Book Reviews 2000

Forest of Visions: Ayahuasca, Amazonian Spirituality, and the Santo Daime Tradition. By Alex Polari de Alverga. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1999. Paperback, xxxiii + 255 pages.

A leap of faith is required to fully appreciate this fascinating tale, the same leap already made by the Santo Daime religious community in the Brazilian Amazon: that a highly intelligent divine being, at times called "the Daime," "Juramidam," or "the Christ energy," somehow inhabits ayahuasca, an ancient shamanic, psychoactive drink prepared by brewing together the jagubr vine with the rainha leaf.

For those familiar with Terence McKenna's similar claims about psilocybin mushrooms, or the Native American's relationship to peyote, this is not such an outrageous proposal. But to the uninitiated and the skeptical, it could easily sound like a delusional excuse for substance use. Those in that category should know that CONFEN, the Brazilian government's drug bureau, has conducted extensive on-site studies of the community and have officially approved the drink for religious practices.

Forest of Visions tells this remarkable community's story through the eyes of Alex Polari de Alverga, a former political activist who spent years in jail under the military junta in Brazil and later discovered his spiritual path in the Santo Daime. Alverga had the opportunity to apprentice himself to one of the church's founders, the late Padrinho Sebastiao Melo de Mota, who "rejoined the spirit world" in January 1990. The author's relationship to his padrinho ("godfather") is that of a devoted and adoring disciple to a Master, and there is an innocent sweetness to his love for "the old man with the long white beard and luminous eyes" who led the early "Daimistas" into the heart of the Amazon rainforest to establish their main home in Ceu de Mapia.

The book further reveals a belief held by church members that requires yet another leap, this one more difficult for me: Alverg likens the Santo Daime to the Essenes, and declares Padrinho Sebastiao to be the reincarnation of John the Baptist, taking birth in the Amazon to herald the second coming of Christ-this time imprinted in the Daime and in the hearts of all who awaken-during what the group clearly believes to be the apocalyptic end times. Again, to some, this is perhaps nothing but millennial madness, another strange cult holed up in seclusion in the jungle, waiting for the world to end.

Yet unlike other such groups, the Santo Daime community appears to be stockpiling love and good works, not weapons or lunatics. I had the privilege of participating with them in their religious rituals in 1994 and can confirm what the Brazilian government also found in their investigations: the church is composed of peaceful, hard, working, ethical men, women, and children, with a great generosity of spirit and hospitality. Creating a harmonious sustain, able community is in fact the very fabric of the Daime teachings, which emphasize the importance of translating one's religious revelations into concrete acts of loving, kindness toward all creatures.

The "Daime Works," as their rituals are called, involve lengthy sessions-sometimes all night-in which participants ingest the sacred drink at regular intervals and sing liturgical hymns nonstop. The hymns have been channeled over the years by Padrinho Sebastiao and others and form the actual teaching and doctrine of the church. They invoke a peculiar blend of African and Christian imagery-from Jesus and the Virgin Mary to Mother Oshun of the Waters.

There is often a purgative reaction to the drink at first, particularly for newcomers. I personally never threw up so many times in my life. I remember well those moments at four in the morning, my head hanging out the chest-high church windows that had been designed for that very purpose. But many are showered with powerful visions, personal teachings, and often ecstatic states, induced by what they perceive to be a divine source. Early on, Alverga meets Padrinho Seu Mario, who tells him: "The first rime I drank [the Daime] I found everything I was looking for. I quenched my thirst. I died and was reborn-the man who drank the Daime never returned; the one who came back was a new man."

Opponents of psychedelics often argue that there are no shortcuts to God or enlightenment. The Daime, however, is in fact considered to be a shortcut, albeit a steep and challenging one, divinely dispensed in the rainforest to speed up the evolution of mankind now that time is short. Regardless of where one stands about such remarkable ideas, Padrinho Alex Polari de Alverga has provided a moving firsthand account of an unusual and compelling contemporary spiritual phenomenon.


January/February 2000

Reading the Bible: An Introduction. By Richard G. Walsh. Notre Dame, IN: Cross Cultural, 1997. Hardback, 620 pages.

Reading tile Bible is designed as an introductory textbook. The work begins with a ninety-two page discussion of what the Bible is and of various literary-critical approaches to its study, delineating the differences among the various academic approaches.

Walsh's interests are almost entirely literary. His eye is always on the structure of the text, not the cultural context out of which it arose. Literary analysis also takes precedence over theology, which is frequently understood in terms of symbols, motifs, and figures of speech. Or rather, literary analysis becomes theology.

Although the author shows consider, able understanding of the Biblical texts he examines, he is also quite certain that the worldview of the Bible simply does not "fit" with the modern world. Because of this, he describes the Bible as "in decay" in the West, no longer able to supply us with a worldview or "social glue" or even a "vehicle to the sacred." "In sum," he says, "the Bible is an alien myth in the modern West" which may supply certain ethical perspectives and symbols and aesthetic ideas but which no longer can unite society as a whole. It can only supply what he calls "debris," not a unified vision.

Whether the "modern worldview" is as universally accepted and impregnable to criticism as the author suggests, is an open question. In this postmodern, postindustrial age, the modernism the author describes may be also in serious decay and only supply us with "debris" itself. In every age, the Bible has been subject to reevaluation and interpretation. It may appear to us that its message fit easily into the Roman Empire or semi-pagan Medieval European culture, but it did not. In every generation, the Bible has seemed alien. Nevertheless, the great interpreters have always revealed how the Bible still speaks to the new age. Walsh is not interested in that task; his aim is not to revive and resuscitate but to provide postmortem dissection.


January/February 2000

Atlantis: The Andes Solution: The Discovery of South America asThe Legendary Continent of Atlantis, By J. M. Allen. New York: St.. Martin's, 1999. Hardback, 188 pages.

"Perhaps one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of our time is the site of the lost island of Atlantis." With this opening sentence, J. M. Allen establishes the common ground between his work and that of hundreds of other authors.

Plato's account of Atlantis describes the size and location of the island, as well as many of its geographical features. Despite the efforts of many fervent believers, no location on earth has been found to answer to all the details in the Atlantis story. J. M. Allen believes he has found Atlantis in the high plain or altiplano of Bolivia.

The book is illustrated with black and white aerial photographs that lend credence to the existence of a civilization in the area at some early time. Perhaps the most entertaining part of the book is the author's account of his trip into the desert to examine close up the features he had previously viewed only in aerial photographs. This account includes his experience with the local bureaucracy, which stands as a warning to the unprepared tourist in Bolivia.

Allen tends to wander from his topic. The book includes, for example, discussions of the conquest of Central and South America by the Spanish, great under, ground tunnels said to exist in South America, early exploits of the Phoenicians, the effort to measure longitude accurately, the sea-going reed boats of the Sumerians, and the explorer H. P. Fawcett. Though unrelated to either the Atlantis story or to the vanished civilization of the altiplano, these vignettes are interesting and entertaining.

Allen makes the capital of Atlantis an island near the shore of a now dried-up inland sea, high in the Bolivian Andes, ignoring the clear statement in Plato's story that the island city was in the sea. This contradiction is explained (without supporting evidence) by stating that Plato's description is impossible and that the location must have been an inland sea.

A review of this book, "Atlantis of the Altiplano: The Latest Theory Regarding an Ancient Mystery" (Mercator's World, March-April 1999) is illustrated with three colored maps, one of which is from a nineteenth century work by the Theosophical Publishing Society, London. The reviewer also visited the site and recorded his own impression that there is evidence of previous habitation in the area of this high mountain plain. But it could be that of a local prehistoric civilization, rather than anything supporting the Atlantis story. Similarly, John Blashford-Snell, in the foreword to Allen's book, concludes, "I am confident that the remains of a hitherto unidentified culture may well be discovered in this region," without committing him, self to its putative Atlantean connections. In spite of its weakness, this book can, rains much of value. There are those who feel that the mysteries of the Atlantis story will be solved one day, if only we look hard enough. J. M. Allen is to be applauded for continuing the search.


January/February 2000

Voices of the Rocks: A Scientist Looks at Catastrophes and Ancient Civilizations. By Robert M. Schoch, with Robert A. McNally New York: Harmony Books. 1999. Hardback, 264pages.

The scientific study of the nature and structure of our planet and its geological history has advanced enormously in recent decades, so that we arc now able to make verifiable statements concerning much that was formerly in the realm of myth and speculation. In this book, Robert Schoch, assisted by science writer Robert McNally, applies the latest geological and astronomical understanding to address some big issues and events in the history of humanity and especially of ancient civilizations. This well-written book counters many of the extravagant and sensationalist claims by authors such as Graham Hancock, who foretell great cataclysms supposedly due to planetary alignments, which, as Schoch notes, occur on average once every century!

Robert Schoch is well trained in both geology and anthropology and is committed to the proper application of the scientific method. He describes the profound paradigm shift that has taken place in geology, in that we now see "the history of Earth, of all living beings, and of human civilizations [not as slowly changing, but] as a series of stops and starts, in which equilibrium comes to an abrupt end with a sudden severe catastrophe." Such catastrophes include the impact of extraterrestrial objects, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and floods.

In just 264 pages of well-referenced chapters, Schoch guides the reader through many exciting topics: catastrophism, the age of the Great Sphinx of Giza (7000 to 9000 years), the megalith circle at Nabta in the Nubian desert (one pair providing "a line of sight to the horizon where the summer solstice sun rose about 6000 years ago"), and the engineering sophistication of Jericho (8300 BC) and ancient Catal Huyuk (Turkey). Schoch maintains that civilizations date back thousands of years earlier than most archaeologists wish to admit.

Many theories about the lost civilization of Atlantis are discussed. Schoch favors the ideas of Mary Settegast, who in her book Plato Prehistorian equates the Atlanteans to the Magdalenian Paleolithic culture of the Lascaux cave art in western Europe. He also discusses the widespread traditions of a great flood, volcanic catastrophes, and wobbles of the Earth's axis.

Only as recently as the 1950s have scientists agreed that most craters on the Moon and quite a few on Earth resulted from meteorite impacts. Recent astronomical observations have also confirmed the presence of many asteroids whose orbits may intersect the Earth's. Such bodies and cometary debris are capable of occasionally hitting our planet. Schoch discusses the evidence for such "fire from the sky" and the "coherent catastrophism" of British astronomers Clube and Napier, who propose that predictable astrophysical events regularly send swarms of objects into the inner solar system and thus endanger the earth, Schoch discusses the human and environmental effects that follow such meteorite showers.

Schoch ends by summarizing the modern scientific view of the terrestrial environment and the factors that keep it in healthy balance. He shows that the new developing paradigm for our planet includes the Gaia hypothesis of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, with life itself playing a major role in shaping the environment. Increasing human interference in the earth's climate and the threat of significant meteoritic impact provide a sobering finale to this comprehensive presentation.

This book is an excellent companion to another scientifically researched recent book covering the pre-Middle-Eastern origins of civilizations: Eden in the East: The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia by Stephen Oppenheimer. This book is thoroughly recommended to all readers who would like to understand better how modern geological knowledge illuminates our wondrous and complex human history.


March/April 2000

Innocence and Decadence: Flowers in Northern European Art 1880-1914. Chichester: Pallant House Gallery 1999. Paperback, 116 pages.

This catalog of an exhibit shown in the Netherlands, England, and France (kindly called to our attention by Paul Zwollo) reproduces stunning works of art in several media with accompanying text and background essays. The works depicted in this volume are especially noteworthy for their symbolic and specifically Theosophical associations. The introductory essay "Flowering Symbols," by Mary Bax, comments (13-6):

Between 1888 and 1891 artists developed a complex and revolutionary theory of art as a result of ideological skirmishes with one of the most important new esoteric movements of their time, Theosophy….

Because of its exoticism and universalism, the Theosophical Society, which was particularly active in France between 1883 and 1890, became a melting pot of various esoteric currents that already existed in France but which under the influence of the new Theosophical movement's dynamism gained new elan, emancipated itself and subsequently exerted great attraction on artists. These movements included Rosicrucianism, Swedenborgianism, Cabbalism and Freemasonry, and even all sorts of manifestations of the Christian faith. The mutual interchangeability of the ideas that were circulating can only be explained when one realises that they all belonged to the age-old tradition of Theosophy, which the Theosophical Society was trying to breathe new lifeinto.

As a result of the resurgence of esotericism, forms of "primitive Christianity" also gained recognition. Not only did this include Byzantine Christianity (the first, institutionalized form of Christianity), but also ecumenicism, such as was originally meant by the word "katholikos" (in other words, Christian "universal brotherhood").

Among the typical Theosophical characteristics that Bax identifies as relevant to the art of this period are the unity of all existence, the impersonality of ultimate Reality, the law of analogies or correspondences, simplicity as the earmark of truth, an emphasis on personal mystical experience of spiritual reality, an esoteric doctrine or "inner learning," and an emphasis on Eastern, Neoplatonic, ancient, and primitive cultures. In the Netherlands, a group of artists including Frans Zwollo founded the Theosophical Vahana Lodge for artists, which taught courses in design and esthetics and eventually developed a variant of Art Nouveau called "New Art," which emphasized geometrical representations of nature.

Working within this tradition of Theosophical metaphysics and nature were Jan Toorop, Pier Mondrian, Vincent van Gogh, and a great many less well known artists. Indeed, Bax reports that Theosophists dominated the various Netherlandic schools of applied arts, constituting more than half of their faculties.

This catalog depicts important examples of floral art from the movement, illustrated in full color, with commentary on the works symbolism and Theosophical significance.


March/April 2000

The Politics of Myth: A Study of C. G. Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell. By Robert Ellwood. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999. Paperback, xiv + 207pages.

The Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote: "The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." The three great scholars and popularizers of mythology, C. G. Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell, seem to have been confronted powerfully with the predicament implied in that: saying. Living in an era of two World Wars and bloody totalitarian tyrannies, they often faced the choice between agreeing with the majority or remaining morally and clinically sane. The agonies of their choices, along with their triumphs and failures have now been eloquently chronicled by Robert Ellwood.

Having achieved considerable fame in their lifetimes (Campbell having done so posthumously by his televised interviews with Bill Moyer), all three men have been subject often to vicious criticism when dead and unable to respond to their detractors. Characteristically, these criticisms were not so much directed against their work as against their alleged political sympathies. Indeed one cannot escape the thought that the critics wished to find ways to make a case against the three mythologists that would evoke an instant and intense adverse emotional response from as many people as possible. The uniform charge leveled at lung, Eliade, and Campbell is that of fascist and related sympathies, an accusation that unaccountably seems to be more seriously damaging in many eyes than its opposite, i.e., the charge of communist sympathies that can be justly made against a good many intellectuals of the West.

Robert Ellwood addresses himself to the lives, careers, and beliefs of his three subjects individually. In Jung's case he correctly notes that for a brief period he showed some mild sympathy towards aspects of the Nazi cause, which he replaced with a violent aversion not only against German National Socialism but against all totalitarian government. In connection with Campbell, Ellwood notes that no public statements, written or verbal, have ever emanated from him that could be construed as anti-Semitic or racist. All accusations of such a nature have been made after Campbell's death by persons who claimed to have overheard such statements in private. Obviously the proof of such innuendo rests with the accusers, and they can offer none.

Ellwood's best efforts are reserved for Mircea Eliade, whose student Ellwood was at the University of Chicago. With an insight usually absent in observers outside the East-Central European matrix, the author analyses the complex political and philosophical currents in Eliade's native Romania in the early and mid-19.30s. He describes the messianic nationalism rampant in Romania at that time and tells of some of its charismatic exponents, such as the visionary Corneliu Codreanu and the philosopher Nae Ionescu. The book reveals that Eliade was never a member of the controversial Legion of the Archangel Michael (nicknamed the Iron Guard) but that for a brief time he sympathized with its aims and consequently was briefly imprisoned in 1938-9.

Perhaps the greatest merit of this book is the ability of its author to put the political sympathies of his subjects in. the context of the intellectual milieu of the precise times when those sympathies existed. As one who was present in Europe at that period, this reviewer can attest to the veracity of Ellwood's intimations concerning the peculiar circumstances and perplexing choices faced by such figures as Jung and Eliade in the 1930s. There were plenty of good people who, during those difficult years of depression and war, saw at least a short term diminishment of democracy as a necessary evil; they found a certain allure in a vision of an authoritarian nation-state which they hoped would overcome the shortcomings of the weak and pusillanimous regimes that replaced the old, stable order of pre- World War Europe.

In the first and last chapters of his book, Ellwood touches on some issues of singular and abiding import. He indicates that all three of his subjects were inspired by a gnosis that resonated with the insights of the Gnostics and Hermeticists of old. Their view of reality was based in a vision sub specie aeternitatis (from the perspective of eternity), which of necessity tends to relative such modern (and postmodern] preoccupations as multiculturalism, feminism, and the populist welfare state. Jung, Eliade, and Campbell all valued a certain individualism and spiritually based libertarianism above the fads and enthusiasms of their time or of any other time. Their contention that ancient myths interpreted in the light of patterns of spiritual transformation may serve as important resources to people impoverished by our materialistic, secular culture is not invalidated by anything we have learned about them.

With all of its outstanding virtues, Ellwood's book is likely to be found somewhat as wanting by both those who wish to condemn and those who desire to admire uncritically his three subjects. For his own part, the present reviewer would have welcomed the sort of spirited defense that can be found in an appreciation of Mircea Eliade by William W. Quinn (former editor of the Quest's predecessor journal): "Those with an irrepressible proclivity to see fascist conspiracies everywhere have occasionally sought to lump Eliade into this world view. This is poor history and worse analysis" (Novo Religio 3.1 [Oct. 1999]: 153). Neither can this reviewer agree with Ellwood that it is somehow incorrect or even reprehensible "to view the world as hopeless for any kind of salvation but individual" (178). What other salvation is there, or has there ever been, but an individual one? And where did most of the politico-ideological wrong-headedness of the last 250 years originate if not in the chimera of collective as against individual salvation?

Such considerations, however, are a matter of personal conviction rather than of objective merit. Robert Ellwood's work possesses an abundance of accurate data, inspired insight, and informed sympathy for his subjects. It is a book to be commended and recommended as well as admired by all who hold myth and its champions in high regard.


March/April 2000

H.P.B.: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement. 3rd ed. By Sylvia Cranston and Carey Williams. Santa Barbara, CA: Path Publishing House, 1998. Paperback, xxiv + 660 pages.

It is a pleasure to welcome back into print this third and revised edition of the best biography of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky ever written. This new edition corrects errors, which are inescapable in a book of this length and complexity, and adds some new material. It includes notably one appendix with Vernon Harrison's opinion about the 1885 Hodgson Report to the Society for Psychical Research concerning the authorship of the Mahatma Letters and another listing contemporary editions of Blavatsky's writings and selected additional resources.

This book is a sympathetic biography, which takes at face value certain of HPB's statements about herself, rather than a critical one that impartially evaluates the often conflicting reports of her life that have been made by herself, her followers, and her critics. It is, however, a carefully documented and reliable work.

As such, it is a welcome antidote to the journalistic exposes and psychologizing biographies of HPB that are too often mistaken for scholarship. It is a relief to have a serious and level-headed alternative to the sensationalized and speculative treatments that have too often been the old lady's fare. An especially useful feature of the book is part 7 (pages 421-554), examining the influence of HPB on modern thought and the parallel developments that mushroomed in the century following her death. Few either outside or inside her Society realize what a force HPB was on twentieth century thought, as revealed in these pages. Ultimately what is important is not her biography, with its mysteries and marvels, but the powerful effect she had on the world.

One of her teachers wrote of Blavatsky: "But, imperfect as may be our visible agent- and often most unsatisfactory and imperfect she is-yet she is the best available at present." That is a realistic but also an appreciative and affectionate assessment of HPB. It is also applicable to this biography-and is no small praise of either person or book.


May/June 2000

The Seekers: The Story of Man's Continuing Quest to Understand His World. By Daniel J. Boorstin. New York: Random House, 1999. Paperback, xiv+ 351 pages.

Everyone is a philosopher at heart-a lover of wisdom. One way to arrive at this self-knowledge is to be wisely companioned on the journey to truth. Surely one such sage is the eminent scholar and former Librarian of Congress, Daniel J. Boorstin. His book is not only an insightful clarification of the significant points of development in western consciousness, but also the story of seekers whose quest for meaning invites each of us on our own search for truth.

On this journey, Boorstin offers his perspective on what he sees as the "three grand epochs of seeking." During the first epoch, the ancient seer's influence was based on an ability to predict the future. Prophets, such as Moses and Isaiah, eventually surpassed them with the ability to proclaim God's word with God's own authority. Their divine teachings became a source of sacred wisdom, a mythology that reflected a profound metaphysical reality beyond scientific facts.

Western thought developed as Thales and other pre-Socratic philosophers shifted their questioning from mythology to the nature of the cosmos and as Socrates sought wisdom by questioning human nature. Plato then widened the focus to include a theory of knowledge, metaphysics, and questions of community citizenship and practical morality; next Aristotle rekindled the search for what the world is made of and how it works.

The communal search of the second epoch included the seekers of early Christianity who experimented with styles of living. Hermits, for example, lived separately, withdrawn from society, while cenobites lived together in community. Out of this grew the monastic way of life whose monks invaluably helped western culture survive and advance. Medieval Christianity developed the communal experience of Western education with the seven liberal arts in the cathedral schools, and later with theology, law, and medicine in the universities.

This communal search for truth, however, was not without difficulties. Seekers in the Christian community were challenged by a powerful Roman Church to be analytic and creative within its dogmas and traditions. Copernicus and Galileo struggled to be both true to their intellectual convictions and faithful to their Catholic beliefs. The constraints on scientific evidence, thoughtful scholarship, and freedom of expression caused other seekers to leave or be forced out of the institution. Thus, Martin Luther and John Calvin became instrumental in the Protestant Reformation of theology and church organization, which prepared the way for modern western democracy and representative government and the later work of such seekers as Locke, Jefferson, and Hegel.

Boorstin offers a wonderful discussion of Francis Bacon's "idols of the mind," those experiences, ideas, and attitudes which give a person the illusion of knowledge. He then trumps this treatment with reflections on Descartes, who believed that "truths are more likely to have been discovered by one man than by a nation ... because no one can so well understand a thing and make it his own when learnt from another as when it is discovered himself."

Lastly, Boorstin presents a panorama of development in the third epoch. Key themes in this age of the social sciences include the differentiation of the science of history from cultural history and political science, the laws of social change, and the stages and influence of human progress on history. Not surprisingly, the scientific dogmas of destiny were challenged by seekers who believed in consciousness, autonomy and human freedom, and the impact that great individuals (St. Francis, Gandhi) have on history.

In "a literature of bewilderment without precedent in our history," some twentieth century seekers have spoken of the absurdity of living life without a moral compass in a universe from which humanity is alienated. Observing that others have found "meaning in the seeking," Boorstin concludes eloquently and hopefully with reflections on Henri Bergson and Albert Einstein.

Bergson liberated seekers by shifting the focus from the codes of laws and customs derived by intelligence and expressed by science, to the aspirations of heroes and mystics, derived by intuition and expressed by freedom and creativity in works of every kind of art.

Einstein, who saw the atom and the cosmos as a single, unified puzzle, never stopped seeking for a unified field theory. He worked to bridge the gap between the old and new physics and to reveal a newly significant unity. "He had the patience, 'the holy spirit of inquiry,’ the sense of humor, and the faith that he was treading an endless path."

A reflective reading of this book will help readers renew their own quest to understand their world by treading the endless path with some of the western world's most significant seekers.


May/June 2000

Mysticism, Mind, Consciousness. By Robert K. C. Forman. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1999. Paperback, x + 214 pages.

We are told not to judge a book by its cover, but what about its title? This title has everything. The author, Robert Forman, is an associate professor of religion at Hunter College and editor of the Journal of Consciousness Studies. Thus he is no novice on the subject. In this volume he has combined published papers, lectures, and some original material to make an interesting but sometimes uneven read. Considering the difficulty of writing about mysticism, mind, or consciousness, perhaps asking for evenness is too much.

Recently books of this type attempt to quantify the mystical experience and then discuss it as if it were a subliminal science experiment. Even worse, quantum mechanics seems to be introduced so the mystical experience will sound up-to-dare. Being a scientist by profession, I find this to be a stretch in the wrong direction. Thankfully, Forman has simply given us a forthright approach. He not only covers the expected medieval mystics, but demonstrates his knowledge of ancient India and China. From his academic knowledge and personal experience, we get a well-balanced discussion of various schools of thought on the subject.

Forman argues that mysticism may not necessarily he formed by culture, language, and background knowledge. Instead, he indicates that mystical experiences are a direct encounter with our very conscious core. He reviews the well-known experiences that are commonly referred to as a "pure consciousness event." However, he favors a new type referred to as a "dualistic mystical state."

The preface says that "this book is the product of a lifetime." That is an interesting opening, but it is also literally the truth. Forman has been practicing a neo-Advaitan form of meditation twice daily since November 1969. Also, on extended retreats, he meditates six to eight hours a day. In doing so, he experienced what he calls the dualistic mystical state (DMS), defined as "an unchanging interior silence that is maintained concurrently with intentional experience in a long-term or permanent way." I interpret this to mean "in the world, but not of the world."

The DMS suggests Krishnamurti's experience. The biographies by Mary Lutyens again and again refer to what appears to be a DMS; for example, Krishnamurti: The Years of Fulfillment (68) speaks of his "going off' during "the process." Simply put, an elemental tended to his physical body while his higher self was elsewhere.

As mentioned above, there is some unevenness in the book. It is mainly editorial, but is distracting since it shows a lack of attention to details. An example is Forman's interview with Diado Sensei Loori, head of the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, New York, which is an interesting and relevant story in the text (21-22) but is repeated in the notes at the end of the text (89). Another instance, although trivial, is surprising, given the book's copyright date of 1999: Forman uses a Compaq 386 computer as an example (16), but almost all of my current students known nothing other than Pentium computers. This example makes the book seem a little out-of-date.


May/June 2000

Celebrate!: A Look at Calendars and the Ways We Celebrate. By Margo Westrheim. Oxford: One World, 1999. Paperback, x + 134 pages.

Cycles pervade existence, as the second fundamental proposition of H. P. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine tells us. And humans all over the world have sought for ways to measure them. Three cycles have been especially important in that search: the apparent movement of the sun around the earth (days), the phases of the moon (months), and the apparent point of rising of the sun (or stars like Sirius) on the horizon (years).

A particular problem with those three basic cycles, however, is that they do not fit together neatly. A month has about 29.5 days, a year a little less than 365.25 days or 12.4 months. The attempt to match up these three disparate cycles has produced a wide variety of calendars. But cultures also differ in what, when, and how they celebrate-that is, in their festivals, secular and sacred.

This popular treatment of calendars and festivals spans the globe and human history, from Egypt and Babylonia to the calendar of the future. In doing so, it shows something of both the variety of human culture and the universality of human concerns.


May/June 2000

The Rosicrucians: The History, Mythology, and Rituals of an Esoteric Order. By Christopher Mcintosh. 3d ed. York Beach, ME: Weiser, 1997. Hardback; paperback,  xxiv + 162 pages.

Writing about the history of a secret, shadowy society such as the Rosicrucians is a perilous business at best. Even when people who claim to be members do speak out and secrets are seemingly unveiled, it is difficult to know who or what to believe. The paranoiac historian may begin to wonder whether anything is the way it appears. When one adds to the movement's hiddenness the extraordinarily opaque nature of some of the texts involved and the rivalries, claims, and counter-claims of present-day Rosicrucian groups, the task becomes daunting indeed. Nevertheless, Christopher Mclntosh, also the author of several other books on the history of the occult in the West, has produced a clear, readable, and quite plausible account of the Rosicrucians from the seventeenth century until the present day.

The author begins by tracing back the roots of the movement to ancient times. In so doing, he, like many other scholars, tends to lump together Gnosticism and Hermeticism. Although there is some justification for this in the early Hermetic texts themselves, by the time Hermeticism emerges in the Middle Ages, it is very different from Gnosticism. While Gnosticism sees the world as a trap from which the human soul must seek to escape, Hermeticism finds in that material world the clues for spiritual transformation. Hence, alchemy is taken up, not just to turn lead into gold, but to find in chemical processes the key to spiritual enlightenment. Although the route of transmission is not entirely dear, this sort of spirituality bears much closer resemblance to the internal alchemy of Taoists such as Chang Po-Tuan and the Complete Reality School than to ancient Gnostics.

It might also be noted that more attention could have been paid to late Medieval religious (and sometimes secret) societies and guilds as a fountainhead for Renaissance occultism. Certainly alchemical thought had been in Europe since the introduction of Geber's writings in the thirteenth century and had been developed in certain mining and metallurgical guilds. It is less plausible that the Rhineland mystics like Eckhardt, Suso, and Tauler had much to do with the development of the occult, for theirs was an entirely different sort of mysticism.

Despite Ron Heisler's arguments, Mclntosh's view that Rosicrucianism began in Germany with Jacob Andreae and the Tubingen circle seems plausible enough. His analysis, however, could have been strengthened by a fuller description of the "founding" documents--the Fama, Confessio, and The Chymical Wedding. Although it is clear that the last is too complicated for a full exposition in a book of this sort, this reader would have liked a more complete discussion of the earlier and shorter works.

After exploring the German roots of the Rosy Cross, Mclntosh examines its various incarnations in Germany, France, Austria, England, and finally in America. Whether all the various groups that claim the name "Rosicrucian" have any direct link to the original movement is an open question. One may suspect that often the link is confined to the name only. Nevertheless, it is fruitful to see how this name has played out in the history of the West, spawning one occult organization after another. It is also fascinating to sec the influence of the Rosicrucians upon such literary figures as Goethe, Bulwer-Lytton, and Yeats. Now that The Chymical Wedding is available in modern translation, one may guess that the literary influence of the movement will continue.

For anyone interested in the history of Rosicrucianism, this is an excellent book. Do not look to find any spiritual secrets in it. It is a reasonable, unbiased historical account, not a source of deep wisdom about ultimate reality. The full bibliography, however, provides a wonderful means for exploring further into the realms of the esoteric and occult.


May/June 2000

Adyar: The International Headquarters of the Theosophical Society. Introduction by Radha Burnier. Adyar Madras (Chennai): Theosophical Publishing House, 1999. Paperback, xii + 36 pages.

Adyar: Historical Notes and Features up to 1934. 2d ed. By Mary K. Neff, Henry S. Olcott, Annie Besant, Ernest Wood, J. Krishnamurti, George S. Arundale. Foreword by C. Jinarajadasa. Adyar Madras (Chennai): Theosophical Publishing House, 1999. Paperback, x +54 pages, 1st ed. 1934 as A Guide to Adyar.

These two guidebooks present an introduction to the international center or "Home of the Theosophical Society--one a new work on Adyar today and the other a new edition of an older work on the Adyar of yesteryear. Together, they give a comprehensive overview of the campus that has been the headquarters of the Theosophical Society since 1882.

The first, the new work, is lavishly illustrated with color photographs, an average of one per page. It gives an Insightful, colorful, and extensive view of present-day Adyar. It covers the history, the grounds, the shrines, the Garden of Remembrance, the international offices, the Theosophical Publishing House, the Vasanta Press, the School of the Wisdom, the Adyar Library, the museum and archives, the guest houses, the Olcott Memorial School and other welfare activities, the Theosophical Order of Service, and international conventions. The book gives an informative and handsomely appealing tour of Adyar, its physical plant, educational activities, administrative operations, charitable services, and spiritual events. From it one gains a real sense of what Adyar is and means.

The second, newly reedited older work, covers the history of Adyar more extensively, particularly in two articles by one of our most knowledgeable historians, Mary K. Neff, tracing the history of the place under the Society's first two presidents: Henry S. Olcott, who was responsible for the initial development of Adyar, and Annie Besant, who enlarged the campus and expanded its operations. The other authors listed above give glimpses of Adyar from their intimate personal perspectives.

These two booklets are works to be read by anyone who wants to know what Adyar is like now and was like in the past. They should be in the library of every Theosophist because they give, not just a tourist-guide description, but an empathetic visit to the "spiritual heart" of the Theosophical Society.


July/August 2000

Mary Moody Emerson and the Origins of Transcendentalism. By Phyllis Cole. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Hardcover, 370 pages.

For generations, scholars have recognized an influence by Mary Moody Emerson upon her impressionable nephew, Ralph Waldo Emerson, without examining its importance. Cole's sophisticated scholarship culminates in an extraordinary landmark biography describing a remarkable woman in New England intellectual cultural history. Aunt Mary emerges as a writer, thinker, and spiritual seeker, a self-taught woman who thought independently and communicated her philosophy through brilliant conversation. Cole's biography confirms that her thought and language was assimilated discreetly by Emerson throughout his life and became the intellectual context in which the Sage of Concord developed his philosophical and aesthetic principles.

God in Concord: Ralph Waldo Emerson's Awakening to the Infinite. By Richard Geldard. Burdett, NY: Larson. 1998. Hardcover, 192 pages.

Geldard describes the essential Emerson as a spiritual teacher who outgrew his birth tradition's image of God and blazed a trail toward new worlds of transformative mystical experience and social possibilities. More than an essayist and American philosopher, he was, in Emerson's own words, "an endless seeker with no past at my back," who struggled to express, as Geldard says, "what it means to be a human being and, given that, how we are to conduct our lives."

An ethical dimension is inherent: within Emerson's speeches and essays. Geldard captures the inner vision that attracted the Sage from Concord and explains that this vision apprehended One Mind as the whole reality. He describes the Transcendentalist as a genius who remained a vulnerable, private human being. Emerson's intuitive insight awakens the infinite inside others and ignites their aspirations to embody divinity. Geldard's earlier works include The Vision of Emerson and The Esoteric Emerson.


July/August 2000

Asian Religions in America: A Documentary History. Ed. Thomas A. Tweed and Stephen Prothero. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Paperback, hardback, xvi + 416 pages.

The relationship of Americans with the great religions of Asia has been a long and complex one. From the earliest days of the Republic, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and other Eastern faiths have been understood, or misunderstood, in a variety of ways. They have served as the bizarre and exotic subjects of tales told by adventurous clipper ship sailors and as the heathen objects of high-minded if sometimes narrow-minded missionary endeavor by the nation's numerous churches.

At the same time, the faiths of the East have often been idealized by intellectuals who were looking for alternatives to down-home religions but usually knew little about them except what was to be garnered from translations of the sacred texts. Understandably, sons of the Enlightenment such as Franklin and Jefferson most admired Confucianism, which fit their image of a deistic religion of reason and common sense, whereas Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau, touched by Romanticism, preferred the warm pantheistic glow they felt in the Brahman Oversoul of Hinduism. Something of all these inconsistent: perceptions still linger in America's collective picture of the religions of the East.

Tweed and Prothero's anthology contains texts, some of them previously little known, illustrating such perspectives and much more. It carries us from those first encounters through the experience of Asian immigrants to America beginning with the Chinese of Gold Rush days in California, through the counter-experience of American converts to the foreign faiths, and down to the pluralistic present. This documentary history is remarkably comprehensive of the range of relationships illustrated; there are texts from the great 1893 and 1993 Parliaments of the World's Religions, texts from the internment of largely Buddhist Japanese Americans during World War II, texts relating to the zoning difficulties Asian temples have recently encountered in some communities. There is transplanted Asian philosophy; there arc fascinating accounts of the rituals as well as the doctrine taught in Hindu and Buddhist temples; there are texts from those who have bitterly opposed the Asian "invasion" of America. It's all there, and fascinating reading it is for anyone with any interest in the extraordinary American subculture here unveiled more fully than ever before in all its dimensions.

Many Theosophists will certainly be interested in the book. Both of the editors have impressive credentials in Theosophical history. Stephen Prothero is author of The White Buddhist: The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott, and Thomas Tweed's The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844-1912 presents important insights on Theosophy's role in this encounter. One is somewhat disappointed, then, that the present work offers little more by or about Theosophists than a passage from Olcott's Old Diary Leaves reporting his and Helena Blavatsky's taking pansil, or formally becoming Buddhists (but in a nonexclusive Theosophical sense, of course), in Ceylon in 1880, together with a short selection from his Buddhist Catechism. Something from William Q. Judge or Katherine Tingley, to mention only American Theosophists, showing how this literature helped popularize such Eastern spiritual concepts as karma and reincarnation in the West, might also have been appropriate.

However, one can always quibble about what might have been added or left out in any anthology. It is Prothero and Tweed who have actually done the work, and their book is as good as it gets (or now, and probably for a long while to come. Asian Religions in America is highly recommended to all lovers of Asian religion, of cross-cultural spiritual adventure, and of America's wonderful diversity of faith.


July/August 2000

The Secret Doctrine of the Kabbalah: Recovering the Key to Hebraic Sacred Science. By Leonora Leet. Rochester VT: Inner Traditions, 1999. Paperback, xiv + 459 pages.

This is the second volume of a projected four-volume set attempting to reveal the esoteric foundation of Kabbalah in sacred geometry, Pythagorean thought, and Gematria. Leer explains that the secret "doctrine of the son" is the central salvific belief of Jewish esoteric ism: "the central mystery of the son, as of the cosmic process, has ever had hut one meaning, that  ultimate unification of the human and divine that could effect both the personalization of the divine and complementary divinization of perfected humans." She also claims to have come up with a kabbalistically derived geomentric matrix of all known subatomic particles that makes a major contribution to quantum physics. Leer relates her work to everything from Om to the Big Bang. Whether or not you are convinced by her arguments, you cannot but: he impressed by her intellect.

The Clouds Should Know Me by Now: Buddhist Poet Monks of China. Ed. Red Pine and Mike O'Connor. Somerville,. MA: Wisdom. 1998. Paperback, x + 211 pages.

Readers may he familiar with the Chinese Ch'an poet Han-shan through translations by Gary Snider and others. Ch'an transmitted to Japan became Zen. The Clouds Should Know Me by Now is a collection spanning the past 1100 years of poetry by Ch'an Buddhist monks. The poems in this collection are masterpieces of indirectness. If haiku appeals to you, or Chinese landscape painting, or Zen, then this collection will also.

Realizing Emptiness: The Madhyamaka Cultivation of Insight. By Gen Lamrimpa. Trans. B. Alan Wallace. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1999. Paperback, 131 pages.

Gen Lamrimpa is a disciple of the Dalai Lama who has lived in meditative solitude in a hut above Dharamsala, India, since 1971. At: the urging of the translator, Alan Wa11ace, "Genla," as he is called by his students, came to Washington State to lead a one-year meditation retreat during 1988. This was followed by lectures of instruction that form the basis of Realizing Emptiness, which is designed to provide practical instruction for those pursuing Madhyamaka meditation.

Subtle Wisdom: Understanding Suffering, Cultivating Compassion through Ch'an Buddhism. By Master Sheng-yen. New York: Doubleday, 1999. Paperback, xviii + 142 pages.

Master Sheng-yen is the abbot: of two Ch'an (Zen) Buddhist: monasteries in Taipei. If you've heard stories about Zen masters who strike their students with a stick or utter absurdities that catalyze instant enlightenment and wondered what it was all about, this book will put things in perspective. Endorsed by the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh on the hack cover, this work is an excellent, dear explanation of the sometimes mystifying schools of Ch'an or Zen Buddhism.

The Last Laugh: A New Philosophy of Near-Death Experiences, Apparitions, and the Paranormal. By Raymond A. Moody Jr. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads, 1999. Paperback, xviii + 196 pages.

Raymond Moody, author of Life after Life and other books that have contributed to popular interest in near-death experiences (NDEs), has written a new book in which he distances himself from those who took his earlier work as proof of life after death. The book has two themes. First, Moody identifies those who he says have misused his work: parapsychologists, skeptics, and Christian fundamentalists, all use NDEs to prove they are right. The second theme of the book is that the paranormal is "entertainment." Moody talks about how a sense of play opens up the possibility of new ways of knowing and concludes with a recommendation that we explore ways to induce these experiences safely, so that anyone can obtain the benefits of an NDE.

July/August 2000

The Eastern Christian Churches: A Brief Survey. By Ronald Roberson, CSP. 6th ed. Rome: Pontifical Oriental Institute, 1999. Paperback, 276 pages.

Among the many Eastern spiritual traditions of our world, some of the least well-known are the varied and diverse Eastern expressions of Christianity. This sixth edition of Fr. Roberson's standard reference work on Eastern Christianity is the best starting place for any seekers interested in learning more about the history, demographics, and groupings of the member Churches of the four extant communions of Eastern Christianity that have institutional continuity with their ancient parent Churches.

The philosopher Kant teaches us that we cannot think without categories. Not knowing which questions to ask is a primary obstacle to understanding. When people first encounter Eastern Christianity they may often lack effective categories and definitions to comprehend the riches of these ancient traditions. Fr. Roberson offers considerable assistance in this journey of exploration, first in his introduction, and then in the individual sections themselves. He analyzes the Eastern Christian Churches on the basis of communion, one of the translations of the Greek term koinonia.

In classic Christian terms, a communion (or koinonia) of Churches is a grouping of ecclesial communities which, although they may follow differing liturgical and spiritual traditions, recognize the same proclamation (kerygma) of faith in one another. This enables members of one member Church to participate in the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) of another member Church within the communion.

From the beginning, this understanding of plurality and diversity has been a basic (although tragically sometimes forgotten) part of the life of the worldwide Christian community. Unity in love and faith, not uniformity in practice, is the venerable ideal.

It is important: to note that in Christian parlance, the term "church" is used to designate (l) an individual parish community; (2) a particular administrative unit, a diocese or eparchy; (3) a particular Church, family of dioceses or eparchies that share a common liturgical and spiritual tradition; (4) a communion of diverse Churches; and (5) a spiritual notion, the whole Body of Christ. Fr. Roberson's work will go a fair distance in allowing the reader to understand these various levels of meaning in regard to Eastern Christianity.

This handbook is designed to allow those beginning to explore Eastern Christianity to get an overview of the situation of Eastern Christian communities worldwide, with particular emphasis on the English-speaking world, while providing enough in-depth and current information to be of great use to the specialist.

The work is organized according to the four ancient communions of Eastern Christianity. Each section gives a brief overview of the history of the particular ecclesial group, readable for the beginner, but accurate and detailed enough for even the seasoned veteran. Following the overview, recent history and events of the Church group are reviewed, and insofar as data are available, the general distribution of communities around the world, headquarters, leadership, membership statistics, and web site.

The first communion is the Assyrian Church of the East, made up of two (or three) widely dispersed Churches throughout the world, originating in Iraq and India. These Churches share the East Syriac (East-Antiochian) liturgical, spiritual, and communal traditions.

The second communion is the Oriental Orthodox, six Churches that follow diverse traditions-Armenian, Alexandrian (Coptic and Geez of Ethiopia and former Eritrea), and West Syriac (West-Antiochion) -- but have a shared history since the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) in their definition of the way they describe the interaction of the humanity and divinity in Christ.

The third communion is the Eastern Orthodox, a very large koinonia of Churches all sharing the Byzantine tradition originating in Constantinople. This includes some thirty-two Churches and communities throughout the world. These are the Eastern Churches with which many westerners are most familiar: Greek and Russian Orthodox.

The fourth communion is the most diverse, the Eastern Catholics. These are members of some twenty-two Churches representing all of the liturgical and spiritual traditions of Eastern Christianity in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Fr. Roberson organizes his treatment of the Eastern Catholic Churches according to the individual community's correspondence with an existing Church in one of the first three communions.

It might seem at first glance that this is a book for specialists in Christian arcana and historical footnotes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Eastern Christianity is a major reality at the turn of the millennia. Of Catholics in India, 51 percent are Eastern Catholic (Malabar and Malankar}, not Roman Catholic. The Christian Community of India is almost 2000 years old. In North America there are millions of Eastern Christians of all four communions, a larger population than, for example, Episcopalians, but far less well-known. In other areas of Eastern Christian roots and large indigenous populations (such as Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Northern and Eastern Africa), the consequences of not promoting religious understanding and an acceptance of diversity arc tragically evident, and threaten to destabilize not only the spiritual life of humanity but, the very survival of our planet, because of wars and strife.

Finally, it is a disservice to the deep spiritual and historical legacy of Christianity to allow the misconception to continue that: Christianity is essentially only a Western, European phenomenon. Christianity is at its origin a Middle-Eastern wisdom path, now thoroughly acculturated with incredible diversity throughout the world's peoples. This age-old stance of unity in diversity is quite well-suited to twenty-first century pluralist nations and, if properly understood, will promote much more peaceful dialogue among religious and spiritual persons.

Whether one is seeking a spiritual tradition or wishing to know more about the millions of women and men who share the Eastern Christian life and worship and who are reemerging as vital participants in the world community, this book is an indispensable starting point.

Fr. Roberson comes to the task of preparing this work with impeccable credentials, academic, pastoral, and professional. Having completed a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Kansas in 1972, he joined the Paulist Fathers and studied theology at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC After presbyteral ordination in 1977, Fr. Roberson spent five years in pastoral ministry in Montreal. He received a doctorate from the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome in 1988 with a thesis on contemporary Romanian Orthodox ecclesiology. From 1988 to 1992, he served a