The Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (27th January 1832 to 14th January 1898) was better known by the pen name Lewis Carroll. He was an author and Anglican clergyman, as well as being a brilliant mathematician and a greatly gifted formal logician. After attending Rugby school, then Christ Church Oxford where he obtained a first class degree in mathematics and a second class degree in ‘classical moderations’, he became a mathematics lecturer at Christ Church Oxford.
Dodgson was brought up in a deeply religious family, his father was the Reverend Charles Dodgson and he grew up in the Parsonage at Daresbury and subsequently the Parsonage in Richmond Yorkshire.
Shy, and cursed with an incurable stammer [caused it is said by being forced to write with his right hand as a child, when he was left handed] , he loved children and often lost his stammer in their presence – particularly the presence of girls whom he found less threatening than boys. Dodgson confessed in 1858 to an undergraduate friend Arthur Richard Girdlestone that ‘they are three fourths my life’.
Dodgson used laudanum – initially as a painkiller. The laudanum taken by Dodgson was a tincture of opium and could produce a "high" if used in a large enough dose. There is no firm evidence that he ever abused drugs, it is plainly clear, however, that the opium experiences played quite a large part in his writing.
Carroll’s books are a sort of compendium of the types of spiritual experiences you may get and the mechanisms that Lewis Carroll knew to obtain them, as well as being a sort of glossary of symbolism. Being a religious man – he was an Anglican Deacon - tied to the Christian Church, he would have lost his job and probably been ridiculed if he had written a factual account , so he wrote books that purport to be children’s books, but which most children find baffling [although I loved them as a child].
There has been huge speculation about why Lewis Carroll did not become a vicar, but in my view it was because everything he saw in his travels round the spiritual world simply contradicted the established Church’s teachings on what heaven was. Carroll [Dodgson] was expected, as a condition of his residency at Christ Church Oxford, to take holy orders within four years of obtaining his master's degree. But he didn’t. He eventually took deacon's orders in 1861. When the time came a year later to progress to priestly orders, Dodgson appealed for permission not to proceed, an act which would normally have resulted in his being expelled from Oxford; but Dean Liddell permitted Dodgson to remain at the college.
Dodgson never became a vicar/priest.
Dodgson’s spiritual background
Occultism appears to have acquired a slightly sinister meaning in general usage, but true occultism is anything but sinister. Occultism is the more generic name given to the general belief in ‘hidden wisdom’. To the occultist it is the study of "Truth", a deeper truth than that espoused by religions.
There is a tendency for the adherent to either go it alone or follow the mystic branches of the traditional religions [such as Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Sufism, the Kabbalah, Rosicrucianism, Neopaganism, and so on] often because the interest stems from actual spiritual experience. Many are driven by the need to understand their experience.
It can involve such subjects as magic, alchemy and astrology. Tarot cards are often associated with the Occult, principally because the Tarot cards correctly interpreted, describe the symbolism hidden in many of the mystic branches of the religions. They also encapsulate some of the facets of the spiritual path.
Dodgson was an enthusiastic charter member all his life of the Society for Psychical Research, and his library contained dozens of books on the occult. He believed in the reality of extra sensory perception and psychokinesis. In an 1852 letter, he speaks of a pamphlet on thought reading published by the Society for Psychical Research, which strengthened his convictions that psychic phenomena are genuine.
“All seems to point to the existence of a natural force, …, by which brain can act on brain. I think we are close on the day when this shall be classed among the known natural forces, and its lands tabulated, and when the scientific sceptics - who always shut their eyes till the last moment to any evidence that seems to point beyond materialism - will have to accept it as a proved fact in nature”.
His position as a clergyman made it difficult for him to express his beliefs in anything but allegoric form, as such we see in his books the summation of his thoughts, but in story form. He seems terrified of being ‘found out’, but at the same time doesn’t want to lie, so when publicly asked by a reader about the Hunting of the Snark said: “I’m very much afraid I didn’t mean anything but nonsense! Still you know, words mean more than we mean to express when we use them, so a whole book ought to mean a great deal more than the writer meant. So whatever good meanings are in the book, I’m very glad to accept as the meaning of the book”.
Dodgson appears to have been tortured by the visions brought on by his opium taking, by his dreams and by his perceptions of the metaphysical. He even took to working out mathematical problems to stop these thoughts:
“There are sceptical thoughts, which seem for the moment to uproot the firmest faith; there are blasphemous thoughts, which dart unbidden into the most reverent souls; there are unholy thoughts, which torture, with their hateful presence, the fancy that would fain be pure. Against all these some real mental work is a most helpful ally”
Dodgson was also friends with many people in the Pre-Raphaelite movement – Ruskin, Rossetti, Hunt, Millais and Hughes among other artists. He also knew the fairy-tale author George MacDonald well — it was the enthusiastic reception of Alice by the young MacDonald children that convinced him to submit the work for publication.
He seems a tortured soul – one whose upbringing in a deeply religious setting clashed with his genuine experience of the spiritual world.
Carroll not only wrote ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ and ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, but also wrote ‘The Hunting of the Snark’, ‘Jabberwocky’ and ‘Sylvie and Bruno’.
Many people have interpreted the encounters and events in the Alice books as hallucinations, usually noting the drinking of tea, consumption of mushrooms and other tinctures from bottles, the hookah smoking caterpillar, and so on as references to psychedelic substances.
His books are also littered with spiritual and philosophical references. In Sylvie and Bruno, for example, he describes ‘imponderal’ an antigravity wool that can be stuffed into parcel post packages to make them weightless. He also describes a watch that reverses time. Time in fact features prominently in all his books.
Carroll’s combined works are perhaps one of the most complete philosophical, mathematical and logical explanations of the spiritual works ever to appear in print.
And few people realise that is what they are.
As a child they were my favourite books and I had no idea of the underlying meaning [but there again maybe subconsciously I did].
Alice in Wonderland – is effectively an allegory of a journey to the ‘underworld’. At the time Dodgson was writing, mystics and spiritualists believed that the spiritual plane was divided into a number of levels, some of which were ‘below us’ and some ‘above us’. Heaven was ‘above us’ with angels and gods, whereas what lay below was the spiritual world of plants and animals – nature spirits. Alice thus meets mostly animals and plants on her journey, although the book is held together by characters from playing cards. This reference is also of great significance as playing cards are based on the Tarot.
Many of the experiences that Alice has, are those experienced by people using 'shamanic techniques' – the elongation of the body, the rubbery feelings. Carlos Castaneda for example, has one particularly extraordinary experience in ‘The teachings of Don Juan’ in which his legs go rubbery and he elongates. Alice has the same experiences. In effect, whether Dodgson tried the same drugs or not, he was well aware of the effects they caused and the story is a skillful weaving together of logic, maths, humour and drug experiences.
Alice through the Looking Glass – is an entirely different book. The book was not written to amuse a child as Alice in Wonderland was, but was written without children specifically in mind and took much longer to write.
Alice in Wonderland is set in the Summer, Alice through the Looking Glass is set in the Winter [see the Four Seasons and the hours] . Whereas Alice in Wonderland is based on a journey down to the underworld, Alice through the Looking Glass is a spiritual journey ‘upwards’ rather than downwards. Dodgson’s references are primarily based on spirit guides and the sorts of visions one might experience at this level.
The mirror reference is particularly important as Dodgson believed that the spiritual was a mirror image of the physical world - ‘as above, so below’. Dodgson was trying to convey this by his allegory to the mirror and constant references to things being reversed or upside down.
There are also references to the fact that Dodgson took trips to the spiritual world quite frequently. To understand the following you need to know that Carroll saw himself as a knight and that horses have symbolic meaning.
“I’m afraid you’ve not had much practise in riding’ Alice ventured to say as she helped him up from his fifth tumble. The knight looked very much surprised and a little offended at the remark ‘What makes you say that? ….’ Because people don’t fall off quite so often, when they’ve had more practise’….‘I’ve had plenty of practise’ the knight said very gravely ‘plenty of practise!’
Alice is set challenges [tying in with the spiritual notion that we are allocated co-creational tasks before we are born], there are references to fate and destiny, references to the Great Work as being a great chess game with unknown players, where we are just the pawns in the game and frequent references to time going backwards. The spiritual symbolism used is extensive – the references to fish, corkscrews [the helix an asymmetrical structure with distinct left and right forms is both the unit of energy and a frequent symbol for the spiritual ascent] , weaving and knitting [the web of life, weaving life’s pattern, the loom, the web], even oysters [and the pearl].
Overall the book is an allegory about life’s spiritual journey - with set challenges en route, spiritual guide help, the meaningless of time in the metaphysical realm and the mystic path.
Jabberwocky - Henry Kuther and his wife Catherine More believed this poem to contain the symbols for a future language and when understood properly explain a technique for entering the 4th dimension described by Dodgson in his other books! Hmmmmmmmmm. Well I suppose I should be gracious and say they are close.
Other explanations of specific scenes and passages from the two books as well as those in Sylvie and Bruno and Jabberwocky etc are provided in the context of the observations they provide.
How far did Carroll get on the path?
Given that Carroll’s books document his spiritual journey, it is interesting to speculate just how far he got along the spiritual path. From what I can deduce the answer is … a long way.
He has documented what it feels like right up until the very last stage where consciousness would have permanently transferred to his Higher spirit ; at which point he would have become his Higher spirit, or to put it more poetically, he would have become divine.
This appears to be the only experience that Carroll did not have – unless of course he was divine already …………..
Although Lewis Carroll’s books are a fascinating compendium of his beliefs based on his experiences, he only gave us clues what to do, pointers on what to expect, and explanations on how to interpret what we saw. There is no step by step guide on how the techniques are achieved. Perhaps most important from our point of view is that he clearly ‘knew’, this is not the rantings of a theologian or a theorist, he had done this and been there. You can tell.
In terms of techniques, it is noticeable that the descent into the lower world is largely fuelled in Alice in Wonderland by drugs – not exclusively, there are one or two uses of befuddling, but the mechanisms are those found in many shamanic societies – smoke inhalation, opium, cannabis, mushrooms, and so on. The book is a very accurate reflection of shamanic methods of gaining spiritual experience, along with a good indication of the overall effects of these methods – perception recall, distortion of body image and size, meetings with animal guides, and so on.
The spiritual journey in Alice through the Looking Glass contains no drug based mechanisms at all – which is an entirely accurate interpretation of what actually happens. With drugs you tend to descend to the lower worlds to meet with plant and animal spirits; with other non drug based mechanisms you tend to ascend to the higher levels – water, air, fire, aether [if you are lucky] and beyond. Non drug based mechanisms are more difficult, but they take you to more important realms in the long term, and furthermore you do progress along the spiritual path, something you rarely do with drugs and plants.
Carroll included both techniques that we might term – voluntary and those that are involuntary.
Thus we have the involuntary mercury poisoning of the Mad Hatter, along with the voluntary effects of mushrooms.
The involuntary narcolepsy of the dormouse or maybe it is the dormouse’s voluntary hypnagogia. Carroll knew the effects of both.
It is possible that Tenniel - the first illustrator of Carroll’s work was also well aware of what Carroll was trying to achieve, as in, for example, his illustration of the mushrooms we have both an amanita muscaria like mushroom and a psilocybin like mushroom – both of which are hallucinogens.
And the caterpillar is smoking from a hashish style hookah which looks amazingly like a serpent or snake…..
There are quite a number of people, mostly drug users themselves, who appear to believe that both Alice books are about drug taking, but they are not. Carroll certainly recognised that drugs send you ‘down’ figuratively speaking – the path of the shaman, down tunnels and the ‘dive’, but he was also well aware that there were any number of techniques that sent you ‘up’ to the looking glass world and the land of gods, goddesses and spiritual paths.
At the time he was writing there was huge interest in hypnotism, techniques of yoga [being introduced via the theosophists] and in mind control methods. I suspect Aleister Crowley was influenced by Carroll’s works, as they seem to share a lot of understanding of the basic mechanisms behind non drug based spiritual experience. Except that Crowley knew about the sex based methods and Carroll didn’t [as far as I can tell].
What is difficult, however, is trying to extract the knowledge he had from what is effectively a coded message. It is, in some cases, only by knowing already what is possible that one is able to say – ‘yes he knew that’. I suspect that without prior knowledge of all the techniques, it would be impossible to deduce anything from the story. I also suspect this is exactly what Carroll wanted. Those who knew, knew. Those who didn’t would never guess. A private joke. I suspect that even now there are a number of techniques I have not spotted. There are certainly a lot of very obscure spiritual references. I have not been able to include everything in this description, simply because if I had I would have had to include almost the entire two books!
Carroll must have carefully compiled a collection of all the techniques and effects he knew of and a collection of the symbols and woven them into a story. I do not believe that Alice In Wonderland, for example, was told to a child as an afternoon diversion and invented on the spot.
You may feel on looking through the cross references to the techniques, that I have read far too much into what is just a simple harmless childish description. But then that is what many feel about Nursery rhymes and C S Lewis’s Narnia books and the poems of T S Eliot and Yeats, the simple tale of Christian Rosencrantz and the Chemical wedding, or the love story in the Romance of the Rose. No my friends, things are never that simple.
For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 01 - 1 Down the rabbit hole
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 01 - 2 Down the well
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 01 - 3 The Glass Table
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 01 - 4 Drink me
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 01 - 5 Eat me
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 02 - 1 Goodbye feet
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 02 - 2 Know thyself
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 02 - 3 The Mouse
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 03 - A Caucus race and a long tail
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 04 - 1 The Rabbit sends in a little Bill
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 04 - 2 Alice grows to fill the room
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 04 - 3 Pat and the cucumber frames
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 04 - 4 The Lizard flies
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 04 - 5 In the wood
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 05 - 1 Advice from a Caterpillar
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 05 - 2 Serpent
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 06 - 1 Pig and Pepper
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 06 - 2 Duchess and Cook
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 06 - 3 Baby pig
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 06 - 4 Cheshire cat
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 07 - 1 A Mad Tea Party
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 07 - 2 The Dormouse's story
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 08 - 1 The Cards and the Rose Tree
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 08 - 2 The Croquet match
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 08 - 3 The Cheshire cat reappears
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 09 - 1 The Mock Turtle's story
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 09 - 2 The Mock Turtle and the Gryphon
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 10 - 1 Lobster quadrille
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 10 - 2 The voice of the lobster
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 10 - 3 Beautiful soup
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 11 - 1 Who stole the Tarts
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 11 - 2 Cross examination of the Hatter
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 12 - 1 Alice's evidence
- Alice in Wonderland - Ch 12 - 2 Alice wakes up
- Carroll, Lewis - The Hunting of the Snark
- Carroll, Lewis - The Hunting of the Snark - The bellman
- Sylvie and Bruno - As there was only one cluster of hare-bells
- Sylvie and Bruno - The Outlandish watch
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 01 - 1 Kitty and the Mirror
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 01 - 2 Making memorandums
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 01 - 3 Jabberwocky
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 02 - 1 The Garden of Live Flowers
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 02 - 2 The enormous game of chess
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 02 - 3 Running like the wind
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 02 - 4 Marking out the route
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 03 - 1 Looking glass insects
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 03 - 2 The Train
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 03 - 3 The Gnat
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 03 - 4 Alice and the fawn
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 04 - 1 Tweedledum and Tweedledee
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 04 - 2 The Walrus and the Carpenter
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 04 - 3 The Fight
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 05 - 1 Wool and Water
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 05 - 2 Alice meets the sheep in a shop
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 05 - 3 Feather feather!
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 05 - 4 Moving eggs
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 06 - 1 Humpty Dumpty
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 06 - 2 Names and ages
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 06 - 3 Unbirthday presents
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 06 - 4 Words
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 06 - 5 Jabberwocky explained
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 06 - 6 In Winter when the fields are white
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 07 - 1 The Lion and the Unicorn
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 07 - 2 Hatta and Haigha
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 07 - 3 Plum cake
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 07 - 4 Drumming
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 08 - 1 It's my own invention
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 08 - 2 The White Knight and the beehive
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 08 - 3 Falling off
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 08 - 4 Both using the same helmet
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 08 - 5 Head downwards
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 08 - 6 The New Pudding
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 08 - 7 "HADDOCKS' EYES."
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 08 - 8 Farewell to the Knight
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 09 - 1 Queen Alice
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 09 - 2 The Frog
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 09 - 3 The Dinner
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 10 - and 11