“What makes a man, well known (though not always kindly) for his self-determined and stubborn will, what makes him turn belly up to off-brand voices in the sky?”
In a chapter from New Age Blues, the late Michael Rossman is writing here of Uri Gellar’s science “Svengali,” Andrija Puharich. In case you’re not up on your early 1960’s pop culture, Uri Gellar bent spoons with his mind and he and Puharich both succumbed to the machinations of beings from outer space known as the “Hoovans” or the “Nine.” And Rossman and I? Here’s a little tantric tale. So once upon a time...
Actually, it was that exact quote that drew me towards Rossman, then one of Berkeley’s enduring and probably most maddeningly endearing Free Speech veterans. I’d been having my own encounter with “off brand” experiences lately, which is part of what had brought me to tantra, and Rossman was interested in reconnecting with his own on again, off again exploration of transcendent energy. In this same essay, "Staring Over Uri’s Shoulder," he’d written “like many more sober investigators I have come to take seriously the notion that there are discrete [sic] intelligences at hand other than those housed in fleshy bodies, and that they interact with us in quite complex ways.”
Rossman had good reason for taking this notion seriously. As a young man, Michael was startled and transformed by incandescent “spirits of liberty” that he claims possessed the Free Speech Movement for many weeks. Speaking at the 40th anniversary of the Free Speech movement, he described the moment the protestors surrounded the police car on the Berkeley campus:
“I had never been in a public dialogue in my whole life. I was twenty-four, pushing twenty-five, and until that moment, until that strange suspended moment, a bolt of something came down through us. Okay? These spirits of liberty and democracy possessed us. We were open conduits for their energy. We glowed! We glowed! But you couldn’t see it with your eyes, so how the hell could you say anything about it? Okay? It was a case of spiritual possession.”
Now, if you’re reading this far and you’re wondering, “where is the tantra in all this? Where’s the romance?” Be patient. This is a remembrance column. Michael died of a rare form of leukemia, May 12, 2008. This week I am mourning the death of this good friend and lover.
So, Michael Rossman - writer, activist, social historian, political poster archivalist, mathematician, science teacher and musician - spent portions of the rest of his life seeking situations where “certain kinds of energy were conjured,” a state “in which we are united and one and yet we do not lose our separate selves. Our selves are deepened and yet the mystery is we’re one. We’re alone and we’re together, okay? This mystery!” Based on our conversations and his writing, I understood his search to include psychedelic drugs as well as inquiries into spiritual movements and traditions. I also have good reason to believe he hungered for traces of this mystery in his numerous sexual encounters.