‘Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness’ was first published in 1911 when Evelyn Underhill was just thirty-six years old, a mere four years after her conversion from agnosticism to Christianity. Despite its comprehensive character and the extensive research that underlies it, it is far from being a detached academic work, rather it has the passionately engaged quality one would expect of an author who was a mystic in her own right. Evelyn Underhill combined not just historical scholarship with her own direct spiritual insight, but also brought to it her own formidable knowledge in the fields of philosophy, theology and psychology. There is already more than a hint in this book of the theme she was to develop in her later work, namely that the true test of spirituality is not its capacity to draw us out of the the world but rather its capacity to situate us more authentically in it.
This Methuen reprint of 1977, complete with dust-wrapper, is of a finer quality than any current hardback edition.
This hardback volume, in pristine condition, is the first edition of the only detailed and objective account of one of the more mysterious incidents in the First World War. The Battle of Mons took place on 22-23 August 1914 when the British Expeditionary Force, marching through Belgium on its way to meet up with the French, found itself unexpectedly in the path of the main thrust of the advancing German army – which they held back so effectively that the Germans were unaware of the paltry size of the force that held them. The sudden retreat of the French fifth army the following day however exposed the British right flank, putting them in danger of a complete rout. It was the first indication that the war was not, after all, going to be over by Christmas.
The following month the Welsh author, Arthur Machen, inspired by accounts of the fighting and an idea that had come to him soon after the battle he wrote a short story for a London paper, The Evening News, entitled ‘The Bowmen’. The story featured phantom bowmen from the Battle of Agincourt, summoned by a soldier on the second day of the battle calling on St George to save them from annihilation. The story was not actually labelled as fiction and Machen soon received requests for the sources of his account. He responded by making quite clear that it was in fact fiction. Many however were reluctant to believe him. In the years that followed stories of ‘angels at Mons’ were widely reported in the press and embedded themselves deeply in the popular imagination. The story surfaced briefly again in 2001 when the Sunday Times ran a story of photographic evidence for the event being found among the possessions of a soldier found in an antique shop in Monmouth. This story in turn was widely reported in papers on both sides of the Atlantic, but was subsequently exposed as a hoax.
This book is historically interesting in that it succeeds in documenting the formation and subsequent development of a myth from its very moment of inception. It is also relevant perhaps to our post-modern world as a warning that however seemingly naive, the idea of a shared objective reality is not something we should give up on too readily. Myth may help us in tapping into deeper areas of our being, but it also has a propensity to take on a life of its own.
Porphyry, who lived from about 232 to 305, was a disciple of Plotinus and an important Neoplatonic philosopher in his own right. He was also the most learned of the early critics of Christianity. Having heard Origin preach however and also studied the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian gospels he found the new religion to be lacking both in literary quality and philosophical substance. The gospels, he concluded, were the work of charlatans; Jesus himself was a criminal and a failure – even from the Jewish perspective. ‘Even’, he writes, ‘if Christ’s suffering was carried out according to God’s plan, even if he was meant to suffer punishment – at least he might have faced his suffering more nobly and spoken words of power and wisdom to Pilate, his judge, instead of being made fun of like a peasant boy in the big city.’ His followers had betrayed him; their chief, the greatest coward of all, was made a prince of his church. And their teaching was self-contradictory; they look for the end of the world, but what they really want is control of the empire.
Due to its highly critical nature his work Against the Christians was condemned to be burnt in 448. It survives only in fragments preserved by the cleric and teacher Macarius Magnes. It is these fragments which the biblical scholar Joseph Hoffmann has edited, together with his own illuminating introduction and commentary. As Hoffmann points out ‘The sentiments expressed were devastating because they came from someone who knew the sacred books of the Christians and their doctrines intimately.’ He would not allow the Christian apologists to take refuge in allegory, pointing out that the Greek of the gospels was that of the market place, bearing no comparison with the language of Homer, hence quite incapable of supporting the more enlightened interpretation the might try to put on it.
The argument in essence is the old one between Athens and Jerusalem, going back to the Maccabean period and beyond, yet given a sharper polemic and philosophical edge by Porphyry. It is also not a million miles from some of the more enlightened attitudes to religion today. Joseph Hoffmann’s aim in this volume is to allow Porphyry to speak for himself.
This fine quality hardback, published in 1994 by Prometheus Books, is already quite rare and sought after.
Over six hundred pages in length, this thorough and perceptive study of the life and thought of William James was described by the eminent existential psychologist Rollo May, on its publication in 1986, as ‘The definitive work on William James’. Frederick Burckhardt, general editor of The Works of William James called it ‘A truly monumental work’. Whether any single individual can do justice to James however is another matter, for his work straddles the fields of philosophy, psychology and religion in a way that no-one else has managed to do since – and this broad coverage is not accidental, rather it is central to the complexity of the thought and experience that underlies it. It should be stated at the outset therefore that the author, Gerald E. Myers, was neither a psychologist nor a student of mysticism, but a philosopher – more precisely, professor of philosophy at Queens College, City University of New York. Myers has nonetheless gone a long way toward exploring that complexity in all its facets.
What attracted Myers’ interest in the first place was that many of the leading thinkers in his own specialist field, philosophy of mind, such as G.E. Moore, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Gilbert Ryle and A.J. Ayer, referred both explicitly and implicitly to William James as an influential predecessor. Reading James himself more closely however he found much that was baffling. All great thinkers indeed make interpreters of their readers, and this is all the more true of a complex figure like James. Thus the more Myers studied the texts the more convinced he became that an interpretive analysis of his philosophy of mind was needed – and this in turn required an understanding of the man himself, since James’s thought and life are very much of a piece.
One of the particular strengths of this book, apart from the thoroughness of its analysis of his thought and the profound psychological struggles which accompanied it, is the illuminating insight into the effects James’s writing had on others. Here for example is Bertrand Russell’s comment on meeting Wittgenstein in 1919: “I had felt in [Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus] a flavour of mysticism but, was astonished when I found he has become a complete mystic. He reads people like Kierkegaard and Angelus Silesius, and he seriously contemplates becoming a monk. It all started from William James’s ‘Varieties of Religious Experience”. Then, from a very different angle we have the response of the American Catholic philosopher Santayana who felt that the book focused not on religion in its higher or healthy form but rather in the diseased form it took in unbalanced individuals. Dickinson S. Miller, an influential philosopher in his own right and a close friend of both men, recorded an exchange between James and Santayana: ”Seeing James one day after his ‘Varieties of Religious Experience’ had come out, Mr. Santayana crossed the street and said to him with a friendly smile, ‘You have done the religious slumming for all time’. ‘Really?’ said James genially; ‘That is slumming, is it?’ ‘Yes’, was the answer, ‘all’. In repeating this James chuckled to himself: ‘Santayana’s white marble mind.’”
James was aware in a way that few philosophers are that the cracks, the seeming incoherencies, in our understanding of the world and of each other, are no less significant than the things we can make sense of. At a time when those cracks seem wider than ever there is perhaps something to reflect on here.
This is the Yale University Press paperback, published in 1986 at the same time as the first edition hardback. It is in as new condition..
This book is the classic account of the life of the 18th century French mystic and occultist Louis Claude Saint-Martin. He wrote anonymously, regarding his work not so much his own as deriving from that of his teacher, Martinez de Pasqually. Nevertheless, the direction he took differed from that of de Pasqually in important respects. Whereas the latter taught an esoteric system closely linked with high-degree Freemasonry and focused on theurgy, Saint-Martin, even within the lifetime of his teacher, leaned less toward a ritualistic than a contemplative approach closer to traditional Catholicism, in which the grace of God played a crucial role. Despite the important differences, which deepened over time, the term ‘Martinism’ has somewhat confusingly been used to refer both systems.
Waite includes in this book an account of the work of Martinez de Pasqually and its subsequent development alongside the more thorough treatment he gives to rather different direction taken by Louis Claude de Saint-Martin. The particular focus of Saint-Martin’s own work was the life of humanity viewed in the light of its ultimate need for reunion with God. As he puts it in one of his aphorisms, ‘The Holy One quitted that which was above that He might come and restore us to life; we are reluctant to leave that which is below that we may recover the life he has brought to us.’ As the latter half of the quote suggests the emphasis on the human is at the expense of a broader view of creation and our place in it. Nevertheless, on the basis of such insights he goes on to develop a progressive political philosophy, enabling him to discern the hand of Providence in in the turbulent events of the time, notably the French Revolution. In this sense his work represents a rare balance of the mystical and the political, something worth reflecting on perhaps in our own troubled times.
This fine quality hardback, complete with dust-wrapper, is the 1970 edition published by Rudolf Steiner Publications in New York.