Book Reviews 2001




The Mystery Schools, 2nd ed. By Grace F. Knoche, Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1999, Hardback, paperback, x + 98 pages.

Originally published in 1940 and updated for its second edition, this book presents a short but comprehensive Theosophical overview of the Mystery tradition. It surveys such topics as the origins of the confraternity of Adepts, the first Mystery Schools and their purposes, the degrees of initiation, the distinction between lesser and greater Mysteries, the closing of the Classical Mystery Schools, and the Mystery Schools of today. The reader who wants a concise, reliable, and readable introduction to the subject from a Theosophical perspective can do no better-than to consult this book. It gives the casual reader a satisfying first glimpse of the subject; and it is a useful starting point for the student who wants to probe even deeper.

-JOHN ALGEO

January/February 2001


The Golden Dawn Scrapbook: The Rise and Fall of a Magical Order. By R. A. Gilbert. York Beach, ME: Weiser, 1997, Hardback, paperback, 200 pages.

This is not a book for someone looking for a glorification of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. As the author says in the introduction, he seems to concentrate on the follies and misdeeds of the members because that is what the story of the Order largely involves. Nevertheless, this is a very interesting and informative book, full of insight and information about the principal actors: the men William Wynn Wescott, Samuel Mathers, and William Woodman; and the women Mina Mathers, Annie Horniman, and Florence Farr. Woven into the fabric of the story are also such monumental figures as William Butler Yeats, A. E. Waite, Aleister Crowley, and Paul F. Case. A very interesting chapter about the ritual of the order is also included. There is some slight mention of connections with the Theosophical Society. The work is lavishly illustrated with photographs, copies of significant letters, and diagrams.

The construction of the book is curious, for it is neither a chronological history nor a doctrinal analysis. It is, as the title says, "a scrapbook." Each chapter stands more or less on its own and deals with one topic or incident or group of persons, though the whole tale is interwoven and complex. As a result, the neophyte reader may find some passages difficult to follow. At other times the text seems to go over the same territory once again. Nevertheless, when one finishes the book, one has a sense of the whole and feels well introduced to one of the great occult movements of the modern world. Despite the chicanery and sometimes outright dishonesty involved, it would appear that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts and that, after all, there may be much to learn from both the accomplishments and misdeeds of this late Victorian and early twentieth-century movement.

-JAY G. WILLIAMS

January/February 2001


Food for Thought. By Adam Moledina, Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, n.d. [ca. 1999]. Paperback, xx + 72 pages.

People become vegetarians for a variety of reasons: physical health, spiritual discipline, esthetics, and moral values. This booklet addresses the last motive by graphic and illustrated descriptions of how animals are raised and captured, transported, and slaughtered for food. It is realistic and not for the queasy. But if the Greek philosopher was correct in saying that the unexamined life is not worth living, this booklet can help make life worth living for both the people who read it and the animals whose fate it describes.

-J.A.

January/February 2001


The Mythic Journey: The Meaning of Myth as a Guide for Life, By Liz Greene and Juliet Sharman-Burke, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000, Paperback, 288 pages.

Myths are mirrors. They reflect the interests of the person who looks into them, so the same myth means different things to different people. Some ancient peoples thought of myths as accounts of the actual doings of gods and heroes. Others, more literal-and historical-minded, thought of myths as the exaggerated reports of famous human beings (a view called euhemerism after Euhemerus, the fellow who popularized it). Later, others thought that myths were stories allegorizing nature, storms, the agricultural cycle, and other aspects of our environment. Today the favorite interpretation is social-psychological---myths are about what goes on inside us and between one of us and another. This book is a collection of myths from many parts of the world, concisely retold, illustrated with handsome color reproductions of paintings, and interpreted as guidelines for human behavior--understanding ourselves and how we relate to others. There is yet another way of looking at myths, as symbols of the spiritual process that goes on inside us and all around us and connects us with everything. But that's a view for a different book.

 


Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions, By Richard Smoley and Jay Kinne. New York: Penguin/Arkana, 1999, Paperback, xxvi + 389 pages.

This book is a travel guide to the realms of contemporary esoteric thought and practice. In twelve chapters it covers the following territories: Jungian psychology; Gnosticism: esoteric Christianity and the Course in Miracles with a brief nod to the Liberal Catholic Church; Kabbalah; magic in the line of Eliphas Levi, the Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley, and Dion Fortune; Wicca, Neopaganism, Voodoo (Santeria or Macumba), and Satanism; shamanism, including Amerindian practice and Carlos Castaneda; Hermetic alchemy and the Tarot; the Gurdjieff Work and the enneagram; Sufism; Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry and the Templars, Theosophy, Krishnamurti, and Anthroposophy; and the New Age, Alice Bailey, Edgar Cayce, the human potential movement, and transpersonal psychology.

With such scope, inevitably the tour has about it an if-today-is-Tuesday-this-must be- Belgium quality. Yet, despite the breathless rush past so many metaphysical sites, the authors, who were both editors of the now defunct Gnosis magazine, do a commendable job of outlining the essentials of present-day movements. For many of the movements, they present basic ideas and practices, history, historical antecedents, and current status. Some are given short shrift: Krishnamurti is treated only as a transition from Theosophy to Anthroposophy, and Co-Freemasonry receives only a passing mention and docs not even get into the index although, at least in its Anglo version, it is the most esoteric of Masonic organizations. The editors also have, perhaps not surprisingly, a slight Gnostic bias.

The virtue of the book is that the authors approach their subjects with sympathetic objectivity and factualness. For readers interested in learning something about present-day esoteric movements and their variety, this book is a good place to start.


Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion: Selected Papers Presented at the 17th Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions, Mexico City 1995, Ed. Antoine Faivre and Wouter J. Hanegraaff. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters (Herndon, VA: Books International), 1998, Paperback, xviii +309 pages.

The study of esotericism has become an academic discipline- not widespread, but intensely pursued by a dedicated group of scholars. The preface and first three papers of this volume consider formal aspects of the discipline. The remaining nine papers treat particular esoteric subjects, including contrasting views of the Otherworld, alchemy, Kabbalah, Illuminism, and an essay by Garry W. Trompf on "Macrohistory in Blavatsky, Steiner and Guenon," examining the cosmology and planetary history set forth by Blavatsky and elaborated or reacted to in various ways by others.

Jan Snoek's paper, "On the Creation of Masonic Degrees: A Method and Its Fruits," can be taken as a sample of what this volume provides. Snoek offers a theory of the origin of "higher" Masonic degrees, that is, degrees other than the three basic ones of Craft Masonry. It uses a "Sherlock Holmes" or detective method of historical research, which seeks to explain a phenomenon by looking for a practical problem that the phenomenon was designed to solve.

Snoek's proposal links three events in early Masonic history: a published "exposure" of Masonic secrets in 1730 (just thirteen years after the London organization of the Grand Lodge); a schism in Masonic organization between a new group calling themselves the "Ancients" and the original Grand Lodge, which the schismatics called the "Moderns"; and the development of new degrees in addition to the original three. The proposal, briefly, is as follows.

The Third Degree ritual involves a dramatic representation of the murder, burial, and raising of the chief architect of King Solomon's Temple, Hiram, with the initiate playing the central role. The 1730 exposure included the following question and answer describing part of that drama:

Where was Hiram inter'd? [Response:] In the Sanctum Sanctorum.

The "Sanctum Sanctorum'' is the Holy of Holies of the Temple- the inmost shrine, where the Arc of the Covenant was kept and where God himself resided. No merely human body could be buried there. Since Hiram was buried there, he must have been God, who was slain and was to be resurrected. That is, the Masonic ritual was a true Mystery drama, the purpose of which was to effect the union of the initiate with the divine, achieved by a symbolic death and resurrection.

The revelation of this secret meaning of the Masonic ritual in the 1730 exposure was a scandal for two reasons. It made public the central mystery of the Freemasonic ritual; and it was heresy in the eyes of the established Church-asserting, as it did, a way to achieve unity with the Godhead-outside ecclesiastical jurisdiction. As a consequence, the Grand Lodge immediately expurgated the ritual by dropping the explicit burial of Hiram in the Holy of Holies.

The loss of the central clue to the meaning of the Masonic drama created a problem for those Freemasons who honored the esoteric value of their ritual. Some sought to restore the integrity of the Mystery ritual by forming a new Grand Lodge, calling itself "Ancient" because it wanted to preserve the landmark divinizing the initiate, as distinct from its excision by the "Modems." Others began to develop alternative workings that preserved the Grand Secret, possibly beginning as early as 1733 with Scots Master Masons lodges in London and Bath, and later with the development of additional degrees, including the Royal Arch and still later the Christianized Rose Croix degree.

Snoek marshals many details from early Masonic practice that his theory explains. His theory also makes sense out of the curiously mutilated version of the ritual drama in contemporary Masonic practice, which descends from the Grand Lodge's expurgated version. Furthermore, it is interesting because it casts light on the origins of a controversy in present-day Freemasonry, some of whose members see the Craft as devoted to social interests (in either sense of "clubby" or "socially conscientious") whereas others see it as an Esoteric Mystery practice of a transformative nature. There is, as Ecclesiastes says, nothing new under the sun.

The new scholarly study of esotericism, in which Faivre and Hanegraaff are moving figures, has much to offer all who are interested in the subject, either as outside observers or as inside participants.

-MORTON DILKES

January/February 2001


The Flowering of Mysticism: Men and Women in the New Mysticism, 1200-1350. By Bernard McGinn. New York: Crossroad, 1998. Hardback, xvi + 526 pages.

As part of an envisioned five-volume series tracing the historical development of western Christian Mysticism, McGinn's The Flowering of Mysticism compliments the preceding volumes, The Foundations of Mysticism and The Growth of Mysticism. It identifies the year 1200 as a turning point in Christian mysticism, when an impetus for a "new mysticism" was inspired by the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Beguines.

-DANIEL ROSS CHANDLER

January/February 2001


Lightposts for Living: The Art of Choosing a Joyful Life. By Thomas Kinkade. New York: Warner Books, 1999. Hardback, xii + 238 pages.

In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James speaks of the distinction between the "once-born" and the "twiceborn." The "twice-born" are those who require a dramatic spiritual rebirth in order to transform their suffering and be fully alive as their essential Self. The "onceborn" are those perpetually "up" people who seem to have come into this life with a talent for living and whom you would therefore never run into in the Self- Help section of a book store.

I read Thomas Kinkade's Lightposts for Living with some reluctance, because it is very plainly a Self-Help book, and as a still-waiting-to-be-twice-born person, the positive, cheery approach of the once-born can actually be quite irritating. Be that as it may, Kinkade is admirably committed to creating a world of beauty, joy, harmony, and healing both on canvas and in reality.

Kinkade's paintings- -liberally inserted throughout the book--are exclusively of idyllic, pastoral scenes: cobblestone country roads and firelit cottages pervaded by a dreamlike mist and luminosity. His intent ion, he states, is to make art that serves, inspiring viewers with the hope that life can truly be as peaceful and comforting as the scenes he paints. The book presents a series of life lessons analogous to the painting process, such as finding a point of focus, creating balance, and bringing forth beauty.

But something was nagging at me when viewing his paintings and reading his words: I missed the darkness. His paintings strive to be filled with light--daylight, sunlight, Divine Light--and yet without the presence of the shadow side of life, I, a messy human, feel somehow cut off from his painted paradise. I can far more easily imagine his creations inhabited by elves and leprechauns than by me or anyone I know.

Jack Kornfield once jokingly referred to the American community of Buddhist meditators as "the Upper Middle Path." Kinkade, too, speaks primarily to those who have the leisure and money to purchase and read a hardcover book on the subject of increasing one's joy. For example, he writes; "I even had a small second story deck reinforced and hired a crane to drop a hot tub into place." Such prescriptions for joy leave out many people.

All that aside, I would also like to be clear that within the pages of Lightposts for Living is an abundance of peaceful, pretty paintings, as well as useful- -even powerful--ideas, summarized in the afterword:

"Each of us, in our own unique way, is called to let our light shine. The unique, one-of-a-kind canvas of our existence is meant to be an inspiration to others-a true joy to behold and a heaven-sent blessing to those we meet and to the world around us."

-ELIEZER SOBEL

January/February 2001


Vehicles of Consciousness: The Concept of Hylic Pluralism (Ochêma). By J. J. Poortman. Utrecht: Theosophical Society in the Netherlands, 1978. 4 volumes.

Want to borrow a bit of wisdom? Check out this not so hidden treasure. In the Olcott Library rest four volumes of excellent commentary on our vehicles of consciousness, authored by the highly respected Dutch scholar J. J. Poortman (who was Professor of Metaphysics in the Spirit of Theosophy at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands). Based on a lifelong study of parapsychology, this work meticulously surveys ideas about forms of matter subtler than the physical and about the bodies through which human consciousness interacts with those subtler worlds. Such ideas have been held from early times in primitive societies right up to the present day in the religions and philosophies of the world.

-CLARENCE R. PEDERSEN

January/February 2001


Outposts of the Spirit. By William M. Justice. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads, 2000. Paper, xxiv +213 pages.

When he was a young man, William M. Justice read about a journalist's out-of-body experience. Galvanized by the opening of a "new thought-world," Justice spent the rest of his life exploring nonordinary reality. Outposts of the Spirit is the fruit of his investigations.

Over the years, Justice, who died in 1985, encountered numerous spiritual adventurers, including Albert: Einstein, C. S. Lewis, and Edgar Cayce, as well as psychic researchers and a multitude of everyday people possessed of extraordinary gifts. Justice writes about a wide array of mysterious occurrences, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, automatic writing, out-of-body and near-death experiences, and the baffling appearances on electromagnetic tape of the voices of dead people.

Justice, who was also a Methodist minister, is intent on establishing "an empirical basis for a belief in life after death." Much of the material that he has assembled points to the existence of a metaphysical realm. However, his report would have been more balanced had he examined and challenged the contentions of skeptics that many of these occurrences are more psychological and illusory than otherworldly.

Nevertheless, Justice has written an illuminating introduction to a fascinating world. In one passage he describes his brother's mystical realization that "the universe is radiantly alive and animated by a living joy." In another, during an out-of-body experience, a woman finds herself in a great, silent void. Desperately lonely, she goes inside herself, and the void becomes "this warm, wonderful Something that enveloped me and with which I could communicate."

Sounding like a man who had been asked more than once to reconcile the psychic world with the Bible, Justice writes that the Bible is "probably the most psychically oriented book in the world." He cites many examples, such as Paul's conversion and Moses' encounter with the burning bush, The early Christian church drew much vitality from" 'gifts of the Spirit.’…essentially the same set of psychic events with which modern psychic research deals." He also notes that biblical sanctions against: paranormal activity are no more valid these days than the Old Testament dictate not to wear "a garment woven with two kinds of yarn."

Justice acknowledges that there are dark aspects to the psychic sphere, but believes that "as long as one's attitude is that: of love and trust toward God" the spirit world poses no risk. He believed firmly that "people have a right to know the kind of universe they live in." Readers will undoubtedly come away from this book with a heightened awareness of many mysterious events afoot in the world.

-Paul Wine

January/February 2001


Son of Man, By Andrew Harvey Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 1998. Four audio cassettes.

Andrew Harvey's reconstruction presents the historical Jesus in a manner that simultaneously invigorates and disturbs Christians. Harvey enlists the mystical tradition within Christianity and his own analysis of the Gospel materials in a myth-clearing process that eliminates centuries-old distortions and corruptions in an attempt to restore the historical figure. Harvey's treatment never diminishes the enormous significance ascribed to Jesus; instead Jesus is interpreted as infinitely important. Some critics, however, will view Harvey's book as unreasonably conservative and inconsistent with the finest: contemporary biblical scholarship.

January/February 2001


 

Rumi: Voice of Longing. By Coleman Barks. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 1994. Two audio cassettes.


Poems of Rumi. By Robert Bly and Coleman Barks. San Bruno, CA: Audio Literature, 1989. Two audio cassettes.

Rumi has remained a perennial favorite during the seven centuries following his death in 1273. His sacred poetry belongs to the Sufi tradition of "spiritual heroism" and love that powerfully transcends cultural boundaries. Barks and Blvy each read from their own translations, with musical accompaniment.

January/February 2001


Love Is Fire and I Am Wood: The Sufi's Mystical Journey Home, By Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 1998. Six audio cassettes.

Sufi teacher and writer Vaughan-Lee presents a "spiraling series of talks" containing over eight hours of poetry, insights, and teachings from the Sufi tradition.

January/February 2001


Divine Bliss: Sacred Songs of Devotion from the Heart of India, By Shri Anandi Ma. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 1997. Audio cassettes.

Shri Anandi Ma, a female master who performs devotional chant, presents nine ecstatic songs of praise, accompanied by harmonium, tamboura, and percussion, evoking a reverence for the sacred reality that pervades all living creation.

January/February 2001


B'ismillah: Highlights from the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music,
Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 1998. Two compact discs.

Recorded during the annual Fes Festival of World Sacred Music in Morocco, B'ismillah communicates the deeply moving music of this landmark event. This exceptional recording demonstrates how world-renowned artists respond to a divine presence experienced beyond artificial boundaries that separate and divide.

January/February 2001


Shaman, Jhankri, and Nele: Music Healers of Indigenous Cultures, By Pat Moffitt Cook. Roslyn, NY: Ellipsis Arts, 1997. Compact disc and book.

Although indigenous healers have employed music to restore health through countless centuries, these rhythms, chants, and songs seem endangered. Cook presents eighteen healing rituals recorded in Peru, northern India, Haiti, the San Bias Islands, Nepal, the Amazon, Tuva, Mexico, Korea, Panama, and Tibet.
-Daniel Ross Chandler

January/February 2001


Cassadaga: The South's Oldest Spiritualist Community, Ed. John J. Guthrie, Jr. Philip Charles Lucas, and Gary Monroe. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000. Hardcover, xxi + 241 pages.

Cassadaga, a modest but picturesque community in east central Florida, is one of the most unusual villages in the South. The principal church in town is not of an evangelical denomination, but is Spiritualist. In it one hears not revival preaching, but talk of the soul's endless pilgrimage, and those edifying words may be the voices of departed teachers or loved ones coming to us through the lips of entranced mediums. On the street, general stores and fast-food outlets mingle with plaques advertising mediumship and New Age bookstores.

Cassadaga was established over a century ago as a southern outpost of a Spiritualist camp in upstate New York, and has retained this character through many vicissitudes down to the present, attracting seekers, practicing Spiritualists, and Spiritualist retirees. The present book, written by several hands and attractively illustrated, is a worthy tribute to this exceptional place. Though an academic book by professional scholars, it is rarely dull or inaccessible to the ordinary reader.

One great virtue of the volume is the way in which its cooperative nature enables the reader to look at Cassadaga from several angles. One finds authoritative articles on the history and basic philosophy of the community, on its architecture (with many pictures), and on the activities and spiritual biographies of prominent senior members, fascinating accounts based on extensive interviews. The book ends with a photo essay documenting mediumship, healing, and worship services at Cassadaga. 

In the past, the relations between Spiritualism and Theosophy have often been acrimonious. In particular, Theosophists from Helena Blavatsky on down have pointed out that the entities present in mediumistic seances are usually at best only partial shells of the deceased individual, and may well be deceptive elementals. These concerns are significant and cannot be ignored. At the same time, this book and my own experience as a visitor at Cassadaga make clear that Spiritualists today have much in common with Theosophists. Their bookstores carry many of the same books, their discourse uses terms familiar to Theosophists such as karma and reincarnation (controversial among Spiritualists until recently), and the Cassadaga Spiritualist church has even offered a class on Blavatsky's major work, The Secret Doctrine. Perhaps it is time for Spiritualism and Theosophy, two kindred but long estranged movements, to renew ecumenical outreach and dialogue with each other.

-ROBERT ELLWOOD

March/April 2001


The Incredible Births of Jesus, By Edward Reaugh Smith. Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1998, Paperback, 109 pages.

The gospel accounts of the life of Jesus are, as is well known, inconsistent with each other and in some respects contradictory. A single example, one of many, will illustrate. Matthew and Luke give different genealogies for Jesus. Both trace the descent of Jesus from David (important for establishing his claim to Messiahship), but do so by quite different lineages. Matthew (1.6) reports that Jesus descended from David's son Solomon, whereas Luke (3.31) reports a descent from David's son Nathan.

Annie Besant discovered such contradictions when she tried to make a harmony of the gospels, and that discovery broke her faith in a simple, pious acceptance of literal Christianity and started her on the road to Theosophy. Today the contradictions are a problem mainly for fundamentalist believers in the literal truth of scripture. Scholars generally regard the gospels as attempts to set forth certain ideas through whatever history, myths, legends, or traditional topoi best served the purpose. Theosophists tend to regard them as symbolical or metaphorical expressions of spiritual realities.

The German esotericist, quondam Theosophist, and founder of Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner, had his own ideas about the subject, which are the basis for The Incredible Births of Jesus. Briefly, "the divine spiritual intuition of Rudolf Steiner" (66) was that there were really two persons named "Jesus." One, the descendant of Solomon, who was a reincarnation of "the most advanced Ego humanity has produced, that of the ancient Zarathustra" (67), was born in Bethlehem but was taken to Nazareth as a youngster. The other, the descendant of Nathan, was born in Nazareth He had no permanent Ego, but was the recipient of the astral body of the Buddha.

When the Nathan Jesus was twelve years old, his parents presented him at the Temple, and at that time the Zarathustra Ego left the body of the Solomon Jesus (who then died) and entered the body of the Nathan Jesus. The father of the Solomon Jesus also died, as did the mother of the Nathan Jesus. The surviving parents married each other, and thenceforth there was one family and one Jesus. The story is much more complex than that, those being only the bare bones of the tale.

What is perhaps most interesting about this Anthroposophical interpretation is that it accepts as literal truth the gospel accounts of the nativity and tries to make sense out of their contradictions. That aim accords with the aspirations of the most literalist of Christian fundamentalists. Few of the latter, however, are likely to find much satisfaction in this effort to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable.

-JOHN ALGEO

March/April 2001


Physician: Medicine and the Unsuspected Battle for Human Freedom, By Richard Leviton. Charlottesviile, VA: Hampton Roads, 2000. Paperback, xii + 579 pages.

An emotionally colored mixture of incongruous elements, often angry, intended to disparage current medical healing practices, while touting obsolescent sickness care systems, this book is a jumble of news reports and quotations from the daily press, with few from respected scientific journals. Virulent attacks on physicians' associations and the current health care system mark the first chapter, followed by uncritical rambles through unproven fields of health care, new and ancient.

The book's statement of the relations between bacteria, bacteriophages, and viruses is incorrect. It often treats information and relationships described in fiction and motion pictures as valid scientific observations.

Alternative and complementary approaches to medical care are not necessarily in conflict with customary medical practice. The author unreasonably makes them so, overlooking that practitioners of each depend on an accurate knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and all other health care disciplines. All medical care requires an accurate diagnosis, must treat illness as part of the patient's life, and depends on remedies, whatever they may be, which should be regularly and thoroughly tested.

Change in all these elements should be expected. To prove means to test, not to confirm. Each form of therapy, orthodox or other, must be continually tested if it is to succeed or prevail. Systems, whether of care or of relationships to others or to Deity, can never be considered final statements if they are developed by human beings.

This book is worthless as a whole and unreliable as something to live by. It wanders from topic to topic, here scientific and there uncritical, with only an occasional piece of some worth.

-JOHN B. DE HOFF, MD, MPH

March/April 2001


Other Worlds, Other Beings: A Personal Essay on Habitual Thought. By Lathel F. Duffield, with Camilla Lynn Duffield, New York: Vantage, 1998, Paperback, xxii + 90 pages.

The ways we perceive and think about the world around us and the "other worlds" that are the object of religious concern depend crucially on the assumptions with which we view them. Many of our assumptions arc modeled by the language we speak (a proposition advanced most notably by the Theosophist Benjamin Lee Whorf and therefore known as the "Whorf hypothesis"). In the West, the dominant set of assumptions are "mechanistic," but the author proposes that another set of assumptions is also available, based on the concept of "numen," a spiritual power inherent in things, and calls for an integration of these assumptions.
-J.A.

March/April 2001


Afterwards, You're a Genius: Faith, Medicine, and the Metaphysics of Healing. By Chip Brown. New York: Riverhead, 1998. Hardcover, 398 pages.

This book, with its odd title, is nevertheless an entertaining excursion into alternative medical practices by a journalist who apparently started out as a hard-headed and skeptical investigator of the subject but ended up convinced that there is much that conventional medicine does not know and that spirituality and healing go together in ways that we can hardly grasp.

As Brown entered into his exploration of healing techniques on the fringe of conventional medicine, he focused on those approaches that fall under the rubric "energy medicine." He was curious about the concept: of the "ghost in the machine," the idea of an animating soul or spirit in the body that is crucial to healing.

One could certainly conclude that Brown is very much persuaded of the truth of Voltaire's remark that "the art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease." And amuse Chip Brown does, as he describes his explorations into psychism, aura balancing, subtle energies, healing prayer, hands-on healing, and other alternatives to conventional medicine.

A former staff writer for the Washington Post, the author has also written for a number of national magazines including the New Yorker, Harper's, and Esquire. He starts out skeptical, finds himself frequently puzzled at how he gets drawn into the peculiar ways of unconventional healing, and finally concludes, "Maybe there is also real magic in magical thinking."

He learns "not to clutch too tightly this idea that there is an intrinsic meaning in all events .... And yet the idea of intrinsic meaningfulness is central to the metaphysics of healing. At times nothing seems more powerful than the Willful disavowing of chance precisely because it does turn every misfortune into a lesson; it does render meaning; it docs ask you to search the flux of events for your complicity. Maybe the very effort to live by such a code creates its own meaning. You learn to pretend that everything happens for a reason and you are astonished to find that meaning appears.”

-WILLIAM METZGER

May/June 2001


The Journal of Spiritual Astrology. Ed. Alexander Markin. American supplier: Joseph Polansky, P 0. Box 7368, North Port, FL 34287. Quarterly.

This delightful new astrological quarterly from Britain, edited by a Theosophist, is "designed to promote spiritual awareness among astrologers and to explore the many different ways in which the spiritual dimension can be shown in the chart." Unlike many current" 'rubbishy' or badly written" astrological publications, this one emphasizes quality, for "the subject matter itself demands, and deserves, no less." The first: issue (May 1999) is small, a mere fourteen pages, but full of fresh promise, pithy wisdom, and gems of esoteric insight from six astrologers, British and American. It has no distracting advertising.

One hundred years ago, British Theosophical astrologers like Alan Leo, Bessie Leo, and C. E. O. Carter planted seeds in the field, but astrology in the early twentieth century soon reverted to event-oriented, predictive, and mundane interpretation. Just before the inrush of the "new" astrologers in the late 1960s, a handful may have read Alan Leo's or Alice Bailey's books on "Esoteric Astrology," but hardly anyone understood the concepts. In the early 1970’s no self-respecting astrological convention acknowledged the subject. This began to change by the late 19705. Dane Rudhyar gave a new Theosophical interpretation to Marc Edmund Jones's Sabian Symbols. Steven Arroyo talked about: clues to karma and reincarnation in the horoscope. By the early 1980s, the Seven Rays crept into astrological delineation, with works by Mac R. Wilson-Ludlam and Alan Oken. Finally, by the 1990s, spiritual astrology was openly talked of, and a "general" Theosophical approach was appearing in astrological literature. Because of this evolution in the late twentieth century, it seems only fitting that this journal should have appeared in 1999 as a culmination or fruition of spiritual growth in astrological circles rather than wait to appear in the new millennium.

Beginning astrologers as well as professional ones can benefit from this journal. Both its astrological and Theosophical approaches are sound. And it may whet the appetite for neophytes in either area and help bring astrology and Theosophy closer together since they both deal with the laws of the universe.

-AMY W. FURNANS

May/June 2001


Theosophy As the Masters See It: As Outlined in the Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom. By Clara M. Codd. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 2000. Paper, xx+249pages.

This revised edition of a work first published in 1953 is the summary of the teachings of the Mahatmas by a noted Theosophist and feminist. Topics covered include the Theosophical Society; religious, social, and political reform, including the women's movement; Lodge work; the path to the Masters; and a variety of other subjects, including vegetarianism, the Esoteric School, incense, and the Society's seal. This new edition is an attractive, clear, readable presentation of the Masters' own words with Codd's sensible commentary.
-J. A.

May/June 2001


Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle. By Daniel Stashower. New York: Henry Holt, 1999. Hardback, xv+472pages.

Most people know that Conan Doyle was not Sherlock Holmes, but the two names arc so intertwined that they arc almost interchangeable. Stashower's book helps separate the two and gives us a lot more of Doyle than of Holmes. We are told that Sherlock Holmes is based on Doyle's old medical school lecturer, Dr. Joseph Bell. Also we find that Doyle wan red to be known and recognized as a historical novelist rather than as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Alas, this was not to be, and he had to bring Holmes back from his supposed death not only to satisfy his fans, but to financially support his other, and not so successful, literary projects.

Most Theosophists will read this book to understand Doyle's crusading zeal for Spiritualism, and his involvement in the Cottingley fairies. Unfortunately, I can give only a lukewarm recommendation for the book in this area. In his preface, Stashower declares himself to be a cordial disbeliever in the psychic realm. There is nothing wrong with this, but his lack of depth seems to get in the way. A telling example is his definition of the Theosophical movement as "a Western reconstruction of Tibetan Buddhism made famous by Helena Blavatsky and Annie Besant" (351). In view of this superficial definition, I can see that Stashower also lacks the background to do justice to Spiritualism.

For someone who loves to read Sherlock Holmes and wants to know more about the man who created him, this is a great book. For a Theosophist who wants to gain some insight into Spiritualism and Doyle's relationship with Theosophy it may not be very satisfying.

-RALPH HANNON

May/June 2001


Miracles of Mind: Exploring Nonlocal Consciousness and Spiritual Healing. By Russell Targ and Jane Katra. Novato, CA: New World Library, 1998. Paperback, xx +333pages.

Russell Targ is a physicist and Stanford Research Institute investigator into psychic abilities, and Jane Katra is a healer. Their work together began on a personal level in 1992 when Targ was diagnosed with cancer and Katra worked with him as an "immune system coach." Targ has been healthy ever since. This book represents their second literary collaboration.

The first half of the book focuses on Targ's work with remote viewing, the ability to describe activities and places not accessible to ordinary perception. The U.S. government became interested in Targ's work, and funding came from NASA and later the CIA. Targ recounts remote viewing experiments and describes how readers can develop the skill.

The second half of the book focuses on Kana's experiences as a healer. Kana became involved in healing as a result of contact with "psychic surgeons" in the Philippines. Investigating the matter as a curious skeptic, she couldn't make sense of what she saw. The experience precipitated a spiritual crisis and a dream through which she herself became infused with healing power. She describes some of her subsequent experiences as a healer, including distance healing. She also describes some disturbing research in Russia that explores remote hypnosis and techniques for transmitting harmful thoughts psychically.

Woven through these accounts by Targ and Kana and the studies they cite is the notion that we all are connected directly, without the mediation of rime and space. Citing sources ranging from Patanjali, the great Indian yogi, to David Bohm, the physicist whose holographic model of the universe has greatly influenced them, the authors have a message to communicate-mind is nonlocal. You don't have to take it on faith, yet the notion is, as Larry Dossey says in his introduction, "spiritual and philosophical dynamite."

-MIKE WILSON

May/June 2001


Mind Science: An East-West Dialogue. By The Dalai Lama et al. Ed. Daniel Goleman and Robert A. F. Thurman. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991. Paperback, xi + 137pages.

This slender bur comprehensive volume, covering the proceedings of a symposium sponsored by the Mind/Body Medical Institute of Harvard Medical School and Tibet House, presents a dialogue between knowledgeable Eastern and Western experts seeking to understand each other's point of view. Although published in 1991, it is still new because it cuts right to the core issues of its compelling topic.

Perhaps because Herbert: Benson, a neuroscientist and medical doctor, for some twenty years has been studying the Tibetan gTum-mo meditative practice (the ability of meditating monks to use their own body heat to dry the wet sheets covering them in freezing weather), and Daniel Goleman, a renowned psychologist, has been studying eastern meditative practices for some thirty years, their long experience with Eastern mysticism has left them with a deeper understanding of Eastern mind-science than Christopher deCharms was able to garner in his brief year at Dharmsala (Two Views of Mind, reviewed in the July-August 2000 Quest).

Robert Thurman contributes an extraordinary chapter on Tibetan psychology, which he subtitles "Sophisticated Software for the Human Brain." Howard Gardner, an esteemed researcher of human intelligence, provides a thoughtful response to Thurman in the following chapter, "Cognition: A Western Perspective."

The Dalai Lama in his opening chapter, "The Buddhist Concept of Mind," offers insight into the nature of mind as understood by his tradition. I-Ie suggests that Buddhism could serve as a bridge between radical materialism and religion, because Buddhism belongs to neither camp. From the radical materialists' viewpoint, Buddhism is an ideology that accepts the existence of mind and is thus a faith-oriented system like other religions. However, since Buddhism does not accept the concept of a creator God but emphasizes instead self-reliance and the individual's own power and potential, other religions regard Buddhism as a kind of atheism. Since neither side accepts Buddhism as belonging to its camp, Buddhists have an opportunity to build a bridge between the two.

-Alayne O’Reilly

May/June 2001


Letter to a Man in the Fire: Does God Exist and Does He Care? By Reynolds Price. New York: Scribner, 1999. Hardback, 112 pages.

Written as a letter to a fellow cancer sufferer (Price himself survived cancer of the spine), this book explores the question of its subtitle: "Does God exist and does He card" It is a heartfelt, honest, meditative exploration, not a superficial trotting out of clichéd answers, so it offers insight into one man's Job-like struggle; yet one wonders how consoling it might have been for the "man in the fire," had he not died before it arrived. For there are no answers here. Indeed, early on, Price confesses that few of the book's ideas "would seem new to well-read adults."

The author's own belief is that, yes, there is a God and He does care (if we expand our understanding of caring to include the concept that what appears to be evil may in the long run be for a greater good). That belief rests on "personal intuition," the centrality of the figure of Jesus to the author's worship, and a few brief experiences which, though lasting only seconds, appear to be consciousness- expanding. They were rare moments when it was demonstrated to him that "all of visible and invisible nature is a single reality."

Price does not doubt the universe was created by a single, divine intelligence, probably a male one (he thinks we should be glad that the darker side of the Divine has been treated as part of the male aspect, and not imputed to the Virgin Mother). Yet the concept of God as Father, Abba, has no resonance with him. Recognizing that his eighty-six-page discussion of the nature of evil, of the Trinity, and of religious belief has been brief, Price adds seventeen pages to point an inquirer to further study. It is here that he makes a curious passing reference to "the all but uncrossable deserts of 19th century Theosophy." One wishes he had explained that reference, but he does not.

The Letter is thoughtful, but reveals the limitations of belief in a personal Creator.

-JOSEPHINE A. WOLLEN

May/June 2001


Relax, It's Only a Ghost: My Adventures with Spirits, Hauntings, and Things That Go Bump in the Night. By Echo L. Bodine. Boston, MA: Element, 2000. Hardback, xxxvi + 123 pages.

This book is a series of purportedly real ghost stories drawn from thirty years of personal experience by the author, a psychic from the St. Paul-Minneapolis area of Minnesota, so most of the stories are of ghosts in buildings from that area. The author calls herself (and her brother, who often accompanies her on her investigations) a "ghost-buster." In other words, it is her intention when she's called to a haunted house (or other building) to attempt to communicate with the ghosts and "send them to the light." She often speaks of their going through a tunnel in order to get there. She states that she is paid a fee for doing so.

Each chapter concludes with some advice on how to handle different types of ghosts. She also often confesses that she has considerable apprehension, even great fear, associated with her visits to such places and sometimes has to call upon her "spirit guides" to assist her in her (apparently successful) work. That is very different from the experience of some Theosophical psychics (Geoffrey Hodson, Phoebe Bendit, and Dora Kunz) I have known. I find some of her stories unbelievable. And there is no attempt to describe the nature of "electronic equipment that measures ghost activity" (chs. 13, 15), so one is left quite skeptical about it.

I recall something Phoebe Bendit once told me when I was a young Theosophist working at Olcott in 1957 between my undergraduate and graduate studies. It was Halloween and a group of us had gathered in the library to tell or read our favorite "ghost stories." Phoebe, who was at Olcott with her husband, Laurence, at the time, suddenly walked in, and I asked her to tell us "some real ghost stories." Her reply surprised all of us. She said something to the effect that we didn't really want to do that because "ghosts are the most boring things imaginable." It seems the ghosts could tell that Phoebe was clairvoyant and were constantly bothering her with requests to contact their relatives and tell them they were all right. Phoebe asked, "Don't they realize that I'm a busy person and don't have time for such trivial concerns?"

Echo Bodine's stories have none of that quality. Her interpretation of her psychic experiences is taken at face value and obviously heavily influenced by her Christian background. For example, she makes no attempt to discriminate between earth-bound discarnate souls and what are termed in Theosophical literature "shells," i.e. astral corpses left behind by persons who have already gone on to devachan, as her description of some of them suggests they may be. All the ghosts she experiences are considered by her to be people who have, for one reason or another, not gone on to "heaven" to be with "God."

There is not just one ghost haunting the houses she visits, but usually there are a large number of them. Many of them frighten her. I am not clairvoyant, but my experiences in investigating so-called haunted houses over the past: twenty-five years has been very different from hers. And my interpretation of the paranormal events occurring in these houses is obviously influenced by my study of Theosophy-although I must confess that not everything I have heard fits conveniently into Theosophical theories.

If you enjoy reading ghost stories not told to frighten, you may find this book entertaining, even reassuring. If you are looking for insights into the phenomena, you will be better served by reading the Bendits' This World and That, relevant portions of The Secret Doctrine or the Mahatma Letters, or any number of C. W. Leadbeater's writings.

-RICHARD W. BROOKS

May/June 2001


The Lives and Liberation of Princess Mandarava: The Indian Consort of Padmasambhava. Trans. Lama Chonam and Sangye Khandro. Intro. Janet Gyatso. Boston, MA: Wisdom, 1998. Paperback, xi + 227 pages.

This is a Tibetan "treasure book" that is claimed to have been buried in the eighth century by Yeshe Tsogyal, the Tibetan consort of Padmasambhava, and then discovered as buried treasure by Samten Lingpa (b. 1871). If this account is to be believed, the story dates from the very founding of Buddhism in Tibet. Skeptics, however, will read this as an important example of hagiography composed in the early twentieth century.

In either case, the work is extraordinarily important, for its chief character is a woman who becomes a Buddha. It is, in fact, a proto-feminist document that reads right back into the very foundations of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism a very anti-patriarchal, liberating feminist dharma.

The work conforms to an archetypal pattern established early in the history of Buddhism in which the protagonist of the story relives the basic pattern established by the life of Siddhartha Gautama. The first several chapters describe Mandarava's previous incarnations, beginning with the "primordial mother," Pandaravasini. Long before she was born as Princess Mandarava into the royal family of Zahor, she had already achieved great spiritual awareness and was filled with tremendous magical power. She was, in fact, a Buddha.

From her birth as Princess Mandarava, she exhibits all the marks of an enlightened being and becomes known for her extraordinary power. Nevertheless, her father treats her often as a weak and innocent girl in need of protection and direction. Unlike Shakyamuni who escaped in the night from the confines of the palace, she is sequestered and in some ways humiliated by her father, who thinks she should be married off to a suitor. Eventually she convinces her parents that she wishes to be wedded only to Dharma. They agree, but send five hundred handmaidens to look after her. She is, after all, a princess.

When word is noised abroad that in her sangha lives also a male guru to whom the Princess has become attached, her father becomes incensed. He tries to kill the guru and imprison his daughter. The guru is, however, the great tantric master, Padmasambhava. He defends himself with his miraculous power, and the couple are eventually completely vindicated. Thereafter, they set out to defeat demons and negative-minded people all over north India and illumine one kingdom after another.

Mandarava enters parinirvana long before Padmasambhava and therefore never actually participates in his conversion of Tibet, but that, in fact, exalts her as a tremendous spiritual force that should be acknowledged and worshipped everywhere.

The story, filled as it is with magic and deeds of unimaginable spiritual power, may not convince the modern reader of its factuality. But that is beside the point, for its real message is that women can be enlightened just as fully as men and char everyone should recognize the potency of feminine spiritual accomplishment. To all those patriarchal Buddhists who denigrate women, this story offers a strident rebuttal. Surely this is a work which many American Buddhists will cherish. Perhaps it is a vision of what Buddhism in the twenty-first century will become.

The work is admirably translated by Sangye Khandro with the assistance of Lama Chonam and is introduced by Janet Gyatso, a well known scholar of Buddhism.

-JAY G. WILLIAMS

May/June 2001


American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Henry A. Wallace. By John C. Culver and John Hyde. New York: Norton, 2000. Hardback xi+608 pages.

Few figures in modern American public life have been more influential or enigmatic than Henry A, Wallace, New Deal Secretary of Agriculture and Vice President of he United States during World War II.

On the one hand, Wallace was as down, to-earth as the cornfields of his native Iowa. A brilliant agricultural scientist, he developed a highly successful hybrid corn-seed. As the youngest member of Franklin D. Roosevelt's cabinet in the 19305, he engineered agrarian policies, price supports, and the rest of it, which revolutionized the lives of American farmers for the better.

In the early years of the New Deal, the Department of Agriculture was the largest, most innovative, and most exciting branch of government. Wallace, its pleasingly rumpled, affable, and energetic Secretary, epitomized the New Deal spirit of liberal but pragmatic reform at its best. He seemed to be everywhere, speaking across the country, talking with plain dirt fanners in their fields, and working late hours in his office developing new programs for their benefit.

During the war years, Wallace traveled widely, from Latin America to Central Asia, always delighting ordinary people with his informality and his eagerness to chat with the local fanners about soils and seeds. On the platform and in books and articles he articulated an idealistic, "one world" vision of the postwar years that expounded on basic themes of human brotherhood and the twentieth century as "the century of the common man."

Yet the vegetarian and teetotaling Iowan was also often perceived as a "mystic" who had somehow strayed into the uncongenial corridors of power, given from time to time to strange enthusiasms and "impractical" dreams. Powerful forces mistrusted him and determined to curb his influence. In 1944 he was dropped as vice presidential candidate in favor of Harry S. Truman. Wallace reappeared in 1948 in a typically quixotic bid for the presidency as standard-bearer of the new Progressive Party, which sought to recover the idealism of the early New Deal and to find an alternative to the Cold War; no doubt naive about communism, it was crushed amid the harsh passions of that "War."

How can we understand a statesman as puzzlingly many-sided as this? One important clue could lie in Theosophy, Wallace was seriously involved in Theosophy and related spiritual movements in the years before his going to Washington in 1933, and seems always to have been within the orbit of their influence. He carried on a long correspondence with the Irish poet, mystic, agricultural reformer, and independent Theosophist George Russell (“A.E,"), took correspondence courses in Theosophy from the Temple of the People in Halcyon, California, was active in the Liberal Catholic Church in Des Moines between 1925 and 1929, and was a member of the Theosophical Society in America from 1925 to 1935. From the late 1920s to 1935 he had a much publicized and criticized relationship with the Russian artist, idealist, and mystic Nicholas Roerich. In all of this, several basic Theosophical ideas emerge as important both to Wallace's inner life and, on the profoundest level, his political life: the oneness of spirituality and science, world progress as spiritual reality, and the ideal of unity out of diversity. (See my article, "Henry A. Wallace as Theosophist," Quest, February 1997, 14-15.)

This new biography of Wallace is in many ways the best to date, particularly in respect to the subject's political life. It is eminently sympathetic and extensively researched, and its authors-one a fanner Democratic congressman and senator from Iowa, the other a political reporter clearly know the political territory. American Dreamer is, however, disappointing in its treatment of Wallace's Theosophy and therefore, in my view, fails fully to illumine the deep spiritual impulses that gave coherence to the man as a whole,

The facts about Theosophy and Wallace are mostly there, though the authors regrettably seem unaware of two articles by Mark L Kleinman (cited in mine) which treat Wallace's spirituality fully and perceptively; and although the authors of this book state, "It is unclear whether Wallace ever formally joined the Theosophical Society" (78), documentation of his membership can be found in the archives of the Theosophical Society in America in Wheaton, Illinois, They gratuitously speak of H. P. Blavatsky as "one part philosopher and-two parts fraud" (p. 80), an unsubstantiated characterization that might better have been applied to some of the political figures with whom Wallace had to work.

For background infonuatiou on Theosophy and Liberal Catholicism, Culver and Hyde unfortunately rely on Charles Braden's 1949 book, These Also Believe. Though then a pioneering study of alternative religious traditions, this work is by now very dated and moreover sometimes assumes the condescending manner characteristic of such writing at the time, but long since left behind by the best scholars.

Culver and Hyde seem in fact rather uninterested in Wallace's spiritual quests, if not slightly embarrassed by them; one gets a feeling of their getting through this part of the writing as quickly as possible. Had they consulted such distinguished recent authorities on the role of alternative spirituality in American life as Laurence Moore, Catherine Albanese, or Mary Bednarowski, they might have found a perspective by which Wallace could be placed in a rich and fruitful tradition of interaction between alternative religion, social idealism, and effective policy change, beginning with the mid-nineteenth century connection of Spiritualism with abolitionism and early feminism, and the Theosophy of such reformers as Katherine Tingley or, overseas, Annie Besant.

When they turn to what they know w


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