Age is at best a series of well-meaning simplifications and at worst a hustle and a fraud made possible by those simplifications. It is the marketing of the New Age, the invention of attractive mirages, the promulgation of cliches, that this book addresses. A true cultural and spiritual revival is our only hope. (12)

Grossinger, however, offers no clue about where to look for that hope and revival. He alternates between attraction to New Age promises and the stance of the New Journalism, with its curious blend of amused objectivity and gonzo responses. What he lacks is an integrating vision to make sense of the pain of phenomenal living and the bliss of numinous experience. The first is foreign to New Agers; the second, to New Journalists. The result is a hollowness at the core of things:

We live among ghosts and chimeras; yet something alive is addressing us from a locale we have recognized only as Void. It may have been addressing us forever. We do not know what it is. I repeat-despite claims of Mayan prophecy and bodies of Martians in the White House, despite trance visits to golden cities and radar backings of UFOs, predicted earthquakes and second comings-we do not know what is happening to w we do not even know who we have been.. . . But if we buy the New Age with its superficially glamorous sideshows, we may miss a marvelous phenomenon; in fact, we may miss our own  evolution. (155)

Grossinger offers no direction to travel, but a useful warning against detours along the way.


Winter 1990