Ashé Journal, Vol 4, Issue 3, 490-506, Fall 2005.
Gnostic Philosophy: From Ancient Persia to Modern Times, Tobias
Hopefully not too much precious time will be wasted in my encouragement to the reader of this review to GET THIS BOOK. This is, quite simply, one of the best books I have read this year. Though I could, with plenty of justification, describe this work as erudite, witty, humorous, profound, engaging or any of a number of descriptions, none of these would convey the sense of validation I got will devouring its pages. Rather than relegating “gnosticism” as mere historical analogy, Churton breathes life into the Word and makes it live through his own flesh and speak to us through his own passion for the subject.
Mr. Churton takes us through an entertaining menagerie of historical figures, ideas, persecutions and reformations where, after a kaleidoscopic fashion, he eloquently introduces us to a tradition that has always emphasized challenging accepted beliefs with personal revelation and experience. He unfolds the curtain of the Great Mystery Play to give us a cast of Zorastrians, Christians, Knights Templar, Troubadors, and is thoughtful enough to even include a couple of rock stars and the modern age of physics into this narration.
He devotes an entire chapter to that infamous Victorian mage, Aleister Crowley and in doing so neither portrays the Great Beast as an object of idolization nor contempt. Instead he focuses on Crowley as a purveyor and synthesizer of many traditions, which truly serves to bring his contribution to the Gnostic current into sharp focus. The book is worth reading for this chapter alone.
Included in this issue of Ashe, you will find that Inner Traditions has been generous enough to allow us to reprint a chapter from this book; and so be able to experience but a brief glimpse into the wonderous insights Mr. Churton is able to produce in this very important work. We not only recommend it as general reading, but advise those organizations that endeavor to instruct in the mysteries that this is an invaluable resource for your libraries and curricula.
The Discovery of the Nag Hammadi Texts: A Firsthand Account of the
Expedition that Shook the Foundations of Christianity, Jean Doresse
There seems to be an ever-present interest in the beliefs of our predecessors. These days it isn’t unusual to see such words as “Gnostics,” “Illuminati” “the Ancient Mysteries” and so forth being bandied around in the popular media. As I write this NBC’s “Today Show” has been doing a series of pieces on fringe beliefs such as Kabbalah and Scientology. A writer named Dan Brown has become a subject of table discussion with the success of his fictional works like The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons. Ironically, these works have raised the ire of the Catholics and other so-called “Christians” who wish to see these books denounced as fiction, even though the author never made any other claim. One would suppose then that perhaps they question the authenticity of those works by which they lay claim to their own spiritual authority and it is for this reason that they seem so disconcerted by the popularity of Mr Brown’s yarns, which they view as somehow being compellingly competitive.
The upshot of all of this is that there is a growing number of people who are questioning the dogma they have been given and looking to history for their own answers. It is in this context that an author like Jean Doresse is prepared to make a most significant contribution. As the only living survivor of the 1945 expedition that brought the Nag Hammadi texts to the attention of the world, Mr. Doresse provides an invaluable account of the conditions of this discovery and provides rich contextual and background information. Among the Nag Hammadi texts was the Gospel of Thomas. Originally referred to as Didymus (the twin), Thomas was said to have been the twin brother of Jesus. This gospel contains 114 sayings that have been attributed to Jesus but was not included in the various “authorized” editions sanctioned by the church. Needless to say, such information casts those other better known teachings in a whole new light; a light that had been condemned as “Gnostic” by those more “expert” in the needs of humanity’s salvation.
Unlike Dan Brown, Jean Doresse is a scholar and his style is decidedly more academic. For five years he undertook expeditions on behalf of the French government, which established the first archaeological service in Ethiopia and was also head of the research department at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique. Though it has been out of print or otherwise unavailable for a number of years, it is once again available through Inner Traditions.
For those who are interested in the origins of Gnosticism and the conflict between those who preferred to call themselves “Christian” this work is simply indispensable.
Join My Cult, James Curcio
James Curcio (a.k.a. agent 139 and company) has assembled the characters of the Chapel Perilous for a modern mystery play. Mixing heavy doses of pop-culture with occulture, the reader will surely encounter every type of fabulous beastie that has strutted across the pages of the western press for the last 100 years or so, be it Castaneda, Choronzon or Captain Kirk. All of these characters are presented within the context of the writer’s, as well as his associates’, experiences and interactions. The effect of this engaged this particular reader in a profound and enjoyable sense of synchronicity that reminded me of my own connectedness to the mysteries. In this sense, I would say that this book offers a type of access to the Mysteria Mystica Maxima for those who are ready. As a sideshow, we have a unique and intelligent commentary about modern mental-health practices from the perspective of a person who was somewhat reluctantly initiated into those particularly dubious mysteries.
As the “New Falcon” label on the spine promises, this is another work in a class of experimental literature that has been previously head-mastered by writers like Robert Anton Wilson, William Burroughs and James Joyce. While it is our opinion that Mr. Curcio is by no means ready to move to the head of this class, we will concede that we found “Join My Cult” to offer us a glimpse of some promise and potential, and assure other avid readers that, in the midst of the various montages, they are sure to find their own insights delivered in an imaginative style illuminated with bright flashes of wit:
“We have energy all around us. It is us; you cannot separate yourself from your energy. Our consciousness is electro-chemical.” Alexi lit up another cigarette, and added offhandedly, “got to add to the ambiance.” Alexi’s speech had an off-kilter, loping stride that made Ken think of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy simultaneously.
Ken shook his head. “Cut the crap.”
“With practice, we can learn to control this energy --- to do nearly anything with it. To take and give it to others, affect the eventual outcomes of things… You must understand, there is an intricate unseen… dimension… to events. Intent, concentration, will, whatever you want to call it, leads this energy, if it has a vessel fit to manifest in. You can think of it in these terms: whenever something happens, it inflects itself forwards and backwards in time, affecting the lattice of all past and future… what is it?” Alexi stopped, noticing Ken’s brow wrinkling.
“Do you mean you sometimes take this energy from unknowing people?”
Alexi chuckled. “When it is necessary. Or useful,” seeing Ken’s look of disdain, he added, “We are all One. Taking and giving are two sides of the same coin.”
Ken nodded. “It is logical.”
“Machiavellian, perhaps, but logical. Anyway, I can show you how to utilize it in time,” Alexi said.
“How is this energy different from energy of other sorts --- physical energy?” Ken asked.
Alexi thought for a moment. “The difference is simply wavelength. Certain ranges of frequencies, you could say, are visible to us as color… think about all that exists out there that we simply don’t have the apparatus to perceive? On the quantum level the difference between particle and wave is purely a perceptual one. When air is vibrated we experience sound. Even so-called solid matter is dynamic. Glass is a liquid. What I’m saying is that we can generalize and say everything is energy--- vibrations of a medium in various modalities. I also have an intuition that energy is consciousness. This energy is expressed in a variety of ways. It is focused in a specific way within our nervous systems, which allows it to will itself into motion… into awareness of itself. God is ‘I am that I am.’ Regardless all energy is conscious whether or not it relates to itself and thereby has the illusion of self-awareness.” (pp. 28-29)
Though some detractors might accuse this work of a verbose sort of over-indulgence, or an outright narcissism, and others might complain that the experimental technique of the narrative is sophomoric, lacking the nuance and edge of a Gysin or Burroughs, I found Curcio’s shoot-from-the-hip dialogue to be refreshing. The reflective character of the narrative is honest, directly addressing the reader from the author’s own perceptions and challenges; and his highly metaphorical style is simple, if heavy-handed in places. Still, it is evocative with such pointed phrasings as “The door opened mournfully,” (p.93) striking chords of the poetic. What makes this story work is the inter-mixture of the dark and foreboding, the naked pain of uncertain existence, with a suitably coarse humor that cloaks a profound sense of compassion:
“The fear of that harsh reality croaks as that toad, and begins the anti-labor, the anti-birth, or running away from this present, precious moment. Depression is simply the child of fear—fear of living. Maybe, too, even the Hope is but an afterbirth, a placental cord to hang on and climb away to darkness. But—never so with Hope founded on Love. Do you fear your own life so much that you would daily pray for the consummation of walking death? The fear of a blissful life with an end… does the Joy suddenly not taste quite so sweet, then?” (p. 138)
We conclude by saying that we very much recommend this book to a wide and varied audience interested in any type of alternative or gonzo spirituality, and look forward to seeing more work from Agent 139 and company in the future. More of his work can be found at www.jamescurcio.net and www.joinmycult.org
The Magical Dilemma Of Victor Neuburg, Jean Overton Fuller
During a small occult Fair at the beginning of 2005 I discovered that Marc Aitkin, who was organizing sound and lighting for the event, had also made a short film around a ‘what if’ future of Victor Neuburg. Victor Neuburg being best known as Aleister Crowley’s disciple and lover but he was also a poet, editor and the man who ‘discovered’ Dylan Thomas. The film was screened at the fair, but the impromptu showing didn’t do Do Angels Ever Cut Themselves Shaving justice; so we decided to give the film another, more focused viewing.
During preliminary arranging of this screening I discovered Richard McNeffs novel, Sybarite among the Shadows (Mandrake of Oxford); a strangely similar ‘what if’ also centered on Victor Neuburg, (similar in intuitive direction that is rather than in execution and result) complete with wartime settings and dedications to Mercury and Thoth respectively. Both of these creative works were initially inspired by a book by Jean Overton Fuller, The Magickal Dilemma of Victor Neuburg Needless to say after encountering the works of the two above artists I very quickly purchased and read Jean Overton Fullers book, to check out the source of such abundant inspiration.
The first part of The Magical Dilemma is centered on Jean in 1935 when she was in her early twenties and she first became part of a circle of poets, which included Dylan Thomas and Pamela Hansford Johnson, and which was formed by Victor Neuburg when he was Poetry Editor of The Sunday Referee.
This part of the book was a joy to read, as it fleshed out many of the names that I have encountered in various books and references over the years; creating a reality from history so to speak. In this first section of The Magical Dilemma, we see Victor Neuburg through the eyes of the younger Jean Overton Fuller and gradually realize the impression this gentle soul made upon her. Not simply a strong enough impression to last over the years to the time when she finally wrote this biography, but also powerful enough for her to overcome her personal beliefs and morality in the face of the said sexual and magical behavior of Neuburg.
Truth to tell, in many ways I would say that Fuller adored Neuburg. That she thought him a good, gentle and talented man is beyond doubt but in many ways a sort of love and idealization of him on her part comes across in the book that must have made some of the research into Newburg’s past difficult for her.
“for me he lit a flame that can never be put out…”
I was intrigued as to the belief system of Fuller, which in some way seems contradictory. On one hand she has a working knowledge of palmistry/astrology and more academic branches of esoteric lore but on the other seemed to have what could be seen as a type of near Christian morality; more than one could explain as being a purely generational thing. Discovering Jean Overton Fuller’s Theosophist affiliations clarified this, though the inclusion of Pamela Hansford Jones verbatim views of that period also helped me realize more about the standard morality of that time for women; even women of the more ‘bohemian’ set of that time. In later parts of the book, Fuller goes more into the life of Neuburg, and particularly his relationship, both sexual and magical, with Crowley.
The conflict of her obvious fondness for Neuburg, with detailing his relationship with someone like Crowley whom she saw as an ‘inflated pseudo messiah’ and as ‘exceedingly coarse’ with near no redeeming features becomes obvious at points, though she generally retains the degree of professionalism necessary to rise above this, introducing statements from those she respects such as Gerald Yorke who retained a high opinion of Crowley.
Whilst The Magical Dilemma of Victor Neuburg book did not take me to the same places of imaginative and creative exploration as it did Marc Aitkin and Richard NcNeff, I still found it to be an interesting and stimulating book. I won’t deny that some of the opinions and perspectives of Jean Fuller differ from my own, however this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book as anything that triggers a process of thought and evaluation can only be a good thing!
Reading The Magical Dilemma of Victor Neuburg caused me to re examine dynamics of creative magical relationships in general, as well as mulling over some fundamental aspects of the contemporary magical community that are well worth looking at. It also painted a very loving and more complete image of Victor Neuburg who for many years has existed only as a vague shadowy outline along with others of Aleister Crowley’s associates and lovers in my minds eye, and this is a great thing as even in death Crowley has been allowed to reduce those who helped create the magick of that time, and this is something that has long needed rectifying.
One of the most poignant parts of the book was a quote given by Preston; “Victor…was a dead man; he gave up magic and spent the whole of his life feeling he was not doing what he was meant to be doing.” Jean Overton Fullers book shows that Victor Neuburg never gave up magic…just changed the way in which he performed it and without Crowley remained a creative, wondrous and spiritual man in his own right.
I think the best close for this review is a verse from “The Epilogue” in Victor Neuburg’s collection of poetry Triumph of Pan, dedicated to Crowley:
The Seven-Point Mind Training, Alan Wallace
Alan Wallace has led a rich and fascinating life. In 1971 he left his studies at the University of Göttingen (West Germany) to go to Dharamsala, India, where he was able to spend the next four years studying Tibetan Buddhism, medicine, and language. While there he was fortunate enough to spend a year living in the home of Dr. Yeshi Dhonden, the personal physician of the Dalai Lama. In 1975 and at the request of the Dalai Lama, he went to Switzerland where he joined Geshe Rabten, a noted Tibetan Buddhist scholar. In 1979, and once again under the guidance of the Dalai Lama, Mr. Wallace went on a four-year retreat in India, then Sri Lanka and finally the United States. In short, he has spent a great deal of time working with the Dalai Lama and his circle and has established an excellent reputation as both a scholar and promoter of Tibetan Buddhism in his own right.
Though originally published in 1992, Snow Lion Publications re-released “The Seven-Point Mind Training” in 2004. In contrast to the passive contemplation of Ruysbroeck or the Quietists, in this work Wallace focuses on manifesting compassion by connecting to the outer life rather than secluding one’s self in the inner. Wallace advocates making “the liberating passage from the constricting solitude of self-centeredness to the warm kinship with others which occurs with the cultivation of cherishing others even more than oneself.”
Because Western culture’s emphasis on consumerism and self-aggrandizement leads to general breakdown and destruction, the techniques advocated by Wallace have more immediacy than ever. This book, though rich in Tibetan wisdom, is written in a clear, concise, informative and entertaining manner for easy assimilation into the Western mindset. It is a recommended primer for Wallace’s Balancing the Mind…
Balancing the Mind, Allan Wallace
2005 Snow Lion release begins with a forward by the Dalai Lama. Balancing the
Mind is an in depth exploration of Quiescence (which has much in common with
the Epicurean description of Ataraxia) This is an extremely comprehensive study
on the nature of consciousness with a bibliography that is itself a valuable
resource for those who have an interest in this subject. Both of these books
are recommended to those who not only have an interest in Buddhism, but also
anyone who is interested in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and other models of
consciousness study. (Recommended.)
The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage (with The Book of Truth & The
Sparkling Stone), Jan van Ruysbroeck. Translated by C.A. Wynschenk
Dom. Introduction by Allan Armstrong
This volume contains three of Jan van Ruysbroeck’s best known works: The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, The Book of Truth, The Sparkling Stone.The first of these is The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage. Throughout the course of its three books, Ruysbroeck examines a methodology for the development of the soul through Christian virtue as manifest in an active life, a rich interior life built on passive contemplation, and the culmination of these as a life of union with God. In the second book of this work, he attacks the Quietists of that period who have come to be generally known by history as the Brethren of the Free Spirit.
The Catholic Encyclopedia informs us that:
Quietism (Lat. quies, quietus, passivity) in the broadest sense is the doctrine which declares that man’s highest perfection consists in a sort of psychical self-annihilation and a consequent absorption of the soul into the Divine Essence even during the present life. In the state of “quietude” the mind is wholly inactive; it no longer thinks or wills on its own account, but remains passive while God acts within it.
Though Quietism is best known today through its 17th Century advocates and reformers, Miguel de Molinos and Madame Guyon, its most consistent feature which is a passive sort of prayer or meditation, can be traced as a spiritual practice throughout history; especially in Brahman and Buddhist practices. This state, which has been described as a sort of serenity, can also be found in the Epicurian expression of Ataraxia. It is most likely this interpretation that finds its way into the practices of the Brethren of the Free Spirit.
Beginning in the early 13 century with David of Dinant we see a teaching begin to emerge that instructs us that God is identical with the primal cause: ‘there is only one substance, not only of all bodies, but also of all souls, and that this substance is nothing else but God himself.’ This notion was built upon and further developed byAlmaric of Benna who declared that since God is the formative principle of all things, then all people are as divine or Godlike as Christ. After Almaric’s death a group came together calling themselves the Amalricians who believed that since God is all things, then all things are good and therefore there is no such thing as sin. They were put down by the Church in 1210, but their legacy continued through others who embraced these teachings like the Brethren of the Free Spirit, who believed that no action was impermissible by anyone who had realized hir own god-hood. The threat to the social order should be obvious:
Sin was a fraud and work was the ordained punishment by God for humanity’s Original Sin. Thus work was a fraud against nature. Their cosmological unity also proposed that since all people are the sons and daughters of God, then incest was an inevitability and so physical incest between siblings was thought to have a sacramental nature.
Certainly such a comparison insulted Ruysbroeck’s sense of Christian piety and spiritual integrity. He believed that the contemplative, turning inward of passive prayer was an essential component of a person’s surrender to God; which he described as consuming God and being consumed by God. But he also believed that this was meaningless without virtue and he saw the Free Spirit as being without virtue. In the last two chapters of this work he strongly condemns this:
Now some men, who seem to be righteous, yet live contrary to these three ways and to every virtue. Let every one observe and prove himself! Every man who is not drawn and enlightened of God is not touched by love, and has neither the active cleaving with desire nor the simple and loving tendency to fruitive rest. And therefore such a one cannot unite himself with God; for all those who live without supernatural love are inclined towards themselves and seek their rest in outward things. For all creatures by their nature tend towards rest: and therefore, rest is sought both by the good and by the evil, in divers ways. (Chapter LXVI)
Now we find yet another kind of perverted men, who are in some points different from those already described; though they too believe themselves to be exempted from all works, and to be instruments with which God works what He wills. And therefore they say that they are in a purely passive state without activity; and that the works which God works through them are noble and meritorious beyond anything that another man, working his works himself by the grace of God, could do. And therefore they say that they are God-passive men, and that they do nothing of themselves, but that God works all their works. And they say they can do no sin: for it is God who does all their works, and in themselves they are empty of all things. And all that God wills is worked through them, and nothing else. These men have surrendered themselves to inward passivity in their emptiness; and live without preference for any one thing. And they have a resigned and humble appearance, and can very well endure and suffer with equanimity all that befalls them; for they hold themselves to be the instruments with which God works according to His will. Such men in many of their ways and works are like in their conduct to good men, but in some things they differ from them; for all things to which they are inwardly urged, whether these be virtuous or not, they believe to proceed from the Holy Ghost. And in this and in suchlike things, they are deceived; for the Spirit of God neither wills, counsels, nor works, in any man things which are contrary to the teaching of Christ and Holy Christianity. (Chapter LXVII)
In light of the above condemnations, some might find it ironic that the reformed Quietism of Molinos had more in common with contemplative writings of Ruysbroeck than the original Brethren of the Free Spirit.
The second work in this trilogy: The Sparkling Stone may be seen as a continuation of themes or commentary on the Spiritual Marriage. He proposes that man must possess four characteristics in order to achieve perfection. He must be good and zealous (outwardly active), inward and ghostly (introspectively passive), an uplifted and God-seeing man (committed to God), and an outflowing man to all in common (he is to be a spiritual wellspring for all people and things without distinguishing one and denying another.)
It would not be consistent with Ruysbroeck’s views to see the spiritual doctrine he embraced as being merely of a passive nature. He describes the process of coming to the Lord in terms of an ordeal that must be overcome.
And therefore the Spirit of our Lord speaks thus in the Book of the Secrets of God, which St John wrote down: to him that overcometh, He says, that is, to him who overcometh and conquereth himself and all else, will I give to eat of the hidden manna, that is, an inward and hidden savour and celestial joy; and will give him a sparkling stone, and in the stone a new name written which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it. This stone is called a pebble, for it is so small that it does not hurt when one treads on it. This stone is shining white and red like a flame of fire; and it is small and round, and smooth all over, and very light. By this sparkling stone we mean our Lord Christ Jesus, for He is, according to His Godhead, a shining forth of the Eternal Light, and an irradiation of the glory of God, and a flawless mirror in which all things live. Now to him who overcomes and transcends all things, this sparkling stone is given; and with it he receives light and truth and life.
Though Ruysbroeck had railed against the Quietists, his work was non-the-less condemned by clergy who felt it supported a pantheistic view, and his doctrine of the union of the soul with God was declared by the church to be heretical. The final book, The Book of Truth presents a refutation of these charges. He shows his views to be in accord with other accepted tenets of the church, namely in the writings of Paul and especially John and St. Augustine. He makes a passionate argument for his love of God and the Church and ends in Chapter XIV of that work with:
In all that I understand, or feel, or have written, I submit myself to the judgment of the saints and of Holy Church. I wish to live and to die as a servant of Christ, in the Christian faith, and I desire to be, by the Grace of God, a life-giving member of Holy Church.Even though these three books have been published together previously, this release by Ibis Press offers an excellent introduction by Allan Armstrong, rich in background and biographical information. This creates a more appropriate context than the version which can be found with Evelyn Underhill’s more metaphysical and decidedly more opinionated introduction. At only $16.95 (U.S.) it is a value and a meaningful addition to one’s library. (Recommended).