The Greek Qabalah

The Greek Qabalah
Kieren Barry
1999, Weiser Books
4.5 out of 5

The history of Kabbalah has been shrouded in a great deal of mystery for centuries, really since it emerged into the mainstream of Jewish thought in 13th century Europe. Numerous erroneous assumptions have been spread around in New Age and occult literature, such as the idea that the Hebrews introduced using letters as numbers, or that they originated gematria and other numerological techniques and the doctrine of emanations into Western thought. The facts, of course, are far different.

Barry convincingly proposes instead that the process was the reverse. Greek philosophy, especially the systems of Pythagoras, Plato (and his student Aristotle), Empedocles (the Elements), Ptolemy (astrology), the Gnostics (pre- and post-Christian), and Hermetics (Hellenized Egypt and the Near East), were the sources of these and other ideas no identified with Kabbalah in Judaic, Christian and Hermetic circles.

Barry’s work is scholarly and in-depth, with ample in-text citations and extremely useful bibliographies. What perhaps improves Barry’s work in this regard is that he does not visibly support any one religion or philosophy. Instead, he presents an objective and factual analysis of the history of these ideas and is not afraid to point out the flaws in certain works.

A final point of importance is that Barry’s writing style is clear and flowing. Many serious scholars have difficulty in this area, presenting history and philosophy in dry terms that make them tortuous to read.

All in all, Kieren Barry has provided historians and occultists alike with a valuable historical perspective on some of the most important ideas in Western history and in modern spirituality.

Published in: on September 12, 2007 at 11:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

God is No Laughing Matter

God is No Laughing Matter
Julia Cameron
2000, Tarcher/Putnam
3.5 out of 5

I picked this book up for $5 (a bargain bin discount from its normal $20 price tag) at a local Books-A-Million. I liked the cover art and the title, and that’s basically all I needed to get me curious. For $5, how can you say no?

We’ve been trained to think by Amazon.com, magazines, and so on that anything below a 4 is abysmal; a 4 is “ok” and a 5 is “reasonably good”. Not me, friends. If I say “5”, it’s a must-have (for the topic, of course); a “4” is really very good, while a “3” is worth reading.

This book earned it’s 3.5 with wit and humor on a topic too often taken deadly serious. Julia Cameron provides some lovely insight into numerous different topics of spiritual interest. Her experience is mostly colored by her Catholic upbringing and her New Age sensibilities, so be warned going in. Those factors do not discolor the experience, but instead make it more vibrant and lively. She does not hide her perspective, but puts it front-and-center for context. Everything from too-stern spiritual teachers to learning to relax in God, this book covers a lot of ground.

There are three issues I have with this book. Only two of major, but the minor one is a bit of a pet peeve.

First, while I liked the fact that she put her own spiritual background on the line, it at times becomes a problem because she assumes that everybody shares her Catholic “God-as-Big-Cuddly-Parent” theology. While I feel that the Divine can manifest in this way, to paint everybody else’s spiritual experiences in this way is to miss a lot of depth.

Second, the exercises she provides are… pretty much the same every time, and not terribly deep or revealing. “Answer five questions” or “fill in some columns on a chart” and *BOOM!*, your relationship with God is fully defined and your work here is done.

The pet peeve is, as and have pointed out, endemic to occult, Pagan, and spiritual literature: they don’t cite their freaking sources! Cameron makes references to numerous books, poems, films, and so forth but never actually tells you which book she’s referring to!

In general, this book was a worthy purchase and a good, quick read. As the 3.5 attests, I enjoyed it thoroughly, but look for it used or in the bargain bin.

Published in: on September 3, 2007 at 8:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Isaiah Effect

The Isaiah Effect
Gregg Braden
2000, Random House
4 out of 5

I didn’t know what to expect out of this book, but I ended up being very pleased with it within the first chapter. Braden writes with sincerity and from experience. His discussion is straight-forward, but often poetic in feel.

Writing style aside, the book itself is primarily about prayer and prophecy. The prophecies are the standard fare: 2012, Earth changes, consciousness changes, and so forth. Everything from Nostradamus to the Bible, Braden pretty well covers all the biggies. He treats them, however, as more of a thought experiment than inevitable doom. Braden is emphatic about the fact that the job of a prophet is not to tell people what will happen, but to tell them what could happen; they are to serve as human warning bells so that we can change our course before it’s too late.

The prayer section is both the practice and the shining gem of the book. Braden presents an approach to prayer rather than a system or specific technique. That approach is intended to be workable for anybody, of any religious system or mystical tradition. The only caveat is that the reader must be willing to accept the view that we are ourselves divine (or at least directly connected with the Divine) and are capable of choosing our own reality in a conscious fashion. In other words, Braden asserts that not only are we capable, through prayer, of unleashing our divine Right to Choice, but that choosing our physical reality is a spiritual act.

The greatest flaw of the book is Braden’s misinterpretation of quantum mechanics. While I doubt that it’s on purpose, it’s definitely done in such a way as to try to provide a scientific foundation for prophecy and prayer (as if they need one). I took off a full point for this because, frankly, I’m sick of seeing it in New Age and occult literature.

Beyond that one problem, I loved the book and would recommend it to anybody interested in the relevant subjects. Peppered with entertaining anecdotes and enlightening insight, Gregg Braden’s The Isaiah Effect is a great spiritual read for a quiet weekend.

Published in: on September 3, 2007 at 8:40 pm  Leave a Comment