Spirit and Art: Pictures of the Transformation of Consciousness

Spirit and Art: Pictures of the Transformation of Consciousness

By Van James
Great Barrington, MA: Anthroposophic Press, 2001, Paperback, xii + 267 pages.

According to Van James, art is something like a midwife, helping, to bring into the world of sense perception "our experience of the invisible," Spirit and Art is a detailed, richly illustrated examination of art's power to symbolize unseen spiritual processes and to reveal the evolution of human consciousness.

Ranging from the cave art and megalithic structures of prehistory to the postmodern world of Joseph Beuys's shamanic conceptual art, James explores the art and architecture of Europe, ancient Greece and Rome, Egypt, the Near and Far East, Africa, Australia, and the Americas. He includes chapters on sacred buildings, art and the initiatory practices of ancient mystery cults, and spiritual designs and symbols. Writing that artistic symbolism is an "initiatory revelation that opens a doorway into the secret realm of creation," James offers numerous crosscultural examples of images and structures designed to draw human beings deeper into the mystery of life: catacombs, mandalas, labyrinths, Native American sand paintings, Gothic cathedrals, pyramids, and Buddhist temples.

- James also discusses "Cosmic Script," simple linear and geometric images, such as dots, circles, crosses, zigzags, and triangles, occurring as spiritual forms across numerous cultures, especially in the petroglyphs of early humans. James tells us that these forms, attempts to represent supersensory forces, are related to phosphenes, "fleeting physiological images produced upon the mind's eye independently of external vision" that appear during the "first stages of a shamanic trance state."


March/April 2003