I want to provide a brief commentary on my feelings about a book series the first title of which is The Celestine Prophecy, by author James Redfield. This was a book that first emerged back in 1993 – in what looking back on it seems like a much more naïve and innocent time. The first book was an immediate hit, launching the unknown and initially self-published author onto the New York Times bestseller lists.
Naturally it’s easy to be suspicious of trends, and I am the first to regard with scepticism such trends in popular culture. And I have certainly seen a lot of really negative reviews of this series on the net. But I want to posit that the insights and techniques described in these books are still very much relevant to our current times, and will continue to be well into this third millennium.
A book like The Celestine Prophecy is bound to raise all sorts of emotions in people. I’ve seen people criticise it on the grounds of religion, that it’s nothing people couldn’t learn from a traditional faith if they had taken the time to explore a faith; that it’s too cosy and new age; that it’s just a summary of everything that has gone before; that the writing is atrocious, and so on and so forth.
I sometimes wonder whether I and these other reviewers have read the same book. Certainly there are many people other than myself who also feel uplifted and inspired by the insights offered in the book, and speaking for myself I have been profoundly affected for the better by contemplating deeply the insights on offer. People seem to resent being offered a new perspective on truth, especially if it conflicts with their existing religious beliefs or with a strictly common-sense, down to earth attitude.
To me, what The Celestine Prophecy is all about is what alternative streams of thought have always been about – to explore truth, non-dogmatically. It’s my opinion that this is the reason it immediately raises people’s hackles – religious types tend to cling to their doctrines and dogmas for dear life, in the fear that if these were to be challenged then their whole religion would lose its basis of truth. But spiritual seekers have long known that the awesome, infinite and multi-various thing that is Truth cannot be contained within the rigid and confined structure of dogma.
I had a shocking realisation recently – shocking to me, at least, because for so long now I have been free of the restrictions of religion as I pursue my own spiritual path in life. Without going into excessive detail, the profound realisation is this: for many if not most people, religion equates to having a sense of the value of human life. It seems to be hardwired into people’s instinctual selves; take away religion, and then what is left? Many people seem unable to hold a set of spiritual values that places the deepest of importance on human life outside of the structure of organised religion.
This unsettled me deeply, and it at least helped me realise why so many people cling so tightly to religion – because they fear on a deep level that without religion, human life has no meaning or worth. It seems bizarre to me, because for the longest time it is religion itself that seems to me to have lost the value and the sanctity of human life. As far as I am concerned, religion (in the West, at least) deserted human beings long ago. And yes for a while I did go through a dark night of the soul over this. Maybe that’s why people fear to let go of religion – because they know they will have to face the awesome unknown and confront their deepest darkest fears if they do so.
I am blessed to be at a place in my life where alternative streams of knowledge and wisdom have made themselves known to me. From the ancient mystery traditions through Rosicrucianism and Gnosticism through to modern day Masonry, theosophy and Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy, I have become enriched by so many wonderful and venerable traditions that go back well before the Christian era and continue through to this day. There is so much that is undreamt of in the common person’s experience, just waiting for us to discover and enjoy and be enriched by. The problem is that many folk seem to be stuck in a dualistic frame of mind, whereby if a teaching doesn’t come from a recognised major religion then it must be the work of evil and have no validity (although I will unhesitatingly place Scientology in this latter category!).
And so back to The Celestine Prophecy, which actually mentions Gnosticism in the second volume, entitled The Tenth Insight (and I believe there is an implied mention of Freemasonry in the latest, The Twelfth Insight). These twelve insights do indeed constitute a summarising of the best of the wisdom that has come before, such as the power of faith and prayer, the power of love, the ability of humans to make contact with the higher, divine source and be assisted by God and by the angels. But so what? Every age needs the eternal truths to be couched in the vernacular of the time, and for me the arrival of The Celestine Prophecy was a true god-send, and a validation of all the other things I had been reading at that time.
In short, the Celestine series of books continues to inspire me and provoke awe and wonder at the marvellous scheme of life on this earth. If I was forced to find something negative about them, it would only be that there is barely enough space in the pages of one book to do justice to the depth of the topics being raised. But there again, the author is not trying to replace previous sources of knowledge – merely illuminate certain aspects of their highest truths. It is naturally up to each one of us to expand our knowledge and complement our own innate wisdom with the helpful teachings offered by the Insights. Perhaps that is why some people have such an issue with these books; they demand that one have one’s own critical view of religion and history, and for some that’s simply too much effort. I have to admit that when I first encountered them, although I was inspired I was simply too young and lacking in life perspective to make truly practical use of the Insights. Now that I am approaching the age of forty, I find that I have had enough experience and gained a sufficient level of wisdom to bring something to the table and complement my own intuitions and thoughts with the beautiful wisdom of the Insights.
So that’s my perspective on this sometimes controversial series of books. There is so much more that could be said, perhaps I will go into further detail in a future blog. For now feel free to offer your own opinion in the comments. Be aware though that I won’t look favourably on opinions that are not well-considered and at least balanced in their judgment. One of my strongest held values is that we should always test for truth – if a teaching does not align with our gut level feeling and our sense of right and wrong, then reject it. On the other hand if a teaching offers a new perspective, then we should not simply dismiss it out of hand but at least give it the benefit of our consideration.
There is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in most philosophies…