"If one tells the truth, one is sure,
sooner or later, to be found out."
-Oscar Wilde

Mystics and mysticism have long been misunderstood. There's something in the words that conjure images of secret rituals conducted out of sight of mainstream faith. But in fact, mystics and their practices are found in virtually every religious tradition known to man. Andrew Harvey, author and founder of the Institute of Sacred Activism in Oak Park Illinois, is no stranger to mystics. He sees them as having one goal in mind: to be as one with reality. Not the illusion we often mistake for reality, but reality itself. Isn't that the aim of every faith, to achieve oneness with the Creator by getting in touch with the spiritual reality that imbues all things?

The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism
by Andrew Harvey
Hay House, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4019-2003-6
$16.95, 227 pp

With a cover reminiscent of Hal Lindsey's 1970 edition of The Late Great Planet Earth (Zondervan, $17.99), The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism by Andrew Harvey, like Lindsey's book, deals with apocalyptic themes. But that's where the comparisons end. Whereas Lindsey's title paints a doomsday scenario there is no physically escaping, Harvey's does not. Rather, Harvey's, as suggested by its title, offers hope.

Raised in India in the Christian faith, Harvey's approach to spirituality is one of inclusion. Influenced by a mix of Eastern mysticism, Western theology and Bell's Theorem, his spiritual path has been a recurring theme of intersecting crossroads. The result: a unique blend of East and West, culminating in the work he calls Sacred Activism.

While the term Sacred Activism may not be a familiar one, many uninitiated are surprised to learn they are already partly, or fully engaged in it. Sacred Activism is good works, toward the goal of healing our planet. It may be a volunteer activity you're already involved in. Or, it may be a new calling. It encompasses any activity performed with the intent of healing, helping, or otherwise furthering the advancement of humanity. It may be as simple as tutoring a young reader, or as complicated as housing the homeless. Above all, Sacred Activism is defined as an act that puts Divine Love into action.

Love Connection
Mary Ellen Flora in her 1992 book Meditation: Key to Spiritual Awakening (CDM Publications, $7.95), identifies love as the ultimate goal of meditating. Harvey seconds that opinion, as does James Redfield in his seminal allegorical thriller, The Celestine Prophecy (Warner Books, $17.99). It's a recurring theme among activists (yes, even meditation can be a form of activism) concerned with the future of our species and those we share our planet with. It's no coincidence that Harvey wrote The Hope on the heels of the darkest days our world had seen in more than sixty years, the 2008 financial crisis. In response to the utter panic people globally were feeling at the time, Harvey draws a comparison to what seminary students - of all ilk - go through in their quest for enlightenment. There are bumps in the road, sure, but more dire than that, something called "the Dark Night of the soul," a period of trial and dying to the old self before coming out the other side reborn to a new Christ consciousness. The financial crisis, according to Harvey, is the Dark Night society must go through to arrive collectively at its higher consciousness.

Today, with the financial crisis in the rear view mirror, and seeming to pale in comparison to current crises competing for our attention (J6, the ongoing pandemic, war in Europe, climate change), The Hope remains an important read. While Harvey's concepts may be difficult to grasp for newbies unversed in the terminology of Eastern traditions (for that there's a glossary), the hope provided by the author is not. In the words of the late, great gay rights activist Harvey Milk, "You gotta give 'em hope." It's as simple, and complicated, as all that.

The Celestine Prophecy
by James Redfield
Warner Books, 1993
ISBN: 0-446-51862-X
$17.99, 246 pp

James Redfield's The Celestine Prophecy serves as a great example of what can be accomplished with allegory. Like Andrew Harvey (The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism, Hay House, $16.95), he's peddling his vision for the future of humanity and how to reach it. Unlike Harvey, he couches it in adventure.

Prophecy starts out a little slow. The set-up feels a bit contrived, the conversation stilted, coming off like it were torn from the script of a Hallmark Channel infomercial, if the Hallmark Channel had such things. After six years of absence, our protagonist (we'll call him James, since it's written in the first person) is contacted by his old friend Charlene. Their meeting is simply a tool for setting up the story, and it shows. She wants to fill him in on an ancient manuscript she's been pursuing, and proceeds to do so with all the gusto of discussing the latest fad in non-stick cookware. Every line sets James up to ask the precise question that will lead him to the next set-up. The only thing missing is a voice-over shouting, "Get two for the price of one; just pay an additional handling fee!"

As could be predicted, James takes the bait. Within a few days he's galavanting through Peru on a mission to find the manuscript, barely avoiding capture (the Peruvian authorities are in cahoots with the Catholic Church to keep it under wraps) while coincidentally - a big theme in Prophecy - meeting all the right people at all the right times to advance him in his quest. And the manuscript begins to manifest itself. Not at once, but in pieces, adding layer upon layer to the metaphysical puzzle that keeps the pages turning.

      With some 50,000 similar megoliths scattered throughout Europe, Scandinavia and North Africa, whatever their purpose, it was widespread.

The manuscript is, of course, a physical representation of Redfield's philosophy. In the story, the revealed pages - Insights, nine of which have been revealed by adventure's end - are under scientific review, suggesting a certain legitimacy to the advanced evolutionary concepts we're told they contain (a radically new understanding of energy, the environment, and telepathy chief among them). It's very effective - throwing science into the mix - for accomplishing the necessary suspension of disbelief required of us by a fantastical read like this. That, coupled with the high stakes adventure Redfield's protagonist is engaged in, makes it a challenge not to forget Prophecy is allegorical. And that, in turn, makes it a challenge to put down.

Mystic Places
edited by Pat Daniels, Anne Horan and Sara Schneidman
Time-Life Books, 1987
ISBN: 0-8094-6312-1
160 pp

This series from Time-Life, covering all things mysterious from lost civilizations to alien visitations, has a reputation for hitting its mark with an authoritative, yet easy-going, editorial style that avoids the weeds.
Mystic Places, from the editors of Time-Life's Mysteries of the Unknown series, is exactly what its title suggests: no more; no less. If you're looking for the mystic secrets behind these places to be revealed, you'll be sorely disappointed. If, however, your goal is to glean information and theories about the origin of the places themselves, Mystic Places won't disappoint.

Not all the places covered in Mystic Places are physically tangible. The Lost continent of Atlantis, is one such place, as is the Lost City of X, a South American metropolis rumored to have been colonized by Atlanteans in ancient times. Numerous explorers have met their ends in search of it. Troy, of Trojan fame, was long thought to fall into the category of myth until 1873 when an amateur archaeologist convinced Homer's Iliad was a historical account, uncovered its remains beneath Hissarlik, Turkey. The discovery keeps the flame alive today that other legends, long considered myth, are waiting to be discovered.

In their investigation of Atlantis, the editors give Plato - whom wrote the most thorough account of the lost continent on record - the greatest agency. Besides his account of Atlantis (which was already gone by Plato's lifetime), they point to the Aegean island of Thera whose great harbor was created by a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in 1500 BC. In turn, it is believed, that the Minoan empire - a great seafaring nation that traded with Egypt - was destroyed by this event. Its trade stopped overnight, thus fueling speculation that Minoa had sank into the waves. With time, the popularity of this account grew among the Egyptians, who in turn passed it on to the Greeks. Some claim the story of Atlantis originated with the Atlanteans themselves, having fled their sinking continent to establish the Egyptian empire.

While stories about mythical places capture the imagination, so do theories about places that are real. Of those, perhaps Egypt's pyramids and Stonehenge are most pervasive. The pyramids, at one time or another, have thought to have been grain storage silos, temples, tombs, even a mammoth astronomical map, among other things. It seems with each generation of explorers comes a new theory. Stonehenge, that famous megolithic stand of rocks on England's Salsbury Plain, too has had its share of theories as to its purpose and construction. One theory that stood for a long time had it that the stones originated in Ireland and were "flown" to where they stand now by the great magician Merlin. In keeping with this theme is the theory that Stonehenge had a function in King Arthur's court.

Today, through advanced technologies (and the public's demand for proof), many theories around Stonehenge have all but been disproven. The rocks - bluestone and sarsen - used at Stonehenge originated from quarries in the area, not on the Irish isle. One quarry is 130 miles away; the other, twenty. While this debunks Ireland as their place of origin, it still begs the question as to how the massive stones were transported; Stonehenge was erected before the wheel was introduced to the British Isles. With some 50,000 similar megoliths scattered throughout Europe, Scandinavia and North Africa, whatever their purpose, it was widespread. Today, the most popular accounting for them, is one of a social nature. Most likely religious-oriented, pagan, and - if the crowds who flock to Stonehenge each solstice are any indication - Druidic.

Though the sites investigated in Mystic Places are intriguing, they're also incomplete. Without a clear understanding of their purpose (why did primitive cultures carve figures into the earth that can only be appreciated from the air?) they lack meaning. While mystic they may be, that means nothing without knowledge of the mysticism that inspired them; the ritual that gives them purpose. Without it, they remain cold, lifeless blocks of stone, mere elipses on the historical plane, however visually impressive they may be. Illustrated.

posted 03/03/22