BOOK REVIEW: Metaphysical Movements in America

In The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America (1967), J. Stillson Judah explores the connections between the various 19th and 20th century movements he refers to as “metaphysical,” such as New Thought, Theosophy, and Christian Science. Judah’s consideration of both the principles and the histories of these movements, while painting portraits of their often enigmatically charismatic founders, serves as an enlightening investigation of the roots of what is now often referred to as the New Age movement. One wonders whether the Self of Love Organization (SOLO) can be viewed as a great, great, great … grandchild of the metaphysical movements, and what would that mean?

– G. Lee Young, PhD

In a very helpful introduction, Judah lists fifteen common characteristics of these metaphysical movements (reproduced verbatim):

1. As allies of the transcendentalists, these “metaphysicians” revolted against the creedal authority of organized Protestant churches to find their solace in a new freedom of individualism exemplified by Emersonian self-reliance, and as a result each person sought his own salvation without needing the Christian church.

2. Nearly all became united in the central belief that the inner, or real, self of man is divine.

3. Although speaking of God in a personal way, as such terms as Divine Mind or Universal Mind might indicate, they have not generally wanted to be considered as theists.

4. Most groups have conceived of God as being related to man and the world in a quasi-gnostic or dualistic manner. More commonly, however, this apparent dualism gives way to a monistic doctrine of God, who is all and in-all.

5. Some metaphysical groups consider themselves to be Christian, while others do not, but all make place for some of the moral teachings of Jesus. Jesus, the man, however, is usually separated in their thought from the Christ or Christ Principle, which is one with God and is every man’s inner nature.

6. These movements revolted against a traditional Christian view that man is a sinner, standing under God’s judgment and in need of repentance and forgiveness.

7. As God is regarded as being all, in-all, and all good, so evil, including sickness, is often considered to be unreal or the absence of good.

8. All metaphysical philosophies are pragmatic. One is asked less to believe than to test the principles to be demonstrated in his experience. Since the methods often seem to produce results, they strengthen the belief in the validity of their underlying philosophy.

9. By equating salvation with the discovery of a higher reality and utilization of its laws, the metaphysical leaders tend to place their emphasis upon self-realization, knowledge, or spiritual science instead of upon faith or works.

10. All these movements try to demonstrate the scientific validity of different kinds of religious experience as proof of their philosophy which gives meaning to life. In some cases it may be through spiritualistic phenomena or the development of hidden powers. In others it is the amelioration of health or material conditions.

11. Like Yoga and Zen Buddhism, most metaphysical sects offer a psychological approach to reality [which is to say that reality is viewed as psychologically structured].

12. The metaphysical movements are highly optimistic. They stress the love of God without making explicit his judgment, and man’s goodness instead of his propensity to sin. Besides their emphasis upon practical benefits awaiting man in this life, they have a strong belief in immediate personal immortality after death. Eventual salvation is the lot of all through continual progression in the heaven worlds or through reincarnation and its law of karma.

13. Particularly among groups associated with New Thought the acquisition of pleasant things under the guise of prosperity has become important. 

14. Most metaphysical groups have a belief in an inner meaning of words beyond their dictionary definition – a meaning that cannot be discovered empirically from the standpoint of usage or etymology, but that is revealed intuitively.

15. All these movements make healing through the mind or spirit a part of their mission.

Angel Tech: A Review

Antero Alli’s book Angel Tech: A Modern Shaman’s Guide to Reality Selection (1985) is an interesting attempt to combine the work of Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, Colin Wilson and others into a system for understanding and compartmentalizing the various capacities of the mind and its modes of consciousness, served up as one big New Age package for popular consumption. Why the term “Angel Tech”? In a preface, Alli writes:

“Angel Tech is a code name for the process of stabilizing the contact between right (ANGEL) and left (TECH) hemispheres of the brain. The connecting ganglia between these hemispheres is called the ‘corpus callosum’ which may function as if it were a reality selection switch. It ‘has the ability’ to choose between left (linear) and right (intuitive) hemispheres the appropriate mode of Intelligence for the situation at hand.”

Here Alli uses two categories of mental functioning (the ol’ left and right brain dichotomy), but the book ultimately adopts Leary’s system of eight Intelligences, or “circuits,” that build on each other (just check Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/8-Circuit_Model_of_Consciousness). Alli uses an admittedly silly metaphor of ascending through grades as if we’re in grade school. Much about the book is playful and silly, and why not? Here’s an overviewof the “curriculum,” pulled straight from the book:

PHASE ONE: ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

First Grade: Physical Intelligence – Medium: The Organism – Education: Passivity, Safety, Nourishment

Second Grade: Emotional Intelligence – Medium: Belief Systems – Education: Self-expression, Status and Personal Power

Third Grade: Conceptual Intelligence – Medium: Conceptual Framework – Education: Attention, Map-Making and Articulation

Fourth Grade: Social Intelligence – Medium: Code of Ethics – Education: Adolescence, Adulthood and Collectivization

PHASE TWO: CHAPEL PERILOUS

INITIATION is a creative response to the unknown. CHAPEL PERILOUS signifies a rite of passage wherein Physical, Emotional, Conceptual and Social Education is tested for its integrity as a preparation for graduation.

PHASE THREE: HIGH SCHOOL

Fifth Grade: Sensory Intelligence – Medium: The Body’s 5 Senses – Education: Rapture, Ritual and Charisma Training

Sixth Grade: Psychic Intelligence – Medium: Central Nervous System – Education: Natural Clairvoyance, Reality Selection and Designing Tarot

Seventh Grade: Mythic Intelligence – Medium: DNA & The Planet – Education: Synchronicity, Alchemy and Astrology

Eighth Grade: Spiritual Intelligence – Medium: Subatomic Mysteries – Education: Paradox Found, Dreaming and Factor X

The purpose of the book is to catalogue and describe in some detail the layers of intelligence, empowering the individual to decide the “program” rather than be decided by it. This intelligence- or “reality-” selection is the “shamanic” ability referred to in the book’s subtitle. Alli’s system combines insights from east and west, and from overall common sense, in ways that are generally easy to digest (at the same time, passages here and there are inscrutable, and the whole thing could use a careful proofreading session – perhaps later editions dealt with this). In the higher levels of Intelligence, Alli’s work becomes less commonsensical, and more speculative and New Age, fitting in ideas from Carl Jung, Taoism, Alchemy, Astrology, Tarot, and popular science.

Angel Tech is strongest in the tersely and playfully developed perspective on the first four “grades” that support ordinary life experience. An additional lengthy section on things that can go wrong at these levels (not reproduced in this WEblog series) acts as a non-dogmatic, casual self-help guide for identifying and overcoming common life difficulties, with an eye toward transcendence, not just mundane problem-solving.

Alli’s treatment of the higher grade levels, bringing us into the territory of the “psychic” and the “spiritual,” is, of course, much more contentious scientifically and religiously. But the purpose of the book is not to argue for the validity of the information, but to act as a quick reference guide for those who already have some sympathetic inkling of what synchronicity, alchemy, Tarot and such things are all about – or else this is a very seat-of-the-pants introduction to such topics. It is up to those with background in these areas to decide whether Alli has done a good job of describing and correlating all these occult phenomena and disciplines together in what amounts to a compact modern magician’s handbook. Compare that to, say, the work of Aleister Crowley which constitutes its own austere and obscurantist library.

For those who are interested in the occult and paranormal, and in systems, and in a light humorous approach to all these things, Angel Tech should come off as an amusing experiment at the very least. I, for one, was impressed with Alli’s down-to-earth and compact interpretation of the Tarot’s Major Arcana, and with Alli’s insistent encouragement that we each make our own Tarot. The whole tone of the book is DIY and self-empowering, rather than suggesting we trust some narrow, elitist authority or join a coven, or some sort of sterile shaman’s association, if such a thing even exists (I hope not, but probably). However, if you are interested in taking a class, Antero Alli is apparently still at it and periodically teaches the “8 circuit brain” from Angel Tech at a school set up by the now deceased Robert Anton Wilson called the Maybe Logic Academy:

http://www.maybelogic.org/courses.htm

– G. Lee Young, PhD