The Trial

In The Trial of the Man who Said he was God by Douglas Harding (author of On Having No Head), the protagonist is charged under a new blasphemy law in the fictional near future. It is a brilliant conceit, providing an engaging and entertaining vehicle for a thorough exposition of Harding’s own mystical philosophy. The structure, like the philosophy, is disarmingly simple, the prosecution marshaling all manner of arguments and objections via a series of witnesses, which are answered one by one by the accused.

The story (if you can call it that) is reminiscent of the trial of Socrates, who was also charged with blasphemy and corrupting the youth. Harding explicitly nods to Socrates towards the end of the book, as well as to that other famous blasphemy trial, the trial of Jesus.

Socrates and Jesus, probably the two most influential men in the history of Western civilization, were both put to death for blasphemy and for disturbing the peace. They were too revolutionary, too threatening to the status quo. In Dostoevsky’s story about The Grand Inquisitor, the second coming of Jesus ends exactly like the first, because although the Inquisitor recognizes who He is, he decides that maintaining social order is priority.

In a recent Meetup discussion about Psychedelics and Faith ( we talked about how psychedelic experiences undermine consensual reality and therefore naturally align them with the counter culture. As one participant put it, “in the Sixties, smoking a joint was a political act”. We talked about how the politicization of psychedelics in the first psychedelic wave was arguably their downfall. They were put on trial by the Nixon administration in the US, found guilty and summarily criminalized. And the rest of the world followed suit.

Coincidentally, the sermon last Sunday was about how an essential part of being a Christian is the willingness to take on the inevitable yoke of persecution. Although atheists will cry “foul!” and point at all the horrible persecutions (such as the Spanish Inquisition) carried out by the Church over the centuries, it does feel as though at the tail end of the history of Christianity, as it was at the beginning, Christians are under attack, “more sinned against than sinning”.

Many Christians have an aura of paranoia around them. Jews might quip that they are getting a taste of their own medicine and had better get used to it – Jews have been persecuted and neurotically paranoid for centuries. Paranoia also permeates the psychedelic community, for obvious reasons. No one wants to spend the next few years in jail.

Maybe we are all on trial, to one degree or another. In my book, The Confessions of a Psychedelic Christian, I describe a bad trip, a psychotic episode really, where I was propelled by an unwise cocktail of hashish, LSD and Ecstasy into a nightmarish version of Franz Kafka’s exquisitely crafted paranoid fantasy, The Trial. I am lucky to have escaped alive (and relatively sane!)

I love the work of Douglas Harding. He is a brilliant thinker and a brilliant writer. In so many respects, his philosophy and approach coincide with my own, and I feel a deep affinity between us. And I am a devoted follower of his “Headless Way”. But reflecting on the undercurrent of his admittedly masterful work, The Trial of the Man who Said he was God, I wonder how much he himself suffered from the paranoia that comes with “special revelation”.

Harding was misunderstood and ignored for decades before he finally managed to share his “seeing”, before anyone saw the way he saw. And he struggled with opposition and ridicule for the rest of his life. This goes with the territory, of course. It’s much easier to slip into an established religion than strike out on your own. If you were ever to emerge from obscurity, you would be extremely naive not to expect to be heckled from all sides. (Note to self!)

I am constantly amazed that Douglas Harding is not more well known than he is. Why is he not a household name? Why is Headlessness not common knowledge? This is an interesting puzzle. There are probably a raft of factors. Paranoia may be one of them. Another may be his over-emphasis on one experience and one way.

Harding’s central question was, “Who am I?” and his answer was, quite conventionally really, “I AM”. The Headless Way is really a version of the Royal Road, Raja Yoga. Ramana Maharshi is the archetypal Raja Yogi. Walt Whitman, especially in Song of Myself, was also an exemplary Raja Yogi.

Although he wrote profusely about all aspects of the spiritual life, it may be that his over-emphasis on Raja Yoga limited his general appeal. It may be that the Royal Road doesn’t suit everyone. It lacks the devotional element of Bhakti Yoga and the active element of Karma Yoga, which are arguably more accessible and appealing to people with vague spiritual leanings and longings.

For all I know, I may be erring in the opposite direction, by attempting to be too integral. I include six yogas in my model. For most people, that’s probably five too many. “Shamanic Christian Zen” is already a mouthful, but what I am really proposing is “Active Philosophical Headless Shamanic Christian Zen”, which includes Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Raja Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Dhyana Yoga. Not exactly catchy!

Whatever I call it, I will be judged. There’s no way round it. Hopefully I won’t have to do time, or drink hemlock, or be crucified. And hopefully I won’t become defensive, bitter or paranoid. But who knows whether my work will ultimately be ignored, excoriated or celebrated? I leave it in God’s hands. Whatever the world may think, God is my Witness and God is my Judge. In the end, that is the only Trial that matters.