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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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."


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.”


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.


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.


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."


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.


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.


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.


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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