Beloved Icarus

The Life and Work of Rodney Collin, author of "The Theory of Celestial Influence."

Collin-Smith, Joyce

All lives have their peaks of experience. Mine was a high spot in more senses than one. It took place 14,000 feet above sea level, near the crater of Popocatepetl, the second highest mountain in central America, as the sun was rising.

Rodney Collin and I had climbed throughout the half darkness of the Mexican night, plodding up through lava dust, gasping in the rarified atmosphere. We entered the Cortes Pass, where Hernando Cortes and the Conquistadores looked down in 1519 on the golden domes and pinnacles rising among the waterways of Monctezuma's city of Tennochtitlan. Above, a blue spiral of smoke could be seen coming up from the quiescent but still living volcano. The snow was pink tinged in the morning light.

We turned and looked across range upon range of uninhabited mountain landscape, strange as some other, empty world. And then from behind the great peak of Orizaba there rose the enormous bronze disc of the sun, pulsating, quivering, vibrating with life. Rodney had always maintained that to mankind, here on earth, the sun is to all intents and purposes, God. In that moment it certainly seemed to be so.

Rodney was my husband's elder brother. He was to me a beloved friend, and in some senses my guide and mentor. So he still remains, though he died in 1956. He is best remembered for his major book, 'The Theory of Celestial lnfluence'.

His books cover great fields of knowledge, and vast ideas on the nature of the universe, man's place within it, and the possibilities of man's evolution. Although they are scientific, precise and mathematically detailed, Rodney was not a scientist, an astrologer or an astronomer. He was a journalist, with a first rate intellect. His books were written, at very great speed and under tremendous pressure, during three crowded years.

A vast sweep of colour

They are like impressionist paintings - a vast sweep of colour and movement and life. They inspire and stimulate, and are frequently mentioned where people of astrological, philosophical or occult interests gather together. Much of the basic material for them was gleaned when Rodney worked on the small research staff of the Daily Express Encyclopaedia (1934) and later this became rubble for the roadway he was to tread: his roadway to the stars.

Rodney Collin-Smith was the elder son of Frederick Collin-Smith, a happy extrovert wine importer, who retired to Brighton at the age of 50, and married Kathleen Logan, who was young enough to be his daughter. Rodney was born on 26 April 1909, and my husband Derry, four years later. Unfortunately the birth times are not known, although my mother-in-law was interested in astrology, and was a member of the Brighton Theosophical Lodge. Her papers were dispersed when she died during the war.

However, the philosopher Beryl Pogson, who knew Rodney, provided a birth chart for 9.am. which was probably the birth time he believed in, and the late Ronald Davison, past president of the Astrological Lodge of the Theosophical Society, rectified this to 9.18.am. I use this as a Speculative Birth Chart.

Rodney was a very tall, thin, blue-eyed, dark-haired boy. He was active and extremely creative. We have at home paintings, drawings and illustrated journals dating from his childhood. He used to wander round the antique bookshops and junk shops in the Lanes at Brighton, sometimes with his fair, curly-headed little brother.

When he left school he visited Spain and came back with notes for 'Palms and Patios' which was published when he was nineteen. Encouraged, he continued to write while taking his degree at the London School of Economics, and then became a freelance writer for the Evening Standard and the Sunday Referee.

A time of desolation

He was well liked for his warm smile, his sense of humour and his readiness to listen to others. But he always tended to be something of a loner, mooching off by himself. He became increasingly troubled by a sense of purposelessness.

Years later, sitting with me on top of the great Pyramid at Teotihuacan under the strong Mexican sun, he told me that the inner question 'Who am I? ' had troubled him continually in his youth. He remembered having sat on a case of books, in a flat he had just moved into, while waves of desolation came over him.

He had always believed in omens and portents, and the word Oberamrnergau having caught his eye, he took it as an indication that he should attend the Passion Play. He had a feeling for Christian mysticism. In Oberammergau he met Janet Buckley, daughter of Wilfred Buckley who bequeathed to the nation the Buckley collection of glass, housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Janet was ten years older than Rodney, and interested in Eastern religion and philosophy. She opened out new lines of thought and ideas. They fell in love, and were married in 1930, soon after -his twenty-second birthday. (His Sun progressed then sextile the radical Moon perhaps indicated the timing.) From then till the end of his life they were rarely parted.p

Esoteric school

Until this time, Rodney had only come across orthodox books and orthodox Western thought. He knew nothing of esoteric schools or hidden teachings. In 1936, through a contact of Janet's, he attended a lecture by the Russian philosopher, P. D. Ouspensky. He had an immediate sense of the importance of this man. Later, he and Janet bought a house at Virginia Water, to be close to Lyne Place, where Ouspensky then lived with his immediate followers. Rodney worked in Fleet Street by day, and laboured in the gardens at Lyne Place in the evenings, while Janet worked in the kitchens there. (His Moon progressed was conjunct Moon radix that year, and Mercury progressed was conjunct Pluto in Gemini when he moved to Lyne.)

Almost all that Rodney did later was due to Ouspensky's influence, and the teaching that Gurdjieff called The Fourth Way. It is a system of self-development with roots in Sufi tradition, and probably very ancient. It is said to be a way for people who have commitment in life, as distinct from a way for yogis, monks, or fakirs who have renounced the world in their efforts to evolve.

Man is described as a self-creating being, in a self-perpetuating universe, and the teaching stresses that Man's possibilities are largely unrealised. His mind is like a house wired for electricity, but not yet connected to the mains. Great efforts are needed to awaken the higher centres of the mind, and exercises and disciplines are required to bring up the level of consciousness to the point where the 'house will become illuminated'. Two lines of work are required of the aspirant, the one leading to increased knowledge, the other directed to raising the level of a man's being -- what he is, in himself.

Rodney had a leaning towards effort, struggle and self-discipline. He was by nature a schoolman and he took to the Fourth Way teaching with enthusiasm. It was a required part of the system that a man should drive himself, periodically, sufficiently hard to get his 'second wind', his third and fourth wind, and-having overstepped the mark of normal fatigue -- reach a point which Gurdjieff described as 'tapping the great accumulator' of energy of a much finer and more powerful level than the 'small accumulators' used in ordinary occupations.

In these efforts, largely unobserved by the members of the household of which he was as yet a young and immature outsider, Rodney regularly worked himself to a state of extreme exhaustion. However he was happy and full of a sense of purpose. He wrote later:

'Today the word evolution. . . has been distorted into a kind of manufacturer's guarantee that every individual octopus shall one day develop into a Buddha, and without any effort or intention on their part, all men shall inevitably become wise. This is as fantastic as to believe that by letting his canoe drift down some river, a traveller will inevitably be carried to the top of the highest mountain. Relying on the current alone, there is only one direction a man can go -- downwards. To remount the stream needs a different understanding, a different energy and a different effort.'

Why am I afraid?

When war came, the household at Lyne Place moved to the United States, where Mme. Ouspensky was already installed at Franklin Farms, Mendham. Rodney found himself in the British Purchasing Commission, which sent him first to Bermuda, then to Mexico, and subsequently to a permanent position in New York. He was thus able to live, with Janet and their small daughter, in the Ouspensky household and commute to his office daily. The previous pattern was resumed, with Rodney tending the gardens. Ouspensky used to drive into New York City to address his followers there, but Rodney was often too physically exhausted to attend the lectures. He normally lay awake until the lights of the returning car swung into the long drive. Ouspensky would then go into the big kitchen and sit drinking wine and talking philosophy until the early hours.

One night Rodney realised that he lay in bed instead of attending meetings for a different reason from what he had supposed.

'I jumped out of bed and flung on my dressing gown, ' he told me later, 'and with the cord trailing behind me, I ran downstairs in a way quite contrary to the controlled discipline of the household. Before my courage failed me, I flung open the kitchen door. I expected to see a number of people more important than myself sitting at the long table. Instead, "0" was alone, drinking wine. Before I could stop myself, I shouted at him loudly: "Why am I afraid of you ? " He looked at me calmly and answered: "Why do you say I?".

It was part of the Ouspensky teaching that man consists of many 'I's'. The 'I' that tills the garden is not necessarily the same as the 'I' that goes to the office, the 'I' who is husband and father. In this sense 'only God can say I' because only God is unity .

Ouspensky's answer had a profound effect on Rodney. He looked back on it as a time of revelation. From that time, his relationship with Ouspensky changed. It seems clear that the Russian philosopher really looked at and considered his young follower seriously for the first time that night. Thereafter he gradually drew Rodney nearer to himself, as his chauffeur, personal attendant and intimate pupi1. Ultimately almost as his son.

Soon after the war, Rodney accompanied Ouspensky and part of his entourage back to Lyne Place. Ouspensky was now nearly seventy and failing in health. Between waiting on him and caring for him, Rodney began to plan his book, 'The Theory of Celestial Influence'. He spent as much time as possible in the British Museum library. Before he had progressed far, Ouspensky reached his terminal illness. On 2 October 1947, he died in Rodney's arms.

The long vigil

There then followed a very strange time for the household. After the body had been taken away for burial at Lyne church, Rodney returned to the bedroom where he had died and locked the door. He remained closeted there for six days, not responding to knocks or calls. The episode had a distressing and disturbing effect on the household, already grief-stricken by the loss of their master, and unsure what the future held for them.

Eventually the bell which Ouspensky himself had been accustomed to ring was heard to peal in the kitchen quarters. Janet was sent to the room. Rodney was seated cross-legged on Ouspensky's bed, emaciated, dirty, unshaven. He bore all the signs of having been through a tremendous traumatic experience. He had had neither food nor liquid during his time of solitude. He asked for lime juice. He adopted a gentle, childlike attitude to those who came to look after him, unlike his usual forthright manner .

During his vigil, he gained the knowledge which forms the basis of his shorter book, 'The Theory of Eternal Life'.

Progressions and transits

The progressions and transits during the Autumn of 1947 -- the period of great change in Rodney's life-were as follows: Mars progressed in Pisces sextile Sun and Venus. Sun progressed in Gemini trine Mars in Aquarius. Moon progressed trine Jupiter, sextile Mars (Moon 5-18 Sagittarius). Moon progressed also quincunx Sun, Venus, Mercury during those months. Venus progressed in Gemini quincunx Uranus at the time of Ouspensky's death, Saturn progressed in 20 Aries square Uranus.

Neptune transiting quincunx Mercury radix, trine Mars radix. Uranus transiting conjunct Pluto in December. Saturn transiting in Leo quincunx Uranus at the time of Ouspensky's death. Jupiter transiting in Scorpio just past the quincunx of Pluto radix.

I have drawn attention to the many quincunxes because I have noticed that these figured frequently in Rodney's chart at times of crisis or change, perhaps indicating the stresses and strains which he often endured, or created for himself.

Rodney and Janet now moved out of the household at Lyne Place into a mansion flat in St. James Street, London, where Rodney gave himself up entirely to writing. 'The Theory of Eternal Life' was completed and published during this time, although in fact it was a rightful follow-up to the much longer book, 'The Theory of Celestial Influence' which had been temporarily set aside. He then returned to the other MS. Visitors were held at bay by Janet.

A number of people who had been present during the winding-up meetings at Lyne Place following Ouspensky's death, formed the impression that Rodney was a man worth following, and more likely to be able to lead them than anyone else who had appeared. He seemed to have a certain dignity and authority, and they were arrested by his manner and some of his words. He seemed to have developed into a man of considerable stature. But, uninterested in leading anyone, he closeted himself in his study, concerned only with writing down his ideas on the nature of consciousness, and the nature of time.

Penetration into other times

'An approximate image of man's temporal background might be conveyed by a clock face on which month, hour, minute and second hands were simultaneously revolving,' he wrote. 'But to make this image more correct, it would be necessary to imagine some of the hands gaining in speed, others losing, and some even revolving anti-clockwise. If the second hand now imagined that the circumference of the face was an infinite straight line, measurable only in one direction at one speed, and divided into equal points which had one fixed meaning for all the hands, this would to a certain degree represent man's normal perception and illusions concerning the nature of time…' (Theory of Celestial Influence).

'The penetration into other times which is connected with the creation of consciousness in functions which are now unconscious or inoperative has a double effect. As a result of the expansive and pervasive powers of matter in faster states, awareness of their times brings with it a certain awareness of the world from which they derive. Penetration into the sub-human world of cells creates awareness of the superhuman rhythms of Nature; into the time of molecules, awareness of terrestrial time; while further penetration into electronic time implies a similar awakening to solar time. Thus the passage of consciousness to each higher function brings man to knowledge of two new worlds-one smaller and one larger. It is the cellular body whose time begins with conception and ends with death. But the molecular matter of which the ovum is composed and into which the corpse disintegrates, does not die, nor does its time come to an end. From man's point of view, molecular and electronic time not only exist within his physical body, but also after it and before it. Thus molecular and electronic time, with all they imply, must be closely connected with the problem of states after death and before birth.'

Still under the influence of the visions seen in the time of fasting and seclusion, Rodney took oil paints and drew a vast, swirling, vivid diagram illustrating four worlds in the form of interlinked circles. The electronic world, or Heaven (the world of the speed of light). The molecular world, or Paradise (the world of the speed of scents, sounds, atmosphere). The cellular world or Earth (the world of the speed of lives of cellular bodies). The mineral world, or Hell (the slow, dense world of rocks and stones, minerals in the core of the earth). The circumference of each of the circles was marked by a time scale developing logarithmically. The diagram was redrawn by Richard Guyatt and appears in The Theory of Eternal Life.

Journey to Mexico

In 1948, Rodney and Janet moved to Mexico. A number of the bereft followers of Ouspensky accompanied them, and others who had come across his books later threw in their lot with the Col1in-Smith household, in an old hacienda in Tlalpam on the outskirts of Mexico City . Rodney went on studying, and collected a very large library, including many rare volumes covering astronomy, astrology, al1 the occult sciences, religion, philosophy, magic, all forms of art and many obscure and unusual subjects. He continued to write about the relationship between space and time, and to declare his belief that 'the task of the universe, and every being within it, from sun to cell, is to become conscious'. He spoke of the stepping-up of the voltage of light at different levels of the solar system, declaring 'light and consciousness are the same phenomenon seen on different scales'. .

'If we consider the tracks of the major bodies of the solar system in the light of these ideas, we recognise the thick straight primary of the sun, surrounded by eight secondary coils of its planets. We see also that the thickness of these planetary "wires" varies from one-tenth (Jupiter) to one-hundredth (Mercury) the thickness of the solar primary. In an eighty-year diagram we count in the various coils all kinds of windings from one half to no less than 300 turns. Here we have indeed all the factors and components of an enormous transformer for receiving current at a given tension and stepping it up for delivery at eight different voltages. . .

'The sun is the source of life. It is the only source of electronic radiation-light, heat, ultra violet and other rays. The sun alone gives out matter in electronic state. This is the fastest state of matter, in which it travels at no less than 300,000 kilometres a second.

'The planets neither possess nor give out matter in electronic state. Their highest part is their atmosphere, which being gaseous, consists of matter in molecular state . . . All organic life on earth consists, from one aspect, of electrons. . . from another aspect of molecules. . . from a third aspect of minerals. . . These three states of matter are superimposed upon each other. All living beings therefore contain within themselves three or four incommensurable states of speed of matter. By virtue of their electronic structure they partake of the nature of the sun. By their molecular structure, of the nature of the planets. By their mineral structure, they partake of the nature of the earth . . .

'But the electronic matter is more or less securely locked up, by the influence of the planets, into molecules, molecules in turn are locked up by the nature of the earth into mineral forms . . . Any process of improvement or regeneration of natural or human forms must consist of unlocking more and more of the matter of the body from mineral, first into molecular, and then into electronic state. Such unlocking would inevitably be accompanied by an increase in speed of the organism. . .'

These ideas were not only abstract theories to him. Growth of consciousness was his continual aim, and to this end he made constant efforts of struggle, will and self-discipline.

The Chamber of the Sun

At first, his household followed the same lines as the Ouspensky circles, but gradually activities branched out and the atmosphere lightened and changed. Rodney bought land in the hills outside Mexico City and started to build a planetarium with underground chambers hewn from the lava rock -the circular 'Chamber of the Sun' interlinked with the 'Chamber of the Moon'. Between the two in a small space, a great upturned shell received the sun's rays through an aperture, at the Summer solstice. Round the chamber ran a passageway, the walls of which were lined with mosaic designs drawn and laid by himself, depicting all levels of organic life, from the primordial to the perfect Man. Above ground, the planetarium itself was to have been flanked by the library, and a room for Mexican dancing, lectures or theatre performances.

His followers worked with a will, and Mexican peons hewed the rocks and constructed the buildings under his direction.

Gazing up at the stars in the warm, clear Mexican nights, he observed the movements of the heavenly bodies, and returning to his books, considered man's 'allotted span' of years and wrote:

'At exactly 28,080 days from conception, Mars completes 36 cycles, Venus 48, the Asteroids 60, the combination of Jupiter and Saturn 72, Uranus 76, Mercury 240 and the Moon 960. We find to our awe that the whole company of planets have returned again to that disposition which governed at the outset.

Throughout man's life their various tempi have ruled this or that function and aspect of his existence. The quick lunar pulse of lymph, the tempo vivace of his mercurial nature, the moderato beat of flesh and blood, the andante of intellectual striving, the slow largo of instinct, and the majestic grave of man's deepest emotion -- all these have risen and fallen in him according to the quicker or slower rhythms of the planets. By their perpetual harmony they have woven the intricate counterpoint of his life. In unison at last, they strike the one great chord which sounds his death knell.'

In many ways, this period represented the peak of my brother-in-law's achievement. When I was with him there, he was always active -- kneeling in the dust and the hot wind, painting the signs of the Zodiac on the great boulders that lined the steep approach to the planetarium; walking long distances through uninhabited country ; organising the opening of an English bookshop in Mexico City; arranging for his books to be published in Spanish; buying a ranch ; planning to open a factory to manufacture and export Aztec design blankets; inspecting a mine in the mountainous interior ; running a clinic for the peons. Meanwhile he maintained an increasingly large correspondence with people all over the world who had read his books, had continual visitors in the household, gave talks and lectures.

Meditation and prayer

He slept little and put himself at the disposal of all who came, rising from the table, or even from bed at everyone's demand. He became increasingly exhausted. As the strange air of the 7,000 feet altitude of Mexico City got into his system, he began to turn away from scientific formulae, back to simple Christianity. The love of God, the love of all men, moved him in his actions. He turned to meditation and prayer. He drove himself harder and harder.

In April 1956 he decided to visit Lima, Peru, where a group of people were studying his writings. From there he and Janet and a few others flew to Cuzco, to see the Inca ruins high in the mountains. To the Incas, Cuzco was traditionally 'the navel of the world'. While up there, at a great height, he climbed the bell tower of the Spanish American cathedral, in company with a crippled peasant boy. At exactly 3 p.m. Eastern standard time, on 3 May 1956, a young man crossing the cathedral square looked up and saw a man's body come hurtling out of the open-sided tower. Rodney fell into the square and was killed. His body died that day, and was buried in the cathedral garden, in a grave covered with blue flowers. The site has since been built over. The influence lives on through his books.

The idea of different times was his theme song, and he had written: 'The way towards unity lies in escape from time'. Perhaps at the end the temptation was great. The natal chart has some three possible 'points for suicide' tenanted (Carter). These are 15 of Cardinals and about 26 of Mutables. (Saturn ] 5 Aries, Neptune 14 Cancer. Pluto 24 Gemini).

At the time of his death, aged 48, the transits were more marked than the progressions. On 3 May, Mars was transiting conjunct Mars radix, exact during the previous night, making a square with Sun. Mercury and Venus radix. The Moon was conjunct Mars at the time. Moon was also square Sun and opposition Jupiter during those hours. (Uranus in Cancer and Neptune 'in Libra were in fact square to each other -- a time of general tension.) Jupiter transiting in Leo was quincunx his Uranus. During May, Sun progressed quincunx Uranus. Mercury progressed conjunct Pluto, Venus just past the conjunction with Pluto.

Describing his 'four worlds' he had written: The central point, from which all lives derive, to which they return, and which sustains them in their circling, is the sun itself. '

His last written words were inscribed on the headstone of his grave:

'I was in the presence of God;
He sent me to the earth;
I lost my wings;
My body entered matter;
My soul was fascinated;
Earth drew me down;
I reached the depth;
I am inert;
I gather my strength;
Will is created;
I receive and meditate;
I adore the trinity;
I am in the presence of god.'

Copyright Joyce Collin-Smith

More information, all articles and reviews are on the author's web site