The Theosophical Society in America

Book Reviews 2003

Jung: A Journey of Transformation. By Vivianne Crowley Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, Quest, 1999. Hardcover, 160 pages

Carl Gustav Jung emphasized a crucial psychotherapeutic process he called transformation. "One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light," Jung insisted, "but by making the darkness conscious." His career penetrated the shadows of the unconscious mind and illuminated everyday experience. His work encourages genuine spirituality, increases an appreciation of the world's mythologies, and explains how metaphors and dreams provide healing. Crowley's book assists readers in comprehending Jung's principal concepts and techniques. The author, a licensed psychologist trained and practicing in the Jungian tradition, organizes Jung's theories systematically and employs colorful charts that simplify without distorting his central concepts. This book is especially suited as an introduction to Jung and his philosophy.


January/February 2003

THE ESOTERIC ORIGINS OF THE AMERICAN RENAISSANCE. By Arthur Versluis. New York; Oxford University Press, 2001. Hardback, vi + 234 pages.

Arthur Versluis considers Western esotericism the most important new field of religious and interdisciplinary scholarship. In this groundbreaking work, he is the first to study the presence of Western esotericism in North America and its influences on the major writers of the nineteenth-century American Renaissance.

The term "Western esotericism'' includes herbalism, astrology, folk magic, and the several forms of divination that seventeenth-and eighteenth-century European colonists brought with them to help discern their uncertain future in a new world. English and German settlers, especially, integrated practical esotericism into their daily lives. By the time of the nineteenth century, these esoteric currents were disappearing. The rise of the sciences, technology, and industrialization in the early nineteenth century presented a cosmology that separated and objectified, whereas the esoteric traditions worked with the deeper connections between "humanity, nature, and the divine."

The elimination of esotericism from American daily life, however, was not complete. Our of sight did not" mean our of mind. Indeed, the writers of the American Renaissance were responsible for "the transference of esoteric traditions from daily life into literary consciousness." In this volume, Versluis analyzes esoteric themes in the work of writers like Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, Alcott, Emerson, Fuller, Whitman, and Dickinson-writers who limited their contact with esoterica to the available literature, but did not practice.

Versluis suggests several reasons why previous studies have almost completely ignored the influence of esotericism on these writers. First, academia assesses esotericism as superstition. Second, the study of esoteric traditions is transdisciplinary, cutting across many disciplines, with ramifications beyond any single one, making it difficult to find a home in academia. Third, critics claimed that nineteenth-century American literature belonged on a level with Shakespeare, though discounting the bard's own references to magic and esoterica. In the wilderness of unexamined primary sources, Versluis searches for specific esoteric connections between a given writer and the writer’s works. His analysis and scholarship are as fascinating as a treasure hunt.

Versluis closes with two interesting suggestions. First, that the work of these writers with esoterica influenced them to adopt an open tolerance for truth in every tradition. This led to the Transcendentalist thesis that a universal human religion is inherent in all the world religions. Second, their work probably prepared the way for the later emergence of semisecret lodges in American cities and the practice of astrology and alchemy from the last century until today.


January/February 2003

NATURE LOVES TO HIDE: Quantum Physics and the Nature of Reality, a Western Perspective. By Shimon Malin. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Hardback, xvi + 288 pages.

Science has always been an integral part of the Theosophical Society. It is part of the Second Object and finds support in the Mahatmas Letters: "Modern science is our best ally." A quick perusal of our past literature and lectures shows that, as a Society, we have always shown an interest in modern science.

In 1975 Fritjof Capra changed the public face of panicle physics by publishing a perennial best seller entitled The Tao of Physics. On November 5, 1977, the Society brought Capra to its national center, "Olcott," for a weekend seminar. That was also the beginning of the Theosophical Research. Institute (TRI), which continued for a time.

What made Capra's book so compelling was his pointing out the parallels between Eastern mystical thought and some of the new concepts in quantum and relativity theory. Eventually, he concludes that particle physics and Eastern mysticism converged. After Capra's book, a number of others extended the subject, one of the better ones being Gary Zukav's work, The Dancing Wu Li Masters.

Once the initial excitement of Capra's book had passed, the scientific community, with a collective yawn, seemed to revert to business as usual and moved on to other interesting subjects like black holes and string theory. As coeditor of the TRI Journal, I found this somewhat frustrating since we were unable to convince orthodox scientist to continue this line of study.

The only other book that generated some excitement was Amit Goswani’s work, The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World. It had a provocative tide but was unconvincing to most of my scientific friends who read it. The Theosophical Society has published another of Goswani's books, The Visionary Window: A Quantum Physicist’s Guide to Enlightenment. Here the tide presents an even bigger challenge, and I'm afraid the scientific community has still avoided this whole area.

Now comes Shimon Malin's new book, which just may have a chance of being read and taken seriously in the orthodox scientific community. Why is this? The book is more difficult- to read than those mentioned above. It makes you think, even in its lighter passages. It covers a wide range of authors, including Plato, Plotinus, Bohr, Schrodinger, Whitehead, and Heisenberg. And yet there is something about this book that most scientists will accept. After some thought, I have decided I know what that is.

While editor of the TRI Journal, I found that many orthodox scientists did not like to involve themselves with the vocabulary of the East". As soon as words like "karma," "Oneness," "Vishnu," and so on entered the discourse, interest waned. What did Malin do to avoid this? Look at his subtitle- his book is a "Western Perspective." He has used Western vocabulary, and his explanations are clear and simple, even though the topics are quite difficult. The few places he felt the need to include mathematical arguments, he has relegated them to appendices. Even there, they are presented with humor and clarity.

I noticed on the book's jacket that Ravi Ravindra had given a positive review of its content and message. Since Ravindra was the Professor and Chair of Comparative Religion, Professor of International Development Studies, and Adjunct Professor of Physics at Dalhousie University, he has the credentials to evaluate the hook. However, Ravindra is also a long-time and influential member of the Theosophical Society. He has given many talks and conducted many workshops for the Society. I was not surprised when I got to page 227 to find Malin mentioning his "good friend from Nova Scotia, the physicist and philosopher, Ravi Ravindra."

Malin's book repeats much of the same material that Capra and Zukav covered, but does so without Eastern vocabulary and hence the need for a reader unfamiliar with Eastern religions to learn a new background. Instead, Malin relies solely on philosophers and scientists of the West to convey his arguments. Whenever he needs to slip into the subjective, he uses two fictional characters, Peter and Julie, to convey his message. In some ways they are the right brain and left brain of text.

An important part of Malin's effort is to introduce what he calls the Subject of Cognizance. Without this, we have a dead image of a living universe. Simply put, "all scientific evidence is based on human experiences; the human mind is the ultimate measuring apparatus. Yet the nature of the Subject of Cognizance is never raised as a scientific issue."


January/February 2003

Confucianism: A Short Introduction. By John H. and Evelyn Nagai Berthrong. Oxford: One World, 2000. Paperback, x + 209 pages.

The Way of Virtue: An Ancient Remedy to Heal the Modern Soul.
By James Vollbracht. Atlanta, GA: Humanics, 1998. Paperback, [Xiv] + 129 pages.

The Wisdom of Confucius. Trans. William Jennings. Secaucus, NJ: Carol; Citadel Press, 1996. Paperback, xiv + 197 pages.

The Wisdom of the Confucians. Compo Zhou Xun with T. H. Barrett. Oxford: One World, 2001. Hardback, 200 pages.

An article in Newsweek magazine (May 27, 2002, p. 51) reports the revival of Confucian studies in China-among children. The West likewise has had a renewal of interest in the Master Teacher of the Orient, who is more than of only historical interest because his view of human beings and their role in community has some lessons that can benefit twenty-first-century Westerners. These four books published over the past six years are straws in the wind indicating new interest in an old wisdom.

The Wisdom of Confucius is a reprint of an older work, a compilation of Confucian sayings, apparently all from the Analects (but unfortunately without source identification), organized according to the subjects they treat.

The Way of Virtue is also basically a compilation of sayings, apparently from the Analects butt likewise without attribution. They are set in a narrative biographical account with some imaginative embellishments.

The Wisdom of the Confucians  is another but more recent compilation, handsomely produced and illustrated, drawn primarily from the Confucian Four Books, but also from some of the older Classics and from, later Confucian works as well, including some Japanese sources. Its short selections are organized under the broad heads of family, society, individuals, and education. Because of the wider scope of its sources, it gives a fuller account of Confucian thought.

Confucianism: A Short Introduction is, as its title promises, a concise overview of Confucian teachings, values, practices, history, and significance. In part, the book accomplishes its mission by describing the life of a fictional seventeenth-century Confucian couple, Dr. and Mrs. Li. The value of this approach is that it shows Confucianism, not merely as a body of ideas, but as a way of life during one of the high points in its history. The book thus aims at showing the human face of Confucianism.

These four books are all popular presentations of Confucianism and thus accessible introductions to their subject. The two One World publications are especially useful for their breadth and innovative presentations.


The PK Man: A True Story of Mind over Matter. By Jeffrey Mishlove. Charlottesvllle, VA: Hampton Roads, 2000. Paperback, xx + 283 pages.

Jeffrey Mishlove is a parapsychologist, author of the classic work, Roots of Consciousness (1975) and of Psi Development Systems (1983) and, among other things, the gifted host of Thinking Allowed, the acclaimed public television interview series on new thought and consciousness (in production since 1986). In this book he chronicles and meticulously documents an engrossing story of a powerfully talented psychic, Ted Owens, who called himself "The PK Man" (PK standing for psychokinesis), whose life and career Mishlove personally studied for some years until Owens's death in 1987. Owens's activities were also carefully followed at different times by other scientific researchers (a urologist, a clinical psychologist, an astronomer, and several noted physicists) and by several journalists. Mishlove cites their independent testimony.

Owens predicted or caused the occurrence of a variety of spectacular events, including thunder and lightning, snowstorms, earthquakes, droughts and hot spells, drought-relieving or freezing rains, floods, tornados, power failures, volcanic eruptions, the technical failure of human machinery, strange turns in sporting events, and the summoning on command of UFOs into the field of vision of spectators. The question whether the human mind can exert a direct influence on distant physical systems with no known mediation has long been debated. But if this power does exist, its implications are, as Mishlove says, "staggering in every way-philosophically, scientifically, sociologically, spiritually, and most importantly, in terms of how we know and understand ourselves." Owens claimed that none of his demonstrations were the result alone of his own psychic abilities but always involved assistance from or commands of Space Beings or Space Intelligences-his SIs, as he called them. Mishlove asks, "Was Owens really in touch with extra dimensional beings existing in some hyperspace dimension ... or were they a delusion that Owens had built up in his mind in a desperate attempt at self-understanding?"

This story in fact raises many questions psychological, scientific, parapsychological, ethical, social, philosophical, and metaphysical. Mishlove's approach is interdisciplinary. To give just one example: the idea of hyperspace beings is, of course, totally unacceptable from the viewpoint of scientific materialism. But it is not inconsistent with insights of physics concerning hyperspace, as in superstring theory, nor with many biblical accounts, nor with metaphysical ideas of mystics of today and of the past, nor with some commonly held ideas of shamans.

Owens used his powers inappropriately, even very destructively, in some instances. Mishlove points out, however, that Owens lived and operated within a world that offered him little in the way of support or understanding, and that his efforts to use psychokinesis for human benefit were met with sarcasm and ridicule. "This is a situation faced today by thousands of talented intuitives, psychics, shamans, healers, and seers," he writes.

As here told, this story is a page-turner. Above all, it heightens one's perception that to be a human being is to "wield the dual powers of awareness and intention, every waking and dreaming moment." And it arouses a resolve to "practice mental hygiene" with regard to one's own "stream of consciousness."


January/February 2003

FIGHTING THE WAVES The Wandering Peacemaker. By Roger Plunk. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads, 2000. Paperback, xiv+ 191 pages.

Readers who believe that spirituality should be expressed in the world as well as in the heart will find a kindred spirit in Roger Plunk. In The Wandering Peacemaker, Plunk opens a window to his spiritual life as it has shaped his work as a freelance international mediator. Visionary since childhood, Plunk feels guided by a steadfast inner light. However, rather than becoming a cave-dwelling mystic, he has enthusiastically embraced life, studying philosophy and law and embarking on a career in which he has tried to bring peace to several troubled regions including Tibet and Afghanistan.

Plunk affirms "that solutions arc invariably spiritual," engendered by love, compassion, and flexible thinking, but the political impasses he has attempted to mediate are so bitter and deeply entrenched that Plunk is unsure of what influence he may have had. He uses an image of a boy fighting the waves of the ocean to illustrate the value of his work. Although the waves always win, at least he "jumped in and made an effort.


January/February 2003

Within Time and beyond Time: A Festschrift for Pearl King. Ed. Riccardo Steiner and Jennifer Johns. London: Kamac, 2001. Paperback, xxvi + 277 pages.

This anthology of eighteen papers on psychoanalytic theory and practice in the United Kingdom was assembled to honor the British psychoanalytic historian (and British. Theosophist) Pearl King on her eightieth birthday. Among a number of other accomplishments-for example, her important coeditorship of the Freud-Klein Controversies, 1941-45, and her work with developmental issues in the mature psychoanalytic patient-the contributors make special mention of her work as the most important internal historian of the British Psychoanalytic Society.

The papers range over a capacious array of live topics within psychoanalytic theory and history. Among the topics dealt with are the split within French psychoanalysis in the wake of Jacque Lacan's short-term "wild analysis," recollections of the early life of R. D. Lang, the complex intertwining of the ego ideal and the super ego in first- and second-generation children of Holocaust survivors, the question as to whether or not classical Freudian drive theory is really incompatible with more recent object-relations theory, genetic versus developmental analyses in psychoanalytic practice, and the elusive problem of unconscious ego choice. While very few Festschrift's are actually about their intended honoree, this one does acknowledge the centrality of Pearl King as a champion of both the London Society and the less secure fledgling Societies in the hinterlands to the north of London.

For Theosophists there are several issues here that are of great import. I will mention three of them. The essay by Leo Rangell, "Unconscious Choice and Responsibility: An Elusive Point of Psychoanalytic Theory," moves beyond the dyad between the weak consciousness and an all-powerful but deterministic unconscious. Rangell argues, and I think persuasively, that the unconscious piece of the ego makes choices about object cathexis or intrapsychic integrity and has a small, but important, amount of free will. If this is so, then it follows that the Theosophical quest to work through and past the so-called lower self must first wrestle with this strange phenomenon of a conscious yet unconscious decision-making process within the hidden depths of the ego. There seems to be a special kind of consciousness within the unconscious that could be correlated further down into the etheric and astral bodies, insofar as they may have been part of the pre-formation of the personal and collective unconscious below even the genetic level. Put in the form of a question: just how does karma get expressed in unconscious ego choices, themselves based on both traumatic and inherited patterns, which can only be decoded by a rigorous psychoanalytic process?

Another question raised is that of knowing how to tell if an experience is a hallucination or has a true object reference. In the essay "The Unconscious: Past, Present, and Future," Clifford York carefully lays out Freud's evolving views on the unconscious system and the distinctions among the descriptive, dynamic, and systematic modes of the unconscious and the way these modes of the total unconscious relate to the preconscious. In "solving" the hallucination problem, he argues that occasionally an unconscious fantasy can emerge that does not pass through the preconscious. Therefore, as it" is not even filtered through our partly controllable preconscious, we assume that the fantasy object comes to us from the external world. In reference to H. P. Blavatsky's many experiences, this distinction can become quite vexatious. Are her trance states simply fantasies that fail to slow down and get moderated by her preconscious? Are occult experiences over-determined by projection, transference, and Oedipal or castration anxieties? Or are they, as Rudolf Steiner argued, validated insofar as they are seen by the "spiritual eye" rather than by the perceptual channels of "normal" consciousness?

Finally, the moving essay by Bernard Barnett, "The Holocaust, Its Aftermath, and the Problem of the Superego," gives case studies of survivors' children as they struggle with depression, rage, self-loathing, and paranoia. Barnett makes some brilliant moves when he correlates the sometimes unbearable, unconscious tension between the ego ideal of the child (who fantasizes rescuing his or her parents from the Nazis), and the damning superego (that tries to push the son or daughter into the false recognition that they are just like the Nazis in the camp). This raging psychic split can produce life-long psychosomatic disorders and make it extremely difficult to rebuild a whole psyche. For the Nazi party member or sympathizer, there is a pathological pseudo-blending of the ego ideal and the superego that deadens the conscience by linking it to a tribal identity that projects all forms of negativity outward into the Other.

The superego of the Nazi became focused on Jews and others who seemingly acted out the hidden drives and desires within the unconscious of the Nazi. One could make a strong case that this psychic dynamic is operating in the current Israeli Palestinian conflict. For Theosophists, usually working out of far less charged internal dynamics, the conflict between the ego ideal and the superego may play itself out in the tensions between the higher Manas and the seemingly endless repetition of the drives. The ego ideal may indeed become too inflated, thus putting backpressure on the superego to deflate and weaken the psyche.

It is clear that these essays not only honor Pearl King, but also give both psychoanalysts and Theosophists much to think about. While it should be clear that their issues are our issues, it may be less clear to them that our issues are theirs as well. It is my hope that this will change in our lifetimes.


March/April 2003

The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus. By Neil Douglas-Klotz. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, Quest, 1999. Paperback, [viii] + 222 pages.

While scholars and theologians struggle to disentangle "the historical Jesus" from the "Christ of the Christian faith," Douglas Klotz proposes filtering Jesus' words through the Aramaic language that Jesus actually spoke. Thus "Blessed are the meek" becomes "Healthy are those who have softened what is rigid within." Perhaps such translations simply reflect the information in a good psychology text-book. Using this rhetorical-psychological method, the author attempts to decode the spiritual and prophetic statements expressed in Christian scripture as hidden messages. This book evokes a statement by Jesus indicating that he taught an exoteric message to a general audience and an esoteric message for a select few. But until Jesus' actual expressions are confirmed with certainty, reinterpreting the words in scripture remains a creative exercise. Saying the "same" thought in a different context or a different language is not saying the same thing. All of our translations are really interpretations.


March/April 2003

The Spirituality of Success: Getting Rich with Integrity. By Vincent M. Roazzi. Dallas: Brown Books, 2002. Paperback, xvi + 244 pages.

A tradition found in the West and elsewhere around the world values holy poverty. And that is a good tradition, but it is not the only approach to spirituality and economics. Saint Paul is often misquoted as having said, "Money is the root of all evil." What he actually wrote (I Timothy 6.10) is "The love of money is the root of all evil." And that's an important distinction. Things have no moral value in themselves-but only in how we relate to them.

Contemporary world culture is capitalist in orientation, and capitalism values capital, income, and business success. But those things need to be related to in ways that make them spirituality-friendly, and that means treating them as means to a morally good end, not as ends in themselves. One of the steps on the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path is "right means of livelihood," a step that all of us need to be mindful of, whatever economic activities we engage in.

This book by a member of the Theosophical Society focuses on spiritually appropriate means to achieve economic success, but the purpose of that success is not neglected. And that purpose must always arise from the recognition, in the words of one of the great teachers, that "it is 'Humanity' which is the great Orphan, ... and it" is the duty of every man [and woman] who is capable of an unselfish impulse to do something, however little, for its welfare." Or as Roazzi writes in his preface, "After all, your success will not be for you alone to enjoy, nor does anybody become successful by themselves." The true key to personal success is impersonal altruism.


March/April 2003

Alchemical Psychology: Old Recipes for Living in a New World. By Thom F. Cavalii. New York: Jeremy R. Tarcher/Putnam, 2002. Paperback, 365 pages.

Thom Cavalli's new book provides a very readable introduction for the nonspecialist to the Jungian approach to alchemy- sometimes called the Great Work. Here, alchemy is the quest for the transformation of the "lead" of our unconscious lives into the "gold" of greater consciousness and psychological integration. The book is written in an entertaining style and includes helpful chart's and pictures; with plenty of space, for notes. The attractive presentation is unfortunately marred by a number of small errors - for example, Albertus Magnus has become Albertus Magus, and Wittgenstein might be surprised to find himself listed as a physicist.

In a welcome move, Cavalli acknowledges that alchemy also has legitimate physical laboratory applications and higher spiritual aspects, but that explicitly psychological readings of the Work only made their appearance in the last hundred years. However, I was disappointed that he did not give more than a passing nod to nonpsychological approaches to alchemy, leaving his psychotherapeutic approach to stand alone, at least as far as this book is concerned.

As Cavalli himself states, the psyche is only one level of our being. One of the strengths of the alchemical tradition is its ability to describe and catalyze transformation on all levels-elemental, physical, psychological, and spiritual. Cavalli's readers might want to broaden their search by investigating laboratory alchemy (e.g., the courses written by Jean Dubois for the Philosophers of Nature), alchemical magic (e.g., David Goddard, The Tower of Alchemy; Gareth Knight, Experience of the Inner Worlds and The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend), and spiritual alchemy (e.g., the sacramental alchemy of Paul Blighton, The Philosophy of Sacramental Initiation and The Book of Alchemy).

Cavalli's practical exercises and clear language will insure that his book is a valuable help to seekers. Nonetheless, we know our soul only in living experience and in union with our body and our spirit, and the wise operator will not neglect these aspects of being in the alchemical Work. After all, "what is below is like that which is above, and what is above is like that which is below, to accomplish the miracle of the one thing."


March/April 2003

Heart without Measure: Work with Madame de Salzmann. By Ravi Ravindra, Halifax, Nova Scotia: Shaila Press, 1999. Hardback, 218 pages.

Ravi Ravindra had the privilege to work with Madame Jean de Salzmann for more than a decade. Madame de Salzmann worked with Gurdjieff for many years and was entrusted with continuing the Work (Gurdjieff's teachings) after his death in 1949. This book is a collection of journal entries from1971 to 1990 by Ravindra that document conversations, communications, and encounters between Ravindra and Madame de Salzmann and provide a glimpse, of her extraordinary compassion and love.

Each chapter consists of the state of mind of the author when encountering problems, his observations, and his insights, followed by discussions with Madame de Salzmann regarding the difficulty experienced during meditation or other exercises performed to assist in the integration of the body and mind. At the end of each section, a summary of the remarks of Madame de Salzmann is given so that the reader can review them in their pristine form.

The doubts, questions, play of the mind, and frustrations experienced by the author are not unlike the issues many would face when embarking on a serious journey. What is admirable is the honesty with which the author records his feelings and mentions them in the subsequent conversations with Madame de Salzmann. Ravindra remarks that if you go to a doctor but hide your symptoms, you cannot expect to get the right treatment. It is easy for us to relate with the author when he is counting the days until he can leave after coming to an intense session at the Foundation in Paris.

The observations and in some cases insights, such as "I realize that violence, both internal and external, arises from a feeling of not being needed, not being useful" and "Thinking without words, that is attention," seem to stay with us long after the book is put down.

The central theme of the Work is the harmonization of the three forces of the body, mind, and feeling. "Unless these are together, equally developed and harmonized, a steady connection cannot be made with a higher force. Everything in the Work is a preparation for that connection. That is the aim of the Work.

The experiences and the efforts made by the author in developing this connection and the untiring help and guidance provided by Madame Salzmann are the focus of the book. Oh, what a doctor she was! She was able to see the inner feelings and sensations and to provide guidance to move in the right direction during a movement or meditation, and she gave tremendous courage to the students to lay bare all their warts.

For those who are familiar with Gurdjieff's Work, this book will be beneficial, as it provides invaluable insights from the voice of Madame de Salzmann. Even for those who have no prior knowledge of the Work, some of the remarks of Madame de Salzmann are crystal clear. One such statement is "Man has a special function, which other creatures cannot fulfill. He can serve the earth by becoming a bridge for certain higher energies. But man, as he is by nature, is not complete. In order to fulfill his proper function he needs to develop. There is a part of him which is unsatisfied by his life. Through religious or spiritual traditions he may become aware what this part needs." However there are statements that require a deeper attention on the part of the reader: "What is important is the connection with the higher energy. And when one is not related, one must stay in front of the lack of connection. Stay in front of whatever is taking place: stay in front of your connection or the lack of it. Stay in front."

The title of the book is appropriately named Heart without Measure, and one can see in each page the love and untiring assistance given to the author by Madame de Salzmann. The author rightly acknowledges and appreciates the assistance. However, the real "guru dakshina" or expressed gratitude would be to continue the Work. To some extent this is achieved by writing the book. For those who want to learn who a true teacher is and what honesty in effort means, this book will be inspiring.


March/April 2003

Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing. By Stephan A. Hoeller, Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2002, Paperback,  257 pages.

The Fall of Sophia: A Gnostic Text on the Redemption of Universal Consciousness. Translated with commentary by Violet MacDermot, and foreword by Stephan A. Hoeller, Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books, 2001. Paperback, 224 pages.

Stephan Hoeller is considered by many as today's foremost advocate of a renewed Gnostic tradition. Many in the Theosophical Society know him as an informative lecturer whose humor and in-depth knowledge always provide a reason for listening to his message. Not as many people know that Hoeller, age 70, is also known as Bishop Hoeller and has presided since 1977 at Ecclesia Gnostica, the chapel of the Gnostic Society. Its web site is: .It Is my understanding that his parish extends to Portland and Salt Lake City.

Hoeller has written a book on Gnosticism that has been greatly needed since the popular classic The Gnostic Gospels was written and published in the late 1970s by Elaine Pagels. If anecdotal evidence shows a trend, Gnosticism is quietly making inroads as more people are thinking for themselves rather than letting organized religion do it for them. For Theosophists, this book will be a very welcome addition to their library. Prior to the Nag Hammadi discovery, Theosophists essentially had the writings of Madame Blavatsky and G. R. S. Mead for Gnostic studies and insights. Now we have a plethora of books in print and numerous sites on the Internet dealing with Gnosticism. However, to sort it all out and take the time to make sense of "Gnostic information overload" is asking too much for many of us. Hoeller's book solves that problem-it presents the essence of Gnosticism. Hoeller indicates, "This book is a concise and sympathetic presentation of the teachings and spiritual ambience of the Gnostic tradition."

Hoeller tell us that "the Gnostics always emphasized understanding and the insights derived from understanding." The book begins to help us with those insights by examining the Gnostic worldview. Next, God and Cosmos, the human being, and individual salvation are considered before we revisit Genesis in the Old Testament. We next look at Sophia as a Gnostic archetype of feminine wisdom. This is a germane discussion for the second book in this review. Finally, we examine the Gnostic Christ, the Gnostic view of Evil, and its initiatory Sacraments. This material forms almost one-half of the book.

The chapter on the Gnostic Christ could have been longer. Actually, I would hope that Hoeller develops this chapter into a book because it is needed. In many ways I consider myself to be a Christian Gnostic. However, I quite often find it difficult to define what that means when I try to articulate it. The material in the chapter on the Gnostic Christ helped in formulating my thoughts and beliefs, but I'm still searching for more help in this area. Some of the best material that I have found has come from the old lessons from the Holy Order of MANS (now Science of Man). These lessons are still in print and information on them can be found on the web site under their Discipleship Study program : .

The second half of the book is a standard history beginning with some early Gnostic teachers (Simon Magus, Carpocrates, Alexandra, and Valentinus), and later teachers (H. P. Blavatsky, G. R. S. Mead, and Jung) and concluding with a chapter on Gnosticism and postmodern thought. As with the Gnostic Christ, many of these chapters could each be a separate book. Let us remember, however, that Hoeller warned, "This book is a concise and sympathetic presentation." Therefore, we find a very nice, short, and selected history that fits together well. A Gnostic reading list and glossary are included and are quite useful. I did find the material on postmodern Thought to be somewhat ambiguous. I wished he had developed the environmentalism material (p. 219) a little more. Also, his brief but accurate comments on theoretical physics (p. 220) are quite timely. But since Capra's The Tao of Physics is so well recognized today, we could have had a longer discussion on how physics enhances the Gnostic perspective.

About forty years ago, I remember reading a book on the Essenes and Gnosticism that touched my inner self. Later, I became interested in the French Christian-Jewish mystic Simone Weil. When I discovered her spiritual interest in Catharism and its connection to Gnosticism, I had that same feeling again. Hoeller's book put my insight and feeling into a historical perspective. His discussion of the Gnostic religions of the Mandaeans, Manichaeans, and Cathars is very well done. Any book that helps clarify thinking in this area is useful. You probably will find similar reasons for wanting to add this text to your bookshelf.

The second book in this review is Egyptologist Violet MacDermot's translation of the Pistis Sophia. Part one of this book is a stand-alone discussion of the Gnostic myth of Sophia. The impact of science is considered, and as a bonus Swedenborg and the human body as microcosm are covered. Part two is the first and second books of Pistis Sophia. Sophia's fall is our Story of separation and a slow evolution to a new level of consciousness. Hoeller writes the foreword in this book and provides all the necessary background. This would be a' perfect follow-up, to Hoeller’s Gnosticism book;


March/April 2003

Spirit and Art: Pictures of the Transformation of Consciousness. By Van James, Great Barrington, MA: Anthroposophic Press, 2001, Paperback, xii + 267 pages.

According to Van James, art is something like a midwife, helping, to bring into the world of sense perception "our experience of the invisible," Spirit and Art is a detailed, richly illustrated examination of art's power to symbolize unseen spiritual processes and to reveal the evolution of human consciousness.

Ranging from the cave art and megalithic structures of prehistory to the postmodern world of Joseph Beuys's shamanic conceptual art, James explores the art and architecture of Europe, ancient Greece and Rome, Egypt, the Near and Far East, Africa, Australia, and the Americas. He includes chapters on sacred buildings, art and the initiatory practices of ancient mystery cults, and spiritual designs and symbols. Writing that artistic symbolism is an "initiatory revelation that opens a doorway into the secret realm of creation," James offers numerous crosscultural examples of images and structures designed to draw human beings deeper into the mystery of life: catacombs, mandalas, labyrinths, Native American sand paintings, Gothic cathedrals, pyramids, and Buddhist temples.

- James also discusses "Cosmic Script," simple linear and geometric images, such as dots, circles, crosses, zigzags, and triangles, occurring as spiritual forms across numerous cultures, especially in the petroglyphs of early humans. James tells us that these forms, attempts to represent supersensory forces, are related to phosphenes, "fleeting physiological images produced upon the mind's eye independently of external vision" that appear during the "first stages of a shamanic trance state."


March/April 2003

The Mandaeans, the Last Gnostics.By Edmonda Lupieri. Trans. Charles Hindley. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002. Hardback, xix + 273 pages.

The Fall of Sophia: A Gnostic Text on the Redemption of Universal Consciousness. By Violet MacDermot. Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books, 2001. Paperback, 224 pages.

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene.By Jean-Yves Leloup. Trans. Joseph Rowe.Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 2002. Paperback, 178 pages.

At the turn of the twentieth to the twenty-first century, we are experiencing a Gnostic renaissance that might represent a parallel to the Hermetic-Humanistic Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Every year we find that the literature on this subject has grown by way of the publication of new books often containing exciting new translations of important Gnostic texts.

Only fifty years ago it was generally believed that Gnosticism was extinct and thus could be approached only historically. Today we know that this is not the case. In Iraq and Iran there lives a substantial religious minority known as the Mandaeans (from the word manda denoting Gnosis), ancient Semitic Gnostics who have survived since the early centuries of the Christian era. Until quite recently, the only available literature describing these fascinating folk were the scholarly and hard-to-obtain tomes of the pioneer researcher, Lady Ethel Stefana Drower, who in the first half of the twentieth century befriended members of the Mandaean community and described their beliefs, customs, and scriptures.

Edmondo Lupieri, an Italian university professor of the history of Christianity, has presented us with a singularly informative introduction to Mandaeanism. In addition to the kind of material that was familiar to some of us by way of the books of Lady Drower, Lupieri discloses many valuable accounts of the prolonged interaction of the Mandaeans with Western Christianity, primarily Italian missionaries, who documented their experiences with the Mandaeans. Many of these documents (beginning with chronicles written by Rocoldo da Montecroce, a thirteenth century monk) are in the archives of the Vatican. In addition to these unique historical sources, Lupieri presents much contemporary information, including the visit of a Mandaean delegation to the Vatican in 1990 and the presence of Mandaean priests at a noted conference dealing with their religion in Boston in June, 1999.

Lupieri's book is arguably the best work ever published on this remarkable remnant of ancient Gnosticism. The book is enriched by an extensive anthology of translated Mandaean texts in addition to the detailed historical study that constitutes its first part. Esoteric students need to keep in mind that the Mandaeans are the most likely source of the Gnostic connections of the medieval Knights Templar, and thus they may very well be the mysterious "Christians of Saint John" referred to in Templar and Masonic lore. Students of the Gnostic tradition ought" to feel grateful for this readable and insightful introduction to an important branch of the ancient, but still extant, Gnostic movement.

The most renowned of all Gnostic scriptures is the treatise known as Pistis Sophia, contained in the Askew Codex, which turned up mysteriously in London toward the end of the eighteenth century. Several scholars have prepared translations of this remarkable text, not the least of whom was the Theosophist, G. R. S. Mead, whose fine translation, published in the last years of the nineteenth century remains the most accessible of all translations.

The myth of Sophia, "Our Lady Wisdom," is one of the most important myths of the Gnostic tradition. It tells the story of a feminine emanation of the Deity, who at a certain point in her career falls from her high throne and becomes subject to numerous afflictions and indignities until she is rescued and restored to her original place of glory. Contemporary writers on the feminine principle, including students of C. G. Jung, have often referred to Sophia as a mythic representative of the fate and predicament of the human soul in general and of the feminine psyche in particular.

Like so many scriptures of Gnostic provenance, the Pistis Sophia is a complex work, filled with repetitious passages, difficult sentence structure, and imagery that may appear incomprehensible to one not familiar with Gnostic scriptures. Now, for the first time, a highly skilled translator has given us a version of this treatise that is simplified and freed from some of its obscurities, while retaining its essential content and poetic form. Violet MacDermot is one of the most insightful and sympathetic contemporary scholars of Gnostic literature. Her earlier monumental translations of several codices are well known. Trained as a medical doctor, she became an Egyptologist and scholar of Coptic texts. In many ways this latest work is her finest gift to her readers.

One of the historically significant discoveries in Gnostic studies was the Akhmim Codex, which in the latter part of the nineteenth century came to repose in the Berlin Museum. This work has received less attention than the Pistis Sophia, perhaps because it is less voluminous, although it contains three separate treatises. Two of these, The Gospel of Mary and The Act of Peter have appeared in a fine new translation appended to the now classic work, The Nag Hammadi Library in English, edited by James Robinson (4th ed. 1996). Now a new and somewhat peculiar translation and treatment of the first of these treatises has appeared, under the title The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. The translation of the text is written in a style rather more cumbersome than the one in The Nag Hammadi Library. As to the commentaries, they are likely to bewilder anyone who has some familiarity with the content and especially the context of this scripture.

Beginning with Carl Schmidt's first treatment of this scripture in 1896, every authority has acknowledged that this is a Gnostic scripture. It would therefore appear to be obvious that any interpretation of the text ought to take into account the Gnostic context of the material. Such, however, is not the case when it comes to this work by Jean-Yves Leloup. The commentaries attached to the translated passages reflect much modern theological and philosophical speculative thought, which appears to be projected onto an ancient Gnostic text, where it obviously is out of place. Nowhere do the commentaries even intimate the Gnostic spiritual ambience of the scripture in question. In fact this treatment comes very close to falsifying its intent. This circumstance is particularly tragic in view of the increasing popularity in literature of the figure of Mary Magdalene and of her relationship to Jesus. A number of years ago, the sensational book Holy Blood, Holy Grail convinced many naïve readers of the unsubstantiated story of Mary Magdalene's children sired by Jesus. Now we find ourselves confronted with a Jesus and a Mary Magdalene harnessed to modern and post-modern agendas.

The book is further rendered suspect by the content and more particularly by the bibliography in the lengthy preface by David Tresemer and Laura-Lee Canon. This bibliography lists, along with a few reputable works, several revisionist fantasies masquerading as history, mainly inspired by the "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" theories, which are characterized as "extremely well researched." No more needs to be said.


May/June 2003

In Search of the Unitive Vision: Letters of Sri Madhava Ashish to an American Businessman 1978-1997. Comp. Seymour B. Ginsburg. Boca Raton, FL: New Paradigm Books, 2001. Paperback, x + 292 pages.

This book should engage anyone interested in the spirituality of Advaita or the Gurdjieff Work or Theosophy; and if one is interested in more than one of these, then the book is required reading.

Seymour Ginsburg is a successful businessman who in 1978 went on a private visit to India, a visit that became a spiritual journey for him. There he met Sri Madhava Ashish (born as Alexander Phipps in Scotland), who had taken over the direction of the Mirtola ashram near Almora in 1965, after the death of Sri Krishna Prem (born as Ronald Nixon in England), whom he had adopted as his guru in 1946. Madhava Ashish was a very wise man, often speaking from the level of consciousness established in a unitive vision:

In the unitive vision the identity of the individual with the universal is experienced, and it is perceived that this identity encompasses all beings as an eternally valid fact. It has not come into being with the seer's attainment to the vision, but simply is. What comes into being, or, more truly, is developed in the seer, is the seer's capacity to perceive the identity. In this context it seems meaningless to say that any individual man ever attains anything. (165)

Madhava Ashish told Ginsburg, "If you want to pursue in a Western way the path that we follow here at Mirtola, you need to study and work with the Gurdjieffian teaching" (13-14). Ginsburg did exactly that and cofounded the Gurdjicff Institute of Florida. Ginsburg visited Madhava Ashish regularly until the latter's death in 1997. It was the persistence and tenacity of Ginsburg that elicited a lot of letters from Madhava Ashish in response to his questions. Those are the letters presented in this volume, along with a few splendid and wonderful articles written by Madhava Ashish, two of them originally published in the American Theosophist.

Since both the authors—Madhava Ashish in particular and Seymour Ginsburg to some extent--are culturally and psychologically attuned to an integration of both the Eastern and the Western sensibilities in spiritual matters, it is good to recall a relevant aphorism of Gurdjieff "Take the understanding of the East and the knowledge of the West- and then seek." This advice seems simple on the surface, but I wonder how the pupils of the Gurdjieff Work, who are almost exclusively Westerners, would "take" the understanding of the East? From books? By apprenticeship with Eastern gurus? By imbibing the Eastern attitude by living in the East? Madhava Ashish certainly represents a striking example of a person who combined the understanding of the East and knowledge of the West. We need to be grateful to Ginsburg for persisting in his questioning, for gathering and sorting through the responses of Madhava Ashish, and for publishing them. These responses, always full of insight and sometimes wry humor, throw an impartial light on Theosophy, the Gurdjieff Work, and Indian spirituality.


May/June 2003

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Buddhist Wisdom. By Gill Farrer-Halls. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, Quest Books, 2000. Hardback, 192 pages.

This splendid volume is surely not an encyclopedia in the modern sense of the word, for there are no alphabetized entries or technical terms of Buddhist thought. Rather, it is a beautifully illustrated introduction to the essential features of Buddhism in its Theravadin, Tibetan, and Zen forms and to the practice of that spiritual tradition today.

As an introduction, it is not meant for students of Buddhist- philosophy—technical vocabulary is kept at a minimum. So, too, is the discussion of the bewildering variety of Buddhist seers that have arisen over the course of the tradition's long history. Essentially, the work is for lay people wishing to grasp the fundamental teachings, values, and methods of Buddhism without undue emphasis upon Sanskrit vocabulary or historical narrative. In this respect, the volume achieves its purpose admirably. It is a very good place to begin one's acquaintance with South and East Asia's most dominant spiritual tradition.

More advanced students will, of course, find many gaps in the account. Little is said, for instance, about Pure Land (qing tu) Buddhism, a form that has always been far more popular in China and Japan than Ch'an (Zen). Tantricism is mentioned in connection with Tibet but is hardly explained adequately. Madhyamika philosophy, which lies at the root of Mahayana, does not even appear in the index. The reader who has studied Buddhism already will sense a tendency on the part of the author to homogenize the various schools and traditions until Theravada, Zen, and Tibetan forms seem to be almost the same.

Nevertheless, for the beginner this is a more than adequate place to start, for it is written with a quiet serenity and faith that are quite compelling. The emphasis upon techniques of meditation rather than doctrine is quite helpful. The illustrations are both beautiful and informative.

It is, in a word, an upaya, an excellent expedient device to start one on the path. After the reader has absorbed all that has been said here, it will be time to amplify and more carefully nuance the understanding. Buddhism knows and teaches that not everything can be said at the beginning. The Buddhist path entails constant revision and reinterpretation. This work is an excellent starting point for a life's journey.


May/June 2003

Luminous Emptiness: Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead. By Francesca Fremantle. Boston; MA: Shambhala, 2001. Hardback, 407 pages.

Francesca Fremantle transforms the Book of the Dead into a "Book of the Living." A more accurate translation of the Tibetan classic would be the "Great Liberation through Hearing during the Intermediate States," which Fremantle shortens to "Liberation through Hearing." She states that W. Y. Evans-Wentz chose the more popular title for the first English translation due to its apparent similarity to the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Fremantle sets the foundation of the after-death (or bardo) states very carefully, with emphasis on the Deity Yoga tradition of her Kagyu teacher Chogyam Trungpa. The bardos are the states between earthly existences. Pervading her discourse on dying is the Buddhist theme that nothing is permanent. Dying is a journey into another life, which is prepared for during life by awareness of this key principle. The author relates the world of symbolic imagery, such as the rainbow of elements, to our everyday mental and emotional states. A Theosophist can correlate her report that each element includes an aspect of the five other elements with our teaching about the tattvas. All the elements and everything composed of them exist on three levels: "the coarse, the subtle, and the secret”-a principle discussed in chapter 9 on "The Threefold Pattern of the Path."

According to Fremantle (367), the three kayas are more than subtle bodies; they are three conditions of our minds:

Everything that is not the awakened state is bardo; we are always in a bardo state, just as the three kayas are always present in our lives. As the past dissolves, the mind merges with the nonexistence of everything that exists, the omnipresent openness of space, the totality from which all phenomena arise and to which they return- the dharmakaya. In the gap between the disappearance of one thought and the arising of the next, the mind rests in n state of clarity, luminous awareness vibrant with the magical display of energy; the sambhogakaya. As each new moment of consciousness arises, it gives form to the mind's natural awakened qualities and brings them to life in this world as the continual manifestation of body, speech, and mind: the nirmanakaya.

Her description of the bardos through the six realms of Hell Beings, Hungry Ghosts, Animals, Human Beings, Jealous Gods, and the Gods themselves can be pretty formidable. The attractive or fearful nature of the realms can sidetrack the pilgrim. Fremantle reminds us that by confronting these energies in daily life and with constant awareness of their impermanence, we are preparing for a safe passage through the after-death states. Is this disciple of the Kagyu tradition rushing the Western student through a. Buddhist practice for quick liberation from earthly rebirth, as if that is to be most dreaded? Perhaps not. She does focus on achieving the luminous mind at death, stating (237): "All the essential teachings of the Buddhist path, whatever one has practiced during one's life, become the means of transforming the mind at death." There are Buddhists of many traditions who believe that, when one is dying, a simple faith in Amitabha Buddha's presence will take them into his Pure Land.

In the Bhagavad Gita (ch. 6), Krishna states that "assimilation with the Supreme Spirit is on both sides of death." Chapter 8 has a similar focus: "Whoso in consequence of constant meditation on any particular form thinketh upon it when quitting his mortal shape, even to that doth he go." For some, this type of assimilation with the Supreme is a wiser path than cultivating the complex imagery presented by Fremantle in this hefty commentary. However, for those imbued with the Bodhisattva ideal of serving humanity, Fremantle (253) provides an optional practice:

Those who were not practicing Deity Yoga at all are instructed to meditate on Avalokiteshvara, the Lord of Great Compassion. .. Because of his vows to liberate all sentient beings, he is the natural, universal chosen deity available to everyone; no special empowerment" or teachings are needed to meditate upon him and aspire to enter his pure realm.


May/June 2003

The Mind of the Universe: Understanding Science and Religion. By Mariano Artigas. Philadelphia, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2000. Paperback, xx + 364 pages.

Initially, author Artigas's book reminds one of the story about a cowboy who saddled a horse and rode off in all directions simultaneously. A single important observation eventually emerges from this writer's reflections on the scientific method, the theory of evolution, human rationality and creativity, essential values, and the meaning ascribed to human progress. Artigas recognizes that nature, as comprehended by the natural sciences, points to a larger reality from which "the natural" emerges, a reality that is not immediately discoverable from the methods of the natural sciences. This conclusion, however important, is not new.

May/June 2003

Alive in God's World: Human Life on Earth and in Heaven As Described in the Visions of Joa Bolendas. By Joa Bolendas. Trans. John Hill. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne, 2001. Paperback, 224 pages.

Eightysome-year-old Swiss mystic Joa Bolendas began seeing spiritual beings during the 1950s. In Alive in God's World she explains how her visionary experience presents human life on earth and in heaven, describing her impressions of the soul's development. In his introduction, John Hill, a Jungian therapist