The Path to the Guru: The Science of Self-Realisation According to the Bhagavad Gita, by Scott Teitsworth
Inner Traditions, 978-1-62055-321-3, 342 pp. (incl. prologue, introduction, epilogue, notes, bibliography, and index), 2014
In The Bhagavad Gita, guru Krishna employs a “secret dialectic” with his pupil Arjuna. “Teacher and taught begin as polar opposites in whom a kind of osmotic interchange takes place, each stimulating and edifying the other, until they become as one in realization.” The oppositional stance Teitsworth takes in The Path to the Guru seems intended to provoke the same kind of response in the reader.
It strikes me that this review is a commentary on a commentary on other commentaries about a story of a guru guiding a guru guiding a guru. I feel like the Hindu deity on the cover, waving a thousand arms in front of a mirror, my image refracting into reflection upon reflection — one of the more pleasant effects of reading Teitsworth’s dense and thought-provoking book. Continue reading
Compassion Conquers All: Teachings of the Eight Versus of Mind Transformation, by Tsem Rinpoche
New Page Books, 978-1-60163-354-5, 192 pp. (incl. foreword, appendix, glossary, and author bio), 2014
His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche, an unrealized monk, received the teachings of the Eight Verses of Mind Transformation at the age of 13 from His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama. The teachings are a translation of the Lord Buddha’s teaching on compassion and, when followed, develop the Bodhicitta or compassionate mind, ultimately leading to enlightenment.
The text begins with a discussion of motivation and how motivation affects an action and the outcome of any single action. The eight worldly concerns are introduced and discussed and the reader is instructed to memorize these concerns and use them as a reference point to check their motivation in day-to-day life. When working from the eight worldly concerns, suffering is guaranteed and can only lead to negative states of mind. Continue reading
The Journey into Spirit: A Pagan’s Perspective on Death, Dying and Bereavement, by Kristoffer Hughes
Llewellyn Publications, 978-0-7387-4075-1, 312 pp., 2014
What a gift this book is. From the lyrical quality of Kristoffer Hughes’ writing, not often present in nonfiction, to the sensitive and thoughtful wisdom he imparts, The Journey into Spirit gives the reader a compassionate space to rethink beliefs about death.
Hughes is both a Druid priest and a professional pathology technologist who has worked in British morgues for the past quarter-century, and a funeral celebrant and a teacher of death customs and philosophy. He tells us how as a young child watching his first mortuary scene on TV he knew he was destined for a life entwined with death. Although the adults around him at that time were scared and taken aback by his interest, he felt no fear, only a deep respect for the physical process of death and curiosity about the ensuing spiritual transition. This is the perspective he’s carried throughout his life, and from which he has written this book.
He frames his views within the three Celtic realms of existence — the realm of necessity, the realm of spirit and the realm of infinity – and discusses his philosophical conclusions and certain Celtic teachings pertinent to each realm. Continue reading
Wiccecraeft: Shamanic Magic from the Dark Ages, by Sinead Spearing
Green Magic, 978-0-956188625, 184 pp. (incl. appendix), 2011
Over years of discussion with family members and other initiates, I have come to the conclusion that perhaps the biggest problems faced by members of non-Abrahamic faiths is not opposition (both from within their own movements and from without), but the language we use to express ourselves. That is apparent twice within the title of this book. “Wiccecraeft” is bound to both confuse people (did the author mean Wicca craft or witchcraft?) and turn people away (if it is about Wicca, then witches won’t look at it, and if it is about witchcraft, then Wiccans might spurn it). Looked at another way, however, it is obviously intended to make people stop and think about the subject.
The second sticking point is the “shamanic magic” referenced in the subtitle. Purists will insist that shamans only exist with the extreme northern reaches of the inhabited work. There are other words to describe indigenous religious practitioners from other regions. “Shaman,” however, has been used within the academic community in such a non-specific way for decades, so its use is probably guaranteed for the foreseeable future.
The introduction serves to clear up any misunderstandings concerning the use of the word shaman, although the perceived differences between Wicca and witchcraft are not really addressed. Spearing makes it clear that she is aware of the fact that our perception of the world is very different from that experienced by our ancestors. While we may acknowledge this on some levels, it does not make it easy to shift to a more primitive perception. Continue reading
The Columbine Effect: How Five Teen Passtimes Got Caught in the Crossfire and Why Teens are Taking Them Back, by Beth Winegarner
Lulu, 9781304431219, 249 pp. (incl. appendix, notes, and bibliography), 2013
Every generation of teenagers has grown a little wilder and a little more transgressive as society becomes increasingly complex. Teenagers are attempting to find themselves and a supportive peer group while navigating a society that is more socially active and integrated on levels we have never experienced before. Beth Winegarner writes a thought-provoking and well-researched piece highlighting teenage angst and shedding light on some of the occult practices that have been tarnished by bad media coverage on the heels of incidents like the Columbine shooting.
When the Columbine shootings occurred there was a competitive media frenzy that led to significant misinformation about the culprits, citing heavy metal music and musicians like Marilyn Manson as influences. There has been an element of this blame-shifting present in each school shooting and social tragedy since Colombine. If a pentagram was found in a culprit’s bedroom or adorning their school binder, then ideas of Satan worship and dark powers have been brought to the forefront as causation, often overshadowing the more realistic factors of personal loss, loneliness and depression. Because of media coverage like this occult practices have become synonymous with dark practices, and are surrounded by fear. Continue reading
Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology, by John Michael Greer
Weiser Books, 9781578634897, 140 pp., 2012
Reading Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth was a curious experience. I felt like I was reading two books at once: the first describing spiritual teachings we can derive from ecological laws; the second, how the mystery teachings are being misinterpreted and distorted by more modern spiritual movements.
Greer devotes much time to discussing why the belief that one can create one’s own reality is a partial truth and how popular spiritual movements promulgate that belief. He points out that this has been a corruption of the mystery school teaching that we are created by the reality that was here before us and that we always co-create with that reality. He nails it when he says: Continue reading