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on 29 December 2013
John Michael can always be trusted to provide excellent value with anything he writes about. The plain talk penetrates deeply and opens our minds to listening and paying attention. Witty, frank and always entertaining, you'll enjoy reading about "The Mysteries" as explained by John Michael Greer.
Planet as Self: An Earthen Spirituality
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on 22 December 2012
John Michael Greer is a prolific writer on pretty much everything, from Green spirituality and ritual magic to peak oil and 2012. Greer is the current Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA). This book seems to summarize the author's spiritual teachings, a low-key, unpretentious version of Neo-Pagan Green spirituality.

Greer sharply criticizes the New Age version of the prosperity gospel, and also the bizarre idea that one can become an immortal, ascended master in ten easy lessons (I didn't know that milieu was so widespread - see my review of Susan Shumsky's "Ascension"). Real spirituality takes effort, study and experience. And while Greer does believe in magic, he is at pains to point out that magic works on the subtle level. It cannot levitate rocks, nor can it break the Law of Balance or the Law of Limits of the spiritual cosmos. Black magic is real, but it also affects the magician himself - see the Law of Cause and Effect. Thus, even magic cannot work magic. It cannot give us all we want, whenever we want it.

Indeed, this seems to be the main point of "Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth": we are humans in vast cosmic web, and although we have untapped spiritual potentials, in the end we nevertheless have to accept and work with our human limitations. This is especially true of the material reality, which is governed by unbreakable ecological laws we ignore only at our peril. The human condition is something to accept (or perhaps to gradually change), not something we can magically transcend or apocalyptically break free from. Greer rejects both the modern idea of Progress and various apocalyptic scenarios (such as the Rapture). World history is cyclical, and there is no easy escape clause. In many ways, Greer's book reminds me of David Spangler's books.

However, there is one serious problem with "Mystery Teachings": like most spiritual teachers, Greer portrays his ideas as ancient, even as the ancient and original teachings of the mystery schools. This seriously distracts from the overall message of the book. It seems many people in the New Age milieu can't believe a message on its own merits, but simply *must* have some kind of reassurance that everything from aromatherapy to transplutonian astrology comes from ancient Egypt or Sumeria. I think it's unfortunate that JMG falls in the same trap. Most of the spiritual laws he mentions are based on modern ecological thinking, and some are ultra-modern. The Law of Evolution is otherwise known as Neo-Darwinism, with Greer actually polemicizing against Stephen Jay Gould or perhaps his self-proclaimed epigones. (He never mentions Gould by name, though.) When Greer interprets the legend of Atlantis, it suddenly looks remarkably similar to his own theory of "catabolic collapse"...

But surely a spiritual message must be judged on its own merits, rather than on the basis of how old (or new) it is? Besides, if the cosmos evolves, new ideas such be able to emerge. After all, Greer's own Druid religion isn't older than the 18th century, something he happily acknowledges in another book.

That being said, I give the book three stars as a good introduction to JMG's own mystery teachings.
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on 5 January 2014
"Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth" is a short book by John Michael Greer, a prolific author on ecological and spiritual subjects. Most of the ideas in the book will be familiar to avid readers of Greer's other works. It seems the main purpose of writing this particular volume was to counter the craze around "The Secret", or rather to flesh out some lessons after that particular fad ended in disaster. The author's alternative form of spirituality won't win any popularity contests!

Greer emphasizes balance, wholeness, gradual evolution and, above all, limits. Many of his "spiritual laws" are really basic laws of ecology. The gradually unfolding evolution of the cosmos didn't had our species in mind, we can't change the universe simply by changing our mental attitude or thinking, nor are the heavens obliged to give us anything just because we happen to want it. Most secularized readers will find this critique of "The Secret" obviously true, but the author has something to tell us, too. Limits, balance or cause and effect means that our modern, industrial civilization will inevitably decline and fall. Death and suffering are inevitable parts of the human condition, human civilizations rise and fall in a cyclical fashion, and our material greed is one key factor not just in the rise of modern culture, but even more so in its future demise. Indeed, Greer seems to think that everyone, secular, Christian or The Secret-inspired, is caught up in a kind of negative "magical thinking", where we imagine that we can get something from nothing. He tops off by criticizing apocalypticism as simply the flip side of the secular myth of progress. In the apocalyptic scenario, the goodies will be brought by some outside force, rather than by our positive thinking or scientific break throughs, but the concept is still the same: the world's biggest free lunch ever (at least for those on a first-name basis with whatever outside force is out there).

Not a popular message, as I said. I admit that I don't entirely like it myself. If there's some weak point in it, I suppose it's connected to Greer's own belief in magic. Since humans exist on different "planes" (in the Hermetic-occult sense), a change on the mental or astral plane can affect the material plane. But if so, why can't a super-magician change the world? Or why can't astral beings manifest on our plane, giving us free energy? Or why can't Sanat Kumara gently land on the North Pole, speeding up Gaia's evolution? I'm sure Greer has some answer to this (karma, balance between planes, etc), but I hereby predict that this magical loophole will be used by those who want to have more than the author believes the cosmos allows for.

In the end, Greer seems to believe in the possibility of further evolution for the human race, and he references a few Theosophical and Anthroposophical books. He certainly believes that individuals can evolve into becoming a kind of saints. However, the spiritual-cosmic evolution envisaged by Greer is very slow and gradual. Essentially, he wants us to accept our existence as humans on the third planet from the Sun, seeing this particular "manifestation" as an opportunity to learn. And the most important lesson is to live within limits...

Perhaps that really is a kind of mystery.

(I've posted a slightly different review of this book on its main product page.)
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