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Charles Cameron, In Memoriam

[Mark Safranski / zen ]

Charles Cameron, 2012

Charles Cameron – author, comparative religious scholar, poet, citizen of the world

I regret to inform readers of Zenpundit.com and especially those here who are fans of Charles, that he has passed away after years of struggling with health issues. In Charles Cameron, the world has lost a brilliant voice and is much the poorer for it.

Charles and I met through Critt Jarvis, at the time Thomas P.M. Barnett’s webmaster, who was putting together a start up project with the late angel investor Dave Davison. Critt’s app idea required content for demonstration purposes and Charles and were to help with that but Charles also brought to the table his experience with cognitive design at Hipbone Games. Our project never came to fruition – though some of Charles’ theories on gaming much later became part of Sembl – but we remained in touch. Charles had a versatile wealth of knowledge on esoteric subjects that was both inexhaustible as it was infectious. Soon Charles was guest-posting at ZP; then he joined as a co-blogger here and finally when my work and family commitments forced me to blog less and less, Charles became the managing editor, recruiting guest-posters, helping run blogging roundtables and evolving into the primary author in recent years.

He described his main interest as “forensic theology”, Charles had studied under the Reverend A.E. Harvey at Oxford and he had a deep knowledge of Christian liturgical traditions but that was merely the starting point. What Charles really had a unique grasp of was the underlying psychological and spiritual connections or similarities within and between different religious traditions. This was knowledge that came not just but from books but also firsthand experience and from a variety of mentors.

Trevor Huddleston, CR

There was Father Trevor Huddleston, monk, Anglican priest, human rights advocate and Archbishop of the Province of the Indian Ocean who tutored Charles as a boy on monastic principles and was paternal figure. At Oxford, Charles befriended Tibetan lama, Trungpa Rimpochemoved to India where he spent years as an early follower of Guru  Maharaj Ji

Chögyam Trungpa Rimpoche Charles Cameron and three others in India circa 1975

Moving to America, Charles turned initially to poetry and became part of the extended social circle of the Beatniks and studied Jungian psychology, Sufism and Zen traditions. He then struck up a remarkable partnership with Lakota Shaman Wallace Black Elk and the two taught classes on the Lakota sweat lodge ceremonial practices

Wallace Black Elk

Charles was fascinated by juxtapositions and analogies, especially in things spiritual or between the sacred and the profane. His Double-Quotes technique was meant to allow readers to “see” these insights by visual and textual combinations. Charles’ intellectual comfort with dualities, polarities and ambiguities made him a rare analyst, being the first to decode the secret meanings behind the terrorist Major Nidal Hasan’s infamous slideshow. Charles understood religious drivers in political violence and was critical of experts who seemingly ignored them – he could discuss at length the Phineas Priesthood, ultra-Orthodox supremacists, crypto-Mahdists, Dominionist zealots and “ordinary” jihadists with equal enthusiasm and offer their points of common reference before regaling you with some Sufi poetry or Zen koans.

From Charles Cameron I learned many things of which I might never otherwise have known and I believe many of his friends felt the same way. I’ll miss him.


17 Responses to “Charles Cameron, In Memoriam”

  1. Ron Hale-Evans Says:

    Farewell, Charles Cameron. I knew him through the glass bead game community of the mid-1990s, and we kept in touch intermittently after its MAGISTER-L mailing list folded. This news is especially bitter because I just tried to reach him via Facebook two weeks ago, after some years of silence. He was always genial; I guess now I know why he didn’t respond.

    A bright being who won’t, because can’t, be replaced.

  2. Zen Says:

    Hi Ron

    The Glass Bead Game was a major passion for Charles. He kept working toward a way to express the principles but was never quite satisfied. Sembl was as close as he came.

    I’m sure Charles would have contacted you had his health not been dragging him down. His blogging was slowing down of late – my last email with him was late July or early August. I get the sense he was starting to tire but his spirits were always high

  3. Daniel Bassill Says:

    I first met Charles around 2005 in discussions hosted on the Social Edge forum. Charles always encouraged contribution into the discussions and over several years we built a relationship and he took time to read what I was posting and then to encourage others to do the same.

    Social Edge was archived on the Skoll World Forum website around 2011, but you can find posts by Charles, like this one. https://archive.skoll.org/2009/09/01/who-will-build-a-more-efficient-marketplace/

    Since these archives will stay available on-line the ideas and memory of Charles will never be lost, but his lively curiosity and intense concern for others will be greatly missed. RIP Charles.

  4. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Memory eternal, Charles. Compared to others, I’ve “known” Charles only about a decade and during that time, the benefits of his posts, correspondence and our mutual love of Bach formed a bond that will be sorely missed. Rest in peace, my friend. Our sincere condolences to the family.

  5. Stephen Calhoun Says:

    That Charles has moved on after bearing so much physical infirmity seems to be a mercy. He is now discovering.

    Charles and I go back to the nineties, email discussions groups, then Brain Storms, one iteration of a Glass Bead Game. Being a Bateson-influenced 2nd Order cyberneticist with a pluralist bent gave the two of us some shared latches to flip. I do not know anybody outside of Charles Olson who squared the circles of the semios and the poetics as Charles did.

    What was remarkable were how tangible some of our many elected affinities were, especially given we never met body-to-body.

    Zenpundit and FB were our very infrequent meeting places. I hope his archive here remains accessible.

    He was a great man and child of the universe. Thank you for the memory expressed here.

  6. Steven Cranmer Says:

    I’m extremely saddened to hear about Charles’ passing. I only got to meet him in person once, but it was a wonderful conversation. Like Ron above, I first engaged with him on the MAGISTER-L list back in the early 1990s, and I followed his GBG work ever since. I will go back over our one web-published Hipbone game from long ago, and maybe see about porting it into Sembl…

  7. Jim Gant Says:

    I will miss Charles very much but there is no sadness in my heart. He is now released from this anchor that is our body. Charles played a significant role in my battle to recover from the wounds of war. We had many conversations about ‘transformations’…He was a bright shining light for me in this life and even more so now. I don’t know what will come of Zenpundit. But I do know that Charles will be in my heart and you will remain my friend. Here is a yell of love and joy out to Charles – Thank you wise friend, I will see you soon!!!…Jim

  8. Bryan N Alexander Says:

    Ah, this saddens me.

    I first met Charles through Howard Rheingold’s Brainstorms community in the 1990s. I was impressed by his learning, his passion, his puckish creativity.

    We met once or twice. In person he was dynamic, despite being ill. He listened *hard* to people, and was happy to challenge them.

    Over the past decade we communicated here, on this blog; by email; by phone; on Facebook. I tried to stay in touch.

    Such a mind! He loved ranging across ideas, glancing off of them, striking sparks. He played the Glass Bead Game as a master.

  9. Sue Says:

    I did not know Charles but have read all he has written last 6 years or so. Loved his interesting take on both esoteric matters so similar to mine, and politics…it is so hard these days to find people in that strange and lonely place of viewing current events from a more holistic platform. And I loved his poetry….so sad a much needed voice is silent…
    And also I would like to put a word in for Zen, I do follow your tweets and articles you write occasionally…I value your voice as well.

  10. Zen Says:

    Hi Jim

    Always good to hear from you my friend even this sad occasion. I’m so glad you had that relationship with Charles – I was struck by how many of the comments on Twitter remarked on his kindness as much as his intellect. It was a core element of his character.

    Zenpundit will remain up for the foreseeable future. I might even try to be more active here again. But everything Charles wrote will remain archived for anyone who would enjoy revisiting his work.

    Are you and Ann back in the states? .i hope this finds you both well

  11. Zen Says:

    Thank you all for your memories of Charles – and Sue for your kind words

  12. Sally Benzon Says:

    Hello, I knew Charles through his blogging here and his poetry on facebook. I always looked forward to seeing what he wrote here; his knowledge wise, deep, and kind with a rare humor of lightness in hearing his own wonder. Thank you so much, Zen, for the opportunity to meet the heart of this very special man.

  13. Kate Gilpin Says:

    There is a saying from Mali that when an old man dies a librrary burns down. It seems, in Charles’ case, more like the burning of the Alexandrtian library.

    Leaving the body
    He soars now into freedom
    Ah! The nostalgia!

  14. Karlie A McWilliams Says:

    He will be missed, Zen. He was a great man, and a light in this dark world. He was always accepting of me. Thank you for bringing him on.

  15. Piercello Says:

    Ah, Charles, my distant internet friend. May you have joy and boundless peace in the next stages of your luminous journey!
    Would that we had had more time to converse, or that I had met you sooner, or somehow in person. I came too late to the party for those things. But I am glad to have been at the party, all the same. We have all been enriched by your infectious generosity of spirit.
    Thank you, Mark, for this write-up.

  16. Michael J. Lotus Says:

    I got to meet Charles in person once, and it was a delightful conversation. He came to my house, and at that time I had my books on the ground floor covering most of the walls. Charles of course was the kind of person who would immediately begin perusing the shelves. It’s always interesting to see which books someone notices as particularly interesting or important. CHARLES is the only person who ever brightened up upon noticing a copy of Jungmann’s history of the Mass if the Roman Rite. This set off a series of reminiscences from Charles and his love for the Mass. A truly unique man, who’s passing we mourn, but who is now at peace and free from the burden of his illnesses. Rest in peace, sir.

  17. Rick Albertson Says:

    I met Charles back in the 1990s via Howard Rheingold’s ‘Brainstorms’ virtual community. We conversed lightly and intermittently there for many years. I sincerely wish that we had conversed more deeply and more often over those many years.

    Charles was so talented, so knowledgeable, so widely experienced, and so wise that I could have communicated with him every day of those last two decades and still learned only a small part of what I could (and should) have learned from him.

    And that would have still been only a small fraction of all the things that he himself had learned from so many people and so much experience over such a long, complex, and thoroughly fascinating life.

    Kate’s likening of Charles’ passing to not just any library burning down, but to the ancient Library of Alexandria burning down, is of course a literary exaggeration on her part; but it’s not as much of one as most people would assume.

    Charles’ compassion, creativity, clarity, and the sheer depth and breadth of his knowledge and his wisdom would have made him feel completely at home in The Musaeum at Alexandria, and I have no doubt that its high scholars would have gladly welcomed him into their ranks there.

    Charles was of course an extraordinarily learned and insightful student and teacher of comparative religious beliefs, and yet we almost never conversed directly about anything in those realms over the years. We did share enough about the subject, though, that Charles contributed some key elements to my own “many roads, one journey” spiritual story.

    Striving to view the world behind the world through his poet’s and scholar’s eyes widened my understanding, deepened my awareness, and sharpened my acuity. And, at a crucial time when I had thought that it was gone for good, his example helped me to rediscover and rebuild my faith in a frame that was a much better fit for it.

    He may not even have known how much he helped me then. I will always regret that I never specifically told him so and thanked him for helping to rekindle my inner flame just as its last ember was dying out.

    It does gladden my heart to know that Charles’ passing was a gentle one and that he was surrounded by family when the time for his transition had arrived. His stardust is on its eons-long path to becoming stardust again, and his light is shining everywhere at once again as it rejoins its source.

    I hope and believe that She in all Her forms was there to guide him and help him to go gently into that good light. If there was anyone who deserved to have such a high-level escort across the mystic rainbow bridge from Here to There, it was Charles Cameron. He will continue to live on in our memories, and he will be much missed by all of us who knew him even if that was only through his words.

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