American Gurus & the Search for Enlightenment: An Interview with Arthur Versluis

By RICHARD SMOLEY Until recently the academic world paid almost no attention to the Western mystical and esoteric traditions. If any scholars strayed into these areas, they did so gingerly and apologetically, often feeling the need to sneer at these currents as a way of safeguarding their reputations. This situation began to change in the 1980s. A small group of academic scholars in mainstream universities began to pay serious attention to esotericism as a formative part of the Western … [Read more...]

Vietnam: Encounters with the Spirit World

By DAN NEIMAN A medium is an individual who has a connection with the spiritual world, or the “other side” as some people call it. The spirits on the other side of the veil between life and death can communicate with them. In the West, there is a long tradition of mediums relaying messages from the deceased to family and friends left behind. This is known as “mental mediumship.” Another more intriguing form of mediumship known as “physical mediumship” prospered in the 19th century. In this … [Read more...]

What Happened to the New Age? Sorting Truth from Nonsense

By RICHARD SMOLEY Not long ago I was walking through the aisles of a New Age fair in the suburbs of Chicago. All the usual suspects were there: booths for Baha’i and Eckankar; ladies selling essences and fragrances; bodyworkers offering ten minutes of chair massage; psychics inspecting the etheric fields of their subjects. Like most New Age events I have gone to over the past decade, the fair had a tired quality to it. I could simply be jaded. I’ve been going to such gatherings for over … [Read more...]

What is Alchemy?

By RICHARD SMOLEY It is a remote location in China in the early 1960s. A young man, Wang Liping, is studying with three Taoist masters. After preliminary training, they give him a grain of “gold elixir.” Wang sits in a cross-legged position. The masters tie up his legs so that he will stay seated. He then goes into a deep state of trance. On the first day, he feels as if his insides are burning, and he passes out. But thanks to the ropes, he remains immovable in the cross-legged … [Read more...]

Edgar Cayce: Ordinary Man, Extraordinary Messenger

By MITCH HOROWITZ The year 1910 marked a turning point in Western spirituality. It saw the deaths of some of the most luminous religious thinkers of the nineteenth century, including psychologist-seeker William James; popular medium Andrew Jackson Davis; and Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy. These three figures deeply impacted the movements in positive thinking, prayer healing, and psychical research. Their death that year was accompanied by the rise to prominence of a new religious … [Read more...]

Kindling the Divine Spark: The Secret to Awakening

By TIM BOUCHER Blessed is he who has a soul, blessed is he who has none, but woe and grief to him who has it in embryo.1 – G.I. Gurdjieff The United States Declaration of Independence proudly proclaims the mystical truth that “all men are created equal.” What happens after that, though, is anybody’s guess. Once we’ve been created equally, does that mean all our lives are the same? Do the essential differences between us come from genetics, environment, free will, the soul? Do we all end up … [Read more...]

Manifesting Your Will

By RICHARD SMOLEY Much of New Thought is about manifesting your will. It’s far more helpful to do this if your will is in alignment with your own higher nature. This exercise is designed to help you accomplish this aim. It may be read aloud and recorded, or one person may read it to another or to a group if that is helpful. Sit in a comfortable but erect position, free from disturbances, so that you can be as relaxed and alert as possible. You may want to begin with a prayer to God or to … [Read more...]

The Bogomils: Europe’s Forgotten Gnostics

By PAUL TICE Few people in the modern world have heard of the Bogomils, who existed during a seven-century time span in and around Bulgaria. Although almost forgotten, they represent an important movement that should be studied by anyone interested in Gnosticism, spiritual freedom, the Cathars of France (who succeeded them), and the history of religions. For most of their existence, from the mid 900’s to the late 1400’s CE, the Bogomils sought to restore the earliest and purest form of … [Read more...]

Understanding the Traditionalists

By JOSCELYN GODWIN Traditionalists, for present purposes, means the loosely-constituted group inspired by René Guénon (1886-1951). Many of them also revere Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (1877-1947). Later Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998) became central to the group, while the work of Julius Evola (1898-1974) partly overlapped with the others. Any one of these four can serve as a gateway to the movement and its quest for the esoteric truth that transcends religious differences. That is their first mission. … [Read more...]

Has Consciousness Evolved?

By RICHARD SMOLEY The idea that consciousness is evolving is one of the most important doctrines of the New Age. But is it true? Over the long term, the answer seems obvious. Even the stupidest of humans is far more intelligent and sophisticated than a trilobite. Although materialists have skirted the conclusion that evolution has a direction – and that this direction is toward greater complexity – they have not managed to shoot it down. The New Age idea of evolving consciousness is a … [Read more...]