Book Reviews 2020








Giza’s Industrial Complex: Ancient Egypt’s Electrical Power and Gas Generating Systems
James Ernest Brown, Dr. J.J. Hurtak, and Dr. Desiree Hurtak
Pagosa Springs, Colo.: Ancient Energy Research Center and Academy for Future Science, 2019. 150 pp., paper, $35.99.

Ancient Egypt has arguably been the source of more fringe speculation than any other historical culture, from tales about ancestral links to Atlantis to theories about pyramid-building aliens. Although modern scholarship has worked hard to throw cold water on the more extravagant variants, there is still no shortage of vexing mysteries involving this civilization, which even hard-nosed moderns continue to grapple with.

How did the Egyptians manage to move such large stone blocks, sometimes hundreds of miles overland? Why does Egyptian culture seem to have reached its peak near the earliest stages of its development? How did they achieve such extraordinary precision with some of the hardest stones on earth, as evidenced not only in works like the famed seated statue of Khafre in the Cairo museum but the many gargantuan sarcophagi down in the Serapeum of Saqqara? How does one explain the astonishing holes bored in hard stones around the Giza plateau, which look like the result of advanced machine tooling? The list goes on.

One of the most enduring mysteries of all, of course, is the Great Pyramid. What exactly was it used for? Despite its official reputation as a tomb, no pharaonic body was ever found inside it. This massive structure incorporates a series of extraordinary alignments, both geometrical and astronomical. Some claim that it served as initiation chamber and consciousness-raising device, while others point to the peculiar sonic properties in various parts of the structure. Having experienced some very strange acoustical phenomena in it myself, I have no doubt there is far more than meets the eye to this monument.

In recent years a growing chorus of voices has been suggesting that the monuments of the Giza plateau represent a kind of advanced technology normally associated with modern industrial societies. This school of thought was spearheaded in recent years by engineer Chris Dunn (The Giza Power Plant) but has been developed in a different vein by authors James Brown and J.J. and Desiree Hurtak in their new book.

The potentials of water play a pivotal role in this work. The authors propose that various structures around (and beneath) the Giza plateau were designed to activate sophisticated processes of “water splitting,” which in turn could exploit the enormous potential of hydrogen as a fuel source. Though we normally experience water in its liquid, gaseous, or solid states, they suggest another possible form: electrified or energized water. They go on to say that there is “good evidence that the Great Pyramid was a gigantic water processing plant to create electrified water and other chemical transformations.” It all sounds very space-agey, of course, but as the authors point out, the Egyptians “had the technology to build extensive pyramid structures, why could they not produce something as simple as energy from salt water batteries or hydrogen gas from water that high school students can do today?” We already know as a result of such discoveries as the so-called Baghdad Battery that some ancient cultures had devised ways of generating electricity, so it’s conceivable that the Egyptians could have developed related technologies.

What exactly would they have used this energy for? One possibility would have been electric lighting sources for their temples or for use in constructing tombs and tunnels deep underground. The authors theorize that structured or energized water could have also been utilized for agriculture, health and healing purposes, or ritual applications. As they point out, sacred water has long played a role in the ceremonies of religious cultures, from baptism to ritual purifications and cleansings.

Much of what the authors are proposing is speculative, of course, but as someone steeped for decades in highly speculative writings—including Theosophical ones—I admittedly have a high tolerance for far-out ruminations. What distinguishes this book from several others, however, is the science. While I don’t have an extensive enough background in electronics or chemistry to pass final judgment on the finer details of their research, I have just enough to suspect that they may well be on to something and that their work merits serious attention. The book could open the door to important insights into this ancient culture and our collective history.

A good-sized chunk of the book is technical in nature, which could make it tough sledding for non–technically minded readers. For them, I’m tempted to suggest skipping ahead to the conclusion, then going back to the beginning and reading forward from there. I’d like to think the authors might consider publishing a more accessible version of their research down the road in order to reach a wider audience.

In the end, their work brought me back to an idea I’ve pondered for years about the ancient Egyptians myself—namely, that they likely employed a more holographic way of thinking about the world, which operated on multiple levels simultaneously (like Egyptian hieroglyphics, which can be read on several levels). For that reason, I suspect their extraordinary structures may have served multiple purposes–spiritual, aesthetic, magical, geometrical, as well as technological. So should we view impressive structures like the Great Pyramid as deeply spiritual temples or as highly advanced machines? It may well be that they were both.

Ray Grasse 

Ray Grasse worked on the editorial staffs of Quest magazine and Quest Books during the 1990s. He is the author of several books, including The Waking Dream, An Infinity of Gods, Urban Mystic (excerpted in Quest, fall 2019), and Under a Sacred Sky. His website is







A Short Philosophy of Birds
Philippe J. DuBois and Elise Rousseau, translated by Jennifer Higgins
New York: HarperCollins, 2019; 157 pp., paper, $19.99.

The authors of this book write:

Like Mongolians, birds don’t travel with a compass, GPS, or a map, because they intuitively possess all these internally. Take the bar-tailed godwit. This little wader (also known as a “limicole” or mud-dwelling bird) is a close relative of the curlew and spends its life in coastal marshes or estuaries. In spring, the godwit migrates to make its nest in the Arctic. By tracking one of these godwits with a satellite tag, researchers have discovered that they are capable of covering the distance between Alaska and New Zealand—over 7000 miles—in one go. That equates to flying for a whole week at forty-five miles per hour. Consider, too, that the godwit weighs just 250 grams. What’s more, during this non-stop flight, the godwit only allows one half of its brain to fall asleep at a time—allowing it to fly continuously during its sleep. Imagine if we humans could sleep this way.

The authors of this book ask: whatever happened to our sense of direction? Wherever we go, whether it be a vacation or a deeper spiritual journey, we depend on some version of an external GPS. We don’t trust our internal instincts, as the godwits do.

Philippe J. Dubois is an ornithologist and a writer who has traveled all over the world watching birds. He is an author of several books on climate change and biodiversity. Elise Rousseau is a conservationist and author of several books on nature and animals. Their book provides twenty-two profound lessons on qualities we can learn from birds.

Tukaram, a famous Marathi saint, sang that our closest friends are in the nature around us. This elegant book reminded me of that teaching from my childhood. The authors inspire us to take a step back and reconnect with the nature and listen to the “tiny philosophers of the sky.”

The first chapter is titled “Embracing Our Vulnerability.” For a species of duck, the molting period is a period of vulnerability. When new plumage is replacing the old, these ducks are temporarily unable to fly. “Eclipse plumage” is a phrase used to describe “a liminal twilight that occurs while the bird waits for the essential feathers that it has to shed to regrow.”

The lesson is profound. Why don’t we humans do the same and cultivate the patience needed to “eclipse” ourselves whenever we face vulnerable situations? After great losses, we feel the pressure to move on. We rarely take the time to be with our sadness, gather our strength in our own version of eclipse plumage, and reemerge.

Many years ago, a goose family laid eggs in the planter on my deck. The mother goose would sit on them, hatching, for days, and the male goose would stay put on the deck, protecting his family. I couldn’t go on my deck because he would sit in a position to attack. I didn’t understand this fully till I read Dubois’s and Trousseau’s book: it is the geese’s commitment to their family.

The authors tell us about many such qualities. The hen takes a dust bath (live life to the fullest); the eagle glides high in the air, looking for its prey (true courage); doves fall in love (tenderness); a bowerbird builds his nest, beautifully decorating it in bright colors (adding beauty to the world); a robin brawls and fights (audacity in defending oneself); a corvid uses tree branches to reach hard-to-access foods (using one’s intelligence—forget the expression birdbrain!); and a bird loosed from its cage uses its freedom to roam while staying near the safety of the cage (dealing with fear).

In their conclusion, Dubois and Rousseau say that in “our changing world, threatened by climate change and destruction of natural habitats, many bird species are disappearing.” How do we adapt? How do we survive and, more importantly, how do we help our dear friends, the bird species, to survive? The authors say, “The day we decide to protect birds will be the day we decide to protect ourselves.”

This was an inspiring book. Lately a red-crested bird has been coming and sitting on a shrub that I can see from my reading chair. He sits there and watches me read. I wonder if he has something to tell me. I intend to ask the next time I see him.

Dhananjay Joshi





I Know What I Saw: Modern-Day Encounters with Monsters of New Urban Legend and Ancient Lore
Linda S. Godfrey
New York: TarcherPerigee, 2019. 322 pp., hardcover, $25.

You might believe that the trouble with people is that, to paraphrase the humorist Josh Billings, they know so many things that just ain’t so. If so, prepare to have your worldview shaken. This lively book of eyewitness accounts boasts chapter descriptions that alone would be worth the interest of any dedicated cryptozoologist: “Crybaby Bridge,” “The Texas Lobo Girl,” “Ohio Manwolves,” “Hawaiian Flying Dogman,” “Hairy Men of the Ancients.” As we proceed through the book, we are offered a seemingly endless procession of stories about cryptids. Upright canines, dire dogs, hybrid mystery cats, Lilliputian people, prehistoric creatures that time forgot, chupacabras, Snarly-Yows, and other “elements of lore and legend”—all are accounted for and anatomized here. This book is neither a cynically credulous, Weekly World News–like sensation-mongering grab bag of shaggy dogmen stories nor a dusty tome with a creaky and hedging scholarly apparatus, but an interesting, if sometimes exasperatingly discursive, collection of weird encounters.

The book is also a treasure-trove of odd facts. Did you know that wolf apes like chewing gum? I certainly never suspected as much. Were you aware that upright canines like to hang out around cemeteries, but also favor “deserted buildings, campgrounds, and military bases”? (Apparently they fear television cameras the most, particularly ones which happen to be pointed in their direction.) 

Linda Godfrey piles incident upon incident of first-hand accounts of sightings of strange and hybrid creatures, some of which bring to mind the 1896 H.G. Wells novel The Island of Dr. Moreau. The author stresses that she has only included reports which are “sincere and truthful to the eyewitness’s experience.” Sometimes her accompanying theories seem rather far-fetched, but she usually brings out some interesting points: for instance, that there have been many sightings of “upright canines” which “bear a resemblance to Anubis.” Or that accounts of Bigfoot may go back as far as Gilgamesh and Enkidu, or may even be connected to the biblical character Esau, who, according to Genesis, “was large, smelly, and entirely covered with red fur!” 

True to its subject matter, I Know What I Saw is itself something of a hybrid: part journalism, part oral history, part speculation, and with a certain amount of scholarly apparatus applied, if none too rigorously. The bibliography is not impressive, consisting principally of citations of website articles, magazine pieces, pop paranormal tomes, and a superfluity of the author’s previous published works. Furthermore, although Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, California, and even Hawaii are mentioned as frequently cited sources of strange phenomena, the book seems rather Wisconsin-heavy, which is no surprise, since the author is a lifelong resident of that state.

Nevertheless, the tone is evenhanded and informal throughout, and there are occasional references to Greek myths, Native American legends, and “ancient traditions” which lend the book some gravitas. Godfrey admits she is no folklorist, but she seems to be well able to distinguish between fake news, urban legends, folktales, myths, and “creepypasta,” a new genre which consists of crowd-sourced, “collaborative, never-ending stories” about uncanny beings. Her narrative also displays welcome flashes of humor. Two examples will suffice: 

[A] legend says a local minister shot and killed a wolf ape that measured ten feet in length. He nailed the carcass to the church wall and displayed it, perhaps as a lesson to any other half-ape, half-wolf creatures, referring to it as Satan’s pet. He was said to have sold the putrefying carcass to a sideshow and moved to San Francisco, where he was gruesomely killed for some unstated reason, sparking an additional legend of a curse on killers of wolf apes.

Prince George’s County [Maryland] rates high on the list of goat man-infested places if urban legends are to be your guide. It features three—count ’em—three related legends stemming from an unknown scientist’s animal experimentation running amok . . . In all the legends, the scientist is driven to the woods, armed with an ax. One variant says his departure was due to his going mad over the experiments, another says it was remorse over ruining the cure for cancer, and finally, my personal favorite claims the scientist accidentally changed himself into a half-man, half-goat creature and fled to the nearby wilds where he resides today.

Books about inexplicable occurrences and improbable anomalies have a long pedigree: among the most famous are the myriad citations collected in four books by Charles Fort, published from 1919 to 1932. Nearly 100 years later, Godfrey, who has published over a dozen books on this topic, and can therefore reasonably be cited as an authority, has written another book about Things Which Shouldn’t Be So—but which, apparently, are.

Can we trust the evidence of our senses? Ms. Godfrey is somewhat noncommittal, but seems to think that, in most instances, we can and we should. Aren’t the stories we tell one another akin to the warning cries that animals exchange among themselves to signal predators in their midst? Ms. Godfrey speculates that they may at least be “subtly disguised handbooks for survival in a ‘goblin universe’” and concludes with the wise admonition that “legend is not synonymous with untruth.”

Francis DiMenno

Francis DiMenno is a humorist, historian, and longtime music critic who blogs at








God and Love on Route 80: The Hidden Mystery of Human Connectedness
Stephen G. Post
Coral Gables, Fla., Mango Publishing Group, 2019. 301 pp., paper, $18.95.

Stephen G. Post is the best-selling author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People. He has taught at the University of Chicago Medical School, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. His latest book, God and Love on Route 80, attempts to show how compassion improves the lives of others and explains how this can apply to everyone on the planet.

God and Love on Route 80 describes episodes in Post’s trip from New Hampshire to Oregon after his graduation from prep school. The book has interludes between each episode with pictures of and quotes from spiritual teachers. It gives the reader a feel for the people he met on his journey, the towns he was in, and how he embarked upon his spiritual path regardless of obstacles.

In the prelude, the author recalls himself as a boy in New Hampshire. He never heard the voice of God, although he didn’t dismiss the possibility. When he was young, he had a repeating dream in which he saw the light-blue image of an angel’s face and heard it say, “If you save him, you too shall live.” The boy knew that some dreams could express divine intent. He was able to understand this calling years later at the Pacific end of Interstate Route 80, nearly 3000 miles away in Oregon. His trip there enabled him to experience synchronicity and the way it works.

The car that Post started out with broke down, so he hitched rides and met a variety of interesting people. For income, he played guitar in restaurants to earn tips. He went into a Buddhist temple for the first time and started chanting with others. He liked chanting because it gave him a sense that the boundaries between himself and others had disappeared. In his travels, Post had a conversation with the author Ken Kesey while he was writing his book Sometimes a Great Notion. In a bookstore, Post heard the poet Robert Bly read sections of his book Light around the Body.

The author purchased a Buddhist gohonzon scroll, a sacred object that helps the person who possesses it to solve problems. It assisted Post in keeping someone from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The experience gave meaning to the words he had heard in his dream: “If you save him, you too shall live.” After his journey, Post completed his college education and went on to teach medicine and become the president of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love. In 2016 the institute’s website was taken down and replaced with the black flag of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. To counteract this, Post came up with the idea of the Route 80 Youth Essay Contest. It was for young people to write about how others encouraged them to hate and how they turned that into something positive. They shared their abilities to support the principles of religious freedom, tolerance, and love for all of humanity.

Post was invited to the United Nations Population Fund to help reflect on spirituality and a sustainable future. He spoke about the essay contest and how the ISIS hacking had inspired it. The UN had the contest winners present their essays, and the event was broadcast to 80 million young people worldwide.

I found this book enjoyable and easy to read. It shows how the writer had the courage to be adventurous and turn opposition around in order to bring God and love into the lives of others on a global level.

Marie Otte

Marie Otte is a writer, meditation teacher, and astrologer. Her work has appeared in Quest,, and Satvidya. She holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from Northern Illinois University.


The Art and Science of Initiation
Edited by Jedidiah French and Angel Millar
Shepperton, Surrey, U.K.: Lewis Masonic, 2019. 285 pp., paper, $18.

What is initiation? Its fundamental meaning of “to begin” sounds straightforward, but its effects in magical or religious practices are often hotly contested. There is an ongoing argument, for instance, as to whether initiation simply confirms what candidates have already attained through their own efforts, or whether it ushers them into an entirely new state. Perhaps it can be both, with varying emphasis. If there is no element of shock or surprise, such as in the modern-day ordainment of a priest, where everyone knows every step of the ritual in advance, it is more of a confirmation, although the ordinand may well still experience a change of state during the service.

If it is an initiation pertaining to a magical or mystery tradition, then a shock is almost always included, which can propel the candidate into a new form of consciousness. This can take the form of extreme conditions, which will still work their effect even if known about beforehand. The budding shaman may be sealed into a “vision pit” for several days, for instance, and aspiring knights of chivalry often passed a night-long vigil in total darkness before admission into the order. Other shocks may come unexpectedly: cold-water baths, nakedness, insults, solitude, and abandonment are all the stuff of traditional initiation rituals, as well as of modern esoteric and ceremonial initiations. The ritual usually ends in a redemptive way, such as emerging into bright light and being given a warm welcome from one’s fellow initiates.

As well as shock tactics, simple tasks which must be performed perfectly under scrutiny can also trigger a new state of consciousness. Perhaps the initiation requires you to light a candle in front of your fellows—a seemingly simple act, but one that demands every atom of composure that you can muster as you walk the length of a long hall, between rows of observers, towards the altar at the far end. Then you must pick up the match, strike it without fumbling, light the wick, and hope—maybe even pray!—that it will stay alight. Perhaps the rules of your initiation even depend on the success of this act. If you can do this, you will almost certainly have achieved a state of heightened awareness, notwithstanding any pain or pleasure along the way.

Initiation is a perennially fascinating subject, with no two views on it being the same, as this book proves. The collection of essays is a kaleidoscope of different takes on initiation, mostly within Masonic and magical traditions. It opens with the excellent definition: “Initiation appears to be a set of practices, and/or processes of realization, through which certain human beings across time have endeavoured to achieve deeper knowledge and higher wisdom.”

The book is deliberately compiled as a selection of both scholarly and speculative studies, allowing the authors full rein in topic and viewpoint. This takes us from a survey of cultural initiation practices (Richard Smoley) to Aleister Crowley’s magic (Richard Kaczynski), with different forays into Swedish Freemasonry (Susannah Akerman) and the mysteries of Samothrace (Greg Kaminsky) along the way. There is value here in bringing together different areas of research, and different kinds of insight. However, it is a bumpy ride if one attempts to travel the whole terrain at once. I found the inconsistency of viewpoint awkward—some articles are addressed primarily to Masons, some to lovers of magic, some to scholars. It is a difficult book to read consecutively, and certainly I found it easier to pick out a few essays at a time.

But it gives food for thought. Smoley’s essay boldly puts forward the notion that we are missing out on initiation rites in present-day society: “Many adult men today are not men; they are boys. Many adult women are not women; they are girls. In our society it is possible to go through all the stages of life, even successfully, without maturing emotionally, much less spiritually.”

Without disputing Smoley’s main point, I would add that for many women, the process of giving birth can be a profound initiatory experience. For me, many years ago, the initiation of childbirth propelled me to accept another spiritual initiation which I was offered a few months later. I had “come of age” and was ready to step up. And the possibility of childbirth as an initiatory act might explain why societies have traditionally held more male initiation rites than female ones.

Another favorite essay for me is Herbie Brenman’s personal and engaging account of being initiated into the Society of the Inner Light, founded by the British occultist Dion Fortune. Brenman writes with both humor and solemnity. Sometimes we learn more from story-telling than from weighty sermons.

And there is C.R. Dunning’s “Contemplation and Ritual Initiation,” affirming the principle of awareness as the active transformatory ingredient in both ritual and initiation.  “Our present concern is not about bringing something new into Masonic experience but rather about intentionally and comprehensively practising contemplation to make the most of Masonic initiation.”

Quite. Dunning’s analysis points out the value of silence, of study, of reflection; in other words, not the dramatic blindfoldings and dunkings of initiation, but the consciousness that we have at our disposal to transform our inner state of being. By being present in the action, and being aware of whatever is around us, we act out our own initiation.

Cherry Gilchrist

Cherry Gilchrist’s latest book is The Circle of Nine: An Archetypal Journey to Awaken the Divine Feminine Within.

Consult the Oracle: How an old book on fortune telling opened up a world of magic.

Printed in the  Winter 2020  issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation:  Lindop, Grevel"Consult the Oracle: How an old book on fortune telling opened up a world of magic." Quest 108:1, pg 32-34

By Grevel Lindop

lindopMy grandfather, I’ve been told, was something of a magician. At any rate, he left behind him a substantial collection of occult books. Unfortunately I never saw this collection: when he died, my parents (not from any disapproval, but simply because they had had enough of dealing with his possessions) disposed of the whole lot to a bookseller.

Or almost the whole lot. Because, as in all the best fairy tales, one book survived. When I was about ten years old, I found it, hidden amongst clutter in a kind of attic, the room next to my bedroom. It’s on the desk in front of me as I write, a battered old volume called Consult the Oracle, or, How to Read the Future.

Could there possibly be a more alluring title for a child to discover? I still feel a certain thrill as I look at it now, despite its desperate physical condition. The spine, which time has darkened almost to black, has split and nearly fallen off. The hard front cover (there was clearly never a dust jacket) is a shiny, grubby brown, darkened at the edges with finger marks. It shows an amateurish drawing of a priestess swathed in voluminous robes, perched atop a three-legged chair—no doubt the famous tripod of the Delphic Oracle. She raises one crudely drawn hand, whilst the other clutches a branch of some shrub: perhaps meant for laurel or olive, though it looks nothing like either. From a hole in the dais under her chair emanate curly wreaths of smoke: those vapors from the depths of the earth which were supposed to inspire the oracle’s prophecies.

Alongside her, to remind us of practicalities, is the book’s price: one shilling (today that’s five new pence, or around six cents). In March 1901, when Grandfather bought the book, that would have been cheap, but not dirt cheap. I know when he bought it, incidentally, because there’s the date, under pencilled initials, on a flyleaf which has now completely detached itself and lies loose inside the cover.

    Singapore Young Theosophists
    Consult the Oracle was first published in 1899 by C. Arthur Pearson, one of Britains's leading book publishers. Written by the no doubt pseudonymous Gabriel Nostradamus, it became a best seller, going through three editions in ten months.

The title page enlarges on what’s to be found within. “A GUIDE TO THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS,” it promises, “AND TO OTHER MATTERS MAGICAL AND MYSTERIOUS: BEING THE WISDOM OF PAST TIMES AND PRESENT TIMES AS TO WHAT WILL SURELY COME TO PASS.” Who could resist that? As a ten-year-old, I certainly couldn’t. When you’re a child, the future is everything, a box of delights. Now, in my seventy-first year, I have a different idea of what will surely come to pass, and it’s not all good. Never mind. The contents page listed possibilities beyond my wildest dreams.

Indeed dreams were where the book began. The first chapter was “We Tell the Meaning of Your Dreams,” and it started with some basic tips: for example, a warning that “the gift of dreaming with truth is withdrawn from those who either tell as dreams what they never dreamt, or refuse to tell their dreams at all.” That was worth remembering. Also, “Morning dreams are more reliable than those of any other time.” Certainly I’ve often found those the most vivid, though “the most important dream of the week” is, apparently, the one you dream on Friday night. Above all, “dreams are interpreted by symbolism. The most earnest and best-informed student of the symbolical will be the most reliable interpreter of dreams.”

There followed an alphabetical list of dream images, with interpretations, some of them surprising. If you dream of an anchor, for example, then “one of whose affections you are doubtful really cares for you,” and to dream of riding a bicycle “means that for some years you will have constant change.” A stopped clock means a dangerous illness, and “should you dream of catching fish it is a sure sign of bad luck.” More predictably, “to hear whispering in a dream means that many people are talking ill of you.” Some of the topics seemed a little outré; would I ever dream, for example, of a tortoise (“You will by plodding on reach a high position in life”)? Or of watching a woman make pies (“Your experience in love is likely to prove disastrous”)? Six decades later, I’m not sure that either of these has yet cropped up.

But the details didn’t really matter. What counted was the sense that dreams were worth attention, that they had meaning. I began to recall my dreams purposefully, and to reflect on them. A few years later, in a local library, I found a book called The Interpretation of Dreams and borrowed it, expecting a more reliable guide to prophecy. It turned out to be by Sigmund Freud; it introduced me to psychoanalysis, which has played a valuable part in my life.

But there was much more to Consult the Oracle than dreams. Among the other chapters were “Lucky and Unlucky Numbers”; “Fortunes Told by Cards”; “Character Shown by Handwriting”; “Fairy Folk”; “The Wonders of the Divining Rod” and many more. Almost everything, it seemed, could have hidden meanings. The chapter on cartomancy offered what was probably a very old system for reading fortunes with ordinary playing cards; in 1901, few people outside esoteric organizations had ever heard of Tarot cards. I didn’t get far with it: memorizing the meanings of fifty-two cards, many of them apparently quite arbitrary, was too difficult (“Five of Hearts: Unexpected news, generally of a good kind; Four of Hearts: An unfaithful friend. A secret betrayed”). But it aroused my curiosity, and when I was sixteen I finally got a Tarot deck—which I’ve used ever since.

More immediately valuable were the chapters called “We May Judge Character by the Hands and Fingers” and “Fortune Read in the Palm of the Hand.” I studied my own hands closely. Easy enough to find the life line and even the lines of head and heart. But where was “the Plain or Triangle of Mars”? And what about the “Mount of Luna, or the Moon”? Not too worried about such minutiae, I scrutinized other people’s hands as well. Somehow, without ever quite disentangling all the details, I began to develop a sense of how the hand, taken as a whole, with its fingers and wrist, as well as the maze of lines on the palm, spoke of a whole person. A few years later, at teenage parties, what an asset palmistry turned out to be! What better passport could there be to sitting with a girl in a quiet corner, or halfway up the stairs, holding her hand and solemnly discussing her character, ambitions, and dreams?

 The chapter on “Fairy Folk” explained that

The Land of Faerie is situated somewhere underground, and there the royal fairies hold their court. In their palaces all is beauty and splendour. Their pageants and processions are far more magnificent than any that Eastern sovereigns could get up or poets devise. They ride upon milk-white steeds. Their dresses, of brilliant green, are rich beyond conception; and when they mingle in the dance, or move in procession among the shady groves, or over the verdant lawns of the earth, they are entertained with delicious music, such as mortal lips or hands never could emit or produce.

Apparently fairies would only be found where the grass grew “undisturbed by man.” “Once it is ploughed the spell is gone and they change their abode.” An old Scottish proverb was quoted: “Where the scythe cuts, and the sock [plowshare] rives, hae done wi’ fairies and bee bykes!”

Bee bykes, it seemed, were nests of wild bees. Indeed Consult the Oracle had a whole chapter on bees: it was called “Bees Know More than People Think,” a suggestion I still find very plausible. “Bees,” the Oracle explained, “are lovers of peace and will not thrive with a quarrelsome family.” It also warned that “if there is a death in the family,” the bees must be told, or they would leave: the correct formula was said to be “Little brownie, little brownie, [such a person] is dead.” Once this was properly done, “the bees begin to hum by way of showing their consent to remain.” It was also wise to “put a little sugar at the hive’s entrance on Christmas Eve.” “At the stroke of midnight” the bees would come out to eat it. By contrast, some passages showed the casual cruelty of the Victorians: “Not to catch and kill the first butterfly seen in spring is unlucky.” That reads shockingly now and is surely the exact opposite of the truth.

The Oracle had a good deal to say about animals generally. Cats born in the month of May, it warned, “are good for catching neither mice nor rats.” On the other hand, “the best mousers are cats that have been stolen.” Did anyone truly ever steal a cat to improve its talents at pest control? It seemed unlikely. More plausible were the notions that “horses are able to see spirits” and that it is lucky for a horse to have a white star on its forehead.

It would take too long even to hint at all the wonders the Oracle had to offer. There was “Character Shown by Handwriting” as well as “The Mysteries of Spiritualism,” “Taking a Hand at Table-Turning,” and even an introduction to astrology: “There is much to be Learned from the Heavenly Bodies.”

I could go on, but this is enough. Foolish and simple-minded much of the book certainly is, as I gradually realized. But it told me something important: that the world round me was not just a world of material objects, nor a world merely governed by meaningless chance and physical laws. It showed that there was meaning and mystery in everything; and that on the margins of mainstream thought—the kind of thinking we were taught at school—there were intuitions, dreams, visions of other and deeper things. Consult the Oracle showed me that, as the poet Paul Éluard neatly put it, “There is indeed another world—but it is in this one.”

The Oracle helped me make the transition from the fluid, metamorphic, nonrational world of childhood, into the partially (very partially!) rational and informed grown-up world —that world in which so many people are encouraged to close down their intuitive, psychic and imaginative faculties—without losing the sense of wonder and mystery. Some people—the naturally spiritual ones—may not need such support, but I did, and I was lucky to find it.

Having inherited Consult the Oracle—accidentally, as it were—from my grandfather, it would be good to report that I am passing it on to one of my own grandchildren. But that’s impossible. For—again as in a fairy tale—now that its work is done, the book is crumbling to dust. In writing this essay, I have turned many of the pages, and each as I turned it has broken away from the binding. So acidic is the paper that the leaves are brown and brittle at the margins. The edges of the pages flake off as they are touched. Soon the book will be nothing but a heap of fragments. Everything has its season, and this book’s season has passed. But it came to me at the right time, and I’m grateful. I consulted the oracle, and it spoke.

Grevel Lindop is a poet and biographer living in Manchester, U.K., where he has taught Buddhist meditation for many years. His recent books include Luna Park (poems), from Carcanet Press, and Charles Williams: The Third Inkling from Oxford University Press. His website is at

Technospirituality: Shifting beyond the Flow

Printed in the  Winter 2020  issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation:  Oliver, Lucy"Technospirituality: Shifting beyond the Flow" Quest 108:1, pg 24-27

By Lucy Oliver

lucy oliverThe terms technospirituality or psychospirituality suggest a modern approach to exploring human consciousness outside traditional religious frameworks, which generally includes leading-edge research into altered and nonordinary states. It is a development facilitated by the rapid advancement of technology and pharmacology, allowing states of consciousness which were once generated within a spiritual context to be reproduced, manipulated, and monitored to order. An evolution perhaps, but certainly raising questions about the nature of spirituality.

A huge range of mechanisms for producing altered or higher states are automatically classed as “spiritual” activities, although differentiated from “religion,” which is institutional, cultural and belief-based. Now with philosophical and even neuroscientific backing, it appears that spirituality is resurgent with a new wave of intelligent, high-functioning thinkers and practitioners.

As exciting and compelling as the new possibilities are, I would argue that for all its virtues, the thrust of much contemporary spirituality has actually lost its grip on Spirit. The field of Spirit, as it has been acknowledged and honored from ancient times, is not secular, is not the same as humanism, and is not defined by mind states or psychological codification. Also by its very nature, it is known in a manner above and beyond the measurable physiology that is correlated with it.

The rules for encountering Spirit are particular, and not the same as in the field of scientific research or modern psychology. Ultimately spirituality is not about human-centered issues at all, so it is not fundamentally about the functional and personal benefits (happiness, well-being, health, peace, even insight or shift of perspective), which almost all modern versions target as objectives. By definition, spirituality is not humanism.

From a symbolic point of view, the earth has not been the center of our cosmos since Copernicus. The sun is no longer the center of our galaxy, and our galaxy is not the center of the universe. It is a true challenge to embrace the analogue of these shifts away from earth/human-centered perspectives. Just as the Ptolemaic worldview generated epicycles to account for perceived reality, sophisticated rational explanations can work very well—except for those areas which have to be excluded from the model as nonrational and nonscientific. These are exactly the arena of Spirit.

The problem is that we do not have the language to address Spirit outside traditional religious frameworks. There is presently no context for it that does not descend into superstition or psychism except within established traditional teachings and employing the language of those traditions. The reason is simple: Spirit speaks for itself; it inspires its own language. It can’t be faked or concocted from mind, rationality, or emotion, and religious traditions have generally been the guardians of such speaking.

Although there are traditions of oral transmission outside institutional frames, the voice of the Spirit in human history has for the most part been preserved through religious systems. Many of these depict the spectrum of spiritual perception and reality in a series of levels ranging from the grossest materiality to the finest supersensible realms. One such is a simple model of four simultaneously existent hierarchical “worlds” as portrayed in the Kabbalah: Assiyah (the earthly realm), Yetzirah (the dimension of psyche), Briah (the realm of the spirit), and Atzilut (the level of the divine).

In ordinary usage a “world” circumscribes a particular sphere of activity, with its own rules and parameters: for example, the world of fashion, the world of racing; the medical world etc. In daily living, these different worlds interlink and coexist, and we choose whether or not to identify with them. In the same way, traditional four-world teaching depicts a hierarchy of human consciousness and potential experience ranging from grosser to finer states of perception. Each is a world, but they interpenetrate hierarchically, so the finer ones are present within and infuse the densest and visible, which we call materiality.

Here I would like to recast these concepts in updated terms in order to reflect the principles behind the metaphysical structure and to provide a fresh perspective on contemporary trends.

We can characterize these four interpenetrating worlds as surface, flow, rhythm, and field, in ascending order from the densest (visible materiality) to the subtlest realm of experience. Renaming these worlds in demythologized terms opens them up for a contemporary context. It is also an exercise in abstract thinking, which, I argue, is a condition for the transition we need to make.

Surface is everything visible. It is all that we ever actually encounter with the senses: the surfaces of things, hard, shiny, colored, moving, still, textured, molecular, vibratory.

Flow describes psychological experiencing: how we interact with surfaces, the associations we make, the meaning we create. Flow embraces, connects, and responds to surrounding conditions, as water follows gravity and contour.

Rhythm interrupts flow and, once established, can sustain itself independently. Rhythms repeat, like the tides, the seasons, the beating heart. Beats are discrete. Cycles can be huge and work together.

Field may appear to have no flow or rhythm, but these dynamics are present, structuring the stillness and space. Any field is as wide as its hidden forces allow.

From Flow . . . 

Modern psychospirituality prioritizes the cultivation of flow states, often assisted by pharmaceuticals in varying doses, especially microdoses of psychedelics and other mind-enhancing drugs, which have led to an explosion of fast, cutting-edge thinking in arenas like Silicon Valley. The flow state facilitates new connections and networks beyond normal mind processing and cognition (altered or nonordinary states), activating powerful neurotransmitters, along with sensations of pleasure and meaningfulness. These states are also cultivated in the military, through extreme sports, or in any context where hyperperformance has a useful function, and are also explored for pleasure because of their addictive quality.

All these methods induce and amplify flow states, which are also valued for the change of vision and values they can inspire, which is where they appear to rival the traditional context of spirituality. Meditation is also employed for functional purposes as one of the tools of “spiritual technologies.”

Along with the potential benefit for individuals (there are of course dangers and downsides, including overdependence), altered states are heralded as a potential corrective to the world’s current problems and crisis. It has been proposed that a phase shift is needed in the collective psyche, and that the type of awareness promoted through flow states may contribute to the new solutions and perspectives required for humanity’s advancement or survival.

In addition to increasing functionality, flow feels harmonious, carrying thought and emotion as a river flows serenely to the sea. But rocks can interrupt that flow and create eddies, pools, changes in the current, turbulence. To generate power, the serenity must be dammed, then released in a fast torrent. Energy comes from interruption, yet the river is still flowing towards the sea. Its flow continues beneath and around the interruptions and different rhythms created in the phases of its journey. In rhythm is power.

. . . To Rhythm

In the hierarchy of worlds, rhythm lies beyond flow, and represents a jump, a transition to a different kind of perception, with different rules of engagement.

 On the global stage, some leading futurist and systems thinkers are seeing the current disruption of the old social and political order as evidence of a phase shift. I suggest that we are actually faced with a global shift from the dominance of flow to a stage of rhythm. The eruptions of the unexpected are disrupting our comfort zone, and at present we haven’t learned how to handle them. Making sense of the situation requires large overview thinking, based on the plausible hypothesis that what appears as interruption could be a manifestation of larger rhythms beyond our ken, whether planetary, social, or individual.

We don’t as yet have a common mythological or spiritual framework to integrate the new possibilities that arise from breaking up the old order. New spiritual technologies may appear to represent an evolutionary advance, but they can also be regarded as a Promethean quest, stealing fire from the gods for human ends. Modern Titans don’t see a need for God, and once it is possible to produce altered states technologically and at will, spirit can seem to mean no more than mind.

Yet consciousness experimentation, without trying to reenvision what spirit might mean, is Promethean. When one is stealing fire from the gods to power commercial or narcissistic enterprises, it would be wise to remember that Prometheus ended up tied to a rock with an eagle eating his liver.

It could also be argued that states of mind are not necessarily identical with states of being. Being grows over time, perhaps as the outcome of years of self-discipline, austerity, and learning, all of which allow time and space for the chthonic action of spirit.

By the testimony of the world’s greatest sages and spiritual teachers, a shift towards the spirit is a movement towards simplicity—the transpersonal and formless. This contrasts with felt experiences, which are valued for their personal meaning and benefits. It is generally held that spiritual experiences per se are never the goal, but are merely confirmatory markers on the journey.

If new rhythms are imposed upon us as individuals, it may take a while to adjust, and a first response may be to resist and try to reestablish the familiar. To navigate the world of rhythm, a different kind of effort is required, perhaps involving less safety, more independence, a sense of heading into the unknown or navigating choppy waters. The hardest thing on an individual’s journey is to leave behind the pleasures of flow, including the satisfaction of understanding and the ability to connect happenings and concepts into a coherent narrative. The effort to grasp principles is an important step towards appreciating the value of rhythm, along with thinking more abstractly and looking for wider patterns. This effort is combined with staying the course, keeping steady, trying to key in to subtle rhythms, and trusting that the flow is continuing underneath towards the ultimate “sea,” which we may equate with Spirit.

Beyond Flow

Flow is a great advance on chaos, suffering, and lack of direction, so people seek more flow in their lives, and, when possible, access to hyperflow states. Flow states are the aim of many if not most contemporary meditation methods, including the ancient traditional forms as they are presented in retreat programs and similar venues (activating their full potential may require different conditions). Modern approaches also encourage and value felt experience over ideas of spiritual truth. Even powerful emotional experience is flow if an element of the personal remains.

By contrast, the force of rhythm is like the oscillation of tides at the edge of a great sea, pulled by other forces beyond. Underlying the body’s living flow, and the flow of thought, are rhythmic heartbeats, brain waves, inhaling and exhaling, circadian rhythms, all outside normal conscious control, and sustaining life for the long term. Physical rhythms naturally interact with the psyche, but when a creative insight or transformative vision arrives out of the blue, it feels like an incursion from beyond the usual processes of mind, as if from some larger order or process whose rhythm is on a different time scale. Large cycles, tidal movements of energy, sometimes produce a wave, and at others recede. Results are never guaranteed, and may not be in a foreseeable form. All these are characteristics of the world of rhythm.

This creative dimension originates from the world of rhythm. Perceptions, thoughts, or actions seem to arise from emptiness, naturally, in the moment and perfectly suited to it. Although such illuminations or breakthroughs could be the results of long mental gestation processes cycling beneath the radar of consciousness, they frequently appear as sudden—a product of the effortless effort extolled by mystics and sages. At this point, their paradoxical statements start to have relevance, like a code to a different operating system.

The wisdom of the world of rhythm is supported by religious teachings of the East and West. They offer large-scale perspectives on the cosmos and human life as well practical methods for developing nonattachment and steadiness. These methods are to be pursued without seeking results or being invested in outcomes. An example is the special kind of vision which Zen teaching calls seeing into the nature, which penetrates beneath the surface of things and through the flow of experience.

Clear States

Moments of such true seeing often occur in what could be called a clear state, which is devoid of the emotional high of the flow state. When awareness is open or still, the seed of an idea, thought, or perception can arise like a pulsation, which, then or later, takes on formation, perhaps while one is walking, doing some task, or sitting quietly. Seeing is a grasp of some truth or essence, which then develops through the flow of thought to manifest to the senses as surface once it is written out or acted upon.

The creativity of clear states can be quiet and unspectacular; their power is in consistency and hidden force. The mind can be trained to achieve these states through concentration on abstract symbols, which are themselves potent repositories of meaning irreducible to rational or intellectual thought. This process is a stage in the growth of consciousness toward the genuinely spiritual, and is often expressed in terms of emptiness, selflessness, or unconditioned Being.

However, there is yet one higher world.

 Into the Field

The developing technologies of flow are helping to concentrate our attention on the qualities of different states of mind and emotion, but as previously suggested, disruptions in the political and social flow of the status quo is exactly what could be expected of a collective phase shift, which is demanding a different rhythm and approach.

It might be heartening to look beyond this transition, into the highest, most subtle of worlds in this traditional formulation—the world of field. The other levels make more sense when viewed from this total context. There isn’t yet a language for field awareness in common currency. Note, however, that global and futuristic thinkers routinely use metaphors taken from the digital world. These thinkers are in effect generating a new mythology with their new metaphors, which, once you get the reference, work beautifully to articulate new thinking.

Watch a meditator settle the body into stillness, as the mind flow abates or moves to the periphery of attention, the rhythms of the breath become fine and imperceptible, and the field of experience becomes wide and without conditioned contours. It is like the moment just before a leap, all living forces held in check but potent, ready.

Ready for what?

To engage with the mystery of life. Despite all advances, we know neither the source nor the outcome of our own life, or of any life, or of the cosmos and the eons of its existence. The truly wise become so by acknowledging our participation in great cycles and rhythms, and may call this awareness Spirit, or God, or the Unconditioned, or a name of similar order. The power inherent in the macrocosm of the created universe, or in the microcosm of humanity, is not subject to measurement in a laboratory and never will be. This is getting closer to what I, like our ancestors, have understood as Spirit.

The meditator or sage is a technologist of the infinite not yet superseded. All genuine spiritual teachings preserve the wisdom that there is much further to go beyond flow consciousness, but actualizing this potential makes demands that only a few of us are willing to meet. In meditation we are assisted to traverse flow states and navigate the phases of rhythm by regular guidance, which is both a support and a training in the discernment and differentiation of the states of flow and field (however they are named). Rhythm and repetition are essential elements in the training of meditation, as in repeated letting go or bringing the mind back, and attention to the rhythms of breath, body, sound or image.

The creativity of rhythm arises from the unimpededness of field. Once all rhythms have become superfine, field is present. Field is Presence, without an “I” to enjoy or observe it. There is nothing to be done here, except return often and know that it goes with one at all times. Beyond it lies the Unconditioned.

 “Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook?” God demanded of Job (Job 41:1), finally extracting from him an acknowledgment that Leviathan, like all the works of God, are beyond human creativity and manipulation. With that admission, Job became aware of the field from which the creative arises, and his suffering was lifted. If an unnamable, indefinable God or Spirit infuses all the worlds of experience, acknowledging this reality is the only true basis for spirituality.

Lucy Oliver has been a teacher and practitioner of meditation derived from the Western esoteric tradition for over forty years. Her book The Meditator’s Guidebook has been in print since 1996, and her new book, Tessellations: Patterns of Life and Death in the Company of a Master, is an intimate insider’s view of working within a Western oral tradition. She lives in London, and after studies in sacred symbolism at Oxford University, has developed Symbolic Encounters, a method of pointing out the symbolic roots in language on a path of knowledge ( She was a founding member of Saros Foundation for the Perpetuation of Knowledge and of High Peak Meditation, established in the United Kingdom in the 1970s.

The Priest and the Biologist

Printed in the  Winter 2020  issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation:  Sorkhabi, Rasoul"The Priest and the Biologist" Quest 108:1, pg 28-31

Teilhard de Chardin and Sir Julian Huxley offer a grand vista of human life as they integrate Darwin’s theory of evolution with our social and spiritual development.

By Rasoul Sorkhabi

sorkhabiOn July 12, 1941, in the midst of World War II, Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest and geologist living in China, sent a letter from Peking to his friend the Abbé Breuil in Paris, in which he wrote: “I am continuing to work towards a better presentation, clearer and more succinct, of my ideas on the place of man in the universe. Julian Huxley has just brought out a book, or rather a series of essays, called The Uniqueness of Man, in a way so parallel to my own ideas (even though without integrating God as the term of the series) that I feel greatly cheered . . . I know that my book has arrived safely in Rome and has been under consideration for three months. I don’t dare to hope for favorable news: and yet isn’t this just the time for a Catholic to speak openly and as a Christian on lines determined by the best scientific thought of today?” (Chardin, Letters, 283–84).

Teilhard is alluding to the fact that his book the now-classic Le phénomène humain (The Phenomenon of Man) reached Rome for ecclesiastical censorship in 1944. Later that year, Teilhard learned that his book, like his previous philosophical writings, was not permitted for publication. Because of World War II, Teilhard’s letter did not reach the Abbé Breuil until July 5, 1945. Nevertheless, this letter is significant even today, because it juxtaposes two eminent intellectuals and scientists: Teilhard and Sir Julian Huxley, the latter a secular humanist and zoologist, who, like Teilhard, made a pioneering attempt to reconcile Darwin’s theory of evolution with humankind’s cultural and spiritual growth.

Many people know about Teilhard or Huxley through numerous books and articles about each of them, but less known is the friendship and intellectual exchanges between these two men from 1946, when they first met in Paris, until 1955, when Teilhard died. Here I explore this subject based primarily on their own letters, writings, memoirs, and accounts of their meetings. In this article I pursue two specific questions. First, how did Teilhard and Huxley come independently to a similar position on the theory of evolution; second, how did they entertain a lasting friendship and respectful dialogue despite their different backgrounds—one an ordained priest and the other an admitted atheist? These questions are especially relevant to our time, where polarization rather than understanding is promoted by extremists in both science and religion.

Two Parallel Lives

Teilhard was born in 1881 in the French province of Auvergne, with its green mountains and volcanic soil. His father was a landowner and an amateur naturalist; his mother a devout Catholic. At age eleven, Teilhard entered a Jesuit school. In 1901, when the French government restricted religious institutions, the Jesuits moved their houses to the U.K. Teilhard, then twenty, went there to study theology and natural science, and was ordained a priest in 1911. He then returned to Paris and conducted research on mammalian fossils at the National Museum of Natural History. He got his PhD in geology from the Sorbonne in 1922. The following year, Teilhard went to China for geological research and lived there in exile, working for the Geological Survey of China until the end of World War II, because the Catholic officials did not welcome his evolutionary ideas in Europe.

Julian Huxley was born in 1887 in London to a family of intellectuals. His younger brother, Aldous, became a famous novelist. His grandfather Thomas Henry Huxley was a renowned biologist and agnostic thinker. An eager defender of Darwin in the second half of the nineteenth century, he was called “Darwin’s bulldog.” Julian studied at Eton College and later at Balliol College, Oxford, where he majored in biology in 1909. He held various positions at Rice University in the U.S., Oxford University, King’s College (University of London), the Royal Institution of Great Britain, and the Zoological Society of London. Huxley was a prolific writer of scientific texts and essays, and Teilhard had read some of his work before they first met.

Meeting in Paris

The year 1946 saw major changes for both Teilhard and Huxley. In that year, Teilhard returned to Paris from China, and Huxley was appointed director-general of the newly established United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris. Recalling these years in his Memoirs, Huxley writes: “Perhaps the most interesting acquaintance I made was that of the Jesuit, Père Teilhard de Chardin, to whom I was introduced in the lobby of Unesco by the geologist Edmond Blanc. Blanc thought that I, as the author of Religion without Revelation, ought to know Teilhard, who had written a number of essentially humanist works with an evolutionary as well as a religious background” (Huxley, Memoirs, 27).

In a letter to a friend dated November 7, 1946, Teilhard reported on his meeting with Huxley: “During October I had also a dinner with Julian Huxley (executive-secretary of UNESCO), but with Breuil and a few others, so that I could not contact him on the vital points. But I sent him a recent article of mine about Planetisation and he answered me that we were very close” (King and Gilbert, 191).

This meeting was the beginning of their friendship, which lasted nearly a decade and during which they met several times, wrote letters to each other, and attended a few conferences together.

The New Humanism

Both Huxley and Teilhard, who had witnessed the deadly effects of two world wars, were concerned that traditional belief systems as well as modern science could be misused for destructive purposes. This partly motivated them to offer a humanistic position for science and thus create a bridge between rational science and spiritual life. Huxley called it “evolutionary humanism”; Teilhard called it “neo-humanism.”

At the heart of this new humanism was the concept of evolution, which both Huxley and Teilhard had studied as practicing scientists. Huxley the zoologist focused on the processes of evolution: his book Evolution: The Modern Synthesis, published in 1942 and revised in 1974, still remains a major work on this subject. Teilhard the geologist was more interested in the fossil record and patterns of evolution over geological time. His scientific perspective is best described in a small book he wrote in 1949 in Paris: Man’s Place in Nature, echoing the title of Thomas Henry Huxley’s 1904 book, Man’s Place in Nature and Other Anthropological Essays. Teilhard wrote this book purely on scientific grounds, without including theology, in the hope that it would not meet the fate of his previous writings. But the Catholic authorities did not let him publish it either.

According to Huxley and Teilhard, when we look at the history of life on earth, we see a pattern of progress from simpler forms to more complex and more conscious ones. Huxley discusses what this “evolutionary progress” means (Huxley, Evolution, chapter 10): Although millions of species have become extinct in the past, they have not taken life backward; rather, life forms have branched, radiated, and flourished. Moreover, each surviving species, whether higher or lower, is well adapted to its environment: a jellyfish is as well suited to its environment as a bird, and one cannot survive in the other’s. This is specialization at the species level, and many well-adapted species may remain unchanged for hundreds of millions of years. Nevertheless, viewing life as a whole, the history of evolution shows that specialization and species have become more complex and more cogent through time. Capability to move, see, feel, control body temperature, communicate, manipulate the environment, and overcome physical limitations have become stronger and more refined.

With the appearance of humankind, both Huxley and Teilhard argued, there was a new threshold in evolution: self-reflection, or life becoming conscious of itself. Conscious cultural evolution thus began. Science as well as religion are by-products of this new evolution—something that no other species has ever achieved. In other words, Darwin’s theory of evolution did not reduce humankind to unimportance: humankind is a unique phenomenon in the history of earth. “Biology,” Huxley wrote, “thus reinstates man in a position analogous to that conferred on him as Lord of Creation by theology” (Huxley, Man Stands Alone, 5).

From this perspective, Huxley offered an optimistic view of the future, in which men and women progress in science, arts, technology, and culture. Teilhard gave a religious flavor to his equally optimistic outlook. The culmination of human’s evolution, he said, was “Christ consciousness.” This was the Omega Point, which would unite evolved humanity with the Word that was present at the beginning (John 1:2). Teilhard also posited the emergence of a new realm on earth in addition to the lithosphere (rocks), the atmosphere (the air), the hydrosphere (the oceans) and biosphere (life forms); he called it the noosphere—the interconnected realm of the human mind. Today some people regard the global spread of the Internet and information technology as a validation of Teilhard’s concept.

Difference Is Good

The parallels between Teilhard’s and Huxley’s thought should not lead us to ignore their differences. These actually make their ideas complementary and our examination of their thoughts richer.

To begin with, Teilhard’s focus was Christianity. As a Christian apologist, he wanted to reconcile evolution with his religion; he did not venture into how other religions would embrace the evolutionary science. Huxley, on the other hand, had no affiliation with Christianity or any other religion. He viewed all religions as evolutionary products of human culture and thinking, and suggested how to develop the role and function of religion in harmony with modern knowledge and needs.

Teilhard viewed evolution as a universal characteristic of matter. Huxley, on the other hand, limited his discussion to the evolution of life on earth. In The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard offers a grander view of evolution in four phases: (1) the creation of the universe (“cosmogenesis”), including the formation of earth (“geogenesis”); (2) the development of life forms (“biogenesis”); (3) the emergence of human intelligence (“homogenesis”); and (4) the spiritual convergence of humankind at the Omega Point (“christogenesis”).

Two other differences between these men are mentioned in the following comment by Huxley: “I have always regretted that Teilhard neglected to explain and discuss the mechanisms of biological evolution as well as its results in its long temporal course, and I was quite unable to follow him in his conclusions about Christification, Point Omega, and the like. But this in no way detracts from his essential achievement of linking science and religion across the bridge of evolution.” (Huxley, foreword to Barbour, 9).

Huxley’s remark about the religious tone of Teilhard’s ideas overlooks the fact that Huxley promoted his “evolutionary humanism” as a “developed religion without revelation”; he embraced the importance of “religious sentiments” and suggested that the traditional religions needed to update themselves about modern science. He even spoke of his “evolutionary humanism” as a “developed religion” (Huxley, Religion, chapter 9).

For his part, Teilhard believed that Huxley’s evolutionary science was missing a sense of psychological “drive” or spiritual energy inherent in matter and life. In a letter to Huxley dated February 27, 1953, Teilhard formulated his criticism in a question: what is it that drives evolution and life forms to take advantage of chances (through natural selection) toward more complexity and greater consciousness? (Cuénot, 304). This is also probably why Teilhard once wrote: “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire” (Chardin, Toward the Future, 86).

Theologian Charles Raven, Teilhard’s first American biographer, commented: “If the world is a cosmos and evolution its history, the progress must be judged not only by its origins but by its results. No honest student of it can ignore the fact this planet has been the birthplace of life and man, and of Christ and the saints” (Raven, 158).

The intellectual differences between Huxley and Teilhard reveal themselves in their style of writing. When one reads Huxley’s essays, one feels that it comes from the pen of a scientist who is reaching out to our best human side. Teilhard’s essays are rich in poetic expressions, romantic conversation with the universe, and at times even prayers.

The Religion of Tomorrow

Teilhard died in New York, where he had been living in his second exile since 1951. His philosophical works were published only after his death, thanks to the efforts of Jeanne-Marie Mortier, his literary executor in Paris. When the English translation of The Phenomenon of Man was published in 1959, it included a lengthy introduction by Julian Huxley, which called it “a very remarkable work by a very remarkable human being,” and ended, “We, mankind, contain the possibilities of the earth’s immense future, and can realise more and more of them on condition that we increase our knowledge and our love. That, it seems to me, is the distillation of The Phenomenon of Man.” Huxley, who died in 1975 in London, lived long enough to witness the tremendous popularity and impact of his friend’s ideas and writings, even though the Vatican placed a monitum (warning) on Teilhard’s books in 1962.

In an essay written just a month before his death, Teilhard talked of “the religion of tomorrow,” in which humankind partakes in the grand scheme of evolution toward its best possibilities; Teilhard also envisioned a “re-born Christianity, capable of becoming the religion whose specific property it is to provide the driving force in evolution” (Teilhard, Heart of Matter, 99). This was indeed the common ground between Teilhard and Huxley, who also wrote: “Spiritual forces at work in the cosmos are seen as part of nature just as much as the material forces . . . Our basic hypothesis is thus not merely naturalistic as opposed to supernaturalist, but monistic as opposed to dualistic, and evolutionary as opposed to static” (Huxley, Religion, 210).

Recent popes, especially Benedict XVI, have spoken or written approvingly of Teilhard's ideas, and have even sometimes used his phrases in their speeches, but alas, without acknowledging that Teilhard had to endure the injustice of not being able to publish in his lifetime.

Huxley and Teilhard present an illustrative case, not only of a dialogue and common ground between science and religion but also of respect, friendship, and compassion that our violent and divided world needs in these critical times.


George B. Barbour, In the Field with Teilhard de Chardin. Foreword by Sir Julian Huxley. New York: Herder and Herder, 1965.

Cuénot, Claude, Teilhard de Chardin: A Biographical Study. Translated by Vincent Colimore. Baltimore: Helicon, 1965

Huxley, Sir Julian. Evolution: The Modern Synthesis. 3d ed. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1974.

———. Man Stands Alone. New York: Harper & Bros., 1941. Published in the U.K. under the title The Uniqueness of Man.

———. Memoirs II. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.

———. Religion without Revelation. Rev. ed. New York: Harper & Bros., 1957.

King, Thomas M., and Mary W. Gilbert, eds. The Letters of Teilhard de Chardin and Lucile Swan. Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1993.

Raven, Charles E. Teilhard de Chardin: Scientist and Seer. New York: Harper & Row, 1962.

Sorkhabi, Rasoul. “Geology and Spirituality: The Evolution of Teilhard de Chardin.” The World & I online magazine, June 2005.

———. “Sir Julian Huxley Bridged Biology and Humanity.” The World and I online magazine, April 2006.

———. “Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Sir Julian Huxley: A Tale of Two Friends.” Teilhard Studies 79 (fall 2019).

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Heart of Matter. Translated by René Hague. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

———. Letters from a Traveler. Translated by Bernard Wall. New York: Harper & Row.

———. The Phenomenon of Man. Translated by Bernard Wall. Foreword by Sir Julian Huxley. New York: Harper & Row, 1959. A new translation of this work is entitled The Human Phenomenon. Translated by Sarah Appleton-Weber. Brighton, U.K.: Sussex Academic Press, 1993.

———. Toward the Future. Translated by René Hague. New York: Harcourt, 1973.

Rasoul Sorkhabi, PhD, is a professor of geology at the University of Utah. His life spans both East and West, as he has lived and studied in Iran, India, Japan, and the U.S. He has published numerous articles on the interfaces of modern science and spiritual philosophy. His article “Garden of Secrets: The Real Rumi” was published in Quest, summer 2010. For more information, visit:

Florence Nightingale’s Scientific Spirituality

Printed in the  Winter 2020  issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation:  Macrae, Janet"Florence Nightingale’s Scientific Spirituality" Quest 108:1, pg 20-23 

By Janet Macrae

macraeFlorence Nightingale is best known as the Lady with the Lamp, who nursed British soldiers during the Crimean War (in which Britain and France fought against Russia, 1854–56). This image is not only factual but highly symbolic, for she brought an enlightened vision to the healthcare at the British military hospital. A pioneer in the use of statistics, she used her famous pie charts to show the reduction in the death rates from infectious diseases after a series of sanitary reforms had been implemented. (Reproductions and analyses of these charts can be found in Cohen.)

Unlike many of her contemporaries, Nightingale saw no conflict between science and spirituality. In her textbook Notes on Nursing she wrote: “God lays down certain physical laws. Upon His carrying out such laws depends our responsibility” (Nightingale, Notes, 25). Nightingale’s work in nursing and public health was based on a profound spiritual philosophy she had developed in her adolescence and early adulthood. It included three core concepts: (1) that the universe is regulated by scientific laws created by a higher intelligence; (2) that within all human beings there is a divine nature, an inner tendency towards goodness; and (3) that according to the law of evolution, all human beings will eventually actualize their divine potential.

 Nightingale was one of the most broadly educated women of the nineteenth century. Her father, a graduate of Cambridge and a liberal-minded Unitarian, gave her a classical education, which she furthered with lifelong studies in comparative religion, particularly mysticism, and statistical science. One of her closest friends was Benjamin Jowett, a classical scholar at Oxford whose translations of Plato’s dialogues are still used today. At his request, Nightingale helped him with his introductions and summaries, sending him many “hints” for revision. Jowett thanked her, with a touch of humor, in a letter dated April 30, 1874.

I cannot be too grateful to you for criticizing Plato . . . I have adopted nearly all your hints as far as I have gone (however many hints I might give you, my belief is that you would never adopt any of them). (Quinn and Prest, 257)

Nightingale discussed her spiritual views at length with Jowett, but expressed them most fully in an 829-page manuscript entitled Suggestions for Thought. She never published this work but, with encouragement from friends, agreed to have six copies privately printed. An edited edition with an introduction and commentaries was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 1994. All the quotations below, unless otherwise stated, are from this edition of Suggestions for Thought.

Nightingale looked upon spirituality, that is, the consciousness of a Higher Presence, as an evolutionary phenomenon. She wrote that all human beings are capable of profound spiritual experiences, because the highest level of human nature, its essence, is divine. The finest human achievements, such as religious and mystical experiences, creative insights and expressions, and acts of courage and compassion, all arise from this inner divine nature. In her view, spiritual development is a process of harmonizing the personal self with the inner God consciousness, thus “extending the limits of the divine in man” (117). Nightingale considered herself a Christian, a follower of Christ, because she felt he was perfectly harmonized with the divine nature. But, she believed, in the course of evolution all human beings will arrive at this same perfection: “Human consciousness is tending to become what God’s consciousness is—to become one with the consciousness of God” (58).

If Nightingale were alive today, she would feel supported in her views by the work of the Religious Experience Research Center at the University of Wales, which found similarities between the spiritual experiences of modern individuals and those of mystics throughout history (Cohen and Phipps).

In a way analogous to that of the mystics, who experienced an underlying divine order and unity, Nightingale saw patterns in her statistical tables that were invisible to her normal consciousness. To her, these patterns and connections revealed the mind of a Higher Intelligence who regulates the universe through law as opposed to caprice. She referred to the laws or organizing principles of the universe as the “thoughts of God.” Although Sir Edward Cook, Nightingale’s early biographer, referred to her as a “passionate statistician,” she could also be called a spiritual statistician.

In keeping with her scientific perspective, Nightingale did not accept any religious doctrine she felt was inconsistent with the concept of universal law. She was in full agreement with her friend Jowett, who wrote in Essays and Reviews that

any true doctrine of inspiration must conform to all well-ascertained facts of history or of science. The same fact cannot be true in religion when seen by the light of faith, and untrue in science when looked at through the medium of evidence or experiment. (Jowett, 348)

She was decidedly against the common practice of praying for miraculous intervention, on the grounds that, first, it is contrary to universal law, as all actions have consequences that cannot be arbitrarily dismissed, and second, it keeps human beings from exercising and developing their own faculties and powers.

It did strike me as odd sometimes that we should pray to be delivered “from plague, pestilence, and famine,” when all the common sewers ran into the Thames, and fevers haunted undrained land, and the districts which cholera would visit could be pointed out. I thought that cholera came that we might remove these causes, not pray that God would remove the cholera. (126)

From Nightingale’s perspective, every level of manifestation, including the spiritual, is regulated by divine law. As causes produce effects, spiritual progress cannot occur without the establishment of appropriate conditions. “To think that we can be good under any circumstances is like thinking that we may be healthy when we are living over a sewer” (123). One of her most pressing questions, asked throughout Suggestions for Thought, is this: how can life, in all its aspects, be knowledgeably organized so that it enhances spirituality, that is, human greatness? The God-given tendency toward spiritual integration is within everyone, but without support it will lie dormant.

 For centuries, religious orders have attempted to organize life around a spiritual purpose. Nightingale studied and personally investigated various orders, but was disappointed to find that they gave little support for the individual members’ unique talents, interests, and ambitions, and that the organizations had become insular, concerned mainly with upholding established dogma. From her point of view, spiritual revelation is an ongoing process. There are spiritual laws, as well as physical laws, that have yet to be discovered. Intellectual freedom and critical thinking are therefore essential for true spiritual growth. She wrote in a formal letter to the nursing students at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London:

“And may I say a thing from my own experience? No training is of any use, unless one can learn (1) to feel, and (2) to think things out for oneself” (Nightingale, “Letter,” 214).

 Although it is doubtful that Nightingale was influenced by Buddha’s teachings, her statement is consistent with his advice, as expressed by her contemporary Max Müller:      

Do not believe in what you have heard: do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations; do not believe in anything because it is rumored and spoken of by many; do not believe merely because the written statements of some old sage are produced; do not believe in conjectures; do not believe in that as truth to which you have become attached by habit; do not believe merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. After observation and analysis when it agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, than accept it and live up to it. (Müller, 114)

Nightingale respected the Bible as well as other sacred texts, but she felt they were all a mixture of truth and untruth. Religious beliefs, in her view, should be treated as working hypotheses and, when possible, tested by accurate observation and data analysis. For example, she found that the facts did not support the religious idea that poverty enhances spirituality. Her extensive nursing observations revealed to her that the poor were no more spiritual than the rich. Moreover, she observed in her statistical tables that poverty was associated with crime, disease, and high mortality rates. “Surely it is a mistake to recommend poverty,” she concluded (135).

From Nightingale’s point of view, spiritual development is an applied science. Intellectual effort, however valuable, is not enough, for she wrote that “unless you make a life which shall be the manifestation of your religion, it does not much signify what you believe” (116). Growing spiritually involves courageously accepting the consequences of one’s mistakes, learning from them, and making the appropriate changes. This is a challenging process, and Nightingale had no illusions about her society’s willingness to change.

Most people have not learnt any lesson from life at all—suffer as they may, they learn nothing . . . When they begin the new life in another world, they would do exactly the same thing . . . And not only individuals, but nations learn nothing. A man once said to me, “Oh! if I were to begin again, how different I would be.” But we very rarely hear this; on the contrary, we often hear people say, “I would have every moment of my life over again,” and they think it pretty and grateful to God to say so. (65)

In Notes on Nursing, Nightingale wrote about the importance of “ready and correct observation.” This is essential for the improvement of both physical and spiritual health, because we need to see what has to be changed. Our vision is hampered, Nightingale stated, by certain tendencies: habitual thinking, blindly accepting established ideas, not bothering to ask questions about seeming anomalies, taking the status quo for granted, and giving free rein to the imagination.

If she were designing educational programs today, Nightingale would probably include meditation methods such as mindfulness, which help one to observe reality, internal and external, from a less conditioned perspective. She wrote that we need to change our consciousness so that the hidden gradually becomes visible. Indeed, the ultimate goal is “to see as God sees, which is truth” (143).

 In the letter to the nursing students mentioned above, Nightingale wrote that a period of quietude in their own rooms, “a few minutes of calm thought to offer up the day to God,” was indispensable in the ever increasing hurry of life (Nightingale, “Letter,” 213). For her, this was the highest form of prayer: opening oneself to the inner divine nature. She wrote to Jowett that the closing prayer of Plato’s Phaedrus is unequaled by any collect in the service book: “Give me beauty in the inward soul, and may the outward and inward man be at one” (in Cook 2.32).

 Nightingale expanded on this idea in Suggestions for Thought, writing that work itself can become a form of prayer. Finding work for which one is suited, that holds one’s interest and love, and doing it “unto God” will deepen our alignment with the inner spirit. From her perspective, any type of work can serve a sacred purpose, for it is one’s intent or motivation that will transform it.      

Work your true work, and you will find His presence in yourself—i.e., the presence of those attributes, those qualities, that spirit, which is all we know of God. (143)

Although Nightingale was certainly realistic, she was also optimistic about humanity’s future. She had tremendous confidence in the universal laws, in the guidance of the inner divine spirit, and felt that in spite of all the difficulties on the way, humanity would become “the working out of God’s thought,” which is its destination.


Calabria, Michael D. “Spiritual Insights of Florence Nightingale.” The Quest 3, no. 2 (summer 1990): 66–74.

Calabria, Michael D., and Janet A. Macrae, eds. Suggestions for Thought by Florence Nightingale: Selections and Commentaries. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.

Cohen, I. Bernard, “Florence Nightingale.” Scientific American 250, no. 3 (March 1984): 128–37.

Cohen, J.M. and J.F. Phipps, The Common Experience: Signposts on the Path to Enlightenment. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1992.

Cook, Sir Edward. The Life of Florence Nightingale. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1913.

Jowett, Benjamin. “On the Interpretation of Scripture.” In Jowett, Essays and Reviews. London: John W. Parker and Son, 1860.

Müller, Max. Three Lectures on the Vedanta Philosophy. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1894.

Nightingale, Florence. “Letter to the Probationer-Nurses in the Nightingale Fund School at St. Thomas’ Hospital and the Nurses Who Were Formally Trained There.” In Barbara Dossey, et al. Florence Nightingale Today: Healing, Leadership, Global Action. Silver Spring, Md.: American Nurses Association, 2005.

———. Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not. New York: Dover, 1969 [1860].

Quinn, E.V. and J.M. Prest. Dear Miss Nightingale: A Selection of Benjamin Jowett’s Letters, 18601893. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Woodham-Smith, Cecil. Florence Nightingale. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1951.

Janet Macrae holds a doctorate in nursing research from New York University. She is the coeditor of Suggestions for Thought by Florence Nightingale and the author of Nursing as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemporary Application of Florence Nightingale’s Views.


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