November 2018 sees Inner Tradition's publication of Tobias Churton’s literary wunderkind, THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE SIXTIES The Magic, Myth & Music of the Decade that Changed the World. It does precisely what it says in the title and, make no mistake, this is the book that gets to the essence of a question asked by so many people. What really was it that made the Sixties so special? Tobias has written with his daughter’s generation in mind, and for future generations only too likely to be “sold a turkey” as to what “the Sixties” really involved. It covers everything you would expect in terms of subject-matter, with judicious accounts of cinema, TV, pop music, psychedelia &c., but extends its capacious net far wider than anything else published before, until you, the reader find yourself actually there in the totality of the experience, while the copiously illustrated text never departs from the book’s essential focus: the challenging question of the decade’s spiritual meaning.
Antony Gormley's sculpture at Lake Ballard. Photo © Mark Bennett 2018
Much of the book’s appeal probably comes from the level of personal input from the author. As part of the process of writing, Tobias Churton returned to Australia as guest of old school friend, Mark Bennett, to revisit many places familiar to him when the Churton family travelled as immigrants to the states of Queensland and Victoria in 1966-1968. To return to Oz after a gap of 50 years was a deep, sometimes painful, sometimes joyous experience for Tobias, and shards from these reflections further illuminate the book, giving it a uniquely colourful perspective: the decade seen through the eyes of a spiritually alive child, in tune with the zeitgeist, then as ever.
Bennett and Churton's camp at Lake Ballard, Western Australia. Photo © Mark Bennett 2018
Tobias at Sydney's Masonic Centre
Travelling from the extraordinary natural phenomenon that is Lake Ballard (where Tobias slept under the stars in the remote outback) and the mining hub of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to Sydney with Mr Bennett, CEO of leading prospecting company Sirius 2 Resources, Tobias was privileged to address “An Afternoon with Tobias Churton” at the New South Wales Masonic Centre in Castlereagh Street, Sydney, on Sunday 1 April, introduced by Stephen King, Grand Master of Australia’s Ordo Templi Orientis. Tobias’s talk, Aleister Crowley: Gnostic, was followed by a trip to Sydney’s Chinatown for a delightful, intellectually and spiritually stimulating dinner, again hosted by the kindly, witty presence of Stephen King, who presented Tobias with an attractive crest of Australia’s O.T.O., replete with furry kangaroos, now gracefully framed on Tobias’s gallery walls.
Tobias well entertained in Sydney, April 2018.
Tobias at BlakeFest 2018
The theme of the “Sixties” also informed Tobias Churton’s recent talk given to over 200 people who attended the magnificent BLAKEFEST, organized by Rachel Searle and her team at Bognor Regis’s Alexandra Theatre in September 2018, within walking distance from William Blake’s cottage by the sea, where Blake wrote the words familiar to us as the hymn “Jerusalem” around the year 1803. Tobias’s cutting-edge biography of Blake, Jerusalem: The Real Life of William Blake made a big impression on residents about Blake’s former home and Tobias’s talk “Blake and the Sixties” was received by Blake festival goers with the warmest, even rapturous appreciation, kicking off an evening’s entertainment that included top-notch appearances by the All Things Must Pass Orchestra (dedicated to the works of George Harrison) and the Lene Lovich band.
Tobias has made numerous appearances on podcast and conventional radio in 2018, most notably a fabulous lunchtime session with BBC Radio Bristol’s Richard Lewis, sitting in for Steve Yabsley, on the popular lunchtime show, on 11 July, discussing Tobias’s book, Aleister Crowley in America, published at the end of 2017 in the US and in January in the UK. Richard Lewis grilled Tobias in the most courteous and intelligent way, about reading influences and education, and the presenter looked forward to a return session with Tobias on the publication of the Sixties book.
The Gnostic World
Another Australian connection emerged in 2018 when co-editor Garry Trompf of the University of Sydney “called in” Tobias Churton’s paper on the “French Occult Revival” to feature in Routledge’s scholarly anthology, The Gnostic World, published in October 2018.
Edited by Garry W. Trompf, Gunner B. Mikkelsen and Jay Johnston, the 716 page The Gnostic World is, as the Routledge catalogue puts it: “an outstanding guide to Gnosticism, written by a distinguished international team of experts to explore Gnostic movements from the distant past until today. These themes are examined across sixty-seven chapters in a variety of contexts, from the ancient pre-Christian to the contemporary. The volume considers the intersection of Gnosticism with Jewish, Christian, Islamic and Indic practices and beliefs, and also with new religious movements, such as Theosophy, Scientology, Western Sufism, and the Nation of Islam.”
Another example of Tobias’s academic work in the field of esoteric spiritual movements came in September 2018 when Professor Gabriele Boccaccini (University of Michigan) invited Tobias to present a paper on “Enoch in Esoteric and Freemason Traditions” to the 10th Congress of The Enoch Seminar, an international conference of the most distinguished specialists in Enochic literature, to be held in Florence in summer 2019. Other papers will focus on the theological debate, the literature, the history of arts, traditions in Judaism and Islam, reception history in Ethiopic, Armenian and Slavonic, the manuscript history, etc. All papers will be published in the Proceedings of the Conference by a major international publisher. The “Book of Enoch” was a critical text for the formation of primitive Christianity and of second century Gnostic mythology; copies were found at Qumran but the text disappeared from the west until explorer James Bruce brought back four Ethiopic versions of the book in the late eighteenth century.
Plans for Choral Musical at Lichfield Cathedral
Plans are afoot to stage Tobias Churton’s musical version of William Blake’s life THE TRIALS OF WILLIAM BLAKE: LOVE IS ON FIRE!, for its premiere with members of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at the Lichfield Festival in 2019. Discussions with Lichfield Cathedral School’s Head of Music, Laura Borenstein, and School Head, Sue Hannam, could, if successfully completed, lead to a dramatic performance of Tobias’s “Book” and beautiful, uplifting music about the much-loved poet and artist, William Blake, to be held in the cathedral, performed by the students of Lichfield’s Cathedral School (where Tobias was a pupil 1969-1970). For Tobias, this would be fulfillment of a long-cherished dream project that began when he first set Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence” to music at Rodenhausen, Hessen, West Germany, in 1982.
Meanwhile, Tobias intends to follow up his 2017 album of a dozen original songs FRAMED with a new album of original music, if he can find the time!
New Works for 2019
Scheduled for publication by Inner Traditions International in 2019. Tobias’s epic account of Hinduism and Buddhism, SAMADHI! Aleister Crowley in India, will bring together Churton’s research into Crowley’s critical involvement with India 1901-1905, and the enormous impact that experience had on his life and spiritual teachings until his death in 1947. The fresh research fills in many gaps in our knowledge of this critical transition period in spirituality, and corrects a great many errors of understanding in recondite subjects that have long lain obscure or confused by superficial and ill-informed commentary and public hearsay. The book will delight and astonish.
Tobias has a number of exciting new book projects under consideration for his next literary project. As Tobias has recently stated: “So long as the inspiration comes, and the knowledge is sound, the work goes on.”
Tobias at the National Gallery of Victoria 50 years after his last visit . Photo © Mark Bennett 2018