Book Reviews 1998





Cumulative Index to Lucifer, Volumes I-XX, Comp, Ted G, Davy, Edmonton, Alberta, T6E 5G4 Canada: Edmonton Theosophical Society, P O, Box 4587, 1997, Pp iv+224, Cloth.

Theosophy is both progressive and traditional. As modern Theosophy, its expression must be adapted to each generation so that its timeless truths can be communicated in current idiom; yet the writings of the first generation of modern Theosophists have a special claim on our attention as foundational.

The Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) Theosophical Society has long had a program of making available important early works. Their latest publication is a Cumulative Index to volumes 1-20 (September 1887 to August 1897) of Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine, founded and edited during her lifetime by I--l. P. Blavatsky and afterwards by Annie Besant with the assistance during the last years of the magazine of CJ. R. S. Mead.

This index has been prepared by Ted G. Davy with the care and skill of all his work. Its publication in 1997 marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the end of the magazine, or at least the end of its publication under the tide Lucifer; the magazine continued under the title The Theosophical Review. This index is a splendid contribution to Theosophical scholarship and an invaluable aid for students of the early writings. The main index (pages 1-164) presents the contents of the ten years of Lucifer by authors' names, subjects, and keywords. There are helpful cross-references for both subjects (Phenomena: see Natural Phenomena, Psychic Phenomena, Occult Phenomena, Unexplained Phenomena) and authors' names, both pseudonyms ("Philanthropos" see Blavatsky, H. Po) and initialisms (A. see Glass, A. M.) when the authors can. be identified.

As some indication of what can be found in this index, the entry for "Olcott, Henry .S. (1832-1907)" includes 145 references to him, followed by 21 entries for items written by him and several that he and HPB cosigned That is the pattern for persons: first references to them are indexed, then contributions authored by them.

The volume ends with several appendixes. One indexes book reviews first by the authors of the books and second by the book titles. The reviewers arc included in the main index. Another index lists the titles of journals and of pamphlets and book mentioned in the pages of Lucifer as having been received. A third appendix indexes by geographical locations and organizations Theosophical activities around the world, as reported in Lucifer.

This index is an invaluable guide to information about the history of the Society and the intellectual currents of early Theosophy. It also serves for fascinating browsing as, for example, one comes upon an article by the Anglo-Irish poet William Butler Yeats and a notice of his lecturing at the Dublin Lodge. All Theosophical students are deeply indebted to Ted Davy for preparing this index and to the Edmonton Theosophical Society for publishing it.
-John Algeo

January 1998


African Exodus: The Origins of Modern Humanity, by Christopher Stringer and Robin McKie, New York: Henry Holt, 1996, Hardback, xxii+282 pages.


Eco Homo: How the Human Being Emerged from the Cataclysmic History of the Earth, by Noel T. Boaz. New York: Basic Books/HarperCollins, 1997, Hardback, x +278 pages.


The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain, by Terrence W. Deacon New York: Norton, 1997, Hardback, 527 pages.

"Mommy, where did I come from?" Though later asked in mere sophisticated forms, that question of childhood is also a perennial question of our adulthood. We want to know where we, as individuals, as a social group, and as a species came from. Three recent books address the question of our origin as a species from three viewpoints: biological, ecological, and mental.

The biological origin of modern human beings has been accounted for by two theories. One holds that our earlier hominid ancestors spread over much of the world's surface and in various locations independently evolved into present-day humanity but that because of interbreeding, we have been becoming increasingly more alike. It is called the "multiregionalist" theory. The other holds that an earlier variety of the human genus evolved into our kind (Homo sapiens) in Africa and thence spread all over the globe, replacing other hominid species and that present-day differences among us are the result of evolutionary differentiation. It is called the "replacement" or more specifically the "Out of Africa" theory.

Recent analysis of the DNA or genetic code in human beings has shown that, although there are relatively great variations in DNA among groups of Africans, human beings outside of Africa are remarkably uniform, having only very slight variations among themselves and sharing their DNA pattern with some Africans. Since variation in the DNA is the result of mutations overtime, the most probable explanation of this surprising fact is that the human genus began in Africa, where it had a long evolutionary history and about 200,000 years ago developed into Homo sapiens, which later spread from Africa to the rest of the world. Such is the thesis of African Exodus, which dates the exodus from Africa about 100,000 years ago, allowing some 100,000 years in Africa for DNA diversification before the exodus began.

The book argues its thesis passionately and with revolutionary self-consciousness as a refutation of the multi-regionalist view, thereby refuting the romantic notion that science is a gradual, accumulative approach to ultimate truth. The book is also self-consciously a political statement, arguing against the thesis of The Bell Curve, by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, that intelligence is determined by race, with some races being genetically more intelligent than others. Science, far from being politically neutral, is often done in the service of some social agenda.

One of the interesting features of African Exodus is its emphasis on the unity of our contemporary human species. The differences among us are trivial; we are one people. African Exodus makes that point strongly with respect to our genetic inheritance.

Eco Homo basically supports the "Out of Africa" theory, although it presumes a slightly earlier beginning for the exodus of Homo sapiens "Africa is our ancestral homeland, and even today it still contains a stunning three-fifths to four-fifths of all human genetic diversity" (14). While agreeing with the date for the origin of Homo sapiens of 200,000 years ago, Eco Homo places the exodus earlier, between 130,000 and 175,000 years ago.

The characteristic feature of Eco Homo, however, is its attempt to connect the major stages of our biological evolution with changes in the eco logy: land formation, climate, weather patterns, flora and fauna distribution, and so on. It depicts human evolution, not as something independent of the rest of the planet, but as intimately connected with- influenced by and in more recent times increasingly influencing-the environment. Not only are we a unified species, but also we are unified and interdependent with the whole ecology of the planet.

Both books comment on, without explaining, a curious fact. About 20,000 years ago was one of those axial periods of human history when striking changes occur: "There is nothing in the paleontological record of the evolving human body that rivals the rapidity with which Homo sapiens began to evince advanced 'out-of-body' culture- cave art, music, burial of the dead, clothing, personal ornamentation, diverse tools, and so on....If one is drawn to dramatic 'hiccups' in the history of life on this planet, this certainly ranks near the top" (Eco Homo 217). In brief, human culture -our language, marriage and kinship systems, myths, magic, art, social mores and folkways, indeed everything from ethics to etiquette that obviously differentiates our behavior from that of nonhuman animals - began to appear at that time.

Eco Homo also stresses the remarkable fact of human behavior that we call "altruism" and relates it to that budding of culture 20,000 years ago. Altruistic behavior is evoked from the members of a cultural group "when two social conditions are met: There must be a vital need or threat to the group and there must be a strong sense of solidarity with in the group" (227). Altruism is thus a product of the evolution of cultural behavior and has survival value for the community. It has also, to be sure, its dark side: ethnic chauvinism and racism.

One of the great teachers of another axial period in human history, the Master Kung (or Confucius, as we usually call him), had a prescription for that undesirable side effect. He said that we begin with group solidarity within the family, but extend it progressively to the community, the state, the nation, and ultimately all humanity. The building of a world culture that synthesizes and transmutes local distinctions into a universal brotherhood of humanity is the cure for our social ills.

The Symbolic Species looks at the nature and evolution of language and the human brain and finds in their co-development the key to our modern humanity: "The doorway into this virtual world [of uniquely human abstractions, impossibilities, and paradoxes] was opened to us alone by the evolution of language, because language is not merely a mode of communication, it is also the outward expression of an unusual mode of thought -symbolic representation....Biologically, we are just another ape. Mentally, we are a new phylum of organisms"(22-3).

"Symbolic" is being used here in a sense given to the term by Charles Sanders Peirce, who classified "signs" (things that stand for other things) into three types: "icons," which are pictures of what they stand for, such as portraits; "indexes," which are causally connected with the things they stand for, as the position of a weathervane stands for a direction of the wind; and "symbols," which stand for something by social convent ion, as a wedding ring stands for the marital agreement or the letter "c" stands for a particular sound in words (70-1). In fact, the Peircean symbol is really of two kinds. In one, a symbol is connected with what it stands for quite arbitrarily, as the letter "c'' is connected with the sound "cc." In the other, a symbol is connected with what it stands for metaphorically or analogically, as a wedding ring is connected with the marital agreement by its shape (being an endless circle), its material (being of precious metal), and so on. The analogical symbol is far richer than the arbitrary one, and is the basis of much distinctively human life.

The Symbolic Species also points out that ritual is intimately connected with language and other symbolic systems and thus with our essential humanity:

Early hominids were forced to learn a set of associations between signs and objects, repeat them over and over, and eventually unlearn the concrete association in favor of a more abstract one. This process had to be kept up until the complete system of combinatorial relationships between the symbols was discovered. What could have possibly provided comparable support for these needs in the first symbol-learning societies?

In a word, the answer is ritual. Indeed, ritual is still a central component of symbolic "education" in modern human societies, though we are seldom aware of its modern role because of the subtle way it is woven into the fabric of society. [402]

In brief that remarkable budding of culture and altruism 20,000 years ago was the effect of the efflorescence of language and ritual. Voluntary social cooperation and culture are not possible with out symbolic language, and neither is the kind of thinking that lets us create mental worlds, virtual realities of "might-have- been" and "let's-pretend." "The evolution of symbolic communication has not just changed the range of possible objects of consciousness, it has also changed the nature of consciousness itself." To be human is to think symbolically, to see a wedding ring, not just as a metal circle, but as a pledge of fidelity, commitment, and mutual support.

These three books, the work of established academic anthropologists, point each in their various ways to certain principles of the Wisdom Tradition. Those principles include human solidarity, the interdependence of humanity with our environment, the naturalness of altruistic behavior, the uniqueness of the human mind, and the centrality of symbol, metaphor, and analogy to our perception of the world. One of the great teachers of that Wisdom Tradition wrote, "Modern science is our best ally" (Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett 65/11). Although there is much in all three books that followers of the Tradition might take issue with, the affirmation of those principles justifies that statement.
-MORTON DILKES

Spring 1998


Thinking about the Earth: A History of Ideas in Geology, by David R. Oldroyd. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. Pp. xxx + 410. Hardback.

Thinking about the Earth traces the history of ideas about the planet we live on from ancient times to the present. The volume reviews concepts concerning the origin of the Earth, its physical and chemical composition, its surface and tectonic evolution, its history of climate change, and interactions with its biosphere.

The book is largely nontechnical and, hence, should be easily accessible to the educated nonspecialist. The author, David Oldroyd, is a professor at the University of New South Wales, Australia, specializing in the history of geology, and the book is very much what might be expected from a science historian. The volume is very well researched, and even relatively minor players in some of the major debates in the Earth sciences during the last two centuries arc accorded their fifteen lines in the limelight.

The book will be of value to anyone in, retested in the development of ideas concerning Earth history, but its coverage of most topics trails off with work from the 1950s to 1960s and it does not attempt to track more recent developments. However, Oldroyd's goal is clearly not to provide an up-to-date review of scientific research but rather to illustrate the historical development of ideas concerning the Earth, and in this regard he succeeds admirably.

A weakness of the volume is that Oldroyd is not willing to admit that certain older ideas about the Earth are demonstrably incorrect and have been conclusively rejected by the Earth sciences community. Indeed, science docs progress with time, consigning some ideas to the trash heap of history.

To give an example, the Earth was once generally held to be the center of the cosmos, about which all other heavenly bodies revolved. This anthropocentric view was subsequently demolished by Newtonian mechanics, which explained the motion of the Earth about the Sun, that of the solar system about the Milky Way galaxy, and that of galaxies through the vastness of intergalactic space as a function of gravitational dynamics. Because Newtonian mechanics is solidly grounded in the laws of physics, a return to a Ptolemaic cosmos is a virtual impossibility.

An analogous case in Oldroyd's volume concerns the face-off between the expanding Earth and plate tectonic hypotheses. Both hypotheses were initially constructed to account for the distribution of continents and oceans on the Earth's surface. According to the expanding Earth hypothesis, the terrestrial sphere once had a solid sialic crust which subsequently split into fragments (i.e., the modern continents) that became separated by ocean basins as the Earth expanded.

The primary problem with this hypothesis is that there is simply no physical mechanism by which the Earth could have expanded by the requisite amount, i.e., roughly a three-fold increase in surface area and more than a five-fold increase in volume. Plate tectonic theory, which I will refrain from discussing here, now has a wealth of geophysical and geochemical evidence in support of it, and the expanding Earth hypothesis has about as much chance of resurrection as a Ptolemaic cosmos.

Philosophically, the point overlooked in Oldroyd's position that current views of the Earth have no greater intrinsic merit than earlier views is that scientific concepts have not merely changed through time but have deepened. By this, I mean that the level of debate has progressed from problems of a broad, fundamental nature to problems that are much more narrowly focused as more information has been generated and analyzed.

As an example, as recently as thirty years ago a major debate within the scientific community concerned the tempo of the evolution of life, i.e., whether it occurred gradually and continuously (as envisioned by Darwin) or whether it occurred episodically following long periods of stasis (the more recent "punctualist" view). Detailed compilations of taxonomic data have led to a widespread consensus among Earth scientists in favor of punctualism, and current research focuses on the factors permitting long-term evolutionary stasis (e.g., "homeostasis," or self-regulating equilibria within biotic communities) as well as those responsible for precipitating rapid evolutionary change (most of which appears to be associated with mass extinction events).

Hence, ideas on a given issue may fluctuate for some period of time, but in most cases enough darn is eventually generated to resolve the issue and scientific debate progresses to a deeper, more detailed level.

In the final section of the book, Oldroyd considers the Gaia hypothesis, one of the most interesting and controversial ideas to tweak established scientific paradigms in recent years. Since its inception, the Gaia hypothesis has fissioned into several versions, reflecting varying emphasis on the holistic, oneness-with-Mother-Earth theme. In the original version published by James Lovelock, the essence of the Gaia hypothesis is that the biosphere has a stabilizing influence on Earth-surface conditions, and that such stability, in turn, promotes a healthy, well-integrated biosphere.

The negative reaction of the scientific community to the Gaia hypothesis resulted, I think, largely from its avid acceptance by New Ager's, who have favored more holistic versions in which the Earth itself is viewed as a living organism. However, the Earth was sterile at some point in the past and will be so again at some point in the future, and it is nothing more nor less than a solid physical substrate on which life has developed (or been introduced) and to which life constantly adapts itself. To his credit, Oldroyd gives a very balanced account of the original Gaia hypothesis and of its potential implications with regard to long-term interactions between the Earth and its biosphere.
-THOMAS J. ALGEO

Spring 1998


Spiritualism in Antebellum America, by Bret E. Carroll. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997. Hardback, xiv + 227 pages.

Historians of American religion have recently displayed a new level of serious interest in alternative spiritualities, past and present, realizing that they have influenced the course of America's radically pluralistic culture and have told American s who they are , virtually as much as "mainstream" religion has done. Bret Carroll's Spiritualism in Antebellum America is a good ex ample of this trend, and fascinating reading it will be for those with a taste {or good scholarly writing and a love of the American past and the manifold varieties of the spiritual quest.

The book is not so much a chronological tracing of the new religion from its beginning in 1848, with the mysterious "rappings" the young Fox sisters heard in their upstate New York farmhouse, up to the Civil War, as it is a thematic study of the new religion in this period, which was something of its golden age. Sensational accounts of mediumship, table-tilting, and spirit trumpets and bells filled the newspapers, and in some places conventional churches were reportedly nearly emptied as seekers swarmed instead to "home circles" and to auditorium programs featuring Spiritualist speakers and "demonstrations."

The chapters of Spiritualism in Antebellum America deal with such topics as "Spiritualist Republicanism," "The Structure of the Spirit World," "The Ministry of Spirits," "The Structure of Spiritualist Practice," and "The Structure of Spiritualist Society." "Republicanism" refers not to the present political party, but to what historians call the "republican" reaction in Jacksonian America against lingering elements of aristocracy, and privilege, in favor of democracy and equality. For many this mood took quite radical forms in the 1830s and 1840s, leading to a rejection of hierarchy and mere traditionalism in religion no less than in the political sphere.

Spiritualism was clearly a beneficiary and expression of this "republican" wave. Anyone could be a medium or form a Spiritualist circle. As Ann Braude has shown in another excellent book on the subject, Radical Spirits, Spiritualism was a movement that offered women opportunities for spiritual leadership and se lf-expression on important issues at a time when they were denied them in virtually all other churches, as well as in affairs of state. Spiritualism was closely connected with most of the progressive guises of the time: abolition of slavery, feminism, socialism, temperance, prison reform, and the decent treatment of Native Americans.

Historians have also come to see how much America in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was, in the title of a recent book by Jon Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith. The conventional religions, and even the famous frontier revivals, were only parts of this mix: there were also Deism, magic, Unitarianism, Mormonism, Transcendentalism, occultism, communalism, and then Spiritualism, But against this melange the emergent scientific and industrial revolutions presented yet another challenge, that of sheer materialism. One response to it was what Carroll calls "technical religion," of which he presents Spiritualism as a prime example.

Spiritualists offered their faith" as the most "scientific" of religious as well as the most "democratic." Not only could it he practiced by anyone, but its claims could also be tested by anyone. One could, in principle, check the veracity of what mediums reported about the lives of departed loved ones, or inspect the seance room for hidden props as much as one wished; this was one sect that did not depend on "blind faith" in the infallibility of ancient texts or of a privileged priesthood,

Spiritualism was actually a religion for the technological age in a double sense. Not only was it allegedly the first to be fully subject to scientific verification , it was also the first to be spread by means that the new technologies made available: through the mass print media at a time when literacy was finally approaching universality in a few advanced countries, including the US; through apostles no longer limited to foot , horseback, or sail, but able to carry the message throughout the nation and the world in the relative comfort and speed of hurtling steam trains and ocean liners and even to send messages instantaneously by the telegraph , invented only a few years before the Fox sisters' rappings. No wonder Spiritualist publications had such progressive, up-to-date names as the Spiritual Telegraph and Spiritual Age!

Present -day Theosophists will undoubtedly see in all of this, as did the founders of the Theosophical Society, H. P. Blavatsky and H. S. Olcott-both one- time students of Spiritualism-a foreshadowing of their movement, founded in 1875 in the wake of the first great Spiritualist age described by Carroll. Here too was a democratic form of spirituality accessible in principle to persons of both sexes and all classes equally, progressive in spirit and embracing many people seriously interested in world improvement. It too made much use of modern media for its dissemination-one thinks of all the Theosophical magazines, of Blavatsky and Olcott sailing by steamship through the newly-opened Suez Canal en route to India, and on a deeper level of the way in which modern Theosophy sought to resolve the burgeoning Victorian science- versus-religion crisis of faith. Theosophy did this, however, in a way that went beyond what Spiritualism ordinarily had to offer. It did not so much submit its claims and "phenomena" to scientific verification, though there was some of this, as appeal to a deeper and older stratum of wisdom, the "Ancient Wisdom," which was postulated as secreted within all real religion and science and which when unpacked could provide common ground for understanding them both.

The partial truth and sometime excesses of early Spiritualism produced scathing rhetoric from the Theosophical side in the nineteenth century. Today, however, with the polemical passion of early Spiritualism largely spent, one can appreciate antebellum Spiritualism, imperfect though it may have been, for the fascinating and courageous movement it often was. Bret Carroll's book will be an aid to that appreciation.
-ROBERT ELLWOOD

Summer 1998


Tarot and the Tree of Life: Finding Everyday Wisdom
In the Minor Arcana,
by Isabel Radow Kliegman. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, Theosophical Publishing House, 1997. Paperback, xxv + 220 pages.


Choice Centered Tarot, by Gail Fairfield, foreword by Ralph Metzner. York Beach, ME: Weiser, 1997. Paperback, vi+ 154pages.

What is the tarot? It is a deck of cards consisting of four suits equivalent to present-day playing cards, except that each suit contains an extra face or court card, called the "knight." To these fifty-six cards, called the "minor arcana," are added twenty-two additional trump cards, known as the "major arcana," ranging from a trump card numbered zero (the Fool) to the trump card numbered twenty-one (the World).

The origin of the tarot is a matter for speculation. Nineteenth- and early twentieth-century tarot enthusiasts were wont to follow the lead of Court de Gel-elm (1728- 1784) and other French esotericists, who saw in these cards a remnant of mysterious Egyptian sources, especially a legendary book called the Book of Thoth. Others, notably the brilliant writer and esoteric teacher Papus (Dr. Gerard Encausse), drawing on Gypsy legend , discerned Indian symbolism in the cards and attributed the four suits of the minor arcana to the four principal castes of the Hindu social order.

While there is little certainty concerning its origin, the re has never been any doubt about the uses of the tarot. They are threefold: (1) symbolic study of the cosmic and psychic patterns that move our lives, (2) expansion of our consciousness by visual meditations focused on the cards of the major arcana , and (3) divination or securing guidance upon practical matters of a perplexing nature.


I


The first of the two books reviewed here, Isabel Kliegman's Tarot and the Tree of Life, has a just claim to a unique status because it addresses itself to the minor arcana of the tarot. Although most books about the tarot contain a great deal of information about and insight into the archetypal images and mysterious implications of the twenty-two cards of the major arcana, the fifty-six cards of the minor arcana are almost routinely neglected. Most informed sources assure us that the minor arcana represent the human personality and the manifold structures of creation, while the major arcana symbolize spiritual potencies linked to the cosmos and personhood. To contemplate the spiritual side of universal existence and at the same time to remain uninformed regarding the personal dimension shows an attitude lacking in balance. This imbalance has been remedied by Tarot and the Tree of Life.

According to Isabel Kliegman, the tarot is above all a system of self-knowledge, self-integration, and self-transformation. Vital to this integration is the creative interact ion of the opposites leading to an ultimate and balanced union. A symbol system such as the tarot is eminently suited to facilitate this process, which, as C. G. Jung pointed out, takes place on a level of consciousness other than the rational, one where development expresses itself in symbols. In order to undergo successfully this process, we need to avail ourselves of all our psychological resources. Kliegman tells us in simple but impressive language that the neglected cards of the four suits of the minor arcana are indispensable to our psychological development and ultimate wholeness. These cards are "overlooked looking glasses" into the reality of our souls.

One of the most impressive chapters of this book is the second, entitled "Kabbalah: The Ultimate Gift." In a mere twenty' four pages, the author accomplishes what many have failed to achieve in tomes of many hundreds of pages. She presents a clear and practical exposition of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life and its relevance to the basic concerns of everyday life, including the relevance of the Tree of Life to the tarot deck. Since the time of Eliphas Levi in the mid nineteenth century, the Kabbalah has been frequently employed to elucidate the meaning of the tarot cards, especially the twenty-two major arcana, which were attributed to the twenty-two interconnecting "channels" of the Tree of Life. The author expertly elucidates the attributions of the ten numbered cards of the four suits to the ten sephiroth (73-176) and presents a refreshingly original treatment of the court cards of the suits in their relationship to the four olams (regions or worlds) of the Tree (177- 215).

The book is replete with examples of people's experiences with the cards and has a friendly, direct tone that cannot help but set the reader at case when undertaking tarot study. A minor area of difficulty the reader may encounter is the author's use of the modernized phonetic spelling of Hebrew names, which is different from the older spelling to which man y readers are accustomed. The religious context of the book is Jewish, which is the author's faith, but which obviously may not be the religious background of many readers. Fortunately, many of the explications of Jewish religious concepts are given in a commendably universal tone, so that they are readily applicable to all traditions. A remarkable and brilliant instance is the author's commentary on the "Shema Yisrael" (17-1 8).


II


Gail Fairfield's Choice Centered Tarot possesses a thrust that is rather different from that of the previous book. Its emphasis is primarily on the tarot as a "psychic tool" and thus on divination. There is very little information presented that might create a context (or the symbolism of the cards; one misses the mythological frame, work expounded by Joseph Campbell or by Sally Nicholls. Even more one misses the Kabbalistic context presented by numerous other authors. (The word Kabbalah does not appear in the text.)

It is of course all too true that one of the most popular uses to which the tarot has always been put is that of divination. Yet divination without a larger philosophical and even transcendental context becomes a dreary business. The late Manly P. Hall expressed this well when he wrote: "To those versed in ancient philosophies it appears unfortunate that these cards should be collected and examined mainly in the interest of fortune telling. Man's place in the universe is far more important than the outcome of h is daily concerns" (The Tarot: An Essay, 21).

It is not that the Choice Centered Tarot is without some practical merit. As the noted figure of consciousness studies, Ralph Metzner, points out in his foreword, the author "emphasizes the psychological meanings of the Tarot, showing ... how the card symbols, which at first seem so perplexing, can yield powerful insights and help people come to greater self-understanding and the ability to make creative and responsible choices in all kinds of situations" (iv). Whether this emphasis appears as clearly and consistently as one might wish is an other quest ion.

Certainly the most annoying feature of this book is its frequent and for the most part quite unjustified introduction of "politically correct" motifs into the discussion of the tarot. What is one to make of remarks such as this: "Most Tarot decks are blatantly racist in that they confine themselves to the use of Caucasian images. The exclusion of people of other races ... reinforces the misconception that the Tarot is only relevant to the white race" (8)? The present reviewer has lectured on the tarot to many audiences of a racially mixed composition and has never heard anyone titter this kind of objection. Where race-oriented "PC" is present, the gender-oriented variety of the same thing cannot be far away: "Many decks and books still reflect the more traditional, rigidly defined sex roles... we need to be aware of the sexist and heterosexist attitudes that they reflect and reinforce" (8). Poppycock! Does the Queen of Swords not hold the most masculine of magical symbols, the sword? And can one imagine a feminine figure of more awesome power than the High Priestess, or a more dynamic and energetic one than the woman on the card of Strength?

Both of these books are useful additions to the ever-expanding body of literature on the tarot , but Tarot and the Tree of Life is more complete and more useful than Choice Centered Tarot. The former shows us how we are instructed by the numinous symbols of the cards, while the latter tells us how we may use these same symbols to serve largely personalistic ends. The difference between the two approaches is significant.
-STEPHAN A. HOELLER

Summer 1998


Graceful Exits: How Great Beings Die, edited by Sushila Blackman. New York: Weatherhill, 1997. Paperback, 160 pages.

In Graceful Exits: How Great Beings Die, Sushila Blackman has collected death stories of Hindu, Tibetan, and Zen masters.

Hindus believe that the last thoughts before death affect one's next incarnation. Hence, it is best to think of God on dying so that one will be forever liberated. A famous example is Mahatma Gandhi's last exclamation, "Sri Ram, Sri Ram, Sri Ram!" as he died from an assassin's bullets.

Tibetan monks practice meditations to Be performed immediately before and after death to effect final liberation or at least reincarnation in desirable circumstances. They study the texts we call the Tibetan Book of the Dead so they can properly navigate the various bardos, or stages between death and rebirth. As the dying person’s life-force leaves the body, a great clear light appears-the light reported in so many near-death experiences. Tibetan masters teach that if one can recognize and merge into that light, one is liberated from all separate existence.

Many of the stories in this book have to do with foreknowledge of death without fear or anxiety. In the Japanese tradition, Zen masters on the verge of death givetheir last words in the form of a death poem, or jisei. The beautiful death poem of Basho, the greatest of Japan's haiku poets, was "Sick, on a journey, yet over withered fields dreams wander on." Several death stories of Zen masters involve humorous behavior or nonsensical statements very much like Zen koans.

The afterword presents an unexpected poignancy. Shortly before completing this book, Sushila Blackman learned that cancer had metastasized to her bones. She had unknowingly been collecting these stories to prepare for her own death, which came a little more than a month after she wrote the afterword.

These stories make the point that death is just another passage in life, which we need not fear. We, like the great beings, can make a graceful exit.
-MIKE WILSON

Summer 1998


The Psychic Revolution of the 20th Century and Our Psychic Senses. By Claire G. Walker. Seal Beach, CA: Psychic Sense Publishers, 1997. Pp. xii + 166.

Once in a while, a book comes along that serves as a "bellringer'' to the century rather than to the moment; such a book is that authored by Claire Walker. From the thoughtfully written Author's Note to the concluding Endnotes, she has presented the term psychic in a new light, one that has evolved in the past hundred years. Her fresh approach to the greatly misunderstood psychic faculty restores to it a dignity that is ancient: in concept: and not to be misinterpreted as merely a psychic phenomenon.

Just as the Renaissance was a major turning point in the world's history, the-author believes that now another major direction has been taken, one in which individualism is a thing of the past. Claire Walker envisions the next step in the world's evolution as one of knowledge, wholeness, and spiritual vision.

The author credits the appeal of twentieth-century psychism to an outgrowth of the late nineteenth century as she traces the history of this often misunderstood term. She sets the stage by the founding of the Theosophical Society by H. P. Blavatsky and others in 1875. The author writes appreciatively concerning the struggles and accomplishments of Blavatsky, who brought an organized, rational view of the inner side of reality to the Western world. The author also surveys Theosophy's basic tenets and history, observing that the popular appeal of psychism began about the time of the Society's foundation.

As we stand on the threshold of a new age, till: author states that it will be anything but business as usual. Her extensive research heralds a "New Globalism." If we fail to speak and think in the new language of that Globalism, we will be one with the dinosaurs, for goodwill and genuine brotherhood have not as yet: been realized. The author believes that the well-being of the twenty-first century will not depend on the knowledge of a privileged few but should be available to all inhabitants of the Earth.

Walker states that: the development of the psychic sense is so basic to human nature that it is the one natural resource not threatened by modern civilization and that it: is the next step in the evolution of the planet. She writes that a new image of the World Self will emerge as hundreds of thousands of people learn to balance inner being with outer personality, which is the work of the Universal Soul.

Parents and educators can breathe life into the educational system by recognizing the psi factor as a learning tool, a cherished natural ability that can unlock the inner potential of each child. In this manner the child's creativity can be actualized, allowing knowledge to be intuitive rather than inductive. Many psychically gifted children are now coming into incarnation, and early training and recognition of their abilities will allow their energies to grow into "new channels of doing and thinking."

A new society will emerge when the recognition of the psychic sense as pan of the human constitution provides interaction between the peoples of the earth. A new physics, a new geography, a new language (a new understanding of old terms), a new approach to health and alternative healing, and a new understanding of the development of the five senses that will aid in the awareness of the sixth or intuitional sense will in concert give rise to a new religion, one of world harmony and good will.

The author compares the new science with H. P. Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine (1:274), which holds that "Everything in the Universe, throughout all its kingdoms, is CONSCIOUS: i.e., endowed with a consciousness of its own kind and on its own plane of perception." The book describes psychic "wholeness" as a fulfillment and a drive that creates a now of energy more important: than pleasure. Living then becomes an art that transcends personality to a spiritual level. The word psychic has meant many things in the past century. On the road to an increased understanding of reality, the psi factor has metamorphosed from parlor tricks and séances to scientific study and growing respect for the ancient spiritual teachings. Psychic, as the author uses the term, docs not refer to sensational phenomena, but to the development of an influence on our every daily thought, choice, and reaction.

We arc indebted to Claire Walker for her clarification of the meaning of the term psychic and for sharing her wisdom and research, her hope and insight: into the future.
-LEATRICE KREEGER-BONNELL

June 1998


 

ACCESSING THE SECRET DOCTRINE
H. P. Blavatsky's major work, The Secret Doctrine, is both the most basic of all Theosophical books and the most difficult to use. Its wealth of detail and breadth of scope are breathtaking, if not intimidating, for many readers. Any assistance in providing easier and more effective access to this Theosophical monument is good karma. Two works of excellent good karma have recently become available: a new index to the book by John Van Mater and an Electronic edition with a search program from Vic Hao Chin.

A New Index

The Secret Doctrine: Index. By John P. Van Mater. Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1997. Softcover, viii+433 pages.

Indexes are valuable tools. Shortly after the publication of The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky was praising two students who had "indexed it for themselves, classifying the contents in two portions-the exoteric and the esoteric" (Lucifer 6 [1890]: 333--5). The two indexes hitherto most widely available have been that published by the Theosophy Company in 1939 and that, in the de Zirkoff edition, published by the Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, in 1979, which superseded earlier Adyar indexes.

The new index by John Van Mater has some distinctive and noteworthy features. A pervasive difference is its ordering of subentries under a main entry. For example, the main entry for the term "Race(s)" spreads over four columns and includes more than a hundred subentries. Subentries must be ordered somehow-but how?

The two earlier indexes listed subentries in the order of their volume and page numbers. That order gives the index user an overview of the sequence in which the topics are covered in the book. Also if the user wants to look up all the subentries for a given topic, the page numbers are in the most convenient order for doing so.

The Van Mater index orders subentries alphabetically by a keyword in the subentry. This has the advantages of bringing together subentries dealing with the same aspect of a topic and of letting the user quickly scan long entries for the particular aspect of a subject that is of interest. Each system of ordering has its own virtues and uses; it is good to have both available.

Other noteworthy features of the Van Mater index are its identification of the language source of foreign terms (mainly Sanskrit, of course) and its very helpful cross-references. For example, the entry for mulaprakriti (omitting the diacritics) begins:

Mulaprakriti (Skt.) See olso Pradhana, Prakriti,
Primonal [sic for "Primordial"] Matter, Svabhavat

If one consults the four cross-references under mulaprakriti, other cross-references appear under them and their further cross-references, namely aether, akasa, anima mundi, astral light, daiviprakriti, elements, ether, Father-Mother, hyle, ilus, protyle, world soul. By tracing the web of such cross-references, one can get a fair coverage of a given subject.

Van Mater ends his index with an appendix listing and translating foreign phrases used in The Secret Doctrine. This is especially helpful for us monolingual Americans. The phrases range from the preface's De minimis non curat lex (l:viii "The law does not concern itself with trifles") to a complaint of Euripedes about aoidon hoide dustenoi logoi (2:764 "those miserable stories of the poets"). The last foreign phrase in the book, Satyan nasti paro dharmah (2:798 "There is no religion higher than truth," the motto of the Theosophical Society) is entered in the main index, so is omitted from the appendix.

This volume, both in form and content, has the high quality typical of Pasadena publications. It is a significant and very welcome addition to the array of tools for the study of Theosophy. Students of The Secret Doctrine are in debt to John Van Mater and the Theosophical University Press for this excellent: work.

 

An Electronic Edition

The Secret Doctrine: Electronic Book Edition. Ed. Vincente Hao Chin, Jr. Quezon City, Philippines; Theosophical Publishing House, 1998. 5 floppy disks, 7.5 megabytes harddisk space.

The Philippines Section of the Theosophical Society, under the presidency of Vic Hao Chin, has brought turn-of-the-century technology to the study of The Secret Doctrine by producing an electronic version of Blavatsky's work.

Currently available on 5 high-density floppies, the text uses the pagination of the 1888 edition (as all modern studies do). It installs on a hard disk, runs under Windows 3.101' Windows 95, and requires 7.5 megabytes of hard disk space for its storage. It includes a search program that allows the reader to look for any word or phrase used in the text (other than special characters or words in diagrams or illustrations).

A search produces a list of sections in which the specified word or phrase is to be found, identified by volume, part, section or chapter numbers, and the title of the section. The sections are ordered in the list according to the frequency with which they contain the word or phrase, with the most abundant use first. For example, mulaprakriti is used in 22 sections of the book, most often in volume 1, pan: 2, section 12 entitled "The Theogony of the Creative Gods," where there are 12 uses, and next most often in the Proem of volume 1, where there are 11 uses, and so on.

Clicking on any given line of the list takes one to the corresponding section of The Secret Doctrine, in which every occurrence of the word or phrase is highlighted for ease of location. The click of a button takes the user from one highlighted use to the next. The text, in whatever amplitude the user desires, can be blocked and copied to a document in the word processor of the user's choice.

If a student wants to know what The Secret Doctrine says about any term or how it uses any expression, this electronic edition is the fastest, most thorough, and most accurate way to find the answer. Through it, one can produce an exhaustive list of every occurrence in The Secret Doctrine of whatever word or phrase one wants to investigate. And because its text can be copied and pasted to another document, it is the easiest way to get quotations, long or short, from the book.

Plans are currently underway to put the program eventually onto a CD with various supplementary materials. However, the electronic edition now available is excellent and highly useful. No serious student of The Secret Doctrine should be without it. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., and his co-workers are owed a very great vote of thanks for their work in producing this electronic version.

 

The Future

Electronic, globally searchable texts will not put primed indexes out of business-at least, not yet. But they will transform how such indexes are designed and what they are used for.

The availability of computer searches through an electronic text largely obviates the traditional use of printed indexes, which has been to find places in a text where a given word is used and a given subject is discussed. It is pointless to look up a word manually in one printed book, note down the references given for that word, look up each reference in another book, and then copy (either by hand or xerography) the quotations one wants.

That is an obsolete research technique. Instead, one types the word or expression of interest into the electronic program, which then produces in the blink of an eye all occurrences of the word or expression, and one can electronically copy any passages one wants. Such electronic research reduces dramatically the time and effort spent in looking for information.

The existence of electronic texts will significantly alter the design and use of printed indexes, and the electronic texts will themselves evolve as new technology becomes available and as the needs of users call for evolving forms of presentation. Vic Hao Chin's electronic Secret Doctrine is the first, not the last, step in the new technology, just as John Van Mater's index is a transitional step to the new format such indexes will assume. Eventually, the two technologies-electronic text and printed index- will blend.

The key to the future of indexing is in John Van Mater's liberal use of cross-references. Vic Hao Chin's electronic text can be searched only for specific words or phrases used in the text. Thus, if one is interested in what The Secret Doctrine has to say about mulaprakriti, one can direct the program to produce all uses of that word. And it will do so, quickly and reliably. But the electronic program will not, at present, lead one on to synonyms or related terms. That's where the cross-references come

in. In a world of electronic searches, the most valuable part of the \/an Mater index are its cross-references. Future indexes need to amplify and elaborate such cross-referencing; they need to become not so much indexes to the text as thesauruses of related terms, which can be searched for by the computer program.

For example, the Van Mater index includes the complex of cross-references indicated above:

aether, akasa, anima mundi, astral light, daiviprakriti,
elements, ether, Father-Mother, hyle,
ilus, mulaprakriti, pradhana, prakriti, primordial
matter, protyle, svabhavat, world soul

To these might be added other related terms, such as the following (all of which appear in subentries under one or another of the cross-referenced terms):

aditi, aethereal, akasic, alaya, archaeus, asat,
celestial virgin, chaos, cosmic ideation, cosmic
matter, cosmic soul, cosmic substance, devamatri.
devil, dragon, eternal root, fobat, Holy
Ghost, honey-dew, hydrogen, illusion, isvara,
kshetrajna, Kwan-yin, life principle, light of
the logos, limbus, lipikas, logos, magic head,
magnes, maha-buddhi, mahat, matter, Mother,
Mother-Father, nahbkoon, Nebelheim, noumenon,
Oeaohoo, oversoul, parabrahman, picture
gallery, plastic essence, plenum, precosmic
root substance, prima materia, primordial substance,
Ptah, purusha-prakriti, root principle,
serpent, shekinah, sidereal light, Sophia, space,
svayambhu, undifferentiated matter, universal
mind, universal principle, universal soul, unmanifested
logos, unmodified matter, vacuum,
veil, waters of space, web, yliaster, Ymir

To be useful, such related terms would need to be organized into a branching tree of interlocking relationships. The best way to store and access such a tree structure is electronic. Eventually, the thesaurus-index toward which the Van Mater book has made a first step should be incorporated into the search program for the electronic text of The Secret Doctrine so that a user can search automatically not only for specific terms but also for related terms that the user may not even be aware of.

In sum, the two works under review here, the printed index and the electronic text of The Secret Doctrine, are splendid productions that will serve very well the needs of their users for the proximate future. They also point enticingly toward a more, though perhaps not very, distant future in which their technologies will be combined to afford students an unparalleled and previously unimaginable opportunity to study this foundational text of Theosophy.
-JOHN ALGEO

June 1998


H. P. Blavatsky and the SPR: An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885, by Vernon Harrison. Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1997. Hardback, xiv + 78 pages.

A turning point in H. P. Blavatsky's life, which at the time must have seemed to her as well as to those around her to be a calamity, was the 1885 report of the committee of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) "appointed to investigate phenomena connected with the Theosophical Society" That report, written primarily by a young investigator named Richard Hodgson and therefore usually called "the Hodgson Report," reached a devastating conclusion:

For our own part, we regard her neither as the
mouthpiece of hidden seers, nor as a mere vulgar
adventuress; we think that she has achieved a title
to permanent remembrance as one of the
most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting
impostors in history. [4]

Theosophists have always held that the Hodgson Report, the initial effort of a fledgling and ambitious new investigator for the SPR, was biased, distorted, unfair, and unreliable. It would, however, not be unexpected that they should so respond to the report's highly critical judgment of the founder of Theosophy. Others tended to take the report as a soundly based, conclusive expose revealing Blavatsky as a fraud.

In 1986, shortly after the hundredth anniversary of the Hodgson Report, an impartial, critical examination of that report, covering both its methodology and conclusions, was made by a disinterested researcher, Vernon Harrison. Not connected with any Theosophical Society, Harrison had been a member of the Society for Psychical Research for fifty years; he was a professional expert in forgery and a frequent expert witness in legal cases involving forgery and counterfeiting.

The Hodgson Report dealt with a number of issues: (1) various paranormal phenomena performed by or connected with Blavatsky; (2) the putative Blavatsky-Coulomb correspondence; and (3) the authorship of the Mahatma Letters, Harrison confined himself to the last of those issues because forgery was his specialty and because primary evidence relating to that issue still exists, the Letters being available in the manuscript collection of the British Library. Eyewitnesses of the phenomena are now all dead, and the Coulomb letters mysteriously disappeared after having come into the possession of one of Blavatsky's opponents whom she sued for libel and who apparently found that the letters did not support his case.

Harrison's devastatingly critical examination of the Hodgson Report was published by the Society for Psychical Research, as the SPR editor said, "in the interest of truth and fair play, and to make amends for whatever offense we may have given" by the 1885 report. Harrison did not, however, end his investigation of the subject with that publication, but went on to examine critically all of the Mahatma Letters for evidence of forgery or fraud by Blavatsky.

Harrison's 1986 SPR article is reprinted in this volume together with a report of the new evidence from his subsequent investigation. The details of his research must be read in his own words to appreciate the thoroughness, skill, and knowledgeability with which it was conducted, There is also a keen and incisive sense of humor running through his comments. For example, Harrison demonstrates that by the same criteria Hodgson used to "prove" that HPB wrote the Mahatma Letters, he can "prove" that she also wrote Huckleberry Finn and that Dwight Eisenhower wrote Isis Unveiled, for Mark Twain and Ike's handwritings share critical features that Hodgson used to link HPB with the Mahatma Letters.

A1though it is not possible here to do justice to Harrison's full analysis, his concluding expert opinion on the subject can be summarized:

The Hodgson Report is not a scientific study…

Richard Hodgson was either ignorant or contemptuous of the basic principles of English justice…

In cases where it has been possible to check Hodgson's statements against the direct testimony of original documents, his statements are found to be either false or to have no significance in the context...

Having read the Mahatma Letters in the holographs, I am left with the strong impression that the writers KH and M were real and distinct human beings...

Who KH was I do not know, but I am of the opinion that all letters in the British Library initialed KH originated from him…

It is almost certain that the incriminating Blavatsky-Coulomb letters have been lost or destroyed, but there is strong circumstantial evidence that these letters were forgeries made by Alexis and Emma Coulomb...

I have found no evidence that the Mahatma Letters were written by Helena Blavatsky consciously and deliberately in a disguised form of her own handwriting…

I am unable to express an opinion about the "phenomena" described in the first part of the Hodgson Report ... but having studied Hodgson's methods, I have come to distrust his account and explanation of the said "phenomena."

Vernon Harrison concludes that there is much we do not know about Helena Blavatsky and many questions about her life remain unanswered. He believes, however, that "the Hodgson Report is a highly partisan document forfeiting all claim to scientific impartiality" (4), "riddled with slanted statements, conjecture advanced as fact or probable fact, uncorroborated testimony of unnamed witnesses, selection of evidence and downright falsity" (32), and therefore "should be used with great caution, if not disregarded. It is badly flawed" (69).

This book should be in the library of every Theosophist and should be studied by anyone who writes or reads about Blavatsky. It is an extraordinarily important work in HPB's biography and in the history of the Society and of Theosophy.
-JOHN ALGEO

July 1998


SŌd: The Son of the Man, by S. F Dunlap. Photographic reproduction of the 1861 edition with added notes and bibliography Secret Doctrine Reference Series. San Diego: Wizards Bookshelf, 1998. Paperback, [ii], xxii, [ii] + 162 pages.

Sōd is defined in The Theosophical Glossary as a Hebrew word meaning an arcanum, a religious mystery. The term was well chosen by S. F. Dunlap as the main title of his Sōd: The Son of the Man. He also wrote a sister volume, Sōd: The Mysteries of Adoni. Numerous quotations from both are to be found in H. P. Blavatsky's Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine.

Dunlap appears to have been an unorthodox scholar, which is not to be taken as a criticism. He was ahead of mid nine-(tenth century theology-s-even that of the present time- in recognizing that 2,000 years ago "mystery" traditions were an important element in any number of contemporary religions and that some of these significantly influenced the development of early Christianity.

In Sōd: The Son of the Man, the author compiled an extraordinary collection of references to what he called "infant Gnosticism." Among these are eclectic quotations from the books of the Old and New Testament, the Hermetica, Greek and Latin historians and philosophers, the early Church Fathers, and many others, including later scholars. One of the most interesting of this wide range of sources is the Codex Nazaraeus, an eleventh century document with obviously earlier origins.

Dunlap commences the final chapter of this book with the statement "It is unnecessary to sum up." However, most readers would have welcomed a summary by one who was astute enough to recognize a common thread in the religious philosophies of the Mediterranean area at the commencement of the common era.

Sōd: The Son of the Man is a useful source for a


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