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on 25 July 2017
A brilliant piece of work, a book that brings together so much of what I have read before and makes it cogent and articulate. Very thought-provoking. If everyone read this it could change the way we see reality and understand ourselves. I thoroughly recommend it to all who seek that secret fire.
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on 18 February 2011
This book is the perfect antidote to the bleak rationalism that the science fraternity has bestowed upon us in the guise of reality and ultimate truth.If Richard Dawkins stole your soul then this man can get it back.Plato and Jung without tears.
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on 25 October 2013
Anyone who wants an insight to a creative and imaginative history should read this . Thourough, and engaging, and eloquently expressed and researched by Mr Harpur.
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on 4 August 2015
Read all of Patrick Harpur's books!
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on 16 February 2016
The book addresses a topic rarely discussed, the imagination, in a highly intelligent, scholarly manner. The writing can get quite dense and I trouble getting through some sections. Overall, Patrick's amazing knowledge of history and literature, depth psychology, and mystical traditions make this a really rich read. Frustrating was the fact that Patrick's vision of imagination is never clearly spelled out. I feel enriched by the book but don't have a clear sense of what imagination is, even though every chapter seems to address it in a different way. Have I understood nothing?
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on 7 October 2010
I got tuned into Harpurs work serendipitiously through coming across the tremendous reviews below. The book is quite an unusual experience of a read and Mr Harpur's ideas on the Imagination are heavily indebted to the writings of James Hillman and Jung. His grasp of the diverse material he covers is masterly and I especially found the imaginative revisioning and 'seeing through' of current science and evolutionary theory thought provoking. Must thank the hermetic Mr Harpur for re-introducing me to the thought and work of poets such as Yeats. Has to be read and read again because the ideas and metaphors, the history and twists and turns are too rich to digest in one reading and definately one to read slowly and leisurely with enjoyment. Probably the most interesting, imaginative and original post-hillmanian author I have come across!
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on 21 November 2008
I love Patrick Harpur's previous book - Daimonic Reality. This book goes much further into the nature of that reality. You have to keep putting the book down for a boggle break. I am reading the book for the second time just now and getting twice as much out of it as I did the first time.My mind must be getting better at boggling. Harpur challenges all our accepted notions about reality, truth and experience. Not in some brainless way like "the secret" and other such new-age waffle but in an intelligent, slightly academic and very unsettling way... The book is very readable, quite funny in places.I can forgive him the odd bit of mumbo jumbo or waffle. There is not a lot in the book about actual alchemy. If that is your interest you would be better off with Harpur's novel, Mercurius. What there is is quite difficult for me to grasp but that does not take away from my enjoyment or the WOW factor of the whole book.
Some months after my first reading of this book I find that my thinking has really changed about reality and truth. That in this age and every age in the Christian era we have been hooked up on a literal, black and white reading of everything. What about the truth that there is in a good novel or poem? And why do we feel the need for metaphor so much in literature? How come things just keep happenng in our lives that are just that bit beyond our control and understanding? How is it that people see the world so very differently from each other even though they may have been brought up in the same family and circumstances? Because we are not literal creatures and this is not a literal universe. Harpur explains this well in terms of how other societies well understand that everything has its truth only in relation to other things' truths and that we do well to remember that we do not know or control the half of it. Fundamentalists like Richard Dawkins should remember that there have always been folks who believed they knew it all and understood it all and up to now they have always been wrong and look very silly on the pages of the history books. Isn't it odd how it is just this type of mindset that has caused all the major violence in the world?
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Subtitled `a history of the imagination,' Harpur is trying to rehabilitate the Otherworld of the shaman, to achieve a possible integration with our modern, rational, and as he calls it, `puritan' psyche. But I find the attempt flawed and muddled.

`Imagination' does not refer to the mental dross that circulates in our minds automatically, fed by endless television and electronic distractions, but Imagination as William Blake understood it - the creative force. Harpur locates this force very firmly in the realm of Fairyland, the world of `daimons,' forces neither good nor evil, but, like the ancient gods, capable of destroying us if we deny them.

I have no doubt that neglect and denial of the noumenal world is leading us into the Wasteland that Harpur warns us of. Yet regrettably, while Harpur points to the problem, he brings us very little nearer a solution.

I say this account is flawed because I spent most of the book wondering how Harpur could possibly integrate Fairyland with our rationally understood universe. Maybe daimons are personifications of parts of our psyche, but Harpur seems to assert that they are not just that - at the same time denying their physicality. There is no bridge between the two worlds that would allow us to integrate them. The closest he comes is in the final chapter where he writes: `We have to cultivate a new perspective, or seeing through; and a sense of metaphor, seeing double.' (p.311)

Fair enough - but that doesn't excuse muddled thinking on (for example) medicine, where he says at one point, "The high incidence of cancer would [...] be `conceived as the suppressed form of diseases that we no longer manifest.'" (p.300) This is simply nonsense - most of the increased incidence of cancer now is due to the fact that in earlier times we didn't live long enough to get it.

Then I experienced Harpur's account as muddled - because Harpur cannot make up his mind, in the final chapter, whether depersonalisation - the feeling that we are actors in a play which we observe as it were from outside - is a way through for mystics, or the dead end towards which the rational ego is headed. Yet he argues that the (controlled) destruction of the little ego is precisely what gives shamans their power.

He writes: `I wonder whether we have even an inkling of how our lives might be if our momentary contacts with the Soul of the World - those little flashes of truth and beauty - were to become as continuous as the air we breathe.' (p.309)

I suspect in this he is right - but at the same time, I suspect that we need to go beyond the daimons to find that place - the place the mystics were trying to reach.
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on 6 May 2004
It's hard to put into words exactly what I got out of this book.
For some time now I've had an interest in folklore, both as an ancient tradition and in the ways in which it is re-emerging in new-age trends. I've had trouble reconciling the duality between what is imagined and what is real, and exactly where the line is drawn.
This book answered that question for me. The distinction between "reality" and "literal reality" is a valuable one, for which I will always be grateful to Mr Harpur. You may not get the same kind of insight from the book, but you might be surprised at what you do take from it.
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on 9 March 2010
Goodness me, this book's got it all - a sweeping tour d'horizon of the human imagination from the earliest times to the present, written in a passionate and highly engaging style.

Harpur basically shows how human across the centuries and across cultures have traditionally understood the universe to be alive and filled with pattern, purpose and meaning. It's only our culture and our age which sees it differently!
The author's angle of vision is especially welcome at this particular moment in the human story when the faculty of imagination is so much under threat from the assorted fundamentalisms of science, politics and religion.

It's a rich and strange reading experience. Though the book is obviously a work of non-fiction I found myself reminded throughout of various novels and films, especially the films of Krysztof Kieslowski ("The Double Life of Veronique" and "Three Colours Red" immediately spring to mind) and Lawrence Durrell's wonderful suite of novels, "The Alexandria Quartet".

Durrell's books depict a remarkably rich world where meaning can be found on a number of different levels. There is no purely external God referred to in the text but neither are the spiritual and physical adventures of the Dramatis Personae entirely subjective affairs either. Durrell's rich panoply of characters - Darley, Justine, Clea, etc, - are engaged in the acting out of a myth, with the precise location of truth left unspecified. Because the writer hasn't made strenuous attempts to nail truth down with a hammer he gives it the freedom to act in the world and act on his characters and by extension us, the readers.

It's the same with Kieslowski's oeuvre where the destinies of the protagonists are wrapped up in a higher purpose which the characters don't see in an obvious way but which they remain dimly aware of and sensitive to throughout. The crucial point, and this is what Harpur's book is really about, is that neither Durrell or Kieslowski feel compelled to subject the Mystery to the blinding searchlight of analysis and thereby literalise it, de-mythologise it and divest it of meaning. These artists live in the Mystery and it is only through this letting go and cessation of ego-driven striving that the free play of light, energy and goodness can be given free rein in our lives.
Alan Garner's powerful story "Elidor" springs to mind here, with it's tale of another dimension impinging (or being allowed to impinge) on 1960's Manchester -
" 'Can you always do this'? said Helen.
'No. The finding is chance. Wasteland and boundaries: places that are neither one thing nor the other,
neither here or there, these are the gates of Elidor.'"

Harpur seems quietly optimistic throughout his book that the materialistic, technocratic and literalistic non-reality we have fallen into could be ripe for the shaking. His only fear is that a "spiritual revolution" might be applied in as literalistic way as the "naterial revolution" was, leaving us lurching from a world of "only matter" to one of "only spirit". The truth is more likely to reside between the lines and between the two. Life is so much more interesting than our limited world-view allows.

I think there's still some way to go myself. Certainly there does appear to be a movement gathering pace towards a more holistic, creative understanding of things but the great institutions of this world (well, Britain anyway), local and national Government, the Universities, etc, remain firmly locked into the material way of apprehending and interpreting reality and may require some shifting.

But what do I know? I remember how monolithic the Soviet Bloc appeared (or so we were told!) in the 70s and early/mid 80s and look what happened there!

Well, I think that's quite enough from me. Forgive me, please. But that's what this book does to you. It makes you think! Buy it, borrow it, read it.
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