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Record Type: Review   ID: 902

The Five Ages of Man: The Psychology of Human History

Heard, Gerald

Whether he was writing nonfiction books about the history of clothes, architecture, religion or science, from the beginning back in 1908, Gerald Heard, BBC science commentator, historian of human prehistory/history, who under the pen name of H.T. Heard, wrote fantasy and science fiction novels, was a deep practicing mystic whose simple presence could change lives (as I know at first hand). In all his books, articles, workshops, lectures, and retreats, Heard offered a psychospiritual interpretation of human history in which the basic theme is the evolution of consciousness. Five Ages is his last book, which I foolishly did not buy when it was new because I felt I knew his basic theses, and I was busily engaged in parapsychology (which I had entered primarily because of the writings of Heard and J.B. Rhine) and getting my master’s degree in librarianship on the side. In the 1990s, master Heardian scholar John Cody of San Francisco State University contacted me and in the course of correspondence and then e-mail highly applauded Heard’s last book. It was John who located a rare out-of-print copy

Although Five Ages was published nearly four decades ago, I feel it deserves a review. Heard was always light-years beyond everyone else when it came to consciousness evolution. I still know of no one whose grasp can compete with Heard’s, who ranges back into prehistory and forward beyond the visioning of most people, but today the number is growing. Jenny Wade, Jean Houston, Michael Murphy, Michael Washburn, and Ken Wilber are five who come quickly to mind. (Both Houston and Murphy knew Gerald, who had a powerful influence on them, as he did on me.)

In Five Ages Heard attempts to answer three questions: Can humans change human nature? Is there evidence that they already have done so? And if so, how did they do it? Heard realized from the start that to look for answers to these questions one must take a developmental process approach to human history. He points out that each newborn human recapitulates the growing consciousness of the human species. I interpret this to indicate that any human has the inborn capacity to carry the evolution of human consciousness to new limits. Implicit here is the occurrence of anomalous human experiences ("sports") whose meaning, when Heard always built his theses on data garnered from all the sciences, physical and social. His aim was to glimpse patterns, describe them, and apply them to the human dilemmas of the ages, as well as our own day. In Five Ages he presents the five crises in the development of social humans; the five ordeals of individual humans; and the five types of initiations and psychophysical religious exercises (or mysteries) that have been developed to restore balance to human consciousness, which until recently has become increasingly more narrow, specialized, and contracted. Initially these techniques were developed without their being fully comprehended consciously. Then they went underground and became the esoteric province of only a few advanced individuals, although the processes involved were increasingly consciously understood. Heard’s main point, and I quote him, is that "today it can become explicitly esoteric, rendered in contemporary terms and applied with scientific exactitude and as a therapeutic education. Such an education can fully develop both an entire person and a complete society. It can produce a constituent able to accept and fulfill his [or her] whole personal process and also be the conscious, willing, and developmental unit of a civilization that is creatively run by a common consent and coterminous with a nonviolent mankind" (p. 16).

The impetus for my life’s work certainly came from being exposed to Heard’s voluminous works when I was in my early twenties and from personal interchanges with him then and for years thereafter. After reading this book I am very aware of what I have seen dimly all along about the role EHEs play in making Heard’s theses a reality. Any anomalous experience extends the reach of human consciousness. Such experiences can also institute a process. This process often entails using one of the initiatory techniques Heard describes, and this can lead to further experiences and certainly to deepened, heightened, and furthered consciousness. EHEers, in effect, are "the conscious, willing, and developmental unit of a civilization." They are both nonviolent, and I would add, environmentally aware, because such individuals are acutely conscious of their deep connection to all humans, to other forms of life, to the planet Earth, and even to the universe at large. It’s never too late to start reading Gerald Heard. This last book is a wonderful place to begin. Any of his 28 books, from 1908-1963, will shed light on facets of human nature heretofore unguessed, often expressed in phrases that strike deep transporting chords in the way that usually only music and poetry can do. All his life Gerald Heard applied himself to the limit to keep his body, mind, heart, and soul wide open to the call and demands of fuller life and consciousness regarding both the outer and inner worlds, knowing, as he did, that they were one and the same.

Publisher Information:New York: Julian, 1963. 399p. Glos: 385-388; 99 refs
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