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By Brian Robson, Sydney (3 February 2010)
The Lost Symbols of Astrology
Well, there I was in KMart looking at the books. There was Dan Brown's latest effort called The Lost Symbol. Hardback at $28, not just yet, thanks.
Next I spied Lost Symbols? The Secrets of Washington DC, which was billed as "an essential companion to Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol". Over 600 pages for $18.20. A quick flick showed it was all about zodiacs, astrology and the Freemasons who founded America, and everything they have done since.
So far I have read just over 200 pages, and it ranges from fascinating to turgid and obscure. I soon discovered it was not as new as it looked, it's simply a 1999 book, The Secret Zodiacs of Washington by David Ovason, retitled and reissued to cash in. Plenty of colour plates and reproductions of ancient woodcuts.
David Ovason is clearly a strong believer in astrology and has published quite a few books "in the arcane field". Writing books about Nostradamus would have to be a foolish quest, but anyway ...
The book makes quite a good case for every big event in the early days of Washington being done at the right time on an astrology chart, and not just at 10am next Saturday. He also (surprise surprise) seems to be saying that the Masons are essentially pre-Christian, hence pagan, and that they have played down their astrology leanings as far as possible, whilst incorporating hidden symbolism into every facet of government. One would have to conclude that the Masons in the USA (they included George Washington, by the way) knew they were founding something just as important as Ancient Egypt or Ancient Greece, and it was important to have plenty of ritual and symbolism and the correct charts to get a blessing from the gods (plural).
Ovason happily explains away how astrology adapted to the finding of Uranus and Pluto, both discovered after 1776.
The prose is incredibly long-winded and repetitive. I dread how much repetition I will have to endure in the next 400 pages, it's pretty much the same stuff over and over, just reworded. There is not much in the way of a good logical argument; even if you follow proper astrology, it's not all obvious anyway. In a couple of cases the charts are not quite the best, so he justs twists the timing a bit till he gets a good chart to illustrate his overall theme -- that every significant event in Washington was preceded by a good chart done in advance. Roughly along the lines of -- it's a bad chart when the event took place, but it was a great chart when they must have planned the ceremony! Or, a great chart when the news of it reached London!
The worst bit so far is the search for the actual star chart as cast for the USA as a newly-born country. The first one of these was published in 1790 approx, so the author takes this as the definitive prediction and runs with it. Actually, it's way after the event, and the astrologer back then already had 15 years of history under his belt and was able to predict how the new country would be with greater accuracy. (There are lot of spot-on Old Testament predictions like this, all written well after the event). All you have to do is keep altering the founding time and date until you get the right chart. Not everything happened exactly on the 4th July 1776, perhaps very little actually did. Worse still, the chart originated in England, and has all sorts of timing problems as a consequence.
There are many minor errors revealed in the calculations of the charts, but not enough to invalidate the overall theory; just as with climate change right now.
All in all, lots of fun and good anecdotes. It's amazing how many temples, palaces, public memorials and lookout points did not get built in Washington, despite their ardent proposers. On the other hand, the author has managed to find zodiacs everywhere he looks. Everytime the government gave out comissions for a sculpture or a mural, the artists seem to come up with themes full of suitable symbolism including stars, planets and zodiacs, not to mention eagles, virgins in white dresses, winged chariots, dog-gods, snake symbols, pillars of wisdom, angels with wings, flowers with five petals, pyramid and/or obelisk, and corn or ears of wheat representing fertility/growth/renewal. In earlier times, the Pope would have had them put to death.
A zodiac sculpture was destroyed during a race riot in 1931, so one would presume the Black race is henceforth forever cursed (?).
The book includes 120 pages of footnotes and references, but no index at all, and it has no list of illustrations and no glossary of arcane terms for sceptical people like me who demand self respect from books we actually buy.
Review by Dan Byrnes of: Julius Evola, The Doctrine of Awakening: The Attainment of Self-Mastery according to the Earliest Buddhist Texts. (Translated from the Italian by H. E. Musson.) Rochester, Vermont, Inner Traditions International, 1996. 246 pages. (Softback edition)
Julius Evola's work is now being re-issued in a concerted way, meaning that readers in English can now move through his five or more books, plus commentary by others, as quickly as they like.
Since Evola's work is already much-commented on websites, his output now forms the basis of a "mini-industry". I've not yet read all his works, but Evola's treatment of early Buddhism is a demanding work, whether one is new to his work, and even if one is widely read in Buddhism, which I'm not.
The reviewer of Evola's work then has to cope with some double jeopardy. Firstly, we need to know if Evola's treatment is reliable as commentary on Buddhism, or whether to 1943 he merely has an interesting slant on Buddhism (or "Eastern Wisdom") from the point of view of an idiosyncratic, Twentieth-Century Italian.
Evola after World War One had an "inner crisis" and was tempted to suicide, to "find extinction". He found however that what Buddha had said about varieties of extinction made him think again, and so saved him.
What Evola writes here is based on the Sutta-pitaka, an old and important "portion" of Pali Buddhism. He also uses notable translations from Sanskrit, to Chinese or English, into Italian, so we are in cross-translation territories. His aim to was clear away wooly thinking to get to the core of the process of self-training, (ascesis) as used by the earliest Buddhists.
Never actually a Buddhist himself, Evola wanted to strengthen his own detached awareness of a principle of "being" (his emphasis). Or, "an intellectual approach of pure detachment". But nor while war raged did Evola want to come into conflict with people of various religions or politics, particularly not Italian Catholics.
It should be noted that Evola also believed in the old Indian idea of Kali Yuga (or Kala Yuga), a fourth and negative Iron Age, an age of conflict, and a further remove from closeness to "the divine" in terms of the cycles of world evolution.
Belief in Kali Yuga is apocalyptic, in that mankind in this age is engineering its own destruction. A frightening belief, which I don't share. But believing in it as he did, Evola evidently wanted to pursue an ascetic way of becoming detached, an "existential path", "a non-theistic spirituality", so that by using reliable "techniques", one could fend off the influences of the Kali Yuga in order to get on with "the awareness of being" at more refined spiritual levels.
On his own terms, Evola probably succeeded with this, but we should also be aware of some of his other enthusiasms - for the European hermetic tradition, Taoism, the metaphysics of sex, medieval knightly Grail mysteries, an appreciation of "aristocracy", and some reference to Roman (Imperial) virtues, plus the Olympian heights of Greek mythology/spiritual tradition.
Given this heady mix, Evola appreciates Prince Siddhartha's early training and education as an aristocrat, a virile ascetic, a warrior meant to govern, a man who made his own, original observations on his own culture and spiritual beliefs, went his own lonely way and finally achieved nirvana.
Evola seems to think that this softly-rebellious prince made a pathway in "just the right places", so that further spiritual advancement is much easier.
The impression is given that the Buddha climbed systematically through his own culture, then his own personality, mind, even being, until he found - nirvana.
The impression is also given that the Buddha did not himself know quite what he would find on his pathway, that nirvana was actually somewhat unexpected in its emptiness or blankness, or whatever... I do not know, but Evola makes it seem as though the Buddha was rather relieved that experiencing nirvana did not mean something sanity-shattering, or full of despair, or even excessive bliss.
Since Evola was interested in the warrior soul-steel aspect of the Buddhist techniques of awakening, he cannot be accused of escapism, of the moral cowardice of turning aside from the issues of his day. He rests finally near an appreciation of the Zen Buddhist aspects of the Japanese samurai tradition.
Evola wanted something similar, but he creates a paradox here, regarding detachment, since he remained critical of his own days, and interested in various cultures, as earlier noted.
Evola seems to promote a means, on a day-to-day basis, of simultaneously being deeply involved in issues, yet wonderfully detached. This seems an original slant - although the Canadian poet Leonard Cohen, now a Buddhist monk, seems to be on a similar pathway, as he still moves in and out of "showbiz".
Given all this, Evola engages in a well-graduated exposition of Buddhist techniques as seen in this ascetic light, with discussion of the mental/spiritual states encountered.
Certainly, Evola's is the most original book I've ever read on Buddhism. Various of Evola's own views I can't enjoy (as on "race"), but they do not overly intrude on his reading of the Buddha's achievements, or the texts.
Long after he finished this book, Evola wrote that in it, he wanted to emphasise the deconditioning of the human being, enlightened awakening, the initiatory opening of one's consciousness.
I think that to undertake this in Evola's terms would be demanding, and would take a very long time.
- Dan Byrnes
Ends review of Julius Evola: Doctrine of Awakening.
Review by Dan Byrnes of: Alain Dianielou, Gods of Love and Ecstasy: The Traditions of Shiva and Dionysus. Rochester, Vermont, Inner Traditions International, 1984. 250 pages. (Softback edition)
"There is no other true religion"
This is the view of Alain Danielou concerning Shivaism, which he regards as a primordial religion.
How often do we read this of a religion? Catholics have said it, as have Moslems, and followers of the European Protestant Reformation. It is said by some esotericists about their choice in enlightenment.
The statement comes from the world of faith and belief, not the world of fact. So it should not be surprising if, depending on commentary of the holy writ in question, various contradictions are noticed. Danielou's book is filled with internal contradiction, and so one wonders about the bases of his faith. Or is "outlook" a better word".
He first published this book in 1979, having spent 20 years in Hindu India. On his homecoming, he noted "The dark forces which seem to rule the modern world have shown great ability in diverting, deforming and annihilating all man's instinctive urges towards basic realities and the divine order of the world..."
I wonder if this sort of book is not from a genre which has reached its use-by date, much as illustrated books on travels to visit "exotic savages" became unfashionable in the 1950s-60s?
Danielou's book is contradictory. I suspect, because his "primordial religion" was an archaic - and failed - attempt to explain the myriad contradictions of life as humans perceive it and live it. I wonder, if the contradictions of life and experience should be explained by deeper inspection of the kind of species we are, or mere discussions of "holy writ"?
In history, this question could also remind us of the problems posed by socio-biology (itself something of a fashion for the late Twentieth Century).
Danielou's contradictions are many. He says, "the universe is a wonderful work of harmony, beauty and balance", being product of a Prime Cause, who precedes the gods, who might allow the world to be "savage, wonderful and cruel". He mentions genocide, is against it, but seems to be promoting a religious outlook which has never attempted to stop genocide, and sees it as just another happening in the grand kaleidoscope of life-and-death.
The Shivaite/Dionysian cults of love and ecstasy have been criticised throughout history, despite their claims to put their adherents back in touch with nature and the pursuit of ecstasy, contact with "the mysterious world of spirits". The cults' opponents tend to be city fathers, that is, administrators.
What we are talking about as Shivaites is simply that sector of the population which likes to take its pleasures, sometimes its vices, its loves and fears, to extremes.
As for the "alienated modern world", which allegedly has lost sight of Shivaite delights, what were all the young women screaming at The Beatles doing but keep going a Dionysian frenzy? What is a modern rock-and-roll moshe pit for? What are Ecstasy-fuelled kids at an all-night dance and rave party doing but getting into Dionysian joys?
What Danielou might recommend in principle, from archaic India, he might not see around him in modern life. Why would this be?
Though he recommends Shivaism, he writes (p. 17), "Throughout the history of India, we find diatribes against the various Shivaite sects, their practices, bloody sacrifices and rites." Often, the cult of Shiva or Dionysus, its Mediterranean form, have been banished from cities.
(One of the "bloody sacrifices" was human sacrifice, which he admits had better not be reinstated. What he fails to realise is that human sacrifice is just one of the logical extensions of the Shivaite outlook, because it would address a significant aspect - the divine order of the cosmos, because a human sacrifice would deliver a microcosm of the cosmos, a human being, back to the macrocosm - and this by "spiritual logic" would be satisfying.)
The Shiva-Dionysian cultic outlook, once institutionalised in any society, is sexist, racist, prone to violence, including riots, and contradictory, simply because of human nature
Danielou is strongly "anti-city", since he views the religions of cities as anti the cults/sects of Shiva.
This is interesting, since the Old Testament has distinctly anti-city biases, partly as its writings are often the product of a non-urban outlook. What religions have got to do with the promotion or not of urban and non-urban ways of living is a question many religious commentators avoid, which Danielou also avoids.
The questions have a great deal to do with the history of city-living, the histories of religions, and the management of large populations.
The reason that city-fathers disapprove of the Shivaite outlook is basically because the outlook virtually promotes the least-manageable (and instinctive) aspects of human nature; sex, violence, gatherings for the purposes of experiencing ecstasy, engaging in "spiritually-satisfying" sacrifices, and observing various rites, including orgy-meals.
The whole universe is really only food and eater... "The basic principle of Shivaism is to accept the world as it is, and not as we should like it to be. It is only when we accept the reality of the world that we can try to understand its nature, thus drawing nearer to the Creator..." Everything lives by devouring everything else.
What Shivaism does, however, is to engage urges to instinctive behaviour, and then by various ritual activities, moderate them, while also noting their extensive and often contradictory existences. This has been laid into various Indian holy writ, and so we read that Shiva said, or might say, "repressed desire engenders pestilence", or, (p. 63), "The world shall not find peace until a receptacle is found for my sexual organ".
So what's new? Shivaism is a cosmos-wide projection of humanity's recognitions about its own basic urges, and experience of them, to the status, it is claimed, of holy writ. Thus it is merely a statement of "the situation", if not the problems involved in being aware of life. Shivaism, simply because it dwells on the extremes of human experience, avoids the disciplines of urban and even rural life.
Heeding the call of Shivaism for interpretations to be writ large, Danielou provides a potted chronology of world history to the disbandment of the Templars, and views on the origins of certain mythologies, particularly bull cults, potted views on prehistory and various human migrations, including the Aryans invading India. Christianity is given a sustained once-over, and the modern age, of course, is the dreaded Kali Yuga.
This book is a genre-production. And the inheritors of some of this tradition, India and Pakistan, were last heard of either heading for war, or trying to stave if off, it is hard to say which.
The city fathers, that is, most world leaders, are tending to disapprove.
So much for anti-Shivaite forces in this dark modern age we are condemned to live and die in.
This book does not impress me, except as a reference to material which does not form, as stated, "the only true religion". It forms, merely an opinion.
Ends review of Alain Dianielou: Gods of Love and Ecstasy.
Review by Dan Byrnes of: Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal, (Ed.), The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture. Ithica/London, Cornell University Press, 1997. 468pp. (Paperback edn.)
Fin-de-siecle is the term for an end-of-century mood. In Russia, circa 1900, the mood was a combination of political unrest, cultural challenge, "frissons" of fear of the unknown, with an interest in the occult demonstrated as part of an urge to explain the human spirit, and other spirits moving in the changing cultural scenery. All rather sombre.
By contrast, on 31 December, 2000, a year early, at the end of a millennium, no less, the Western World was mostly interested in - serious partying!
In Russia, occultism took many forms, using influences from many countries including France. The point about Rosenthal's editing of the sixteen-plus essays in this excellent book is this - the book is so well done, it should stand as a reference point for other treatments of levels of interest in the occult in other influential countries, in various centuries, including France, Italy, Germany, Italy, the US, China and Japan.
Open the book on almost any page and out jumps a major point on... idealisms, healing by sorcery, folk beliefs, alchemy, the influences of Freemasonry, or the Kabbala, magic and divination, the mysticism of femininity (from a male point of view?), the problem of evil. Theosophy, Anthroposophy, influences from Ancient Egypt.
Also a broader theme that interests me: how, and for a large population, were older ideas (and cosmologies) on magic or occultism laid into or against newer ideas from science and technology? Do any occult "elements" here help explain how and why the Russians - Communist or not - beat the US at putting a man into space? It's been as though certain Russian "urges" beat leading-edge US can-do. I've never yet read a satisfactory account of this rivalry about entering space.
Occult doctrines are ways of ordering views of the world, especially where there is an urge to unify views of apparently disparate phenomena.
Great questions arise. Did the 1917 Russian Revolution indicate a realignment of cosmic forces? If so, or not, what then, later, of Stalin?
We come as early as page three of the introduction to an explanation of the ancient "doctrine of correspondences" (which is also referred to in my other review here of Evola's Revolt Against the Modern World.) Variations on interpretations of this doctrine permeate the entire book.
And so, Russian cultural history with all its convulsions becomes a prism through which we can see how many occult ideas were confronted with "science and technology", and a different cosmology, from the French Revolution to now. Treatments include the use of many art forms including new media - film and radio. Filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein is treated wonderfully
Creating unity about such disparate cultural history has itself been a formidable task. The papers in this book grew from a research conference held at Fordham University in 1991. I suspect this book is so well-edited, because its challenges became fresh inspiration. By now, I think that similar research conferences should be held on all major countries. Then we would understand far more about the cultural worlds we live with.
The footnotes are cut like little gemstones, The book, the papers, shrink from nothing, and political paranoias, drug-taking of all kinds, all sorts of sexual activity, demonology, corruptions of language for political purposes, are all capably discussed.
As modernity, politics and change overtook all levels of society, Russians reacted in terms of every shade of occultic thought, theories, or feeling. At least, I cannot think of anything this book misses.
The contributors have all read widely, to a staggering extent. How did Maxim Gorky interpret Theosophy? Just who distributed the anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion? Just who in Russian artistic life was attracted to which shade of occultism? How serious was any battle between Buddhism and Christianity?
And the only reason I don't mention the expert contributors here by name is to emphasize how superb is Rosenthal's editing, how extraordinary her depth as a scholar. Such work is magisterial, definitive.
The book has extensive appendices on source materials, all demonstrating familiarity with the complexities of Russian language.
Conclusion? Politically, the occult is dangerous. Today's Russian scene - a sad one - is a politicized occultism exercised by radical right elements who enjoy manipulating symbols and ideas that "infuriate Westerners".
Just maybe, ponder on a few words from one contributor, Michael Hagemeister - "beware of yet another Russian doctrine threatening to save the world."
Is that warning somehow the seed-bed of Russian tragedy? I wonder, from just how long ago?
Ends Rosenthal review:
Review of: Julius Evola, Revolt Against The Modern World: Politics, Religion and the Social Order of the Kali Yuga. (Translated from the Italian by Guido Stucco.) Rochester, Vermont, Inner Traditions International, 1995. (Orig., 1969). Hardback, 375 pages.
What is remarkable about Evola's Revolt Against the Modern World is that someone (Evola was an Italian aristocrat), has actually written a spiritual defense, a vindication, of what is known to Europe, and other cultures, as royalty and aristocracy.
The result is a book that is arresting in many ways, because its claims are so far reaching, into the past, and if you believe Evola, into the future as well.
Why is this? Because Evola ("tradition's triumphant Caesar" on one website) presents a comprehensive treatment of nothing less than a "proper" and millennia-long-tested system of being, being itself, as humans have, and can only, and therefore will find it.
Evola's view tended to be regarded as "obscurantism of the right" in the view of leftists of the earlier Twentieth Century, whom he confronted. One of his basic assumptions, Evola fails to detail.
This concerns the ancient doctrine of correspondences, which assumes that humanity as microcosm reflects the macrocosm. That macrocosm in turn assumes a cosmology, which in turn assumes an astronomy, or astrology, and a comprehensive explanation of relationships between humanity, nature, animals and environment (including spirit of place). (Let us not ask: how long did it take humanity to develop such a comprehensive cosmology? A long time.)
Evola is concerned with Tradition, always with a capital `T', which spiritually and politically, can be imposed, agreed to, or reinstated, if necessary, in either western or eastern archaic cultures, via "traditional method" concerning "correspondences".
I have only ever before seen anything like Evola's view of "correspondences" here in one book on the Sumerians; Henri Frankfort, et al, Before Philosophy. Penguin, 1941. (Frankfort also wrote on Kingship and the Gods, Ancient Egyptian Religion and with J. D. S. Pendlebury, The City of Akhenaten; all for academic presses).
Frankfort in Before Philosophy elaborates the thought-form of the Sumerians, especially regarding their outlook on "nature", but Evola writes down that thought-form as Frankfort did not. Here it is:
"What I (Evola) call `traditional method' is usually characterized by a double principle: ontologically and objectively by the principle of correspondence, which ensures an essential and functional correlation between analogous elements, presenting them as simple homologus forms of the appearance of a central and unitary meaning; and epistemologically and subjectively by the generalized use of the principle of induction, which is here understood as a discursive approximation of a spiritual intuition, in which what is realized is the integration and the unification of the diverse elements encountered in the one meaning and the same one principle."
Here, ontologically means: re a science of being; epistemologically means: nature, method and limits of human knowledge; induction refers to methods of deriving explanations for behaviour of sets of facts.
This is complex, but Evola outlines the implications with an absolute rigour. The point is, that various applications of this formula have been used by vast numbers of humans till scientific explanations (re cause and effect) supplanted them (about which, Evola protests, more so regarding the subsequent sociological effects in politics).
Presumably, working with analogies in the material sphere, humanity got things right often enough to allow society to function. This involved public/civic spirituality, technology of the day, cosmology, explanations of meaning and being, apparent objectivity and obviously, subjectivity. I imagine, that any use of a "double principle" would give any resulting society, considerable resonance.
Evola sees the system's results used (we can see it in history, although Evola writes metahistory) in many cultures, especially with the Aryans who subdued India, then imposed the caste system still seen today. This system has elaborate spiritual arguments to it, (karma, perhaps, reincarnation), a system of hereditary aristocracy. What Evola depicts is a total and timeless system of being, of the gods, their relations with humanity, cosmology, which encompasses all possibilities. How human life shall be ruled, and lived, how death and soul shall be regarded.
Here, all possibilities (including revolt against any established order which reflects such a system) are pre-explored. All questionC„D„E„reutz and Rosicrucianism: Selected Lectures and Writings. Edited with an introduction and an Afterword by Christopher Bamford. Ann Arbor, MI, Anthroposophic Press, 2000. www.anthropress.org
Christopher Bamford's edition on Rosicrucianism as seen by Rudolf Steiner seems a specialty publication for the esoterically-minded, published by the world anthroposophy movement, and as such, its contents are a matter for taste.
Some people believe that Christian Rosenkreutz (CR) existed, others do not. One of my acquaintances thinks that Francis Bacon and one of his associates invented Rosenkreutz as an allegorical figure, for purposes of presenting certain ideas.
This is not the view in The Secret Stream, where the first of three documents "attesting" to the existence of CR, and the mystery of the Rosy Cross, began circulating in manuscript in Lutheran circles in Tubingen, Germany, from 1614.
The first treatment, anonymous, "Rumour of the Brotherhood", Fama Fraternitatis, caused a Rosicrucian furore. In 1616, also anonymous, appeared The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, on alchemical transmutation.
In time, a Lutheran theologian of Tubingen, Johann Valentin Andreae (1586-1654) the area CR was supposed to come from, later claimed to have written The Chemical Wedding as a satire, or jest, when he was sixteen. But others, older, were possibly involved.
And so began the kind of literary, secretively and allusively documented mystery that "the secret stream" remains. Rudolf Steiner's editor, Bamford, says, "Access to Rosicrucianism has always been difficult... layers of mystery dampen the understanding... chaos and confusion likewise abound at every turn, it is difficult to write straightforwardly". Bamford finds this unfortunate, and so do I.
Rosenkreutz is somewhat famous on the Internet in the literary sense only, not the biographical sense.
Google search engine (which now can search 1.6 billion webpages) revealed only the following. A search for rosenkreutz + genealogy produced only ten or so matches, mostly on esoteric topics, and here one site suggested Rosenkreutz lived 106 years (1378-1484). A search for christian + rosenkreutz + genealogy produced two pages of matches, none on human genealogy, mostly on the genealogy of esoteric topics.
Another site mentions that Rosenkreutz came from a German (Cathar) family, Germelhauser, or Germel, which is rendered on a match as Germel? (sic). A search for Germel + genealogy produces only four matches, and of these, two matches are on one Catharin Germel, born about 1750. It seems the Germel/Germelhauser family scarcely exists, and if it did, descendants do not wish to register a family member named Christian Rosenkreutz.
Said one website: Frances A. Yates in her book The Rosicrucian Enlightenment saw Rosicrucianism "as a movement ultimately stemming from John Dee". This site asked: what of Michael Serdivogius? Serdivogius was a Polish alchemist who wrote on topics similar to those addressed in the early Rosicrucian writings.
Conclusion? Christian Rosenkreutz exists only in a literary sense.
Steiner seems to have latched onto "Rosicrucianism" since it promotes views which interested him anyway. Steiner says, and he means, his kind of esotericist, "Esotericists thus live ahead of their time and work into the future".
There are debatable assumptions behind such a remark from Steiner. One achieves a unity of the inner, mystical path of self-knowledge with the outer, alchemical path of knowledge of the world. Or, a fusion of nature and grace in some higher empiricism. The views of Christ's message and reality taken here is not unlike those of Teilhard de Chardin - union with the person or meaning of Christ represents some kind of a higher-but-unspecified reality.
But one also has to accept some other assumptions, about a uniting of Eastern and Western philosophies, (Christianity and Islam?), about the onset of a New Jerusalem, alchemy in its Western tradition, a sense that the world is on the cusp of a new, desirable plane of evolution. We live surrounded by invisible higher beings. A spiritual being inhabits us with every breath we draw. Young humanity sprang from Atlantis, the source of all Western and Eastern wisdom. We can develop our soul faculties.
There is also an idea that in the cosmos are extra-human, extra-sensory forces which can be melded with the human frame and mind. Is this an ambition which dare not speak its name?
There is a spiritual temptation here to go beyond the usual human situation, that is not seen in Buddhism, for example, to something akin to a gentler version of the Nietzschean Superman. This is the problem with Bamford's editing of Steiner.
There is also a literary tradition in which Goethe is the major figure, and regarded as a prime Rosicrucianist. And in that literary tradition, Steiner's lectures are amazingly consistent; his way of stressing the way of the alchemist, rather than that of the mystic, always avoids the facts of matters in a similar way.
Steiner seems almost like a seeker-of-symbols (a poet?) who did not have the gifts of an imaginative writer, yet there are notes in his spiritual views, yearning idealism, and a sense of upward striving, similar to notes in Rilke's poetry, to elements in Herman Hesse's novels, particularly in The Glass Bead Game.
We have here an almost classically German sense of striving, which seems to carry a restlessness influenced by German Catholicism, Protestantism, and less mainstream elements, including alchemy. Which is to say, that the literary expression becomes rather culture-specific.
There is an argument within Rosicrucianism, it is said, about being human-and-spiritual, which ends with the question - who added compassion to suffering - and how do you do it? Also, who added love to knowledge?
But this is asked in a context where one believes that there are purposes or aims to some inherent cosmic spirituality, which via alchemy enjoins humanity - or individuals - to itself.
As suggested above, personal answers to such questions can differ. Buddhism, I'd suggest, finds that there is no particular goal or aim of the cosmos. Which is a gentler suggestion than much in German history.
Review of Guy Patton and Robin Mackness, Sacred Treasure, Secret Power: The True History of the Web of Gold. London, Pan/Macmillan, 2000. (paperback, 330 pages)
Sacred Treasure interested me most since it follows up, rather critically, the Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln book, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. But with Sacred Treasure, there is no necessity to dwell overmuch on any view that Mary Magdalene had a child by Jesus, a matter of theological anxiety for Christians.
In Sacred Treasure, however, is a similar view that Mary Magdalene with others emigrated to Southern France. A related tradition did arise, it had to do with regional aristocrats, some heretical strains of Christianity from Rome's point of view. The tradition became connected with a tale of treasure-hiding, and treasure-hiding, and the tales last powerfully to the present.
Telling of the tales is complicated, and plunges more into straight history, than into theological revision or controversy about secret societies, although we also hear much of secret societies; not to speak of a group of high-born counterfeiters who possibly used some treasure for obscure purposes.
Being closer to straight history than speculation, Sacred Treasure has its own way of being tantalising. But to test this view against other evidence, the reader would need to be very familiar with various eras which need not be linked, except perhaps by this treasure tale of money, politics, hidden agendas, secret motives.
Those eras include: the dispersion to Southern France of various people who actually knew Jesus; the later career of the Visigoths who sacked Rome, along with the Franks who settled Central and Northern France; the allegation that Dagobert II was killed in 679AD by the Carolingian Pepin the Fat (died 714), with the complicity of the Catholic Church, for the purpose of settling inconvenient theological dispute.
The invasion of Spain by Berber Moors. The career in Provence and about Barcelona of the Counts of Barcelona, and their intermarriages. The rise and fall of the Templars as part of the legacy of The Crusades. The rise of chivalric poetry. The interventions of certain Popes in matters secular. The period of the French Revolution and later (anti or pro-monarchist?) histories of secret societies in France and elsewhere. Also, the Zionist movement of the late nineteenth century and later; the career of esotericist Pierre Plantard, "Prior of Sion", made famous by The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. The career of Francois Mitterand, president of France; the interest taken by certain high-ranking Nazis in the Rennes-le-Chateau area before 1946; the evidence-gathering from the 1970s, associated with writing of Holy Blood and Holy Grail, and other books on topics related to that legend.
The P2 scandal of the 1980s, involving "Vatican banking" and Italian Masonry, after Italian Roberto Calvi was found hanged under Blackfriars Bridge in London. To the role of Swiss banks since 1946, banks which handled wealth looted by Nazis.
Sacred Treasure is an engrossing read, but it ends inconclusively: "However, it does not seem impossible that somebody in Switzerland knows part of the answer to our final riddles."
Linking one theme across so many centuries is not easy. Is it convincing? This is actually a multi-treasure hunt, since several treasures may have existed. Would this treasure have been worth enough to make any substantial, useful, long-term addition to the revenue of any state, or even a regional or ducal economy? I doubt it, but to the constitution of the treasures. There had been the treasure of the Temple of Jerusalem, part of which ended in the Languedoc area of Southern France. Or, Rennes-le-Chateau. A second set of treasure remained from the sacking of Rome by the Visigoths, and funded their lifestyle. This second set was taken by worried Visigoths to specific Languedocian places (in Septimania) when the Moors moved north through Spain and into France.
Thirdly, the mother of St. Louis IX, King of France, regent Blanch of Castile (1188-1252, daughter of Alfonso VIII [died 1214], King of Castile), maybe took part of her royal treasury into the same area while some of her nobles were rebellious. Fourthly, part of the Templar treasure may have been added to other hordes, but was secreted somewhere.
So these Languedocian treasures are multi-gathered, and they multi-gather legends. It is not the monetary worth of the treasure(s) which is intriguing, as the several sets of unsettled intrigues, which becomes so engrossing to re-examine.
Some coherence is given to the overall theme by consideration of the integrity of the Visigothic and Merovingian bloodlines. Here, views on Templars, or Cathar heresy, and related politics, can intrude on the book's theme.
Sacred Treasure seems like a compendium of conspiracy theories, some of which are almost compulsive reading. Presumably, any objects or sets of coins found would be more valuable archaeologically, and historically, than in money terms, and if displayed, their museum would become a prime international tourist destination.
I was left with the question: what is worth more, finding caches of treasure, or settling long-standing mysteries, intrigues, obsessions about treasure-hunting?
Arising from the authors' sense of sensible fairness in a realm of mystery, this book is laced with qualifications such as, "probably containing the secret", "surely of great significance", "since it was claimed", "does this strange omission hide a secret agenda?", "it could very well have been", "could he not known of... ? ", "likely to have been implicated", "it is even reported", "another curious and unexplained episode", "it is quite conceivable", "is it not also possible that?", "the implication that there were links"... the vocabulary of tease, the logic of not-actually-knowing.
Despite using this style, the authors also leave the way open for a variety of other means of accessing or maybe even solving the mysteries they discuss, and in so doing, they add an extra set of levels of inquiry - the levels of purely rational inquiry.
Sacred Treasure is more than entertaining, it's informative, and for anyone wanting to follow-up, the bibliography is good, referring to information old and new - some of it surprising.
Ends review of Patton/Mackness - Sacred Treasure
Review by Dan Byrnes of: Anthony Stevens, Ariadne's Clue: A Guide to the Symbols of Humankind. New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1998. (paperback edition)
SOMETIMES, along comes a book which clears most of the hurdles in its field, and takes readers into new territory as well, leaving them contented. Anthony Stevens' Ariadne's Clue is just such a book. It is important to suggest why.
Steven's book is the best title I have seen on symbolism since J. E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols. (New York, Philosophical Library, 1962).
A thesaurus more than a dictionary, Steven's treatment also has illuminating essays, advances in theory on questions of why symbolisms appeal to us so much, two indexes, (one general, one on symbols), a great deal of modern psychology, a useful outlook on human history vis-a-vis symbolism and cultures, a lucid glossary of terms, and a useful outlook on the communal versus the private benefits of symbol usage.
There is also a stress on pre-history, provided by two means - an outlook on the evolutionary history of the human brain itself, and a treatment, unified with such neuro-physiology, on probably-used cultural mores before the agricultural revolutions of about 10,000-11,000 years ago.
So, Stevens provides a kind of multi-perspectived metahistory of symbol usage in a wide variety of cultures, and since he has an eye to our human future, and psychic health, he also stresses that symbols (or use of them) can have a life-cycle of their own.
(So can misuse of symbols have a life-cycle, as indicated by the short career of the Third Reich of Germany.)
Aligning contemporary research on these evolutionary matters, enables Stevens to provide a glimpse of matters instinctual and emotional (such as primordial animism) before humanity met the challenges of the agricultural revolution, one of which was that with farming, humanity extended its planned use of time. And for example, where changes are made in the human perception of time or use of time, the use of naturalistic symbols, such as sun, moon, or the seasons, will also tend to change.
Even better, Stevens provides material on types of widely-shared consciousness (eg., "mythical cognition"), and changes in outlooks, which may have prevailed as historical eras succeeded each other. So he tries to treat the hunter-gatherer we imagine as roving before the days of say, the first Sumerian civilizations, as well as modern views on reflective consciousness or religious behaviour.
Technically, Stevens goes into more depth, about neurophysiology, cultural mores, or today's discipline of psychology, than this review can cover. So I'll refer to some recent events in order to show why Stevens' book will likely become a classic.
Treatments of symbolism can range from the cynical, to the exploitative (as within a strange cult), to the strange, the traditional, the cliched, to the sacred - without even explaining our needs for symbols.
Consider, the tree as symbol. There are so many of them, real and close at hand, why on earth do we need symbols of them as well? (The same might be asked of children and their needs.)
The Tree can symbolise a life cycle which is longer than our own, cycles of generation and regeneration, or, life, death and resurrection, spiritual works of ascent and descent; their fruits might represent our aspirations, or their growth (as in Jungianism), the process of individuation.
Matters can be greatly subdivided in respects of individual trees, shrubs, flowers and fruit (and even local climate/ecology). The symbol of The Child can be elaborated likewise, and might include the symbolism of The Divine Child, or, Madonna and Child.
So I wondered what out-of-the-way or unexpected symbols Stevens might have included, out of the usual orbits of life-death-resurrection, or sex-and-death, or social role symbolisms. He becomes quite entertaining. He includes discussion of charlatanism, feathers, forms of transport, puppets, social class, swimming; and adornment along with nudity.
I was unhappily intrigued with kratophany - a revelation through power; in the sense of powerful, monstrous, extraordinary, startling, provoking awe, fascination, fear or withdrawal, with a hint of charisma also. And all these things suddenly. (Read also, maybe, Hitler's blitzkrieg, or, Napoleonic lightning.)
Many people have noted that the 11 September attack on New York's World Trade Centre was highly symbolic. The reason? It was a kratophany. In some ways, the WTC attack and related matters used the might, modernity and sophistication of the US against itself, suddenly and ruthlessly. The result was our TV-riddled world plunged into "compulsive viewing" and a feeling also that the world has changed.
Shortly, the US felt revengeful, and experienced the temptation to hubris, the crime of going beyond oneself into the realm of the gods. The US first-named its military retaliation "Operation Infinite Justice". This is now watered-down to a less arrogant, more reasonable, "enduring freedom".
So, a kratophany was followed by natural shock, a desire for revenge, a temptation to hubris, then more balanced thought, in less than 17 world-wide-televised days. But Stevens does not list "soldier" as a symbol, so we are left to wonder where a war on terrorism will lead us, symbolically or actually.
Yes, the New York attack was highly symbolic, literal, savage and effective, all at once, and it took place also in a context of a Crusade or Holy War, where such war could be seen as either offense or defense, depending on the side one takes.
Some other symbols, or discussions, are missing from Steven's book. There is an ancient, symbolical homeostasis which has preoccupied humanity - the harmonisation of microcosm and macrocosm, which writers find hard to deal with. The proposition is that humans can perform acts, usually ritualistically, and with propitiation, which have an influence with the workings of the universe, or the way the gods influence such workings. The human hope might be to influence the god(s) to promote crop fertility.
This notion, usually argued in terms of an organised cosmology, seems to have backed human sacrifice, about which Stevens like most writers says little. Human views of this harmonisation of microcosm and macrocosm arose at some historical time, but little is written on the matter. Apart from the topic of human sacrifice being so ugly, I wonder why.
There are some other topics or themes Steven's skates over. One is time, or, how we view time. He does not treat violence, even as spectacle, whereas I see little difference in principle between Romans viewing violence in their Coliseum, and ourselves watching choreographed violence on TV. (The violence of the attack on New York and the resulting TV coverage seems already to have encouraged a rethink, around the world, on the broadcast of fictionalised violence.)
As for Unus Mundi, an image of one world, maybe unattainable in reality, expressing the unity of all things, listen again to John Lennon's song, Imagine.
No, we can't escape using symbols, and if pressed, or if we dislike traditional usages of symbols, we'll reinvent, rehash or revamp them. Steven's Ariadne's Clue says more about how and why this is than anything else I've ever read.
Stevens says his book is for browsing, or to be read from cover-to-cover. It is equally good for sustained study, for provoking more-informed comment on cultural issues or art controversies, or religion.
For Stevens also suggests that religion may be a human, species-specific behaviour, partly shaped by (the Jungian view) of archetypes, and underlying that level of consideration, innate predispositions in the context of a kind of ethology of humanity.
One might predict, that if the Western world conducts a war against terrorism, which war happens to be concentrated in the Islamic world, this sort of book could be helpful, explanatory, and even reassuring, despite being somewhat controversial in terms of theory on why we respond to symbols as we do. Especially, symbols of a religious nature.
Maybe today, a question could be: if mysteries were tremendous in the past, should we now regard them as equally tremendous, or less tremendous: which is safer?
What then are the roles for symbols in our future?
Review by Dan Byrnes of: Sean Martin, The Pocket Essential: Alchemy and Alchemists. Harpenden, Herts, UK, www.pocketessentials.com, 2001.
FEW writers on alchemy will discuss topics such as hydrocarbons, benzenes, organic molecular structures (not even of alcohol); gases, fluids and hydraulics, and phenomena in fluids such as Brownian Motion. Or the circulation of blood in mammals, modern pharmaceuticals, modern views on crystallography. Why is this?
And what do such omissions have to do with any search for immortality, an elixir of eternal life, an elixir of youth, or for The Philosopher's Stone?
Is alchemy mostly a work of the spirit, something to do with the psychological work of individuation, as the Jungians suggest?
Was alchemy the birthplace of modern chemistry? Yes, as Encyclopedia Britannica is happy to suggest. "For many centuries the history of chemistry is the history of alchemy". And presumably, alchemy in the Middle East, around the Mediterranean, and in what became Europe, grew out of the earlier work of metal-workers. Maybe, early alchemy grew best in the Hellenistic culture of Alexandria, in Egypt.
Prior to this, alchemy probably developed, infused with ideas on linkages between macrocosm-and-microcosm, in Mesopotamia. It was thought that metals might be perfected as human souls might be. Therefore, lead might be turned into gold.
The problem here was the "therefore", arising from analogical or magical thinking. And with alchemy, errors in logic, philosophy, knowledge and procedure lurched along till matters were clarified in the Eighteenth Century, so that we find that a "noted scientist and mathematician", Isaac Newton, was also an alchemist, and a worrier over the truth of mythological matters such as the Flood of Noah.
Alchemists also invented much laboratory apparatus. Today, it is suggested by many writers, possibly with excess charity, that the alchemists, searching for "prime materials" and what could be done with them, anticipated discoveries of the structure of the atom.
Stevens in his book on symbols, Ariadne's Clue, reviewed elsewhere here, says that alchemy was based on a projection of fantasies onto matter. This assists us to explain a major problem with alchemists - the imprecision of the language they used. More modern scientists avoided fantasies and used ever-greater precision to describe phenomena usefully so that work could progress.
Sean Martin's small book on alchemists is very handy, although it emphasizes the magical, not the scientific biases in the search for the ultimate "products" that matter could become. His bibliography is good, and is based on the books easiest to find.
He says (p. 67), "We are all alchemists"; which is debatable. He says, alchemy is the art of possibilities, whereas I thought politics was "the art of the possible". (As arts, both are unfortunately uneven in producing wonderful results.)
He briefly treats alchemy in China, India, Ceylon/Sri Lanka, and is careful to indicate how Islamic workers, especially in Spain, preserved a more scientific and learned outlook, for their day, than Westerners.
Martin claims that interest in alchemy is stronger now than at any time since its medieval heyday, and one wonders why? Is there an increasing taste for magical thinking? Or a mere relapse into imprecision? We read of alchemies of health, music, poetry. Today, no one needs to apply anything of alchemy to these pursuits, to achieve excellence.
Martin's book is nevertheless absorbing, and any chemistry student could keep it as a reference guide to increasing use of precision in terminology - throughout western history.
Martin headlines a question: does alchemy provide the history of an error? I think it is better not to refer to an error (alchemical methodology) as much as imprecise or inappropriate language used to discuss outlooks, approaches, experimental work and products, and even motives.
Paracelsus (1493-1541), is an alchemist credited with assisting a transition (from a modern point of view), from old alchemy to pre-modern chemistry. Alchemists succeeded often in confusing issues, used misleading metaphors and analogies. Knowledge of the actual behaviour and constitution of materials (metals, gases, medicines) eluded them for centuries, as in related fields, it eluded medical practitioners.
Martin stresses mystical aspects held within the history of alchemy, but this is unnecessary, since all mystics tend to find that everything is related to everything else. The reason they do this is that it is true, although the point is more - how one feels about the discovery as an experience - along with what one does next.
Because it could not guarantee any predictability of results, alchemy never became an inspiration for manufacturing procedures of note. Alchemy never developed testable hypotheses or approaches, partly because of the language and jargon it employed.
But it's interesting also to note, that today, a decidedly alchemical sort of secrecy surrounds the manufacture in the US of artificial food flavours, a highly-competitive area of commercial chemistry.
The secrets of the recipe of Coca-Cola (a modern elixir of life? - "the real thing"), is still secret, as far as we know. Maybe, Martin's view of the magicalness of the alchemists' work is outclassed by Coke's masters of the arts of marketing?
There are also hints of "alchemy" in today's cryogenics, and in some wild predictions about future human longevity arising in the context of the Human Genome Project.
Also interesting is Martin's views on the Englishman, John Dee (1527-1608), as an ideologue who produced a somewhat megalomaniacal opinion on English expansionism that became part-and-parcel of English colonisation, Sir Walter Raleigh, and all that.
Dee is often viewed in encyclopedias as an astrologer and alchemist, but Dee also helped train English navigators in new skills which were quickly applied to English colonisation, while astronomy was slowly being removed from the clutches of astrology. (Sydney writer Michael Wilding recently published a new biography of John Dee).
The more that the careers of alchemists are tied to real history and actual events, and removed from the realms of magic, lurid story-telling, secrecy, secret societies, and esotericism, the better. For Martin in pursing his information on alchemists often risks downplaying their most respectable achievements - in scholarship, architecture, optics, translations, chemistry, medicine.
Were alchemists, as Martin cites, "hiding a secret openly". I don't think so. If they were, more people would have realised sooner, that alchemy would not have helped faster discovery of the secret. And the secret was?
Well, the long-term finding was, if language is imprecise, results cannot be conveyed clearly.
Alchemy might well have proposed that everything is/was related. It must be asked, why alchemy was so slow to demonstrate just how this is so in the material world?
Review by Dan Byrnes of: Neil Postman, Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century: How the Past can improve our Future. Melbourne, Scribe Publications, 1999. (paperback). HOW MUCH continual, multi-dimensional change can society tolerate and still hold together? Have the limits of tolerance been reached?
How can education help us cope with social change? Or is education a victim of change and "technology"? Neil Postman is worried.
Postman's books include: Amusing Ourselves to Death, The Disappearance of Childhood, Teaching as a Subversive Activity (with Charles Weingartner), and on the impact of technology, Technopholy.
By 1961, Postman produced Television and the Teaching of English. He has pursued his educational concerns (in the US, that is) with commitment. Now he's an older man, and everything has changed around him. He has lost his bearings in a sea of change. Now he finds it easier to discuss DETs. (Deceased Enlightenment Thinkers). Some of his arguments are specious.
Postman is a New York University scholar holding something hard to imagine, the Paulette Goddard Chair of Media Ecology. (What is media ecology?)
Postman is particularly admiring of DETs, and feels that the state of education has gotten so worrying, we need to revisit those thinkers in-depth. Goethe, Rousseau, Voltaire, Kant, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Adam Smith and others.
But problematically, he has failed to revise their biographies and contributions. I think they've had their day. We've absorbed their thought, taken benefit from them, and moved on to other things.
In particular, the DETs Postman admires tended to be polymaths, highly intelligent men who by education, research, and the states of knowledge of their day, could command "everything useful to know". They'd died out by the 1820s/1830s. It has not been possible since for one person to command such impressive arrays of knowledge, and Postman's argument is specious where he does not point this out, as an anachronism.
So Postman really wishes us to admire a phase in history - as though it were something which persisted, which it didn't.
The Enlightenment was a philosophical movement criticising accepted doctrines and institutions from the point of view of a sceptical and progressive rationalism.
Further, Postman does not stay only in the Eighteenth Century, he refers also to the Greeks (Aristotle, etc.), the Romans, the Renaissance, the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries.
Naturally, if Postman wants to decry deconstructionism, which he does well, he has no choice but to consider the late Twentieth Century. So he roves across the centuries using the polymath as his lodestar, the polymath who could command knowledge of most valuable disciplines, topics and themes in European history. Postman's argument is merely a nostalgic lament that this is no longer possible.
Sorry, all the polymaths are dead. And Postman misses out on the polymath who helped "discover" Australia, naturalist Sir Joseph Banks.
He mentions Rousseau's views on childhood and education, but says little about Rousseau's ideas on The Noble Savage, which romanticized discussions of Primitive Man. This omission also makes it easier for Postman to ignore "the noble savages" of Australasia and the Pacific. It is not particularly enlightened of a New York thinker to ignore these regions of the world.
Postman may be able to update us more precisely about educational problems arising in the US. However, his argument is limited to some narrow corners of the US educational establishment, and it is not easily transferable to Australian educational systems. It is impossible to imagine his book being appreciated in Russia.
Also, it seems that the last thing he will wish to discuss, in the US, or internationally, is adequate funding for four levels of education; primary, secondary, university, and post-graduate. What of South America, Romania, Russia, India, Africa? China?
The Western World by now has over-used the scepticism encouraged by the DETs, and descended into the kind of deconstructionist gibberish that Postman decries. True.
Postman remains happy to be called "an eighteenth century dinosaur". He refuses to use email or voice-mail, he uses faxes as little as possible, does not use the cruise control on his car, is sceptical about the use of computers in school education, and about the Internet.
As a committed educator, he has noticed a horrifying number of contemporary attitudes, trends, technology and fashions in thought which conspire to interfere with proper development of the intellect, and with many educational processes. Teachers call them "distraction factors".
His greatest concern is the apparent disappearance of childhood, as we've known it humanistically (and since Rousseau); a set of crucial developmental phases which have been wrapped in a variety of committed beliefs, educational practices, linked institutions, and the requirements of employers as well.
Today, "the successful person " is evidently someone who feels no pain while tractably-but-profitably working for corporate CEOs whose excessive remuneration packages are decried around the world, even by government ministers, and things (witness the Australian airlines industry) get worse. It's a weird definition of success.
Postman demonstrates that children and youth are now subjected to so many influences, particularly TV programming and targeted marketing, that parents and educators have far less useful influence on the developing life of their charges.
In this, he resembles a marketing man complaining about being left with a reduced market share. The educator is denied human material to try to mould. Here, Postman identifies his marketing problems correctly, and then luminously fails to solve them.
Worse, Postman seems to make two fundamental errors. One about the future, the other about democracy.
Case 1: Postman's introduction begins: "The future is, of course, an illusion. Nothing has happened there yet" Sorry, wrong. True, nothing has happened there yet, but "illusion" is not the best word to apply to the set of potentialities, possibilities, hopes, expectations, fears, wants and survival needs that we throw into the future.
Case 2: Democracy: He says, p. 136, "Democracy is not a thing, a process or an idea. It is a word." Sorry, this is incorrect. Democracy is an ongoing process, vitalized by public discourse and the exercise of public virtues.
One virtue of the (liberal) democratic process, as it has been since the American Revolution, is that the individual, somewhat-educated citizen has a vote, and a vote helps or hopes to ensure an orderly, non-violent, transfer of power from one government or regime to another; and it also helps keep major power out of the hands of dynastic rulership.
Helping to stabilise the continuation of this was one of the major achievements of the Enlightenment thinkers. It took considerable violence and suffering, and action by "the lower orders" during the Eighteenth Century for political power to be ripped bloodily into the hands of intelligent, democratically-minded, non-aristocrats, revised, and then kept in the control of voters.
This attitude to holding or transferring power was not visible in China, Russia, France (until after the French Revolution, and then spoiled by Napoleon), India (where sibling-rivalry-based civil wars on the death of a powerful father were endemic in the eighteenth century, as the British noticed ), or Africa. Or in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Spain, Portugal or Italy, or the Middle East.
Given how he has to broaden out from the Eighteenth Century, Postman makes his bridge to the Eighteenth Century even more flimsy. It is necessary to allude to all the admired canons of Western literature since the Greeks, including notable comment on religion (He does not treat art history).
Postman notes (p. 122) that "neither Locke nor Rousseau ever doubted that childhood required the future-oriented guidance of adults". One problem today is that parents and teachers cannot confidently or reliably provide that guidance. True.
Young people's lives now tend to be excised from both the past and the future. We cannot yet live in the future, and Postman is quite right to highlight the importance of teaching history as a way of better informing the future. But this has been said since Roman times about history.
Today, our "now" is overly energetic. Young people would be crazy (or depressed) if they did not react such energies. In Australia there exists great concern about adolescent depression or suicide. There are many problems, and for young people, contemplating DETs will be no help.
Many of Postman's observations about today are valuable and pungent; they tend usefully to follow-up Toffler's Future Shock. If you have noticed some awkward matters in modern life that Postman notices, you'll feel reassured you are not alone.
Postman is best of all on the differences between information, knowledge and wisdom. (On p. 92, he writes: "Here, I am addressing a problem no culture has faced before - the problem of what to do with too much information." He recommends, newspapers should get out of the information business and into the knowledge business, if not the wisdom business.) p. 95, "I mean by wisdom the capacity to know what body of knowledge is relevant to the solution of significant problems." Why does he not mention humanistic virtues such as tolerance, and as Enlightenment thinkers often did, mention "public virtues", or, political virtues?
Amongst Postman's useful ideas we find: (p. 173) a suggestion that schools should study comparative religion.
While Postman does not entirely overlook the socio-political problems, violence and ugliness of much of Eighteenth Century life, he provides merely a pre-packaged view of Eighteenth Century thought, uncomfortably dissociated from social problems - and without discussing the rarity of the polymath in the Eighteenth (or any earlier) Century.
Also unfortunately, I recall in 1968 or so reading a book called The Miseducation of American Teachers, which became a classic of its kind. The rot set into US education systems over thirty years ago.
Postman may more be more part of the problems than the solutions. (Despite being a technophobe, Postman is much-commented on the Internet. Just search Google for neil + postman.)
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