Laurens van der Post, fully Sir Laurens Jan van der Post

Laurens van der
Post, fully Sir Laurens Jan van der Post

Afrikaner Author, Farmer, War Hero, Political Adviser to British Heads of Government

Author Quotes

Many more stars were about to fall out of their courses, he warned me, and that, he stressed, was how and why he had been called on to prophesy and warn, for that was all a prophet could do. But warn to what effect? It was not for prophet or man to say in an age, he declared tragically, when no-one spoke any more of Umkulunkulu, the great first spirit. His praise-names were forgotten, and men now spoke only of things useful to them. How could I, a child of the same Africa, myself have failed then to conclude that no year for centuries had been of so meaningful a transition as this year of our absent Lord, 1926?

We live not only our own lives but, whether we know it or not, also the life of our time. We are actors in a moment of history, taking part in it, moving it this way or that as we move forward or back. The moment we are living now is a strange one, a disquieting one, a time that seems full of endings.

Often I have found that the one thing that can save is the thing which appears most to threaten ... one has to go down into what one most fears and in that process ... comes a saving flicker of light and energy that, even if it does not produce the courage of a hero, at any rate enables a trembling mortal to take one step further.

On the night that the Second World War was declared, there were crowds in the street. It was a summer’s night and there was a blackout. On every side you heard people crying: Look at the moon! The moon had been there every minute of their lives and they’d never seen it.

Once again I was struck by the brutal, impersonal quality of this form of departure. I have never ceased to be touched in some indefinable way by a ship casting off and moving out to sea. There is something symbolic about it to which the hungry, starved rationalism of our twentieth-century mind instantly and inevitably responds. The ship is of the authentic, antique material of the imagination. It must be impossible for a person of average sensitiveness to say good-bye to someone he loves who is going away in a ship, without experiencing, whether he likes it or not, something of the truth of the trite, but the none-the-less pointed French proverb Partir c’est mourir un peu. Even at a railway station, the flutter of a handkerchief, the wave of a hand or a face looking back at one from a window, to some extend redeems the train’s impersonal yet hysterical departure. The aeroplane makes none of these concessions. There is no interval between the being here and the going there; the two conditions are created, as it were, with one stroke of the knife, and one is left with a vague, uncomprehended sense of shock. One feels as if one had been subjected to a lightning amputation.

Organized religion is making Christianity political rather than making politics Christian.

Somehow I seemed to know him and his function before Mr Tajima whispered to me, He is a travelling and professional story-teller. I knew it because the look in his eye and the tone of his appearance, despite dress and dissimilarity of circumstances and place, were familiar and dear to me. I had met it on the faces of men charged to pass on the stories of Africa from one generation to another without help of the written word, in the belief that, if their story were ever to be forgotten, they and their peoples would lose soul.

The age of leaders has come and gone. You must be your own leader now. You must contain the spirit of our time in your own life and your own nature. You must really explore, as you’ve never explored before, what human nature is like.

The conduct of thousands of men in war and in prison with me confirmed with an eloquence which is one of my most precious memories of war, that the spirit of man is naturally a forgiving spirit. I was convinced that if the cancellation of the negative past which is forgiveness could take its place, it would automatically be followed by the recognition that men could no longer change the pattern of life for the better by changing their frontiers, their systems and their laws of compulsion of judgment and justice, but only by changing themselves.

The confusion inwardly was so great that he was compelled to ask Mopani's advice. This added to Mopani's predicament. He had always abhorred giving advice to people. He had certainly never advised anybody unless asked to do so and then only with extreme reluctance. For unless one were in someone else's situation so completely that one could be described as being inside his skin, one's advice would inevitably be based on an inadequate comprehension of all the facts essential for constructive counsel. Moreover, giving advice in general appeared to him to presuppose a lack of respect -- if one may borrow from Lammie's phrase for the `otherness' of human beings -- an intrusion into their personal fate which his experience had proved to be followed usually by undesirable consequences.

The dark, rejected forces massing in the shadow of the unconscious, as it were, knife in hand, demanding revenge for all that man and his cultures have consciously sacrificed of them in the specialized conscious tasks he has set himself, are real and active enough to keep us too busy for academics and scholasticisms. They show how all our history is a progression on two levels: a conscious and unconscious, a manifest and latent level. That is why all men tend to become what they oppose, why the New Testament exhorted us not to resist evil because what follows logically is that ultimately the dark, dishonored self triumphs and emerges on the scorched level of the manifest to form another tyranny as narrow, producing another swing of the opposites of which Heraclitus spoke. The answer, as Jung saw it, was to abolish tyranny, to enthrone, as it were, two opposites side by side in the service of the master pattern, not opposing or resisting evil but transforming and redeeming it. These two opposites in the negations of our time could be turned into tragic enemies. But truly seen psychologically and again defined best perhaps in the none-motive terms of physics, they were like the negative and positive inductions of energy observed in the dynamics of electricity; the two parallel and opposite streams without which the flash of lightning, for me always the symbol of awareness made imperative, was impossible. Containing those two opposites, putting the light of the superior functions at the service of the dark, bearing all the tensions induced thereby, the individual could grow into a resolution of the two into a greater realization of himself. One says greater because the self realised thereby is more than the sum of the opposites, because in the process of their resolution the capacity of the individual to join in the universal and continuing act of creation wherein his own life participates enables him to add something which was not there before.

He could almost hear the beloved voice itself there in the desert where he walked alone: One can perhaps betray oneself if one must, and hope some time for pardon from life, and one can betray the men of the twentieth century because they have all betrayed one another for so long that they have some kind of terrible immunity to betrayal. But for people of nature and animals and birds still capable of such a look, there is no such immunity, and betrayal is death to them as it is ultimately to the betrayer. Intangible as all these feelings and intimations and recollections were, they did Francois more good than any amount of medicine, ammunition or the help of others could have done. Once they were recognized, welcomed and made at home in his daily reckoning, he would be reassured, composed and more resolute. And he would come back, tired as he was, night after night, with whatever little of food he had gathered from the desert, eagerly looking forward to seeing those dear, trusting faces, dismayed though he would be by noticing again how ill and thin they looked, asking only that they should open their eyes and show him that the ancient, first look of trust was still there. The detail of every evening was stored up accordingly in his memory as a new source of wealth and daily he would hasten back, spurred on by a feeling of going home, however strange it may sound in a desert where no one had a fixed home, where home was not in any given place but in the feeling of being at home anywhere in the universe, by instant right of the fact that one is a child of it and the life it lit on earth.

The rarer, the more exceptional the spirit, the deeper the psychological suffering.

I know that those who are in the business of dream analysis and who help others and have gone through it themselves, and who know far more about it than I know, would hesitate to pronounce on any single dream, least of all when they could not ask the dreamer for his own amplification of the dream. But the dreamer was gone, and out of touch with us, or perhaps, more precisely, was in touch only in a kind of new and inexpressible nearness, and one could not ask him, in what passed for language between us, for his own associations. But I felt that there was more than enough evidence from history to give us the relevant associations, particularly in regard to a person who knew his Cape and its history as well as he did. Besides, whatever it is that dreams through flesh and blood would have presided over these dreams, true and free of anything that is false, as it had presided over the centuries behind us. The Europeans, especially the Portuguese, who probed along the coast of Africa from the north to the south, fearfully around the Bight of Benin, past Guinea, the coasts of gold and ivory and 'the white man's grave', onwards south for year after year under the Southern Cross, would always see the sun rise on their left -- until one day, centuries later, there came the strange, blessed but awesome morning when the sun rose on their right.

They sailed on, fearing it could be an aberration or an illusion or perhaps just a distortion of the coastline they had followed for so long. They watched it almost in unbelief, day after day, but it kept on rising on the right until they accepted with a great inrush of joy that what had been called the Cape of Storms at first had suddenly become the Cape of Good Hope, and that the way to `the East' where the new day begins was open to them. It seemed to me no message could be clearer, that both before the uprooter of trees had appeared and after that strange sunrise, the master dream, of its own accord, began the uncoding of the message we had longed for and stated clearly that there was more to the life of which we had just lost sight. I stress the word `began' because the process of wondering started by these two dreams, one at the introduction of the cancer into flesh and blood and the other at its exit from the here and now, led me to realize, without any feeling of bitterness or condemnation, how inadequate were the hypotheses and the points of departure of scientists and doctors in their approach to something so mysterious as cancer. I have so often heard doctors say that if only people had come earlier they could have dealt with the cancer. But how can one be early enough when the process itself may not be accessible to human perception until, having crept in on tiptoe and caught one asleep, with no conscious reason to protect one, it moves in and takes hold of the imagination, as it had done with my son? What did surgeons achieve when, to use one of the most ambivalent popular phrases of the English language, they proceeded to `cut it out', when they were dealing with something that was not just physical but also dream material? Even if doctors did, as one hopes they will one day, use dreams and their decoding as an essential part of their diagnostic equipment and perhaps could confront cancer at the point of entry, how are they to turn it aside, unless they are humble enough to keep their instruments in their cases and look for some new form of navigation over an uncharted sea of the human spirit for a way to resolution of this fateful affliction?

In a profound sense every man has two halves to his being; he is not one person so much as two persons trying to act in unison. I believe that in the heart of each human being there is something which I can only describe as a child of darkness who is equal and complementary to the more obvious child of light.

This feeling that he had that if man lived his life religiously, if he lived his life symbolically, then it al - it was almost as if what the theologians called God - and my Zulus called Umkulunkulu, the first spirit - well, the first spirit had passed over some of his power and some of his responsibilities to the human being and that the human being had a godlike task to perform in Creation. And the extent to which he performed it he derived his meaning. That's a very important part of Jung's thinking.

It may be that there are other worlds with forms of being, with a greater awareness of this responsibility than we have, but this is what is on our doorstep and knocking so powerfully to be allowed in. For the moment this is our unique role. We have already got power enough to destroy the whole of human life; but we have not yet got the moral obligation, the sense of good and bad, to match it and follow it as our instrument of metamorphosis. We have not yet accepted that every act of knowledge, every increase of knowledge, increases our responsibility towards creation. We have been induced into believing that we are completely helpless in the grip of powerful new forces and that we are caught up in a process that is meaningless, and just sweeping us along like the swine of a new Gadarene. But we have the power to be creative if we turn back to what I can only call `the dreaming process' in ourselves, and we put our imaginations and our lives into this area where the dream occurs; then we can `do', and we can change life. But the message is clear: the power which does not corrupt comes to man not in multitudes, it comes to him as an individual man, as it came to the man alone with his cattle, his natural self in the Forest of the Night and which, by his failure to recognize it, lost him his soul. It comes first to the individual alone: the individual who has to guard his individuality in an aloneness that is not loneliness but, as the Zulus say, a house of dreams. There he can discover the greatest of freedoms, to live out his own gift of life without diminishing or imperiling, but enriching his association with the society of man. And the dreaming to which I refer is not some lush, comfortable, pink marshmallow kind of concept. It is a voice of steel, calling us to live and fight for truth not in hate but love, for love. But it calls in a language to be decoded, since it is -- as someone I know in America, who left his church to do just this, put it -- `the forgotten language of God'. We have no excuse any more, and it is the greatest scandal of our day that neither religion nor science acknowledges it, that we have the code to read the ancient instructions inscribed in our dreams -- and we do not use it.

Those of us who have spent time in wilderness are aware of the fact that there is something more to wilderness than we ourselves can express. This is rooted perhaps in the effect that wilderness has on human beings who have become estranged from nature, who live in industrialized environments and are estranged in a sense from their natural selves. Wilderness has a profound impact on them, as well as on those of us more familiar with it. Wilderness is an instrument for enabling us to recover our lost capacity for religious experience. The religious area is far more than just the church. If you look at the history of Europe since Christ, you will see that the church has tended to be caught up, as it is today, in the social problems of its time, and be less than the religion it serves. The churches and cathedrals are really, in the time scale of human history, just tents on the journey somewhere else. What wilderness does is present us with a blueprint of what creation was like in the beginning, when all the plants and trees and animals were magnetic, fresh from the hands of whatever created them (God). This blueprint is still there, and those of us who see it find an incredible nostalgia rising in us, an impulse to return and discover it again.

It’s been said that the explorers in mankind must be singularly unemployed because there’s nothing left in this world to explore... however in the sense to which exploration is both an exploration into the physical and into the spirit of man there is a lot ahead in your keeping...We must go sharply into reverse. We must get our old natural selves to join with our other conscious, willful, rational, scientific selves. This is the other act of exploration that will fulfill the exploration you’ve had in the past. Your job is not over.

To me it was simply that the older I got, the more and more I felt that we had lost, there was a bushman in everybody, and we'd lost contact with that side of ourselves. And we must learn again from the bushman. Trying to find out what is that side about. I thought how strange it was that people were digging up old ruins -- archeologists excavating to find out what archaic man was like, and here he was walking about in our midst. Why didn't we ask him? That really is at the back of it: the fact that the bushman personified an aspect of natural man which we all have, but with which we've increasingly lost contact and that has impoverished us and endangered us. And when I spoke to Jung about it he said this is not an extravagant thought at all. He said every human being has a 2 million year-old man within himself. And if he loses contact with that 2 million year-old self he loses his real roots. So this question of why modern man is in search of his soul and has lost his religious roots had a lot to do with my interest in the bushman. Because I found that the difference between this naked little man in the desert, who owned nothing, and us was that he is and we have, but no longer are. We have. We've exchanged having for being. So if the bushman goes, through what one knew of him, his stories, and his art, he would still be important to us. He must live on through these things. And that's what I've tried, merely tried, to bring back -- to use him as a bridge between the world in the beginning, with which we've lost touch, and the now.

Life begins as a quest of the child for the man and ends as a journey by the man to rediscover the child.

We have to turn inwards, to look into ourselves, look into this container which is our soul, look and listen to it. Until you have listened in to that thing which is dreaming through you, in other words--answered the knock on the door in the dark, you will not be able to lift this moment in time in which we are imprisoned, back again into the level where the great act of creation is going on.

Human beings are perhaps never more frightened than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.

Life is not a process of mere predictable cause and effect. Both cause and effect are aspects of something greater than either.

Author Picture
First Name
Laurens van der
Last Name
Post, fully Sir Laurens Jan van der Post
Birth Date
Death Date

Afrikaner Author, Farmer, War Hero, Political Adviser to British Heads of Government