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Esoteric Christianity or Theosophical tall tales?
on 21 February 2016
“The Magus of Strovolos”, first published in 1985, is the first in a series of three books about Stylianos Atteshlis, a Greek Cypriot healer, mystic and esotericist. Often known simply as Daskalos (Teacher), he is relatively unknown outside Cyprus. In the books, he is referred to as Spyros Sathi, perhaps in keeping with the anthropological custom of referring to native informants by pseudonym. However, it's pretty obvious that the author, Cyprus-born American professor Kyriacos Markides, isn't an ordinary anthropologist, but rather a spiritual seeker who returned to his native land searching for “esoteric Christianity”. His books are sometimes compared to those of Carlos Castaneda. Markides' works were recommended to me by a friendly esotericist on the web, who said that he is more fun to read than Vladimir Lossky!
Daskalos passed away (or passed on) in 1995, and it seems that his supporters split after the the Teacher's death. A faction around Daskalos' daughter Panayiota calls itself “Researchers of Truth”, while a group around Daskalos' disciple Kostas calls itself “Erevna”. (According to other sources, there were two groups - but with considerable overlap in membership - already during Daskalos' lifetime.) The website of the Researchers of Truth claims that Daskalos broke with Markides before his death and repudiated the American professor's writings, but it's not clear when this happened, or why. Of course, Markides' books can be read with profit even if taken as esoteric fiction.
So far, I've read about two-thirds of the first book. I must say that Daskalos' esoteric Christianity is virtually identical to Theosophy. The main difference is that Daskalos places more emphasis on Jesus Christ, which he sees as the Logos incarnate, and not simply as a divinized man. Daskalos and most of his supporters are members of the Greek Orthodox Church. Their message supposedly comes from Yohannan (John the Evangelist) through channeling. Daskalos also believes that it's possible, under certain conditions, for one man to bear the karma of another and hence “forgive” him, and this was apparently what Jesus did on a cosmic scale. Otherwise, the similarities to Theosophy are so striking that a direct influence cannot be ruled out. Indeed, Daskalos claims that his earthly guru was an Indian stationed on Cyprus (then a British colony) during World War II. Perhaps this mysterious personage was a member of the Adyar society?
Ascended Masters, the White Brotherhood, monads descending into matter and then ascending to godhood, grand cycles of cosmic evolution, reincarnation, karma, chakras, channeling, creation of thought forms, even belief in the Space Brothers…it's all in there. Daskalos has a “perennialist” outlook. He accepts Muslim disciples, carries out magical rituals using Jewish symbolism, and speaks respectfully of Plato and ancient Egypt. He doesn't believe in Nirvana, though, and doesn't call for complete unity with the Divine – the monads should remain separate (perhaps they must remain so). Masters should return to the material world to alleviate suffering and spread the spiritual message (the Bodhisattva ideal). The main activity of Daskalos and his supporters is healing through the creation of “elementals” (their term for thought forms). Apparently, Daskalos was known in Cyprus mostly for his these miraculous healing abilities. Astral travel (“exomatosis”) is another important technique used by this group. Are we to believe Markides, the Orthodox Church have attempted to excommunicate Daskalos, while many superstitious Cypriots view him as possessed by the Devil!
“The Magus of Strovolos” is filled with fanciful stories, which often sound like tall tales. Daskalos comes across as a friendly, talkative, funny and mostly harmless village crank, with a somewhat lively imagination. He was of course personally present every time something dramatic happened in Cypriot history: the guerilla struggle against Britain, the Greek-Turkish communal violence, etc. He claims to have been on a first name basis with Makarios, the Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus who later became the island nation's president. Indeed, Daskalos claims that it was Makarios who stopped the excommunication procedures against him. Of course, he also knew the British governor-general and the main Turkish official on the island. At one point, Daskalos implies that Bertrand Russell recognized him as a spiritual master! Naturally, the old man remembers all his previous incarnations, and those of his disciples, in some detail...
I admit that I didn't buy all of this (admittedly entertaining) stuff, and it would be interesting to know whether Stylianos Atteshlis really said all those things, or whether the author embellished them. That being said, “The Magus of Strovolos” is actually a pretty good introduction to the Theosophical worldview. If it tells us something about the mystical inner core of Eastern Christianity is, perhaps, another question entirely. But yes, it *is* a more fun read than Vladimir Lossky…