Sufism For Western Seekers * Stewart Bitkoff (2011)

Abdel Wahid Yahia died in Cairo in 1951. Most of us will know this man better under his birth- and authors name René Guénon. Guénon was the major Traditionalist thinker hammering on the fact that a genuine initiation can only go through a “filiation”, an unbroken chain. In the West there are only two genuine esoteric orders left, both in decline. Perhaps this is the reason that Guénon opted for the Sufi path, the near Eastern esoteric Tradition. I find myself thinking about this sometimes. When the Western esoteric organisations might still be able to ‘do the trick’, but no longer understand what it is what they actually do, would there be real Sufism in the West to take over the task? Guénon probably did not leave France for nothing, but there are Sufi orders in the West. Would these groups just be mystical Muslims taking the name of Sufism or genuine esoteric orders in which religion is subsidiary?
Then I got an email of Stewart Bitkoff if I was interested in reviewing his new book “Sufism For Western Seekers; Path of the Spiritual Traveler In Everyday Life”. Sure I was! Of course I am preoccupied having read Guénon and other Traditionalists and on receiving this book I immediately noticed it is nothing like the heavy literature from the ‘Traditionalist school’. In fact, would the book be Traditionalist at all? In a ‘Guénonian’ sense it should be, but like I said, I am preoccupied. Bitkoff describes how he met a colleague at a hospital that he worked at and during lunch times Bitkoff and a varying group of colleagues had ‘classes’ of this first “mystical school” from the master/colleague. This goes on for about four years after which the author is directed to his second “mystical school” where he received some 10 years of long distance training, mostly involving reading books of Idries Shah (1924-1996), the Sufi teacher of our time. Like Bitkoff’s first teacher (whom he calls “Sam”) Shah stresses the fact that Sufism predates Islam and that it is the path to become a whole person and thus a better Muslim, Christian or Jew. (This) Sufism does not make the student leave society for study, but requires serious involvement in society, helping others. The book is presented as conversations between Bitkoff and a teacher (alternated with anecdotes). First this teacher seems to be “Sam”, later it becomes more likely that Bitkoff is talking “to self” as he would put it, his ‘higher Self’ in the terms of others. The tone is light and down-to-earth and what is presented is more of a general spiritual nature than information about the Sufi order. The second half becomes a bit more specific on methods and teachings, but overall I think I hoped for something deeper and dryer, while the book seems more focussed on people unacquainted with spiritual teaching in general and esoteric training in particular. But does the book suggest that the author was initiated in a genuine esoteric order (as I understand it from my previous literature)? The fact that his “first mystical school” was in an office rather than a ‘temple’ (or whatever) seems a bit odd, but of course when “Sam” has Guénon’s “sacred fluidium”, he should be able to pass it on in a mental hospital too, right? The students appear to receive “the Light” on several occasions, is that the ‘passing of the fluid’, the ‘initiation’ that ‘opens the third eye’? That can happen only once I take it. The word “initiation” Bitkoff uses not in a Traditionalistic, but more in the profane way of ‘getting acquainted with’ (e.g. on page 32). “Sam” can “direct the Light to each of us and we would experience it” (p. 89/90). This “[…] offered [a] state that would stay with me for 24 hours and was God’s present; it was an initiatory carress to lift me higher and teach me something.” (p. 94) “Sam” “was given the authority to teach” (p. 97) from a person long dead (what about the “filiation”?). He sure had something special: “It was as if Sam had some magical key which he used to unlock the door to my spiritual being.” (p. 102) “Also he was versed in all religions and understood every occult practice that I ever heard about.” (p. 106) About the Light, the teacher says on page 129: “The internal or spiritual essence, which gives life to the external religious form, is a living, vibrant element. This part, termed the Light in our presentation, is the inner core of life to the eternal form.” On page 156 the author says: “This initial caress, felt in the heart, is an initiation by the Master into the mystical school” which sounds more familiar in the context of my earlier literature. Also: “this learning must occur under certain conditions” (p. 157) could have been a quote of Guénon.
Conclusion from this uninitiated interested fellow? Couldbemaybe. I am sure that Bitkoff had a flying start in his spiritual development with his meetings with the colleague. Is this book about a regular, initiatic order? Not unlikely, but neither obviously. So should I go out and look for some Sufi master? I have no idea is this “Sam” is a representative Western Sufi, but he might well be of a modern-day initiate. I can only hope to run into such a person again and continue what I started.
2011 Abandoned Ladder, isbn 0615562809

Catching The Big Fish * David Lynch (2007 tarcher/penguin * isbn 1585425400)

Big FishDavid Lynch has been constantly smacked around my ears in the last weeks. Just before we took off for a week of New York City, I noticed that INLAND EMPIRE was to be released on DVD in that very week and up for preordering. Of course I did. Then in NYC we went to see the film “Klimt” and the previews before that not only announced Eraserhead back in the cinemas, but also a cinema documentary about the master of film. Two days later we are in some tiny bookshop and my girlfriend came to me with this book written by David Lynch himself. Naturally I got myself a copy! “Catching The Big Fish, meditation, consciousness, and creativity” is a real Lynch book. In his simple English he tries to express how transcendental meditation helps him in his live, in his painting and in his filming. In short and humerous chapters he writes about a great variety of subjects, including several of his films. Some information is old, sometimes what he writes is quite revealing. I may not always agree with the man or see things entirely the same, but Lynch definately does have an approach to film that I value way over most directors. This book may tell you a bit about why the films are as they are. You will learn some of the backgrounds and the way things come to be, but of course this book isn’t about Lynch’s films. In the end it actually turns out to be an ‘advertisement’ for transcendental meditation and the “David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace” to which a part of the price you pay for the book goes. Read his ideas, learn a bit (more) about his art. It’s an easy-to-read book, not thick, well-published and as always with Lynch, not easily tagged.

The Tower Of Alchemy: an advanced guide to the great work * David Goddard (isbn 1578631130)

I would probably not have known David Goddard if he wasn’t brought specifically under my attention. And still it took two missed workout weekends and a long time before I first laid my hand on a book by this Englishman. Quite by accident actually, I wasn’t looking for it, but when I saw this title in a shop in Utrecht (Netherlands). I decided to buy it and see what Goddard is all about.

Goddard is a student of several esoteric schools. After having been under the care of the Kabbalist Halevi from England (kabbalahsociety.org) and studied alchemy, hermetism, tarot, Grail legends, Keltic mythology, (vajrayana) yoga, Hinduism, Buddhism and more, he founded his own school called “The Pharos”. In close relation with his students, Goddard says to teach them the oral esoteric tradition. This is done by summercamps in England and weekends and lectures all around the world. A lot of practical instructions and teachings are given and Goddards methods include meditations and visualisations. I have never been to any of his classes, but probably still will some time.

“The Tower Of Alchemy” is Goddards best-known title. It is a practical guide divided in 17 chapters. Each chapter opens with a theoretical basis of things to follow. The book is supposed to be a step-by-step beginners book and begins fairly simple. In the theoretical parts Goddard very nicely interweaves various Western and Eastern knowledge, compares traditions and symbols and makes several very interesting links. After this follows a practical part with a meditation often involving a visualisation. After a couple of these it became clear to me that this isn’t really my cup of tea, at least not from the book. I started to skip the practical parts. After these parts you always get a ‘contemplation’ section, which is a long quote from different texts that refer to the practise you just conducted.

This book really is for people who want something else than just plain theory or absorbing information. If Goddards method appeals to you, you have the big advantage that you can easily contact ‘the master’ himself and attend a lecture or visit him in his centre in England. See www.davidgoddard.com for more information.

Die Wolke Über Dem Heiligtum * Karl von Eckartshausen (1795/1977)

Karl von Eckhartshausen (1782-1803) was a German esotericist who for some reason is not very well-known. The fouder of the Dutch Rosicrucian society Lectorium Rosicrucianum, Jan van Rijckenborgh (1896-1968) found his texts interesting enough, so he translated them to Dutch. Meanwhile the publisher of the Lectorium has four books of Von Eckhartshausen. There isn’t too much information about the man on the internet. I noticed that some of the originally German books are translated into French and Spanish and there seems to be an English translation of the book under review here by noone less than Samuel MacGregor Mathers with an introduction by Waite. Also an English translation by madame Isabel de Steiger can be found online completely.
“The Cloud Upon The Sanctuary” is a compilation of six letters. The Dutch translation (at least my 1977 printing) has no introduction of any kind. The writer keeps refering to “our secret society/school”, but you won’t learn which school that is. The other Dutch translation that I have has an introduction by Antoine Faivre. Faivre says that Von Eckhartshausen knew Adam Weishaupt (1748-1811) who founded the order of the Illuminati and was initiated himself, so this may be the order the writer refers to. On the other hand, it is known that the Illuminati were very anti-Christian (or anti-Catholic?) in the higher degrees but the letters are full of love for Christ.
I can see why Van Rijckenborgh liked the texts of Von Eckhartshausen. They are nice, spiritual, nicely written, easy to understand and the ideas come close to those of Van Rijckenborgh himself.

De Brieven Van Marsilio Ficino – deel 1 + Geef Vrijelijk Wat Vrijelijk Ontvangen Is – brieven deel 2

Letters of Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) have been available ever since he died. Ficino wrote with a lot of people all across the world and held copies of every single letter he wrote. A few years before he died he even wrote an introduction to his combined letters himself! Soon after his death the first publishing of his letters was a fact. Being such a high amount, the letters were made available in 12 parts!

Also in English many letters of Ficino are available and I discovered translations in Dutch which are actually handwritten and published by a group of philosophers from Amsterdam. This book is no longer available it seems. Anyway, the Dutch Rosicrucian society Lectorium Rosicrucianum has two books with letters of Ficino and a nice introduction, which are the two titles here.

Besides letters Ficino wrote essays and a massive amount of books. Some are available in other languages than latin, others are yet unpublished in any way. A nice thing about the letters is that they are arranged by subject so you can read Ficino’s short explanation on a wide variety of subjects, going from everyday life to highly spiritual subjects.

For some reason these little books are not available from regular booksellers, while other books by “Rozekruis Pers” are, so you will have to contact them. I don’t know other available translations in Dutch, and for English ones you can of course check Amazon.


The Power Of Kabbalah * Yehuda Berg (isbn 1571892508 * 2004)

“No hocus-pocus here. Nothing to do with religious dogma, the ideas in this book are earth-shattering and yet so simple.”
Yes, this book is by Madonna’s spiritual master and the quote is from Madonna. The Dutch translation -that was just released- has a little red rope on the cover, probably on of these “Kabbalah armbands” that Madonna gave to her little boy. I am sure that there will be people who are pulled over the line of reading a book like this now. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Yehuda Berg wrote a nice and very well-readable book showing some spiritual thruths to the ignorant housewifes and other interested. However Berg puts himself in the line of Kabbalists who bring the thruth to the common man, there are hardly any references to the traditional Kabbalists and Kabbalah in this book. Instead you get a spiritual book with spiritual guidelines for daily life, loosely fitted on ‘the Kabbalah’. The book is a comparable with “The Key” of Yehuda’s brother Michael that I reviewed earlier. The book is mostly meant for beginners, but if you are used to reading books about the beard of God, Notaricon and Temura, Sephirothic trees and the like, you can regard youself a beginner in this more spiritual side of the subject. A nice read, but be aware that this is ‘another kind of Kabbalah’ than you usually get in these pages.

The Secret: Unlocking the Source of Joy & Fulfillment * Michael Berg (isbn 1571892044)

However the cover is almost the same, in Dutch this book is called “De Sleutel” (“The Key”). The writer was brought up a Kabbalist and mostly appreciated the teachings of Yehuda Ashlag (1885-1967). Berg gives a spiritual guide for everyday life in this little book. This may be based on the Kabbalah, but don’t expect to read about Sephiroth, anpins or Hebrew letters. Many stress is put on developing the ability to share, but you will get a quite whole spiritual worldview.

At the end of the book Berg proves to be the brother of the famous Kabbalist Yehuda (Philip) Berg of the Kabbalah Centre (kabbalah.com) of who Madonna (for example) is member.

All in all a nice little book that shows another side of the Kabbalah than the one you usually read about.