With his recently published book Grammar for the Soul, Lawrence Weinstein has perhaps created a new sub-category of self-help books: language as a means of personal transformation. When we visit the "self-help" section of our local bookstore, we generally find an assortment of books on yoga, meditation, positive thinking, visualization, and stress management techniques. Now we can add grammar to the list.
"I have come to view the realm of grammar," says Weinstein, "as a kind of rarefied gymnasium, whereâ€”instead of weights, a treadmill, mats, and a balance beamâ€”one finds active verbs, passive verbs, periods, apostrophes, dashes, and a thousand other pieces of linguistic equipment, each of which, properly deployed, can provide exercise for the spirit like that which gym apparatus provides the body."
This reviewer found the title of the book intriguing, if for no other reason than that the subject of grammar is often associated with the caricature of punctilious professors of English inflicting their inscrutable "rules" of writing on a class of confused and slightly bored students. In the minds of many people, contemplating the rules of grammar has to rank right up there with thinking about going to the dentist or preparing one's taxes for the IRS.
The good news is that Grammar for the Soul is a delightful and creative approach to self-development. For anyone who spends any amount of time writingâ€”whether letters, casual notes, e-mail to friends, or even writing done on a professional basisâ€”this is a book well worth reading. Although Weinstein has taught at Harvard University (he now teaches at Bentley College), do not let his academic credentials scare you. His is not a book filled with esoteric canons for professional wordsmiths, but one that will be easily read by the layperson, although some of the subtleties may escape the reader the first time through. Weinstein's prose is both lucid and pointed; his style is suggestive but non-dogmatic. Far from being the arcane subject that has been reluctantly endured by generations of school children, Weinstein's approach to grammar is filled with humor, personal anecdotes, and colorful illustrations. It is reminisvent of the following passage from The Story of My Life, in which Helen Keller jubilantly acclaims, "The mystery of language was revealed to me . . . That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, joy, set it free!" I believe it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that reading Weinstein's book possibly will generate a similar excitement and renewal of interest in the process of writing, especially as it relates to the development of our soul, or, shall we say, character?
Language not only allows us to express ourselves and communicate with others, but it "helps determine what one thinks and feels in the first place." We are molded and conditioned, perhaps in quite imperceptible ways, by our choice of words and syntax. To paraphrase the biblical passage in Matthew 15:11, "It is that which comes out of the mouth that shapes the person."
A couple of examples based on the techniques found in Grammar for the Soul will give the reader a clearer idea of the way grammar can impact our psychological state. In the compound sentence, "I've applied for several jobs, but no one has hired me," the key word is the conjunction "but" which acts as a fulcrum between the two clauses. Now, witness the effect of reversing the position of the two clauses: "No one has hired me, but I continue to apply for jobs." The first example sets a decidedly pessimistic tone, while the second is upbeat and optimistic. Weinstein explains, "By filling in the 'but' clause, we exercise our right to declare which one is the more important, more salient, or useful of the truths."
Another interesting part of the book is the section on creative passivity. In Strunk and White's classic book The Elements of Style, first published in 1959, the authors strongly recommend the use of the active voice when writing, because "the active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive." This has since become such an accepted dogma that when writing today in Word documents, the spell-check feature automatically highlights any passive construction with a recommendation to use the active voice instead. Weinstein, however, gives an excellent illustration of where it would be more appropriate and edifying for the writer (or speaker) to use the passive mode. Rather than reveal his specific illustration, I would offer a similar example based on the following fact: the recipient for the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize was the 14th Dalai Lama. If the Dalai Lama were to say, "I won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize" he would be using the active mode. But if his Holiness were to say, "I was awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize" he would be using the passive voice. Both statements are true, but when considered from a spiritual vantage point, one suggests humility while the other suggests preoccupation with the personal self. Had the Dalai Lama actually made such a statement, is there any doubt as to which mode of expression His Holiness would have used? Also, anyone who receives a major award is often assisted and helped by numerous supporters and collaborators working behind the scenes. To use the active voice, as in the above example, may be correct from a legalistic point of view, but articulating it that way ignores the valuable contributions and dedication of others who worked beneath the radar screen of public scrutiny to help make such an achievement possible. In other wordsâ€”using the above exampleâ€”the active voice is all about "me," whereas the passive voice implies an element of humility and selflessness.
There are many other nuggets of wisdom in Grammar for the Soul, but rather than reveal too much, this reviewer feels that they are best left for interested readers to joyfully discover on their own.
David P. Bruce
This reviewer is a long-time member of the Theosophical Society, and after a twenty-five year career in the industrial electronics distribution field, joined the staff at Olcott where he works full time as the Director of Education.
Goddesses have always fascinated the Eastern mind, including Buddhists and Hindus, and there is good reason for this fascination. In these cultures, goddesses have presided over childbirth; helped farmers in agriculture; brought prosperity to households; offered the populace protection from disease, epidemics, and dangers; encouraged the arts, education, and learning; and, above all, provided the opportunity for spiritual awakening.
The use of the term "goddess," referring to female deities and divinities, is widespread in Eastern religious scholarship and is used extensively in South and Southeast Asian literature. Sharing the cosmology of the South Asian usage, Buddhism envisioned a universe inhabited by gods, goddesses, and other supernatural beings. Although Buddhists recognize the existence of a panoply of divine beings, they do not accord them moral or spiritual superiority, but simply count them among the array of sentient beings in the universe.
Beautifully written and illustrated, Buddhist Goddesses of India is a treat to read. It fills a growing need for information about Indian goddesses by chronicling the history, legends, rituals, and artistic images of these female deities. It also explains the complex role of goddesses in the cultures of India and the Himalayan plateau.
The reader will immediately notice how comprehensively Miranda Shaw has researched and explained the important attributes, character, powers, and traditions of nineteen goddesses, devoting a chapter to each. She has carefully divided these chapters into three sections, documenting the female pantheon as it evolved through (1) the ascent of the sacred female in early Buddhism, followed by (2) the Mahayana Mothers of Liberation, and ending with (3) the Tantric female Buddhas. She has also included two important human figuresâ€”Mayadevi, the mother of Shakyamuni Buddha, and Gotami, his foster mother and founder of the female monastic order. Even Hindu goddesses, such as the earth goddess Prthivi and Laksmi, the goddess of good fortune, find a place in this book. The method of treatment allows every chapter to be read independently.
In her epilogue, Shaw emphasizes how Buddhism, as a product of the Indian soil, evinced a rich and vital tradition of goddess veneration. The pantheon of goddesses reflects the religious sentiments and ideals of the Buddhist populace over the centuries, including the forms of divine assistance they have sought, and the types of beings in whom they have vested their hopes for blessings, protection, and guidance. The goddesses embody wisdom, knowledge, artistic aspiration, and spiritual realizations. We also find them associated with such natural phenomena as the earth, trees, plant life, the planetary system, mountains, and rivers.
But there is much more to fascinate the reader. Shaw offers sixteen beautiful color plates and scores of black and white pictures. Collected from museums and archeological sites across the world, they are among the best available anywhere in the field. These illustrations are the essence of the book, helping us to understand the subtle meaning behind these divine figuresâ€”why they exist, why they appear as they do, and what they teach us about Buddhist thought, practice, history, ritual practices, and other Hindu and folk traditions. Moving among these various representations, Shaw creates compelling accounts of each deity's religious significance.
This comprehensive book is for anyone directly or indirectly interested in topics connected with Buddhism, India, goddesses, Southeast Asia, Indian art and architecture, comparative religions, or religious art. Its stories and pictures engage and delight. The scholarship is impeccable, and Shaw's expertise is evident in her insightful interpretations. It is both a masterpiece and a very significant contribution to Buddhist literature. There is no question that this work will remain an important resource for some time to come. I recommend it very highly.
C. Jotin Khisty
The reviewer is professor emeritus of urban planning at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.
Het Web der Schepping: Theosofie en Kunst in Nederland van Lauweriks tot Mondrian [The Web of Creation: Theosophy and Art in the Netherlands from Lauweriks to Mondrian]
Amsterdam: SUN, 2006. â‚¬ 42.90 607, pages.
A genuine work of art encompasses an artist's whole being in the inspiration, ideas, and feelings that it expresses. What prevails of the greatest value in art is the spiritual dimension. Paul Klee said it succinctly: "Art does not reproduce the visible but makes visible."
The major exhibition by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1986-87 titled The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting, 1890â€“1985, proved that, even in modern times, the spiritual is very much a part of art. Both the exhibition and its catalogue showed that while much of modern art has become so abstract that it appears to be lost in pure form rather than (as we commonly expect) representing our ideas of the physical world, this abstraction reveals a search for the spiritual. The exhibition pointed to Theosophy (and other strains of esoteric wisdom) as a leading impulse for this search, particularly for artists such as Piet Mondrian and Wassily Kandinsky, who are considered the fathers of abstract art. The essential idea was that if the search in art was to express the spiritual, which is formless, only abstract forms could serve that purpose by avoiding the distractions and limitations of concrete objects. This kind of art tried to make visible what cannot be seen, although it can be experienced. Since the time of Mondrian and Kandinsky in the early twentieth century, the Theosophical influence has become more dispersed in a variety of currents from New Age to Zen.
With notable exceptions such as the Los Angeles exhibition, the absence of spiritual study is the norm in milieus where art is usually taught and practiced. (I can testify to this, having taught in such environments for over forty years and found that the subject is virtually taboo.) A sense of the spiritual is absent from the social establishment of collectors, critics, and museums that is responsible for formulating the public perception of "good art." The establishment's valuation mostly reflects a materialistic view of artists and artifacts, focused on their market value. Academic art history, on the other hand, generally examines its subject through visual analysis of form and style rather than through the ideas that lie behind them. Since they tend to overlook the spiritual interests of artists, scholars and historians who have discussed this relationship generally prove to have only a superficial knowledge of Theosophy and similar currents. Therefore they can offer no insight into the phenomenon, nor can they understand the values and controversies that surround this material.
At last we have a book that looks into the fusion of Theosophy and art from an author who has substantial knowledge of both. Marty Bax's work is presently available only in Dutch [redundant, as already included at the beginning]. This scholarly 600-page work examines the complex web of factors in the relationship between art and spirituality. Bax saw a real need to study the ideas that generated this interest, the social context in which it took place, and the various effects it had on individuals and groups in Theosophy, art, and culture. Her methodology underscores the need for other art historians to use a similar approach if they are to offer any genuine understanding of the subject.
Rather than limiting her discussion to "fine art" (painting and sculpture), Bax also includes architecture and design on the premise that these disciplines not only have equal value but influence one another, especially from an esoteric perspective. The unfortunate intellectual tendency to separate design from fine art represents a gross misunderstanding that ignores the intention behind the artifact. Instead it imposes value based on function in society, implying that "fine art" is the "highest" way to practice art, while architecture or "applied" or "decorative" art (metal and ceramic work, furniture and product design, book and graphic design, etc.) is "lower" because of its commercial or functional intent. But spirituality does not limit its perspective to a single mode of expression. From a Theosophical perspective, both the creative artifact and the artist himself are vahanas ("vehicle" for the spiritual in Sanskrit)â€”an idea that comes to light in this book and which was a major theme for some of the figures discussed here.
Although this book focuses on Dutch artists and their culture in the first half of the twentieth century, one can draw further inferences from it about how esotericism has affected art in general. Because I am of Dutch origin, I felt that I could relate more easily than the non-Dutch to the social, geographic, and historical issues described here, and was at first somewhat critical of portions in the study that appeared too detailed for a non-Dutch audience. However, the more I read, the more I valued such details, which enable even non-Dutch readers to understand the larger context of the ideas and insights discussed. In any event, the picture goes far past Dutch art as such, if only because Dutch artists played such a preeminent international role in this period, especially in design.
The author has tried not only to understand Theosophy but to grasp how Theosophists think and live, as well as how this has influenced the practice of art and its social environment. The book presents the underpinnings of ideas that led up to the interest in Theosophy: the social and ideological context; connections to freethinkers such as Baruch Spinoza; the Freemasons; and parallel trends in art in other countries (especially French Symbolism).
Bax goes on to show how artists shared Theosophical ideas among themselves and how these ideas manifested through individuals and groups. A main example of the latter is the Vahana Lodge of the Dutch TS, created specifically (though not exclusively) for those interested in art, design, and architecture. Mathieu Lauweriks, a principal advocate of both Theosophy and Theosophical theory in art, taught ideas ranging from cell and geometric systems (especially sacred geometry) to asymmetry and organics as vitalizing principles (Fohat, kundalini) for creation and unity. These esoteric elements influenced design styles, including the famous Amsterdam School of architecture and its creator, H. P. Berlage, who is generally considered the father of Dutch modern architecture, but whose Theosophical influence is usually overlooked.
Bax goes into some detail about three painters and their Theosophical interests: Herman Heijenbroek saw the blue-collar worker as a Promethean transformer of raw matter and sought to inspire this social group through his paintings; Janus de Winter saw his work as a visionary vehicle derived from the astral perspective; and Piet Mondrian, utilizing the underlying principles of cosmo/anthropogenisis, offered a glimpse of this ultimately invisible cosmic web. Bax does not, however, limit her study to those recognized by the art establishment but includes lesser-known artists, whose influences were nonetheless considerable, and describes how their work was accepted or rejected socially. She does the same for architecture and design, and how these affected each other.
Ultimately, this study reveals how a Theosophical orientation, based on freethinking and diversity, produced many different forms of expression, making it difficult to speak of "Theosophical art," since no iconography, form, or style entirely fits such categorization. Frequently artists were active in multiple disciplines (one reason Bax was compelled to cover the full panorama of art). This diversity becomes apparent through her case studiesâ€”an approach that also makes it easier to understand the influence of Theosophy on specific artists.
I found this to be an absorbing and insightful book that should be of value to all who want to understand the interface between Theosophy and art, and how this phenomenon helped shape the social environment and affected the future of modern art. The book's clarity, thoroughness, and cohesion are exemplary. They make me hope that this work, which deserves the attention of Theosophists, artists, and art experts alike, will become available in English soon.
This reviewer is professor of graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design, a third generation Theosophist, and Life Member of the Theosophical Society. He served as Eastern Regional Director and on the Pumpkin Hollow board, and lectured at various centers here and abroad on the relationship of Theosophy and art.
Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? How can I fulfill my destiny? In Transforming Fate into Destiny, his first book, Robert Ohotto treats these questions clearly and succinctly using his own years of personal experience as well as his work as an intuitive and astrologer.
The terms "fate" and "destiny" are often thought of as the same kind of mysterious force. Ohotto contends that fate and destiny are very different, though collaborative, agencies. Fate is the mysterious preincarnate design of our life that is written in the stars. Destiny, by contrast, is what you make of this design. Ohotto calls the negotiation between fate and destiny your "Cosmic Contract." By means of this contract, we can choose what to do within our mortal limits in order to be more successful as well as less anxious and resistant to life. He writes, "We must embrace consciously that a choice was made when our soul met with our body incarnate, and we made a soul 'decision' to be bound to a contract with Fate....The ego often finds this baffling. How many of us have looked at our lives and wondered why didn't I pick the lot of Bill Gates?" Nevertheless, he adds, "if you are in touch with your true passion, a creative obstacle is meant to help you bring it out more effectively in the world." At this point your free will, in contact with Fate, becomes what the Chinese call wu chi â€“ both crisis and opportunity for personal evolution.
Fate can take the form of a loss, an accident, a rejection. It can confront us as a shock, but it can be an opportunity as well. What our consciousness and ego do with these shocks is the point of the book. Ohotto calls this life-enhancing struggle "a dialogue with the soul": Our Cosmic Contract stipulates that we must come to terms with the fate point, the juncture at which we encounter our mortal limits and must realize our personal potential within those limits.
In this book, Ohotto goes chapter by chapter to explain the process of working with these obstacles, employing lessons and practices that establish new ways of attracting "a way to destiny" in order to clarify and in some cases remove psychological burdens and issues. In the latter half of the book, Ohotto moves into some deeply intuitive areas, illuminating new ways to cope with the shadow, the personal unconscious, and synchronicity. In the end, the book helps us genuinely find ways of doing what we must do anyway, and it helps us to do so with consciousness and intention.
Erin Sullivan is a consultant astrologer, author, and lecturer. Her works include Saturn in Transit: Boundaries of Mind, Body and Soul; Astrology of Family Dynamics; and The Astrology of Midlife and Aging.
Will Tuttle's The World Peace Diet is a challenging wake-up call. Many spiritual traditions, including Theosophy, have advocated ethical vegetarianism and care for animals. However, the compelling reasons for such a position have rarely been articulated with as much detail and force as in Tuttle's fine new book. His tone is urgent and uncompromising, yet filled with compassionate understanding. Even if one may not agree with him in every point, he forces the reader to consider matters which too often remain unconscious.
Tuttle writes that his book is:
An exploration of the profound cultural and spiritual ramifications of our food chain and the mentality underlying them. By placing humans at the top of the planet's food chain, our culture has historically perpetuated a particular worldview that requires from its members a reduction of essential feeling and awarenessâ€“and it is this process of desensitization that we must understand if we would comprehend the underlying causes of oppression, exploitation, and spiritual disconnectedness.
Graphically reviewing the horrors of factory farming and slaughterhouses, Tuttle reminds us that we reinforce our blindness to these realities with every meal that includes animal products. Some of us may feel more comfortable with dairy and eggs, since animals are not directly killed to produce these foods. However, Tuttle displays the deeply disturbing conditions under which chickens and cows typically live, as well as the character of theft which underlies milk and egg production. He then relates this theft to "our culture's basic repression, confinement, and exploitation of the female and feminine principle".
Tuttle reminds us of the essential solidarity and interconnectedness of all life. We cannot pretend that we can mistreat other sentient beings with impunity, regarding them as commodities instead of fellow creatures. "Dominating others requires us to disconnect from them, and from aspects of ourselves as well" (130). From a theosophical perspective, we can welcome Tuttle's examination of what we might call the karmic consequences of our treatment of animals raised for food, as well as the invisible, energetic realities which we consume in animal food.
Metaphysical toxinsâ€“i.e., the concentrated vibration of terror, grief, frustration, and desperation permeating these foods, are invisible and completely unrecognized by conventional science, yet they may be even more disturbing to us than physical toxins, because they work on the level of feelings and consciousness, which are more essential dimensions of ourselves than our physical vehicle.
"In the old herding cultures, animals were gradually transformed from mysterious and fascinating cohabitants of a shared world to mere property objects to be used, sold, traded, confined, and killed" (25). Insofar as we can see through this distortion, and make more conscious and compassionate choices, we will be better able to disentangle ourselves from other ways in which violence, destruction, and the treatment of others as objects have found their way into our lives. After all, "our actions reinforce attitudes, in us and in others, that amplify the ripples of those actions until they become the devastating waves of insensitivity, conflict, injustice, brutality, disease, and exploitation that rock our world today"
The reviewer is a member of the Theosophical Society, a freelance theologian, author of several books and articles on esoteric Christianity, and co-author with John Marby of Who Are the Independent Catholics? (Apocryphile, 2006).
Conscious Love is an important book, coming at a critical time in human development when old values are dying and new values have not yet been fleshed out. In this book, Richard Smoley takes us through a number of different types of love â€” romance, marriage, family life, friendship â€” each of which he characterizes as somehow "transactional," involving a certain exchange or quid pro quo, whether that is acknowledged or not. He contrasts these to agape or conscious love, which, he contends, is beyond transactions.
Smoley begins by telling an anecdote about the nineteenth-century Danish philosopher SÃ¸ren Kierkegaard. He had fallen in love with a young woman when she was fourteen and he twenty-four. Several years later, still in love, he asked her to marry him and she happily agreed. But then he turned cold. Provoked by his attitude, she broke off their engagement and married another man. Kierkegaard remained a bachelor for the rest of his life. But when he died, he left his entire estate to the woman he never married.
Why did Kierkegaard behave in such a strange manner? He had decided that feeling erotic love for the woman was simply selfishness on his part and had nothing to do with true love, which ultimately should be reserved only for God. With respect to this attitude, Smoley has a lovely quote from Russian philosopher of love Vladimir Solovyov saying that "this unfortunate spiritual love reminds one of the little angels in old paintings, which have only a head, then wings and no more."
Though this denial of the flesh runs deep in Christianity, Smoley argues that "conscious love" does not have to be "freedom from drives or passions or self-interest but rather freedom within them." The rest of his book carefully develops and expands on this theme.
If the body cannot be ignored in love, is it all there is? Are we simply following an inborn, embodied need to perpetuate the species, as sociobiologists today argue? So it would seem at first, Smoley argues: "Each of us seeks the fittest possible mate, and satisfied or not, we settle for the best we can find. This is the law of nature, and the law is inexorable." From a biological point of view, each of us is born isolated into a hostile world. We have to find some way to protect ourselves. Ironically, after we have managed to do so, we feel a contrary urge to go past our own barriers of protection. "For humans," he writes, "the means of bridging this gap is often romantic love."
Smoley points to a certain tension here. While romantic love begins out of a need to perpetuate the species, at its best it goes past this urge: "Whenever I read of a truly great love, I am struck by all its uniqueness. Such loves don't fit easily into conventional schemes. Chaste or carnal, blissful or ill-starred, they are in every case the deepest expressions of the individuals themselves."
Why is this so? To answer this question, Smoley presents a position that he develops carefully throughout the book: inside each of us is (1) "something that experiences;" and (2) "that which is experienced" [emphasis in the original]. The first can be called the "I," the second the "world." The "world" is not only what we usually call the outside world; it includes the inner world as well, since that is also part of our experience.
All this takes us into deep water. "If all of what passes for my experience is in itself a sort of other . . . who or what is this mind that is doing the looking? And where is the dividing line between my mind and someone else's?" He goes on to say that the true "I" is more than the ego we normally associate with it; it is potentially our gateway to all that is. The entire path of enlightenment can be summarized simply as the inner need to know yourself. If we go through this process, Smoley claims, we will discover that there is "no real border between this 'I' and the collective 'I' in which we all participate." To realize this truth is to step past transactional love and to touch conscious, unconditional love.
Smoley asks where we can find God in this picture. In order to answer that question, he claims that there is a deeper meaning for "God" than conventional theology often assumes: God is "what theologian Rudolf Otto called the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, the 'terrifying and attractive mystery.'" Put in one word, which Otto also coined: God is the numinous! What Smoley calls the true "I" â€” which is ultimately a collective "I" â€” is the gateway for access to the divine. "This is the mystical meaning of Christ's saying "I am the door' (John 10:9): The 'I' is the door."Smoley's ultimate point is that this joining with another can take us beyond our personal boundaries, and that joining is ultimately a progressive path toward the joining with the Godhead.
How can this true "I," the witness that can observe everything, still be embodied? In answering this question, Smoley makes one of the most significant points of the book: "This consciousness is not limited to human or even to living beings but subsists in everything, no matter how apparently inanimate." This is God in his most immanent aspect. As we begin to recognize this truth experientially, Smoley argues, the individual mind begins to pass into all that is.
While we are on the way to this high place, somewhere along the line we must each discover our vocation, our "special function," as the author terms it. When one first does discover one's vocation, rather that feeling a union with everyone and everything in cosmic love, instead we tend to initially feel isolated from all those around us. In such an uncomfortable position, we first fall either into arrogance or despondent. Some escape this because their path allows them to find companions; others continue alone. But following that special path, honoring our "special function," leads onward toward the cosmic union.
Smoley has taken us on a long path that led from Kierkegaard, who valued his head over his heart, through recognition of the wisdom of the body and heart, through all the varieties of love. At this point, he says simply that "there is something in us that stands apart from the ceaseless flow of the head's thoughts and the equally ceaseless flow of the heart's feelings and can see them." In the words from an ancient Chinese text: "Consciousness dissolves in vision."
This is an important book, the first I've seen that looks at love from a position rooted not only in esoteric Christianity, but in the deepest spiritual traditions of all times and places. Though the scholarship underlying the book is immense, the author wears it lightly, using both historical quotes and personal anecdotes to get his message across. The book is particularly significant in arguing for an embodied love that can bridge the old and the new. As the author writes, "we, in our physical bodies, are the instruments not only for God's work in this world but for his experience as well. If our own consciousness is elevated..., our pleasure becomes God's pleasure as well."
Robin Robertson, Ph.D. is a Jungian-oriented clinical psychologist and the author of sixteen books, including Beginner's Guide to Jungian Psychology. His latest work, Alchemy and Chaos Theory, will be published by Quest Books in 2009.
In 1974, Jack Montgomery was an undergraduate student at the University of South Carolina, in search of an interesting topic for a religious studies paper. He decided to interview local practitioners of folk magic and traditional healing, representing traditions such as hoodoo and powwow. This project "became a quest for knowledge, heritage, and personal meaning" (xi) which has continued to the present. Today, Montgomery is an associate professor at Western Kentucky University, and American Shamans is the fruit of over thirty years of study of these home-grown spiritual traditions.
Montgomery focuses his attention on traditions native to his home state of South Carolina, from both the lowland and Piedmont regions. Unlike Louisianan voodoo, these South Carolina traditions do not cultivate an alternative practice of religious worship/ritual, but are most often practiced by people who see themselves as pious Christians, and understand their magical work as a gift from God. For example, here is an excerpt from Montgomery's interview with "Sarah Ramsey," an Appalachian granny-woman:
JM: Mrs. Ramsey, how do you feel about the life you've had?
SR: I'm happy. I don't have any regrets, I'm at peace with the Lord.
JM: What has all of your healing experience done for you?
SR: I don't know what you're asking.
JM: I'm sorry; it's just that you have healed people, delivered babies, even fought with evil. What does all that mean to you?
SR: That my Jesus is everywhere. No matter what happens, he is with me. He's loved me and blessed me through all my troubles. Now I look forward to going home to be with him one day soon. (241-2)
These sentiments come from a woman who had just recounted to Montgomery her way of dealing with a "witch ball" sent as a curse to her, and her conversations with spirits who instructed her that "what you think makes everything" (241).
A large part of the book is Montgomery's account of his time with Lee Raus Gandee, who began as a contact for his USC paper, but became Montgomery's spiritual mentor and teacher of powwow for several years. Gandee is a complex character, whose personality comes through clearly in the dialogues:
"How does one become a Hexenmeister?" I asked him at our first meeting.
"By being a Hex until you can manage it!" replied the elderly gentleman in the rocking chair, calmly smoking his pipe (72).
American Shamans is somewhere between an academic anthropological account and a personal memoir. Montgomery admits to some trepidation in discussing his own spiritual experiences, his views on magic and spirituality, and how his work as a powwow has impacted his life. Gandee tells the young Montgomery: "Either magic works or it doesn't. I don't worry too much about the theory" (109). While Montgomery gives us a bit of theory, he focuses on the work, especially as it takes form in his life. It is his courage in bringing himself into the story which lends this book its warmth and its spirit of humble authenticity.
The reviewer is a member of the Theosophical Society currently residing in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a freelance theologian, and the author of several books and articles on independent sacramental churches and esoteric Christianity.
This book is about what makes a great society great and what causes a great society to self-destruct. It is clearly intended by its author, a chaired professor of law at Yale, to be a cautionary tale for the United States. However the book's message can be applied to any organized society, not just to nations, and its message resonates strikingly with Theosophy.
In Chua's use, the term "hyperpower" refers to a nation of vast economic and military might whose influence extends widely over its world and affects multitudes of people. Chua's thesis is that historically every such nation has been marked by extraordinary tolerance and pluralism during its rise, and by intolerance, xenophobia, and racial, religious, or ethnic "purity" during its fall. That thesis is what resonates with Theosophy.
The Theosophical Society from its foundationâ€”in both its formal statement of objects and in its actual practiceâ€”has espoused an openness to the unexplained, an encouragement of comparativeness, and a dedication to practical fraternity without distinctions of any kind. Theosophy's attitude to "tolerance" is not just forbearance, but respect, sympathy, and adaptation.
Chua's examples of hyperpowers are the Persian empire founded by Cyrus the Great; Rome during its golden age of Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius; China's Tang dynasty; the Mongol empire founded by Genghis Khan; the Dutch commercial empire of the seventeenth century; the British empire after the Glorious Revolution of 1688; and American hegemony after World War II. Her examples of potential hyperpowers that fell before they had properly risen include Spain after the Inquisition, Nazi Germany, and twentieth-century imperial Japan.
"Tolerance," Chua emphasizes, is a relative matter. All of the hyperpowers have been intolerant in certain ways and often, especially the Mongols, calculatedly cruel. But all have practiced "strategic tolerance." That is, they have embraced such diversity as was seen to be helpful in achieving their aims, and that generally included religious and racial inclusiveness. There is another kind of tolerance, however, which Theosophy promotes, namely a tolerance advocated by the eighteenth-century European Age of Enlightenment.
The Age of Enlightenment urged reason rather than prejudice as the basis for action and affirmed that all of us have a natural right to live according to our own lights so long as we do not interfere with the same natural right of others. The founders of the United States were advocates of Enlightenment, as testified by the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
The Declaration stated the doctrine of natural rights in traditional religious, but nonsectarian, terms. However, it is not clear exactly where or how the "Creator" stated that endowment. The founders simply took it as a given. What modern Theosophy has done is to make it possible to link Enlightenment tolerance as a natural right with the Indic concept of monism. The latter, found in Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., is that only one ultimate reality exists in the universe and that we and all else are expressions of it. If all of us share the same life, then none of us has a right to force others to conform to our expectations. All of us have a natural right to tolerance as respect, sympathy, and adaptation.
The Theosophical Society has been called both a bridge between East and West and (by the Mahachohan) "the corner-stone, the foundation of the future religions of humanity." It is a bridge because it joins the Eastern concept of the unity of all life with, and as the basis for, the Western Enlightenment concept of natural rights. It is the foundation for the future of humanity because the "Day of Empire" is over. An empire is a political unit dominating and controlling many peoples. Such a political unit is incompatible with either the unity of life or natural rights.
A religion or dharma is that which "ties us again" or "holds us firmly together" (the etymological meanings of those two words). The ideals of the unity of life and of natural rights must be the basis of a future global political unit on this planet. Because those two ideals are at the core of the Theosophical Society, that Societyâ€”not as an organization, but as an inspirationâ€”is the foundation of humanity's future. Theosophists need to live up to that ideal.
The reviewer is past president of the Theosophical Society in America.
Saving Angel is a two-act play featuring H. P. Blavatsky, the Irish poet W. B. Yeats, and scholar Denis Saurat. The reason for bringing these three historical figures together is to help determine the fate of a young pupil of HPB's, Angel Shiner, whose psychic nature and subsequent unconventional behavior have landed her in a mental asylum. Saurat as impartial judge, and Blavatsky and Yeats as witnesses on Angel's behalf, are to convene with a board of psychiatrists in order to determine young Angel's futureâ€”whether she is well enough to be released or whether she should remain at the asylum.
If the above is the straightforward prosaic account of this two-act play, metaphorically we are witness to another drama. In this drama, we have the three psychiatrists of the board representing various developmental stages of the lower mind: a Roman Catholic perceiving the world ultimately through the Church dogma; a Protestant concerned about his scientific standing among his peers; and a secular Jew who seems to be looking for a way forward in his life. Angel then becomes the light of the higher self in all its unpredictable nature and HPB is that power of the heart capable of allowing quick glimpses of that light to come through. However, this play is taking place on the last day of HPB's life, a warning that in every soul's life there comes a time when it must open up to this inner life or have that door close on it for the rest of this incarnation. Yeats becomes the example of what can be accomplished when the full power of the intuition is allowed to flow through as he extemporaneously spouts poetry and thus adds a rich lyrical tapestry to the rhythm of the play. Finally, Saurat is that part of the human mind that must make sense out of our inner experience and provide us with the story that will help us put our experiences into context so that we can move forward, sometimes referred to as the power of discrimination.
From a more theosophical standpoint, the play endows Blavatsky with god-like powers that enable her to grab the mayavi-rupas [mental astral bodies] of people out of time, to separate that body from the not fully developed soul, to clear away the elementals that blind most souls from truly seeing, and all this while life slowly ebbs from her mortal body. Theosophy is always fighting against the idea that grows in people's minds that gods or saviors are going to come and endow on us miraculous powers, or to save us from the messes that we have made. The endowment of these godlike powers to Blavatsky or the Masters has always been the Achilles heel to the Movement as many students have used such fanciful speculations to drift away from reality. That being said, poetic license being a right and proper tool of the playwright, taking such fancy as real is a criticism of the audience member and not of the play itself.
Overall the second act of the play runs more smoothly than the first. The Blavatsky-god was much more powerful in the first act and the terminology, especially with respect to seers and mediums a bit distracting. In the second act, as we begin to see what Ms. Fielden was up to, we are able to sit back and enjoy the ride. At times Angel's seemingly airy flights of fancy threaten to carry the play into a different world, but this tension is offset nicely with the addition of Yeats' poetry which provides an anchor to the emotional undertone of the play. In addition, Saurat's power of discrimination effectively pushes the narrative forward, not allowing us to get bogged down with naming that which cannot be named.
Saving Angel is a wonderful insight into the turbulent workings of the human mind. The play buffets us from one experience to another challenging the reader to find the calm at the center around which all these experiences whirl. It is only at the center that we can lift ourselves above the storm and see reality for what it truly is. It is only from the center that we can save our own higher angel.
Robert Bruce MacDonald
The reviewer is editor of Fohat, a quarterly publication of the Edmonton Theosophical Society. This review first appeared in the Spring 2008 edition (Volume XXII, No. 1).