Marilyn Ferguson

American writer

Marilyn Ferguson (April 5, 1938 in Grand Junction, Colorado – October 19, 2008) was an American author, editor and public speaker, best known for her 1980 book The Aquarian Conspiracy and its affiliation with the New Age Movement in popular culture, credited as "the handbook of the New Age" (USA Today) and a guidepost to a philosophy "working its way increasingly into the nation's cultural, religious, social, economic and political life" (New York Times).

Marilyn Ferguson, author and pioneer, circa 1980.
I was drawn to the symbolic power of the pervasive dream in our popular culture: that after a dark, violent age, the Piscean, we are entering a millennium of love and light — in the words of the popular song, "The Age of Aquarius," the time of "the mind's true liberation."
Whether or not it was written in the stars, a different age seems to be upon us; and Aquarius, the waterbearer in the ancient zodiac, symbolizing flow and the quenching of an ancient thirst, is an appropriate symbol.


The Aquarian Conspiracy (1980)Edit

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  • The spirit of our age is fraught with paradox. It is at the same time pragmatic and transcendental. It values both enlightenment and mystery... power and humility ... interdependence and individuality. It is simultaneously political and apolitical. Its movers and shakers include individuals who are impeccably Establishment allied with one-time sign-carrying radicals.
  • "It" has infected medicine, education, social science, hard science, even government with its implications. It is characterized by fluid organizations reluctant to create hierarchical structures, averse to dogma. It operates on the principle that change can only be facilitated, not decreed. It is short on manifestos. It seems to speak to something very old. And perhaps, by integrating magic and science, art and technology, it will succeed where all the king's horses and all the king's men failed.
  • In their sharing of strategies, their linkage, and their recognition of each other by subtle signals, the participants were not merely cooperating with one another. They were in collusion. "It" — this movement — was a conspiracy! At first I was reluctant to use the term. I didn't want to sensationalize what was happening, and the word conspiracy usually has negative associations. Then I came across a book of spiritual exercises in which the Greek novelist, Nikos Kazantzakis, said he wished to signal his comrades, "like conspirators," that they might unite for the sake of the earth... Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau... quoted from a passage in which the French scientist-priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin urged a "conspiracy of love."
  • I was drawn to the symbolic power of the pervasive dream in our popular culture: that after a dark, violent age, the Piscean, we are entering a millennium of love and light — in the words of the popular song, "The Age of Aquarius," the time of "the mind's true liberation."
  • Whether or not it was written in the stars, a different age seems to be upon us; and Aquarius, the waterbearer in the ancient zodiac, symbolizing flow and the quenching of an ancient thirst, is an appropriate symbol.

Chapter One, The ConspiracyEdit

  • A leaderless but powerful network is working to bring about radical change in the United States. Its members have broken with certain key elements of Western thought, and they may even have broken continuity with history. This network is the Aquarian Conspiracy. It is a conspiracy without a political doctrine. Without a manifesto. With conspirators who seek power only to disperse it, and whose strategies are pragmatic, even scientific, but whose perspective sounds so mystical that they hesitate to discuss it. Activists asking different kinds of questions, challenging the establishment from within.
  • Broader than reform, deeper than revolution, this benign conspiracy for a new human agenda has triggered the most rapid cultural realignment in history. The great shuddering, irrevocable shift overtaking us is not a new political, religious, or philosophical system. It is a new mind — the ascendance of a startling worldview that gathers into its framework breakthrough science and insights from earliest recorded thought.
    The Aquarian Conspirators range across all levels of income and education, from the humblest to the highest. The Aquarian Conspirators range across all levels of income and education, from the humblest to the highest. There are schoolteachers and office workers, famous scientists, government officials and lawmakers, artists and millionaires, taxi drivers and celebrities, leaders in medicine, education, law, psychology. Some are open in their advocacy, and their names may be familiar. Others are quiet about their involvement, believing they can be more effective if they are not identified with ideas that have all too often been misunderstood.
  • Whatever their station or sophistication, the conspirators are linked, made kindred by their inner discoveries and earthquakes. You can break through old limits, past inertia and fear, to levels of fulfillment that once seemed impossible ... to richness of choice, freedom, human closeness. You can be more productive, confident, comfortable with insecurity. Problems can be experienced as challenges, a chance for renewal, rather than stress. Habitual defensiveness and worry can fall away. It can all be otherwise.
  • In the beginning, certainly, most did not set out to change society. In that sense, it is an unlikely kind of conspiracy. But they found that their lives had become revolutions. Once a personal change began in earnest, they found themselves re-thinking everything, examining old assumptions, looking anew at their work and relationships, health, political power and “experts," goals and values.
  • They have coalesced into small groups in every town and institution. They have formed what one called "national non-organizations." Some conspirators are keenly aware of the national, even international, scope of the movement and are active in linking others. They are at once antennae and transmitters, both listening and communicating. They amplify the activities of the conspiracy by networking and pamphleteering, articulating the new options through books, lectures, school curricula, even Congressional hearings and the national media.
  • Others have centered their activity within their specialty, forming groups within existing organizations and institutions, exposing their co-workers to new ideas, often calling on the larger network for support, feedback, back-up information.
  • New perspectives give birth to new historic ages, Humankind has had many dramatic revolutions of understanding — great leaps, sudden liberation from old limits. . . A paradigm is a scheme for understanding and explaining certain aspects of reality. . . Usually at the point of crisis, someone has a great heretical idea. A powerful new insight explains the apparent contradictions. It introduces a new principle — a new perspective.
    New paradigms are nearly always received with coolness, even mockery and hostility. The idea may appear bizarre, even fuzzy, at first because the discoverer made an intuitive leap and does not have all the data in place yet.
  • When you understand the basic change taking place in any one major area, it is easier to make sense of the others. This discovery of a new pattern transcends explanation. The shift is qual-itative, sudden, the result of neurological processes too rapid and complex to be tracked by the conscious mind. Although logical explanations can be laid out up to a point, the seeing of a pattern is not sequential but all-at-once. If a new concept does not click into place for you on first encounter, read on. As you move through the book you will come upon many related ideas, connections, examples, metaphors, analogies, and illustrative stories. In time, patterns will emerge, the shifts will occur. From the new perspective, old questions may seem suddenly irrelevant.
  • Once you have grasped the essence of this transformation, many otherwise inexplicable events and trends in the immediate environment or in the news may fall into place. It is easier to understand changes in one's family, one's community, the society. In the end we will see many of the darkest events in the context of a brightening historic picture, much as one stands back from a pointillist painting to get its meaning.
  • In literature there is a trusted device known as the Black Moment, the point where all seems lost just before the final rescue. Its counterpart in tragedy is the White Moment — a sudden rush of hope, a saving chance, just before the inevitable disaster. Some might speculate that the Aquarian Conspiracy, with its promise of last-minute turnabout, is only a White Moment in Earth's story; a brave, desperate try that will be eclipsed by tragedy — ecological, totalitarian, nuclear. Exeunt humankind. Curtain.
  • We stand on the brink of a new age, Lewis Mumford said, the age of an open world, a time of renewal when a fresh release of spiritual energy in the world culture may unleash new possibilities. “The sum of all our days is just our beginning." Seen with new eyes, our lives can be transformed from accidents into adventures. We can transcend the old conditioning, the dirt-poor expectations. We have new ways to be born, humane and symbolic ways to die, different ways to be rich.

Chapter Two, Premonitions of Transformation and ConspiracyEdit

  • The emergence of the Aquarian Conspiracy in the late twentieth century is rooted in the myths and metaphors, the prophecy and poetry, of the past. Throughout history there were lone individuals here and there, or small bands at the fringes of science or religion, who, based on their own experiences, believed that people might someday transcend narrow “normal" consciousness and reverse the brutality and alienation of the human condition.
  • The premonition was recorded, from time to time, that a minority of individuals would someday be yeast enough to leaven a whole society. Serving as a magnet culture, they would attract order around them, transforming the whole. The central idea was always the same: Only through a new mind can humanity remake itself, and the potential for such a new mind is natural.
  • These courageous few have been history's radar, a Distant Early Warning System for the planet. As we will see, some of them expressed their insights in a romantic vein, others as intellectual concepts, but all were pointing to a larger view. "Open your eyes," they were saying, "there is more." More depth, height, dimension, perspectives, choices than we had imagined. They celebrated the freedom found in the larger context and warned of the dangerous blindness of the prevailing view. Long before global war, ecological stress, and nuclear crisis struck, they feared for the future of a people without a context.
  • Although they themselves moved beyond the dominant ideas of their day, they carried few of their contemporaries with them. Most often they were misunderstood, lonely, even ostracized. Until this century, with its rapid communication, there was little chance for linkage among these scattered individuals. Their ideas, however, served as fuel for future generations.
  • Those who had premonitions of transformation believed that future generations might detect the invisible laws and forces around us: the vital networks of relationship, the ties among all aspects of life and knowledge, the interweaving of people, the rhythms and harmonies of the universe, the connectedness that captures parts and makes them wholes, the patterns that draw meaning from the web of the world. Humankind, they said, might recognize the subtle veils imposed on seeing; might awaken to the screen of custom, the prison of language and culture, the bonds of circumstance.
  • The themes of transformation have emerged with increasing strength and clarity over time, gathering impetus as communication expanded. At first the traditions were transmitted intimately, by alchemists. Gnostics, cabalists, and hermetics. With the invention of moveable type in the mid-fifteenth century, they became a kind of open secret but were available only to the literate few and were often suppressed by church or state. "...
  • Meister Eckhart, the German churchman and mystic of the fourteenth century; Giovanni Pico della Mirandola in the fifteenth; Jacob Boehme, a German, in the sixteenth and seventeenth; Emanuel Swedenborg in the seventeenth and eighteenth. We are spiritually free, they said, the stewards of our own evolution. Humankind has a choice. We can awaken to our true nature. Drawing fully from our inner resources we can achieve a new dimension of mind; we can see more.
  • "I see through the eye, not with it," said poet-engraver William Blake, who lived in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The enemy of whole vision, he said, was our reasoning power's divorce from imagination, "closing itself in, as steel." This half-mind was forever making laws and moral judgments and smothering spontaneity, feeling, art. To Blake, his age itself stood as the accuser, characterized by fear, conformity, jealousy, cynicism, the spirit of the machine. Yet this dark force was only a "Spectre," a ghost that could be exorcised from the minds it haunted.
  • The Transcendentalists — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, and Margaret Fuller, along with several dozen others — rebelled against what seemed the dead, dry intellectualism of the day. Something was missing — an invisible dimension of reality they sometimes called the Oversoul. They sought understanding from many sources: experience, intuition, the Quaker idea of the Inner Light, the Bhagavad Gita, the German Romantic philosophers, historian Thomas Carlyle, poet Samuel Coleridge, Swedenborg, the English metaphysical writers of the seventeenth century. Their term for intuition was "transcendental reason." They anticipated the consciousness research of our time in their belief that the brain's other mode of knowing is not an alternative to normal reasoning but a kind of transcendent logic — too fast and complex for us to follow with the step-by-step reasoning powers of our everyday consciousness.
  • In Cosmic Consciousness, written in 1901, Richard Bucke, a Canadian physician, described the experience of an electrifying awareness of oneness with all life. Persons who experienced such states of consciousness were becoming more numerous, he said, walking the earth and breathing the air with us, but at the same time walking another earth and breathing another air of which we know little. "This new race is in the act of being born from us, and in the near future it will occupy and possess the earth."
  • In 1902 William James, the great American psychologist, redefined religion not as dogma but as experience — the discovery of a new context, an unseen order with which the individual might achieve harmony. Our ordinary consciousness filters out awareness of this mysterious, enlarged dimension, yet until we have come to terms with its existence we must beware lest we make a "premature foreclosure on reality." Of all the creatures of earth, James said, only human beings can change their pattern. "Man alone is the architect of his destiny. The greatest revolution in our generation is that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives."
  • Gradually Western thinkers were beginning to attack the very foundations of Western thought. We were naive in our expectation that mechanistic science would explain the mysteries of life. These spokesmen for a larger worldview pointed out how our institutions were violating nature: Our education and philosophy failed to value art, feelings, intuition.
  • In The Open Conspiracy: Blueprints for a World Revolution (1928), novelist-historian H. G. Wells proposed that the time was nearly ripe for the coalescence of small groups into a flexible network that could spawn global change. “All this world is heavy with the promise of greater things," Wells once said, "and a day will come, one day in the unending succession of days, when beings who are now latent in our loins shall stand upon this earth as one stands upon a footstool and shall touch the stars."
  • Carl Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst, was drawing attention to a transcendent dimension of consciousness usually ignored in the West, the union of the intellect with the intuitive, pattern-seeing mind. Jung introduced an even larger context, the idea of the collective unconscious: a dimension of shared symbols, racial memory, pooled knowledge of the species. He wrote of the “daimon" that drives the seeker to search for wholeness.
  • After a visit to the United States in 1931, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin sailed back to China from the San Francisco Bay. Enroute the Jesuit paleontologist framed an essay, "The Spirit of the Earth," inspired by his growing conviction that a conspiracy of individuals from every layer of American society was engaged in an effort "to raise to a new stage the edifice of life." Back in Peking he set forth his major thesis: Mind has been undergoing successive reorganizations throughout the history of evolution until it has reached a crucial point — the discovery of its own evolution. This new awareness — evolving mind recognizing the evolutionary process — "is the future natural history of the world." It will eventually become collective. It will envelop the planet and will crystallize as a species-wide enlightenment he called "Omega Point."...No one can call himself modern who disregards this evolutionary thrust, he said. To our descendants it will be as familiar and instinctive an idea as the third dimension of space is to a baby.
  • The Phenomenon of Man was limited to private circulation during Teilhard's lifetime because the church forbade him to publish it. In it, he warned that a mind awakened to this evolutionary concept may experience fear and disorientation. It must create a new equilibrium for everything that had once been tidy in its inner world. “It is dazzled when it emerges from its dark prison."
  • In the late 1930s a Polish count, Alfred Korzybski, pointed out yet another aspect of consciousness — language. Language molds thought, he said, laying out the principles of General Semantics. We confuse it with reality; it creates false certainties. With words we try to isolate things that can only exist in continuity. We fail to see process, change, movement. If we are to experience reality, Korzybski and his followers said, we must acknowledge the limits of language.
  • The egg is breaking, the chromosomes are splitting to go forward with a new pattern of life. Those of us who seem most alien . . . are the ones who are going forward to create the life as yet inchoate. We who are affected cannot make ourselves clear... This is the era when apocalyptic visions are to be fulfilled. We are on the brink of a new life, entering a new domain. In what language can we describe things for which there are as yet no new names? And how describe relations? We can only divine the nature of those to whom we are attracted, the forces to which we willingly yield obedience. . . .
  • In a 1940 letter Aldous Huxley said that although he was profoundly pessimistic about collective humanity at the moment, he was "profoundly optimistic about individuals and groups of individuals existing on the margins of society." The British author, living in Los Angeles, was the hub of a kind of pre-Aquarian conspiracy, an international network of intellectuals, artists, and scientists interested in the notion of transcendence and transformation. They disseminated new ideas, supported each other's efforts, and wondered whether anything would ever come of it. Many of Huxley's interests were so advanced that they did not come into their own until the decade after his death. When such ideas were heresies, he was a proponent of consciousness research, decentralization in government and the economy, paranormal healing, the uses of altered awareness, visual retraining, and acupuncture.
  • In the mid-1950s psychoanalyst Robert Lindner touched off controversy by his prophetic warning that there was an impending "mutiny of the young": Into them we have bred our fears and insecurities, upon them we have foisted our mistakes and misconceptions. In our stead they are expressing the unrelieved rage, the tension, and the terrible frustration of the world they were born into They are imprisoned by the blunders and delusions of their predecessors, and like all prisoners, they are mutineers in their hearts.
    Must We Conform? asked the title of a book he wrote in 1956. "The answer is a resounding No! No — not only because in the end we are creatures who cannot . . . but no because there is an alternate way of life available to us here and now. It is the way of positive rebellion, the path of creative protest." The key was enlarged awareness, Lindner said — recognition of how we are crippled by unconscious fears and motives. "I believe profoundly that the tide can be turned."
  • C. S. Lewis, novelist and essayist, described what seemed to him a kind of secret society of new men and women, "dotted here and there all over the earth." One could learn to recognize them, he said, and clearly they recognized each other.
  • To make the best of both worlds. Oriental and European, the ancient and modern — what am I saying? To make the best of all the worlds — the worlds already realized within the various cultures and, beyond them, the worlds of still unrealized potentialities.
  • Indeed, diverse cultures were impinging on each other more by the day. In his enormously influential Understanding Media (1964), Marshall McLuhan described the coming world as a “global village," unified by communications technology and rapid dissemination of information. This electrified world, with its instant linkage, would bear no resemblance to the preceding and of the human family, a single consciousness?
  • Psychologist Abraham Maslow described an innate human drive beyond basic survival and emotional needs — a hunger for meaning and transcendence. This concept of "self-actualization" rapidly gained adherents. "It is increasingly clear," Maslow wrote, "that a philosophical revolution is under way. A comprehensive system is swiftly developing, like a tree beginning to bear fruit on every branch at the same time." He described a group he thought of as Transcenders, "advance scouts for the race," individuals who far exceeded the traditional criteria for psychological health. He compiled a list of around three hundred creative, intelligent individuals and groups of individuals whose lives were marked by frequent "peak experiences" (a term he coined). This was his Eupsychean Network — literally, "of good soul." Transcenders were irresistibly drawn to each other, he said; two or three such people would find each other in a roomful of a hundred, and they were as likely to be businessmen, engineers, and politicians as poets and priests.
  • In 1967 Barbara Marx Hubbard, a futurist moved by Teilhard's vision of evolving human consciousness, invited a thousand people around the world, including Maslow's network, to form a "human front" of those who shared a belief in the possibility of transcendent consciousness. Hundreds responded, including Lewis Mumford and Thomas Merton. Out of this grew a newsletter and later a loose-knit organization, the Committee for the Future.
  • Erich Fromm, in Revolution of Hope (1968), foresaw a "new front," a movement that would combine the wish for profound social change with a new spiritual perspective; its aim would be the humanization of a technological world.
  • If we look at the reality of the world from the viewpoint of the industrial era, it is clear that there is no hope But there is another way to look at our situation. We can discover the large number of people who have decided to change. ... If we do this, it seems equally impossible that we shall fail to solve our problems.
  • George Cabot Lodge, statesman and Harvard business professor, said, "The United States is in the midst of a great transformation, comparable to the one that ended medievalism and shook its institutions to the ground. . . . The old ideas and assumptions that once made our institutions legitimate are being eroded. They are slipping away in the face of a changing reality, being replaced by different ideas as yet ill-formed, contradictory, unsettling.”
  • "We are living at a time when history is holding its breath," said Arthur Clarke, author of Childhood's End and 2001 , "and the present is detaching itself from the past like an iceberg that has broken away from its moorings to sail across the boundless ocean."

Chapter Three, Brains Changing, Minds ChangingEdit

  • Until a few years ago, claims that consciousness can be expanded and transformed rested on subjective evidence. Suddenly, first in the handful of laboratories of a few pioneer scientists, then in thousands of experiments around the world, the undeniable evidence began coming forth. Awakening, flow, freedom, unity, and synthesis are not "all in the mind," after all. They are in the brain as well. Something in conscious functioning is capable of profound change. The subjective accounts have been correlated with concrete evidence of physical change: higher levels of integration in the brain itself, more efficient processing, different "harmonics" of the brain's electrical rhythms, shifts in perceptual ability.
  • Many researchers say they have been shaken by their own findings about changes in conscious functioning because of the implications for widespread social change. There are hard facts to face, not just soft speculation.

Chapter Four, People ChangingEdit

  • Another liberation — freedom from "attachment" — is perhaps for most Westerners the least understood idea in Eastern philosophy. To us "nonattachment" sounds coldblooded, and "desirelessness" sounds undesirable.
  • We might more accurately think of nonattachment as nondependency. Much of our inner turbulence reflects the fear of loss: our dependence on people, circumstances, and things not really under our control. On some level we know that death, indifference, rejection, repossession, or high tide may leave us bereft in the morning. Still, we clutch desperately at things we cannot finally hold. Nonattachment is the most realistic of attitudes. It is freedom from wishful thinking, from always wanting things to be otherwise.
  • By making us aware of the futility of this wishful thinking, the psychotechnologies help free us from unhealthy dependencies. We increase our capacity to love without bargaining or expectations, to enjoy without emotional mortgages. At the same time, enhanced awareness adds luster to simple things and everyday events, so that what may seem a turn toward a more austere life is often the discovery of subtler, less perishable riches.
  • Another discovery: We are not liberated until we liberate others. So long as we need to control other people, however benign our motives, we are captive to that need. Giving them freedom, we free ourselves. And they are free to grow in their own way.
  • Another discovery: uncertainty. Not just the uncertainty of the moment, which may pass, but oceanic uncertainty, mystery that washes across our beaches forever.
  • Or, as Kazantzakis expressed it, the real meaning of enlightenment is "to gaze with undimmed eyes on all darknesses."
  • In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig described the risk of pressing reason to its furthest reaches, where it turns back on itself. "In the high country of the mind," he observed, "one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty, and to the enormous magnitude of the questions asked"
  • The more significant the question, the less likely there will be an unequivocal answer.
  • Vocation is the process of making one's way toward something. It is a direction more than a goal. Following a peak experience, one of the conspirators, a housewife who later became a filmmaker, said, "I felt as if I'd been called to serve on somebody's plan for mankind." The conspirators typically say they feel as if they are cooperating with events rather than controlling them or suffering them, much as an aikido master augments his strength by aligning himself with existing forces, even those in opposition.
  • The individual discovers a new kind of flexible will that helps in the vocation. This will has sometimes been called "intention." It is the opposite of accident, it represents a certain deliberateness, but it doesn't have the iron quality we usually associate with the will.
  • To Buckminster Fuller, the commitment is "kind of mystical. The minute you begin to do what you want to do, it's really a different kind of life." Remarking on the same phenomenon, W. H. Murray said that commitment seems to enlist Providence. "All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamt would have come his way."

Chapter Five, The American Matrix for TransformationEdit

Chapter Six, Liberating Knowledge: News from the Frontiers of ScienceEdit

Chapter Seven, Right PowerEdit

Chapter Eight, Healing OurselvesEdit

Chapter Nine, Flying and Seeing: New Ways to LearnEdit

Chapter Ten, The Transformation of Values and VocationEdit

Chapter Eleven, Spiritual Adventure: Connection to the SourceEdit

Chapter Twelve, Human Connections: Relationships ChangingEdit

Chapter Thirteen, The Whole- Earth ConspiracyEdit

Quotes about Marilyn FergusonEdit

  • Reagan was on the rise, the anti-war movement had sunk to a low ebb, and the New Age was barely christened when The Aquarian Conspiracy appeared in 1980. Overnight Marilyn Ferguson’s book became famous and sold in the millions. I was a young doctor who had just learned to meditate when I picked up a dog-eared paperback copy at a Catskill spiritual retreat. Ferguson’s message shot through me like electricity: a “benign conspiracy” was bringing about the greatest shift in consciousness in the twentieth century. In one stroke Ferguson unified a movement that seemed like small, isolated outposts on the fringes of respectable society.
    Ferguson was a uniter and a futurist. By showing feminists what they shared with environmentalists, New Age spiritual seekers with peace activists, her book inspired a movement that didn’t define the future in terms of technology. She was a one-woman movement for hope. She promised every voice in the wilderness that there were a thousand other voices like theirs.

See alsoEdit

Age of Aquarius

External linksEdit

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