Impressions on reading
THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE WORLD
by Mark Booth
The Overlook Press, 2011,
Revised Paperback Version
If you have read anything in the “thoughts” or “book review” parts of my website at all, you have probably observed that I have tried to seriously explore spirituality in terms of both experience, meaning my own experience, and historically, by reading the spiritual exploits and explanations of others throughout recorded history. I have focused on Christian mysticism and Christian spinoffs, and “heresies,” purporting to be restoration movements that take us back to the true intent of Christ when it comes to organizing society and/or living spiritually.
So imagine my glee at finding someone, Mark Booth, who wrote a book on exactly that subject and more: he also brings in Eastern religion and ancient philosophy in a way I had always wanted to do but wasn't equipped to do because of my reading not ever having gone seriously in that direction. Life for me is too short and too busy to read all there is. Pity.
Booth shows how, no matter what their place of origin or time period, all of these purveyors of the keys to true spirituality teach a 'secret' (sacred to them) doctrine as part of an ancient tradition, a perennial philosophy, linked to a set of basic, common truths. This is big. It can, if agreed to throughout the world's religious traditions, lead to mutual understanding and even grudging respect between religious traditions.
What Booth does in this book is also something that Madame Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, wrote about in her book The Secret Doctrine, and more succinctly in my personal favorite from her: Isis Unveiled. Booth also examines the esoteric roots of Christianity and I was surprised he did not cite the book by Theosophy's Annie Besant on that subject, Esoteric Christianity, one I recently re-read and reviewed. But Booth does an excellent job on that topic, even without Besant.
Booth acknowledges Blavatsky as one of his sources. Booth's book is as informative as Blavatsky's books when it comes to tracing the perennial philosophy through the world's religious traditions, secret societies and philosophies, but Booth's account is, to me, several times more believable and a thousand times more readable. More believable? OK, that is a judgment call, but Booth uses existing, largely accessible literature and a few interviews with living humans. Blavatsky uses much literature of course but much of it would be difficult to obtain now. Blavatsky also adds in as facts any communications with the “ascended masters.” Ascended masters are beings in whom Booth also believes, but he does not channel any of them for his book. I appreciated that. I have a hangup on this point.
Neither Blavatsky's ascended masters not Booth's living informants are available to me, so I am really showing a preference for believing a source living in the physical realm over a source living only in the spiritual realm. That means I am a materialist unbeliever, a “scientist” like the ones Booth is very critical of on his page 47 where he suggests many scientists are “philosophical morons”?
I admit to being philosophically moronic, yes, but only to an extent.
Booth continues to describe these philosophical moron scientists:
So when we hear scientists talking
about the universe as 'meaningful', 'wonderful' or 'mysterious', we
should bear in mind that they may be using these words with a certain
amount of intellectual dishonesty.
He continues in his criticism, but I know whereof he speaks because this is precisely why, for a time when I was both a scientist and true-believer, I had two vocabularies and world-views, and knew that using the vocabulary of faith in science was unacceptable, and using the vocabulary of science in expressing faith was absurd. The two vocabularies used some of the same words, but their meaning was different depending on the context of the world-view in which they were being used. That is what Booth is talking about.
So now I am no longer a true-believer. But the problem has not gone away because I accept what science tells me, more or less, but my interior life continues to long for more fulfilling explanations that I know science can say nothing about. Hence I keep returning to works such as this one by Booth.
Did Booth scratch my existential-angst itch? No, but it was a helluva good read and provoked much thought, much of it pleasant! “How can X million/billion believers in X be wrong and you right?” I have been asked several times with no answer coming readily to mind that would be inoffensive. A mass delusion is not something a true-believer likes to be told he or she is a part of.
What Booth's book reminds me of is a parallel question that has never been asked of me (and never will be, except by Booth): “why does a philosophy that has served the inner needs of the human intelligentsia for all the time there have been humans, and in every place, and inside every religious tradition, not serve you?” Does Booth ask this question? No. But I interpret this statement on page 27 as its equivalent:
I hope that by the end some readers will hear some harmonies and also sense a slight philosophical undertow, which is the suggestion that it may all be true.
This is a stunning post-hypnotic suggestion planted in the minds of readers early on, but not so early that the reader is not already aware that mind is the creator of the universe and consciousness, and at our level thought coupled with intention lead to new realities. This “slight philosophical undertow” may be felt by many, but not until this thought has been planted as an interpretation of that low-level inner feeling is it as likely to lead to a conclusion that there is really something to all of this.
From my own experience as a once true-believing Mormon I can spot this expression as a hope for his readers as a type of posthypnotic suggestion. Booth's suggestion that the reader will likely feel a “slight undertow” in their deeper parts, and that this means inner resonance with truth, is similar to the suggestion in the Book of Mormon in Moroni 10:4, which comes after Moroni 10:3 has asked you to “ponder it in your hearts” –
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
The experience of Elijah in his cave hearing the “still small voice” of God is used by many religious persons to indicate how a testimony from the Spirit is to be expected. The Book of Mormon already made this clear, before reaching the Book of Moroni (a chapter in the Book of Mormon) one has already read Helaman 5:30-31 and 3 Nephi 11: 3 and 5, where it suggests in both instances this voice of God is no audible voice, it cannot be heard, but “it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn.”
I know from my own experience that this works, I felt electrified reading Moroni 10:4 for the first time and dedicated myself to the religion that brought this to me for several decades of total immersion. They were good years for me and my family, I love the community Mormons build wherever they go. But alas I had a falling out with the theology and doctrine at the time the Equal Rights Amendment was being considered nationwide. But that is another story and I tell it elsewhere.
To me, Booth's expressed hope for readers who finish the book is another expression of this same idea. Forecasting your having a feeling like a low-level philosophical undertow, especially if you are one of those finishing the book, meaning you are likely wishing this all to have some truth in it or you wouldn't finish the book, is a powerful motivator to find it to be true, especially if already warned that this feeling, if experienced, means it is true to some degree.
Am I overreaching here? Booth gives a few hints about things you might agree with and that might be new to you as a reader but can still likely agree with on page 26. Then he expresses his hope for a “still small voice” type of experience, and then he says this about his readers (page 28), citing a devotee “of the ancient and secret philosophy:” “You must be mad, or you wouldn't have come here.”
Once past that sentence the reader has been seriously challenged to open the windows of the mind and feel for that inner stirring of truth if they read on. OK, enough on that topic.
A couple of things set me off onto critical mode when reading anything in this perennial philosophy or secret traditions genre.
The first is referring to the evolution of the human mind and seeing signs of it in reading history, and the second is referring to the mysteries of modern particle physics or cosmology as if they explain anything useful about being human. Booth steps into the first item, evolution of the mind, big time. It is a central theme of his book and his noting the time periods when humans did something for the first time, like when they realized they could search for someone to love for the first time, are funny to me. Booth has perhaps not read ancient Egyptian love poems and prayers asking for help in turning the heart of a desired person toward them. That predates his notion of people discovering they are free to find love.
He mentions the second item, analogues with the mysteries of modern physics, but does not go overboard with it because he is very suspicious of the masquerade of scientists posing as the knowing ones among the unknowing, when all they really have achieved is quantifying uncertainty (page 47). As a scientist I see this as one hell of an achievement, but I appreciate Booth's not taking the tack of claiming that 'true' scientists, as compared to those who are really only technicians with graduate degrees, are all converging on belief in the perennial philosophy because of the latest developments in particle-physics and cosmology. Some have done that, but I am pleased Booth stays far away from that line of argument. Maybe a bit too far? “Philosophical morons” is a very broad brush. A bit harsh. Oh well, I own up to it in part and liked the book, a lot, anyway.
Booth mentions one of my un-favorite books in a favorable way: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bi-Cameral Mind by Julian Jaynes, on his pages 209-210. I commented critically on the Jaynes book on this site where it is being used to support what I believe to be a subversively materialistic worldview, the exact opposite use that Booth is making of this same work. Booth praises Jaynes' analysis as brilliant and supportive of his own view of the evolution of consciousness. He says on page 209 that Jaynes' thesis is comparable with, yet independently developed from, the similar analysis of the evolution of consciousness by Rudolph Steiner, who “represents a genuine stream of Rosicrucian thinking”. . . .
The Jaynes claim is that prior to achieving the conscious state we currently enjoy, thoughts and inspirations were felt to be the whisperings of Gods and other beings outside the person, there was no introspection, the world was filled with all sorts of beings acting on and speaking to the human inhabitant. So when in Greek myth the hero is told what to do by a god or confronts a god or goddess or demon, it is all to be taken literally. That state of mind can be compared with schizophrenia: “a schizophrenic [is] someone who cannot distinguish between externally and internally generated images and sounds” observes Booth on page 210. But then on that same page he finally says something critical of Jaynes when he says of his analysis:
The kings of Sumeria and heroes of Greece are depicted by him as being, in effect, beset by delusions. In the ancient view, by contrast, these were not, of course, mere delusions but independent, living beings.
Leaving that aside, Booth then rightly asks on page 211 how were sophisticated civilizations conceived, created and managed in those times? His concluding observation is:
If the ancient world-view was a delusion, it had to have been a massive, almost infinitely complex and sophisticated delusion.
I read this as a criticism of Jaynes' hypothesis even though he again lends credence to the Jaynes view on page 224.
Booth observes (page 210) that
Jaynes believes that everyone in the Homeric era and earlier lived in a world of delusion until, as he sees it, the right side of the brain gained supremacy over the left.
This is the exact point where I came unglued when I read this hypothesis by Jaynes for the first time: how can the few, stylized works of art remaining from that time tell you something about how everyone experienced life and their world? Preposterous! It would be as if all that was left of our time ten-thousand years from now were a few of the more famous operas. Could that be legitimately interpreted to mean we all sang to each other, mostly in Italian or German?
Booth is right, they created sophisticated societies with specialized, organized labor, war-making specialists, sophisticated irrigated agriculture, and designed and constructed large buildings and irrigation systems and other parts of societal infrastructure. That all takes thought, calculation, planning, manufacturing, etc. Had it not been for hordes of people working their butts off, and other hordes in armies defending the upper echelons of the societal hierarchy, there would have been no surplus food and income and therefore no sponsorship of playwright-poets, musicians, singers, theaters and plays. It is incredible to think that every nuance of that evident complexity was inspired by unspecified sources of individual delusion (Jaynes) or by specific living entities then believed in (Booth) but now believed by most to have never existed (materialists, and Jaynes).
Booth (page. 210) or Jaynes, or both (hard to tell on that page), are critical of our projecting our present-day consciousness onto materials written by persons "whose form of consciousness was very different.” An analogue for this may be to have a conversation with a very young child whose world view is totally unsophisticated. They see and interpret from a very narrow frame of experience and a very limited set of facts. These ancient compositions have no such limitations, they are sophisticated treatises written in a stylized form that invokes beings from outside the actors rather than thoughts coming from within. But this does not mean everyone experienced their mental state from day to day in this manner. Do opera goers sing to each other at intermission. No, operas are a stylized art form and everyone in attendance knows it.
Booth is using Jaynes to bolster his argument that until relatively modern times the world was seen backwards from the way it is seen now, and I think on this point Booth is correct. Until recently it was accepted that the word (of God or of the Cosmic Mind or Cosmic Consciousness) created the material universe and it emanated from the mineral to the vegetable to the animal to the human and to consciousness in the human, finally, for a purpose. That purpose? For the universe to come to know itself through us. (So the Cosmic Mind must really like learning our science? --Sure!)
It takes Booth several chapters to get this idea fully across, maybe even the entire book, but his main outline for this argument is on pages 34-40, ending with an endorsement of the fictional “Matrix” ( a series of movies) as a useful analogy for what we experience our life in. On page 41 he describes the characters in the fictional Matrix, who keep persons from entering or passing through this boundary:
Although all the beings that live behind the veil of illusions are part of the hierarchies of emanations from the mind of God, some display a disturbing moral ambivalence.
These are the
same beings that people of the ancient world experienced as their
gods, spirits and demons.
Wow, that dovetails nicely with a story I recently reviewed from a man who has visited the veils beyond this world and saw there some creatures that are very well described as displaying “a disturbing moral ambivalence.” It also dovetails nicely with the book I reviewed at the same time on the experiences of persons injected with pineal gland extract to induce forays into the matrix beyond normal perception and there found all sorts of beings ranging from those seemingly made of love to those bent on tearing the traveler apart.
Even the latter would be seen as corroborating Booth's description of esoteric tradition, which likens Abraham attempting to butcher his son as a teaching moment to remind him, and all who read the story rightly, of the demons assigned to strip (not symbolically either) the newly dead person of the parts of him or herself no longer needed in their new situation. [By the way Booth mentions this world-window opening power of the pineal gland throughout the book, but especially on pages 78-80.]
Apparently, armed with knowledge, one can bypass some of the unsavory characters who would hold you back and therefore travel farther into the veils around our reality. That knowledge comes through experiences, through coaching by a master in spiritual techniques, and also through initiation ceremonies that prepare the initiated to face death and bypass the guardians of the lighter realms.
The person whose account I recently reviewed had such an initiatory experience, and was able to take control of his forays into the spiritual worlds around us, separated from us by veils, or onion-skins as he describes them, much better afterward. Citing my own review of this small book by Brian T. Johnston titled In the Realm of Inorganic Beings:
At one point moving through an onion-skin, Johnston had to give a pass-word to be able to pass by some very threatening entities and once past them saw the Tree of Life, as in the Eleusinian mysteries and the Mormon temple ritual. I mention this backward and present-day reflection because it shows the continuity of esoteric notions from the time well before our common era to now.
Booth describes initiation ceremonies and their purposes in his chapter 14, but refers to this theme throughout the book.
Which reminds me: I have already mention Mormonism several times but in Booth's chapter 14 I was hoping to run into at least a mention of this phenomenally fast-growing Christian religion and its initiation ceremonies as conducted in the sacred spaces of its temples. In these ceremonies the bypassing of the sentries of the next life is taught, and what is taught is claimed to be necessary to reach the highest heaven. It would have been a perfect chapter addition to his discussion of the Eleusinian and others' 'mysteries' that serve the same function. Brian T. Johnston gives a remarkable personal-experience-based confirmation that this is so, one needs to be taught how to pass these sentries.
Booth would have readily agreed with Mormon claims that these types of rituals were a part of very early Christianity. In fact Booth makes this very point himself in his discussion of Jesus initiating a young man, on his page 294, where he is quoting from The Secret Gospel of Mark translated by Morton Smith:
… after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth came to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And then, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan ... .
This was part of a secret version of the Gospel of Mark, a version for the initiated only!
There are many mentions of the esoteric traditions about Enoch's life and works in Booth's book, like pages 143-145 for example. I would love to have seen Booth comment on the Mormon version of the Book of Enoch and its similarities with, and differences from, the esoteric traditions about Enoch.
Booth credits Moses with much esoteric knowledge (page 229) and suggests (page 230) his first two (of the ten) commandments were designed to replace the previous “uncontrolled” and “riotous” approaches to divine communion “with a thoughtful, more conscious communion with the divine.”
By this ban on images, Moses was also helping to create the conditions that would make abstract thought possible.
I'm sorry but I find this discussion frightfully incomplete. Moses was convinced he was being spoken to by a God that many of us philosophical morons today believe was a delusion. His religion, which used compulsion via direct threats of death for disbelief, was not a liberator of the mind. He once observed that he would that all men were prophets, like him. But when Miriam received revelation he had God punish her with leprosy.
His laws were as crude and cruel as the Babylonian Law Code of Hammurabi, three-hundred or so years old by the time of Moses' laws if we believe Booth's dating for Moses (page 226). In some parts, the two laws were virtually identical, in other parts there were some variations. Slaves, for example, were not to be mistreated and were to be manumitted after seven years in Moses' code, but only if they were children of Israel. Foreign slaves were slaves for life and could be mistreated (=disciplined with physical punishments) within certain limits. Hammurabi's code did not have a two-tiered slavery system. Both Hammurabi and Moses said their laws were dictated to them by God. Moses' code was well-known in the US antebellum south. The “word of God” allowed slavery, period, so who are you to correct God with an anti-slavery law?
I delve into this in a bit more detail elsewhere on this site. But my main point is that Moses may have been a deliverer from an autocratic regime for his people, but then he in turn became the autocrat. Pharaoh claimed to be a living God, with an army to enforce God's will. Moses claimed to be the mouthpiece of a living God, with authority to kill unbelievers and other miscreants: over 20 types of misbehavior, including various signs of unbelief, were to be punished with death.
Someone once told me that the religion of Moses became civilized during the exile into Babylon which is when Jewish scholars wrote the Talmud. Perhaps that can be laid at the feet of the influence of Zarathustrian (Zoroastrian) scholars in Babylon. Cyrus, following his enlightened Zarathustrian-derived religious beliefs, allowed the Jews to go back to their homeland and helped them rebuild their beloved temple. And that brings us back to Booth who does quite a job telling the story of the Zarathustras (he says there were several). I have always likes Zarathustra who is credited with praising gardening (agriculture and horticulture) as an important symbol of the eternal cosmic fight against chaos. He is also said to have proclaimed that the only requirement for living a life pleasing to Ahura-Mazda (God) is to think good thoughts, say good words, and do good deeds. Now there is religion I can subscribe to!
So if the first Zarathustra lived 6000 BC and is the originator of these ideas, then there is proof that the Jaynes theory is hogwash. However, if the speaker of these word was the Zarathustra of 600 BC, he is useless to my thesis that there was no great difference in the minds of the ancients within historical time and ours. Booth discusses the times of the Zarathustras on his pages 179-180. Later (page 285) Booth suggests the three wise men from the East who came to visit Jesus in the manger were reincarnated sages guided by a “star” -'star' being a code word for the spirit of Zarathustra!
Booth weaves all of the major and some minor figures from religious and esoteric history together like this, showing they all had in common the basic concepts of what spirit was and human nature is, and what creation is and how it works. He does not shy away from Islam, and is especially fond of the Sufi movement. Pretty heady stuff and very well explained and re-explained throughout the book. If I made a list of all the people mentioned in the book that I have also read about, wondered about, and even written about, it would be several pages long.
Some people of whose historical behaviors I have been critical, like Moses and Abraham to name just a couple, are suggested to have been engaged in esoterically significant acts of initiation when the accounts make little sense as literal accounts. Tell that to those who believe in scriptural literalism and inerrancy, or those whose minds tell them in an actual voice that God wants them to imitate these bloody or cruel acts.
Booth suggests on page 66 that since he is about to take Christian scripture apart and show its esoteric-tradition roots: “Conventionally minded Christians may wish to stop reading now.”
This reminded me of the few Christians I have had arguments with who believed the Bible to be God-dictated, and that it ought to be taken literally at every point. There were no contradictions. If I thought I had found some contradiction it was because the intelligence of God is vastly superior to the intelligence of humans, and a seeming contradiction is a reminder of that fact. These people, in my opinion, are convinced of a non-magical reality where a factual, existing, living being --a Deity-- is actively watching them (and everyone else), listening to them, inspiring them and even at times acting on their behalf as well as at every point in the world and at all times. “He” can be approached by those who properly believe in “Him” in prayer, and prayers are answered like childrens' requests to parents: 'yes,' or 'no,' or 'try this instead, it may hurt now but it is for your (eternal) good.'
I would use such variety of true-believers, and they number in the millions at least, as examples of the pre-bicameral mind Jaynes is describing as a thing of the past. At the same time, these people are often very knowledgeable and effective in their worldly affairs.
What they have done is, perhaps, what I did in my years as a true-believer: partition my mind so that I could practice my vocation using its accepted vocabulary, but taking mental exception to some of that vocabulary saying to myself that this reflects the belief of those who exclude a whole legitimate field of other, non-physical knowledge and experience because they view it as unreal. When not acting professionally, I switched without forethought or effort to a different world-view and to some extent a different vocabulary. Perhaps this is how all true believers who are still effective in this world get by.
Or maybe this is more representative: a successful entrepreneur once told me that he has accepted every teaching of his religion, it settled all the questions that bother others about who they are, what they are doing here, and why they exist. That all settled, he can put all his effort into growing his business through developing and manufacturing new and innovative products. He said we could be good friends, we could even talk about our mutual religion, but we will never discuss my doubts and their basis. They were mine. He didn't want them. He said the key to success is part vision, and a larger part purposefulness and dedication. Anything that could distract you from achieving your success-vision was to be avoided. OK. That works too I suppose.
Booth sort of mentions this approach to life on his page 47 where he suggests that:
Today we are encouraged to put aside the big questions of life and death. Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? Such questions are strictly meaningless, we are told. Just get on with it. And so we lose some of the sense of how strange it is to be alive.
“What!?” you say, “that is the opposite of what this man I just described did!” But is it really? He took the teachings of his church on these very issues as the final word, accepted them as a child accepts the word of a parent. He felt he therefore completely understood life, and could 'just got on with it.' No serious mystery left, all was known. Any lingering sense of mystery was minor and covered with the mantra, “in the next life, all will be revealed.” He simply had to accept and follow a formula to be “saved” into this next life, where all would be known and wonderful.
He believed it. Totally as far as I could see. I envied him at the time, he lived in a protective cocoon of certainty. But you can't pretend to have true belief. I had lost mine with my eyes wide open, so I could not honestly return to my former state of belief and become like him. And as time went on and experiences and uncertainties added up to a frankly more interesting life, I would not want to return to such certainty again. Certainty kills wonder, and a lively sense of wonder is what keeps life wonder-full.
I will cite this later, but at the end of the book Booth suggests that the God of fundamentalists wants his devotees to be "stupid." Is accepting a religion's teachings about the meaning of life at face value and putting your mental energies into creativity in other areas really being stupid? A rhetorical question. In some ways it is a smart thing to do since, after a lifetime of searching, I see that no one, not even anyone that Booth cites as an enlightened one, has answers anyway. Booth invites us to enter into a quest, a satisfying one that opens us to wonder again if we are breaking out of a more fundamentalist way of life. But it satisfies only in part, it keeps us hungry and searching, it promises no certainty, and requires continual effort to maintain our state of wonder.
These thoughts I have had before, but they re-appeared as I was reading the first half of Booth's book.
What also re-appeared were memories of reading Theosophical and Rosicrucian literature at home, long ago when I lived with my parents, who were devotees first of Theosophy and then Rosicrucianism. Many of the esoteric concepts and thoughts from that early reading and from conversations with my parents were alluded to and explained and put into a broader historical context by Booth. It is another reason I really liked the book. I was sorry it ended when it did. I was even sorrier to see how it ended, but we will get to that later.
But do I believe in the world-view Booth is describing? Or am I one of those whom Booth describes as a typical scientist, a “philosophical moron”?
I am both believer and moron, in the sense Booth describes the latter. I live in a state of intellectual belief in the material universe with consciousness a natural result of increasing organism complexity. Consciousness can thus be called an emergent phenomenon, but this is a very materialistic point of view suggesting it is linked to the complexity of the brain and thus disappears with the death of the brain.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, like Booth, thought human consciousness was still evolving. Teilhard de Chardin thought it would reach an ultimate state, an Omega Point, after which the Earth dies and humanity's collective intelligence becomes the intelligence of God for directing the next creative cycle. Teilhard de Chardin also thought the force that attracted particles in space to each other to become worlds was love. Now there is an attractive thought, literally and figuratively.
This information comes from an excellent article on Wikipedia, which in turn cites the book The Phenomenon of Man,by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, scientist, Jesuit father, mystic and outcast.
Booth does not cite Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his book, I wished Booth had given us his views on de Chardin's work as summed up in The Phenomenon of Man.
Yet another side of me hopes, deep-down, as a philosophical stirring only, that there is more. I see the Jungian idea of a common human subconscious as compatible with the esoteric idea of a Cosmic Consciousness arising out of the complexity of the universe itself. Booth mentions the Jungian notion of a collective unconscious with its archetypes, saying it went “beyond the pale” of the scientific world he sought to belong to, but praised Jung's idea of an autonomous (outside ourselves) consciousness to which we all connected as Jung's embracing “the ancient mind-before-matter philosophy” in a more thorough way than Jaynes did (see pages 211 and 525).
Science has absolutely nothing to say about cosmic causes, except in cases where there is an obvious effecting agent, so I see no difficulty straddling this fence, still, searching for meaning in one hand and working as a scientist in daily life. I am in the Earth sciences, not physics, but am intrigued by physics, where random chance is used to predict the occurrence of suites of short-lived virtual particle in a vacuum and is pretty good at it, especially given some information about the energy-state in the system. That is wonderful and intriguing, it is even useful, but still does not explain a cause and doesn't need to. It simply works. "This is just how it is” is a statement religious persons often make when confronted with deep questions about why. At least in science the response to such a question is: can you think of a way to conduct a test that will give insight into a possible answer, a hypothesis? If the answer is no, both the scientist and the questioner shrug their shoulders and “just get on with it” and make use of what they do know.
There we will let the subject of where I stand in the spectrum from believer to moron rest. I am somewhat in both camps, still.
So let's all “just get on with it."
Four persons I have written about on this website in terms of their esoteric teachings or value are also mentioned among the many discussed by Booth. Jan van Ruisbroek is mentioned on pages 414-415, but only in terms of his practice for reaching a visionary state. Saint Francis' life is very briefly described on pages 352-354. Joan of Arc's life is briefly and factually described on pages 383-385, with what I found to be a surprising statement on page 411:
Others, such as Joan of Arc, inhabit bodies that have been prepared to be so sensitive, so finely tuned, that spirits of a very high level are able to work through them, even though they are not in any sense incarnations of these spirits.”
I was surprised to find him discuss Joan in this manner since her way of receiving revelation was a bit different, with visions and audible voices, from the normal psychically sensitive person's way. In fact she has been diagnosed as a likely schizophrenic by some modern doctors. But I was pleased with Booth's positive page 411 statement.
Booth had to be brief, he mentioned so many historical persons of note. One place I wrote a note to myself was at the mention of Rumi on pages 333-334. My note said I wished Booth had cited my personal favorite Rumi poem, A Garden Beyond Paradise, because it fits in so well with his repeated assertion that we are composed of mineral, vegetable and animal natures and on top of that lies our spirituality giving us our human nature. Rumi's poem is a description of our personal life-cycle through phases from the mineral through the vegetable through the animal and then spiritual and even angelic. Eventually we are returned as a droplet into the cosmic ocean of consciousness where we had come from originally. The poem ends with a hint that we could again become a droplet at some future time. (The poem is the last one in this long treatise, go ahead and scroll down to it.)
I have spent much time researching and writing about two movements from the Middle Ages in particular, and was a little disappointed with the treatment Booth gave one, the Cathars of southern France, and that he never mentioned the other movement as a movement at all: the Beguines.
OK, he does such a good job on every other character and movement I have been interested in during my life so far, so why am I whining about these two? Because I can.
He describes the Cathars (pages 355-356) fairly as teaching a life-loathing religion that has its devoted ones abstaining from sex because it is the devil's way of trapping souls into this physical domain of his. He does not compare this with the devoted ones in the religion that is killing off the Cathars. They teach that celibacy --gee, isn't that also abstaining from sex?-- is a holier way of being and serving God and assures one of a life in God's presence, and that is the 'real' life, hence martyrdom is a gift from God! Booth fails to make that comparison, which I believe is a fair one to make.
Booth also does not tell the readers that the regular Cathar believer was under no such celibacy obligation and children were born among them without censure. A good number became devoted believers and leaders after their child bearing years were behind them. Cathars destroyed the hierarchical way of prescribing one's place in feudal Catholic society among their members.They equalized people as in original Christian times when men of relatively low rank and also women (!) led the movement. Even though they looked forward to the next life, they conspired against Satan and Satan's church (guess who that was?) by making life easier and more tolerable to endure while here, by implementing a cooperative, non-feudal, societal structure. Hence their popularity. It was not their theology that brought in new members as much as they way they organized their society to liberate the downtrodden serf and make them important in their own eyes.
To me this aspect of Catharism, and their sending their clergy out two by two to aid their people however they could, is a striking similarity to the very effective reform started by Saint Francis and to the early Mormons' phenomenal success. It is why the latter had such appeal to the common folks in the early US, especially those with memories of virtual slavery in their respective “old” countries. Liberation was promised, and delivered, in both groups. Liberty was also curtailed in both groups, of course, how would they be real religions if they did not teach and enforce rules for living?
Beguines are never mentioned by Booth, but one Beguine is mentioned in passing on page 415, Mechthild of Magdeburg, and very loosely compared with the “Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit,” because of Booth's sensing of sensuality in Mechthild's visions. The Free Spirits were the “free love” movement of their time, and were persecuted as heretics. Mechthild was not persecuted, but there was enough suspicion and some evidence for liaisons between her Beguine movement and the Free Spirit movement that the church forced most of the Beguine houses to either close or align with a recognized order of nuns. In my, quite popular, essay on the Beguine movement (linked above) I also note the theme of the sensual being a part of the spiritual experience.
I had hoped Booth would have also expanded in this direction following the lead of the Beguine mystics, rather than praising the Free Spirits as true esotericists. Some were, many were not, same as in the 1960s in the US when there were indeed a few esoteric free-love theorists, but many, many practitioners who were largely “philosophical morons”(in my opinion, having known a number of the latter and having read the work of only one of the former).
But these little whines on my part do not say that I did not like, even love, this book. I recommend it highly: for its insights and for its very usefully calling on the reader to engage in an exercise in imagination (page 27):
But above all – and at this point I want to emphasize – I am asking readers to approach this text in a new way – to see it as an imaginative exercise.
Good, let's "get on with it" again.
So what do I think of the book's ending, its forecast for our individual futures and a new world order on pages 544-547? I liked the forecast of "Imagine no religion" on page 546 and you need to read the book to get its context. I thought the forecasts of where the domination of the world will shift to left out China, which is rather obviously going to dominate the world economy in a few more years.
But all in all I liked the forecast of what happens to humanity and find it puzzlingly similar to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's forecast. It just uses a different vocabulary and puts its roots into different sources but the outcome is very similar and not at all negative. Is this legitimate? Of course it is. Teilhard de Chardin sucked at the same teats of the perennial wisdom that Booth is sucking in this book, so coincidence in vision is readily understandable.
I really really liked this sentiment that apparently ended the book before the Postscript was added, on page 550:
Each individual mind is a protrusion into the material world of one vast cosmic mind, and we must use the imagination to reach back into it and to engage with it.
What a great way to end this book! But then he went and added a Postscript, and I didn't like it at all.
What is wrong with the Postscript? It is surprisingly and inexplicable Christianity-centered. Strange for a person looking forward to a future with no religion.
I despise the Biblical Book of Revelation and the many uses it is put to, to justify the acceptance of wars, famines and pestilences, and natural disasters as “signs of the times” rather than as things to be prevented, or to be prepared for to lessen human suffering if they can't be prevented. Booth cites a lot of New Testament, Old Testament and other Christian material in his final addition, his Postscript, as if these are texts to be taken seriously, albeit esoterically, including Revelations.
The whole thrust of the final words of the book, in its Postscript, is that the anti-Christ is coming and may already be here and we must get ready to fight him on the battleground of ideas. He will be teaching materialism in the extreme, that is how we will recognize him and no, it is not Barack Obama!.
I really liked the book before the Postscript, but there is very little in the Postscript that I feel comfortable with because it is so Christianity-centric in part, and more than that it is a call to spiritual war.
I have no problem for calling for an internal jihad, minding one's own self to guard against evil. But there are hints of external war, obviously influenced by the religious militancy in Daniel and Revelation even though Booth believes them to be esoterically referring to wars in heaven, not here. But here we do have this coming brush with the anti-Christ which could go very badly for the human race if we don't prepare to fight effectively.
Booth's very end is a warning to not succumb to the temptation to fight fire with fire and thus give up who we are in defense of who we are (page 577). Good thought!
But what was not so easily absorbed by me was the warning on page 571 that essentially did the reverse, calling on us to fight fundamentalists and fundamentalism. Of course I too see dangers in fundamentalisms of every stripe, but that includes esoteric fundamentalism, and I sense quite a bit of that in these words:
Rilke is talking about that area of life which is mysterious. There it is simply inappropriate to claim that we know anything for sure. This is the area where spiritual regeneration starts, where angels enter our consciousness.
It is also the area that the anti-Christ wants to fence off and shut down. Fundamentalists of many different hues move in from all sides, whether it is the Marxism that seeks to reduce all human activity to economics, the Freudianism that seeks to reduce all human motive to sex, the militant materialism of the Dawkins tendency that seeks to reduce the universe to a mere machine – or the religious fundamentalist whose God wants us to be stupid. What all these different types of fundamentalism have in common is that they want us to get out of the habit of thinking about the mystery of life, the ineffable . . . . The way for the anti-Christ is being prepared by this influence on the texture of our mental lives.
This then is militant esotericism and I find it disturbing and laughable at the same time.
I'm sorry. The very history that Booth has waded through for 550 thoughtful pages should have shown us one thing: human life has survived anti-'Christs' of this nature before, many of them, and will do so again. Human nature runs the gamut from the stupid to the brilliant, from the materialist to the spiritualist, always has and always will.
But come on, is all of the Postscript distasteful to me? No, I had never heard of Lorna Byrne and am glad to have heard about her. I am not about to read her books about the anti-Christ already being here and her visits from Michael the arch-angel (Joan of Arc's angelic informant, who led her into battle). I do, however, appreciate her advice on how to prepare for the battle to come for our own sakes and for humanity's sake (page 575), a call to an internal jihad:
' We must each of us play our part.' Each of us will face tests especially tailored to our own individual strengths and weaknesses. How we approach them – or turn away from them – will change the course of our lives. They will affect, too, the future evolution of humanity.
And on pages 576-577 there is a very nice quote from Saint Therese of Lisieux:
. . . even a little child can scatter flowers, to scent the throne room with their fragrance; even a little child can sing, in its shrill treble, the great canticle of Love. That shall be my life, to scatter flowers – to miss no single opportunity to make some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word, always doing the tiniest things right, and doing it for love.
There you have it, words to live by and the best strategy for winning your own personal wars with the materialistic nihilism that may lurk within you to take away your hope and drive you to despair like a personal “anti-Christ.” I am sure this is the only kind of anti-Christ there is, and it is now in the world because it always has been, and always will be as long as human nature is what it is.
Thanks, Mark Booth. Great book overall. I personally would have been happier without the Postscript, but this is your book and those are your thoughts. Plus, if I agreed with everything in a book it would be like reading myself. I would learn nothing, I would not be forced to think, or to imagine, and my heart-rate would never rise while reading. That would be boring!
You were definitely NOT boring!
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