Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Elizabeth Clare Prophet and Me

Yesterday M. pointed out to me a small AP story in Sunday's Denver Post that I had overlooked: the death of Elizabeth Clare Prophet, head of the Church Universal and Triumphant, one of the chief motivators of the "cults scare" of the 1970s-1980s.

("Suffered from dementia for years" -- there may be some cynical chuckles at that line from ex-CUT members and their families, even though it was Alzheimer's dementia.)

Her hometown newspaper in New Jersey offers photos of her at various ages and more links.

But I owe her thanks for sending me to graduate school, for in the 1970s, when I came back to Colorado after my undergraduate years at Reed, CUT (then called "Summit Lighthouse") was headquartered at One Broadmoor Avenue, Colorado Springs, a prestigious address, in a red-brick 1930s mansion built by some Oklahoman oilman.

I had never heard of Summit Lighthouse and as a Pagan was not too interested in quasi-gnostic metaphysical magical chanting--they called it "decreeing"--but a visiting friend wanted to see it, and so we went.

We picked up some pamphlets and got a tour of the public rooms from some of the followers, who despite the content of the teachings, had a definite Young Republican vibe too them. We did not meet Elizabeth Clare Prophet herself.

(If there was magic worked on behalf of President Reagan, CUT was working it.)

Later, as a reporter for the Colorado Springs Sun, I was approached by Mrs. Prophet's disaffected ex-secretary, who offered herself as a source for a feature story on the group. Mrs. Prophet herself did not do interviews--as high as an outsider could go was the group's spokesman, Murray Steinman.

And I was introduced to the whole network of "anti-cult" groups, parents' groups, and so on, not to mention one stream of American metaphysical religion, going back to the "I Am" movement and even farther.

Writing that story (and a couple of others on other groups) gave me more satisfaction than my regular work on the business beat. I credit them with nudging me towards an eventual decision to go to graduate school in religious studies, because I realized that as a newspaperman I could not really examine new religious movements in any depth.

Later, too, my chief interest in CUT was whether they would sell some of the land they bought for their "end of the world" retreat north of Yellowstone National Park in a deal arranged by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to keep an elk-migration corridor open.

Metaphysical movements come and go, but the elk should endure.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Gallimaufry with Bison

• I have been traveling--and writing about it at the other blog. So for now, some links.

• Raw food and Linux: Interview with two Pagans. Raw food is fine, but it's easy to look good if you are in your twenties and have the bone structure ... As for Linux, that's fine too, but I have no real reason to switch from Mac OS X. Just not geeky enough—or you could say that I prefer to be geeky about other things.

• Jordan Stratford claims the steampunk aesthetic for Gnosticism. Next, raw food and Linux.

• Boing Boing is hosting guest-blogger Mitch Horowitz, author of Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation.

Is it the pop version of Catherine Albanese's A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion? I need to read it and find out. (via The Wild Hunt).

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Thor versus the Cathedrals

A complete translation of psychologist Carl Jung's personal workbook, the "Red Book," is about to be published.

Some people feel that nobody should read the book, and some feel that everybody should read it. The truth is, nobody really knows. Most of what has been said about the book — what it is, what it means — is the product of guesswork, because from the time it was begun in 1914 in a smallish town in Switzerland, it seems that only about two dozen people have managed to read or even have much of a look at it.

Of those who did see it, at least one person, an educated Englishwoman who was allowed to read some of the book in the 1920s, thought it held infinite wisdom — “There are people in my country who would read it from cover to cover without stopping to breathe scarcely,” she wrote — while another, a well-known literary type who glimpsed it shortly after, deemed it both fascinating and worrisome, concluding that it was the work of a psychotic.

So for the better part of the past century, despite the fact that it is thought to be the pivotal work of one of the era’s great thinkers, the book has existed mostly just as a rumor, cosseted behind the skeins of its own legend — revered and puzzled over only from a great distance.

Pagan blogger Jason Pitzl-Waters calls it the "most important grimoire of our modern age."

Orthodox Christian blogger Rod "Crunchy Con" Dreher essentially thinks it will release gnostic demons, leading to the downfall of Christian civilization.

Gnostic and occult ideas are obviously the predominant feature of Jungian thought. Nonetheless, most people remain unaware of the fact that the occult ideas on which Jung worked were hardly original discoveries of his, as Jung leaves the impression they were; such ideas were ubiquitous in the decaying culture centers of Middle Europe in the years prior to World War II. Most people remain equally unaware that occult practices also lie at the heart of Jung's own theory, clinical practice, and inner experiences. For the most part this is because these ideas have been presented in the Jungian literature, are explained in Jungian training, and when they appear in patients' dreams will be interpreted almost exclusively in symbolic terms, not literally. So, for example, an alchemical picture of a man and woman coupling in a bath-or a dream of something similar-will be taken solely as a metaphor, of a "union of opposites."

It can and should be argued that even so, these occult ideas tend to undermine moral standards.

Dreher goes all Lovecraftian on this one, as do some commenters.

Since I have a lovely equinoctial head cold, I think that I shall crawl into bed with some bourbon-fortified coffee and re-read the whole New York Times article about the new edition.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gallimaufry with Confusion

• The latest weird search query to bring a visitor to this blog: "Is New Mexico a polytheistic, monotheistic, or animistic religion?" Hello? New Mexico is a state. No wonder that for years New Mexico Magazine has had a standing column on geographical confusion called "One of Our 50 is Missing."

• A
TheoFantastique [Morehead] : Cinema has also changed in its depiction of the witch. Are fairytale depictions as in Harry Potter, as well as those which depict the empowerment of the feminine perhaps the most common modes of expression in contemporary film?

Carrol Fry: Yes, the empowerment of the feminine is the most popular adaptation, whether the film is supportive of critical. I’m sure this has to do with attracting an audience for the film. But Pagans might well feel that Hollywood slights their spiritual paths by concentrating nearly exclusively on feminist Wicca, and then just on the most sensational elements. By the way, there’s a strong subtext of feminist Wicca in
that no one much notices, most obviously in Sophie’s (named for Sophia from the Gnostic tradition) blunders into a Wiccan ceremony in which her grandfather is “drawing down the moon” as a coven ceremony. There are a few other witch films that are not part of the culture wars, romantic films such as I Married a Witch
and Bell, Book and Candle that are neither the silly version of witches (that have nothing to do with Neo-Paganism[sic]) such as the Harry Potter novels and films nor adaptations of Wicca.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wikipedia's Gnostic Kerfuffle

Jordan Stratford, Gnostic priest and writer in Victoria, B.C., blogs about possible prejudice against present-day Gnosticism on the part of the Wikipedia cabal.

My own experience with Wikipedia is tiny -- making minor edits on three or four articles -- but I know that there are people who must spend hours every day on it.

Other stories about "revert wars" and similar cyber-squabbles involving political figures are common enough, so I can believe that one or two judgmental editors could mess with (in this case) Gnosticism too.

For some reason, Pagan-related articles have fared better. But I know that some of the Pagan editors are the same folks who were on the former Compuserve Pagan forum circa 1990--people who spend an awful lot of time in cyberspace.

As for modern Gnosticism, another trove of articles exists at the website of the former Gnosis magazine. Founding editor Jay Kinney is himself a priest of the Ecclesia Gnostica, a contemporary Gnostic church started by Stephan Hoeller (who thus far is still in Wikipedia.)

There might be a lesson here about depending too much on Wikipedia?

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Review: Living Gnosticism

Gnosticism, says Canadian Gnostic priest Jordan Statford (and blogger), is not a Jewish or Christian heresy, but stands alone, "too heretical for other faiths. . . . the Secret Church of the Holy Grail."

His new book, Living Gnosticism: An Ancient Way of Knowing, defines it as "a pre-Christian religious tradition that fuse Judaism, Greek philosophy, and the Mystery Schools of the ancient world.

"Originating in the intellectual 'café societies' of Alexandria around 200 BCE, the original Gnostics were Greek-educated Jews, living in Egypt, on the doorstep of the Roman Empire. Theirs was the realm of diverse and interplaying cultures, of ideas and imagination. Gnostics unflinchingly explored the borders of myth and archetype, of metaphors and dreams, of creativity and poetic expression."

(Sometimes he makes them sound like beatniks of the ancient Mediterraean.)

Also included are

• A dictionary of Gnostic terms such as archon and demiurge.

• A ritual calendar that starts with Candlemas, equating Bridget with Sophia, both as "goddesses" of wisdom and creativity, and runs through the feast of the apostle John, December 27. (Not real goddesses but "symbol[s] for an aspect of something greater.")

• A question-and-answer section, viz., "Do Gnostics deny the historical Jesus?"

Answer: He is an archetype; "these stories don't need to be historically true to be valuable."

• An introduction to the various Gnostic churches of North America: the Apostolic Johannite Church, the Ecclesia Gnostica, the Ecclesia Gnostica Mysteriorum, the Gnostic Church of Mary Magdalene, the Order of St. Esclarmonde (a Cathar mystic executed by the Inquisition).

It's an excellent introduction to the topic.

There is no original sin in Stratford's Gnosticism; instead there is a story of loss. (I have suggested before that this story underlies the appeal of such fantasies as Anna Anderson's claim to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia.)

All Gnostics are in exile from heaven; they need to be reminded of their divine spark within; they need to be told that "the system" is not the world. And salvation comes not from faith-there is the rupture with orthodox Christianity-nor from works, but through enlightenment, gnosis.

Stratford wants to contrast Gnosticism with the "credal" or doctrinal religions. I think the opposite term to "credal" (following Harvey Whitehouse) is “imagistic” – not dependent on doctrine but on small-scale experience involving all the senses.

Stratford, in fact, wishes to link one of Gnosticism's arms to contemporary Paganism, but I am not so sure of that.

Ultimately there is a chasm between them. Gnosticism cannot be separated from a belief that the world was simply made wrong: "There's that certainty that something is wrong with the universe, and creeping paranoia that (a) this is somehow not the real world and (b) the forces in charge of this world are hiding something secret, something powerful." It is a religion of psychic exile.

By contrast, Paganism allows sacred relationships "with the tangible, sentient, and/or nonempirical," to use Michael York's definition from Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion.

We may say that there is more to the world than This Side (the "nonempirical" part, but we don't reject any of it. The gods pop up everywhere: Aphrodite in a shoe-store window display, as Ginette Paris once said.

Some Pagans may feel alienated (for good cause), but we have no reason to be in exile. This is our world, the parts that you can see and the parts that you cannot.

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