Book Reviews 2014

Embattled Saints: My Year with the Sufis of Afghanistan
Kenneth P. Lizzio
Wheaton: Quest, 2014. xi + 231 pp., paper, $18.95

Embattled Saints is a “must read” for anyone with the slightest interest in Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. The book is at once the author’s memoirs of his year as a disciple of Pir Saif ur-Rahman, a Naqshbandi shaikh (master), and a well-informed historical and social overview of Afghani Sufism. It is also an extremely helpful analysis of the complex tensions between traditional Sufism and various reformist and Islamist movements of central and southeast Asia.

The book’s subtitle is rather paradoxical, as Lizzio never actually sets foot in Afghanistan itself: his extended stay with the Pir and his numerous disciples takes place in the Khyber Agency, a district in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier province, to which the Pir had been forced to flee by the wars and conflicts in Afghanistan.

Lizzio first encounters the Pir while stationed in Peshawar in 1990 as a director of a U.S. project to help poppy farmers find viable alternative crops. Noting Lizzio’s interest in Sufism, a local colleague takes him on visits to several sheikhs, culminating in the visit to the Pir, who has a reputation as a powerful dispenser of baraka (reputedly the grace of Allah channeled through the Naqshbandi lineage and transmitted to aspirants as a mysterious kind of transformative energy). Shortly after their meeting at the shaikh’s compound, Lizzio’s project loses its congressional funding, and he is forced to leave Pakistan.

It is not until 1996 that Lizzio is able to return, this time with the aid of a Fulbright research grant. On his original visit, the Pir had bid Lizzio adieu with the invitation to return only if he was prepared to become a Naqshbandi initiate and aspirant. This is no trifling requirement, as the Naqshbandi order’s tradition is one of strict adherence to sharia (Islamic law) and sunnah (customs emulating the behavior and practices of the Prophet Muhammad). Lizzio, who has heretofore been a scholar of Islam and Near Eastern studies, makes the momentous decision to embrace Islam as a Muslim and an initiate in the Pir’s branch of the Naqshbandi.

And so the author’s journey begins. I will not steal his thunder by describing the remarkable phenomena ascribed to the Pir’s baraka, but suffice it to say that it defies a purely rational or scientific explanation. As a “you are there” account of the intense spiritual life in the Pir’s compound, Embattled Saints provides insights into traditional Sufism that I’ve not seen elsewhere.

But just as valuably, Lizzio’s wider analysis of the competing interpretations and tendencies within Islam is an eye-opener. Western students of Sufism, particularly those under the influence of Hazrat Inayat Khan or Idris Shah (to name just two exponents), have tended to view Sufism as a liberal version of Islam or even a mystical stream preceding Islam itself. While both might be true in some fashion, the Sufism of Pir Saif ur-Rahman defies such easy descriptions.

As Lizzio makes clear, the Pir could be a nit-picking stickler for the fine points of sunnah — men’s beards and trousers must be of a certain length, women are strictly segregated, and so on — to a degree that would be hard to distinguish from fundamentalist Islam. Indeed, the Pir had initially supported the rise of the Taliban in the region, mistaking their Saudi- and Wahhabi-influenced rigor as akin to his own traditionalist approach. However, the Naqshbandi rigor is in the service of a discipline leading to mystical breakthroughs, while the Taliban and other Islamists turned out to be hostile to mysticism and Sufism.

Lizzio describes the almost comical scene of outdoor loudspeakers at both the Pir’s compound and a nearby hostile Islamic militant compound trying to drown out each other’s vituperative condemnations of their neighboring enemies. All of this is embedded within a complex social geography of competing tribal interests and a shared opposition to Western-influenced modernization. I couldn’t help wondering whether decades — indeed, centuries — of sustained warfare and conflict hasn’t encouraged a tendency to fanaticism and hysteria among all conflicting camps.

In the author’s prologue, he notes that he tries to “privilege the Naqshbandi worldview over the Western one,” which is to say that he resists making value judgments about the culture’s norms: if the traditional world the Pir struggles to preserve dictates women in burqas, so be it. But as becomes evident by the book’s conclusion, that traditional world is increasingly embattled, and with the Pir’s demise in 2010, his branch of the Naqshbandi order is an endangered species. If modernity doesn’t nail them, there are plenty of Islamic militants who would be delighted to do the job.

Jay Kinney

Jay Kinney, founder and publisher of the late Gnosis magazine, is the author of The Masonic Myth (Harper Collins), which has been published in five languages. His article “Shhh! It’s a Secret: Grappling with the Puzzle of Freemasonry” appeared in Quest, Summer 2013.


Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents)
Elone Snel
Boston: Shambhala, 2013. 106 pages + CD, paper, $17.95.

Thousands of years ago, the Buddha taught mindfulness to his monks through such texts as the Satipatthana Sutta (“The Foundations of Mindfulness”). Now comes Eline Snel with a “sutta” for kids titled Sitting Still Like a Frog.

For more than twenty years, Snel has been developing mindfulness training programs. A founder of the Academy of Mindful Teaching in the Netherlands, she began to teach mindfulness courses for adults, parents, and children in 2004. Sitting Still Like a Frog provides basic meditation techniques for kids from ages seven through twelve. In it, the author provides exercises for kids that are simple and direct and that parents can do along with their children. The exercises in this wonderful book are suitable for kids with ADHD, dyslexia, and autism spectrum disorders. They are not a cure-all, but they do offer ways to cope and grow in the process.

Kids are curious and inquisitive. They are keen to learn and can be extremely attentive. At the same time, they can be easily distracted. There is too much going on. Practicing mindful presence and awareness, kids learn to catch their breath and be in the present moment. The way out of “automatic pilot” is through friendly attention to everything they do.

As Snell reminds us, there are things in life that we just have to deal with. The sea can be turbulent as well as peaceful. You cannot stop the waves. What you can do is to learn to surf, to ride the waves, seeing them as they are.

Snel also reminds parents about three fundamental qualities:

Presence: Presence enables you to simply be there.
Understanding: Understanding enables you to put yourself in your children’s shoes.
Acceptance: Acceptance is the inner willingness to understand your children as they are.

In this book, Snel has discovered a language that is as effective today as the one Buddha used in talking with his disciples. She talks about using the “Pause” button. She tells the kids about training their “Attention Muscle.” Her description of sitting still like a frog is stunning in its simplicity: “A frog is a remarkable creature. It is capable of enormous leaps, but it can also sit very, very still. Although it is aware of everything that happens in and around it, the frog tends not to react right away. The frog sits still and breathes, preserving its energy instead of getting carried away by all the ideas that keep popping into its head. The frog sits still, very still, while it breathes. Its frog tummy rises a bit and falls again.” It is a wonderful way to draw kids’ attention to the rising and falling of the abdomen as an object of focusing.

One key aspect of mindful awareness is how to be in touch with one’s feelings moment to moment. Snel has found a lovely way to relate to kids here. She asks them, “What is the weather like inside you? Do you feel relaxed and sunny inside? Or does it feel rainy or overcast?” This creates an instant relationship to what one is feeling without judging it as good or bad. We don’t resist the storm, we just acknowledge it. This allows kids to look at their emotions and say it is OK to have them. Accept the weather, and understand at the same time that it will change too.

The child in me related to Snel’s description of the conveyor belt of worries as a way of watching one’s thoughts. It also related to the technique of bringing worries and thoughts down from the head to the abdomen. The rising and falling of the abdomen has no place for thoughts! We need not get carried away by feelings, but is OK to have them. Also, she speaks of a “first aid box for worries” as a way of distancing oneself from one’s thoughts. Why not transfer the worries to the first aid box so we can watch them from a distance?

This book is a treasury of lessons and exercises that kids can relate to. It is accompanied by a CD with the exercises read by Myla Kabat-Zinn. This is homework for parents as well as kids, but this is homework that is far from agonizing. It has a liberating quality to it.

Dhananjay Joshi
The reviewer, a professor of statistics, has studied Hindu, Zen, and vipassana meditation for the past forty-five years. He is a regular contributor to the Indian periodical Lokmat.


Doyle after Death
John Shirley
New York: Witness Impulse, 2014. 340 pp., paper, $6.99.

Everyone who tries to imagine the afterlife faces the same problem. On the one hand, it is not life on earth. On the other hand, our minds can only conceive of things on the basis of earthly perception: even the innumerable heavens and hells of all cosmologies are framed in earthly images.

John Shirley, author of many science-fiction novels (and of the article “The Apocalypse of Consciousness” on page 140 of this issue), grapples with this dilemma in Doyle after Death, a murder mystery set, peculiarly, in the afterlife.

Nicholas Fogg, an unsuccessful private investigator, dies in a seedy Las Vegas hotel room. Upon waking, he finds himself in a netherworld settlement called Garden Rest, in an environment that is both like and unlike the earthly plane. There are apparently many such communities in the other world. People still have bodies, and they still have appetites (especially for tobacco, which for some reason this particular bardo cannot produce), but other things differ significantly. There is no need for food, for example, because nourishment comes from opening oneself up to this world’s sun, which not only gives sustenance but provides taste sensations that are at least as good as any on earth.

Fogg finds that one of his neighbors in this unassuming corner of the afterlife is Arthur Conan Doyle, best-known in real life for his Sherlock Holmes stories but also an avid investigator of spirits and mediums. Having been a detective on earth, Fogg joins Doyle in a hunt for a murderer who has inserted himself into Garden Rest. (Shirley does in fact explain how murder is possible in the afterlife.)

I don’t want to spoil the details of the plot, but apart from it there are several things worth noting in this book. “The afterlife described in the present novel,” Shirley says in an author’s note at the beginning, “has its own rules and peculiarities. I wish to assert that any conceivable afterlife would have consistent physics and biological principles.” He illustrates these both in the course of the novel and in an appendix, where he spells out some of the ideas behind his vision in the form of a dialogue between Doyle and Fogg. (I found this section especially interesting and wished it might have been longer.)

In this nether realm, as in ours, the mind has creative power, but the power of the mind is greater in Garden Rest than on earth. Houses, for example, are not built but “formulated.” They sprout up spontaneously through the directed use of the mind, the ground spewing out a kind of lava that soon solidifies into the desired shape. “Formulating here is rather like what we used to call apportment,” Doyle remarks. “The most curious items would materialize in séances — would apport right there and then” (emphasis in the original).

Of course we too can formulate houses, but here they require hard work. What emerges from this picture is a realm that is slightly, but only slightly, more yielding to the power of the mind than ours is. Shirley is suggesting that there many realms in the other world, some subtler, some denser; some pleasant, some less so. “There is no torturous hell, you know,” Doyle explains, “just an exclusion from light, a dark place where misery-inducing souls are left alone with one another. Here in Garden Rest we are in one — merely one! — of the outer rings of light.”

Souls do not stay in Garden Rest forever. At some point each resident will be given the “Summons” and will disappear. Where they go next is not spelled out, but Shirley implies that the soul moves on to higher and more rarefied realms, in a process that may be endless.

Doyle after Death is both highly original and evocative of many esoteric teachings, including Theosophy. Although it would be pointless to try to fit Shirley’s afterlife tidily into the Theosophical schema of kamaloka and devachan, in this vivid and well-told story, he presents a fresh and charming view of what may befall us after death.

Richard Smoley


Isis in America: The Classic Eyewitness Account of Mme. Blavatsky’s Journey to America and the Occult Revolution She Ignited
Henry Steel Olcott
New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2014. 480 pp., paper, $15.95.

Isis in America is a new edition of one of the most fascinating books in Theosophical literature: the first volume of Henry Steel Olcott’s Old Diary Leaves, first published in 1895. Olcott began his work on Old Diary Leaves a few years previously as a series of articles in The Theosophist magazine. He wrote the articles, and later the six-volume edition of Old Diary Leaves, to present an eyewitness account of his work with H.P. Blavatsky and the formation of the Theosophical Society. He felt it was important to counteract false information already being circulated about the founders and the Society. He did a masterful job: the book is not only informative, but at times entertaining and in a few instances hilariously funny.

As early as 1895 Olcott noticed that there was a tendency among some to deify Mme. Blavatsky. He knew her better than anyone other than her teachers, and he knew full well that she was a human being with amazing abilities coupled with a difficult temperament and many faults. In his foreword, Olcott writes, “It was but too evident that unless I spoke out . . . the true history of our movement could never be written, nor the actual merit of my wonderful colleague become known.”

Olcott begins his narrative by telling us how he met Mme. Blavatsky. He goes on to report on her unfortunate marriage to a younger man in Philadelphia, a marriage that only lasted a few months. HPB claimed the union was the result of karma and was her punishment for “her awful pride and combativeness,” which impeded her spiritual development. We learn how the Theosophical Society came to be, and we are told about Olcott presiding over the first cremation in the U.S. Blavatsky did not take part in the funeral “service,” but she was heard from nonetheless, and in a most amusing way. The book goes on with the history through to the time when Blavatsky and Olcott left for India in 1878.

This new edition ends with a valuable timeline of Olcott’s life, compiled by Mitch Horowitz, editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin.

Ed Abdill

The reviewer is former vice-president of the TS and author of The Secret Gateway: Modern Theosophy and the Ancient Wisdom Tradition (Quest Books). 


The Forbidden Book: A Novel
Joscelyn Godwin and Guido Mina di Sospiro
San Francisco: Disinformation Books, 2012. 282 pp.,
hardcover, $24.95.

The genre of occult and esoteric fiction has had a somewhat spotty history. Dion Fortune, Dennis Wheatley, Sax Rohmer, and Bram Stoker immediately come to mind as perennial favorites despite their limitations as writers. Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum marked a high point of style and erudition, though the author's cynicism indicated he had little sympathy for his chosen subject, secret societies. More recently, Dan Brown has hit the jackpot with page-turners such as The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol, which in turn inspired a raft of imitators. With The Forbidden Book, one can imagine the authors Joscelyn Godwin and Guido Mina di Sospiro—both academics conversant with esoteric teachings—saying to themselves, "Surely we can do better than this tripe." And so they have.

The Forbidden Book is an engaging occult thriller, well-written and packed with esoteric lore, nearly all of it based on real-world sources. In both literary quality and depth of knowledge it beats Dan Brown at his own game. Thus it is singularly unfortunate that the book was released with so little fanfare and, presumably, a nonexistent promotional budget. If the novel had come out under Dan Brown's byline, it would likely have sold copies in the millions.

In a nod to Brown's formula, the novel's protagonist is a college professor, in this case Leo Kavenaugh of the Italian department at Georgetown University. Leo is invited to Italy by a former female intern with whom he'd fallen in love several years before, but to no avail, as Kavenaugh was a celibate member of the Franciscan Third Order. His former intern, Orsina, hails from a wealthy aristocratic family in the north of Italy and, despite her own love for Leo, has married a wealthy Scottish businessman. With ambiguous motives, she invites Leo to visit her family estate in Verona to help decipher a book of late Renaissance Hermeticism that has been presented to her by her uncle, the Baron Emanuele Riviera della Motta.

Rapidly Leo is drawn into intrigues and mysteries associated with the book and with the baron. A murder ensues, the rather hapless Italian police arrive, and matters get complicated. In the interest of not spoiling the plot, I will leave it at that. Suffice it to say that after a bit of a slow start, the book builds up a good head of steam and delivers a fascinating thriller replete with alchemical, magical, and contemporary political references.

What may not be obvious to most readers, however, is the novel’s subtext, a meditation on the work and life of Baron Julius Evola (1898–1974), the controversial Italian exponent of an esoteric and magical “Tradition” whose political implications captured the imagination of young Italian (and other European) post–World War II neofascists
from the 1950s up to the present.

The Forbidden Book’s Baron Emanuele Riviera della Motta is an Evola stand-in, complete with young black-shirted followers and a magical regimen modeled on one that Evola and his esoteric associates, a collection of occultists known as the UR group, began to expound in the 1920s. (For more on this, see Introduction to Magic by Julius Evola and the UR Group.)

What Godwin and Mina di Sispiro provide here is an imaginative rendering of the likely real-world impact of Evola’s doctrines brought into the present. It isn’t a pretty picture.

Another subtext is the personal and moral impact of subscribing to a path of transcendence that raises the seeker to a level above compassionate regard for others. Evola’s magical philosophy (like that of this novel’s baron) aims for a heroic victory over all downward-pulling forces, leading to the immortalization of one’s individual Self. The end result is to render oneself a god. Common sense might suggest that hoping to become a god is inviting the fate of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun.

The Forbidden Book plays out all these possibilities, imbedded in the story of Leo and Orsina’s conflicted love for each other and their quest for the spiritual meaning behind their mutual attraction.

The achievement of The Forbidden Book is its melding of occult thriller, esoteric explication, and social critique, all at a level of intelligence higher than the genre’s norm. My main criticism would be that the characterization is rather sketchy, a weakness that also plagues Dan Brown’s books.

That aside, if you are interested in an occult thriller which provides genuine esoteric insights instead of muddled hokum, The Forbidden Book beckons.

Jay Kinney

The reviewer, founder and former publisher of Gnosis magazine, is the author of The Masonic Myth (Harper Collins), which has been published in five languages. His article “Shhh! It’s a Secret: Grappling with the Puzzle of Free­masonry” appeared in Quest, Summer 2013.


God, Science and “The Secret Doctrine”: The Zero Point Metaphysics and Holographic Space of H.P. Blavatsky
Christopher P. Holmes
Kemptville, Ontario, Canada: Zero Point Institute for Mystical and Spiritual Science, 2010. xi + 330 pp., paper, $24.95.

In God, Science, and “The Secret Doctrine,” Christopher P. Holmes endeavors to show parallels between the cosmogenesis of H.P. Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine and the cosmology of today. He contends that scientific cosmology is catching up with the massive Theosophical work published in 1888. The parallels are often stunning. Consider lines like these:

“Matter is eternal,” says the Esoteric Doctrine. But the matter the Occultists conceive of in its laya, or zero state, is not the matter of modern science. . . for it is PRADHANA (“original base”), yet atoms are born at every new manvantara, or reconstruction of the universe . . . There is a difference between manifested and unmanifested matter. (The Secret Doctrine, 1:545; cf. Holmes, 115)

Or, as Blavatsky also wrote:

By “that which is and yet is not” [before the manifestation of the universe] is meant the Great Breath itself, which we can only speak of as absolute existence, but cannot picture to our imagination as any form of existence that we can distinguish from Nonexistence. (Secret Doctrine, 1:43)

For comparison, Holmes cites the 1985 book Perfect Symmetry by the distinguished physicist Heinz Pagels:

The nothingness “before” the creation of the universe is the most complete void that we can imagine—no space, time or matter existed. It is a world without place, without duration or eternity, without number—it is what the existence—a necessary consequence of physical laws. Where are these laws written into that void? What “tells” the void that it is pregnant with a possible universe? It would seem that even the void is subject to law, a logic that exists prior to space and time.

Holmes’s analysis deals not only with the laya or “zero point” state prior to what has more recently been called the Big Bang, but likewise with the curved space and time of Einsteinian relativity, holographic space, the space-time-matter-energy continuum, quantum phenomena, multiple universes, the formation of subatomic particles, atoms, and finally stars and galaxies in the post–Big Bang “inflation.” In all this, through extensive quotations from The Secret Doctrine and recent scientific writers like Pagels, Stephen Hawking, Steven Weinberg, Carl Sagan, and others, Holmes illumines the convergences.

That the meetings of meaning are not always evident to those dipping into the Theosophical classic is, first of all, due to Blavatsky’s use of anthropomorphic or mythological language to describe what the scientists would phrase in more impersonal and objective terms. When Pagels asks, “What ‘tells’ the void that it is pregnant with a possible universe?” the answer is the Great Breath, and the “pregnancy” might be taken more literally than he intended. Blavatsky writes: “The last vibration of the seventh eternity thrills through infinitude. The Mother swells, expanding from within without, like the bud of the lotus” (Secret Doctrine, 1:62).

The Secret Doctrine uses this apparent anthropomorphism because it adds to the cosmological process the element of consciousness, or more precisely, the unimaginable cosmic levels of what is known in us as human consciousness. Granting that what is inside us may also be outside makes it acceptable, and often profoundly satisfying, to summon up correspondences between cosmic and human creativity, up to the mathematicians call “the empty set.” Yet this unthinkable void converts itself into the plenum of metaphorical, and perhaps more than metaphorical, evocation of giving birth. But long and bitter battles between science and religion have left many in the former camp exceedingly wary of “mysticism” about the cosmos, by which they mean any attempt to universalize consciousness beyond the human plane. In such a universe of thought, Blavatsky’s “Eternal Parent Wrapped in Her Ever-Invisible Robes,” “Radiant Child,” “Fohat” hardening the atoms, and conscious “Builders” working through stars and systems of stars, sound medieval or worse. “Science” may insist instead that the beginning of the universe was a mindless accident or a random incident.

Nonetheless, from several directions—the mysteries of quantum phenomena, the logic of mathematics, the quandary of the anthropic universe—consciousness, or its universal ground, seems waiting to come back in as a fifth cosmological constituent, along with space, time, matter, and energy. Some recent thought along this line has suggested that the universe resembles nothing so much as a computer simulation. Holmes’s study makes it evident that The Secret Doctrine provides a model for a consciousness-guided universe far removed from the theological bugbears that understandably annoy scientific thinkers, while allowing for an inside as well as an outside to the cosmos from the beginning.

God, Science, and The Secret Doctrine is not the only attempt to correlate Blavatsky and contemporary physics and cosmology. One could mention papers presented at the 1984 symposium on H.P. Blavatsky and at the 2007 United Lodge of Theosophists’ conference, “Theosophy and New Frontiers of Science.” But Holmes does us the service of bringing much of this thought together in a book broadly following the structure of The Secret Doctrine, updating, as it were, the scientific as well as esoteric commentary Blavatsky so ably provided in terms of the science of her day.

Holmes’s academic training is in clinical psychology, so professional physicists and astronomers, as well as scholars of The Secret Doctrine and its sources, may find issues to raise in his bold treatment of their material. But Holmes’s virtue is that he writes from the standpoint of an enthusiastic inquirer like most of us, communicating the remarkable new importance of  as a guidebook in the cosmic explorations of our day. As such, it is recommended, along with traditional commentaries, for Theosophical study.

Robert Ellwood

The reviewer is former vice-president of the Theosophical Society in America.


Living the Season: Zen Practice for Transformative Times
Ji Hyang Padma
Wheaton: Quest, 2013. 230 pp., paper, $14.95.

We live in challenging times. The landscape demands that we live with compassion not just for ourselves but for everything around us. It means transforming ourselves, which entails a journey that is unique for each of us. In Living the Season, Ji Hyang Padma tells us about her own journey and about the Zen practice that enriched her life. She shares practices that will bring awareness and compassion to full expression in this ever-changing world.

Padma’s own journey is fascinating. She went through a period of teenage restlessness. When she was fourteen, witnessing a car crash was a turning point for her. She worked as an emergency medical technician, which only deepened her spiritual quest, since it involved doing just what the moment demanded. Her questioning continued. In college, she took up aikido, the martial art of bringing energies into harmony. She discovered a sacred space within herself. Through aikido, she was introduced to Zen shiatsu, a traditional Japanese acupuncture-based form of bodywork that also brings together mind, body, and spirit. The transition to Zen meditation practice was inevitable. Meditation helped her find her core (known as hara in aikido) and respond from a place of centeredness.

Even this was not enough. A new question arose for Padma (and for us it is there as well): what is this for? After graduation from Wellesley College, she moved into a Zen center. She lived with and helped her Zen teacher with community building and also took up a job at an AIDS clinic.

Working with AIDS patients, Padma found that the same question continued to resurface: what is suffering and how do we alleviate it? She traveled to Korea, sat a ninety-day retreat, and was ordained as a nun, receiving her precepts from Seung Sahn, a great Korean Zen master. The practice wasn’t easy, but it confirmed her vow to awaken and help others. She was given the name Ji Hyang: Ji means “wisdom”; Hyang means “fragrance.” Bringing fragrance to the world through her wisdom was her path. She asked Seung Sahn for advice. He said, “Only do it!” She worked as a Zen center director, serving as abbot, but after five years, the desire for solitude opened a new path for her. She moved to Mountain Spirit Center in California to rekindle her love affair with meditation practice.

It is an amazing journey—learning that the sky is blue and the grass is green. We see clearly and hear clearly. Seung Sahn called this the correct function of life. Padma shares this journey with us through the cycle of four seasons: winter, spring, summer, and autumn. Each season opens a new aspect of Zen practice for us. Winter is the season of scarcity, requiring shelter. But even within winter there is life. The seeds are stirring. We come out of that stillness to see emerging life in spring. Spring gives way to beauty of summer. There is fullness around. Autumn bring a season of harvesting. We have learned skillful ways of living. This is the time to offer thanks for the gifts we have received. She quotes Zen master Wu-Men, who said:

Spring comes with flowers, autumn with the moon,
Summer with breeze, winter with snow.
When idle concerns don’t hang in your mind,
That is your best season.

Padma’s book helps us find our best season. Every chapter includes useful suggestions for practice. We learn impermanence through drawing sketches with water. We learn to work with a great question. As thoughts arise, we may ask, “Who is thinking?” Then we say, “I am thinking.” Then we ask the great question: “What am I?” And the answer is “Don’t know!” Zen practice means living in this “don’t know” state.

In her chapter entitled “Interpersonal Mindfulness: Zen and Relationships,” Padma gives us four simple elements of working with relationships: breathing, listening (both to what is said and to what is unsaid), finding our own place of presence (being authentic), and then meeting the others where they reside, joining them, and seeing through their eyes. This is true attunement. 

I loved her tips on compassion. If you are in the line at a drive-in and the person behind is getting impatient and honks at you, do you honk back and glare, or do you buy him a cup of coffee while you are at the window? I tried that the other day, and the look I got from the person behind me was priceless.

In the Indian tradition, seekers who have the same teacher are called brothers and sisters. Ji Hyang Padma and I share that great teacher, Seung Sahn. Well done, sister!

Dhananjay Joshi

The reviewer, a professor of statistics, has studied Hindu, Zen, and vipassana meditation for the past forty-five years. He is a regular contributor to the Indian periodical Lokmat.


The Essenes, the Scrolls, and the Dead Sea
Joan E. Taylor
New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. 418 + xix pp., hardcover, $55.

The Essenes have become a Rorschach blot. A Jewish sect that flourished around the time of Christ, they have been portrayed variously as mysterious adepts, fanatical separatists, and as the esoteric school that produced Jesus.

None of these images is accurate, according to Joan E. Taylor’s recent book The Essenes, The Scrolls, and the Dead Sea. Using the testimonies of ancient authors as well as archaeological finds, she portrays the Essenes as an austere sect that was nonetheless much more a part of the Judaism of the time than many believe.

The Essenes (the meaning of whose name remains mysterious) flourished in Judaism from at least the second century BC until the second century AD In Taylor’s view, they were not separatists. Although they lived communally, they did not isolate themselves from the Jewish community at large, and they were widely respected. While they opposed the Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled Judea from 140 to 37 BC, an Essene named Menahem predicted that Herod the Great would become king of Judea (as he did in 37 BC) and they thus won his favor.

This fact explains the apparent absence of the Essenes from the New Testament, according to Taylor. Although they were ranked by the contemporary historian Josephus as one of the three main Jewish sects of the time (along with the Pharisees and Sadducees), they do not seem to appear in the Gospels. Taylor says they do appear—under the pejorative name of the “Herodians,” so called because they had enjoyed such privilege from Herod. (See Matt. 22:16; Mark 3:6 and 12:13.) They are hostile to Jesus. This makes sense: the Essenes were stringent observers of the Mosaic Law, obeying it so rigorously that they may not have been allowed to relieve themselves on the Sabbath. Jesus’s casual attitude to the Law would not have squared with them. Thus he probably had not been taught by them—or if he had, he broke radically with them at some point.

The Essenes are also associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls, found at Qumran between 1946 and 1956. Taylor argues that they did not hide these scrolls in response to the Roman invasion of Judea in AD 66, as many scholars believe. Rather she says that the Essenes used the site as a genizah—a repository for worn, damaged, and sometimes heterodox books. They also had a base at Qumran (given to them by Herod) for producing medicines, for which the Dead Sea region was and is famed.

Taylor’s portrait of the Essenes explains a great deal that was previously mysterious about them. Her account has its defects—it says little about the content of the Dead Sea Scrolls and what this tells us about the Essenes—but it is coherent and persuasive, and is likely to serve as a milestone in our understanding of this sect.

Richard Smoley


 

The Esoteric Tarot: Ancient Sources Rediscovered in Hermeticism and Cabala 
Ronald Decker
Wheaton: Quest, 2013. 330 pp., paper, $23.95

There are many baseless occult theories about the origins of the Tarot: it came from ancient Egypt; it was created by Kabbalists who modeled it on the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet; it is a hieroglyphic text created under the direction of the semilegendary magus Hermes Trismegistus; it is the oldest book in the world, created by the god Thoth, who invented writing.

Most of these can be traced to the eighth volume of Le monde primitif (“The Primitive World”), published in 1781. This encyclopedic ork, by the occultist and Freemason Antoine Court de Gébelin, captured the imagination of his fellow occultists and focused their attention on the Tarot. This trend inspired numerous books that attempted to correlate the Tarot with all aspects of occult and Kabbalistic teachings, with little regard for facts or actual history. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the Tarot’s reputation as a tool for divination and as an ancient esoteric document was taken as gospel among occultists, at least in the English- and French-speaking worlds.

Later in the twentieth century, historians of playing cards and popular history began to bring out factual accounts that firmly rooted the Tarot’s creation in fifteenth-century northern Italy, where it was designed to play a trick-taking game that is the ancestor of bridge. The most influential of these works was The Game of Tarot by Michael Dummett, published in 1980. Dummett was an excellent historian who examined all available early examples, documentation, and related imagery and history. He firmly established the Tarot as a creation of the Renaissance. In 1996, he teamed up with French historian Thierry Depaulis and Ronald Decker, an art historian who was the curator of the collection of the United States Playing Card Company, to write A Wicked Pack of Cards: The Origins of the Occult Tarot. This book covered the contributions of the early occultists to Tarot literature and design and often uncovered the foolishness of their theories. In 2002, Dummett and Decker teamed up again to write A History of the Occult Tarot, in which they continued to follow the Tarot's development up to 1970.

Although Dummett, best known as an Oxford philosopher, was excellent on Tarot history, he avoided all but the most obvious explanations of the Tarot's iconography and denied any use of the Tarot in divination before the eighteenth century. This, combined with his periodic ridicule of nineteenth-century occultists, tended to infuriate modern occultists and Tarot practitioners. A gulf opened up, with historians on one side and practitioners, who found spiritual value in the Tarot's symbolism, on the other.

Unfortunately, at first New Age Tarotists thought of Decker as being on the wrong side of the gulf because of his association with Dummett. But as  an art historian and an artist himself, Decker recognized that a mystical allegory is illustrated in the Tarot, and he has spent the last forty years trying to uncover it. In fact, he was attempting to validate the underlying assumptions of the occultists and find Hermetic and Kabbalistic connections for the Tarot while maintaining a scrupulous respect for facts and history. Decker was one of the few who recognized that there should be no gulf between history and meaning and that the two can be mated. The Esoteric Tarot is the outcome of his quest.

The Esoteric Tarot is a work that Decker has been developing and publishing in tidbits in numerous articles over the years. I first became aware of Decker’s work when I read his article on the origins of the Tarot in Gnosis magazine in 1998. In that article, he related the Tarot trumps to the figures in an allegorical woodcut on the journey of life by Hans Holbein from 1525. Decker also related the Tarot’s Magician card to the figure of the Good Demon, a man with a wand and a broad-brimmed hat who is depicted handing out lots to babies entering life’s arena. Decker revisits that correlation in his introduction to The Esoteric Tarot.

Although the book is divided into six parts with chapters in each, it can really be thought of as having three parts, with the last four combined as one. In the first, Decker, like most historians, traces the origin of cards to China, where paper was invented in the first centuries of the Common Era. But while the standard theory holds that the Chinese money cards with four suits representing coins, strings of coins, myriads of strings of coins, and many myriads, were the first decks, Decker sees them as a later development that was influenced by a deck that originated in the West. Making use of new findings, he posits domino cards, based on the throws of dice, as the first deck. This deck traveled west  and gave rise to a four-suit deck that would eventually become the inspiration for the Tarot’s minor suits as well as traveling east to China to inspire the money cards.

Decker theorized that this deck originated in the city of Harran, in present day Turkey. This was a culture that was firmly entrenched in Hermetic mysticism and a pagan religious synthesis. Decker sees the suit symbols as having astrological and Hermetic significance, with the suit of swords being related to the god Mars, the suit of golden coins to the sun god Sol, the suit of cups to Venus, and the suit of staffs to the moon god Thoth. From here the deck traveled to Egypt, where it was adopted by the Muslim Mamelukes, who introduced it to Western Europe in fourteenth-century Spain. This part coincides with the standard theories about the intro-
duction of the cards to Europe.

In the second part, Decker tackles the origin and symbolism of the trumps. He theorizes that it was in Milan, circa 1440, that the trumps were first added to the four-suit deck, which retained the suit symbols invented in Harran. This first deck had fourteen trumps, but was later expanded with an additional seven to have twenty-one. Decker believes that this deck was influenced by the Renaissance interest in Hermetic symbolism and can be seen as a Hermetic allegory of the soul’s progress, with the trumps divided into three groups of seven. The first seven cards illustrate the soul’s descent into matter, the second seven, called the probation, illustrate the soul’s attempt to evolve through the trials of existence in the world. The last seven illustrate the ascent back to the celestial realm of the World Soul, depicted on the World card as Isis. This explanation of the trumps is satisfyingly harmonious with the imagery on the cards and does not feel forced in any way.

Commentators often criticize attempts to connect the trumps with Hermeticism by pointing out that the written by Joseph Gikatilla in the the principal source of Renaissance Hermeticism, the Corpus Hermeticum, only arrived in Italy in the 1460s, after the creation of the Tarot. But Decker, with his scrupulous attention to detail, lists numerous sources for Hermetic philosophy that were available in the early Renaissance, including the Latin translation of the Asclepius, one of the texts from the Corpus that was available throughout the Middle Ages. He also finds correlations for the trumps with astrological and numerical symbolism and the Egyptian hieroglyphs that were presented in the Hieroglyphica, a Hellenistic text that arrived in Italy in the early 1400s.

In last four parts, Decker takes on modern cartomancy. Although he has established that certain divination practices with cards can be traced back to the Renaissance, he champions the role of the eighteenth-century occultist Etteilla as the inspiration for modern cartomancy. This section starts with a biography of Etteilla that is the most complete and accurate one that I have read. It is probably the best one available in English, and is by itself worth the price of the book. Although almost all later occultists tended to diminish Etteilla’s role, he was the first professional card reader and the first occultist to have a deck designed solely for divination. Although his theories on the trumps have little modern influence, all modern divinatory interpretations for the pip and court cards are derived from Etteilla’s work. 

From the origin of the cards to their use by Etteilla, the Hermetic symbolism behind the Tarot has been established. But what about the Kabbalah? This is where Decker performs some brilliant detective work. He follows the thread back to Etteilla’s source for the meaning of the pips to his study of traditional French card readers, then back to earlier Italian readers, who derived numerical symbolism for the pips from a Kabbalistic text, The Gates of Light, teenth century and available in a Latin translation to Christian Kabbalists since 1516. 

This final revelation tends to turn the standard occult theories, which find Kabbalistic references in the trumps rather than in the pips, totally on their heads. Decker’s views may be surprising to many, but everything he has written is carefully researched and supported wherever possible with facts. I trust no other author more for insights into the Tarot history and symbolism.

Robert M. Place

The reviewer is author of The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination, Alchemy and the Tarot, Astrology and Divination, and designer of The Alchemical Tarot, the Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery, and five other Tarot decks.

 

One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life
Mitch Horowitz
New York: Random House, 2014. 338 pp., hardcover, $24.

Mitch Horowitz is the author of the excellent and informative historical work Occult America, and in his latest book he expands upon some of its themes, specifically the origins and ongoing influence of the positive thinking movement, also known as New Thought. What I find most compelling about One Simple Idea is how it unveils the hidden influences behind past and current New Thought. For example, Horowitz carefully explains the profound effect of Mary Baker Eddy's upscale, female-led Christian Science movement upon medical licensing, pastoral counseling, and the role of women in the clergy, as well as the influence of the New England healer Phineas P. Quimby upon her philosophy. Quimby, in turn, was influenced by the teachings of Franz Anton Mesmer, who  himself operated in the milieus of Freemasonry and the French Revolution.

Through this book march a panoply of unlikely characters and eminences, whose often surprising influences from New Thought are herein revealed. Many Elvis fans already know that Presley was a devotee of New Thought. But who would have suspected as much from Sherman Helmsley (TV’s George Jefferson), who doted upon The Kybalion? Or of Michael Jackson, who was very fond of James Allen’s book As a Man Thinketh? It is in these pages that we learn that black activist Marcus Garvey was an aficionado both of James Allen and of Robert Collier’s The Secret of the Ages, as well as of Émile Coué, one of the pioneers of positive thinking. Here we learn that the self-proclaimed deity Father Divine was influenced by both Elbert Hubbard and the poet Edna Wheeler Wilcox. And who knew that a Wall Street Journal self-help favorite such as The Science of Getting Rich had its roots in the Christian Socialist movement, or that Norman Vincent Peale was profoundly informed by Ernest Holmes, author of Science of Mind, who was himself influenced by the Transcendentalist writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson?

Horowitz explores such esoteric ideas as quantum mechanics and the placebo effect, but he also traces how, for instance, Protestant ministries progressed from distrusting New Thought medical cures to actively embracing them in the form of Pentecostalism— giving us the now-familiar figure of the “faith healer,” who, Horowitz affirms, began fading from the scene in the late 1960s, concurrent with the triumph of “the prosperity gospel.” Indeed, how New Thought eventually shifted from an emphasis upon the blessings of God for health to the blessings of God for wealth is the central story of this enlightening and, in many measures, entertaining work.

Horowitz goes on to describe how, slipped from its occult moorings, the  mind-power teachings through Scrip- tenets of the New Thought movement became part of mainstream thought— and even politics—in the years following World War II. Napoleon Hill and Dale Carnegie are shown to be the two men who, as much as anyone, effected this change, beginning in the 1930s with their books Think and Grow Rich and How to Win Friends and Influence People. Napoleon Hill was influenced by industrialist Andrew Carnegie, whose own thought was shaped by the “mysterious doctrines” of Emanuel Swedenborg. As for Dale Carnegie (né Carnagey), his mantra that “agreeable people win” had a profound influence upon the career of Ronald Reagan, who was also influenced by occult thinker Manly P. Hall.

Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 best-seller The Power of Positive Thinking was itself based upon Rabbi Joshua Loth Liebman’s 1946 bestseller Peace of Mind, now largely forgotten. By removing the punitive aspects of Protestantism and thereby further mainstreaming the positive thinking movement, Peale was as responsible as anyone for the present spate of motivational best sellers. It was with Peale that psychospirituality—the melding of psychoanalysis and religion—first gained great prominence with “a system that reprocessed  tural language and lessons.” Not widely known until recently was Peale’s anti– New Deal and anti–Roman Catholic leanings, as well as the influence of Ernest Holmes upon his thought.

The author has a knack for poking into hornet’s nests: he is not shy, for instance, in exposing the ties of Bill Wilson, cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, not only to William James and C.G. Jung but also to the Swedenborgians and Frank Buchman’s controversial Oxford Group—a group from which Wilson later disassociated himself, though not before adapting many of its key tenets to serve the cause of AA.

Moreover, Horowitz is far from gullible in his history of the New Thought movement; in fact, he is unable to overlook its internal contradictions and logical inconsistencies. He points out that popular and influential (and sometimes scandal-ridden) ministries such as those of Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, and Robert H. Schuller all borrowed from New Thought for their prosperity gospels, and that not all believers are completely on board with such belief, some going so far as to label it a “quasi-Christian heresy.”

Horowitz lands perhaps a more telling critique: “To call suffering an illusion, yet also demand that it bend to desired change, signals a core inconsistency in the mind-power perspective . . . New Thought and the mind-power philosophies seek to rise above the world and consume its bounty at the same time.” As for New Thought’s attempts to explain present-day sorrows by referring to past-life sins, Horowitz dismisses this explanation: “The person who justifies someone else’s suffering, in this case through collective fault, only casts a stone” (emphasis in the original). In that way, “a narrowly conceived New Thought can slam closed the doors of perception that it was once envisioned to open.” Horowitz thinks that the “Meaning Based School,” which teaches that “a higher\ perspective can rescue a person from an existence of aimlessness and undefined anxiety,” is the “most morally and spiritually convincing” approach to the use of the power of the imagination to alter reality.

One salutary effect of One Simple Idea is that, in tracing the history of the positive thinking movement in America, a great many of its tenets are also explicated. Horowitz’s understandably guarded enthusiasm for some of these techniques is nonetheless infectious. You’ll probably feel better just by reading this book—that is, if you wish it.

Francis DiMenno

Francis DiMenno is a humorist, historian, and long-time music journalist.

   

Adi Parva: Churning of the Ocean
Amruta Patil
New York: Harper Collins, 2012. 276 pp., hardcover, $64.75.

Epics form such a precious place in our lives. We grow up with them. In the beginning, they are stories that we go to sleep with. Then we grow older, and they become pathways for our lives, a beacon in our dilemmas and a guiding star in our dark nights.

The Mahabharata is one of the two major epics of ancient India, the Ramayana being the other. The story of a conflict between good and evil and of blessings and curses, the Mahabharata comprises eighteen parvas (chapters), of which Adi Parva is the first. The first thing I noticed about this book is that it says, “via Amruta Patil” and not “by Amruta Patil.” A unique depiction of the stories from the Adi Parva in the graphic medium, it is the first of a trilogy of graphic novels we will receive from her. “The conclave of creators is a crowded space,” she writes, and she too has entered the conclave of retellers of this epic story. 

Many versions exist of the Mahabharata (including a famous Indian TV series that brought all activities to a stop when it was shown). For those that grew up as children in India, the one that is most memorable is the one told at bedtime by our grandmothers. The amazing thing about the origin of Patil’s book is that she was not born in a traditional family. There was no storytelling granny whispering in her ear at bedtime, she says in one interview. So her journey into the Mahabharata was a solitary one, which she started at age twenty-one. Her discoveries were original ones and not tainted or colored by other views and impressions. “It was like taking off layers of wallpaper and seeing how the walls were like,” she says. She felt a connection with the tales of Mahabharata, and therein perhaps lies the seed for this work.

Is the Mahabharata a story to be read? Not really. It is a story to be heard, and now Patil has introduced us to a story that is to be experienced visually, to be seen through the eyes of a new observer. The graphic novel genre in India is in the hands of a niche readership (ages eighteen to thirty-five, English-speaking). It is new and not something readers have been brought up on. It is still experimental, with rules being formed as the writers go  along. Hence we have to drop our preconceived notions of the epic and see it fresh in this book.

Patil learned how to paint for this book. She worked on it as a part of residency at La Maison des Auteurs in Angoulême, France, through a grant from the French embassy in New Delhi. It was like a “room of her own” for her. “I wasn’t looking for a feat of friends. I needed safety, solitude, stability, and sanctuary . . . and had that for one charmed year,” she says. She did not throw away a single page, painting over as much as she could. The text and the paintings intermingle, the images effortlessly changing from watercolor to charcoal to pencil. It is a gorgeous work.

I am not sure how traditionalists will look at Patil’s work, but she is faithful to the essence of the story while being unencumbered by traditional expressions. Reading, or rather experiencing, this book, I felt that she has lived up to her responsibility. As a narrator in the book says, “In any case you are not held captive by old narratives. Tales must be tilled like the land so they keep breathing. The only thing you owe allegiance to is the essence.” We find here in Adi Parva via Amruta Patil a tale that is alive and vibrant. It is a visual joy. Read it slowly. Don’t be in a hurry to turn the page.

Dhananjay Joshi

The reviewer, a professor of statistics, has studied Hindu, Zen, and vipassana meditation for the past forty-five years. He is a regular contributor to the Indian periodical Lokmat.


 

Supernormal: Science, Yoga, and the Evidence for Extraordinary Psychic Abilities
Dean Radin
New York: Deepak Chopra Books, 2013. 369 + xxiii pages, paper, $14.

Scientific explorations of human potential often focus on technological and chemical enhancements to the human body, leaving the cultivation of our natural capabilities as mere hints of what can be altered through artificial means. In Dean Radin’s latest offering, Supernormal: Science, Yoga, and the Evidence for Extraordinary Psychic Abilities, the veteran psychical researcher brings us back to the self as the starting point for investigation. He comes up with surprising evidence that a journey inward may reap more rewards than anything that conventional science can offer us.

Radin has three previous works under his belt, but this is his most provocative book yet, delving into the deeper implications of psychical research for self and society. Supernormal explores some of the exciting conclusions that can be drawn from the extensive peer-reviewed research and tears apart the misconceptions and misrepresentations that are common in the skeptical subculture. Radin doesn’t tease us with a weak-kneed appraisal of what can be understood from over a century’s worth of accumulated data. Instead he makes a full-scale assault on commonly held assumptions that limit us from embracing the radical possibilities of human existence.

While Radin’s previous books have covered similar ground, this work, framed around an exploration of the Hindu and Buddhist siddhis (extreme abilities and states of consciousness reported by advanced yogic practitioners), provides a unique connecting point to the cross-cultural dialogues that are being fostered by the Dalai Lama with Western scientists. As Radin points out, these powers are commonly reported in all major religions: “Tales of supernormal mental powers are not unique to the yogic tradition. Most of the same abilities are described in Catholicism as chrisms and in Islam as karamats. In Judaism, nahash or divination may be practiced by a zaddik [holy man] . . . All shamanistic traditions are saturated with such tales.” Experiences assigned by academics to the realm of legend, myth, and hagiography may in fact bring us closer to what we are at the very core of our reality.

Supernormal provides a solid starting point for bridging between ancient and contemporary understandings of the world and to evaluate the reality of esoteric and so-called “occult” doctrines. Telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis are all examined in light of their exposition in Eastern sutras as well as in scientific data. We are also treated to examinations of abilities such as bilocation, teleportation, manifestation of physical objects, and other feats that seem to stretch credibility to the utmost limit. While careful in his analysis of each claim, Radin emphasizes that in the traditional sutras, these abilities are not presented as wholly metaphorical but are given as literal powers that can be attained through advanced practice.

Balancing between his scientific examination and the incredible potentials described in works such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Avatamsaka Sutra, or Flower Ornament Scriptures, Radin is able to evoke a wonderful sense of possibility without ever falling into fantasy or gross speculation. He maintains this delicate balance even when he takes us into evidence that the universe’s very structure may support something akin to the reality expressed in popular works such as Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. Hence our participation in reality may go much deeper than crude manipulations of the material realm.

Readers familiar with esoteric doctrine will be delighted to find within Supernormal a well-organized apology (in the classic sense) that utilizes Western science to open up the reality of the hidden realms of human potential. Those whose interest lies in more scientific areas will find in the book a powerful means of taking their inquiries into the far-reaching realities that outshine popular materialism and skeptical mythmaking. At the time of writing for this review, Supernormal is currently ranked as the number one best-seller in its category for two weeks in a row by Nielsen BookScan, and is holding a high ranking on Amazon as well, showing that Radin has touched on a deep need within our culture. In doing so, he will hopefully provide one more key to understanding ourselves and our society in a way that can lead to greater growth and fulfillment of who and what we truly are.

David Metcalfe

David Metcalfe writes the “Psi in the News” column for the Reality Sandwich Web site. Dean Radin will be a featured speaker at the Theosophical Society’s Summer National Convention in July 2014.  


Finding the On-Ramp to Your Spiritual Path: A Road Map to Joy and Rejuvenation
Jan Phillips 
Wheaton: Quest, 2013. 146 pages, hardcover, $14.95.

Jan Phillips, who has spent time in a Catholic religious community, now devotes her energies to writing and leading workshops on spiritual and evolutionary topics. In her sixth book, Finding the On-Ramp to Your Spiritual Path: A Road Map to Joy and Rejuvenation, she invites readers on a spiritual journey and offers tips on how to progress. Through the analogy of a road trip, Phillips describes an entry point, mentions likely pit stops, and warns readers of roadblocks they may encounter along the way to spiritual wholeness.

Titled with highway terminology, complete with authentic traffic signs, each chapter describes one such phase in the pilgrimage. Readers should not be put off by the “STOP” sign that graces the first chapter. It is a much needed warning that a spiritual stance requires us to stop, look, and listen before proceeding ahead.

Similarly, chapter 2, “Lane Ends,” may not sound like a good beginning for a journey to joy, but in fact most of us don’t recognize the need for this type of trip until something in the conventional world has failed to work for us.

The following chapters, “Yield,” “Curves Ahead,” “Divided Highway,” “End Divided Highway,” etc., each describe an important spiritual concept. Each includes at least one simple but poignant story to illustrate the main point.

My favorite was chapter 9, “Merge.” It expresses the importance of being attentive to and engaged with others— present to their experiences, whether they are feeling pain or joy. It also emphasizes the value of expressing ourselves authentically and truthfully to others. “We are mirrors to one another’s mission and meaning, for ultimately we have all come here to light up the world,” Phillips writes.

While the entire book is filled with spiritual gems, what struck me as the most immediately useful to someone needing a spiritual GPS appeared in chapter 10, “One Way”: “Joy is the compass point for this discernment [of our own ultimate concerns, and where we should place our commitments]. If you could solve any global problem in the world, which one would bring you the most joy to solve? Your answer to that is a clue to your next step on the spiritual path.”

The final chapters promote a bigger story than that offered by the typical traditional religion. Spiritual maturity is increasingly becoming understood as something broader than a particular belief system invested in some faraway transcendent deity and unduly concerned with personal salvation in the next life. Phillips would have us focus our efforts on things that are more immediate—on “this world, these crises, these choices,” which are in “our hands.” At her recommended destination, we derive our strength from a strong and rich power that comes from within when we follow our own true path.

Certainly Phillips speaks from a frontier not too many have reached, and she is in a position to advise readers from her advanced perspective. I hope telling readers about these steps is an effective way to help them get from point A to point B. Lest the book leave anyone in doubt about Phillips’ own spiritual point B, appendix 1, “An Apostle’s Creed” elucidates ten of her core beliefs.

Finding the On-Ramp provides yet another way to inspire readers to travel beyond the rules and structure of conventionality and organized religion that keep us powerless and dependent on external forces. Her prescribed route alerts us to our individual callings, and promises a destination where our true bliss can be found in following them— for the sake of our own fulfillment, and for a healthy society as well.

Phillips forecasts a quietly spreading, societywide grassroots revolution wherein many are leaving their churches behind to find the Divine within. If enough of us keep finding inventive ways of presenting this concept, perhaps one day conventional society will recognize the futility of its current divisive “small story” tactics and will come to support individuals in their journey to spiritual maturity.

Margaret Placentra Johnston

The reviewer is author of Faith Beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind (Quest Books).


Dancing with Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships
John Amodeo
Wheaton: Quest, 2013. 290 + xix pages, paper, $16.95.

John Amodeo’s book is a life-affirming work that expands traditional Buddhist practice to the social dimension. Filled with dozens of examples, personal anecdotes, and pithy quotes, Dancing with Fire is dedicated to expanding conscious awareness and mindfulness to increase personal, interpersonal, and cultural intimacy. This well-seasoned therapist draws from Buddha’s Eight Noble Truths to show how psychology can help those on the spiritual path.

Much of the book’s theme could be captured in a quote from Rumi: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Amodeo suggests using meditation and mindfulness as tools to remove these blocks to intimacy. In meditation retreats, he observed practitioners confusing the Buddhist notion of nonattachment (vairagya) with emotional detachment. Instead of forming more intimate relations, they tended to isolate themselves and withdraw from people while thinking this was the way to liberation. He believes that desire shouldn’t be denied or avoided, but rather fully experienced with joy and equanimity. It isn’t enough, he suggests, to simply “note” feelings and sensations and release them. Rather he advises people to “let in” emotions and allow “our inner processes to arise, incubate, unfold, and shift [so that] a new understanding or forward movement may emerge.”

Amodeo turns to John Bowlby’s attachment theory, Emotionally Focused Therapy, and Eugene Gendlin’s technique of Focusing to help avoid these pitfalls and expand the feeling dimension of meditative practice. He believes that greater intimacy occurs when we bring emotions to the surface of awareness, thus checking the mistaken idea that meditation should lead us out of this world into some kind of detached state of nirvana. He repeatedly stresses that meditative practice should improve the intimate quality of loving relations rather than isolating us from one another. Psychological methods can augment meditation by helping transform social relationship into sacred experience.

Becoming more aware of feelings and sensations, says Amodeo, makes for a “juicy” life. The clarity and solid sense of ego helped by meditation enables us to keep a firm grip on ourselves and interact with people while maintaining a healthy degree of equanimity. As an experienced therapist, he points out the many ways people undermine intimacy and often get tangled  up in self-defeating, dysfunctional relationships. The only problem in this argument is that Buddhists are more interested in dissolving or altogether eliminating ego than making it more functional!

While Amodeo’s sentiment is appealing, he doesn’t sufficiently take into account the differences between Eastern meditation and Western psychology. The latter aims to heal or at least improve relations (attachments) between people, while the former seeks to transcend desire through nonattachment. Psychological intimacy brings us closer to satisfying our ego desires—a better marriage, security, forgiveness. Buddhists, on the other hand, have their sights set on transcending life. I agree that meditators should not alienate themselves or avoid others using meditation, but augmenting a Buddhist practice with psychological techniques that emphasize somatic and emotional experience confuses spiritual and psychological paradigms by putting at odds their respective goals.

Buddhists use meditation as a means of dissolving the subject-object relationship to experience samadhi, a state of pure awareness. Using this spiritual method, they seek to be liberated from this world of suffering. By contrast, psychology teaches ways of dealing with suffering in this life by engaging the object. Without addressing these differences, it is difficult to reconcile the desire for intimacy with the nonattachment of Buddhist philosophy.

With chapters composed of many subheadings no longer than a few paragraphs, the book makes for an interesting, fast-paced read. But this format doesn’t leave room for deeper exploration; a number of critical subjects, like the one above, could have used more elaboration. Ironically, the reader isn’t able to delve deeper and become more intimate with the subject.

Nevertheless, in the West, where intimacy is often perverted into clinging and craving behaviors, a practical combination of spirituality and psychology is sorely needed. To this end, Dancing with Fire is more than a self help book. It seeks to adapt contemplative practice to the proclivities of the Western mind by teaching us how to “be in this world, but not of it.”

Thom F. Cavalli

Thom F. Cavalli, Ph.D., is a practicing psychologist and author of Embodying Osiris: The Secrets of Alchemical Transformation (Quest) and Alchemical Psychology: Old Recipes for Living in a New World (Putnam). For more information about his work, visit CavalliBooks.com.


The Faraway Nearby
Rebecca Solnit 
New York: Viking, 2013. 259 pages, hardcover, $25.95.

Reading sometimes offers a chance to tag along on an author’s dark journey of the soul. As you proceed on a descent into the underworld, a straightforward and leisurely path all at once turns serpentine, then braids off into obscurity. You arrive in the midst of a shadowy wood and dismal night, no destination discernible. Panthers and wolves lurk in the gloom. You consider retracing your steps, starting over, but even this course leads to an impasse of doubt. Finally, you arrive at a sea of despair. Yet perseverance furthers. In the case of Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby, the reader is led into a literary labyrinth, only to discover “that in order to get to your destination you must turn away from it.”

Solnit, an accomplished essayist in the tradition of Michel de Montaigne, describes this, her fourteenth book, as a “history of an emergency and the stories that kept me company.” She is drawn to reading fairy tales for the “impossible tasks” the heroes must perform. “Enchantment in these stories is the state of being disguised, displaced in an animal’s body or another’s identity. Disenchantment is the blessing of becoming yourself.” Over the course of the book, Solnit’s attention roams where it will—through the spacious fields of history, religion, politics, and literature—establishing a compelling tension between these borrowed truths and the direct truth of her own experience as a writer, a daughter, a medical patient, and a traveler in the wider world. Her license is the authority of her prose.

The Faraway Nearby opens with the arrival of a hundred pounds of apricots on the narrator’s doorstep—three big boxes of them delivered from a tree in her mother’s yard. The mother at this point has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Her children—particularly the daughter-writer—are suffering the all-too-familiar trials of caregiving for an elderly parent, including finding her a new and secure home even as they prepare to sell the old one. “I thought of my mother as a book coming apart,” Solnit writes, “pages drifting away, phrases blurring, letters falling off, the page returning to pure white, a book disappearing from the back because the newest memories faded first, and nothing was being added.” As if the stress and strain of attending to a failing parent were not enough, Solnit herself receives a cancer diagnosis and he points out the many ways people undermine intimacy and often get tangled up in self-defeating, dysfunctional relationships. The only problem in this argument is that Buddhists are more interested in dissolving or altogether eliminating ego than making it more functional! While Amodeo’s sentiment is appealing, he doesn’t sufficiently take into account the differences between Eastern meditation and Western psychology. The latter aims to heal or at least improve relations (attachments) between people, while the former seeks to transcend desire through nonattachment. Psychological intimacy brings us closer to satisfying our ego desires—a better marriage, security, forgiveness. Buddhists, on the other hand, have their sights set on transcending life. I agree that meditators should not alienate themselves or avoid others using meditation, but augmenting a Buddhist practice with psychological techniques that emphasize somatic and emotional experience confuses spiritual and psychological paradigms by putting at odds their respective goals. Buddhists use meditation as a means of dissolving the subject-object relationship to experience samadhi, a state of pure awareness. Using this spiritual method, they seek to be liberated from this world of suffering. is suddenly propelled into what she laconically calls “my medical adventure.” The collapse of physical health long taken for granted lands her in “the country of the ill.”

The turning point in The Faraway Nearby comes with an unexpected invitation to visit Iceland. Yet the narrative takes considerable time in arriving there. Along the way, Solnit leads the reader across a wide range of subjects, including meditations on the nature of storytelling, the virtues of Buddhism, and the calamities now facing polar bears, just to name a few. Those readers who prefer that memoir take a less errant course in achieving its purposes may find these excursions distracting or even irrelevant. I for one did not, and as the author herself points out more than once, when it comes to the task of assaying one’s experience, “the route is seldom direct.”

Indeed, a kind of subterranean chapter runs across the bottom of the book’s pages, requiring the reader at the end to go back to the first page and follow this new thread across each of the book’s 259 pages. In both form and function, the essay that unfurls here serves as a poetic reprise of the book’s main themes.

As Solnit makes amply clear right from the start, “stories are compasses.” Our lives are guided by them, for good or for ill. Not only are happy endings unlikely, there may not be any endings at all, at least none that are clearcut. “Essayists too,” she reflects in the book’s closing pages, “face the temptation of a neat ending, that point when you bring the boat to shore and tie it to the dock and give up the wide sea.” Again, some readers might find such open-endedness discomfiting. Others— and I include myself among this lot—take refuge in having a chance to try it all again, to bring the boat about toward open waters, and see what might be in the offing.

John P. O’Grady

John P. O’Grady is the author of Grave Goods: Essays of a Peculiar Nature and Pilgrims to the Wild (both published by University of Utah Press). He lives in the Catskill Mountains of New York. 

 

 



Book Reviews 2011

Sufism and the Way of Blame: Hidden Sources of a Sacred Psychology
Yannis Toussulis
Wheaton: Quest, 2011. Paper, xxii + 282 pages, $18.95

Over the last twenty years, many excellent translations of Sufi texts have appeared in English, but few original studies have appeared that could truly be called groundbreaking. Most publications have tended to be extremely academic, or extremely popular and generalized, or specifically written for members of various Sufi schools, or tariqas.

Sufism and the Way of Blame is a unique and engaging original study that transcends all these categories, and is a work that will be valuable both to serious scholars and to general readers. Based on years of painstaking research and scholarship, the book is clearly written, and while presenting a wealth of detail and information, it remains easily accessible to the serious, interested reader. Sufism and the Way of Blame offers much in the way of new material to English-speaking readers, and is a discerning, reliable work, which will remain a serious and thought-provoking resource for many years to come.

What makes this work so unique is that it carefully documents the teachings of the Malamiyya, one of the most important but little-known schools within the Sufi tradition. Originating in Persian Sufism, the term Malamati refers to the “blameworthy ones” who shun the religious idolatry of sanctimonious egoism, in order to draw closer to the divine, even if that draws reproach or blame from others. The Malamatis thus practiced “perfect sincerity” (ikhlas) and “the nothingness of man before God.” In this way, Malamatis emphasize a characteristic of the great Sufis as a whole: an unwillingness to embrace the idolatry of religion at the expense of genuine spirituality.

One irony of the Islamic tradition over the centuries is the unreflective tendency of exoteric followers to make a “god” out of their religion so that religion at times becomes even more important than the experience of divine presence. And once religion becomes a god, so too does the personal ego. As the French novelist Anatole France once wrote, “It is the certainty that they possess the truth that makes men cruel.” However, this exaltation of religion and the self, common enough in all Western religious systems, violates the absolute monotheism and spiritual humility that characterizes both the Qur’an and the original message of the prophet Muhammad.

In this book, Yannis Toussulis provides a short history of the transmission of Sufism to the West, including a critical assessment of figures like G. I. Gurdjieff and Idries Shah and the myths they propagated, which is especially valuable given the author’s access to background information about these figures. In the case of Idries Shah, this information he shares is otherwise unavailable. Toussulis also critically discusses different approaches to Sufism, including those of the Perennialist and Traditionalist schools.

The author then provides a history of the Malamati tradition in Sufism, spanning several chapters, with a particular emphasis on the Turkish tradition of Pir Nur al-Arabi (1813–88). Living at a time when the Ottoman Empire was in decline, Nur al-Arabi worked to adapt Sufism to the contemporary world, an approach that has been a characteristic of the school since his time. While little-known to outsiders and even to academic specialists, in Turkey the Malamiyya has functioned as a kind of Sufi “supra-order”; many members are shaykhs (teachers) of different tariqas, and it has functioned as a kind of Sufi graduate school, if you will pardon the expression. (Nur al-Arabi himself was a shaykh of the Naqshbandi order.) In a chapter on its twentieth-century representatives, several illuminating interviews are offered with Mehmet Selim, a current, English-speaking representative of the Nuriyya-Malamiyya based in Istanbul.

In the last and perhaps most valuable section of the book, Toussulis carefully outlines “The Seven Stations of Wisdom” as taught by the Nuriyya- Malamiyya, which provides a map of human psychospiritual development. Another extremely valuable section is the appendix, which contains the translation of a short work by Pir Nur al-Arabi entitled “The Testament of the Righteous,” which outlines the highest stages of mystical realization. Ultimately, within the Sufi tradition, God’s creation of the world is a continuous, unfolding event; and the realized human being, through purification and training, is able to attain a state in which he or she is able to witness this creative unfolding of the world, not from a human perspective, but from the perspective of the divine.

Sufism and the Way of Blame benefits not only from the author’s meticulous research and critical discernment, but also from his many years of contact with important teachers within the contemporary world of Turkish Sufism, especially Mehmet Selim Öziç, an inheritor of the Malamati Sufi lineage tracing itself back to Pir Nur al-Arabi.

Writing as both a scholar and as someone who knows the field of Sufism as a well-informed insider, Yannis Tossulis provides the reader with a fasci nating, insightful exploration of one of the most important but least understood lineages of Sufism, and one that is still active in the contemporary world. He discusses the contributions that Sufism can make to contemporary spirituality and to interfaith understanding, and he presents with real clarity the classical aims of Sufi training—a clarity that is often lacking in other volumes.

David Fideler

David Fideler is cotranslator of Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition. He is currently researching a book about the history of religious pluralism in Sarajevo, Bosnia.


 

Sharing the Light: The Collected Articles of Geoffrey Hodson
edited by John and Elizabeth Sell and Roselmo Z. Doval Santos
Quezon City, Philippines: Theosophical Publishing House, 2008. Two volumes. Hardcover, xxxvii + 1889 pages, $59.

Geoffrey Hodson (1886–1983) ranks among the Theosophical Society’s most respected teachers, lecturers, and writers. In addition to serving as director of studies at the School of the Wisdom at the TS headquarters in Adyar, he taught at the Krotona Institute of Theosophy and was a featured speaker at many Theosophical conventions around the world. The lecture series he presented at Krotona in 1972 attracted students from throughout southern California, and were praised for their clarity, inspiration, and common-sense approach to human problems.

A highly gifted clairvoyant, Hodson worked with physicians and scientists to investigate the mysteries of the physical world. This research culminated in perhaps his most famous book, The Kingdom of the Gods, a groundbreaking investigation of the angelic kingdom, complete with dazzling color drawings of his clairvoyant observations. A devoted Gnostic and priest in the Liberal Catholic Church, Hodson was extremely knowledgeable about the Christian faith, and wrote numerous books on esoteric Christianity, including his landmark four-volume series The Hidden Wisdom in the Holy Bible.

In addition to having authored at least forty-six books and thirty-seven booklets, Hodson wrote hundreds of articles, making him the most prolific Theosophical writer of the twentieth century. Like his books, which have been praised for their clear and accessible style, most of his articles were based on original research. They appeared in Theosophical journals in Australia, India, the United States, New Zealand, and South Africa between 1927 and the late 1980s.

In keeping with Hodson’s broad and eclectic range of personal and professional interests, his articles covered a vast array of subjects, ranging from Theosophical teachings and their practical application to poetry, Maori esotericism, mystical Christianity, yoga, reincarnation, war and peace, health and healing, the angelic kingdom, Theosophical solutions to world problems, clairvoyant research with physicians and scientists, animal rights, and ways to promote and teach Theosophy. A number of articles included personal observations about the TS itself and some of its leaders, as well as insights into world figures including Jiddu Krishnamurti, John F. Kennedy, and the Dalai Lama.

Aware that many of Hodson’s writings for periodicals could become lost to both present and future generations, John and Elizabeth Sell, two prominent members of the New Zealand Section, devoted nearly four years of six-day workweeks tracking down, collecting, and editing nearly all of his published articles. Many have never been read by the vast majority of Theosophical students. The Theosophical Publishing House in the Philippines has published this extraordinary collection in two beautifully bound volumes containing nearly 2000 pages of text and illustrations.

Organizing the collected material was obviously a major challenge for the compilers, who divided more than 400 individual articles into thirteen sections, including “Spirituality and the Path of Discipleship,” “Theosophical Teachings,” “Clairvoyant Investigations,” “Ceremonial and Symbolism,” “The Keys to Health and Healing,” and “Presenting and Promoting the Wisdom Teachings.” A detailed glossary of terms has been constructed along with a comprehensive index (which alone totals forty pages), making what could have been an unwieldy assemblage of highly diverse material easily accessible to readers.

This astounding collection is a banquet of material for both individual and group study. Titles include “Ten Ways to Attract the Attention of the Masters,” “Meditation: the Elixir of Life,” “Clairvoyant Diagnosis of Disease,” “Earthquake in California,” “The Practice of World Brotherhood,” “The Monadic Purpose: Finding One’s Life Work,” “Art Modes of the Future,” “Theosophy for the Lawyer,” “Theosophy and the World’s Economists,” “Mind Radio: Thought Projection,” “Radiation of Power,” and “Before Himalayan Snows.”

One of my personal favorites was “Impressions of the Giant Sequoias,” in which the author describes these magnificent trees through a clairvoyant’s unique perspective. Another was “Our Work,” an article published in Theosophy in Australia, which discusses the lodge library as a center of occult power and the special role entrusted to the librarian to help individual readers select the most appropriate reading materials for their spiritual development.

The teachings found in the vast majority of articles are just as applicable today as when they were first written. In “What Are We Going to Build?” (published in The American Theosophist towards the end of the Second World War) Hodson calls upon us to become more aware of our personal responsibilities as students of Theosophy and “builders of the New Age”:

All our daily activities from rising to retiring . . . are of profound spiritual importance both to ourselves and to our fellow men. Every human activity, collective and individual, is Divine activity, an expression of Divine life, ruled by Divine Law. This is the great truth which humanity as a whole must one day acknowledge.

In addition to his articles, Sharing the Light includes a number of inspiring invocations that Hodson often used in his personal meditations and healing work. Readers will also delight at rare photographs of Hodson taken with family, friends, and colleagues at the TS. Many of these photos have never been published before.

Given the tremendous range of subjects presented in these volumes, many readers will be primarily attracted to specific themes for personal study and reflection. At the same time, much of the material presented in Sharing the Light can be utilized for group study in lodges and study centers.

While not a small investment, Sharing the Light presents a wealth of original, eclectic, and valuable teachings that will both challenge and inspire. In addition to becoming a valuable part of every lodge and study center library, it can be a timeless resource for every serious student of Theosophy.

Nathaniel Altman

The reviewer has been a member of the Theosophical Society in America since 1970. He was a student of Geoffrey Hodson at the Krotona School of Theosophy in 1972.


 

The Audible Life Stream: Ancient Secret of Dying While Living
Alistair Conwell
Brooklyn, N.Y.: O Books, 2010. Paper, 259 pages, $24.95

Alistair Conwell’s scholarly and poetic work explores the phenomenon of the audible life stream, or the primordial sound current of the universe. Sound is presented as a messenger offering guidance from otherworldly realities. Testimonials from those who have had out of body and near-death experiences, quotations from classical religious texts, and references to quantum physics are presented to explain the potential for the expansion of consciousness by attunement to the sounds that reverberate around us always. Readers who are facing the grieving process, as well as those who seek understanding and a peaceful acceptance of the inevitability of death, will be especially uplifted by this highly original volume.

Dikki-Jo Mullen

The reviewer is a Florida-based astrologer and spiritual counseler.


 

Barbarian Rites: The Spiritual World of the Vikings and Germanic Tribes
Hans-Peter Hasenfratz Translated by Michael Moynihan
Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2011. Paper, xi + 164 pages, $16.95

For reasons both good and bad, the religion of the pre-Christian Germanic tribes exercise a fascination on the modern mind. Unfortunately, a clear picture of what these tribes practiced and believed has been hard to come by.

One reason is a shortage of sources. During the period in question, from roughly 200 bc to ad 1000, most of these tribes were preliterate. Since literacy generally coincided with conversion to Christianity, the vast majority of written sources come from a time after Christianization, and it is sometimes hard to tell what kinds of alterations this produced in the myths and sagas. Was the famous sacrifice of the god Odin on the World-Tree Yggdrasil, for example, a genuine Germanic myth, or was it somehow an echo of the sacrifice of Christ?

Admittedly, there are a few texts from pre-Christian times. One of the most important is the Germania (“Germany”) by the Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus, written around ad 100, a short work that can be reckoned as one of the first anthropological treatises ever written. Other sources include the Old English poem Beowulf and archaeological artifacts, some of which bear a few scraps of writing in runes, the quasi-magical Germanic alphabet, but most of which are mute.

But there is another reason that the Germanic tribes have been hard to approach. They have been mythologized in ways both benign and sinister. As Hans-Peter Hasenfratz points out in this learned but readable study, part of Tacitus’s agenda was to portray the Germanic tribes of his day (whom the Romans were never able to subdue) as epitomes of the ancient martial virtues that he believed Rome had lost. A far more familiar, and more malign, use was that of the Nazis, who claimed to be reviving the spirit of the Germans’ ancient forebears.

Thus Hasenfratz’s book is particularly welcome. The author is a professor emeritus of the history of religion at Germany’s Ruhr University, so he comes well-equipped to sift through the evidence in a balanced and impartial way. Barbarian Rites gives a brief, general survey of the religion of the ancient Germanic tribes, including the populations of present-day Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia, and the Low Countries. He devotes considerable attention to the Age of the Vikings (ad 800-1100), not only because of the intrinsic interest of the period but because so many of our sources come from that time. But he is remarkably judicious in evaluating the evidence. He points out, for example, that the bloodthirsty aspects of Viking religion may have been partly a reflection of the warlike times and that our picture of Germanic religion may have looked somewhat different if we had more evidence from more peaceable periods in the tribes’ history.

Another strength of this work is that Hasenfratz does not sentimentalize his subjects. He portrays them as he sees them, and the portrait is a stark one. A “straw death”—dying peacefully in bed—was considered contemptible; it was far more glorious to die in battle. Old people were frequently abandoned or dispatched as unnecessary mouths to feed, and human sacrifice was common. The grimmest version was the “blood eagle” ritual of the Vikings, in which a living victim’s back was cut open, the ribs separated from the spine, and the lungs pulled out in such a way that they formed a pair of “wings”—presumably speeding his journey to the gods.

There are enough such details in this book to suggest that any attempt to revive the Germanic religion is misguided. Hasenfratz does not dwell at length at the largest and most ambitious of such attempts—the Nazi quasireligion of the Third Reich—but he does suggest how Nazi ideology was in some cases drawn from German antiquity. He notes, for example, that Hitler and Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg envisioned the Third Reich as an Ordenstaat—an “order-based state,” with a Führer (“leader”) chosen out of this order. (“Order” in this sense means an elite brotherhood of Nazis that was inspired by the ancient German institution of the Männerbund, a kind of male sodality with its own, often secret cultic rites and functions.) Below this elite order would be the classes of ordinary Nazi party members and, at the bottom, the sheeplike masses.

Hasenfratz avoids moralizing about these facts, but for the reader, the lesson is clear. While we may enjoy the Germanic myths as expressed in the Icelandic sagas or the operas of Richard Wagner, a real restoration of these religions is neither possible (we know too little about them) nor desirable (what we know is too appalling). While the author may not have intended to sound a warning against Neopagan revivals of the ancient German cults, this is in the end one objective the book achieves.

Richard Smoley


 

Atlantis and the Cycles of Time: Prophecies, Traditions, and Occult Revelations
Joscelyn Godwin
Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2010, xii + 436 pages, $19.95

A new book from Joscelyn Godwin is always a cause for celebration. There are few scholars in the field of esotericism who are both as readable and as reliable as Godwin. His 1994 book, The Theosophical Enlightenment, was a particularly masterful overview of the occult subculture in the English-speaking world of the nineteenth century.

Atlantis and the Cycles of Time takes a much more tightly focused look at one recurring meme within the occult universe: Atlantis, the legendary lost continent that supposedly sank in prehistoric times, some say because of the inhabitants’ misuse of occult power. The book’s final two chapters also provide a brief overview of various schematic cycles of time that have seized the imaginations of occultists, theologians, and New Agers.

There is a paradoxical quality to this book of which potential readers should be aware. If one particular interpretation of the Atlantis myth looms large in your personal belief system, Godwin’s book may cause a mild crisis of faith, as he methodically summarizes the numerous Atlantis myth variations, most of them based on either clairvoyant revelations or bold assertions of authority on the part of authors. It is difficult to come out the other end of these variations without feeling that all are equally valid or, perhaps more likely, equally suspect.

On the other hand, unless you find Atlantis intrinsically fascinating, this book may be too much of a good thing, as it delivers plenty of well-organized detail on the Atlantis story, but almost no justification for why one should care.

One has the sense, more so than in any other Godwin book, that the author felt obliged to write it—perhaps to share years’ worth of research—but didn’t experience much pleasure in doing so. Godwin’s usual relish for the odd detail and his dry wit in relating the obviously ludicrous with a straight face are still present, but are mostly drowned out by the deluge of data comparing British, German, French, Theosophical, channeled, and New Age versions of Atlantis.

As a reference work, this book performs a useful public service: should you wish to compare, say, H. P. Blavatsky’s Atlantis with that of Fabre d’Olivet or Dion Fortune, Godwin summarizes each, and the book’s index facilitates further cross-comparisons. But as a cover-to-cover read, Atlantis and the Cycles of Time feels a bit like a long march through a stack of file cards.

The final chapters on various systems of cyclic time—the Hindu yugas, the Four Ages (Golden to Iron), astrological ages, and so on—are useful for their attempt to make sense out of further contradictory esoteric schemes.

Yet when all is said and done, does it really matter whether Atlantis existed as a historical location once upon a time or whether there really was a Golden Age tens of thousands of years ago? Godwin doesn’t directly answer these questions, but the cumulative implication is that it matters not.

If the essence of a spiritual orientation is simply to practice compassion for others and to minimize the grandstanding of one’s own ego, these can be practiced regardless of religious beliefs, esoteric revelations, or grand abstract systems of time and cosmology.

Yes, the Atlantis myth can serve as a warning against the hubris of humankind and as a reminder of the impermanence of life. But like all great myths, it conveys its lessons whether strictly factual or not. Godwin, I suspect, would agree.

Jay Kinney

Jay Kinney was publisher and editor in chief of Gnosis magazine during its fifteen-year span. His recent book, The Masonic Myth (Harper Collins), has been translated into five languages.


 

Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia
Andrei Znamenski
Wheaton: Quest, 2011, xix + 257 pp., paper, $16.95.

Thanks in large measure to H.P. Blavatsky, James Hilton, author of Lost Horizon, and any number of more recent New Age authors, a prevalent image of Shambhala in the West today is of a legendary kingdom, pure and harmonious, located in an ideal mountain valley somewhere psychogeographically to the north of India, where spiritually advanced people enjoy long, blissful lives, and from whence benevolent god-men periodically emerge to guide the rest of the world’s spiritual development.

In Red Shambhala, Andrei Znamenski discovers a less familiar side to this Buddhist legend, in which cruelty, depravity, and murderous political machinations form potholes on the eightfold path to enlightenment.

With a strong scholarly background, both Russian and American, in Siberian and Central Asian shamanism, Znamenski provides a valuable historical analysis of the concept of Shambhala from its Tibetan Buddhist origins through its analogues with Mongol and Buryat legends to the uses, both spiritual and political, made of it by a bizarre group of twentieth-century Russians and Soviet Central Asians. In presenting this story for the first time in English, Znamenski draws upon a growing body of Russian archival data, scholarship, analysis, and sometimes sensationalistic speculation that has emerged since perestroika.

According to Znamenski, a double nature—otherworldly and thisworldly, blissful and bloodthirsty—has been inherent in the concept of Shambhala from the beginning, but we in the West have long preferred to idealize the one side and ignore the other. While acknowledging the power of the bright Shambhala, for the purpose of this study Znamenski emphasizes the dark aspect and introduces a cast of characters attracted to it.

Three of these characters—the artist Nicholas Roerich, his wife, Helena, and their son George—will already be familiar to many readers, though perhaps not in the conspiratorial roles Znamenski assigns to them. The rest comprise a fascinating coterie of occultists, eccentric schemers, heterodox adventurers, and crazed warlords who usually appear as mere footnotes in standard histories of the period. These include Alexander Barchenko, an obscure esotericist and mystery writer who tried to convince high Soviet officials that Shambhala held the key to future Russian communist world domination. There was also Gleb Bokii, an early Bolshevik, head of a special section of the Soviet secret police practicing encryption and investigating the paranormal. Bokii, an ascetic, was at the same time a torturer, womanizer, and host of orgies for high party officials, as well as an expert in dialectical materialism and oriental occultism who ate dog meat as treatment for tuberculosis. Ja-Lama, a Kalmyk drifter, adventurer, and Asian rabble-rouser, claimed to be the reincarnation of an avenging Buddhist deity and grandson of a heroic Mongol prince. Boris Shumatsky, a Russian-Jewish, Buryat-speaking Bolshevik, headed the campaign to convert Central Asia to communism by exploiting Buddhist legends. Sergei Borisov, an Asian Bolshevik intellectual from the Altai region, active in the same movement to convert Mongolia, posed as a Buddhist pilgrim to Lhasa in an attempt to bolshevize the Dalai Lama. There was also Elbek-Dorji Rinchino, the Petersburg-educated first dictator of Soviet Mongolia, devoted to the pan-Mongol cause of uniting inner Asia by fusing communism and Tibetan Buddhist culture. Agvan Dorzhiev, a Siberian monk, tutor to the thirteenth Dalai Lama, and Tibetan ambassador to Russia, introduced Buddhism to Petersburg intellectuals, then joined the Bolsheviks in hopes of establishing a pan-Mongol Buddhist kingdom. The most contradictory of the lot was Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, a crazed, bloodthirsty Baltic Russian aristocrat who launched an anti-Bolshevik, anti-Semitic crusade with a ragtag army of vicious White guardsmen, Cossacks, and Buryat warriors to free Mongolia from both the Chinese and the Russians in order to establish a pure Buddhist kingdom from the Pacific to the Baltic and replace a rotten Western civilization with Shambhala.

The heyday for these doomed adventurers was the quarter-century from 1905 to 1930—years of revolution, civil war, and nation building, when various heterodox versions of socialism had not yet been hammered into orthodoxy. Occultism, mysticism, weird science, alternative lifestyles—for a short time, just about anything that appeared revolutionary and a repudiation of the past—could be tolerated, even promoted, within the Soviet system. But not for long. Of the characters treated in the book, only the Roerichs, by then American citizens, lived past 1938, the worst year of Stalin’s Great Terror.

By telling this story in readable, sometimes even colorful English, Andrei Znamenski has presented important material to a potentially wide international public. We can, however, still question certain points, particularly some of the more sensational, torture-induced testimony obtained as incriminating trial evidence. In Znamenski’s analysis, based in part on such testimony, the main thing about Shambhala is its role in the twentieth-century continuation of the “Great Game” for political domination over inner Asia.

Znamenski’s approach is in part a worthy attempt to correct a previous overemphasis on the unworldly dimensions of Shambhala. But he may go a bit far toward overcorrection. The visions and ambitions of the characters discussed certainly included Shambhala fever, but perhaps not to the degree claimed by Znamenski. This is especially true, I think, of the Roerichs. Artists, dreamers, mythmakers, utopians, yes, but not the budding Lenins with paintbrushes that Znamenski portrays. He writes: “Nicholas and Helena never thought in terms of emotions and friendship. The world was strictly divided into those who were useful and those who were useless. The people who surrounded them were just pawns in their schemes.” Really? A pervasive theme in Roerich’s work as painter, writer, scholar, and humanitarian is that spiritual culture trumps politics. Znamenski tries, perhaps too strenuously, to prove the opposite.

The Ukrainian author Nikolai Gogol once had a character say during an overenthusiastic debate: “Gentlemen, Alexander the Macedonian was indeed a great hero, but why smash the chairs?” Red Shambhala is a valuable book, but in places Gogol’s wisdom might be applicable.

George M. Young

The reviewer, a specialist in Russian literature and thought, is a fellow of the Center for Global Humanities at the University of New England.


 

Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together
The Dalai Lama
New York: Harmony, 2010. 208 pages, hardcover, $25.

In these days of controversy and divisiveness it is encouraging to hear the voices of those who speak out for unity and reconciliation. One such voice is that of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, whose recent book, Toward a True Kinship of Faiths, addresses the issue of religious tolerance. His Holiness urges the followers of all traditions to consider the possibility that their chosen approach to religious truth may not be the best choice for others.

This idea was not always appreciated by His Holiness, as he admits. He recollects that in his early days of isolation beyond the Himalayas, he was taught that Buddhism was the “only true religion.” The traditional curriculum of religious studies presented to young Tibetan monks included a study of the tenets of various philosophical systems, including those of non-Buddhist approaches, but the message was that these approaches were seriously flawed and that only Buddhism represented the pure and unadulterated truth.

This was all to change when His Holiness visited India in 1956. There, he says, he was exposed to an age-old culture of pluralism and to the influence of the Theosophical Society, in which religious inclusiveness has been a dominant theme since its foundation in 1875. Describing this experience, His Holiness writes: “My visit to the Theosophical Society in Chennai (then Madras) left a powerful impression. There I was first directly exposed to people, and to a movement, that attempted to bring together the wisdom of the world’s spiritual traditions as well as science. I felt among the members a sense of tremendous openness to the world’s great religions and a genuine embracing of pluralism. When I returned to Tibet in 1957, after more than three months in what was a most amazing country for a young Tibetan monk, I was a changed man. I could no longer live in the comfort of an exclusivist standpoint that takes Buddhism to be the only true religion.”

When finally forced to leave Tibet and to live as a refugee in India, His Holiness continued to pursue the idea of tolerance and interfaith dialogue. The present book is the product of his mature thought along these lines. In the first two chapters he explains the necessity for stepping outside the comfort zone of one’s own culture and for accepting a plurality of faiths that offer consolation and meaning to their followers. Chapters 3–6 consist of short commentaries on the traditions of Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Chapters 7–10 explain how the common teaching of compassion can provide a remedy for exclusivism and make possible genuine communication between the followers of the world’s religions. His proposal for unity is fourfold: dialogue among scholars; sharing of deep spiritual experiences between practitioners; high-profile meetings of religious leaders; and joint pilgrimage to holy places. All in all, this book is a good read, and its suggestions could offer a solution to one of the most serious problems facing mankind.

Doss McDavid

The reviewer is an adjunct professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and a longtime member of the Theosophical Society.


 

The Masters Speak: An American Businessman Encounters Ashish and Gurdjieff
Seymour B. Ginsburg
Wheaton: Quest, 2010. xi + 307 pp., paper, $18.95.

Seymour B. Ginsburg has written a useful book that might have been better titled “Notes on the Path to the Higher Self.” In fact there are no masters here, and they do not speak. What we have is the story of Ginsburg’s progression toward the higher Self. Beginning as a businessman (he was the first president of the Toys “R” Us chain), Ginsburg found himself increasingly dissatisfied with the “ruthless competition in the business world.” Finally, the shock caused by the death of his young wife in 1971 led him to question the foundations of life.

Ginsburg’s search initially led him to the writings of H. P. Blavatsky (he has long been involved in the Theosophical Society in southern Florida). In 1978 he journeyed to India, where he met Sri Madhava Ashish, a Scotsman (born Alexander Phipps; 1920–97) who had become a Hindu monk and was living in a small ashram in the foothills of northern India. Ashish is best known to Theosophists as coauthor (with his teacher, Sri Krishna Prem) of Man, the Measure of All Things, a commentary on the Stanzas of Dzyan in The Secret Doctrine. Writing on his own, Ashish also produced a sequel, Man, Son of Man. Ashish’s letters to Ginsburg over the following nineteen years form the core of The Masters Speak.

Around the time of his meeting with Ashish, Ginsburg was drawn to the ideas of the spiritual teacher G.I. Gurdjieff (1866?–1949). Gurdjieff was born of a Greek father and an Armenian mother and brought up in Kars, an area on the Turkish-Armenian border then recently incorporated into Russia and inhabited by a mixture of peoples: Greeks, Armenians, Turks, Kurds, each with its traditions, folklore, and faiths. As a young man, he traveled in search of wisdom to the Middle East and especially to Central Asia. Shortly before the outbreak of World War I, he went to Moscow and St. Petersburg and started speaking about what he had learned.

Much of Central Asian Sufism—a likely source of Gurdjieff’s teachings— is expressed through sacred dance. Gurdjieff disassociated the dances from their Islamic context, but not from their aim of self-awareness and self-observation. In regard to this approach, Ashish advised Ginsburg: “Your loyalty must be to the goal itself and nothing more or less. The ancient wisdom is nothing if it is not present here, present as a living reality and not merely as a series of texts and mouthed words. It is nothing to you unless you find it in yourself. . . . Dances, postures, movements, and other exercises may provide opportunities for identifying particular states of mind that will help you on your path, but you will not travel further by seeking out new exercises. All that you need is already in you.”

The Gurdjieff “Work” (as it is called) sets out some techniques for moving toward the higher Self. Gurdjieff was once asked what it would be like to have higher consciousness, and he replied, “Everything more vivid.” Since in Gurdjieff’s view the higher Self is a “more vivid” version of the lower self, it is with the components of the latter that the higher must be reached: the body, the chakras, the emotions, intuition, will, and the mind. The physical body is the most concrete of these components, and thus it is used as a starting-point for much of the Gurdjieff work, as the mind is often the starting- point for many Buddhist schools. Despite these differences, there is wide agreement that, as Ashish advised, “The path is inward, inward into the heart of your own being, the center of your own being. . . . When in doubt, go to the source—namely meditate, cultivate awareness, hold back from unnecessary activities, don’t let the mind run on recriminations and self-justifications. . . . Seek for the thing where it is—within.”

The passage to the higher Self is usually gradual. For some, there can be a dramatic breakthough, such as a powerful dream or an experience of wholeness and unity. But for most people, segments of the old Self will fall away more gradually: the emotions are refined; intuition becomes clearer, the will more focused, the mind a better servant. As Ashish writes, “When the condition of the Higher Self is reached, the individuality does not vanish; personality is illuminated in every aspect and can play its true role, which is to bend and adapt to every changing need.”

The Gurdjieff groups with which Ginsburg was associated discouraged members from following more than one path at a time as well as from speaking about their experiences, doubts, or sentiments with those outside the group. Such prohibitions can lead to a sectarian approach, and in such a context one can easily become locked into a system. In response to these issues Ashish wrote to Ginsburg: “You’ve found the path. Travel it. Don’t let yourself be pulled away from it. Once you can get your aim clear, problems about how to live, what to do, how to reconcile the outer life with the inner, etc. begin to get straightened out. This is why I try to get people to clarify their inner aim first. . . . Our work is so difficult that we need every bit of help we can get. It really does not matter where or from whom we take help, provided that we have enough intelligence and a clear enough view of our goal to be able to take help that is consonant with our aim and to reject those components that are contrary to it.”

It is always useful to follow the story of the spiritual development of others. This is no substitute for one’s own steps on the path, but it is always helpful to know that one is not alone.

René Wadlow

The reviewer is editor of the online journal Transnational Perspectives (www.transnationalperspectives.org), which focuses on world politics and social policy.


 

The Secret Doctrine Commentaries: The Unpublished 1889 Instructions [of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky]
Transcribed and annotated by Michael Gomes
The Hague: I.S.I.S. Foundation, 2010. xvi + 687 pp., hardcover, $103.10.

The publisher of this work is not the Egyptian goddess, but the International Study-centre for Independent Search for Truth of the Dutch Point Loma Theosophical Society, which has done a notable work in making this book available.

Shortly after the publication of her major work, The Secret Doctrine, in 1888, H. P. Blavatsky met with a few of her students to explore their many and confused questions about that book. Those meetings were recorded by a stenographer, but until now only a severely edited version of the first twelve sessions had been published. This volume is a full transcription of all twenty-two sessions held during the first six months of 1889. As such, it is an invaluable guide to the study of HPB’s major work and, in repeated spots, a delightful read because of the informal nature of the discussions and the witty interchange between HPB and her disciples.

The editor of the volume, Michael Gomes, is one of our best Theosophical historians, noted for such works as The Dawning of the Theosophical Movement (Quest, 1987) and Theosophy in the Nineteenth Century: An Annotated Bibliography (Garland, 1994), as well as his excellent abridgments of HPB’s major works: Isis Unveiled (Quest, 1997) and The Secret Doctrine (New York: Tarcher Penguin, 2009). New as it is, this volume is clearly a major Theosophical classic, which every student of Theosophy needs to know and which even the casual reader can find informative and entertaining.

John Algeo

The reviewer is past president of the Theosophical Society in America and past vicepresident of the international Society.


 

Pavel Florensky, A Quiet Genius: The Tragic and Extraordinary Life of Russia’s Unknown da Vinci
Avril Pyman
New York: Continuum, 2010. xxiii + 304 pages, hardcover, $29.95.

One of the most remarkable but least known figures in the Russian spiritual renaissance of the early twentieth century, Pavel Florensky (1882–1937) was a polymath genius. An ordained Russian Orthodox priest, he made wide-ranging and seminal contributions to mathematics, physics, electrodynamics, folkloristics, philology, marine botany, art history, earth science, philosophy, theology, and esotericism that were part of his lifelong quest for a comprehensive worldview that would unite science, religion, and art; reason and faith; Orthodox tradition and futuristic thaumaturgy. Works by and about Florensky, long suppressed, have only in recent years begun to reappear, and Avril Pyman’s fine book is the first extensive study of him in English.

Especially valuable are her chapters on Florensky’s family and early years, disclosing the Armenian, Georgian, and Azerbaijanian contributions to his breadth of culture and soul. Pyman also describes Florensky’s deep Platonic friendships with a series of brilliant young men; his unromantic but happy marriage to a good woman from a simple peasant background; his devotion to his family; his happiness in daily service as parish priest; and later, after his arrest in Stalin’s terror, his iconic stature among his fellow gulag prisoners. In all this, Pyman helps us see Florensky not only as an extraordinary genius but also as an exceptionally good man.

Although the book generally gives a clearer picture of the man than of his ideas, Pyman does provide valuable guidance to Florensky’s difficult spiritual classic, hThe Pillar and Ground of the Truth, and helps unravel his profound but challenging ideas, such as the connection between discontinuity in non-Euclidian mathematics and the semiheretical Russian spiritual practice of imiaslavie (name worship). Indeed, Florensky’s great theme was the relationship of the latest advances in mathematics and physics to the deepest traditions of mystical Orthodox spirituality. The image that sticks is of Father Pavel in a worn white priest’s cassock lecturing about electrification projects to workers and uniformed communists in a village classroom with a bust of Lenin beside the podium.

Florensky died in Stalin’s gulag in 1937. The publication that led to his last arrest and eventual execution was a paper arguing that the geometry of imaginary numbers predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity for a body moving faster than light is the geometry for the kingdom of God. Even while serving his sentences in Siberia and in the furthest north, Florensky continued to conduct important scientific research on permafrost and on the extraction of iodine from seaweed. Though unable to conduct religious services in the gulag, he did serve as shepherd, friend, and comforter to his fellow inmates.

If, as it should be, this excellent book is eventually reprinted, a few minor errors could be corrected. In the useful glossary of names, and elsewhere in the text, the birth year of the Russian thinker Nikolai Fedorov should be 1829; the name of Fedorov’s friend and follower should be Vladimir Aleksandrovich (not Valentin Alekseevich) Kozhevnikov; and the birth year of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel should be 1770.

George M. Young

The reviewer, a specialist in Russian literature and thought, is adjunct in English and language studies and fellow of the Center for Global Humanities at the University of New England.


“Freemasonry” and Ritual Work: Collected Works of Rudolf Steiner, vol. 265
Rudol f Steiner, introduction by Christopher Bamford, translated by John Wood.
Great Barrington, Mass.: SteinerBooks, 2007. lxii + 569 pages, paper, $35.

As you may already be aware, Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925) was a German clairvoyant and esoteric teacher who was originally head of the German branch of the Theosophical Society, but because of differences with the Adyar TS, split off the German branch in 1912 and redubbed it the Anthroposophical Society. Thus his spiritual orientation certainly drew upon and overlapped with that of Theosophy, but his extensive “karmic research” led him to develop a cosmology, theology, and esotericism that were uniquely his own.

The material in this book covers much of Steiner’s correspondence, ritual texts, and his students’ lecture notes pertaining to his development of a “Misraim Service” or “Cognitive Ritual” representing his own take on Freemasonry. This is not without interest, as Steiner’s interpretations of esoteric matters are invariably creative, although staggeringly complex. (For those wondering why “Freemasonry” is in quote marks in the book’s title, I’d hazard the guess that the publisher wanted to underscore Steiner’s unique philosophical approach to Freemasonry. Hence this book doesn’t deal with realworld, everyday Freemasonry, but with Steiner’s “Freemasonry.” Potential readers should keep this in mind.)

The Memphis-Misraim degrees were the product of the merging of two supposedly “Egyptian” Masonic degree systems originally founded c. 1800. (Misraim is Hebrew for “Egypt.”) With as many as ninety-six degrees offered, Memphis-Misraim implied that it delivered the highest and most esoteric Masonic goods. In reality, it was almost entirely a paper organization, whose degree rituals were in most cases probably never actually performed.

Helpfully, Christopher Bamford’s forty-eight-page introduction provides a contextual overview of both Steiner’s thought and the fringe Masonic milieu out of which the Misraim Service evolved. Bamford has a gift for discussing Steiner in a lucid fashion, avoiding the use of too much undefined Anthroposophical jargon. While I don’t agree with every point that Bamford makes—he relies on some books and authors about Freemasonry that I consider flawed, for instance—he clearly sets out a scenario that is accessible to a wider circle of readers than just Anthroposophists.

This book is admirable in many ways, and yet it is bound to be baffling to readers who aren’t thoroughly acquainted with both Steiner’s teachings and the confusing ins and outs of Freemasonic history and lore. By its nature, this collection is not something that most people will avidly read cover-to-cover; it functions as more of an exhaustive reference work and compendium to be dipped into for sparks of inspiration and nuggets of obscure information.

One such nugget is a letter of Steiner’s that clarifies his relationship to Theodor Reuss, best known as head of the Ordo Templi Orientalis (OTO), the magical order made famous by Aleister Crowley. Steiner received an organizational charter in 1906 from Reuss’s fringe Masonic Memphis and Misraim Rite. Details in Bamford’s introduction, cross-referenced with the actual contract between Reuss and Steiner included among the book’s documents, suggest that Steiner’s relationship with Reuss was basically a business arrangement allowing Steiner to align himself with the quasi-Egyptian Masonry of Memphis-Misraim. In return, Steiner would kick back initiation fees to Reuss for the first hundred candidates that Steiner might initiate, after which Steiner would be an independent Masonic entrepreneur.

Steiner, of course, provides an esoteric spin to this arrangement while distancing himself from any association with Reuss other than a “purely . . . business arrangement.” Indeed, Steiner’s “Misraim Service” and degrees are alleged to be solely of his own esoteric inspiration without any relationship to the original Memphis-Misraim degrees (or earlier iterations). In a manner of speaking, he licensed the “Egyptian Masonry” brand, but provided his own secret sauce.

With the publication of this book, researchers now have the opportunity to ascertain Steiner’s relationship to “Egyptian” Masonry and its significance within his own esoteric system. I’ll merely observe that whatever his jumping-off points (such as Theosophy or fringe Masonry), Steiner’s progression in his teachings and “researches” invariably followed his own unique perspective.

Just how much one values that perspective depends on the degree of one’s faith in Steiner as a clairvoyant and sage. Be that as it may, “Freemasonry” and Ritual Work provides a wealth of material and information hitherto unavailable in English translation.

Jay Kinney

Jay Kinney was publisher and editor in chief of Gnosis Magazine during its fifteen-year span. His recent book, The Masonic Myth (HarperCollins), has been translated into five languages.


 

Jung the Mystic: The Esoteric Dimensions of Carl Jung’s Life and Teachings
Gary Lachman
New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2010. 258 pages, hardcover, $24.95.

Anne Tyler wrote, “Things are changed by what comes after,” and nothing could be more apt to say about the life of the great Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung. The first generation of his followers, those who knew him, are all passed away, yet Jung’s ideas live on at a level that that generation’s world could not have understood or accepted. Now comes Gary Lachman’s outstanding new biography, Jung the Mystic, and this is a book whose time has come indeed. Lachman himself (a long-time Quest contributor) is a man of the current generation, since he started out in his youth as a musician with the band Blondie (for which he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) before a serious change of career turned him into an accomplished scholar and biographer of esotericists such as Rudolf Steiner and G.I. Gurdjieff.

Lachman’s past seems to have prepared him well for this present work, and it is indeed an important one, as he discloses how Jung broke the limitations of psychiatry and offered the world a glimpse into other dimensions bordering on spiritual gnosis. As such, Jung earned the informal title of “Prophet for the Age of Aquarius,” the era we are already in the process of entering. Chronicling the life of such a man is no small feat, but one Lachman does with competent objectivity. The result is impressive.

The book is true to the facts of Jung’s life as described in other biographies, but with a twist. Lachman traces the origins of Jung’s mysticism, his tormented rejection of them, and the resulting conflict between the rational “Professor Herr Doktor” and the apparently nonrational mystic. The conflict resulted in a psychotic break, consciously observed and recorded, and the personal suffering endured while continuing his life as a therapist, a husband, a father, and a distinguished worldwide lecturer and world traveler! The two most important women in Jung’s life–his understanding, wise, and patient wife, Emma, and his mistress and soror mystica, Toni Wolff–are both partakers in Lachman’s account. The result is a tour de force and gives us a fresh portrait of one outstanding man of his time.

Lachman also introduces us to many important and creative people who are fortunately still with us. Sonu Shamdasani is just one of them, the editor of the glorious edition of Jung’s personal journal, The Red Book, now attracting worldwide attention, and which dominated the cover of The New York Times Magazine only last year.

I was particularly intrigued by the chapter that described Jung’s role helping the Allies in World War II, in which he collaborated with the American agent Allen W. Dulles (who later became the first head of the Central Intelligence Agency) in preparing psychological profiles of the leaders of the Third Reich. Dulles was later quoted as saying, “Nobody will probably ever know how much Professor Jung contributed to the Allied cause during the war.” As I was a teenager in Switzerland at the time, the chapter has some personal interest, mentioning quite a few people my parents knew and and whom I remember meeting.

Jung became depressed at times, fearing no one would understand what he was trying to give the world. He might have been greatly cheered had he known that one Gary Lachman, fifty years later, would lift the curtain on one of the most important aspects of his remarkable life and offer us such a fair and objective account of his life and work, warts and all. I believe that this book proves, without a doubt, that things are indeed changed by what comes after. Bravo to a superb achievement!

Alice O. Howell

Alice O. Howell is author of The Dove in the Stone, The Web in the Sea, and The Heavens Declare: Astrological Ages and the Evolution of Consciousness, all published by Quest Books.


 

Thriving in the Crosscurrent: Clarity and Hope in a Time of Cultural Sea Change
Jim Kenney
Wheaton: Quest, 2010. 253 pages, paper, $16.95.

In this book, Jim Kenney outlines the shift of values and structures as humanity moves into the Age of Aquarius. “We live in a time of transition from mechanistic and reductionist models of experience to models that may be characterized as holistic,” he tells us.

Kenney calls this period of transition a “sea change”—that rare time when old values and beliefs withdraw and a new wave of values and beliefs arise. He uses the image of two waves on the ocean of life. “Imagine an ocean moment: two waves converging in the same time and space. One is powerful but subsiding, the other just gathering momentum and presence but not yet cresting. At the moment of their meeting they are nearly equal in amplitude and influence. As they cross, who can say which is rising, which descending? In that moment only the chaos of wave interference exists. . . . What we are experiencing today is the seemingly chaotic complexity of a genuine sea change.”

As Kenney argues, it is necessary for leaders to discern the differences between the incoming and the outgoing waves. The newer wave has momentum and direction on its side. As Ewert Cousins, an observer of religious trends, writes, “Forces which have been at work for centuries, have in our day reached a crescendo that has the power to draw the human race into a global network and the religions of the world into a global spiritual community.”

The New Age wave has cumulative power, as countless independent variations in thought and action begin to converge. “As activists around the world have learned, the paths that lead to peace, justice and ecological sustainability are intimately intertwined.” The New Age draws much of its energy from its emphasis on synergy—parts working together for the common good. As the anthropologist Gregory Bateson has written, our task is to discover “the pattern that connects,” the wholeness underlying the diversity. This implies thinking in terms of patterns and wholeness, of interconnections and reawakening.

There are four clusters of attitudes and practices that are the marks of the new wave: nonviolent conflict resolution, universal human rights, social and economic justice, and ecological sustainability. As these continue to gain power, Kenney writes, negative aspects of the old wave will lose amplitude; these include the legitimacy of war and imperialism, racism and patriarchy, the exploitation of the majority for the benefit of a powerful minority, and pollution and the exploitation of nature.

The new values and practices thus threaten established structures of power. The opposition to the new wave is centered in the determination of the old holders of power to preserve the structures of wealth and influence that have served them so well. Thus, Kenney observes, “militants are to be found at every point of resistance to real cultural evolutionary advance. Their world view is simplistic but powerfully motivating. It takes shape in antipathy, in the creation of lists of enemies responsible for the cultural disempowerment and disorientation that poison their lives.”

Nonetheless, Kenney says, the defenders of the old age are on “the wrong side of history.” There is an ever-growing network of groups, nongovernmental organizations, intergovernmental agencies, and committed individuals who are striving every day to build a better world on the basis of cooperation, fairness, solidarity, and creativity. New forms of society are being assembled.

As Kenney has written, “in the context of human cultural advance, we can predict the emergence of progressive new values in every key sector but not their precise shape. Sufficient indicators are already in place, for example, to argue for the likely emergence of evolved human attitudes toward war and peace, injustice and justice, ecological degradation and stewardship. We cannot predict the precise forms these new values will take. We can, however, persuasively argue that they will involve new levels of creative complexity, awareness of interdependence, and— most important—integration of the principle fields of human inquiry and endeavour.” Jim Kenney has written a clear guide to this coming new wave.

René Wadlow

The reviewer is editor of the online journal Transnational Perspectives (www. transnationalperspectives.org), which focuses on world politics and social policy.


 

 

 


Book Reviews 2010

Consciousness from Zombies to Angels: The Shadow and the Light of Knowing Who You Are
Christian de Quincey
Rochester, Vt.: Park Street Press, 2009. 304 pp., paper, $18.95.

The quest to understand human consciousness might be compared to a treasure hunt, but I like to think of it more as a butterfly chase. The problem, of course, is that it's a case of human consciousness chasing itself, and so we are immediately faced with a quandary the poet Lew Welch described as groping around in the dark looking for a flashlight when all you need the flashlight for is to find your flashlight. And so if you plan to go after the darkling prize of human consciousness, you better have a good net. To that end, Christian de Quincey recommends we turn to philosophy. His latest book presents a compelling, albeit quirky, case for using it to outfit consciousness in order to catch itself.

De Quincey, a professor of philosophy and consciousness studies at John F. Kennedy University, has written what he calls a "step-by-step 'owner's guide'" for the mind. In the opening pages, he offers a caveat: "Reading this book is likely to challenge some of your basic assumptions about who you are, about the world you live in, and how it all fits together." Indeed, this book could very well unsettle some of its readers, but all of them are in for a bracing ride as de Quincey navigates the foaming waters at the confluence of science, philosophy, and spirituality. In response to the central question—"what is consciousness and how does it work in the world?"—he offers "seven steps to transforming your life." This smacks a bit too much of self-help gimmickry, but, thanks to the author's depth of knowledge and intellectual rigor, the book manages to succeed nevertheless.

The volume is divided into three main sections, each focused on a different mode that human beings use to know themselves and the world. De Quincey refers to these ways of knowing as "gifts," three distinct epistemological styles that he gathers under the headings of philosophical, scientific, and mystical. The first two sections lay the groundwork. Part one—"The Philosopher's Gift"—provides a succinct review of some key philosophical problems that confront anybody who delves into the nature of consciousness, not the least of which is the problem of language. De Quincey also touches on the problems of "other minds" (i.e., it's not "all about me"), the mind-body connection, and free will versus determinism. The considerably lengthier part two, titled "The Scientist's Gift," examines what contemporary science has to say about that marvelous "three-pound universe," the human brain. Following in the footsteps of Carl Jung, de Quincey uses "the physical sciences not to explain the psyche but as a potentially rich source of metaphors."

This is exactly what happens in the heart of the book, part three—"The Mystic's Gift"—wherein chaos theory supplies de Quincey with analogies to convey his central purpose: to encourage as many people as he can to embark on the journey of spiritual transformation, which he says leads ultimately to "a realm beyond all language, beyond all concepts and ideas, and even beyond distinction between knower and known." An ample body of spiritual literature from both East and West suggests he is on to something here. The book is most engaging when pondering the role of "attractors," a term used in chaos theory to refer to the tendency of a system to fall spontaneously into a pattern. In de Quincey's hands, the attractor becomes a metaphor of wide applicability, suggesting how we are able to distill meaning from apparent meaninglessness. Consider the unavailing routine of everyday life. Unavailing? Not in de Quincey's view. "Our lives follow these swirling paths carved out by our own sets of strange attractors, swirling around a multiplicity of basins—for example, family, friends, work, church, club, hobby, pets, stores, politics, education, entertainment, media, and on and on. And with every strange attractor, we usually have nested systems of other strange attractors, many competing at cross-purposes. Think of all the goals, desires, wishes, and fears that drive us and orient our lives in different ways. Together, they all couple and merge to form the all-encompassing strange attractor that is our life." It would be difficult to find a clearer and more pertinent description of the mysterious causes and conditions that give rise to the extraordinary ordinariness of our daily lives.

Though nowhere does de Quincey mention the venerable William James, his book is very much indebted to James's tradition of generous-hearted, pragmatic spirituality. At one point, he echoes James's famous image of the stream of consciousness: "Let me be clear: When I use the word thought I mean an idea abstracted from the ongoing flow of experience." Other times he reminds me of Gary Zukav, and every once in a while of Alan Watts. Unfortunately, de Quincey is occasionally less than felicitous in his expression, as when we encounter passages that in their breeziness border on platitude: "We are active, voting shareholders in the cosmic corporation, cocreating the very next moment. Let's make it a good one." "You are not who you think you are." "Everything is connected to everything else—always." Sentences such as these fall short of the lofty goal de Quincey sets for himself and his readers: to get beyond "the narrow prism of the ego." Shopworn expressions won't do it. Nevertheless, a good deal of common-sense counsel and indeed wisdom run throughout the book.

Despite the maladroit moments, De Quincey serves as a companionable guide through some dense philosophical thickets, and he seems aware of his own limitations as a writer. "In places, my tone and style have been ironic, even irreverent. But my intentions have been serious throughout. I wanted to engage you, to appeal to your mind and your heart; for you to realize and appreciate with me the stupendously simple and profound gift of being that we are and have. What a privilege just to be alive, just to exist—and to be able to know and enjoy it!" In the end, this book catches no butterflies, but that was never its author's intention. He sets you up to do it for yourself.

John P. O'Grady

John P. O'Grady's latest contribution to Quest was "Shadow Gazing: On Photography and Imagination" in the Fall 2009 issue.


Echoes of the Orient: The Writings of William Quan Judge
compiled by Dara Eklund
Second edition. Pasadena, Calif.: Theosophical University Press, 2009. Two volumes, lxxx + 1209 pages, hardcover, $70.

When we recall the names of those prodigious talents whose life was cut short by untimely deaths, we are apt to have mixed feelings. While lamenting the premature loss of a sublime talent, we marvel at how much true genius can produce in a short span of time.

In 1896 the Theosophical world suffered such a loss with the death of William Quan Judge at the age of forty-four. The name of Judge may not be as well known as those of H. P. Blavatsky or Henry Steel Olcott, but it should be. Judge, along with Blavatsky and Olcott, was one of the original founders of the Theosophical Society in 1875. During his short lifespan he wrote fluidly on a broad spectrum of Theosophical topics. The two-volume set Echoes of the Orient brings together a wealth of material from his writings in various Theosophical journals and belongs in the library of any serious student of Theosophy.

Whereas many people find Blavatsky too difficult and Olcott somewhat prosaic, the writings of Judge are neither remote nor pedestrian. John Cooper's 1980 book review of the first edition of Echoes of the Orient, published in Theosophy in Australia, describes Judge's writing as "a simple, straightforward style, terse, and concerned to express what he believed were important truths." In another 1980 review, published in Sunrise, Will Thackara notes Judge's "exceptional ability to condense a powerful line of thinking into a single phrase, so that it acts as a seed in the reader's consciousness." Further praise was delivered by a contemporary of Judge, the Irish poet and mystic George Russell (AE), who described him as "a true adept in . . . sacred lore."

Volume one contains 168 articles from Judge's magazine, The Path, arranged chronologically and supplemented by his "Occult Tales." Volume two includes articles from The Irish Theosophist, Lucifer, and The Theosophist as well as Judge's "Hidden Hints in The Secret Doctrine," his lectures at the 1893 World Parliament of Religion, and replies to common questions put forth by Theosophical inquirers of the day. Improvements to the second edition include the correction of typographical errors, the updating of punctuation and foreign terms, an expanded index, and a larger font size for readability.

Perhaps the lesson to draw from the untimely passing of great souls is that there is little correlation between a productive life and a long life. Though the years allotted to William Quan Judge were few, his inspiring thoughts and words continue to echo through the corridors of time.

David P. Bruce

The reviewer is a long-time member of the Theosophical Society, for which he serves as director of education.

 

The Dice Game of Shiva: How Consciousness Creates the Universe
Richard Smoley
Novato, Calif.: New World Library, 2009. 214 pages, paper, $14.95.

Somewhere the Hindu sage Sri Ramana Maharshi challenges us with the following paradox:

Atman and the world are illusion.
Only Brahman is real.
Atman and Brahman are one.

The challenge of nondualism is venerable, even perennial. It is to demonstrate a unity that underlies the apparent duality of the universe. The word demonstrate is meant to appeal to a sense of higher reason, an awakened intelligence sensitive to the difference between the manifest and unmanifest, as well as to the pivot on which both turn. Such reason is an attainment, gradual or sudden, that opens our human perception of duality to the core reality, ineffable in the vigor of its energies.

In a sweeping survey, generously presented in both idea and language, Richard Smoley stakes out a position somewhat short of nondualism. I say "somewhat short" because The Dice Game of Shiva contains a subtle vacillation between the classical locus of dualism—the Indian darshana or "view" known as Samkhya—and the more "modern" Advaita Vedanta, which espouses a distinctly nondualist viewpoint. Smoley has the good grace of leaving it to the reader to decide whether the apparent duality of mind and matter—or as he says, consciousness and experience—is ultimately true or only an aspect of one and the same dream.

The title of the book refers to the Hindu myth of Shiva and his consort Parvati. In the not yet manifest universe, the two are locked in amorous union, only to be interrupted by Narada, portrayed as a sinister yogi who entices them away with a dice game. Here is the mythomeme of difference. Separation is differential manifestation, since it embodies a subtle negation of primordial unity into a one and an other.

Smoley acknowledges the difficulty in speaking a state before difference. As the Rig Veda puts it:

Then there was neither death nor no-death
no sign of night or day.
The One breathed, breathless
though its own impulsion
and there was no Other of any kind.

Smoley wishes to show how Shiva, identified with Self, purusha, "I am," or consciousness, necessarily takes an other. Parvati, prakriti is the manifest universe, the object (or objects) of consciousness, which he refers to as "experience" in all its forms. In that sense, separation or differentiation is apparently built into consciousness. Smoley, like much of twentieth-century thought, tends to side with phenomenology, which maintains that consciousness is necessarily consciousness of something.

Whether it makes sense to speak of consciousness "in itself" or only in conjunction with an object is in fact only part of Smoley's concern. Another major emphasis of his work involves praxis. Here he shows a certain allegiance to Samkhya precepts, at least those espoused by the guru of the Swiss seeker Lizelle Reymond, whose teacher Sri Anirvan provides her with an outline of a course in liberation (described in her memoir To Live Within). The practice involves isolation or kaivalya, which is, as Smoley puts it, "the detachment of purusha, or primordial mind, from its experience." Purusha, or the Self, is without attributes, names, or form. The approach to it, that is, to objectless experience (or the experience of nonexperience) is through a repeated negation of what is presented, neti neti. In more contemporary terms, the bracketing of experienced reality leads one to the transcendental Ego, a residuum of the "I am."

A chief virtue of The Dice Game is the breadth of Smoley's thought. He is equally comfortable in the mainstream of Western metaphysics (Parmenides, Plato, Kant, Schopenhauer, down to the contemporary Daniel Dennett) and the Indian darshanas. The Indian philosopher Shankara makes an appearance in a mention of Advaita Vedanta. There are frequent appeals to Ramana Maharshi as well as to Tibetan sages. Perhaps the riddle of two as one finds a repetition in whatever world wisdom tradition one seeks. Yet in a not too disguised way, the major motif lies closer to home, in Christianity. This should come as no surprise: Smoley is the author of Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition. There he argues for an identity of atman, rigpa, or Buddha nature, with God. God then would be the One without qualities, like Eckhart's Gottheit, so destitute that he is altogether without appearance, since he has given away even his divine being.

The Dice Game is much more than the sum of its parts. Driven by the paradox, Smoley's thought follows a winding itinerary that, as it turns out, has no single destination. In its open acceptance of what it comes across—spiritual anguish, the contemporary problem of community, or the place of psychoanalysis in religion—it communicates the adventure of the undertaking. In the very multiplicity of its pathways lies the main challenge for the reader: to maintain a supple receptivity that alone may be able to discern a unitary heartbeat within the body of duality.

Smoley's own inner predilections are disclosed in an anecdotal prologue and help orient the task of reading. A classicist by academic training, he fell under the influence first of the Kabbalah, then of the teaching of G. I. Gurdjieff. The latter functions as a touchstone to his thinking and has enabled him to resolve a cluster of difficult issues.

The Dice Game contains no solution to the problems it raises, no panacea for spiritual illness. It does, however, supply a much-needed tonic for a contemporary individual's search for reality. It does not cater to the weak-minded, but offers hope for those who are willing to think the issues through to the end. This is very good news for religion. Smoley draws together several strands of thought when he says: "If religion is to continue as anything more than a mere simulacrum, it must be guided by those who are willing to 'go in themselves,' by those who are at least comparatively awake, rather than by those who are merely well trained in theological jargon." This is a call to which all motivated readers must respond.

David Appelbaum

The reviewer is professor of philosophy at the State University of New York at New Paltz and former editor of Parabola.


Crystal and Arabesque: Claude Bragdon, Ornament, and Modern Architecture
Jonathan Massey
Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009. xi + 336 pages, hardcover, $59.95.

Claude Bragdon (1866–1946) was an architect, graphic artist, theatrical designer, and Theosophist. He is considered to be a member of the Prairie School of architecture, which arose in Chicago from the ideas of Louis Sullivan and is best known through the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Burley Griffin, and Dwight H. Perkins. During the first three decades of the twentieth century, Bragdon was among the leaders of the modernist movement in architecture, but since then his work has largely been neglected by critics, who have preferred a stark, industrial functionality.

Syracuse University professor Jonathan Massey has written a new biography, Crystal and Arabesque: Claude Bragdon, Ornament, and Modern Architecture. With scrupulous scholarship and gorgeous color illustrations, he places the life and significance of Bragdon squarely into perspective. The author provides considerable detail about some of the architect's largest projects, such as the Otis Arch, the Rochester (New York) Chamber of Commerce, and the New York Central Railroad Terminal, and goes on to tell of Bragdon's innovations in graphic design and in multimedia theatrical production, all set in the context of progressive political philosophy, modern mathematics, and Theosophy.

The crystal and arabesque of the biography's title refer to the artist's effort to combine sinuous arabesques with geometric crystalline forms, merging the sensibilities of East and West. Bragdon conceived of architecture as rhythm in space and attempted to bridge societal divisions through a universal language of geometric design. The system of "projective ornament" derived two-dimensional designs from regular geometric solids and n-dimensional hypersolids, making them into flat graphics that seem to occupy space. Crystalline forms were curved and colored to add depth and naturalism to flat designs that could then be applied to surfaces such as brick, textiles, glass, grilles, lampshades, book covers, and tiles. Bragdon explained his Theosophical perspective on architecture in many books, including The Beautiful Necessity, A Primer of Higher Space, and Four-Dimensional Vistas. With a true Progressive Era sensibility, Bragdon was concerned with how individualism fits within a social order, and how to apply his art to promote brotherhood. His buildings emphasized open planning, glass, color, rooftop living, and ornamentation based on Pythagorean principles of harmony.

Bragdon was also a pioneer in multimedia theatrical production. He staged eight Festivals of Song and Light, each of which featured a large orchestra and chorus leading the audience in song while incandescent lights shone through colored geometric filters, creating a stained glass effect. These outdoor community events typified progressive attempts to reform the social order by integrating a fragmented urban culture into a democratic society based on brotherhood. In 1923, he closed his Rochester architectural practice to embrace a second career as a theatrical designer in New York City. He developed a "mobile-color" machine, the Luxorgan, to control lighting with a musical keyboard. He also created abstract film animations set to music in an exploration of "the play of imagery upon the veil of maya."

Within the Theosophical Society, Bragdon was respected and influential. L. W. Rogers, president of the American Theosophical Society (as it was known at the time), approached Bragdon in 1925 to design a new national headquarters building in Wheaton. Bragdon declined the commission because he had moved away from architecture as a profession and instead recommended his friend, Chicago architect Irving Kane Pond. When Rogers and the board of directors deadlocked over the final design, they asked Bragdon to cast a deciding vote, which favored the asymmetrical rendition that ultimately became the L. W. Rogers building. (Pond wrote about Bragdon in his fascinating book The Autobiography of Irving K. Pond: The Sons of Mary and Elihu, edited by David Swan and Terry Tatum [Oak Park, Ill.: Hyoogen Press, 2009].) In 1940, he further put his personal imprint on the headquarters by designing the distinctive entrance arch. The piers that support the wrought-iron arch are topped with Platonic solids, a tetrahedron and a dodecahedron.

Bragdon was an excellent speaker and writer, and his books are well worth reading. He and his sister May founded the Manas Press to publish Theosophical books and pamphlets. With Nicholas Bessaraboff, he did a hugely successful translation of P. D. Ouspensky's Tertium Organum. He also influenced Alfred Stieglitz, Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, Lewis Mumford, Norman Bel Geddes, and particularly R. Buckminster Fuller.

In addition to his portrait of Bragdon, Massey provides a lucid history of n-dimensional mathematics and hyperspace philosophy, including the contributions of G. F. B. Riemann, Charles Howard Hinton, Henri Poincaré, Annie Besant, C. W. Leadbeater, and others. He gives equal attention to the communitarian movement, stagecraft, city planning, Theosophy, and ornamentation. For readers interested in subjects ranging from architecture, graphic arts, and mysticism to community singing and tesseracts, this exploration of Bragdon's life and art offers riches.

Janet Kerschner

The reviewer is archivist for the TS national headquarters at Olcott. She is preparing documentation to nominate the Rogers building for the National Register of Historic Places.


The Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky
abridged and annotated by Michael Gomes
New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2009. 355 pages, paper, $17.95.

This new abridgment of The Secret Doctrine, the major work of H. P. Blavatsky, will be welcomed by students of Theosophy, whether beginners or advanced. The former will find here a manageable version of a book that can at first seem overwhelming and discouraging. Michael Gomes, librarian at the New York lodge of the Theosophical Society, has attained this goal by selecting key passages and characteristic essays so that The Secret Doctrine's basic structure and argument become readily apparent. Those who already have some familiarity with the text, on the other hand, will welcome the insightful introduction. They will also find in this version a useful inventory of the main points in the original work's awesome but sometimes mind-boggling account of the inner development of the universe and humanity.

Gomes's skill in the condensation of Theosophical classics was previously tested in his popular abridgment of Isis Unveiled, published by Quest Books in 1997. With its greater scope and amplitude, The Secret Doctrine presented an even more daunting challenge. Much had to be left out. Entire sections are reduced to a few concise lines, most quotations from other authors are dropped, and as Gomes states, "the sections on Science, dealing as they do with the concerns of nineteenth-century science, proved to be unsalvageable for this abridgment and they have been omitted."

What is left are a "Proem," which draws on lines from Blavatsky's preface, introduction, and proem alike, then the seven stanzas of the Book of Dzyan reproduced in the first volume of the original (entitled Cosmogenesis) with abbreviated commentary for each, plus the twelve stanzas reproduced in the second, Anthropogenesis volume, with further commentary. These are followed by Gomes's part three, which he calls "The Mystery Language of the Initiates." This includes short versions of most of the chapters in part two of the original volume one—which Blavatsky entitled "The Evolution of Symbolism in Its Approximate Order"—plus three comparable pieces from parts two and three of the original volume two, "The Archaic Symbolism of the World-Religions" and "Addenda." Finally, there is material from the very useful "Summing Up" section from the end of volume one, part one, of the original. Gomes has also provided an index, offering helpful identifications of unfamiliar names and terms.

It is always easy to quibble over the selection in books like this. I miss the dramatic and familiar opening lines of the original proem: "An Archaic Manuscript—a collection of palm leaves made impermeable to water, fire, and air, by some unknown process—is before the writer's eye." But Gomes has done the work and made the choices. By and large they are good, and I respect them.

I would like to suggest two possibilities for future editions of this work, which I am confident will long remain in print and go through many editions. One is that the selections be precisely identified by original part and chapter name and number, and preferably also by page numbers in the standard Theosophical Publishing House edition, so that students intrigued by a particular passage and wanting to read more, but not totally at home in the original, can easily find it in the source. This is particularly important since the material is not always in the original order or under the original heading.

Second, I think it would be helpful if, in addition to his excellent introduction, Gomes were to provide concise paragraph introductions to some if not all the selections, summarizing them in accessible contemporary language and in terms of current ideas. This might be particularly important in the case of some of the more challenging Anthropogenesis material. This would make Gomes's valuable work even more engaging to present-day seekers. The clean, easy to read appearance of the present pages, with Blavatsky's often lengthy notes, notorious digressions, and other apparatus deleted, is admirable, but just a little more support for readers would add to their usefulness.

Gomes is to be commended for doing this job in the elegant, painstaking way one would expect from him. His is a book every Theosophist and spiritual explorer ought to have at hand, to pick up for adventures in occult knowledge at odd moments, which will often turn into hours. Reading Gomes's abridgment of The Secret Doctrine will add to the student's store of wisdom and to his or her appreciation of the original. Many will eventually be led back to the original by way of this introduction.

Robert Ellwood

The reviewer is emeritus professor of religion at the University of Southern California and a former vice-president of the Theosophical Society in America. He currently resides at the Krotona School of Theosophy.


On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears
Stephen T. Asma
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. 351 + xii pages, hardcover, $27.95.

My interest in all things macabre drew me to Stephen T. Asma's On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears, and I was not disappointed. The book lures readers in with promises of demons, witchcraft, mythical creatures, malformed circus performers, and serial killers. Asma traces the perception of monsters from the melodramatic writings of the ancient world to the cutting-edge transhuman philosophers of the twenty-first century, stopping along the way to have a look at demonic possession, Darwinian natural selection, taxidermy, embryonic morphology, xenophobia, and artificial intelligence. With so many diverse fields of study within its pages, On Monsters is a veritable Hydra-headed demon.

But just like the case of the infamous Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the monstrous façade of On Monsters is but one side of the coin, the other being a comprehensive historical study that spans the realms of physiology, psychology, and religion. This book is far more than a survey of monstrous phenomena—it is a work that explores the social evolution of humankind.

Asma demonstrates that in every era, perceptions of monsters are colored by historical context. In the ancient world monsters were a tool of patriarchal machismo, ready-made beasts for manly heroes to conquer. In the church-dominated medieval period, everything was viewed through a Christian lens; monsters were either demonic abominations or members of deformed races whose baptism and salvation were a very real concern. The Enlightenment severed the cord between physiology and theology, and folded the study of monsters into the fields of medicine and science. Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung established a new era in human psychology, and introduced empathy and emotional pathology into the equation—both of which are critical in the study of serial killers and terrorists, who bear the label "monster" in our contemporary milieu. And postmoderns, in their effort to deconstruct all categories, make monsters of rationalists and theologians who still cling to outdated philosophies.

Asma explores all these categories in light of philosophy, natural history, and popular culture. He cites a wide variety of historical and cultural sources, from Aristotle and St. Augustine to the films of David Lynch and the writings of H. P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick. But he brings his quirky personality to the table, too, which makes On Monsters a thoroughly enjoyable read. His accessible style lends itself well to complex concepts like evolutionary biology and nanotechnology, all of which he demystifies for the benefit of the layperson. Asma also has a keen sense of humor, which is evident in his choice of historical case studies, such as witches who were accused of stealing men's genitalia. He balances this wit with genuine concern and compassion for those who have been persecuted because of their physical appearance or ethnicity or social standing. The book includes a series of drawings courtesy of the author himself, which serve to heighten both the horror and absurdity of the subject matter.

The truth is that On Monsters isn't really about monsters at all. It's a book about us—all of us, throughout history—and how we perceive and react to those creatures, people, and ideologies that we deem to be "monstrous." While our perceptions and technology have evolved over time, Asma is careful to point out that some of the old models still apply. We still enjoy vicarious heroic monster-slaying in video games and comic books, the Catholic Church still employs exorcisms, and the Loch Ness monster continues to draw crowds to the Scottish Highlands. After centuries of trying to tame and "civilize" the horrific, we still haven't succeeded. Asma assures us that the monstrous is alive and well, still breathing its acrid smoke, still wrapping its tentacles around our collective imagination. And no matter how many times we try to kill it, it always comes back for more.

Rev. Seth Ethan Carey

The reviewer is the associate minister of the First Congregational Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and an occasional speaker at the TS. His interests include demonology, theodicy, and esoteric Judeo-Christian traditions.


D. M. Bennett: The Truth Seeker
produced by Roderick Bradford with Inquiry Media Productions, 2009.
Available from RodBradford@gmail.com. 59 minutes, DVD $20; Blu-Ray $25.

The American freethinker DeRobigne Mortimer Bennett (1818-82) was a defender of civil rights in the great tradition of Thomas Paine. Like most of the Founding Fathers, Paine was a deist, affirming natural rather than revealed religion and morality rather than doctrine and denying that God ever interferes with the laws of nature, propositions with which Bennett would have been fully sympathetic. Paine believed that all human beings have a natural right to freedom—political, intellectual, and spiritual.

In these beliefs, he was closely echoed by D. M. Bennett. Paine's background was Quaker, and Bennett's was Shaker—both groups that set great store on individual liberty and initiative. So both were freethinkers grounded in a moral view of life. These two great defenders of civil rights held views that are basic also to Theosophy: that equality is the essence of life, that human beings have a mind that can embrace the universe (Secret Doctrine 2:17, 105), and that our "future is the future of a thing whose growth and splendor has no limit" as "we are each our own absolute law-giver, the dispenser of glory or gloom to ourselves" (Idyll of the White Lotus).

Like Paine and Annie Besant as well, Bennett expressed his views in print (in a periodical he founded and called The Truth Seeker). And like Besant, Bennett was persecuted for his unconventional ideas and was accused of immorality as an excuse for that persecution. He served time in a New York penitentiary, and after his release he traveled abroad, meeting and being honored by Besant in England. He also visited Henry Steel Olcott and H.P. Blavatsky in India, where he joined the Theosophical Society, whose motto, "There is no religion higher than Truth," was fully in line with his convictions.

For HPB's view of Bennett, see her Collected Works, 4:69, 79-80, 146-48, 285-86, 353, 368-69, 393; 5:119; 10:141n.; a biography-bibliography can be found in 4:625-33. Olcott writes about him in Old Diary Leaves 2:327ff. The Masters' view can be found in Mahatma Letters (chronological edition), 105–06, 114.

Bennett, Paine, and Theosophy are all lights for our own time, possessing the same confidence in our human ability not merely to endure but to prevail. No time is more in need of this confidence than our own.

Paine and Theosophy are both widely known, if not deeply understood. Bennett is not as well recognized. Now, however, an excellent source of insight into his life and ideals is available in a video by Roderick Bradford: D. M. Bennett: The Truth Seeker. It is a complement to a book of the same title, also by Bradford, reviewed in Quest 94.6 (Nov.-Dec. 2006, 236–37). For those more inclined to the visual image than to the printed word, as many of us are, this video is an ideal introduction to its subject. In addition to these two works on Bennett, Bradford, who lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, has contributed material in The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007) and articles in American History, American Atheist, Free Inquiry, The Truth Seeker, and Quest.

A three-clip preview of the video can be watched at the following URL: http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php. The second clip, "Infidel Abroad," is especially recommended for its references to Blavatsky, Olcott, Besant, and Theosophy.

John Algeo

The reviewer is former president of the Theosophical Society in America.


The Lost Teachings of Lama Govinda: Living Wisdom from a Modern Tibetan Master
edited by Richard Power, foreword by Lama Surya Das.
Quest Books, 2007. lviii + 155 pages, paperback, $19.95.

Lama Anagarika Govinda (1898–1985) was a German practitioner and scholar of the highest magnitude of Buddhism and Eastern thought. Few matched his depth and breadth of scholarship, practical understanding, and experiential insight into the intricacies of Buddhism, especially in its Tibetan form. In addition to his eminent autobiography, The Way of the White Clouds, he wrote adeptly on the psychological and transformational significance of early Buddhist philosophy, the symbolic meanings of the stupa, meditation, and the I Ching. With his Indian wife, Li Gotami, he published works on Tibetan art and on consciousness and meditation. Robert Thurman, professor of Buddhism at Columbia University, regards Govinda as "one of the West's greatest minds of the twentieth century."

Lama Surya Das's foreword, written from the perspective of his own spiritual explorations as a young Western seeker in India and Nepal, offers a telling portrait of the great influence Govinda had on him and other Westerners who, from the mid-twentieth century on, became the chief exponents of Buddhism in the West. The editor's broad-ranging introduction traces some of the major events in Govinda's life and shows the extraordinary impact he had on the practitioners and scholars who came under his influence.

The six essays that constitute the central text of the book, several of which were later expanded into full-length books, were recovered from the archives of the Human Dimensions Institute, where they had been delivered in the 1970s. A final chapter consists of question and answer sessions at the institute.

In the first essay, "From Theravada to Zen," Govinda shows how the foundational teachings of the Buddha as recorded in the earliest Pali text (written down some four centuries after the founder's death) shaped Buddhism as it evolved in its journey from India through China to Japan. The author develops the central truth of shunyata (emptiness) as the sine qua non of the highest realization in Buddhism. He calls for practitioners to discover the natural spontaneity of the human mind and to transform the historical Buddha into a direct experience of their own Buddha mind. The dynamic, changing nature of reality is also explored here.

Each of the remaining chapters addresses a particular spiritual, psychological, or philosophical issue of common import in East and West, which, when approached through the perspective of both cultures, results in a more complete, balanced, and accurate view. Govinda writes: "East and West are the two halves of our human consciousness, comparable to the two poles of a magnet, which condition and correspond to each other, and cannot be separated." This being the case, an alternate subtitle for the book might be "The Integration of East and West," or "East and West: How Each Needs the Other."

Drawing on the work of Roberto Assagioli, founder of Psychosynthesis, in the second chapter, Govinda distinguishes between different operations of the human will, for example, egoistic will contrasted with transpersonal will, and emphasizes the importance of the latter in meditation and the life of a realized person.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin forms the focus of the third chapter. Here Govinda bridges the humanities and the physical sciences, indeed spirit and matter. He writes: "The moment we experience [that] the universe is our 'greater body' and penetrate it spiritually, we experience the great transformation; we have attained liberation, the state of nirvana." He notes further that "the 'spirit' can arise in consciousness only when there is a creative force, which connects all factors of life and consciousness and thus makes them into a unity." For Govinda, wisdom lies in the integration of so-called opposites, the transformation of dualities into polarities.

The fourth chapter distinguishes between drug-induced expansion of consciousness, which can lead to psychic disintegration, and a disciplined meditation practice, which carries the potential for spiritual regeneration.

Though there are many references to meditation throughout the book, the sixth chapter addresses the topic directly. The author develops his central insight concerning the integral relationship of matter and spirit by noting that "the special function of meditation is to reunite the inner and the outer world." Govinda takes to task inadequate forms of philosophy and religion that impose mind-made divisions on reality: "In both philosophy and religion the concepts of oneness, of universality, infinity, boundlessness, formlessness, emptiness, changelessness, timelessness, eternity, and similar one-sided abstractions of a purely conceptual type became the summum bonum and the hallmark of an intellectual spirituality, which tried to isolate them from their counterpoles, namely diversity, individuality, form, materiality, movement in time and space, change, growth, transformation, etc." For Govinda, enlightenment always entails the integration of opposites. He summarizes this insight by noting "that universality cannot be experienced except in the individual and that the individual derives its meaning and value from the realization of its universal background and interrelationship."

In a chapter on the I Ching, Govinda demonstrates how this ancient classic of China is not simply a method of predicting the future, even though it has this use in China as well as in many parts of the Western world. Rather it articulates a comprehensive philosophy of life, and is meant "to help us decide our way from the present into the future on the basis of generally prevailing laws."

The Lost Teachings of Lama Govinda concludes with notes, a selected bibliography, and an index. For anyone wanting practical, transformational teaching from a Buddhist perspective, this book serves well.

James E. Royster

The reviewer is professor emeritus of religious studies at Cleveland State University.


A New Science of the Paranormal: The Promise of Psychical Research
Lawrence LeShan
Wheaton: Quest Books, 2009. vii + 133 pages, paper, $14.95.

Over the past hundred years, psychic researchers have amassed a large and growing body of evidence supporting the existence of paranormal phenomena, also known as psi. In this book, veteran parapsychologist Lawrence LeShan says that this accumulation of data now enables us to consider the following statements as fact: (1) people often demonstrate knowledge of specific things that could not have been acquired through ordinary sense perception; (2) telepathy seems to operate effectively without regard to distance; (3) emotional bonds between participants greatly facilitate the effectiveness of telepathic communication; and (4) many people become uptight when hearing about psi.

It should come as no surprise that the category of people who become uneasy at the mere mention of paranormal phenomena includes a large number of scientists, because the facts of psi do not fit neatly into their established worldview. But like it or not, we live in a scientific age, in which the views of scientists often carry more weight in the public mind than the proclamations of politicians or religious leaders. As LeShan points out, the irony is that "psi is officially and publicly declared to be impossible in the sciences at the same time that a large percentage of individual scientists believe in it." He cites instances in which scientists refused to publish the results of their psi research for fear of damaging their professional reputations and careers.

Much of A New Science of the Paranormal is addressed to psi researchers, but this book should prove fascinating to the layperson as well. LeShan is openly critical of some of the methods and attitudes of his colleagues, but he suggests a number of ways of gaining greater acceptance for their work among both scientists and the public at large. For instance, he urges parapsychologists to drop the notion that all scientific research has to be done in the laboratory. As LeShan writes, "we are primarily here dealing with consciousness, and consciousness is not quantifiable." Consequently he advises his colleagues not to be thrown off course by skeptics who dismiss certain forms of evidence for psi as "anecdotal"—meaning that these events only happened once and are thus not "repeatable." While many repeatable laboratory experiments have been conducted to prove the existence of psi—the card-guessing experiments devised by the pioneering parapsychologist J. B. Rhine are one well-known type—other forms of paranormal phenomena do not lend themselves to observation in a controlled setting. If Susan gets a sudden feeling that her grandmother is dying and later finds out that her grandmother passed away at that exact time, the fact that this is not a repeatable experiment doesn't diminish the reality of what happened. As LeShan stresses, this is true in other sciences as well: "you are not going to get a repeatable experiment in astronomy, history, or oceanography."

As a result, LeShan believes that his colleagues should not waste time "trying to prove the existence of psi" but instead "get on with studying its properties." The amount of evidence in support of psi is already overwhelming, and has been for some time. If close-minded scientists refuse to accept the data, that is their problem. Simply providing more of the same is not going to change their minds.

The author also urges parapsychologists to stop acting apologetic and feeling inferior to scientists in other fields: "our standards of research—under the intense pressure and rejection that has long been directed against us—are as high and often higher than those of the 'hard' sciences such as physics and chemistry."

LeShan concludes with this bit of tough love: "The best way to get psi research accepted by our culture at large is first to have it accepted by mainline science. And the best way to have it accepted by mainline science is for psi researchers to start acting like scientists and not like poor relations."

Anybody interested in paranormal research should find this book informative and refreshing. Dr. LeShan offers some fresh ideas about the direction that psi research might take in order to gain greater acceptance for its findings.

David P. Bruce

The reviewer is a long-time member of the Theosophical Society, for which he serves as director of education.


The 2012 Story: The Myth, Fallacies, and Truth behind the Most Intriguing Date in History
John Major Jenkins

New York: Tarcher Penguin, 2009. 336 pages, $24.95.

     The excitement of the new millennium had scarcely faded when it was followed by a new craze—the obsession with 2012 as a date of coming cataclysm or redemption. Particularly since The Da Vinci Code, the mainstream media have been keen to New Age enthusiasms, so they have taken up 2012 with gusto. The History Channel and the Discovery Channel have produced any number of shows on this theme, and practically every publisher in the field of alternative spirituality has made its contribution to the 2012 furor.

     Very few of these items are worth discussing, but one recent offering is an exception: John Major Jenkins’s 2012 Story. For the last two decades Jenkins has been looking into the Mayan calendar to discover what its end date of December 21, 2012, meant to the ancient Maya and what it might mean to us today. He does so from the unenviable position of the independent scholar, steering a course between daft New Agers on the one hand, who portray this date as the advent of space brothers and dimensional shifts, and academic scholars on the other, who generally march in the equally mindless lockstep of automatic skepticism. The 2012 Story chronicles Jenkins’s own findings and experiences.

     To begin with, why did this particular date—the winter solstice of 2012—matter so much to the ancient Maya? The classic phase of their civilization ended around a.d. 900, so it was hardly a pressing issue at the time. Jenkins answers this question by sketching out a short history of scholarship in the field, complete with its cast of rogues and geniuses. In short, the Maya had an intricate series of calendars, one of which is based on the baktun, a measure of time encompassing 144,000 days. The Mayans believed that thirteen of these baktuns equaled a great age. The present cycle, they believed, began on August 11, 3114 b.c., and will end on December 21, 2012. (For more on the Mayan calendar, see Barbara J. Sadtler’s article “The Mayan Fascination with Time” in this issue.)

     Why the Maya might have chosen the 3114 b.c. date is not entirely clear, particularly since it marks a time that long preceded their own civilization. Jenkins’s own theory is that the Maya were actually calculating back from the 2012 date. What, then, was so important about that? According to Jenkins, it marks a point at which the sun at the winter solstice is in the “dark rift” of the Milky Way, a gap in the galaxy (as seen from earth) that corresponds to the galactic center. It is this “galactic alignment,” as he calls it, that the Maya believed would herald a regeneration of the age.

     The 2012 Story goes on to describe how the date took hold of the popular imagination. This was chiefly the work of José Argüelles (who now calls himself Valum Votan), the eccentric prophet of the 1987 Harmonic Convergence, and of the late Terence McKenna, who in the 1990s replaced Timothy Leary as the pope of psychedelia. Both Argüelles and McKenna had their own different but equally convoluted reasons for coming up with this date, which do not entirely jibe with Jenkins’s, but he discusses these fully and fairly.

     The later part of the book chronicles the public reception of the 2012 date. Jenkins excoriates the cable TV networks for cynically sensationalizing the issue, portraying 2012 as an equivalent of the Christian Doomsday, when in fact, he claims, the Mayans themselves foresaw a time of cyclical renewal. His discussion of the media’s treatment of the theme is instructive for anyone who is tempted to take the breathless documentaries of the History Channel and its kin too seriously. I have appeared on some of these myself, and I can testify that the producers asking me the questions offscreen sometimes have trouble keeping a straight face.

     Finally, Jenkins provides his own views on this date and what it may mean to us today. Although he is often astute in his criticisms of contemporary civilization, he does not offer much that is new here, and one can go away believing that he thinks indigenous wisdom will save the day for us. To me this seems too simplistic. If the ancient Maya had ways of knowledge that we need to resurrect, they had their share of follies and brutalities as well. Ironically, considering that some are looking to indigenous peoples for answers to our ecological woes, many scholars ascribe the sudden collapse of the Mayan civilization to overexploitation of the environment.

     Jenkins also gives more weight to the Traditionalist school—the followers of René Guénon and Frithjof Schuon—than it deserves. The Traditionalists draw a stark and Manichaean contrast between the glories of “traditional” societies and the evils of our own corrupt time. (For more on the Traditionalists, see my article “Against Blavatsky: René Guénon’s Critique of Theosophy” in this issue.) Again this is too easy and too negative. If we are sometimes tempts to spurn the advanced civilization that we have created over the last two centuries, it is a temptation that is best avoided. We may need to transcend this civilization, but that does not mean turning our backs on it.

     Despite these faults, and despite its frequently clumsy prose, Jenkins’s book remains by far the best and most authoritative guide to the 2012 phenomenon. I doubt it will be followed by anything better.

Richard Smoley   

    

     

 


Book Reviews 2012

Christian Gnosis
C. W. Leadbeater. Edited with a  foreward by Sten Von Krusensterna. intorduction and notes by Richard Smoley.
Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 2011. xxiv + 338 pages, paper. $16.95.

This is a welcome new edition of a provocative and important work by a prolific Theosophical writer of the Society’s second generation, C. W. Leadbeater (1854–1934). The new Quest Books edition is beautifully published, and benefits greatly from a fine contemporary introduction and notes, corrective when needed, by Richard Smoley. The Christian Gnosis (as Leadbeater originally titled it) was among Leadbeater’s more challenging books, even within the genre of esoteric Christianity. That is because it takes the complex intellectual structure of Leadbeater’s Theosophical worldview and adapts traditional Christian theology, based on the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, to his elaborate but often profound system.

The Christian Gnosis was not originally published until 1983, nearly fifty years after Leadbeater’s death, and behind that event lies an interesting story. The tale is told in a foreword by the editor, Sten von Krusenstierna, then presiding bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church. The book’s origins lie in an incomplete theological manuscript Leadbeater showed to F. W. Pigott, another Liberal Catholic bishop, in 1924. The latter discouraged the author from pursuing this project, later writing that “it was mostly a very Leadbeaterish harangue against a variety of Christianity which by then was obsolete or at least obsolescent amongst Christians of education.” Von Krusenstierna compiled the present book by extracting what he considered useful from that manuscript, adding to it articles from The Liberal Catholic magazine, plus various unpublished talks and sermons. This editorial labor of love is admirably done. The compiler also includes a brief biography of Leadbeater.

Alas, assuming that 1924 “variety of Christianity” was of the fundamentalist stripe, one wonders if Pigott’s words are not themselves obsolescent in view of the literalist school’s current upsurge in many parts of the world. Could it be that liberal-minded “Christians of education,” willing to position themselves strategically between reactionary dogmatism and sheer secularism, are instead the dwindling breed? If so, this book is here to give them what aid it can, offering a view of Christianity that is far from what Leadbeater perceptively calls the “materializing tendency” in religion—for the fundamentalist fallacy lies in its attempt to declare faith “true” in the same precise way scientific “laws” governing matter and energy are considered true. Surely that help is urgently needed now by those seeking a third way between the two absolutist poles.

Those familiar with Leadbeater’s other writings will recognize the basic intellectual structure into which he fits Nicene Christianity. Foundational to it are three outpourings of the Logos or creative divine energies, which he identifies with the Christian Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Solar Logos, the central intelligence of our solar system, is essentially equated with the traditional God; that which is above him is also quite above our comprehension. The Seven Rays are important, as is Our Lady as personification of the virginal primordial matter over which the Holy Spirit, first of the divine three to descend, brooded to begin the process of creation; all this is likewise reenacted in the Christ mythos, and within our own spiritual lives. Here we find the incarnational drama of the imprisonment of the divine in matter, and its emancipation or resurrection therefrom.

Along the way, Leadbeater makes some problematic assertions. Not many scholars of early Christianity would agree with him that Jesus really lived about a hundred years before the conventional dates, or that he was stoned rather than dying on a cross (for Leadbeater, the latter refers to the allegorical “cross of matter” to which we are figuratively nailed till liberation). Eschewing the “materializing tendency” does not require us to abandon the attempt to learn what we can about Jesus as a person; understanding both the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith are surely essential to any viable reconstruction of the religion for the twenty-first century.

These idiosyncrasies on Leadbeater’s part need not stand in the way of appreciating the author’s overall project. In his use of Gnostic texts as testimonials to early Christianity along with the canonical writings, he anticipates the contemporary recognition—greatly enhanced by the dramatic finding of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic library in 1945—that Gnosticism was an alternative view of Christianity as old and as significant as the strand that won out in the end. Leadbeater’s assimilation of Christian language and the Theosophical worldview in Christian Gnosis is an impressive intellectual achievement.

Those for whom both the mainstream and Gnostic traditions are important will certainly find much to ponder here, and to them this book is highly recommended. It is also recommended to those who wish to experience something of the Theosophical life of the mind in Leadbeater’s era, or who want to try on a fresh approach to faith.

It is not necessary, of course, to see Leadbeater’s schema as anything more than a model, a template to place over an unfathomable reality. It would be disastrous to give up one fundamentalism only to fall for a Theosophical form of the same. Any such pattern as Leadbeater’s is like a map, and as has been said, the map is not the territory. The map greatly oversimplifies, but it does have the value of lifting out key landmarks, and above all of showing that the trip, different as it may be for each traveler and different as it may look to each observer, is possible and has been made before.

Robert Ellwood 

The reviewer is emeritus professor of religion at the University of Southern California and a former vice-president of the Theosophical Society in America.

Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World
Lisa Randall
New York: Ecco, 2011. Hardcover, 442 pages, $29.99 

Located amid the farmland and urban sprawl just west of Geneva, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) lies a hundred yards and more beneath the Swiss earth. With a circumference of seventeen miles, this state-of-theart particle accelerator is the largest machine in the history of the world. It may also be the most prodigious magic circle ever fashioned. Built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) at a cost of more than $9 billion, this extraordinary piece of equipment will put the Standard Model of particle physics to the test. A lot rides on the data soon to be generated by the LHC—after all, the Standard Model is the closest thing science currently has to a “theory of everything.” Hopes are running high that the most elusive of all elementary particles, the Higgs boson—postulated to impart mass to all the other particles, and the only one that has not yet been observed experimentally— might at last be revealed. Without such confirmation, the Standard Model falls short, perhaps fatally. Thus, if high-energy physics has a Holy Grail, the Higgs boson is it.

For most of us, the rarefied realms of theoretical physics are best toured under the direction of a knowledgeable guide. Certainly none comes better qualified than Lisa Randall, a professor at Harvard University and one of the world’s leading experts on particle physics, string theory, and cosmology. Her previous book, the highly acclaimed Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions (2005), provides a clear and companionable introduction to some rather formidable intellectual terrain. Her new book is intended as a kind of “origin story” for the previous volume, directed toward “an interested lay reader who would like to have a greater understanding of current theoretical and experimental physics and who wants a better appreciation of the nature of modern science—as well as the principles of sound scientific thought.”

In addition, Knocking on Heaven’s Door casts a considerably wider net, as Randall intends “to correct some of the misconceptions—and perhaps vent a little of [her] frustration with the way science is currently understood and applied.” To this end, she ventures onto that cratered battlefield where science and religion have been thrashing it out since at least the days of the Presocratic philosophers. Alas, the casualties incurred here are significant.

Knocking on Heaven’s Door is most successful when its author sticks to what she knows well—the world of science. When it comes to theoretical physics and especially those chapters devoted to the important work now being conducted at CERN, the writing is clear and informative. When Randall describes what it is that scientists do and how they do it, when she points out that science itself is not a static pile of facts but rather a rigorous practice with an “evolving body of knowledge,” or when she explains the intrinsic role uncertainty plays in all genuine scientific endeavors, the reader’s enjoyment is akin to that of the fortunate students under her tutelage.

Regrettably, the book is far less satisfying when Randall proffers illinformed speculation on subjects spiritual and philosophical. When it comes to religious matters, she appears to align herself with the so-called New Atheism and its less accommodating attitude toward those who are of a more metaphysical bent. In a passage as remarkable for its hauteur as for its dubious coherence, she writes: “It’s easy to see why some turn to religion for explanations. Without the facts and the inspired [sic] interpretations that demonstrated surprising connections, the answers scientists have arrived at so far would have been extremely difficult to guess. People who think scientifically advance our knowledge of the world. The challenge is to understand as much as we can, and curiosity— unconstrained by dogma—is what is required.” Sometimes the author’s unsupported pronouncements are simply astounding: “The religious part of your brain cannot act at the same time as the scientific one.” Unless of course your religion is scientism.

In the end, Randall’s casual assaults upon what Thomas Browne calls “those wingy mysteries in Divinity and ayery subtilties in Religion” are unfortunate, as they distract the reader from her magisterial exposition of what is going on right now at the very frontier of scientific knowledge. The fault lies not only with Randall but with her editor, whose job it was to keep the author on course.

John P. O’Grady

John P. O’Grady’s contributions to Quest include “Shadow Gazing: On Photography and Imagination” for the Fall 2009 issue.


 

The Secret Tradition of the Soul
Patrick Harpur
Berkeley, Calif.: Evolver Editions, 2011. 247 pages, paper, $17.95.

A truism of ancient times has it that “the world is full of gods.” This may still be the case, but it takes a particular way of perceiving in order to recognize the divine aspect of things. It’s a style of consciousness that the poet William Blake referred to as “double vision.” To behold in this fashion is to enter the realm of the Imagination, the place of the images. The old authorities, despite their many differences, do agree on this: the Imagination is the proper seat of the soul. Yet over the last two hundred years or so, Imagination—not to mention the soul—has suffered considerable neglect if not abuse at the hands of scientific rationalism. What was once a vast and colorful spiritual geography—a placeless place, jampacked with phantasms, lying betwixt and between the human and the divine, the mortal and the immortal—has been reduced in our time to a mental terrain vague, or worse, a pleasant and harmless knack referred to as “creativity.” So diminished is our view of the Imagination that its once familiar precincts now seem occult or hidden away. Nevertheless, despite formidable obscurity, knowledge of and access to this dark country is preserved in a tradition sometimes impishly referred to as the “open secret.”

The Secret Tradition of the Soul, like all of Patrick Harpur’s books, is both an inquiry and defense of the Imagination. As he explains elsewhere, “The secret is, above all, a way of seeing.” This latest work stands as the final volume in a de facto trilogy that includes Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld (1994) and The Philosophers’ Secret Fire: A History of the Imagination (2003). Collectively these books serve as a bold and elegantly written Baedeker to the soul’s home ground, a territory known by many names across many cultures, including Fairyland, Paradise, the Blessed Isles, Hades, and purgatory, just to name a few. The denizens of this otherworld also go by many names—gnomes, elves, nymphs, angels, the “good people”—but Harpur, like Socrates, prefers the Greek term daimon (root of the English word “demon”). The daimons are tricky figures, notoriously difficult to pin down, shape-shifters, “both material and immaterial.” There is no boundary they do not straddle, including that “between fact and fiction, literal and metaphorical.”

No small challenge, then, to provide a convincing account of their activities, yet Harpur proceeds intrepidly: “I will initiate the reader into this brilliant and creative worldview in a language that is no longer alchemical and arcane but as straightforward as possible.” He succeeds admirably. The daimons are especially adroit at escaping the fetters of literal definition, which is why poetry—especially symbolic and indeed allegorical poetry—provides a more fertile ground for encountering them than, say, the lab reports of science. Hardcore materialists, in fact, deny the existence of the daimonic, or reduce it to mere psychopathology.

Harpur, on the other hand, asserts that the daimonic is quite real, quite vital, and quite necessary: “Do not let anybody tell you otherwise.” The daimonic, he reminds us, is identical with the Imagination. To make his case, he draws on a wide range of poets, especially the English greats—Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and the Romantics— as well as that redoubtable Irishman William Butler Yeats. Harpur’s writings find their place in the intellectual lineage of depth psychology, particularly the work of Carl Jung and James Hillman. He too would have us recognize that “our peculiarly modern malaise is to be estranged from the soul.” Because we are cut off from meaningful interaction with the Imagination, we have lost the ability to read its symbols and thus we suffer for it. Our souls “long for meaning and belief, just as much as they ever have; yet they can find no lasting nourishment in modern-day offerings of philosophy and science. We are like starving people who are given cookbooks instead of food.”

Relief, however, is difficult to obtain “because it is subtle and elusive, more an imaginative vision of how things are than a system of thought.” What is required is an approach that is less scientific than it is alchemical and transformative. “There is a big difference between a world we look out at through our eyes, and a world in which we participate, deeply implicated in every fiber of our being,” Harpur reminds us. The Secret Tradition of the Soul is no mere cookbook of spirituality; rather, it is genuine food for thought—and soul.

John P. O’Grady

John P. O’Grady’s contributions to Quest include “Shadow Gazing: On Photography and Imagination” for the Fall 2009 issue.


 

Swedenborg: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas
Gary Lachman
New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2012. 181 pages, paper, $16.95.

Whenever I visit Washington, D.C., I stop by the Swedenborgian National Church (also known as The Church of the Holy City), a stunningly beautiful Gothic structure on 16th Street. Despite an active and impressive past, the church today is kept physically intact and spiritually operational by a tiny, although devoted, group of members. One attendee remarked to me, “Swedenborgianism is a good spiritual path for people afraid of crowds!” This is unfortunately a fairly accurate picture of the appreciation of Emanuel Swedenborg and his work, religious and otherwise, in our day. One can hope that this fine introduction, by Quest contributor Gary Lachman, will help to revive interest in one of the West’s most intrepid spiritual explorers.

Swedenborg (1688–1772), the son of a Lutheran bishop, became one of Europe’s most noted scientists in the early eighteenth century. While a spiritual crisis in 1744 propelled him into inner exploration and biblical exposition for the rest of his life, he never left his scientific past behind. “Swedenborg believed that our inner world, our soul, can be investigated scientifically,” Lachman points out. Swedenborg kept meticulous records of his experiences, such as a brightness which confirmed to him that he was on the right track. His journals provide an intricate analysis of hypnagogic and visionary states.

Swedenborg’s writings are notoriously complex, and many of them take the form of biblical exegesis, which may not be accessible to all modern readers. Lachman provides the uninitiated reader with an excellent overview of the main themes in Swedenborg’s work, with an eye to those aspects that may prove interesting and helpful to those not drawn to the specifically religious nature of his vision.

For Swedenborg, the entire physical world gains its being and existence from the spiritual one. In a sense, the world, our world, is a kind of reflection of the higher one. Or to put it a different way, our world is a kind of book which, read rightly, can tell us things about the higher world. As the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz put it, “Swedenborg’s world is all language.”

Perhaps even more important than this doctrine of correspondences is the seer’s teaching on the dynamics of the inner worlds, where “appearance and being are identical.” It is our “true affections”—the real inner intentions behind all our personal actions— that propel us in the spiritual worlds, as places in those worlds are states of being. A change in one’s state of being, a change in one’s true affections, constitutes a change in spiritual “place.” Thus it is by working at the level of genuine intention that we determine our spiritual state, both in this life and in the worlds after death.

In addition to his skillful introduction to Swedenborg’s biography and teachings, Lachman also provides a very helpful annotated bibliography of Swedenborg’s writings, giving the reader the tools to delve directly into the original material. Lachman’s book will surely serve as a standard introduction to Swedenborg for many years to come.

John Plummer

John Plummer is the author of Living Mysteries: A Practical Handbook for the Independent Priest and The Many Paths of the Independent Sacramental Movement.


Revelations: Vision, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation
Elaine Pagels

New York: Viking, 2012. 246 pages, hardcover, $27.95.

Of all the books in the Bible, none has aroused as many complex and contradictory emotions as the book of Revelation. A work that for centuries hovered on the edges of the New Testament canon, it was for years regarded with suspicion both by the Eastern Orthodox church and, later, by the Protestant Reformers; many today view it as the source of all apocalyptic excesses. And yet it retains an uncanny power and has inspired countless works of art. Indeed, wrote Boris Pasternak in Doctor Zhivago, “All great, genuine art resembles and continues the Revelation of St. John.”

The latest figure to explore this elusive work is Elaine Pagels. Best-known for her groundbreaking book The Gnostic Gospels, Pagels is also the author of such well-known titles as Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas and Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. In her latest book, Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation, she turns her attention to this last and most perplexing book of the Bible.

Pagels’s book falls into two parts. In the first she discusses Revelation itself, its author, and what he may have been trying to say in the context of its time (following conventional views, she dates it to c.90 a.d.). She then explains how and why the book came to be included in the New Testament canon.

Like most scholars, Pagels believes that the John who wrote Revelation was neither the apostle nor the author of the fourth Gospel. From the book’s prose style—which is the crudest in the New Testament, with many usages suggesting that its author’s first language was probably Aramaic—she contends that the author was a second-generation Jewish convert to Christianity. This John would have known about, and possibly witnessed, the cataclysmic destruction of Judea by the Romans in the Jewish War of a.d. 66–73. For him, the great villain was Rome, the “great beast.” Indeed, as she notes, the famous number of the beast, 666, is now generally identified as the numerological equivalent of the name “Nero Caesar.”

In essence, then, Pagels agrees with much of current scholarship that portrays Revelation as a coded tirade against the Roman Empire. She plants its historical background firmly in the context of John’s time in the late first century a.d. But why should this crabbed book have been given entry into the canon of sacred scripture?

The answer, Pagels tells us, has to do with the uses to which the book was put in later centuries. As early as the second century a.d., the great villains of John’s apocalypse began to be identified more and more with Christian heretics and less with the beast of Rome, particularly by Irenaeus of Lyons, the chronicler and opponent of so-called heresies. This trend continued in the fourth century, when Constantine’s conversion to Christianity turned the Roman Empire into the greatest benefactor of the nascent Catholic church rather than its greatest enemy. The chief enemy then became Christians who did not agree with the mainstream church. According to Pagels, Athanasius of Alexandria, one of the chief formulators of Catholic Christianity, “found an unlikely ally in John of Patmos— especially as Irenaeus had read him. For . . . Irenaeus interpreted God’s enemies, whom John had pictured as the ‘beast’ and the ‘whore,’ to refer not only to Rome’s rulers but also to Christians deceived, by the false teacher he called Antichrist, into false doctrine and into committing evil” (emphasis in the original).

In fact the Antichrist is not actually mentioned in Revelation (the term appears in the New Testament only in the first two epistles of John), but by the time of Athanasius, it was easy to insert this dark and ambiguous figure into Revelation’s demonology. For Athanasius himself, “Antichrist” was a pliable term, suitable for use against his archenemy, the bishop Arius, whose formulation of Christology differed from Athanasius’s, and even against Constantine’s son, the emperor Constantius, who sent Athanasius into exile.

Pagels’s story stops in the fourth century, but it is easy to see how Revelation’s enigmatic figures of evil could be projected onto the villains of any era. The Protestant Reformers saw the church of Rome itself as John’s whore of Babylon. In recent centuries, the beast has been identified with Napoleon, Hitler, and even Henry Kissinger. The full name of Ronald Wilson Reagan has three sets of six characters, leading some to argue that the beast was none other than the Great Communicator. And if you have any doubts about the continuing vitality of these symbols, I suggest you run a Google search for “Barack Obama” and “Antichrist.”

Nevertheless, Pagels’s book does not stray past the age of Athanasius. In fact the work as a whole has a hint of the perfunctory about it. Her characterization of Revelation does not do justice to the enormous number of controversies about its composition. Some scholars argue that the core of the book was written, not by a Christian, but by a follower of John the Baptist, and that the explicitly Christian sections, particularly in the book’s first three chapters, were added later. I also wish Pagels had addressed some of the ideas of the British biblical scholar Margaret Barker, who argues, for example, that the Greek of Revelation is so astonishingly bad because the text was first written in Aramaic.

I bring up these points to suggest that scholarly opinion about this text is almost as rich and diverse as the apocalyptic speculations, but Pagels addresses none of these issues here. We are left with the usual view of a unitary Revelation written by somebody named John around the year 90. Pagels fares better with her discussions of figures such as Irenaeus and Athanasius, but in the end, Revelations is a lackluster work, written, I suspect, not so much out of fascination with the topic itself as out of frustration with today’s fundamentalisms. Revelations might appeal to a reader who knows little about this text, but anyone who knows more is bound to be disappointed.

Richard Smoley


 

The Modern Book of the Dead: A Revolutionary Perspective on Death, the Soul, and What Really Happens in the Life to Come
Ptolemy Tompkins
New York: Atria, 2012. 275 pages, hardcover, $26.

An old story from China concerns a teacher and a student who pay a condolence call. As the two men stand in front of the coffin, the student pats the lid and asks, “Is it alive or dead?” The teacher responds, “I will not say alive or dead.” The student asks why not. The teacher exclaims, “I won’t say! I won’t say!” The student continues to press his inquiry, even threatening violence, but the teacher remains steadfast: “I won’t say! I won’t say!” The student—whose question is a matter of life and death—does not get the answer he wants. It is something he must discover for himself. A shame then he did not have access to Ptolemy Tompkins’ latest book, which—while offering no definitive answer to the question— fulfills its aim of bringing to light “an extraordinarily empowering new geography of the afterlife.”

Tompkins, a former editor at Guideposts and Angels on Earth magazines (and a Quest contributor), is a widely published essayist and author of four previous books, including Paradise Fever and The Divine Life of Animals. His new book, while indeed addressing the question “What happens to us when we die?”, is more concerned with a peculiar situation in which modern people find themselves: namely, having “forgotten how to perform the essential activity of ‘thinking the right things’ about death.” Our ideas of the afterlife, Tompkins contends, are hazy and ill-formed because we don’t actually believe there is any life after death. The Modern Book of the Dead is intended to persuade its readers otherwise: “We come...from a larger, better world than this one, and we return to it when our time here is finished.” To achieve his ends, Tompkins offers an agreeable blend of memoir, comparative historical survey, and metaphysical speculation.

The first fifty—and most compelling— pages of the book stand as a condensed autobiography in which the author recounts growing up in a spiritually unconventional household. Tompkins’ father, Peter, a writer of some renown, was the coauthor of two books that helped usher in New Age thought, Secrets of the Great Pyramid (1971) and The Secret Life of Plants (1973). Talk around the family dinner table was most extraordinary, incandescent with the ideas of H.P. Blavatsky, Rudolf Steiner, Edgar Cayce, and L. Ron Hubbard. When Tompkins’ father wasn’t expounding on subjects metaphysical, he was voicing skepticism toward any form of conventional religion. As for modern science, the elder Tompkins harbored outright loathing, “believing that most scientists spent most of their time covering up the real truth about the world rather than revealing it.” A potent atmosphere of speculation and attitude characterized the household, all of which registered deeply on the son, who writes: “One of the main reasons I’m interested in the afterlife...is that the world I grew up in taught me to be interested.”

The majority of the book, however, is far less personal, as it provides a survey of the history and literature of what happens to us beyond the veil. Tompkins considers a wide range of perspectives on the subject, from the ancient Egyptians to contemporary neuroscientists, always on the lookout for “chunks of apparent meaning” or “the hidden narrative arc in the seemingly pointless flux of human experience.” Along the way, Tompkins delves into The Egyptian Book of the Dead, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and various writings of the American Transcendentalists— notably those of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman—for what can be gleaned to encourage us to “think the right things” about death. While nothing especially new comes to light here, The Modern Book of the Dead does make a significant contribution in its emphasis upon cultivating perspective, something Socrates himself might approve of. “For no matter what kind of brave face we might try to put on it,” Tompkins writes, “a life lived without a coherent, focused, and serious picture of the afterlife is, quite simply, a life without context: a life that will, in the end, always be missing half of itself.”

In this regard, the book is indebted to some of the pioneers of depth psychology— Fechner, Freud, and Jung—yet it also serves as a worthy complement to more recent investigations into the subject of the afterlife, such as those by Deborah Blum (Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life after Death) and Patrick Harpur (The Secret Tradition of the Soul, reviewed in Quest, Summer 2012).

The Modern Book of the Dead is not without its delightfully startling moments, as when Tompkins offers this insight about social media: “it would seem the afterlife is a lot like Facebook, with the difference that the simulacrum of connection with others that Facebook partially provides is here actually provided in full.” Laugh, cry, or wince at this analogy, it unsettles in the very way an unexpected truth often does. And despite the immodest claim of the book’s subtitle, Tompkins does strike a balanced tone in laying out his case, and he usually avoids confusing metaphor for reality: “The last thing we should do is take these descriptions completely at face value.”

Like many argonauts of the spirit before him, Tompkins is drawn to cartographic metaphor as a way to delineate the great beyond. He would have his book serve as a map for future travelers, which of course means all of us. “Such a map will always be just a map,” he admits, “but good maps do describe real places, and point to real journeys as well.” If in the end The Modern Book of the Dead proves less a map than an engaging travelogue, I for one have no complaints. Nor does it matter that this book, like that ancient teacher in China, leaves the big question unresolved. The reader instead comes away with renewed anticipation for wondrous regions that may one day be revealed.

John P. O’Grady

John P. O’Grady’s contributions to Quest include “Shadow Gazing: On Photography and Imagination” in the Fall 2009 issue.


  

Initiating Women in Freemasonry: The Adoption Rite
Jan A.M. Snoek
Leiden: Brill, 2012. xvii + 550 pages, hardcover, $237.

Freemasonry is often considered an exclusively male fraternity and, in most of its manifestations, so it is. In particular, the dominant stream of Masonry that has historically flowed out of the British Isles (including Masonry as it developed in North America) has forbidden the initiation of women. Why this is so is a knotty question, though probably one over which few people lose sleep.

The usual explanation is that the mixing of men and women in “secret” meetings during the genesis of modern Masonry in seventeenth- and eighteenth- century British culture would have just been too scandalous. And Masonry, being an extremely traditional order, has continued that custom down to the present.

An alternate explanation, put forth by Robert G. Davis in Understanding Manhood in America: Freemasonry’s Enduring Path to the Mature Masculine (Lancaster, Va.: Anchor Communications, 2005), is that Masonic rituals (and their accompanying symbols and lectures) were consciously designed to initiate men into a mature and moral understanding of their responsibilities as men. In other words, Masonry may have evolved from an artisan trade initiation into a broader masculine adult “rite of passage” ritual. Women were not excluded out of some petty sexist spite. Rather, with Masonry understood as an embodiment of the male mysteries, the presence of women in Masonic lodges would have been as awkward as the presence of men in tribal women’s menstrual huts.

Nevertheless, during the upsurge of reform efforts in the mid- to late nineteenth century that encompassed abolitionism, suffragism, spiritualism, Prohibition, alternative healing methods, and a renewed interest in occultism, the exclusion of women from Freemasonry became an issue worthy of challenge. H.P. Blavatsky, in Isis Unveiled, delighted in revealing the keys to several Masonic ciphers and presented her own analysis of Masonic symbolism and history. For good measure, in an exchange of honors with John Yarker, a British disseminator of fringe Masonic charters and degrees, she received a diploma declaring her the recipient of several degrees of the feminine Rite of Adoption. The next generation of Theosophical leaders, particularly Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater, went even further by encouraging the growth and spread of Co-Masonry, a version of Freemasonry admitting both men and women.

Yet these efforts toward Masonic inclusiveness were preceded by the substantial development of a largely feminine Freemasonry, particularly in France, in the latter part of the eighteenth century: the so-called Adoptive Rites (into which Blavatsky would supposedly be initiated). This is the subject of Jan Snoek’s Initiating Women in Freemasonry, a breakthrough tackling of a subject hitherto lost in the shadows of obscurity.

Freemasonry’s spread from Britain to the European continent around the 1730s was accompanied by all sorts of paradoxes. If Masonry in Britain was distinguished by an egalitarian mixing of male bourgeoisie, gentry, and aristocracy, Masonry in France was largely an aristocratic pursuit. Yet the French aristocracy allowed a greater latitude for the activities of women, whether through salons or through aristocratic female participation in Freemasonry.

This was largely propelled through the phenomenon of Adoptive Rites, with traditional male lodges founding associated lodges for women, with their own unique degree rituals and mythos. This was often portrayed by unsympathetic Masons as giving a sop to “the ladies,” but Snoek convincingly demonstrates that the Adoptive degree rituals had sufficient sophistication and depth to rival those of mainstream male Masonry. In fact, Snoek offers evidence that the Adoptive ritual may have been adapted from a variety of “Harodim” Masonry that existed parallel to the better-known Grand Lodge Masonry of Britain in the 1700s.

Snoek traces the ebbs and flows of active Adoptive Masonry from the eighteenth through the twentieth century, although he largely concentrates on its continental manifestations and doesn’t bring Co-Masonry into the discussion. His book makes great use of the vast archives of the Grand Orient, the central lodge of France, which were confiscated by the Nazis during World War II and subsequently seized by the Soviet Union, where they were warehoused until their return to the Grand Orient in 2000.

Initiating Women in Freemasonry is a dense and scholarly work, perhaps of most interest to Masonic researchers and the growing number of academic scholars investigating esoteric traditions. It assumes the reader has a substantial familiarity with—or at least an interest in—both the intricacies of Masonic history and such arcane topics as the variations between ritual texts published in various “Masonic exposures” in the eighteenth century. This may drastically limit the potential readership for the book; hence the publisher’s astronomical list price for it.

But make no mistake: Snoek has produced a richly researched and wellargued book that brings a formerly obscure corner of Masonic history into the light of day. It offers evidence that over the past three centuries, more women received a form of Masonic initiation than has hitherto been commonly known or assumed.

This work represents a breakthrough in expanding the discussion of the multitude of “Masonries” that have coexisted since the 1700s. However, it may be a good long while before such specialized research trickles down into more mainstream discussions of what is “real” Masonry. In the meantime, for serious Masonic history buffs, Snoek’s book is a tough, dense, but rewarding read. He deserves the strongest thanks for undertaking it.

Jay Kinney

Jay Kinney was publisher and editor in chief of Gnosis magazine during its fifteen-year span. His book The Masonic Myth (Harper Collins) has been translated into five languages.


  

Ancient Wisdom for a New Age: A Practical Guide for Spiritual Growth
Terry Hunt & Pal Benedict
Las Vegas, Nevada: Twin Star Nexus, 2012. 414 pages, paper, $18.95.

Ancient Wisdom for a New Age is written in the form of a dialogue in which the questions of an inquirer are answered by the authors. The book offers some praiseworthy suggestions for ways to live the spiritual life. It also discusses humanity’s metaphysical nature and evolutionary journey. The chapter on reincarnation is especially well-done.

Hunt and Benedict have drawn on many resources for the theories they discuss. Their bibliography includes The Mahatma Letters, several works by H.P. Blavatsky, thirteen titles by Alice Bailey, seven by C.W. Leadbeater, and about forty-two others. To their credit, the authors recommend that readers accept only what is reasonable to them and that they keep an open mind so that they might get new insights. Nevertheless, the theories come across as facts rather than theories. Clearly the authors hope those theories, or facts, will be helpful to others in making spiritual progress.

On the practical side, the authors stress what every great spiritual teacher has stressed--the danger of identifying with the personal ego. In fact, they have emphasized it to a fault. Throughout the book, even the simplest pleasures are put down as a hindrance to spiritual growth. We are told that the soul has no interest in football games or movies. Perhaps that is true, but surely harmless entertainment and fun are not a hindrance to spiritual growth.

The authors’ treatment of our emotional nature comes close to suggesting that we eliminate all emotion and operate only from a higher spiritual state of consciousness, as they seem to believe adepts do. Yet in The Mahatma Letters, historical documents written by two adepts named Koot Hoomi and Morya, we find that the adepts have very strong feelings. In one letter, Koot Hoomi said Blavatsky “made [Morya] more than once start in anger, and break his pipe while swearing like a true—Christian.”

Each chapter has numerous subtopics that sometimes include extraneous material and occasionally omit material needed to cover the subtopic. In chapter 2, “The Human Experience,” there is a subsection entitled “The Nature of the Human Soul.” Commendably, the authors point out the need to be scrupulously honest with ourselves and with others. No doubt that is essential if we are to live a spiritual life; but except for saying that “the human soul exists on the very highest levels of the mental realm,” the authors do not tell us much about what the soul is. In the next subsection, “The Levels of Consciousness,” we are told that the most spiritual parts of a human being are atma and buddhi, which are “the very highest vibrational frequencies within us.” That may be true, but how do we discover what high vibrational frequencies are within ourselves?

The authors frequently say that “everything is exactly as it should be.” Perhaps it would be nearer the truth if they had said that everything is the result of action. Surely the sorry world situation is not as things should be. Were that the case, we should leave things as they are. Ignorance, selfishness, and greed have caused great misery to humanity and to nature, but isn’t it our job to do what we can to change ourselves and the world for the better? No doubt the authors would agree with that, but readers could get the wrong idea from the authors saying that things are as they should be.

Ancient Wisdom for a New Age provides some very important advice for those who want to live the spiritual life. In addition to warning about the dangers of identifying with the ego, the authors stress the need for a selfless life. They also point out that the adepts are not willing to become personal teachers for everyone who wants individual guidance, and they strongly discourage mediumship and channeling.

Hunt and Benedict are to be commended for making a noble effort to help spiritual pilgrims on their way. At the same time Ancient Wisdom for a New Age spends too much time on metaphysical theories without providing reasonable evidence for their veracity, and it often answers questions in simplistic and unsatisfying ways. By far the most practical chapter in the book is “Your Spiritual Practice.” To justify the book’s subtitle this chapter might have been expanded and some of the metaphysical theory omitted.

Edward Abdill

Edward Abdill is vice-president of the Theosophical Society in America and author of The Secret Gateway: Modern Theosophy and the Ancient Wisdom Tradition.


 

Just Trust Me: Finding the Truth in a World of Spin
G. Randy Kasten
Wheaton: Quest Books, 2011. xii + 288 pages, paper, $16.95.

Just Trust Me provides the reader with a number of useful strategies for identifying the truth in an age dominated by pundits, prognosticators, and people with agendas. The strategies outlined by G. Randy Kasten are applicable to a wide variety of situations that the reader is apt to encounter in daily life. The insights presented in this book were garnered, in part, from the author’s twenty-five years of experience as a civil-litigation attorney, a profession where separating fact from fiction is an ongoing challenge.

Whether we are purchasing a new car, voting for a political candidate, or assessing the accuracy of a news story, our challenge is to separate the reality from the illusion; truth is not always self-evident. Again and again, the basic question we face is: “How do I know if this is true?” Just Trust Me shows the reader how to apply these basic questions:

• Do I have enough information to make a decision?
• Does the source of my information have a bias?
• Am I somehow distorting the information? • What information is the most crucial?

Rather than providing a single definition of the word truth, the author suggests that “it is best described as a constellation of concepts rather than a single one.” For instance, there are objective and subjective truths, probable and potential truths, temporary and contextual truths, as well as those which are relative or implied.

One chapter is entitled “Eight Types of Lies and What You Can Do about Them.” These categories include deliberate lies, lying by exaggeration or omission, and self-deception. More subtle ones include white lies, implicit lies, intellectual dishonesty, and lies posed as questions. Implicit lies include leaving false impressions. One example is men who flatter women in order to persuade them to have sex: “Their flattery may be sincere, and they may be genuinely charming, but a direct expression of what they are after would not be welcome in most situations, so they pretend to want something more romantic.” Because implicit liars are hiding their true motivation, Kasten suggests confronting such individuals early with direct questions such as, “Are you trying to confuse me?” When challenged in this way, most implicit liars will still deny having such hidden motivations, but at least they will stop assuming that you can be manipulated so easily and will likely refrain from using such tactics with you in the future.

Although Kasten gives numerous suggestions for teasing out the truth, depending on the particular set of circumstances being faced, he emphasizes that “even more than following any set of rules, it means paying attention” and having “a willingness to question those things that you would rather accept at face value.” It means stepping out of our comfort zone and habitual patterns. It means being willing to look at points of view that we might prefer to ignore. And it means learning to promote understanding and empathy in our personal relationships, because doing so promotes honesty. This is easier said than done, for “to see the world with great clarity, conscious effort is certainly necessary.” The reward for doing this, however, is a life that is blessed by greater prosperity, better health, and growing authenticity.

David P. Bruce

The reviewer is a long-time member of the Theosophical Society, for which he serves as national secretary.


 

Art Magic
Emma Hardinge Britten, Edited and annotated by Marc Demarest
Forest Grove, Ore.: Typhon Press, 2011. Paper, lvi + 476 pages, $19.99

Emma Hardinge Britten (1823–99) may well qualify as one of the most influential people that no one has ever heard of. Though well known in the last half of the nineteenth century as a defender of spiritualism, a medium and “inspired” speaker, publisher, and writer, as well as one of the founding members of the Theosophical Society, she has largely fallen off the map for most contemporary students of esoteric spirituality.

Scholar Joscelyn Godwin, in The Theosophical Enlightenment (1994), helped pluck her from obscurity, as did researchers associated with the Theosophical History journal (www.theohistory.org) and the spiritualist digital history journal Psypioneer (www.theohistory.org). All of these are worth checking out.

But the foremost defender of Britten’s importance to the panoply of nineteenth-century esoteric practices (mesmerism, spiritualism, magnetic healing, and Theosophy, among others) has been Marc Demarest. In 2009, Demarest founded an online blog, “Chasing Down Emma,” which provided a blow-by-blow account of his research for a projected biography of her (http://ehbritten.blogspot.com/).

Writers are usually reticent about sharing works in progress, but Demarest took an entirely different tack. By sharing each question about her life as well as each discovery as they arose, he hoped to generate interest in his subject and perhaps pull other researchers into investigating the Emma Hardinge Britten conundrum. Searching the newly available scans of many nineteenth- century spiritualist books and periodicals on Google Books and other digital archives, Demarest and cohorts found details of Britten’s life that had almost certainly never been assembled together before.

Now, some three years later, we can judge Demarest’s efforts a success, with the publication of his edited and annotated edition of Britten’s most influential book, Art Magic. (Demarest’s biography of her is still in the works, while a similarly annotated edition of her follow-up book, Ghost Land, is scheduled for publication in 2012.)

Emma Hardinge Britten was already a well-known spiritualist when she took part in the meetings in New York in 1875 that directly led to the founding of the Theosophical Society. Though the TS’s initial purpose was in flux and hardly cast in stone, its founding unleashed a surge of curiosity about alternative spiritual traditions and practices.

Art Magic was Britten’s initial contribution to this surge. First published in 1876, the book saw print over a year before H. P. Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled, and could be viewed as Britten’s effort to lead the pack in providing grist for the esoteric mill. It presumed to provide insights into the esoteric reality behind cruder but more commonly accepted religious belief systems. Like Isis Unveiled, Art Magic drew upon numerous sources that were not always acknowledged. Demarest’s annotations identify many of these and provide a detectivelike experience for the dedicated reader.

But this is also where the mysteries begin to multiply and where Britten’s role in this work comes into question. Art Magic (whose name is an English version of the Latin ars magica) was published as being written by an unnamed European aristocrat wellversed in occult matters, with Britten credited as editor and translator. Ghost Land is attributed to the same mysterious author, with Britten again as editor and translator. But accumulating evidence suggests that she may well have been the actual author of both books.

Eventually Britten’s interest in the occult took a U-turn back into the more secure environs of the much larger spiritualist movement. Overlapping her interest in both worlds were side excursions into magnetic (galvanic) healing, mesmerism, and related nostrums of the era.

By present standards, Art Magic is a tough slog. Mix a Victorian prose style with antiquated surmisings about ancient religions and some not always dependable descriptions of magical and occult practices, and you do not have a compelling page-turner. Despite this, Art Magic was quite influential in occult and esoteric circles, with several later popular books lifting ideas and content from it.

One needn’t try to read Art Magic from cover to cover in order to understand its value. Demarest’s introduction and annotations—the latter helpfully provided as footnotes at the bottom of the pages to which they refer—draw the reader into a world of speculation— on what Britten may have been trying to do, on what was really known at the time, and on what we might reasonably believe today.

Whether you acquire this book or not, keep the name of Emma Hardinge Britten in mind, as our understanding of her pioneering contribution to an appreciation of esoteric matters continues to grow and evolve.

Jay Kinney

Jay Kinney was publisher and editor in chief of Gnosis magazine during its fifteen-year span. His recent book, The Masonic Myth (Harper Collins), has been translated into five languages.


Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World
The Fourteenth Dalai Lama 
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. xv + 188 pages, hardcover, $24.

If you were to ask most religious leaders for the key to universal harmony, each would probably say that it would be the universal adoption of his own religion. That this is not a viable solution has long since become obvious, but very few religious authorities have offered any decent alternatives.

The Dalai Lama is one exception. In 2001, he published Ethics for a New Millennium, which offered an explicitly secular approach to moral principles. His latest book, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, expands upon that vision. (TS members who attended the Dalai Lama’s presentation in Chicago in July 2011 will, incidentally, find much that is familiar in this work.) Beyond Religion offers a form of ethics that transcends religion as such, and does not even require belief in God or any other supernatural agency. “In today’s secular world,” he contends, “religion alone is no longer adequate as a basic for ethics. One reason for this is that many people in the world no longer follow any particular religion. Another reason is that, as the peoples of the world become ever more closely interconnected . . . , ethics based on any one religion would only appeal to some of us; it would not be meaningful for all.”

Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama sees no contradiction between his position as a religious leader and his offering the option of a purely secular ethics: “My faith enjoins me to strive for the welfare and benefit of all sentient beings, and reaching out beyond my own tradition, to those of other religions and those of none, is entirely in keeping with this.”

The approach that he sets out is simple. Certain values, such as “love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness” are, he contends, universal among the world religions. Moreover, he believes, they are intrinsic to human nature. If we nurture these qualities in ourselves, it will go far toward relieving the world’s suffering. The pillars for his new “secular ethics” are “the recognition of our shared humanity and our shared aspiration to happiness and the avoidance of suffering” and “the understanding of interdependence as a key feature of human reality” (emphasis in the original).

Confronting the age-old question of morality versus self-interest, the Dalai Lama says, “Many people . . . assume that feeling compassion for others is only good for the others and not for oneself. This is . . . incorrect . . . The first beneficiary of compassion is always oneself. When compassion, or warmheartedness, arises in us and shifts our focus away from our own narrow self-interest, it is as if we open an inner door. Compassion reduces our fear, boosts our confidence, and brings us inner strength. By reducing distrust, it opens us to others and brings us a sense of connection with them and a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Compassion also gives us a respite from our own difficulties.”

The Dalai Lama is thus arguing that morality and self-interest are not, as is commonly supposed, in conflict but are inextricably interwoven. Our natural tendencies toward love and compassion, combined with our interconnection with others, mean that we do not have to choose between our own interest and another’s; as the great world religions have frequently taught, they are the same.

The book does not stop with the cultivation of these values in a purely interpersonal context. It also stresses that we need to cultivate these virtues internally in order to benefit fully. The Dalai Lama gives advice for uprooting destructive emotions and maintaining ethical awareness in everyday life. In the final section of the book, he recommends various meditative practices as methods of self-cultivation.

Will this book, with its eminently reasonable arguments based both on simple logic and on the findings of science, convince those who don’t already agree with its perspective? Probably not. While the author is very likely right in saying that the great religious tradition espouse love and compassion, it is also the case that at many junctures they have both preached and practiced the opposite. If the bigots and fanatics of the world’s faiths don’t bother to listen to the central teachings of their own traditions, why would we expect them to listen to the leader of another?

Furthermore, moral development is not a matter of convincing someone rationally to follow good and eschew evil; that comes far too late in life. Ultimately it is a question of upbringing, which is why practically all the world’s religions try to inculcate their principles in young children. (Even Aristotle said that moral philosophy should be studied only by people whose morals were good to begin with.) By the time one is grown, one’s values, good or bad, are set, and are only modified at the cost of great discipline and, frequently, upheavals.

Hence for those who view moral decisions as a zero-sum game, in which gains for you inevitably mean losses for me, the arguments set forth in this book will probably not prove persuasive. But those who are already disposed toward love and compassion will find help and inspiration in this book. Although the Dalai Lama sometimes seems overoptimistic in his assessment of human nature, Beyond Religion remains a noble and admirable effort toward fostering some of the central human virtues without an appeal either to God or to the policeman.

Richard Smoley

 


Book Reviews 2015

A Most Unusual Life: Dora Van Gelder Kunz: Clairvoyant, Theosophist, Healer
KIRSTEN VAN GELDER and FRANK CHESLEY
Wheaton: Quest, 2015. 352 pp., paper, $24.95.

This lively biography of Dora van Gelder, clairvoyant, healer, and late president of the Theosophical Society in America, arose from an unusual collaboration. Its core is drawn from taped interviews of Dora by journalist Frank Chesley. Unfortunately, Chesley died before he could finish the manuscript. Kirsten Van Gelder, wife of Dora’s nephew, continued interviewing. She also drew on papers of Dora’s husband Fritz Kunz and on interviews with her coworkers to complete this work.

Dora Van Gelder was born in 1904, in Java, then in the Dutch East Indies, to a family of sugar planters. Even in her childhood she had natural clairvoyant abilities and was able to see nature spirits in the garden and woods around the house. These abilities were taken seriously at home, as her grandmother and mother had similar ones. And because the belief in nature spirits is widespread in Java — an island with a mixture of Chinese, Hindu, and Muslim cultures — people working on the plantation did not find the ability strange either. Her mother taught her meditation techniques at an early age and encouraged daily meditation practice.

Dora’s parents were leaders in the Theosophical Society and were in active contact with Theosophists living in Asia, especially India, and Australia. With the outbreak of the First World War, C.W. Leadbeater, a close coworker with Annie Besant at the Adyar headquarters of the TS, decided to stay in Australia, where he had been visiting, and open a small school to train boys both in academic studies and in spiritual abilities. Leadbeater was also a clairvoyant, and he was interested in having Dora among his eight students — the only girl. She went to Australia at the age of twelve and never lived extensively in Java again. In fact, her parents moved to Australia.

During the First World War and again during the 1930s, there were efforts to develop Theosophical communities based on common work, sharing of revenue, and common study. Dora’s parents were leaders of such a community, and Theosophists from different countries would spend time at the Manor, as the Australian community was called.

Thus she met Fritz Kunz, an American educator who had also been a student of Leadbeater’s and was working at Adyar. Despite a sixteen-year difference in age, young Dora married Fritz. He encouraged her to go with him to the U.S., where he became a popular speaker at Theosophical centers. For many years Dora devoted her life to helping him in his educational activities and raising their son, John.

In 1940, Fritz founded the journal Main Currents in Modern Thought, devoted to the concept of integrated education — a way in which science and spirituality could cooperate and share the results of their collaboration in schools and universities. Through Main Currents Dora met a good number of leading educators, but she did not speak often of her clairvoyant abilities, except to a small circle of friends.

With Fritz’s death in 1972, Main Currents ended publication and Dora could focus on her own interests. Her clairvoyant abilities had already been investigated by Shafica Karagulla, a British-trained professor of psychiatry at the State University of New York, for Karagulla’s book Breakthrough to Creativity (1967), but Dora’s name was only given as “DVK.”

Once Dora could act on her own, she and Karagulla teamed up to write The Chakras and the Human Energy Fields. Long before, Leadbeater had written books along these lines called The Chakras and Man Visible and Invisible, and Dora knew of his work from her years of training with him. Leadbeater had clairvoyant abilities, but he also had a strong imagination. He was not interested in a scientific approach, and a reader of his books cannot make a distinction between what he saw and what he imagined. Thus Dora had to start over in the study of subtle energies, but she would do so in the spirit of Main Currents rather than of “CWL,” as she called Leadbeater.

The analysis of the nature of the chakras and the alignment of their harmonious flow of energies led naturally to work with healing. With Dolores Krieger, a professor of nursing at New York University, Dora developed a technique of healing based on the universal energy as a way of to restoring order and wholeness within the patient. This marked the development of what is now known as Therapeutic Touch. Therapeutic Touch is increasingly taught to nurses and other health professionals and is widely used well beyond the TS membership.

From 1975 to 1987, Dora was president of the Theosophical Society in America and lived much of the time at its Wheaton headquarters. She had known many of the members of the second generation of the TS — Leadbeater, Annie Besant, Rukmini Devi Arundale, Krishnamurti — and so served as a kind of living memory of the organization and its activities. She published The Real World of Fairies based on her earlier clairvoyant observations. She also remained interested in the educational ideas exemplified by Main Currents. Still, her keenest interest was in the healing process. After leaving the presidency of the TS, she lived in Seattle, near her son and other relatives. She died in 1999 at age ninety-five.

René Wadlow

René Wadlow is president of the Association of World Citizens and a representative to the United Nations, Geneva, on its behalf. With a long interest in education in Africa and Asia, he collaborated with Fritz Kunz and his journal Main Currents in Modern Thought.

 

 

Sweet Synchronicity: Finding Annie Besant, Discovering Krishnamurti
Elizabeth Spring
N.p.: Archeon Press, 2015. 287 pp., paper, $18.86.

The early leaders of the Theosophical Society continue to inspire literature of all kinds. One of the latest additions is Elizabeth Spring’s Sweet Synchronicity. The title refers to a deep connection the author has felt to Annie Besant, partly because they were born exactly 100 years apart (Besant: October 1, 1847; Spring, October 1, 1947). This connection, in the author’s view, has been reinforced by many coincidences, or synchronicities, over the years.

The book interweaves a biography of Besant loosely interwoven with the author’s own personal experiences. Throughout it Spring emphasizes her link to Besant. She even suggests that she might be Besant’s reincarnation: “Could I have been her mother? Could I have been her? . . . I’m not sure there is a knowable answer to these questions; I think much is meant to remain a mystery.”

If Elizabeth Spring is indeed the reincarnation of Annie Besant, her memory has suffered severe damage in the passage between worlds, because the book is full of errors and distortions. It is far from clear how many of these were deliberate, even though Spring says at the outset, “although the basis of the story is true as told, there are some changes that modify the story to put it in a literary form. There are also disagreements over the nature of some of the people and events as noted in conflicting histories.”

In fact Sweet Synchronicity goes far past mere literary modifications. Sometimes the mistakes are small. While Spring makes much of an interview she had in 1988 with Rosalind Rajagopal, the longtime lover of J. Krishnamurti, she is unable even to decide on the spelling of her name: it appears repeatedly as both “Rosalind” and “Roselind.”

Other errors are both more substantial and more comical. One scene depicts a reunion between Besant and her long-estranged daughter Mabel, here described as a “young woman.” But the scene is set in 1929, and Mabel Besant was born in 1870, so she would have been fifty-nine on the supposed date of this reconciliation.

Probably the most amusing distortion appears in Spring’s account of Krishnamurti’s climactic renunciation of his role as the World Teacher, which also occurred in 1929. When he and Besant arrive at the event at which he is supposed to take on the mantle, they are “greeted immediately by Colonel Olcott.” But it would have been difficult for Henry Steel Olcott to attend this gathering, because at that point he had been dead for twenty-two years.

A more serious problem comes with Spring’s portrayal of the relations between C.W. Leadbeater and Krishnamurti. At one point Besant catches Leadbeater in an intimate moment with Krishnamurti. Outraged, she sends Leadbeater away.

In all probability nothing of this sort ever happened. It is reasonably certain that Leadbeater never approached Krishnamurti in this way: years later Krishnamurti himself denied that he had. Even in Gregory Tillett’s book The Elder Brother: A Biography of Charles Webster Leadbeater — which many Theosophists regard as hostile to its subject — the author concedes that Leadbeater “had no sexual relations with Krishnamurti.” In any event, Besant did not break with Leadbeater for this or any other reason. She was one of his staunchest defenders throughout later years.

Much of Sweet Synchronicity, particularly the second half, appears to be based on a screenplay by Spring that won a 1988 contest, complete with a $5000 prize. Her account of this event is peculiar. After winning, she is approached by a Hollywood producer who wants to option the script. But it turns out that this producer, with true Hollywood sensationalism, wants to include the story of Krishnamurti’s affair with Rosalind Rajagopal in the film. The indignant Spring refuses and tears up the check.

So on the one hand, we have Spring high-mindedly refusing to put into her screenplay something that did happen — the affair between Krishnmurti and Rosalind — but on the other hand creating a much more scurrilous scene between Leadbeater and Krishmamurti that did not happen. This is a strange sort of integrity.

In short, Sweet Synchronicity is a book that knowledgeable Theosophists are likely to find either hilarious or infuriating. While it does loosely replicate the events of Besant’s life, it does so with so many distortions that it cannot be called a biography in any meaningful sense. It could be most charitably described as an imaginative engagement with the life of Besant, although it is not an intelligent or responsible engagement.

Some are likely to see this book as an embarrassment to Theosophy. That may or may not be the case, but it certainly ought to be an embarrassment to the author.

Richard Smoley

 

Empress of Swindle: The Life of Ann Odelia Diss Debar
JOHN BENEDICT BUESCHER
Forest Grove, Oregon: Typhon Press, 2014. 346 pp., paper, $19.99.

Ann Odelia Diss Debar (1849-1911?), the subject of this highly readable new biography, is one of the most notorious figures of the late nineteenth century – and oddly, someone almost unknown today. Born of humble origins in Kentucky, she developed pretensions of grandeur while still a teenager, and by the time she reached adulthood was already representing herself as the abandoned daughter of King Ludwig I of Bavaria and Lola Montez, a theatrical performer of the era.

What she really was — over the span of the next forty years — was an incorrigible con artist of the first order, given to impersonating at various times an European princess, a spiritualist medium, a Theosophical successor to H.P. Blavatsky, a swami, an ex-Catholic target of Jesuit perfidy, and a charitable reformer of fallen women (the last while apparently running brothels in Chicago).

She was married numerous times to men who were either accomplices in her endless schemes or wealthy “marks” – sometimes found dead under suspicious circumstances. By all accounts she seemingly had a strange charisma: the capacity to exhibit absolute conviction while brazenly lying, a crucial talent for someone who weighed in at 300 pounds and sported a succession of outlandish wardrobes.

Ann Odelia, as we’ll call her for short, practiced her trade in an era when it was still possible to jump from boarding house to boarding house without paying one’s bills and to blow town one step ahead of the arrival of police. However, with telegraphy firmly in place, and with the common practice of newspapers across the U.S. rapidly reprinting each other’s sensational reports of scandals and criminal escapades, she began to develop a national reputation that necessitated her constantly changing identities and locales.

John Benedict Buescher acknowledges that sources on Ann Odelia’s doings are largely confined to press reports of the era – an archive that he has thoroughly mined, witness fifty pages of newspaper and journal sources in the book’s bibliography. Given the tendency toward sensationalism in the press of that era, the reader should keep in mind that distortions can creep into any published report, but cumulatively the journalistic evidence is damning. Ann Odelia was a con artist preying upon sincere believers in spiritualism, Theosophy, Eastern philosophies, and self-improvement. But she would have had little success if her target audience hadn’t let its hunger for miracles and religious certainty sway its judgment. From her perspective, she merely gave them what they wanted, admittedly while emptying their bank accounts at the same time.

What Empress of Swindle makes clear, without dwelling upon the point, is that the modern history of esoteric interests has a much shadier back story than is usually acknowledged in official histories. Sincere seekers were repeatedly taken to the cleaners by unscrupulous mediums and “adepts” whose exploits were chronicled in the popular press, but rarely made it into historical summaries published by respectable esoteric organizations.

Hence Ann Odelia’s obscurity today. She was thoroughly enmeshed in overlapping spiritualist, Theosophist, and Eastern seeker circles, running scams and exploiting the trusting and gullible to such an extent that after she was repeatedly unmasked she was largely expunged from the esoteric record as an embarrassment to one and all. In light of this, Buescher’s biography serves as a refreshing tonic that provides some historical balance and, to its credit, is marvelously entertaining as well.

Two episodes that may be of special interest to readers of Quest involve Ann Odelia’s brushes with Theosophy and with the magical Order of the Golden Dawn.

Following the death of Mme. Blavatsky in 1891, Ann Odelia claimed to have attended HPB on her deathbed. According to Buescher, she “displayed a ring with a huge blue stone in it that she said Blavatsky had given her to signify the bequest of her spirit. Sometimes she told them [i.e. Theosophists] that she was so fat because she had ingested Madame Blavatsky’s astral body upon her death.”

Several years later, following other, more successful scams and a stint in prison, Ann Odelia became a partner with Henry B. Foulke in his efforts to assume leadership of the Aryan Branch of the TS following the death of William Q. Judge in 1896. Needless to say, they were not successful, though they did briefly receive support from Aryan Branch members opposed to Katherine Tingley’s assuming leadership.

A couple of years later, she rubbed shoulders in Paris with S.L. MacGregor Mathers, then head of the Golden Dawn. Over the course of several visits, she managed to convince him that she was in fact the legendary Anna Sprengel, the ostensible source of the original correspondence leading to the order’s founding. Shortly thereafter Mathers concluded that he had been hoodwinked, but not before she made off with a satchel containing manuscripts and documents describing the order’s rituals. Unsurprisingly, it was never returned. Subsequently, she was off to Cape Town, South Africa as “Madame Swami Viva Ananda.” She would later incorporate elements of the Golden Dawn rituals into further cults of her creation. In the end – perhaps fittingly – she simply disappeared from view. As much as we might like a neat resolution to her story, whatever transpired did so out of sight.

By the final page of Empress of Swindle, after reading of a never-ending stream of dozens of identities and ploys ranging over decades, I could only conclude that Ann Odelia Diss Debar was the Energizer Bunny of spiritual and occult scams. It is obvious that she has long deserved a full-length biography, and John Buescher has delivered one that I could hardly put down. Highly recommended.

Jay Kinney was founder and publisher of Gnosis magazine, published from 1985 to 1999. His article “Playing Those Mind Games: The Psychedelic Revolution Reconsidered” appeared in Quest, Winter 2015.

 

Jerusalem! The Real Life of William Blake
TOBIAS CHURTON
London: Watkins, 2015. 378 pp., hardcover, $23.30.

Many of us will be familiar with William Blake’s words:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

We might wonder: “What was the source of Blake’s inner vision?” The answer is to be found in this illuminating biography of the man born in London in 1757, who at fourteen would serve a seven year apprenticeship as an engraver, but who would turn out to be so much more than that.

Blake grew up in an era rife with revolution. The cry for liberty was heard not only in America’s thirteen states but in the streets of London as well. Young Blake found the clamor for freedom inspiring, but he experienced it on a deeper level than most, for he saw the worldly cry as one stemming from an inner call for spiritual revolution: a revolution of the heavens within man, a time of revelation. He would be its prophet.

Blake was not the era’s only prophet. Emanuel Swedenborg, dying in London around the time Blake began his apprenticeship, had written Heaven and Hell, influencing Blake in seeing “heaven” — the infinite spiritual, inner worlds — as being very close, interacting with man in the world, its “mansions” corresponding to all that we see and feel. On the other hand, philosophers like Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) in Germany followed England’s John Locke in declaring Reason the messiah of man’s fortunes in the world, a perception against which Blake reacted vehemently. Blake caricatured Reason as Urizen: a false, blind, cold deity, ignorant of a higher principle.

Blake understood what his French contemporary Antoine Fabre d’Olivet (1767–1825) recognized as the limitations of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781). Fabre d’Olivet asserted that Kant had confused “rationality” with “reason.” Man’s ability to think is not the source of insight. The true “reason” is what the Greeks called nous, of which Plotinus said: “the higher reason [nous] is king.” As Churton states, “Spiritual truths transcend rationality: contrary to Kant’s philosophy, they can be known.”

Another French contemporary, the Illuminist Louis-Claude de St.-Martin (1743–1803), expressed the same message in more philosophical terms. In one of many original strokes, Churton boldly links Blake’s insights, illustrated in poetry, etchings, and paintings, to those of the Illuminists of France and Germany:

Like Blake, Illuminists responded to the Enlightenment’s elevation of Reason by recognizing that while reason constituted the inner eye of the mind, its function needed to be clarified, or illuminated, by the light beyond time and space, beyond the external senses.

Churton demonstrates how Blake used what was just becoming known of the second- and third-century Gnostics in formulating his own poetic spiritual system. Churton’s exposition of Blake’s interaction with the theosophies of Paracelsus and Jacob Boehme is outstanding.

It is not surprising that Churton is one of Britain’s leading scholars of Western esotericism, for he provides the key to understanding Blake’s esoteric genius, his art, and, most challenging of all, his prophetic visions. Consistently original, his approach regularly brings forth nuggets of insight; many illuminating asides seem almost like throwaways. Regarding Blake’s last completed commission, his engravings from the Book of Job, Churton notes: “It takes a certain kind of genius to rewrite the Bible without changing a word of it.”

Blake’s vision of the transcendental and limitless make the limited mind ask whether he was a visionary, a prophet, or simply mad. Churton makes it clear that Blake, though eccentric and provocative when he felt inclined, was not mad. Is it possible to suffer from a surfeit of sanity? Only, perhaps, among the less than sane.

Blake challenges us still, his influence extending from the Pre-Raphaelites to Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and W.B. Yeats, and on to Jim Morrison and poets, artists, and musicians such as John Zorn today.

Churton’s thorough comprehension of Blake’s experiences and his crystalline capacity to express that comprehension add up to an authoritative, definitive text. Return readings will bring greater pearls to the surface. Furthermore, the writing is not condescending or Olympian in tone, but warm, witty, and friendly. Where there is need of exposition, it is clear, indicating a disciplined and painstaking mind.

What more can you ask from a book? Here is mysticism, inspiration, creativity, art, poetry, truth, and philosophy, generously shared and beautifully presented and illustrated. It is to be treasured by all who have asked: Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?

Renate zum Tobel

Renate zum Tobel has written three books of poetry and several children’s books. She is also the author of Physician of the Soul: Exploring the Mystical Meaning of the Life of Dr. Albert Schweitzer.

 

 

 

Sharing the Light: Further Writings of Geoffrey Hodson, Volume Three
Edited by John and Elizabeth Sell and Roselmo Z. Doval Santos
Quezon City, Philippines: Theosophical Publishing House, 2014, xvi + 490 pages, hardcover, $24.

Geoffrey Hodson (1886–1983) ranks among the Theosophical Society's most respected teachers and writers. In addition to having authored at least forty-six books and thirty-seven booklets, he wrote hundreds of articles and gave hundreds of talks throughout the world.

A modest and self-effacing individual, Hodson avoided the guru adoration syndrome that has befallen so many spiritual teachers over the years. It was not until after his passing that we learned that Hodson had received direct guidance and inspiration from adept and archangelic teachers throughout his adult life. Although he often referred to himself as simply a "student of Theosophy," Robert Ellwood, emeritus professor of religion at the University of Southern California, described him as "worthy of compare with the greatest seers and mystics of any land or time."

This book is the third collection of Hodson's lesser-known writings, gleaned primarily from pamphlets and booklets long out of print by John and Elizabeth Sell, prominent members of the New Zealand Section, and edited by them and Roselmo Z. Doval Santos, president of the Theosophical Society in the Philippines.

As in the previous two volumes, the material presented here is clearly written, and reflects Hodson's broad and eclectic range of personal and professional interests, with a strong practical emphasis on how to live a spiritual life of integrity, compassion, and right action. Subjects include esoteric Christianity, death, reincarnation, world peace, the importance of beauty, the way to the Masters, relationship, healing, diet, animal welfare, marriage, motherhood, and education.

This impressive collection contains a wealth of material suitable for both individual and group study. Individual titles include "The Clairvoyant Study of Fairies, Nature Spirits, and Devas," "The Spiritual Significance of Motherhood," "Angels and the New Race," "Principles Governing Happiness in Marriage," "The Path to the Masters of the Wisdom," "Health and the Spiritual Life," "The Humanitarian Cause," and "Does Justice Rule the World?"

Although some of the writings date back to over eighty years ago, many still resonate with the present day. Lamenting the pernicious effects of radio and cinema on young people, Hodson writes: "For today, success simply means becoming rich. 'Get! Get! Get!' becomes the motive for all effort. Trick, deceive, outwit, compete, becomes the mode, the means of success . . . They are sent out into life with a strong desire to advertise themselves, their education, their scholastic degrees, their highest gifts for money, power, possessions."

Writing towards the end of the Second World War, Hodson could be describing the present-day cults of narcissism and materialism, fueled by television, magazines, and social media.

Much in this volume reflects a similarly passionate tone. "Krishnamurti and the Search for Light" is a vigorous and detailed critique of Jiddu Krishnamurti, written seven years after his resignation from the Theosophical Society in 1929. Referring to Krishnamurti's teachings as "an extraordinary blend of rare flashes of transcendental wisdom, penetrating intelligence, incomprehensibility, prejudice, intolerance, and vituperation," Hodson's essay focuses on how Krishnamurti led many former members of the Theosophical Society into "darkness" and why his teachings should be rejected. Hodson writes, "The extraordinary confusion of thought which he is causing everywhere he goes might be productive of great harm."

In "The Problem of Sex Training and a Solution," Hodson offers wide-ranging advice on raising children to become well-grounded, ethical, and spiritual adults, emphasizing celibacy when teaching young people about sex: "There is only one absolutely sure protection against grievous effects, physical and moral, of sexual indulgence. That sole protection against disease of body and soul for youth is the bright shield of continence . . . This simple but dishonoured truth must be at the heart of all sex instruction, all hygienic education."

Some readers may feel uncomfortable reading such direct statements, many of which may challenge their accepted beliefs or behavior. We can choose to dismiss them as simply being part of another era or as examples of an extreme, absolutist, or puritanical point of view. Yet open-minded seekers of truth can choose to welcome such ideas and use them as a touchstone to examine their own character, beliefs, and conduct.

In addition to his writings, this volume includes a previously unpublished discussion between Hodson and John Sell, exploring such areas as elementals and discarnate entities, kundalini, and spiritual healing. Readers will also welcome two little-known articles by Hodson's wife Sandra: "Theosophy and Family Life" and "Failure: Gateway to Success." A former general secretary of the TS in New Zealand, Sandra Hodson was a respected Theosophical teacher and author in her own right. Often working quietly in the background, she helped edit many of her husband's writings and compiled his three posthumous books, Light of the Sanctuary: The Occult Diary of Geoffrey Hodson (1988), The Yogic Ascent to Spiritual Heights (1991), and Illuminations of the Mystery Tradition (1992).

Like the previous two volumes, this one contains photographs of Hodson that have been rarely seen before. It also includes a fascinating report by a scientist who observed some of Hodson's clairvoyant research in New Zealand during the 1950s.

Like the previous two volumes, Sharing the Light offers a wealth of original, eclectic, and practical teachings that will challenge, inform, and inspire. In addition to being an important addition to the library of every Theosophical lodge or study center, this book can form a valuable part of the library of individual students who wish to expand their insight, compassion, and understanding of life.

Nathaniel Altman

Nathaniel Altman has been a member of the Theosophical Society in America since 1970. He was a student of Geoffrey Hodson at the Krotona School of Theosophy in 1972.

 

 


Masters of Wisdom: The Mahatmas, Their Letters, and the Path
Edward Abdill
New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2015. 288 pp., hardcover, $16.95.

What is a Mahatma? Helena Petrovna Blavatsky replied that a Mahatma (or Master, or adept; the terms are more or less interchangeable) is a personage who, by special training and education, has evolved those higher faculties and has attained that spiritual knowledge which ordinary humanity will acquire after passing through numberless series of incarnations.

One of the Masters added to this definition by writing, "The adept is the rare efflorescence of a generation of enquirers; and to become one, he must obey the inward impulse of his soul irrespective of the prudential considerations of worldly science of sagacity." HPB said that the Masters were members of an occult brotherhood, most of whom lived in Tibet.

HPB claimed to have met many adepts in addition to the two who became her teachers, who called themselves Morya (M.) and Koot Hoomi (K.H.). This book makes compelling reading about her relationship with them, their continued guidance and influence on her, and how through their vision the Theosophical Society was born.

Did these men really exist? Doubts were cast, but then there is an abundance of letters written by them. Edward Abdill devotes the first part of his book to the Mahatmas and their letters and the profound wisdom they convey. Most of these letters are from K.H. and M. to HPB and to an Englishman named A.P. Sinnett. HPB and Olcott met Sinnett when they moved the headquarters of the Society from New York to Bombay (today's Mumbai), India, in 1878–79. Sinnett was intrigued by a paranormal phenomenon performed by HPB, which she attributed to the Masters, and he wanted to communicate with them. Later both M. and K.H. corresponded directly with Sinnett. This correspondence was published in 1923 as The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett.

There will be those who will say that the whole idea of the Masters was fabricated, but HPB had no motive for doing so. The Masters asked for nothing. The letters are about universal brotherhood. An open mind is needed to see the wisdom in them.

Abdill also describes how the Masters also had personalities with common sense as well as a sense of humor. After tiring of Sinnett's unending questions, K.H. wrote, "And now, how long do you propose to abstain from interrogation marks?" There are two fascinating chapters on the Masters' views on God, evil, occult philosophy (M. told Sinnett that the desire to see paranormal phenomena is like a drug), and the law of karma. The chapters "Our Sevenfold Nature" and "From Death to Rebirth" are to be read slowly and with single-minded attention.

Were there conflicts in the founding of the Society? Of course there were. "No people, no problems" gives way to "Yes, people, yes, problems." The Masters helped there also. In one letter, K.H. emphasized that HPB was to have no dealings with administrative things but was to have everything to deal with occult matters. She was their direct agent, he said. This work eventually led to the formation of what is today called the Esoteric School of Theosophy.

Through their letters, the Masters continued to give guidance about pitfalls on the path (fill each day's measure with pure thoughts, wise words, kindly deeds, K.H. wrote to Sinnett), on selfishness, pride, egoism, desire, and attachment. They also describe the threefold path of study, meditation, and service. K.H. advises aspirants in one word: "TRY."

Abdill devotes the second part of the book to the Path. After HPB's death, a document was found among her papers entitled "There Is a Road." It says, "There is a road, steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind, but yet a road and it leads to the very heart of the universe. I can tell you how to find those who will show you the way." In one letter she urges, "Do not work merely for the Theosophical Society, but through it for the humanity." In her classic work The Secret Doctrine, she writes, "Lead the life necessary . . . and Wisdom will come to you naturally."

Are the Masters alive today? Are they still communicating with anyone? Ever since K.H.'s last letter to Annie Besant in 1900 (published in Quest, Summer 2011), there has been no proof that anyone has received letters from the Masters. But as an appendix to his book, Abdill includes a paper delivered in 1955 by the late TSA president Dora Kunz. Here she implies that she has had direct encounters with them, for example: "All of us have masks. All of us think in terms of little things that are not true. If you are in the Master's presence, that all gets wiped out."

The wisdom the Masters have provided is deep and profound. There is something amiss if, after reading Abdill's book, one does not have a desire to communicate with them.

Dhananjay Joshi

The reviewer, a professor of statistics, has studied Hindu, Zen, and vipassana meditation for the past forty-five years. He is a regular contributor to the Indian periodical Lokmat.


Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll
Peter Bebergal
New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2014. 252 pp., hardcover, $27.95.

Peter Bebergal's Season of the Witch seems organized in a way resembling certain occult texts: in a fashion elusive and slippery, with elisions and leaps in the narrative which follow a certain internal logic not readily quantified. Nonetheless, the book is an interesting though incomplete survey of the topic of how the occult "saved" rock and roll — even though "grounded" might be the more accurate term.

Bebergal devotes a great deal of space — rightfully — to ethnomusicological discussions of what we might call "proto-rock"—the work songs, shouts, and ring chants of African-American slaves who were influenced by a syncretic blend of pagan and Christian influences. Anyone familiar with Eileen Southern's work on the music of black Americans will find much in this section which is familiar. (But Lucille Bogan's admittedly notorious lyrics to "Shave 'Em Dry" may not be the most obvious examplar of the blues' rejection of the sacred in favor of the purely sensual; surely Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey would have provided earlier and more characteristic examples.)

The author states from the outset that certain favorites of inveterate rock aficionados will be slighted, but I can't help being mildly dismayed that The Incredible String Band doesn't make the cut; that there is a fair amount about the heliocentric cosmology of jazz great Sun Ra but no mention of the maleficent "Eulogy and Light" by the equally cosmic Parliament-Funkadelic; and that XTC's crowning achievement "The Wheel and the Maypole" is cited not at all.

It sounds as though I am losing no opportunity to find fault with the book, but Bebergal is usually remarkably astute in selecting his examples, and one would not necessarily wish his book to be encyclopedic; in any case this was not the author's intention. When he talks about how 1950s anti-rock criticism overtook the form and threatened to strangle it in its cradle, he correctly notes that "rock's detractors were even more sensitive to the music's occult wellspring than the young fans," though one may take issue with his view that "intentions to stop the music in its tracks instead started a conflagration that has never gone out." Bebergal perhaps overstates the notion that rock was a "pagan virus" and understates the virulent racism which also played a significant role in early anti-rock rhetoric.

The book becomes of compelling interest when the author allows his subjective impressions to steer the narrative, notably in the last five chapters. He intelligently discusses seminal rock figures whose whole shtick (let alone lasting fame) must seem inexplicable to those unfamiliar with the vagaries of popular music: The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (though not Screamin' Jay Hawkins); Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett (but not the devil-haunted Roky Erikson); and George Harrison and the Beatles (who are given coverage commensurate with their status). The discussion of the Rolling Stones and their abortive collaboration with avant-garde filmmaker (and Aleister Crowley devotee) Kenneth Anger is excellent. Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, and (following the hierarchy further down) Kiss are not slighted. The satanic panic of the 1980s is mentioned in passing. In chapter four, the author manages to (partially) explain the mind-set of David Bowie in an interesting essay which in some sense forms the core of the book. From Bowie onwards, the author leads us on a spelunking expedition through the likes of Throbbing Gristle, the Goth movement, Hawkwind, Robert Moog, King Crimson, New Age music, and — leaping into the twenty-first century — Death Metal, Jay Z, and Madonna at the 2012 Superbowl half-time show.

The final chapter gives us the thesis of the book in a nutshell: "Rock's essential rebellious spirit is a spiritual rebellion at its core, and this, like all forms of occult and Gnostic practices, is a threat to the establishment, be it religious, political, or social."

Bebergal has set himself to the task of giving us an impressionistic and idiosyncratic account of where rock and roll and the occult actually do intersect, and, in this limited aim, he has succeeded.

Francis DiMenno

Francis DiMenno is a humorist, historian, and long-time music journalist based in Providence, Rhode Island.

 


Restoring the Soul of the World: Our Living Bond with Nature's Intelligence
David Fideler
Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2014. 310 pp., $18.95.

The chance to read Restoring the Soul of the World has been quite a gift to me. This book is exquisitely researched, and at times uses deeply poetic language to drive home its main point: our reality is far more complex and interconnected than the dry, dead, and purely mechanistic worldview promoted by modernity.

For someone whose formal education ended several decades ago, Fideler's rich and comprehensive content was a convenient way to update my knowledge in many fields. On the scientific front, I learned that since my school days, many discoveries have been made in cosmology. Readers of "a certain age," still mainly picturing the universe as a stable entity — a single solar system surrounded by eight planets — and only vaguely aware of its position within the Milky Way galaxy, are in for an exciting revelation. And though I have read many explanations of quantum physics, Fideler's rendition of what he calls this "spooky" world allowed me to finally glimpse some astonishing implications if what occurs at the micro level can in any way suggest forces that determine our reality at the macro level.

Fideler also provides a historical perspective few of us ever learned in school. He recounts how early peoples had perceived the world as animated by divine presences, but the Enlightenment ushered in a purely scientific and mechanistic worldview that separated us from nature. Incorporating numerous philosophical, spiritual, and existential perspectives into recent scientific findings, Fideler challenges readers to expand our perceptions outward. He asks us also to accept an interconnected view of ourselves as part of a resacralized universe that we now know is not only alive, but constantly expanding. Amid all this, he manages to include a wonderful primer in depth psychology, some meaningful observations about alchemy, art, beauty, and gardening — and even gave me to understand why a person born and educated in the U.S. would choose to live in Sarajevo.

What becomes evident in reading this book is that we are living in a transitional time. Thanks to recent scientific findings, and global connections that allow us to easily incorporate information from all different fields and cultures into our understandings, modernity's mechanistic view of reality is clearly giving way to something new. Sadly, much of the conventional world either has yet to explicitly catch on to this fact, or else reactively fights against it. Because of this, most of us are living a myth in decline.

Fideler describes the experience Edgar Mitchell and a few other astronauts had when given the opportunity to look back and view the earth from outer space. While most of us may tend to think of earth as an entity divided up by strict geographical and arbitrary political boundaries, these men were able to recognize the fragile and beautiful nature of the living earth as an organic unity. Fideler proposes that this inspiring perspective from the astronauts was a symbolic and historical turning point in human evolution. For those of us who will never have the opportunity to travel in space, Restoring the Soul of the World introduces us to the expanded perspective such activity can inspire, and predicts the type of consciousness that will follow modernity's limited perceptions.

Fideler challenges us to abandon the myth in decline that still dominates the conventional world and begin to incorporate postmodern scientific, cultural, philosophical, historical, psychological, spiritual, and artistic perspectives into our worldview. Though I have read other books on related topics, Restoring the Soul of the World finally drove home for me how connections among the various disciplines can bring us to the exciting perspective of a postmodern reality.

I am greatly looking forward to finding the time to reread this book to cement the new education I gained from it. I especially want to ruminate on how Fideler derived his ambitious conclusion that "according to the new cosmology life is a natural stage in the self-organization and community-building power of matter" (my emphasis).

I wish could assign Fideler's work as required reading for anyone in a position to influence public policy and the lives of others: politicians, executives of large corporations, educators, all clergy (especially fundamentalists), and even parents. Perhaps a watered-down version could be incorporated into the curriculum for school children, and cosmology could become a required high school course!

David Fideler is one of the clearest and most authoritative voices yet for a connected, unitive worldview. The perspective he shares could truly move our society forward in a positive direction. Inquiring minds will want to summon the energy to read and digest this ambitious content for themselves — perhaps multiple times.

Margaret Placentra Johnston

The reviewer is the author of Faith beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind (Quest Books).


 

The Deal: A Guide to Radical and Complete Forgiveness
Richard Smoley
New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2015. 164 pp., hardcover,
$16.95

With The Deal: A Guide to Radical and Complete Forgiveness, Quest editor Richard Smoley has created what most writers dream about: an accessible book that will make a difference for a long time to come. If you’re a spiritual writer, you might even go as far as thinking, “Why didn’t I write this book?”

Forgiveness may seem simple, but the hurts, resentments, and grievances we hold on to and the complex psychological, emotional, and social reasons behind them are anything but simple. Smoley assures us that there is something each and every one of us can do
about it if we are willing to forgive and be more forgiving. He tells us forgiving will make our lives freer, better, and more creative, and we in turn will also be forgiven. Smoley shows how often we identify with our hurts and grudges, believing that holding on to them is of value to us, or protects us in some way. But, he stresses, it is in our own best interest to forgive. Only in this awareness
can we become more fully present in our lives and useful to ourselves and humanity.

With his literate and fluent discourse, Smoley may even be creating a new language of compassion, awareness, love, and peaceful coexistence. Smoley does not ignore or minimize the horrors and sufferings of the world. Time and again he examines and writes with originality and depth about difficult subjects and illuminates them through his clarity of thought. As he navigates through difficult waters touching on deep historical grievances, he shows us how such grievances can be used to manipulate groups and nations.

During the twentieth century, many lives were shattered by two major wars, racism, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and displacement. As I have learned from my own experience of working with Holocaust survivors and their testimonies, the events of the last century have left permanent scars on many psyches. In the aftermath, how individuals have dealt with forgiveness—in the many forms forgiveness can take—has been partly responsible for how they lived the rest of their lives. Consequently it has also affected the lives of their children and grandchildren.

More recently, as Smoley points out, after the end of apartheid in the early 1990s, the South African government explored a new model of justice. With the Truth and Reconciliation Commission the world was able to hear the grievances and testimonies of victims, as well as requests for amnesty by some of the perpetrators of atrocities. The terrible bloodbath that was predicted by many did not happen. Smoley discusses this and other historical examples “because they illustrate on a large scale what forgiveness may accomplish.”

On the spiritual dimensions of forgiveness, Smoley observes, “We as humans can forgive sins or debts that are owed to us personally. But it seems to be true that we can only receive total forgiveness from a higher level of consciousness and being than we are used to in daily life. We often identify this higher level with God.” Whether that is a more personal form of God, as it is for some, or impersonal, as it is for others, is left up to the individual to determine. Smoley, who is no stranger either to the Eastern or to the Judeo-Christian traditions, believes “that forgiveness can be offered and received in a much wider range of contexts than many religions teach.” He opens the door of forgiveness for people of all faiths and also for those who are atheist or agnostic.

The Jewish mystical tradition known as the Kabbalah speaks of Hesed, or “mercy,” and Gevurah, or “severity,” and says they need to be kept in balance. It’s important to be generous, giving, and even indulgent, but there comes a time to exercise boundaries and draw the line. As Smoley writes, “Keeping these in balance is crucial to any mature and decent life.” We often make the mistake of thinking that forgiving something means condoning it, and therefore we are not willing to forgive. But a refusal to forgive does not bring about justice, and forgiveness on a personal level doesn’t mean letting people trample on you, nor does it even necessarily mean forgive and forget. You may remember, but you can still be free of the anger and resentment that initially came with the hurt.

The author of The Deal offers a way of life that is more empowering and freer of grievances over our own mistakes and shortcomings as well as the trespasses of others. In my opinion, one of the best arguments this rare book makes is that “your actions today will have consequences far beyond those you may have expected, and they will benefit and heal, not only yourself and the people you have thought of, but many others you do not know and may never even meet.”

In today’s commercial culture, in which almost everybody is caught up in the frenzy of getting a great deal, forgiveness could, as Smoley claims, be the best deal of your life.

Adelle Chabelski

The reviewer is a translator and human rights advocate. She was historical adviser and interviewer for two award-winning
documentaries, one on the former Soviet Union and the other, produced by Steven Spielberg, entitled Survivors of the Holocaust.


 

Healing without Medicine: From Pioneers to Modern Practice; How Millions Have Been Healed by the Power of the Mind Alone
Albert Amao, PH.D.
Foreword by Mitch Horowitz
Wheaton: Quest Books, 2014. xi + 323 pp., paper, $19.95.

There is much more to healing than surgery or the prescribing of specific medications for certain disorders. So asserts Albert Amao, a clinical hypnotherapist and holistic counselor with a Ph.D. in sociology. In fact he boldly declares that all healing is self-induced:
“Conventional medicine can be said to heal [only] because it removes obstacles so that the body can begin its recuperative capacity.”

In Healing without Medicine, Amao offers a sweeping history of mind healing from the late 1700s to the present. The story begins with Franz Anton Mesmer, father of mesmerism, who posited the existence of an invisible universal energy that permeates all living
beings.

While Mesmer was German, and many of the more well-known psychotherapeutic pioneers were Viennese, Amao finds particular significance in the fact that many other mind healing innovators have hailed from the United States, especially New England.
Included among the earliest American mind healers is Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, an autodidact whose studies led him to this countercultural hypothesis: “Disease being in its roots a wrong belief, change that belief and we cure the disease.” Quimby supposedly described the principle of a subconscious or Universal Mind long before William James or Sigmund Freud.

Other American historical figures whose work Amao discusses include Mary Baker Eddy, a beneficiary of Quimby’s methods who later founded the Christian Science church; Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, founders of the Unity movement; Ernest Holmes, founder of
Religious Science; and other prominent figures in the New Thought movement. 

Into his argument, Amao manages to insert some interesting twists on conventional thought. Where in the past it was believed that genes and DNA determine the biology of a human being, Amao asserts that, on the contrary, thoughts and the environment have a direct influence over genes. I was particularly intrigued by his assertion that “the genius and extraordinary talents expressed by some people are the manifestations of their ability to tap into the Universal Consciousness.”

Amao’s bottom line is that a sick person must regain his or her inner power as a spiritual being in order to heal. While I am certain this is correct to an extent, I believe the contribution of physicians and surgeons should be allowed some degree of credit in the healing equation.

All throughout Healing without Medicine, I kept hoping a book so named would have provided less historical detail and more specific “how to” advice. That is, until I got to the epilogue, where the true genius of this book shines through. Here Amao explains that conventional wisdom has always portrayed our human existence as being defined by various “outer” determinants. Religious determinism tells us that a faraway God dictates our life and destiny, and human suffering is due to original sin. Economic determinism claims that the economic structure of a society determines the nature of all other aspects of life. Freud’s psychological
determinism has told us that human behavior and mental health are dictated by repressed desires and sexual drives. But all these outer determinisms are based upon a flawed theory, and on numerous fronts we humans are now—finally—moving toward the more complete understanding that our true power comes from within. Amao has helped me see how our conventional medical precepts impose a genetic or biological determinism and discourage people from recognizing their power to heal themselves.

I applaud Amao’s efforts. We need more works like this designed to free people from fear-based dependence upon outer authority and direct them toward a personal empowerment based on security and trust in their own personal resources.

Gathering wisdom from divergent corners, and synthesizing seemingly independent, random theories into a coherent whole, as Amao has done, lends momentum to progressive ideas, and helps society move beyond injurious and outmoded conventional beliefs. Many factors are converging now that point to a societywide transformation toward a unitive enlightenment. The more ways people can come to acknowledge their personal power, and the degree of personal responsibility involved in the version of reality we manifest, the more likely our society will come to experience this transformation.

Margaret Placentra Johnston

The reviewer is author of Faith beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind.


How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee
Bart D. Ehrman
San Francisco: Harper One, 2014. 416 pp., hardcover, $27.99

It’s hard to write a cliffhanger about Jesus. But in a way the noted New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman did that with his previous book, Did Jesus Exist? (reviewed in Quest, Spring 2013). Discussing the evidence for  the historical Jesus, Ehrman stopped short of saying what he thought about the resurrection—the central claim of Christianity.

As he promised, however, he has dealt with this topic in his newest book, How Jesus Became God. Ehrman regards Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet much as many scholars have for the last 125 years. In this, he stresses, Jesus was nothing special; there were plenty of such prophets around. But, Ehrman writes, “what made Jesus different from all the others teaching a similar message was the claim that he had been raised from the dead.”

In saying this, Ehrman steers a middle course between the faithful, who say that Jesus really did rise from the dead, and the skeptics, who say that the resurrection was a legend that grew up after Jesus’s time. About the veracity of the resurrection itself, Ehrman points out, academic scholarship can say nothing. “When it comes to miracles such as the resurrection, historical sciences are of no help in establishing exactly what happened.”

Hence Ehrman argues not that Jesus was actually resurrected—this is a religious issue that he believes the historian cannot settle—but that the disciples had certain experiences that they equated with visions of the risen Jesus. And this, he contends, is all you can say when you are working with the rules of historical analysis. Such rules do not admit the possibility of miracles; at best, they can say that people believed that a given miracle had occurred.

This, in essence, is Ehrman’s argument. Taken this far, it is persuasive. Christianity cannot be understood, even historically, without accepting that the disciples must have had some experiences of this kind. After all, there were plenty of other messiahs running
around, and their followers were never able to create great world religions. Only the “Easter event,” as theologians sometimes call it, could explain this fact.

This issue takes up over half of How Jesus Became God and is by far the most interesting part. But the rest of the book has real value as well. It explores how over the centuries Jesus came to be proclaimed as fully God and fully man.

This question is a bit more difficult than you might think. Usually this process is seen as the gradual creation of a myth: little by little, Jesus grows from being a mere man (albeit a very special man) into the Second Person of the Trinity. But, as Ehrman shows, the picture is not so clear. For example, there is the problematic passage in Philippians 2:6–11, which may be dated as early as AD 56, and which speaks of Christ as a divine or semidivine being before he was incarnated on earth. Most scholars agree that this was a hymn that existed before Paul wrote this letter and that he is quoting it (probably with some side comments here and there). If so, this means that Jesus had been accepted as a semidivine being (an angel, say) very soon after his death—at least by some of his followers.

Ehrman takes his discussion forward to later parts of the New Testament and (briefly) to the theology of the church fathers, culminating in the proclamation of the Council of Nicea in 325 of Jesus as fully equal to and coexistent with the Father. But it is clear
that the Christology of the New Testament period is his chief interest, and it is in many ways of most interest to us.

Ehrman discusses how he personally went from being an evangelical Christian to becoming an agnostic, and his forthrightness about this fact is refreshing. I myself think his view of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet is deeply problematic, but that is a subject for something much longer than a review of this length. All in all, in How Jesus Became God, Ehrman again shows that he is among the most balanced as well as among the most readable of New Testament scholars.

Richard Smoley


 

Revolutionaries of the Soul: Reflections on Magicians, Philosophers, and Occultists
GARY LACHMAN
Wheaton: Quest, 2014. x + 214 pp., paper, $19.95.

Compilations of essays don’t always make for satisfying reading. Linked together in book form, the content can seem inconsistent, patchy, or repetitive. However, this book is a triumph, with a strong identity of its own, even though the essays were all individual articles, written for different publications over a period of fifteen years or so. Lachman brings them together in a coherent whole, creating a kind of portrait gallery for us, like a sequence of stained glass windows in a dignified old manor house. Each window tells a story, and Lachman makes sure that there is a story to tell, as he leads us from one luminary to another. The range is wide, within the esoteric field: Dion Fortune, P.D. Ouspensky, C.G. Jung, and Éliphas Lévi, to name some of the better-known figures, and Jean Gebser, Jan Potocki, and Owen Barfield as examples of those less well-known, but—as Lachman points out—deserving a more prominent place in history. Take the gallery tour; you’ll enjoy it.

Each chapter left me eager to start another encounter with these “revolutionaries of the soul.” It’s also a book that you can dip into, one that you can read in any order you want to, or enjoy making your way through steadily, from start to finish. On nights when I couldn’t sleep, it was my favorite reading—although I did avoid chapters involving black magic and suicides at those times!

Lachman’s great strength is that he gives us the person as well as his or her lofty or spiritual ideas. His aim is not to debunk when he reveals that Manly Palmer Hall was addicted to doughnuts and Ouspensky to alcohol, or that James Webb, author of The Occult Underground and other works, was arguably psychotic; he shows us that great teachers and thinkers struggle as we do with the pressures of life, and sometimes do remarkable things against the odds of their background, their constitution, or the difficulties that confront them. If we fail to accept that great teachers have foibles, we risk deifying them—and that can be very dangerous, for all concerned. I therefore appreciated the author’s way of describing his subjects with humor and affection, as well as paying tribute to their achievements. Sometimes his style is a little light or casual, but it is always engaging and genuine.

He also discerns the remarkable influence that some of these characters have had on mainstream culture, which is not always acknowledged. Ouspensky, he points out, directly helped to shape ideas in the poems of T.S. Eliot and the writings of J.B. Priestley. Manly P. Hall’s admirers included astronaut Edgar Mitchell and politician Harry S. Truman—along with Elvis Presley! I have a keen interest on how the esoteric meets the outside world, and influences the course of everyday life. (In my book Explore Alchemy, I have written about how alchemy influenced the composer Monteverdi, changing the course of music in the Western world.) Lachman helps to bring esoteric teaching out of the shadows, where it has often been considered unacceptable territory for academics to enter.

I can’t say for sure whether Lachman has included much new research. I had just finished reading Joyce Collin-
Smith’s autobiography, Call No Man Master, which talks in detail about James Webb, and I couldn’t find much additional material in Lachman’s essay “The Strange Death of James Webb.” I didn’t find that a problem, though, as he has the gift of bringing the person to life, and through his eyes I could see Webb more clearly. The only essay where he fails to do that, in my view, is the one on Julius Evola, a figure who comes across as more remote and less interesting. And, inevitably, some research will have moved on since Lachman wrote his original articles. “Colin Wilson and Faculty X” was published in 1995, and ideas on brain function and consciousness, as expounded by Wilson, surely need reevaluating in the light of current research.

But these are slight drawbacks, and the way in which Lachman includes his personal experiences (wryly describing a time when he considered Aleister Crowley “cool”) and face-to-face interviews (as with Owen Barfield) ensure that the studies are fresh and intriguing.

Lachman’s book is a welcome addition to my shelf, and one that I shall be dipping into for years to come, when I want a digestible approach to Swedenborg, an anecdote about Mme. Blavatsky, or a crystalline portrait of Rudolf Steiner. He has done a good job, benefiting all of us.

Cherry Gilchrist

Cherry Gilchrist is the author of a number of books including Explore Alchemy and The Tree of Life Oracle. Her article “The Open Secret of the Esoteric Orders” appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Quest.

 


Taking the Adventure:Faith and Our Kinshipwith Animals
GRACIA FAY ELLWOOD
Eugene, Oregon: Resource Publications, 2014. 236 pp.,
paper, $21.60.

In 1906, with the publication of Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle, the American public was appalled to learn that
its meat industry was a filthy and cruel enterprise. Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent Eating Animals shows that little
has changed since then. Other books, such as Diet for a Small Planet and The China Study, present compelling
evidence that a carnivorous diet is unhealthy for both us and the planet. Yet we continue to consume everincreasing
amounts of animal flesh, approximately 125 pounds per person annually in the United States.

In Genesis 1:28 we read the cultural mandate familiar to many: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (King James Version). Does this
mean that mankind has the God-given right to enslave, torture, and slaughter all nonhuman beings of the earth as it sees fit? Or does it mean that we are to cherish, love, and respect all of God’s creatures?

Through a deft interweaving of thirty short essays, author and educator Gracia Fay Ellwood strongly asserts
the latter interpretation. 

Calling upon diverse sources from literature, philosophy, behavioral science, and religion, Ellwood argues that there is no one single answer to the question of why we continue to eat more and more animal flesh, but that there are several psychological, cultural, religious, and economic factors that must be taken into consideration. One is the psychological gap that separates humans from animals. In chapter 2, “The Great Wall,” she likens contemporary society to a medieval walled fortress, with humans on the inside and animals on the outside:

What, after all is it that makes us human beings think ourselves to be the sole bearers of intrinsic value, distinguished as the only proper inhabitants of the charmed circle? . . . Animals have central nervous systems; they show signs that they dream; they communicate by sounds and gestures; they suffer; they enjoy. When we perceive that the wall was not created by God or Natural Law, but by human beings, it follows that to confine, harm, or destroy the bodies of creatures that have these capacities—that have their own point of view—is real violence against them. From their point of view it is slavery and murder. They have opinions which deserve to be heard and weighed.

The reader is then introduced to another key player in the game: the unquenchable greed of the corporate farming industry and its necessary by-product, forced ignorance on the part of the consumer. Brand names like "Sunny Farms" and "Orchard Gardens" and terms such as "cage-free" lead us to believe that we are purchasing cruelty-
free, earth-friendly products, when in fact these labels are as misleading as the signs above several of the Nazi
concentration camps that read "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work makes free"). We are led to believe, by slogan and by
cutesy drawings, that by spending a few pennies more we are contributing to a sustainable, compassionate world,
when in fact these designations are as chimerical as their names are fanciful. In chapter 10, "The Foul Stable," we
read:

Many readers will already be aware of how much worse the situation is in present-day animal-slave operations:crowded reeking mega-sheds virtually never cleaned out, imprisoning thousands or hundreds of thousands of wretched, immobilized chickens and pigs and calves with ammonia-burned lungs, never free of pain and never seeing sunshine until they are dragged out to be killed.

Ellwood’s Taking the Adventure: Faith and Our Kinship with Animals draws heavily upon parables of ancient and modern worlds to illustrate her invitation to veganism. From the Bible and the writings of Lucretius to The Hobbit, A Christmas Carol, and The Chronicles of Narnia, among many others, the author invites the reader upon a great adventure. Not merely the adventure of giving up meat in our daily diets, but to the greater adventure of realizing that all beings, both animal and human, are imbued with the Divine Breath of God. As Annie Besant wrote: “O hidden light, shining in every creature. . . . ”

It is an adventure well worth taking.

Paul Topping

The reviewer is a linguist and language researcher residing in New York City, where he leads the local TOS Animal Healing Circle. He is vegan.


Beyond Mindfulness: The Direct Approach to Lasting Peace, Happiness, and Love
STEPHAN BODIAN
San Bernardino, Calif.: Waterfront Digital Books, 2014.
136 pp., paper, $9.99.

We live in a world of benefits. With everything we do, we want to know: what will I gain from it? But spiritual practice does not talk about benefits. The Bhagavad Gita says, take action but do not expect any fruits. My revered Thai Buddhist teacher told me, “Your job is to only practice.” My Zen teacher threatened to hit me thirty times if I asked once more about benefits.

So I am a little leery when spiritual approaches are compared in terms of their benefits. Dilution of spirituality scares me. Mindfulness practice is getting more attention than any other meditative approach today. The popular show “Sixty Minutes” aired a segment on a three-day mindfulness retreat attended by the television anchor Anderson Cooper. California’s Spirit Rock Meditation Center offers on-line courses on the subject. Companies like Google hold conferences on it that are attended by thousands of employees. Of course, this could not happen if people did not feel some benefits in their day-to-day lives.

Mindfulness practice is a continued attention to the arising and passing away of experiences at all levels of sensation and feeling. It is said to lead to a penetrating insight into the impermanent nature of the material world. Mindfulness retreats allow one to delve deeply into the “sure heart’s release” from suffering. Seeing things as they are from moment to moment, and not as we want them to be, is the key. In addition to reducing stress, offering relief from depression and anxiety, and creating more harmonious relationships, mindfulness practice has been shown to change the brain in significant and positive ways. The therapeutic benefits for chronically ill patients have been proved by research papers. 

Stephan Bodian, author of Meditation for Dummies and former editor-inchief of Yoga Journal, is a well-known meditation teacher. In this book he points out that mindfulness practice has its pitfalls. The practice can become laborious and stagnant, and one may start to look for more spontaneous ways to be present. The practice of deliberate attention may introduce a new type of ego identity as a detached observer, giving one a sense of separateness. One may also use mindfulness to avoid or suppress uncomfortable emotions, so that it turns into a kind of escape from life’s challenges. Instead of using penetrating insight towards a deeper understanding, the practice turns into a sort of addiction (not a bad one to have, but an addiction nonetheless!). Bodian argues that these obstacles can stop you from experiencing abiding peace, spontaneity, freedom, and authenticity. 

The next natural step after mindfulness, Bodian says, is “awakened awareness.” In the Buddhist tradition, it is called “True Self” or “Big Mind” or “Clear Light.” Here is the big difference, as Bodian sees it: awakened awareness is not a state of mind, because states of mind come and go. Awakened awareness abides all the time.

The author uses two terms in this regard: “ground of awareness” and “awakened awareness.” The ground of awareness is the openness in which everything arises (somewhat like your computer screen). Awakened awareness
dawns when you realize that this ground awareness is your natural state. That is what you truly are. This is your background of everyday living, unchanging and self-sustaining. 

The key attributes of living with awakened awareness, as Bodian describes them, are: no sense of center, periphery, or self; no sense of separation between self and others; an awareness that everything is perfect and meaningful just as it is; the absence of effort; responding only to the situation at hand; and, finally, an experience of mystery beyond description.

There is a paradox here. How can you become what you already are? If awakened awareness is your natural
state, then why do you need to approach it? The answer is that you continue to suffer because you do not consciously recognize that you are this awareness. Awareness has to awaken to itself.

Basically the author makes this distinction: mindfulness emphasizes objects of awareness; the “direct approach,” as he calls it, emphasizes the ultimate subject, awakened awareness itself. The book includes a chapter devoted to practicing awakened awareness in everyday life. Suggestions include spending time each day sitting quietly; enjoying your time with loved ones; spending time away from digital devices; and finding time away from e-mail and social networks to be still. These guidelines brought a smile to my face as I wondered what the ancient teachers would have thought of them.

The Upanishads taught this perennial truth: I am That (aham brahmasmi). The Vedantic teachings concern the
ultimate identity of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. Vedanta is intended to enable the seeker to have
the direct experience of his or her true nature, and it holds that each and every one of us is qualified to have that highest illumination, if we are willing to put forth sincere and intense effort. J. Krishnamurti spoke about “choiceless
awareness.” Is this any different from what Bodian is talking about? I ask the question under the eternal threat of
thirty hits from my Zen teacher.

Dhananjay Joshi

The reviewer, a professor of statistics, has studied Hindu, Zen, and vipassana meditation for the past forty-five years. He is a regular contributor to the Indian periodical Lokmat.

 


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