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Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions by Jay Kinney and Richard Smoley

1999; 389 pp. $15.95. Penguin/Arkana.

As editors of Gnosis, Smoley and Kinney have devoted considerable energies over the last decade to studying and exploring the terrain of Western inner traditions. Now they've synthesized this knowledge into a single volume, a passionate and scholarly introduction to the Western spiritual quest outside of official "exoteric" religion. Like Jung, whose psychology of meaning plays a central role in Hidden Wisdom, the authors believe that spiritual seekers need not turn to the East for satisfaction. "Gnosis," or direct experience of god, is possible through many esoteric and mystical paths, and may resonate more deeply with Western cultural tendencies such as the emphasis on the individual over the group.

Kinney and Smoley have cultivated a "faithful skepticism" that I imagine to be the fruit of years of their own spiritual/academic practice. They address all the traditions?from ancient Gnosticism to alchemy to witchcraft to Madame Blavatsky's Theosophy?with both historical rigor and a wink toward the divine. Like any religious book worth its salt, this one is full of good yarns: Sophia, the feminine aspect of the Unknown God, unites with Christ in the "bridal chamber" to save humans from their ignorant state, trapped in matter; magicians visualize objects so precisely they appear in the astral light; shamans turn into bears and buffaloes; Dutch scientist Helvetius uses a philosopher's stone given him by a stranger to transmute a piece of lead pipe into gold. The authors sort out the fact from fiction?as much as is possible?and deposit you on the doorstep of the divine. The journey, should you care to embark on it, is yours and yours alone.

"Experience has no qualities in a pure state. We never just experience; rather, we experience something, and we experience it as something?a specific object. In alchemical terms this is matter in its fixed state, or "lead." It is associated with the color black, which connotes ultimate darkness, passivity, receptiveness. Similarly, when we experience the world in an ordinary state of consciousness, it is radically external to us. Objects are dead, lifeless, without any inner vitality or consciousness of their own.

If so, then Hermeticism could have to do with transmuting the "lead" of ordinary experience into the "gold" of consciousness. "

"Nearly everyone undertakes the spiritual search for some personal gain. To judge by the books published on these topics, many people come to the path hoping it will win them money or love or personal fulfillment. Others view the benefits in more elevated terms, as gnosis, enlightenment, or salvation.

In a sense there is nothing wrong with these goals, for we must all begin at street level. And for a long time, no matter what path one chooses, personal development will be the focus of effort. But at a certain stage one must realize that the work of human evolution is worth doing in its own right, apart from any personal advantage that may accrue. Ironically, if one does not realize this truth after a certain point, personal growth will most likely stop or even reverse course. "

"Masonry began its public life at the end of a long period of religious warfare in Europe, when people laid down their lives for theological issues that today seem trivial. It is thus not surprising that the Masons would have tried to create a clearing where members of different religions and political factions could meet in fellowship.

Hence there is no official Masonic doctrine as such. To be admitted to a lodge, a man is required only to state his belief in a Supreme Being, "Grand Architect of the Universe." Masonic teaching itself, "veiled in allegory, illustrated by symbols," is imparted by rituals. Though innumerable books explicate the meaning of these rites, no interpretation is regarded as definitive, and no Mason is required to agree with any of them."

 

ISBN: 0835608441

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