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Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect
Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect
by Alfred North Whitehead
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reverence and Revision, 12 Dec. 2009
Whitehead differentiates types of symbolism like algebra and language, and symbolism from sense-presentation to physical bodies as the most natural and widespread of all symbolic modes. Direct experience-based knowledge is infallible as opposed to symbolism that may induce actions, emotions and beliefs about things that are simply notions without those examples in reality which the symbolism suggests. Whitehead pursues the thesis that symbolism is a key factor in the way we function as a result of direct knowledge.

The human mind functions symbolically when some components of its experience elicit consciousness, emotions and beliefs related to other components of its experience. The former cluster of components is the symbols whilst the latter constitutes the meanings. 'Symbolic reference' is Whitehead's designation for the transference from symbol to meaning. Understanding the mind requires an explanation of how we can truly know, how we can err, and how we can distinguish truth from error, by investigating perception.

Whitehead distinguishes 'Direct Recognition' from 'Symbolic Reference,' illustrating that all symbolism may be reduced to trains of symbolic reference which connect percepts in alternative modes of direct recognition. Components of experience are both symbols & meanings. Examples of the inversion abound in language. A word is a symbol that can be either written or spoken. Sometimes a written word may suggest the corresponding spoken word and its sound may suggest a meaning. In such a case, the written word is a symbol and its meaning is the spoken word, and the spoken word is a symbol and its meaning is the dictionary definition of the word, spoken or written.

But often the written word effects its purpose without the intervention of the spoken. In this case the written directly symbolizes the dictionary meaning. Otherwise the written suggests both the spoken word as well as the meaning whilst the symbolic reference is made more definite by additional reference of the spoken word to the same meaning. Poetry proves that in the use of language there's a double symbolic reference: from things to words by the speaker and from words to things by the listener.

Immediate perception of the external world is defined as 'presentational immediacy' which explains why contemporary events are relevant to each other whilst simultaneously preserving mutual independence. This relevance amid independence is the peculiar character of contemporaneousness. The universe discloses itself as a community of things, real in the same sense that we are. Abstraction expresses nature's mode of interaction and isn't merely mental. He calls the other purely perceptive mode of experience 'causal efficacy'.

Symbolic reference interacts closely with conceptual analysis. Conceptual analysis as third mode of experience introduces components analyzable into actual things in the real world plus abstract attributes, qualities and relations. By symbolic reference the various actualities disclosed by the modes of pure perception are either identified or correlated together as interrelated elements. Thus the result of symbolic reference is what the actual world is: that datum that produces feelings, emotions, actions and finally the topic for conscious recognition when conceptual analysis comes into play. Most of our perception is due to the enhanced subtlety arising from concurrent conceptual analysis.

Whitehead points out that Hume views time as pure succession rather than the derivation of one state from another. Time in the concrete is the conformation of later to earlier; pure succession is an abstraction from the relationship of settled past to derivative present. The notion of succession reflects that of colour. There's no mere colour but always a particular colour like blue; there's no pure succession but always some particular relational aspect in which succession occurs. He concludes that Hume's doctrine is great philosophy but not common sense as it fails the test of obvious verification.

Kantians admit that causal efficacy is a factor in the phenomenal world but deny that it belongs to the data presupposed in perception; it resorts instead to ways of thinking about data. The phenomenal world, as in consciousness, is a complex of coherent judgments, framed according to fixed categories of thought, and with a content constituted by given data organized according to fixed forms of intuition. This Kantian doctrine accepts Hume's naïve presupposition of `simple occurrence' for the data, being the assumption of `simple location' by applying it to space as well as time.

Humeans & Kantians have diverse but allied objections to the notion of any direct perception of causal efficacy. Both schools find 'causal efficacy' to be an importation into the data, of a way of thinking about or judging the data. One school calls it a habit, the other a category of thought. The logical difficulties attending the direct perception of causal efficacy have been shown to depend on the assumption that time is merely the generic notion of pure succession. This is an example of the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.

The final chapter explores the dynamics of symbolism which inheres in the very texture of society. By means of an elaborate system of symbolic transference humanity draws on the past to enter the future. But each symbolic transfer may involve an arbitrary imputation that is dangerous. As a community evolves, rules need revision. The art of a free society involves the maintenance of the symbolic code and occasional bold revisions to ensure the code continues to serve the purposes of enlightened reason. Societies which fail to combine reverence to their symbols with freedom of revision either explode into anarchy or stagnate and regress under the burdens of the past.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 13, 2009 11:05 AM GMT


DMT, La molécule de l'esprit : Les potentialités insoupçonnées du cerveau humain
DMT, La molécule de l'esprit : Les potentialités insoupçonnées du cerveau humain
by Rick Strassman
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary research into consciousness, 4 Dec. 2009
This work is a detailed report on the author's clinical research into the substance DMT, a plant derived psychedelic which is also produced by the brain. It remains one of the most thought-provoking studies on altered states of consciousness. The volunteers reported an amazing variety of positive mystical or frightening hallucinatory experiences including encounters with intelligent entities.

Strassman's research connects DMT with the pineal gland; this corresponds to the esoteric belief that the pineal, connected as it is with the Crown, Keter or Sahasrara chakra, eases the spirit's movement into different states of consciousness or different dimensions of existence. Further DMT research might lead to major progress in the study of consciousness. Graham Hancock's Supernatural similarly explores the use of psychedelics to induce altered states or allow the soul to enter other dimensions.

Part One deals with psychedelic substances in science and society, describes the chemical qualities and molecular structure of DMT and discusses the pineal gland and its role in the psychedelic experience. Part Two relates the history of the author's research, from the actual research proposal through the process of obtaining permission; this section may be skipped by the average reader.

Part Three describes the process of selecting volunteers, obtaining DMT and the first experiments, whilst Part Four details the case reports: what the volunteers said and did, their behavior, etc. This makes for strange and fascinating reading. Some experiences were positive and illuminating, resembling the mystical states achieved during meditation, whilst others were eerie or deeply unpleasant.

Part Five takes stock of these reports and considers the question of whether it was worth it for each individual. There is an attempt to determine the ultimate benefit derived from the experience for the person concerned. Definitions come into play but it seems to me that the experiments did benefit each individual in some way or other.

Part Six is an absorbing discussion of the soul/psyche and different states of consciousness. It would seem that spontaneously occurring psychedelic experiences are mediated by elevated levels of endogenous DMT. This spiritual molecule thus provides access to unknown parts of the psychic realm. If the analogy of brain as receiver may be used, the substance fine-tunes the brain so that the individual consciousness moves beyond familiar awareness into invisible realms, most of which are inhabited.

There is a difference between this expanded awareness and normal dreaming. Current psychological theory does not satisfactorily explain the phenomenon or the peculiar experiences, especially as regards the entities encountered. This leads to a speculative discussion on cosmology, the possibility of parallel universes, a multiverse and dark matter, with reference to David Deutsch's book The Fabric of Reality.

The author concludes this study with a discussion on the practical use of psychedelics as therapy, to stimulate creativity or as entheogens. In this regard I recommend Huston Smith's Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plants and Chemicals.

The literature on this issue is vast and arresting. There's the old classic Phantastica by Louis Lewin, Aldous Huxley's collection of 1960s essays titled Moksha, and more recent contributions like Chaos, Creativity & Cosmic Consciousness by Abraham, McKenna and Sheldrake and Animals and Psychedelics by Giorgio Samorini. Plants of the Gods by Schultes et al is a valuable encyclopedic reference work on ethnobotany that is occasionally updated and enhanced.


A State Beyond the Pale: Europe's Problem With Israel
A State Beyond the Pale: Europe's Problem With Israel
by Robin Shepherd
Edition: Hardcover

17 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In every generation they rise against Israel, 29 Nov. 2009
The relentless torrent of anti-Israel propaganda turned out by leftist and liberal European media during the past two decades is finally bearing loads of toxic fruit. The far left really started the campaign on a low key after the 1967 War, it intensified during the 1982 incursion into Lebanon, escalated during the second Intifada, took a leap forward during the 2006 Hezbollah War and went mainstream during the Gaza Operation in early 2009.

The war against the Jews has two fronts: one of physical violence in the Middle East and the other of verbal violence in the media where the battle of opinion is raging. Israel is well equipped to defend itself physically but is losing the other war as Stephanie Gutmann wrote some years ago. Openly antisemitic antagonism towards Israel has always been common in the Arab world. Spread through mosques, madrassas and the internet, this propaganda has infected the entire Islamic sphere including Europe where Muslim numbers and influence are increasing. This demographic factor is expertly dissected by Rafael Israeli in his book on elemental and residual antisemitism.

Robin Shepherd examines the battle of ideas about Israel between non-Muslim westerners. Documenting and analysing in meticulous detail the expanding scope and power of this hostility among European opinion-formers, he notes how it has spread from the far left to the mainstream liberal-left as Bernard Harrison also reveals in The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism and Manfred Gerstenfeld in Behind The Humanitarian Mask with reference to Scandinavia. Major UK media like The Guardian, Independent and BBC are in the vanguard while on the continent recent examples were provided by the Swedish paper Aftonbladet and the Spanish El Mundo.

Shepherd identifies the cause as Europe's civilizational exhaustion and its symptoms like the post-Holocaust guilt complex and the intelligentsia's embrace of pacifism, appeasement, nihilism and relativism. The World Wars and the continent's murderous salvationist ideologies have made them reject all frameworks like nationalism or religion. As Chantal Delsol observes, Europe now believes in nothing but the welfare state. The far left and to a lesser degree the liberal-left hate many things, especially America and Israel, but have no idea what they want since the collapse of communism.

Shepherd's examples of the crude demonization of Israel correspond exactly with the analyses of Delsol and Harrison. Emotion & indignation have become the preferred channels for a morality which is negatively defined. Artists and intellectuals in particular express an angry form of piety in hysterical fits of morality of which the relativism, rage and selectivity betray it as fatuous posturing. It is demonstrably contradictory in the way it clings to moral absolutes whilst affirming the universality of relativism. Delsol considers it an empty morality of despair and withdrawal.

Caroline Glick, Bruce Bawer and Claire Berlinski share the opinion that European elites have rejected the lessons of the Holocaust. The simplistic fallacies that nationalism is the ultimate evil and that war is never justified are denials of reality. Nationalism is a neutral concept that must be judged by the way it is expressed whilst pacifism permits evil to flourish; it is neither pious nor benevolent as it holds justice in contempt. The collapse of the USSR pushed the Left over the edge and was the main reason for its eager acceptance of postmodernism & multiculturalism.

These evil philosophies are behind Europe's refusal to defend Western values. European elites deny the reality of Islamist terrorism whereas Israel has no choice but to confront it. The fad of Moral Relativism is not applied to both sides; it is used to justify suicide/homicide bombing but never to the measures taken by Israel to defend itself. The far left's hatred of Israel and the USA has made it an ally of radical Islamism despite the ideological chasm between them. Jamie Glazov explains this unholy alliance with great insight in his book United in Hate.

In the war of ideas, academia is the source & the mass media the disseminator of anti-Western pieties du jour of which the seeming benevolence masks a profound self-loathing. The double standards of "human rights" organizations and trade unions are breathtaking. Shepherd doubts that Western anti-Zionism is rooted in the old antisemitism; he argues that this vitriolic hatred of Israel represents an entirely new mutation of the mental disease.

The last chapter, Contagion: Is America Next? investigates why the quality of Middle Eastern discourse in the USA has not deteriorated to the same extent as in Europe. He warns however, with reference to Wart and Smearsheimer, that it could happen. In this regard it's important to consider Andre Glucksmann's theory that a contagion of hatred must be taken literally as a mental disorder that invades minds, bodies and society. Immune to reason, such an outbreak inoculates itself against opposing ideas.

Shepherd's informative book ought to be read with Denis MacShane's Globalising Hatred that highlights the plague as a factor in international politics with important geostrategic implications. MacShane also points out what scant attention is paid in the West to the Islamic sphere's brazen antisemitism which is promoted by state media and appears in the charters of Hamas & Hezbollah. Authors like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Nonie Darwish, Brigitte Gabriel and Phyllis Chesler have been trying to raise awareness of the phenomenon for years.

It is incumbent upon friends of Israel to counteract this descent into madness. Shepherd's is not the first warning; in the 1990s Alan Dershowitz, William F Buckley and William Nicholls saw it coming, while more recently Oriana Fallaci, Bat Ye'or, David Horowitz, Melanie Phillips, Gabriel Schoenfeld, Abraham Foxman, Dennis Prager, Nick Cohen, Walter Laqueur and David Solway have sounded the alarm. This time the Jewish people must not be abandoned to fight the battle on their own. As for the how of counteracting it, the best book by far is The Dawn: Political Teachings of the Book of Esther by Yoram Hazony.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 29, 2010 7:14 PM BST


The Dark Stuff : L'envers du rock
The Dark Stuff : L'envers du rock
by Nick Kent
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Expanded edition, 27 Nov. 2009
The Dark Stuff was first published in Britain in 1994 and always available in the USA since its 1996 publication. In the UK the book had been out-of-print for eight years until the 2007 edition appeared. Compiled from 1970s interviews for the New Musical Express plus 1980s magazine articles, this new edition includes the essays Sly Stone's Evil Ways & Phil Spector's Long Fall From Grace, a portrait of French pop icon Serge Gainsbourg, a recent interview with Iggy Pop and a concluding essay titled Self-destruction in Rock and Elsewhere. All in all twenty-two of the most talented and self-destructive artists in rock history are profiled.

Kent was the New Musical Express's star attraction in the 1970s at a time when the publication was selling 300,000 copies per week. It was at the forefront of reporting on the punk explosion, punk personalities, the style and its offshoots. The NME's influential position gave Kent unique opportunities as a rock writer. Kent may be older & wiser but there's something to be said for the energy and enthusiasm of youth, since the recent stuff amongst the new additions is less gripping than the original writings from the 70s and 80s for NME and magazines like The Face, Arena and Spin.

The value of each chapter is directly proportional to the communication skills of those interviewed: that is why the Guns 'N' Roses piece is a complete waste of time and paper and shouldn't even have been included, whilst I loved the Roy Orbison interview although I've never really been into his music. I found the Brian Wilson piece too long and disagree with the author's assessment of the Rolling Stones after the 1960s. Kent seems to think that Jagger and Richards produced their best music in the late 60s and early 70s because they were tormented by the 'wild women' Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithfull.

There's a thought-provoking chapter on the ill-fated Brian Jones (Tortured Narcissus) that discusses his contribution to The Stones, his decline and death. Kent's view of Kurt Cobain is a bit harsh and the non-interview with Roky Erickson rather pointless. Kent's 1988 portrait of Serge Gainsbourg is sad and pathetic but he concludes it by graciously praising the French singer's musical legacy. I loved the pieces on Jerry Lee Lewis, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello and Miles Davis and in my opinion the book's crowning glory is the chapter titled Neil Young and the Haphazard Highway that leads to Unconditional Love. Young's care and concern for his disabled child impress more than a thousand stories of excess and substance abuse.

Most of these rock stars thought that they were exempt from the law of cause & effect, with the predictable disastrous consequences. What amazes me is how some of these artists managed to consistently produce sublime music while they were abusing themselves physically and mentally to such a gruesome degree. I suppose that is one of the messages of this book: no matter how low down you are, you can always pull yourself together again. It certainly demonstrates the ability of the soul and the body to restore themselves.

This is great rock writing, on a par with the work of Lester Bangs. The stylistic difference is that Kent's writing is character-based & analytical: looking at musicians in the context of what they're doing and how they're living in order to analyze how this context influences them. Bangs on the other hand wrote from a more intimate, personal perspective, an angle that describes the effect the music had on him, often in stream-of-consciousness prose.

Other classics of rock writing that I recommend are James Young's Nico, Songs They Never Play on the Radio, alternatively titled Nico: The Last Bohemian, Clinton Heylin's From The Velvets to the Voidoids, Gerri Hirshey's Nowhere To Run: The Story of Soul Music, Let it Blurt by Jim DeRogatis, Scars of Sweet Paradise by Alice Echols, Memories, Dreams and Reflections by Marianne Faithfull, Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus and Angry Women in Rock by Andrea Juno.


Serpent-Handling Believers.
Serpent-Handling Believers.
by Thomas. BURTON
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Faith such as this ..., 13 Nov. 2009
In this absorbing work, Burton presents a balanced view of serpent handling believers, their history and religious culture. Combining academic research and oral sources, the author charts the history of the phenomenon while examining the legal and ethical issues associated with the practice. Although it is a scholarly study, the personal interviews and numerous black and white photographs make it a riveting read. The author takes a sympathetic approach while presenting both sides of the story, from the opinions of critics to the words of the believers themselves.

Chapters 2 & 3 deal with the life of pioneer George Went Hensley and the early history of the movement from around 1908. The history is further explored in chapter 4, illumined with quotes from the church publication The Evangel. The next one is devoted to the legal history of serpent handling in Tennessee courts with reference to particular cases of arrest and prosecution. The practice has always presented a dilemma between religious freedom and protecting the lives of citizens. It seems that the authorities have consistently been divided but in general have attempted not to interfere with freedom of faith.

Three personalities are given a voice in the chapter titled Portraits, in an attempt to provide psychological insight on the serpent handler. The three individuals are Liston Pack, Charles Prince and Anna Prince, all three of whom are quoted at length.

Media criticism of these believers is examined in the Conclusion, together with psychological studies, from the negative Freudian perspective of Weston La Barre to the sympathetic conclusions of Nathan and Louise Gerrard using the Multiphasic Personality Inventory Test, and the work of Susan Gilmore and Troy Abel. The views of various theologians and contemporary fundamentalist religious leaders like Jerry Falwell are also provided.

Appendix A: The Anointment, examines the phenomenon of acting under the influence of the Holy Spirit. This section includes a report of an electroencephalograph test taken of Liston Pack by Dr Michael Woodruff, detailing the EEG patterns which occur in the mystical state.

Appendix B: The Music, describes the worship music of the serpent handling churches. It is improvisatory in nature, derived from a blend of bluegrass and country-western styles utilizing 12- and 16-bar blues progressions. Secular melodies are often employed with scriptural lyrics. The instruments include piano, organ, guitar, bass, cymbals and tambourines.

Appendix C is a chronology of the life of George Hensley from 1880 to his death in 1955, and Appendix D: Questions and Answers, attempts to answer a wide range of questions about the snakes, the poison, the fire, key scriptures, the customs of the Pentecostal Holiness churches and the number of believers which sadly seems to be in decline.

According to Kurt Rudolf in Gnosis: The Nature And History of Gnosticism, there were Gnostic sects like The Ophites (also called Ophians or Serpentinians) and the Naassenes in the early Christian era who had some unusual views of serpents but they cannot be considered as forerunners of the Signs Following churches that follow a strict interpretation of the Bible. Theologically the members include Trinitarians and Oneness (Jesus Name) believers but this difference does not seem to matter at all and the churches are non-denominational.

Although there are certain individuals in these churches who have an unhealthy obsession with snakes outside of the religious service and although some of the preachers have led less than exemplary lives, it seems to me that most of the church members are sincere in their beliefs and are godly people who try to live holy lives. I also recommend the book The Serpent Handlers by Fred Brown and Jeanne McDonald.

The book concludes with a reference section of sources in the archives of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University plus printed sources, legal references and a section on films, videos and records. There are 84 black and white photographs of services, the Church Of The Lord Jesus at Jolo, The Holiness Church of God In Jesus Name at Carson Springs and the former Dolley Pond Church Of God With Signs Following in Birchwood, plus prominent personalities like Lydia Elkins Hollins, organist and singer at the Jolo church whose voice resembles that of Janis Joplin.

It includes a mention of her mother Columbia Gaye Hagerman who died from a snakebite in 1961 at the age of 23. For five days Columbia suffered excruciating pain, refusing all offers of medical intervention before she passed away. An award-winning, personal account of a writer's involvement with this practice is the highly recommended Salvation on Sand Mountain by Dennis Covington.


By Elaine Pagels - Gnostic Gospels (1st (first) edition)
By Elaine Pagels - Gnostic Gospels (1st (first) edition)
by Elaine Pagels
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brief introduction to the Gnostic scriptures, 1 Nov. 2009
This is a brief but informative introduction to the belief systems known as Gnosticism and their differences with Ecclesiastical Christianity. Until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library in 1945 the few known Gnostic texts were mainly quotes in hostile polemics attacking Gnosticism. There was greater diversity in Christianity in the 1st and 2nd centuries than today claims Bart Ehrman in Lost Christianities. By 200 AD the proto-orthodox version of Ecclesiastical Christianity had triumphed and all other believers were persecuted and their literature destroyed.

Pagels quotes extensively from Irenaeus, Tertullian and to a lesser extent, Clement of Alexandria and Pope Clement. On the other side, she gives space to Valentinus and Marcion in addition to the unknown authors of Nag Hammadi texts like The Gospels of Mary and Philip, Apocryphon of John and Apocalypse of Peter. A major controversy was the interpretation of the Resurrection -- historical event or symbol? The Orthodox believed in a physical one whilst the Gnostics had various symbolic interpretations. This had significant implications for the development of these two streams of Christianity as a bodily Resurrection promoted a hierarchical institution whilst the symbolic promoted solitary pursuits.

Beliefs about the nature of God influence the structure of earthly authority. The chapter titled Politics of Monotheism reveals how Pope Clement demanded obedience to the institutional church which became supreme. The creation myths of a variety of Nag Hammadi texts are studied here as well as the feminine aspect of deity. Extreme diversity characterizes the Gnostic texts but three main trends may be identified. Note that the ancient mother goddess does not feature at all; there's the Parental Couple, the Spirit and Wisdom (Sophia). Pagels refers to the Gospel to the Hebrews, the Dialogue of the Savior, the Trimorphic Protennoia and The Thunder: Perfect Mind. Similar to the early church, there tended to be gender equality in most Gnostic sects. Montanism had women founders and both Valentinianism and Marcionism had female priests and bishops. With the triumph of the Orthodox at the end of the 2nd century, this equality came to an end.

The chapter on the persecution of Christians draws mainly upon The Second Treatise of the Great Seth and the Acts of John. It's important to relate the two group's views of persecution to their respective views of Christ. Gnostics saw him as a spiritual being (this includes the Docetic view) while the Orthodox considered him a man, therefore they saw blood as the seed of the church and many actively sought martyrdom. Some Gnostics were martyred but various writings opposed martyrdom, fanaticism and what they considered human sacrifice. The author quotes from Tacitus, Trajan and Marcus Aurelius on these persecutions.

Since all Christian writings not legitimized by the Church were destroyed, scholars were only familiar with Orthodox views of Gnosticism until the famous NH discovery. One of the most illuminating NH texts against Ecclesiastical Christianity is The Testimony of Truth that attacks the clergy as blind guides that do not seek after God and criticizes the blind conformity of the church. Jesus' command to seek and find is emphasized as the motive for actively pursuing salvific spiritual insight.

Oddly enough, the Gospel of John, a Gnostic text, was taken up in the Canon. Diverse as they are, the NH texts have the following in common, some of which it shares with Psychotherapy: that ignorance (not only sin) causes suffering, that the soul contains within itself the potential for liberation, the possibility of internal transformation and a fascination with the non-literal meaning of words. Pagels quotes extensively from The Gospel of Truth and The Gospel of Thomas in this regard. In contrast with the cryptic replies and aphorisms in Thomas, the book Zostrianos provides a detailed programme on how to pursue self-knowledge whilst The Discourse on the 8th and 9th is a guide with even more specific directions.

Spiritual/Theological ideas manifest as religious experiences. Gnosticism and Orthodoxy articulate different types of these, Pagels points out, that appealed to different kinds of people. Gnosticism was a solitary way, mystical and ecstatic, whilst the Orthodox supported the natural order, encouraged communities and introduced rituals. However, both of these two branches of Christianity emerged as legitimate interpretations of the words of Jesus. For a detailed analysis of which of his words are genuine and authentic, I refer the interested reader to Geza Vermes' Authentic Gospel Of Jesus.

Although these various mystical schools of Christianity had disappeared by the 4th century except for the Mandaeans in Mesopotamia, an underground stream survived as preserved in medieval European art and literature. There was the Cathar revival from about 1170 to 1244 and later various individuals emerged during the Renaissance and Enlightenment. In the 20th century, the great psychologist Carl Jung was inspired by Gnosticism. More information is available in Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing by Stephan A. Hoeller. The Gnostic Gospels concludes with 22 pages of Notes arranged by chapter and an index.


Jung and the Lost Gospels: Insights into the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library
Jung and the Lost Gospels: Insights into the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library
by Stephan A. Hoeller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.97

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars With the Divine in Mind, 30 Oct. 2009
A well-written introduction to Gnosticism, this work is unique in its comparison of the Nag Hammadi Library to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Hoeller examines the mysticism and mythology of the Essenes and the Gnostics within the framework of Carl Jung's depth psychology. The almost simultaneous discoveries at Qumran and Nag Hammadi revealed an ancient psycho-spirituality that had been virtually forgotten for almost 18 centuries. In both cases the retrieval/collection, translation and publication took years to complete and some documents are undoubtedly lost forever.

The author emphasizes Jung's awareness that Gnosticism was the only tradition which considered the psyche or soul as the meeting point of the divine and the human. The open practice of Gnosticism endured to the third century of our era (except for the Mandaeans of Mesopotamia that survived to the present day). Jung called for a revival of this ancient heritage and for a return to the understanding of God as an immanent and transformative presence. His view of the symbols, myths and metaphors of the Gnostics inspired his life's work. Many decades after having written them, he commented as follows on the Seven Sermons to the Dead: "All my work, all my creative activity, has come from those initial fantasies ... everything that I accomplished in later life was already contained in them ..."

The first part deals with the discovery and significance of these mystical texts, both representing an inner tradition that was later branded 'heretical' by ecclesiastical Christianity when it became dominant towards the end of the second century and especially under and after Constantine. The author compares the Gnostic Christ and the Essene Messiah, looks at various feminine concepts of wisdom and identifies the similarities between the two sets of texts. There were colonies of Essenes in Hellenistic Egypt which was a crossroads of many religious influences. People like Menander, Saturninus, Basilides, Lucius Charinus and Marcion are discussed here.

Part Two, The Other Reality, is devoted to myth. Amonst those investigated are the myths of Sophia/Wisdom and its relation to the Dancing Savior or Gnostic Christ who descended from the heavenly pleroma and fused its nature with that of Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan River. Others examined are those of the evil angels or `Watchers' who descended on Mount Hermon and interbred with human beings, and that of the Song of the Pearl. It includes a look at modern myths in a chapter that opens with Jung's controversial view of The Book of Job and then explores examples of gnostic symbols and motifs in the dreams and imaginations of individuals from our era.

Part Three investigates certain of the Nag Hammadi texts in detail. Some of these contain information on altered states of consciousness and how to attain gnosis through various spiritual practices. They include Allogenes, The Treatise on the 8th and 9th, and Zostrianos, but the Gospel of Philip is the most explicit and comprehensive of these. Hoeller argues that it may be seen as a gnostic sacramental theology. Under the themes of redemption and ecstasy, he discusses the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of the Egyptians. The Gospel of Truth -- possibly a Valentinian text -- is a poetic work of Christian mysticism like The Cloud of Unknowing. It speaks of the Father, the Truth and the Word. The second deals with the Pleromic Region (Ayn Soph), the figure of Seth and the transmission of light from that incorruptible realm to the earthly plane. It further contains the Sacrament of Seth wherein its ecstatic nature is exposed in evidence of glossolalia represented by sequences of vowel sounds.

The epilogue is titled From Hiroshima to the Secret Gospels: The Alternative Future of Human History. This is an assessment of our age, a warning of where humanity is heading, a call for introspection and a plea for renewed efforts at healing the human race. Serious contemplation of the wisdom contained in the Scrolls and the NH library may contribute to this healing process. Recognizing both the evil and the Divine Presence within ourselves is necessary for individuation, both individual and collective. This thought-provoking book concludes with bibliographical notes and an index.

The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels would be ideal reading for those who enjoyed this book whilst Jung's Memories, Dreams and Reflections, an accessible autobiography of the great psychologist's inner life, has much to impart about the Nag Hammadi texts. Other works of related interest include Hoeller's Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing, The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James and A Psychology Of Hope by Kaplan and Schwarz.


Jung and the Lost Gospels
Jung and the Lost Gospels
by Stephan Hoeller
Edition: VHS Tape

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Traditions of inner knowing, 30 Oct. 2009
This informative work serves as an introduction to Gnosticism and a comparison of the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Nag Hammadi Library. Hoeller examines the mysticism and mythology of the Essenes and the Gnostics within the framework of Carl Jung's psychology. The almost simultaneous discoveries at Qumran and Nag Hammadi have revealed an ancient psychological spirituality that had been virtually forgotten for almost 18 centuries. In both cases the retrieval/collection, translation and publication took years to complete and some documents are undoubtedly lost forever.

Hoeller emphasizes Jung's awareness that the only tradition which considered the psyche or soul as the connection between the divine and the human was the Gnostic that endured to the third century of our era (except for the Mandaeans of Mesopotamia that survived). That's why he called for a revival of this ancient heritage and for a return to the understanding of God as an immanent and transformative presence. Jung's view of the symbols, myths and metaphors of the Gnostics inspired his life's work. Many decades after having written them, he commented as follows on the Seven Sermons to the Dead: "All my work, all my creative activity, has come from those initial fantasies ... everything that I accomplished in later life was already contained in them ..."
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The first part deals with the discovery and significance of these mystical texts from Egypt and Israel, both representing an inner tradition that was later branded `heretical' by ecclesiastical Christianity when it became dominant towards the end of the second century and especially under and after Constantine. The author compares the Gnostic Christ and the Essene Messiah, looks at various feminine concepts of wisdom and charts the similarities between the two sets of texts.

Part Two, The Other Reality, is devoted to myth. Here the author discusses the myths of Sophia/Wisdom and its relation to the Dancing Savior or Gnostic Christ, the myth of the tyrant angels and the myth of the Song of the Pearl. It concludes with a look at modern myths in a chapter that opens with Jung's controversial view of Job and then explores examples of gnostic symbols and motifs in the dreams and imaginations of individuals from our era.

Part Three investigates certain of the Nag Hammadi texts in detail. Some of these contain information on altered states of consciousness and how to attain gnosis through various spiritual practices. They include Allogenes, The Treatise on the 8th and 9th and Zostrianos, but the Gospel of Philip is the most explicit and comprehensive of these. Hoeller argues that it may be considered to be a gnostic sacramental theology. Under the themes of redemption and ecstasy, he discusses the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of the Egyptians.

The epilogue is titled From Hiroshima to the Secret Gospels: The Alternative Future of Human History. This is an assessment of our age, a warning of where humanity is heading, a call for introspection and a plea for renewed efforts at healing the human race. Serious contemplation of the wisdom contained in the Scrolls and the NH library may contribute to this healing process. Recognizing both the evil and the Divine Presence within ourselves is necessary for individuation, both individual and collective. This thought-provoking book concludes with bibliographical notes and an index.

The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels would be ideal reading for those who enjoyed this book whilst Jung's Memories, Dreams and Reflections, an accessible autobiography of the great psychologist's inner life, has much to impart about the Nag Hammadi texts. Other works of related interest include Hoeller's Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing, The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James and A Psychology Of Hope by Kaplan and Schwarz.


The Gnostic Gospels
The Gnostic Gospels
by Elaine Pagels
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Adequate introduction to Gnostic scriptures, 25 Oct. 2009
This review is from: The Gnostic Gospels (Paperback)
This brief but informative study of the cluster of beliefs known as Gnosticism and its differences with Ecclesiastical Christianity is recommended. Until the 1945 discovery of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts very few Gnostic texts were known and those were mostly quotes in hostile treatises attacking these belief systems. Overall there was greater diversity in Christianity in the 1st and 2nd centuries than today, as explained by Bart Ehrman in Lost Christianities. By 200 AD the proto-orthodox version of Ecclesiastical Christianity had triumphed and all other variants were extinguished and their literature destroyed.

Throughout the book, Pagels quotes extensively from Irenaeus, Tertullian and to a lesser extent, Clement of Alexandria and Pope Clement. On the other side, she gives space to Valentinus and Marcion in addition to the unknown authors of NH texts like The Gospels of Mary and Philip, Apocryphon of John and Apocalypse of Peter. A main controversy was the interpretation of the Resurrection -- historical event or symbol? The Orthodox believed in a physical one whilst the Gnostics had various symbolic interpretations. This had significant implications for the development of these two streams of Christianity as a bodily Resurrection promoted a hierarchical institution whilst the symbolic promoted solitary pursuits.

Beliefs about the nature of God always influence earthly authority. The chapter titled Politics of Monotheism reveals how Pope Clement demanded obedience to the institutional church which became supreme. The creation myths of a variety of Nag Hammadi texts are studied here as well as the feminine aspect of deity. Extreme diversity characterizes the Gnostic texts but three main trends may be identified. Note that the ancient mother goddess does not feature at all; there's the Parental Couple, the Spirit and Wisdom (Sophia). Pagels refers to the Gospel to the Hebrews, the Dialogue of the Savior, the Trimorphic Protennoia and The Thunder: Perfect Mind. Similar to the early church, there tended to be gender equality in most Gnostic sects. Montanism had women founders and both Valentinianism and Marcionism had female priests and bishops. With the triumph of the Orthodox at the end of the 2nd century, this equality came to an end.

The chapter on the persecution of Christians draws mainly upon The Second Treatise of the Great Seth and the Acts of John. It's important to relate the two group's views of persecution to their respective views of Christ. Gnostics saw him as a spiritual being (this includes the Docetic view) while the Orthodox considered him a man, therefore they saw blood as the seed of the church and many actively sought martyrdom. Some Gnostics were martyred but various writings opposed martyrdom, fanaticism and what they considered human sacrifice. The author quotes from Tacitus, Trajan and Marcus Aurelius on these persecutions.

Since all Christian writings not legitimized by the Church were destroyed, scholars were only familiar with Orthodox criticism of Gnosticism until the famous NH discovery. One of the most illuminating NH texts against Ecclesiastical Christianity is The Testimony of Truth that attacks the clergy as blind guides that do not seek after God and criticizes the blind conformity of the church. Jesus' command to seek and find is emphasized as the motive for actively pursuing salvific spiritual insight.

Oddly enough, the Gospel of John, a Gnostic text, was taken up in the Canon. Diverse as they are, the NH texts have the following in common, some of which it shares with Psychotherapy: that ignorance (not only sin) causes suffering, that the soul contains within itself the potential for liberation, the possibility of internal transformation and a fascination with the non-literal meaning of words. Pagels quotes extensively from The Gospel of Truth and The Gospel of Thomas in this regard. In contrast with the cryptic replies and aphorisms in Thomas, the book Zostrianos provides a detailed programme on how to pursue self-knowledge whilst The Discourse on the 8th and 9th is a guide with even more specific directions.

Spiritual/Theological ideas manifest as religious experiences. Gnosticism and Orthodoxy articulate different types of these, Pagels points out, that appealed to different kinds of people. Gnosticism was a solitary way, mystical and ecstatic, whilst the Orthodox supported the natural order, encouraged communities and introduced rituals. However, both of these two branches of Christianity emerged as legitimate interpretations of the words of Jesus. For a detailed analysis of which of his words are genuine and authentic, I refer the interested reader to Geza Vermes' Authentic Gospel Of Jesus.

Although these various mystical schools of Christianity had disappeared by the 4th century except for the Mandaeans in Mesopotamia, an underground stream survived as preserved in medieval art and literature. There was the Cathar revival from about 1170 to 1244 and later various individuals emerged during the Renaissance and Enlightenment. In the 20th century, the great psychologist Carl Jung was inspired by Gnosticism. More information is available in Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing by Stephan A. Hoeller. The Gnostic Gospels concludes with 22 pages of Notes arranged by chapter and an index.


Varieties of Religious Experience
Varieties of Religious Experience
by William James
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Landmark work on religion and psychology, 22 Oct. 2009
This landmark work remains one of the most influential books ever on psychology and spirituality. The style is accessible and engaging, consistently interesting with well-reasoned arguments. Religions are not compared; the study is restricted to the experiences of the individual. The field of study is clearly defined and circumscribed. Chapter titles include Religion & Neurology, the Reality of the Unseen, the Religion of Healthy-Mindedness, the Sick Soul, the Divided Self & the Process of Unification, Conversion, Saintliness, Mysticism and Philosophy.

James considers the feelings, actions and experiences of individuals, insofar as they understand themselves to be in a relationship with whatever they consider the Divine. It is thus about the religion of everyday life and has nothing to do with churches and dogma. This is similar to what emerges when Geza Vermes explores the Authentic Gospel of Jesus; there's very little on doctrine but much about relationships and behavior towards others.

He mentions the importance of the passionate side of religion and its power of adding enchantment to life. Dealing objectively with a wide spectrum of observed and personally related religious experiences, James quotes from the autobiographical writings of famous authors, theologians and mystics from many traditions including Whitman, Luther, Voltaire, Emerson and Tolstoy.

In his own words: "Both thought and feeling are determinants of conduct, and the same conduct may be determined either by feeling or thought. When we survey the whole field of religion, we find a great variety in the thoughts that have prevailed there; but the feelings on the one hand and the conduct on the other are almost always the same, for Stoic, Christian and Buddhist saints are practically indistinguishable in their lives. The theories which religion generates, being thus variable, are secondary. If you wish to grasp its essence, you must look to the feelings and the conduct as being the more constant elements."

This book is a comprehensive survey which offers valuable insights, revelation, wisdom and points to ponder that contribute significantly to the reader's understanding of consciousness, psychological processes, mystic states, thought, emotion and the individual's relationship with the Eternal Divine. Simultaneously serving as a trenchant plea for religious tolerance, it does sometimes read like a gripping novel, especially the chapters on the religion of healthy-mindedness, the sick soul, and mysticism.

Although it is not a difficult read, patience is called for since every sentence is loaded with multiple layers of meaning; one often has to reread a previous paragraph in order to fully grasp and properly process the insights and information. A mindful, meditative study of the text will richly reward the reader. An even more rewarding experience can be had by studying Richard Maurice Bucke's 1901 classic Cosmic Consciousness and Stephan A. Hoeller's The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead at the same time. These valuable works complement one another in a most marvelous way.

Other works on psychology, religion and/or spirituality that I have found inspiring or informative are The Creative Process in the Individual by Thomas Troward, Religion in the Making by Alfred North Whitehead, The Hidden Power of the Bible by Ernest Holmes, Alter Your Life by Emmet Fox, Cracking the Bible Code by Jeffrey Satinover and above all, A Psychology of Hope by Kaplan and Schwarz.


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