Book Club Post

July 2017 Book Club

As mentioned last month, this week’s post is the first of a monthly series of open-discussion posts focusing on books I’ve written. Our theme this time is Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, Chapter One: An Ecology of Spirit. I’d like to ask readers to keep their questions and comments focused on that chapter and the ideas it contains; we’ll have another Ask Me Anything post later this month, and of course a substantive monthly post and another Stormwatch links-and-discussion post in due time.

For the sake of clarity, here’s a rough outline of Chapter One:

1 – There exists a traditional body of lore, dating back to ancient times, which deals with the deepest mysteries of human existence and the practical methods of gaining personal experience of those mysteries. This is what we’re discussing when we talk about the mystery teachings.

2 – These teachings have been passed on for a very long time by mystery schools, which provide education, practical training, and initiation into the mystery teachings. These aren’t the sort of thing you get in romantic fantasies about Himalayan adepts or, for that matter, Hogwarts School; in our time, they’re relatively quiet organizations that operate on shoestring budgets, so as to avoid the predictable downsides of wealth and influence.

3 – Presentations of the mystery teachings vary from time to time due to changes in culture. Just now, it’s useful to reframe the mystery teachings using the language of ecology. Partly this is because ecology is so important for understanding the predicament of our time, but partly it’s because ecology, like the mystery teachings themselves, deals with whole systems, and whole systems are what shape the context of our lives—mystically as well as ecologically.

4 – Public presentations of the mystery teachings typically get distorted over time as the normal human reactions of greed and fear get to work on them. The notion that “you create your own reality,” which has been marketed in recent decades as a mystery teaching, is an example of this distortion; so is the claim that the universe is set up to give you whatever material goodies you want, so long as you pester the universe for them in the right way.

5 – A reframing of the mystery teachings in the language of ecology is a good antidote to these distortions, because it’s relatively easy to see how things happen in the world of nature, and apply those to human nature and to our own lives. That’s what this book attempts to do.

Questions? Comments? Discussions? Have at it—subject, of course, to the usual rules.


  1. Hi JMG – Sorry to be off-topic in focusing on another of your books, but this is too good to pass up. Seems some of the UK defence high-paid help consultancy over at RUSI have finally got round to reading the dog-eared copy of ‘Twilight’s Last Gleaming’ which I sneaked (snuck?) into their prestigious Whitehall library. 😉



  2. Hello, JMG,
    You speak of a traditional body of lore dating back to ancient times and teachings passed on by mystery schools for a very long time. Is there any mystery school operating today that dates back to classical or preclassical times? Any body of lore- not necessarily a particular writing- that dates from those times? I’m assuming the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches don’t count as mystery schools.
    I understand from your writings that Druid revivalists invented nearly all of the concepts and rituals that they use, in an attempt to recreate Druid mythology and ritual. I’m guessing that you chose Druidism over other contemporary mystery schools partly because you find them more authentic. But- same question again- are there other schools that actually date back to more ancient origins?
    There’s certainly a need for the nature-centered spirituality that Druids and others are practicing. But isn’t it all being invented more or less from scratch?
    –Bob Wise

  3. It is good to have you back JMG! There was a vacuous feel to the blogosphere without your thoughtful words on a regular basis. My question regarding mystery schools is this: Is it inevitable that all organized efforts at examining or embracing the infinite (schools, churches, religions, etc.) become bureaucratic and counterproductive to the individual? I have often heard people claim that they were “Spiritual but not Religious”. And I don’t think most people were using the word religious in the sense of regular practice but in the sense of an organization.

  4. JMG,
    You wrote that mystery schools are “relatively quiet organizations that operate on shoestring budgets, so as to avoid the predictable downsides of wealth and influence.” On page 5 of the book you highlighted the phrase “Any organization that demands substantial sums for teaching and initiation is engaged in the business of making money, not in the work of the mysteries”.

    I agree with your statement because I feel a distinct sense of aversion when I encounter spiritual teachers that flaunt signs of wealth or seem overly proud of their ‘enlightenment’. It makes me think of the biblical warning that it is easier for a ‘camel to get through the eye of a needle than a rich man through the gates of heaven.’

    But all schools need money to support them, to publish materials and make their knowledge available to students. So money isn’t the evil, it’s the intent to accumulate it. I’ve often wondered about why human nature makes “wealth and influence” dangerous, causing us to seek possessions and power that eventually possess and control us. Could you perhaps talk about how the mystery schools teach students to avoid the dangers of wealth and influence? I think influence may be the easiest trap because when a student of the mysteries begins to realize the benefits of the teachings it can be a heady feeling of empowerment that can lead to egotism.

    I think this also relates to the overall message of the chapter, that spiritual ecology is the development of understanding that we occupy a place among many, not a place at the top.


  5. I don’t mean to be dense, but is Chapter 1 the Introduction or An Ecology of Spirit?

  6. I’d like to know what “personal experience” might be available, and what can be expected from “practical methods,” for an untalented person. I am not interested in fantasy-magic ideas of gaining power over the universe, but would love to possess the perceptive ability to know (in the sense of gnosis – thanks for that excellent column on Galabes) that there really was more to the universe than meets the eye. Generally speaking, I have the approximate psychic ability of an eggplant. I have spent close to two years now working on OBOD’s one-year Bardic correspondence course (yah, I know…) and though it has done a great service in leading me to re-embrace poetry, when I did the basic Light Body exercise regularly, I never did feel or experience anything unusual from it, nor from any other “spiritual” activity in my lifetime. Are there some people who, like the Radiance in Weird of Hali – not to off-topic another excellent book – are simply incapable of perceiving the world as more than a series of material objects, and at most can accept that it is so as a matter of doxa? Or have I never tried the right methodology? Do you have any advice for a poor eggplant?

  7. Off topic: Mean Mr Mustard that’s hilarious!

    On topic: I agree that mystery teachings reframed in the language of ecology are a helpful antidote to the distortions of thought and behavior that produce environmental destruction and its attendant despair. It seems to me that any religion that doesn’t put protection and restoration of the only planet we have front and center is about to become entirely irrelevant. On the other hand, it’s hard to compete with ideologies that offer a free ticket to paradise just because. As you have often pointed out, waiting for the apocalypse while munching Doritos on the sofa is just so much easier than making the effort. Have the mystery teachings ever become widespread and genuinely popular? Or have they had managed to produce broader changes in spite of a modest following?

  8. Aside from the two mystery schools which you note that you have direct experience with (which I assume are Druidry and Golden Dawn?), could you list other mystery school that you know of? If only as a further frame of reference for the concept.

  9. Today is my birthday and I appreciate this post like a present! Did a quick re-read of the chapter, and one thing that stuck was this: “Thus, we can look at nature around us for help in understanding our own nature.”
    One of the most important goals I have with my farming is to increase soil fertility. There are a lot of roundabout ways of achieving this. A lot of promising false solutions But as I work on I realise that a lot of hard work, both physical and mental really is required. The ideas presented in lush feel good permaculture YouTube videos who caught my attention did perhaps not tell me the entire truth…
    I now suspect that the parallels to the mystery teachings are easy. A lot of hard work is necessary to increase the fertility of the surrounding spiritual landscape as well.

  10. Hi, John.

    I have read, and re-read, the opening pages of your book (which I read a few years ago while waiting in a local hospital for my partner to confirm an incorrect ‘perfect’ diagnosis), and was struck by your opening premise. The traditional body of knowledge to which your refer is, in my mind, valid. However, those same notions of knowledge have been long since high-jacked by forms of power (patriarchy; religion; wealth…err…power?), such that they are long lost. And they were were not lost by choice, but by force. Our challenge, and you are living up to this quite rightly, is to bring them back. An ecological standpoint makes perfect sense to me.

    If we, as a species, never mind individual person, communitiy or society, accept that we are a small part of a much wider, fuller, more brilliant universe of…dare I say it: life, nothing will change. I suspect the thrust of this ecospophia exchange is to pursue such change. Yes… brian

  11. Eerm – just for late readers: first chapter is “An Ecology of Spirit”, and does not yet include the 7 laws?

  12. Spiritual ecology is something I’ve never really dabbled in – But I know it’s something I might have to have to take up eventually. I’ve had several experiences in the woods that make me think there is more to the forrest than meets the eye. The simplest one would be that time I took a birch tree off the giant rock in hopes of transplanting it to our front lawn. (I thought it would look good) The day after I did that all these spider webs appeared on the forrest floor around where the tree had been. It was a little spooky like I wasn’t supposed to move that tree. It reinforces the notion that nature doesn’t have to give us what we want.

    Out of curiosity, what do druids believe about seeing green orbs in the woods? (Assuming the guy who saw the orbs isn’t crazy or smoking something) Fireflies maybe?

  13. Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth was a great book- I recently read it out loud with a friend who was dying of cancer. In fact, we read a few other of your books together too (Apocalypse Not, the Long Descent, the Ecotechnic Future) and they were some of the last books, I believe, he consumed before he passed away a few months ago. Although the whole book is full of great insights, one claim that struck me as surprising was on page 5: “There is every reason to think that this ancient wisdom had already reached its full richness and complexity long before the first cities emerged from tribal villages and the habit of painting images on wood and cloth gave rise to the first systems of writing.” Although I don’t at all doubt this claim, I still have always wondered what evidence we have for believing that. Is it simply that this is the sort of ecological knowledge a person would have to gain to survive in the Earth before cities were invented (the kind of knowledge that life in a city would make harder to obtain)? Or is it just that we have specific writings recorded in the Ancient World that show evidence of this system of thought already fully worked out?

  14. It was good to re-read this introductory chapter in preparation for the book club. Last time I read it was 4 or 5 years ago, and I didn’t fully take on board that it was setting up the 7 Laws in terms of real-world concepts that we can relate directly to. So now re-reading it, knowing the shape of what is coming, that part stands out. I’m not much of a bible reader, but when I read the gospels its the parables and agricultural metaphors that stand out – the common senseness to them is easier to understand and less dry than abstract theological ideas or moral exhortations. So I look forward to re-reading the 7 Laws. Last time around, I was particularly attracted to the Law Of Balance – I tend to be excessive myself, and staying in balance, walking the middle way, is one of the things I have to work at.

    There is an implied balance point in the introduction between the idea of the universe giving you everything and anything you want, right now, and the universe being a cold dark place that doesn’t give you anything at all, ever. It’s an easy binary – we’re either getting it all or we’re getting nothing. Belief in everything or belief in nothing. The harder path is down the middle, trying to stay positive and connected and engaged in a Universe that can be quite inhospitable sometimes. Ecology and nature connection seems like a good spiritual entry point for this.

  15. I am looking forward to the book club format. This book is one that profoundly changed me when I first read it, and I am anticipating new insights with this re-read. It seems especially timely with the opening of this new blog as well as the ongoing changes in the world in which we live. Will we be spending some time on each of the laws so as to incorporate practice of the meditations and other practices? Those are what I found most helpful, and extremely well delineated, may I add. Of course the prior explication and historical information were interesting and necessary to set the stage for the actual work. I had always wondered where some of the recently touted “secrets” got their skewed foci from, and the historic element of the psychology era combined with capitalism and greed explain it well. While I loved your old blog, this one appeals even more, and the four week plan is brilliant. Thank you so very much

  16. 1. I wonder what you consider to be the earliest records from the Mystery Teachings? By my reckoning the Tao Te Ching and the I Ching are both serious candidates for early mystery teachings presented through Taoism and Confucian terms. Both of those works are staggeringly deep, I have read each multiple times, and cannot yet even see the point where the learning curve eases, let alone the limits of there depths. Plato is generally presented the same way, but frankly I have always struggled to get deep with Plato, most likely there are a lot of Philosophy classes I still need to unlearn. Ecclesiastes, to my untrained eye, also has a touch of it, on top of being first class prose.

    2. It seems that they don’t pass down like an unchanged artifact, but like a living thing, such that each generation take on the character of its own age and setting. One creative initiate at a time.

    3. Relevant to my last point, it feels to me that the presentation through Ecology is obviously the best way, suggesting that this presentation is at least well adapted to where and when I live. Each presentation has its strengths and weaknesses, as does each era of perception. The ecological view is well matched to making use of the scientific method. In contrast the classical thinking which was exploring the limits of logic felt vunerable to unteathering abstractions. I think you once mentioned a feeling you have had about the possible error at the heart of what we today call Platonism, and I would dearly like to hear more about that when it is on topic; I have distrusted Platonism generally since I started studying philosophy, but there is a degree of truth about it that is captivatingly difficult to express. Anyway, another thing about the ecological presentation is that it is so agreeable to discuss those patterns which are shared at multiple scales of being, and to describe them by example.

    4. For my personal purposes I found the critique of ‘The Secret’ style faux mystery teaching the least useful aspect of the work, because it felt like it was a response to a fad, tucked into a work that seemed to be reaching to much more timeless themes, or at very least themes of vast duration. Are there other good examples of the ‘half-truth’ distortion which you consider especially trapping, interesting, or historically significant?

    5. The resistance from many traditional dogmas to Evolution and Ecological thought I can sympathize with. What makes a received tradition work as an imaginary ecology is not easy to figure out, and introducing such powerful invasive ideas as Evolution and Ecology into those mindscapes is no small matter.

  17. Mustard, I’ve noticed that a lot of my ideas seem to be popping up, without acknowledgment, in various parts of the media these days. Another reader sent a link to an article in which a bunch of climate scientists pointed out that the most logical explanation for Fermi’s Paradox is that industrial civilizations don’t last long. Gosh, I wonder where they could have encountered such a notion? 😉

    Robert, no mystery school organization in the western world dates back more than a few centuries, but the traditions they teach go back to classical times. Look up the history of Neoplatonism or Hermeticism sometime, and notice the continuities — there are still quite a few mystery schools that draw their core teachings from these, which date from around the 2nd century CE and have roots going backto ancient Egypt.

    As for Druidry, I couldn’t care less about authenticity, in the sense of “does it have genuine ancient origins?” and the like. A mystery school teaching is a toolkit, not a collectible — its value is that it works, not that it’s old. As it happens, the Druid Revival traditions have been around for some three hundred years now, and amassed quite a bit of useful lore in that time, but that’s just what happens when people pay attention to what works and pass their findings on to others.

    Poet, all human institutions become bureaucratic and dysfunctional over time, and mystery schools are human institutions.Mind you, even the most dysfunctional institution can sometimes pop itself out of its rut and become useful again, and that also happens from time to time with mystery schools.

  18. Soilmaker, the crucial point — which we’ll be discussing at length down the road a bit — is that you can only effectively will one thing at a time. If you set out to teach the mysteries, and that’s the one thing on which you focus your will, you’ll get the money you need to stay fed, clothed, and housed — it’s kind of hard to teach effectively while starving in the gutter — and the resources you need for your school, because that’s part of the act of your will. If you focus your will on teaching the mysteries and becoming rich, the two acts of will come into conflict, and whichever is strongest will win out; human beings being what they are, that’s usually the latter, which is where you get the lavishly marketed schools that keep their leadership flush with cash by feeding their students feelgood slush of various kinds. .

    Steve, yep — sorry, I should have been more specific!

  19. Dewey, most of the people I’ve met who thought they had the psychic capacity of an eggplant either were trying to get the universe to prove the reality of gods, magic, etc. to them, or simply had a mistaken idea about what to expect. It’s a classic mistake in this sort of thing to go chasing after exciting phenomena; the real work is the transformation of character. I recommend daily discursive meditation as the foundation of training; that doesn’t involve any whiz-bang effects at all — it simply does the work that needs to be done in a quiet and unobtrusive way.

    Tantelili, the mystery teachings have never become popular except by becoming debased. They’ve routinely had a significant influence on thought and culture, but that happens by their impact on cultural innovators, artists, writers, and the like.

  20. David, in Asia, they’re normally associated with the major religions — thus in Japan, for example, the Shingon and Tendai sects of Buddhism are fullblown mystery schools — while in the West, they’ve generally had to go it on their own. When you encounter schools that talk about Hermeticism, occultism, the Rosicrucian tradition, or Martinism, to name just a few, if it’s not a moneymaking scheme, it’s very often a mystery school. The old Druid orders were generally mystery schools; the more recent Neopagan Druid groups generally aren’t — though they can be valuable in their own right, of course.

    Alnus, excellent! Yes, the parallels are just as close as you suspect…

  21. Brian, good. The thing is, it’s not just me. There have always been little circles of students of these subjects who didn’t sell out and managed to dodge the angry mobs and the inquisitors. It’s from those circles, and the traditions they preserved, that I get most of what I share with others.

    Emily, yes, and I should have been more specific. Apologies!

    Austin, depends on the details. I’ve never seen a green firefly. I have seen lights that don’t seem to have a known physical explanation. The point to keep in mind is that we know a lot less about the universe than we like to think…

  22. Good Evening! Or good morning, as the case is more likely to be. My question may be tangential, here, so feel free to disregard it; it can wait. A couple weeks ago, you mentioned a book by one WE Butler, which I’ve been trying to track down, and it is available.

    But in the process, I found my way to the website of The Servants of the Light. Given your respect for the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, would you say that the SOL is a reasonably authentic descendant from that body? Not looking for an endorsement, here, but I am trying to nail some things down. A school of the mysteries that leads back to Greece and Egypt might have connections to traditions even more ancient.

    Also, search for same book led me to Mark Stavish’s Between the Gates, which I purchased in large part based on your forward. Hopefully, the material in Mr Stavish’s book will be as useful as that in Mr Butler’s. Bearing in mind the necessity to Do The Work…

  23. Rahul, good. The main reason for thinking that the mystery teachings are quite old is that they surface all over the world about the same time written records do. In Europe, for example, the first mystery school we know anything about is the one founded by Pythagoras before 500 BCE, right around the time coherent written records begin in the Greek world, and he got his lore from older Greek traditions as well as Egypt. Elsewhere you see similar patterns: when history begins, there are mystery schools already in place.

    Mark, excellent! Exactly — somewhere between the concept of the universe as a goody machine and the concept of the universe as an uncaring lump of dead matter, you get the idea of the universe as a living presence with whom you can have a relationship — and as with any other relationship, that means give and take are required.

  24. Zenzaaz, you’re welcome and thank you! Yes, we’ll be discussing each Law in as much detail as needed, one law at a time, and I may be able to find the time to add some additional practices for each.

    Ray, I’m not sure of the current state of scholarship regarding the dates of various early mystical texts, so can’t specify this or that as the oldest document. That said, the Tao Te Ching and the I Ching are major texts, worth lifetimes of study! As for “The Secret,” keep in mind that when I wrote this book there were people all over the place lauding that waste of innocent trees as the last word in mystery school teachings; that was one of the main reasons I wrote this book in the first place. I hope that someday the only reason anybody remembers “The Secret” is because I critiqued it…

  25. Casey, the SOL specifically descends from Dion Fortune’s Society of the Inner Light, and so teaches a modified version of the Golden Dawn system. I know you’re not asking for a recommendation, but I can give you one anyway — I’ve worked with a SOL temple extensively and know the head of that order, Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, and it’s a solid school with a good and well-earned reputation.

  26. The identification of greed and fear as giveaways for inauthentic spirituality supports the additional observation that the micro and macro (inner and outer) worlds reflect each other. What I question, however, is how close or complete this correspondence is. Does the visible adequately reveal the invisible? Schweitzer, for example, closely examined the historical manifestations of what he called nature-religion–beginning with ancient Indian and Chinese thought, then moving forward through the centuries to the philosophies of his time–only to conclude that all forms of nature-religion, in one way or another, some with bold colors, others with the faintest hues, paint into nature some suggestion or vestige of meaning or purpose which humans can embrace…but which is not her own. I look forward to exploring this central issue in more depth as the Ecosophia/Anthropolatry discussion unfolds.

  27. Okay, good! Now that I know where we’re at, a few comments…

    It occurred to me that, based on the way you define a mystery school, there are probably a great many mystery schools or mystery-ish schools that don’t think of themselves as such. The first example that springs to mind is Alcoholics Anonymous as a uniquely American formulation of the mystery school idea– and in particular, American in its Puritan mode– being rooted in Christianity but ecumenical, autonomous and local, essentially Gnostic and, of course, puritanical.

    I would bet that certain church organizations, such as the Catholic church’s confraternities or the Knights of Columbus, would qualify as mystery schools or near-mystery schools (is that a thing?) but would heatedly reject the label.

    “A century ago, in fact, many mystery schools taught their students, as a first exercise in exploring the power of thought, to believe that they create their own reality…. Very often they would return to their classes or write back to their tutors in a state of fair bewilderment, because some things that seemed almost impossible to them had happened easily, and other things that seemed easy had not happened at all.”

    I’ve never consciously experimented with the “Law of Attraction,” but I do periodically carry out experiments in using the power of my mind to create this or that effect– I mean out in the world, not in a ritual or temple context. I’ve discovered that the first time it pops into my head to try something it very often works immediately and in a rather startling way. The second or third time I try the same technique it often works, but with a little more hesitation or difficulty. After that it becomes hit or miss. Is this related to what you’re talking about here?

    It also seems relevant to this that ritual magic always “works”– A pentagram ritual always feels like a pentagram ritual.

    “The crucial point — which we’ll be discussing at length down the road a bit — is that you can only effectively will one thing at a time.”

    This comment may make sense of a difficulty I’ve had for a while. I began training in the DOGD four years ago. I’ve made progress (I have 4 pathworkings remaining in the Bardic grade) but it really has been slow goings at times. I think that part of the problem is this: At the same time I discovered The Celtic Golden Dawn, I was introduced to Taoist esotericism and medical qigong. I also, via my previous studies in Hermeticism, discovered that there was much more to the Christian tradition than the bland watered-down pseudo-Protestant American Catholicism I’d been raised in. As a result, I have sort of willed myself in 3 different directions, being at once a Druid, a Taoist and a Roman Catholic! It feels that, during specific seasons of the year, or even weeks or times of the day I feel the pull of one current more strongly than the other two– And my awareness of having two other possible ships to jump to leads me to pull back when the limitations of one path or the other become difficult. This makes sense of a message I received in a pathworking three nights ago, which is that I should have waited until the next day to attempt the path, since I’d spent the day filling my head (mind/aetheric body/will?) with a classic Catholic work on the Virgin Mary. (It doesn’t help that I recently came into possession of the entire library of a Catholic seminary that is being decommissioned… and one might see that as one of those synchronicities that lend aid to the directed Will. So one might also see the fact that one of the people in charge of the medical qigong program at the school I studied at suddenly quit recently, leaving me as the best candidate to fill the position.)

    That was a bit of a ramble. Does it make sense? Do you have any thoughts on how to pick a focus for your will in a situation like that?

  28. @ Dewy– Greetings from one eggplant to another! I spent most of my life looking at the world through a materialist lens. (As in everything exists on the material plane, not as in “gimme gimme”.) This was not because I was unaware that inexplicably weird stuff happens, but rather because I thought that some people are sensitive to whatever invisible currents there are and others are not. I fell into the “not” category, so I decided to just put the weird stuff in a closet labeled “?” and deal with the universe at face value.

    I was right about the “sensitive” people, but I was also wrong. It isn’t an “either/or” proposition. The notions of ESP, telepathy, and psychics that have grown out of our culture have a lot of features that just seem odd from my current perspective, and one of those is the idea of innate ability. You’re either born with it or you’re not. That just isn’t true. I’m not a mathematics prodigy, but I can still do math.

    You want to experience some gnosis. I can relate to that. I don’t know a whole lot about the OBOD traditions, but I have some suggestions from my own druidic experience.

    Meditate on your expectations. Do you believe that something small can have a profound effect, or will it take an earthquake? By my own translation “miracle” means “glimpse”.

    Meditate on the planes. Don’t worry about the lofty heights right now. Think about the capabilities and limitations of your body. Think about the capability of your mind to connect with others through time and space. (Hi!) Between those planes lies another.

    Whatever level you’ve achieved, you’re a bard. You’ve already put a lot of work into that plane between. In the modern view, emotions are seen as an inferior aspect of one’s mental life. In the mystery teachings, emotions are a manifestation of the etheric plane. This is no small thing. I have some stories about wild synchronicities that took place when I evoked higher powers, but I rarely do that. (It’s a comfort zone thing.) In my day to day life as a druid, I routinely experience palpable connections with nonhuman persons, and this takes place almost exclusively on the etheric plane,

    This is the closest plane to the physical and the easiest place to feel things you’re not supposed to be able to.

  29. The ideas I found arresting in this chapter were the partial truths, each incomplete without the others: I create my own reality. (Outer) reality created me, and continues to do so moment-to-moment. AND, the self and the rest of the universe co-create the future. Hmm…

    This reminded me a bit of the well-known Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (there are real limits), the courage to change the things I can (I am not powerless), and the wisdom to know the difference (Here there be Mysteries).

    I also found myself turning over and over the Levi quote that ended the chapter, “[T]he visible world is for us the measure of the invisible,” thinking about the many invisible things that I wish to know more about, and how hard it can be to look clearly at the visible world. Not so much hard to understand things scientifically, but to refuse to look away from difficult or painful facts (as in last week’s climate discussion). But if a clear view of the outer world is our best lense on the inner, it is necessary to calmly and unflinchingly see ourselves and our situation, to begin to understand deeper matters.

    Now That I Have Your Attention, indeed.

  30. Greetings all
    Are the seven laws in MTLE a reworking of the 7 laws of hermetic thought?
    Many thanks!

  31. Hi JMG – have been reading this book for two and a half years now and very happy to get a chance to discuss it.

    You have suggested that daily discursive meditation is a core part of the work. I have learned mindfulness meditation but had no training in discursive meditation. I came across a book last week called Creative Meditation & Visualization by David Fontana. Are you familiar with the book or author? And, if so, is this a useful guide to discursive meditation?

    There is a question I’ve wanted to ask for a while now but we don’t cover this chapter for another couple of months. I wonder if you will indulge me, as the question is related I think to Chapter One.

    You write: “‘Where your treasure is,’ a great initiate of the mysteries once said, ‘there your heart will be also'”. As far as I know that was a teaching of Christ. Is it suggested Jesus was an initiate?

  32. JMG
    I was glad to re-read my copy of Mystery Teachings. Like others here I have a slight problem with connecting latter-day mystery schools, Druids onwards, to your explicit selection of the seven laws, much as I value the elegant selection. (OK, we are still at chapter one.)

    Except likeness of practice and meticulous attention to the world – for example geometry – over and above our inbuilt bias toward our social interactions, provides educated perspective, it is hard to say, I guess, how Pythagoras led to Plato, or perhaps Buddha’s insights led to Buddhism. And it seems Judaism and Christianity and Islam likewise are wisdoms revealed around mysteries.

    Since and presumably during our evolution, our species has relied perhaps more than other species on knowledge and skills and passing them on. Records matter a great deal, like reading the signs in the ground. You tackle ‘creating our own reality’ and its distorted implications in modern cult practices. Good. What about the Akashic Record? This figured significantly in theosophy and anthroposophy and among spin-off New Agers I knew back when. We all struggled, given our intellectual bias, with concepts of knowledge. Magic access to a giant encyclopaedia appealed to some of us, though I was not convinced. My guess was we imagined a macrocosm based on a relevant microcosm. I agree that Ecology could be a relevant manifestation of a wisdom tradition with or without the encyclopaedia.

    Phil H

  33. I am absolutely delighted that you chose Mystery Teachings to discuss in book club format because it has had a profound impact on my thinking. I use the 7 laws to check the soundness of plans I make and goals I try to achieve, as well as a means of understanding why things are as they are. I look forward to reading the discussion, and I hope to make some modest contribution.

    One thing I have noticed is how deeply embedded in our culture are the half-truths of New Age thinking such as positivity, the Secret, and the whole Law of Attraction thing, and how easy it is to lose one’s bearings when encountering those ideas. I find myself having to constantly be on guard with my own thinking because on the surface they appear to be true, but in the application to real life, things can go seriously wrong.

    For example, a half-truth that has wrecked the life of one friend is the maxim “Give and you shall receive”, or “You must be willing to pay the price, before you can expect something in return”, or some variation of that. This is unarguably true in one sense, but easily hijacked by the idea that the universe now owes me the payout because I have done my bit.

    My friend has lost all the money from the sale of her house, lost the settlement from a divorce that would have eased her life somewhat till she died, lost everything else she had by giving it away, and ended up destitute and sleeping on my couch because of this maxim. Heading into old age, she finds poverty a grim future reality which was entirely avoidable had she not fallen for the gurus who promised her untold fortunes if she only paid for their very expensive courses (over $10,000) in exotic (to us Canadians) places like Los Angeles and India, course after course, which promised much but never seemed to make that fortune materialize. She would have had the same information had she borrowed a book from the library, which seems to hold quite a collection on the subject. She justified it by saying she was investing in herself, and that she was to give to the universe, which she did with everything she possibly could, so that it would give back. She’s now working a soul-sucking job to afford a tiny apartment, and hating every moment of it. But she still holds onto the beliefs that got her there, still waiting for that payout the universe must send her anytime now.

    I have another friend who got angry with me because I wouldn’t say only positive things. He only wanted to hear how beautiful, how rosy, how wondrous everything was! He firmly believed that our reality was entirely created by our minds, and he would have nothing negative in his reality. He has been on welfare for years, and recently suffered a stroke at 58. I could not point out to him that his beliefs about food and exercise were harming him. After all, one simply needs to imagine perfect health, and that’s what one gets, right?

    I’ve made my own mistakes, so can’t point fingers, but I have to say how valuable the Mystery Teachings have been to straighten some of this thinking out.

  34. John,

    I have a question about the same line that Rahul S quoted. While I find it easy to accept that the mystery schools predate writing and possibly civilization, I’m not so sure that it has “reached its full richness and complexity…”. This seems to imply that they have no further way to grow or evolve. But many of the scientific discoveries of the past few centuries seem to add something to the mystery teachings, like the laws of thermodynamics for example.

    You also say that in every age, mystery schools use the current ideas as examples like the use of geometry or chariots in classical times and more recently psychology. Eventually these metaphors fall out of use as the language and culture changes. But I’m not so sure that ecology need fall out of favor in such a way. It almost seems to me that the science of ecology is like the mystery teachings dressed up in a white lab coat. Do you think that the science of ecology can make a permanent addition to the mystery teachings?


  35. Thank you, JMG. I have gone through the stages of seeking until I am at the point where I sit with the Heart Sutra knowledge that there is no independent self. (dependent origination = ecology?) I pay attention to the Zen ideal that is not part of any Buddhist religion, but the philosophy that sprang from the blending of Buddhism and Taoism. This philosophy is very ecological in spirit, and there is no “individual” to be “anthropolatized” LOL You do great work, sir!

  36. JMG,

    Can you explain the relationship between mystery teachings and cosmology? I’m also wondering if Universe Story principles as taught by Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme are a type of mystery teaching? I’ve listened to “Canticle to the Cosmos” several times and there are these layers of insights that seem to have that effect. (i.e. “The ultimate aim of the universe is for each thing to be recognized for what it is in its sacred depth.”)

    Also, at what point is it appropriate to introduce children/youth to mystery teachings? Is this something that can be woven into education or that adults should seek out on their own?

  37. Let me hasten to correct my previous comment. Schweitzer talked a great deal about “nature-philosophy,” not “nature-religion.” Words matter, and I don’t want this mistake of mine to cloud the issue I tried to raise when I used him as an example. Schweitzer, who predated the science of ecology, may be right or wrong in his belief that nature lacks any discernible meaning or purpose for human beings, but he should be evaluated based upon his own words, not those I inaccurately attributed to him.

  38. Thank you for the response! I will try focusing on discursive meditation for a while. Yes, as a scientist I have always approached such things with the attitude of seeking, not proof, but evidence. I accept that some people who report perceiving non-physical phenomena (whether experience of chi forces or viewing of ‘ghosts’) appear to be reliable informants, and that this implies something about the nature of the world we live in. Unfortunately, second-hand knowledge of this subject conveys no understanding. Sometimes I feel like a totally color-blind person who keeps hearing how informative others find it to see color, and who is told, or keeps hoping, that if I only squint hard enough I’ll learn to do it too.

  39. I’m curious to hear how you feel the various mystery teachings/schools/etc relate to shamanic experience, be it via psychotropics or other means of inducing altered state of mind (perhaps this comes later in the book, if so forgive me, I’ve only delved into the first chapter so far, if).

    I’m curious if these “altered” states of consciousness (and the beings that appear to be in them) bear any resemblance to beings one might encounter through other magical practices. I’d also love to hear about anyone you might be aware of anyone exploring/writing about this particular corner of experience.

  40. It could have been a bunch of fireflies – You talked once about going to stonehenge and how it doesn’t feel like there is much going on there because of tourists etc. Where I saw the green something was over in M – . Half the woods there make the hairs on my neck stand up, especially over by the Falls. To Wiccans here M – is a sacred place.

  41. Hi JMG,

    it finally occurred to me to use your latest blog post as the starting point for a discursive meditation, so here goes:

    The basic theme – do we create our own reality? JMG and the mystery schools’ answer: sort of.

    So I sat down to meditate and this is what came up, hopefully at least a bit related to the post. I thought about a couple things I have had a hand in creating lately: 1. a baby (two actually), and 2. a zucchini plant. Then I asked myself, did I actually create either of those things? The answer of course is, sort of. In terms of the baby, did I personally shape the little hands and feet like clay, form the tiny organs, create the brain, circulatory system and all the other wondrous parts? And the zucchini plant – did I shape the leaves, design the beautiful yellow flowers, the cells that enable photosynthesis to take place? Of course not. But I did nonetheless play a role, which I would best describe as ‘facilitator’. To enable the zucchini plant to come into being, I had to obtain a seed, plant it in the ground at the right time of year, ensure soil moisture levels were appropriate during germination, defend the growing plant against competing weeds and pests – those sorts of things. As far as the baby goes, I think most of us are aware of the (ahem!) process that needs to happen to get things going in the first place, but I also did my best to prepare my body and keep it healthy, provide good nutrition for the growing being, visit the doctor, avoid stresses and other things of that nature. I had to have knowledge of the process that was at work, and put the right things into place at the right time, but beyond that, it was a powerful life force that actually did the creating, not me. Could I have changed the outcomes through the sheer force of my will so that the baby turned out to be a cat, or the zucchini plant grew lemons instead? Of course not. But I could certainly have messed them up – eaten the wrong food, taken up drinking or other bad habit which have would have harmed the baby. I could have planted the zucchini seed in the middle of winter, or forgotten to water, or sprayed with harmful chemicals so that the natural processes that were trying to manifest were severely impeded. So I surely did play a role, and the outcome was dependent on my knowledge and actions. But the creations were only made possible by virtue of the fact that they existed in a natural system that was much greater than my own self, following laws and limits which were set into motion far before I was ever around and will continue long after I’m gone.

    These literal physical examples might point the way to the existence of other processes happening in the world around us, possibly on other planes that are not so obvious. Are these processes what the mystery schools would like to make us become more aware of? Are there parts of our reality that most people don’t have knowledge of, and screw them up or miss them entirely for this lack of knowledge? Can we learn more about them so that our actions can play a role in facilitating more desirable outcomes? Not exactly creating our own reality, but facilitating the natural processes already in existence to enable outcomes which we might prefer or be more beneficial…hmmm.

    This is as far as I got in my meditation, as it was interrupted by my need to pick up my two (grown up a bit now) children from their reading club at the library. Maybe I’ll be able to pick it up again later and find some more thoughts to follow, but I thought I would post this now for what it’s worth.

    Glad you’re back on the blogosphere JMG, and am looking forward to this new blog’s direction!

  42. First of all, when I bought and read your book first, I already had decided that displayed fandom of “The Secret” was a litmus-test for me, in how serious I´d take advice from such a fan. So the start of the book then was …a bit slow for me. And then I made the mistake of forgetting just how dense you write (dense as in a Zip-file not as in stupid) and your book club avails me of the possibility to correct that error, thank you!

    Second – reading the mystery teachings will hopefully be a nice antidote of what the 2nd book of the Hali series did to me in the first place: I got (and still get) carried away by the family house, the library, the art, the dresses, the jewellery – the butler! But I also noticed the social undertones (the tennants still being in houses, how Henrietta is treated etc. still, how nice it would be to live in such a manor, with nice people…

    To my mind the currenct cool science is the Computer world – ah now I see it – it´s not a science yet. Still I think that IT takes over in what people think is cool – and not on many minds there is the concept of ecology.

    Dear readers – do you perceive this differently? I aks because the IT world is artificial and the hard limits of a real earth only start to be known when the time of the internet is past, I think. Still maybe a rewriting of the ideas in “computerworld-language” would be more understandable?

    Regarding “law of attraction”: often – in small ways – I do get what I wish for – mostly I try to have my wishes consciously (as in knowing when I intensly want something) and try to end my wishing for something or blessing with the phrase: “…if it is best for me (,best for X if applicable) and for all living things.” And sometimes I´m shown what the consequences of a wish would mean: For example: I once wished (as in not consciously formulated but the will was unfortunately there) that one particular client would be moving on to a different paramedic – and then I got shown what that would mean: a lot of suffering on the clients side which would result in suffering of the (social) surrouding. Oeps!! So whenever I start to feel burdened by that appointment I wish for strenght and doing the right thing instead (…if it´s best for me the cliente…etc.).

    What makes me fumble with the mystery teaching also is that it took me years to get out of the catholic church and its “mind-grip” on me and am reluctanct to get into something that I don´t know too good and that might still end up in a mind grip of a different kind that I don´t value
    That´s why e.g. the Duidry Handbook lies on the shelf mostly unused, because of the creation story – a man again, even though I know that women are a vibrant part of the Druid-world, it makes it difficult for me.

    I tiptoed around other schools as well, still here they often have the image of sects and that´s a thing I absolutely don´t want to be part of.
    And it also makes me confront my fears of being responsible – as in the “other world” wants something from me, and I don´t have the power/inner strenght or dicipline to make it happen for them, even if it is something that should be simple for me. Still a long way to go from here.

    @Myriam: I like the idea of checking the soundness of plans with the 7 laws.

    (JMG: if the above is too long / off topic, cut as you see fit honourably.)

  43. Hi everyone.
    As I was reading the first chapter I was struck with the notion that those who wanted to share the wisdom of the mystery schools chose the language of their time to transmit their wisdom. Recently I was reading a beginners text of the “Quadrivium” and I found the sections on Sacred Number, Sacred Geometry and Platonic and Archimedean Solids really resonated with me. Here were secrets of the universe presented so that anyone could understand them.

    In thinking about other possible schools and how they presented their wisdom, it seemed to me that there are probably many, many different ways to present the mysteries of the universe and human potential, but some languages resonate better then others in their given time. With the ecological predicament we are facing, it makes sense that this language would strike a cord with many. Practice in connecting with these mysteries would also yield techniques that would work well for the serious student. It might also be that a student of a different school would probably find their techniques were also similar.

    I could be wrong, but it also seems to me these mysteries might just be standing there waiting for the uninitiated to buckle down and do the necessary work that will make the connections we really need and want.

  44. @JMG–“Mustard, I’ve noticed that a lot of my ideas . . . “. I feel sure you know why they can’t credit you–you’re not respectabibble (Hat tip to Mr. Lewis. We always say it that way now.). At any rate, I think I originally encountered ADR linked with Sharon Astyk’s posts. I thought the title was meant to be a bit of postmodern irony and I’m sure I rolled my eyes when I found out its meaning was literal. It took me an embarrassing amount of time to give you credit when credit was due. Ahem, my husband and I are now members of OBOD. There’s a lesson here somewhere . . .

  45. Do you people really find that (egg)plants are not psychic? Psychic ability need not be far ranging or powerful. If all you have ever known is the mechanical societies you could miss it completely even if it were ever present. Or even when it is ever present.

    Psychic ability is directed awareness. A good part of broadening awareness is getting past “Sorry, you can’t do that. And besides there is no such thing anyway.”

  46. Newtonfinn, humans think with stories as inevitably as we eat with mouths and walk with feet. Since we ourselves are part of nature, it’s a false dichotomy to insist that our narratives about nature are somehow separate from nature.

    Steve, the longer I study these matters, the more convinced I become that it’s rarely if ever a good idea to try to take up more than one path at a time. You can maintain one set of practices while learning another, but learning two or more at the same time pretty much always turns into a mess. Of course your mileage may vary, but you may want to reflect on whether you’re able to give any of your studies the attention they deserve…

    Heather, the Serenity Prayer is to my mind very wise, precisely because it finds the wise middle between the extremes of helplessness and faux omnipotence.

  47. My re-reading and contemplation of the first chapter of MTftLE has led me to an odd position, out on a limb as it were, which I hope won’t come across as disparaging or contrarian. What it suggests to me is that while there is much to learn and to borrow from this book, MTftLE itself is not a formulation of the spiritual ecology this site is working towards. Its design is to use widely learned (in the present day) ecological awareness to form a more accessible path to the understanding and practice of mystery spirituality. Which is an intriguing concept, well carried out. But isn’t the goal of Ecosophia something closer to the inverse or complement of that? To wit: forming from some widely learned/learnable spiritual awareness an accessible path to the understanding and practice of ecological wisdom?

    Perhaps I’ve been making unwarranted assumptions, but it would seem strange to me if encouraging informed seekers to join established mystery schools, few of which (as far as I know) even incorporate in their pedagogy the “ecological model” of the principles of the mystery teachings that the first half of the book lays out, were the end goal in the present case. A useful intermediate step or beneficial side effect, maybe.

  48. Karim, yes, as the chapter we’re discussing points out, it’s become traditional to use sets of seven laws to teach the basic concepts of the mystery teachings; the set you’re probably thinking of — the ones from the Kybalion by William Walker Atkinson (aka “Three Initiates”) — are the most famous of those, but far from the only game in town.

    Darren, I’m not familiar with the book, so can’t respond to that. One of these days I need to do a book on discursive meditation; as it is,.most of my books that cover spiritual practice have a chapter on it.

    With regard to Jesus, yes, it’s been a common belief in many of the mystery schools — including some that are Christian — that whatever else he was, Jesus was an initiate of the mystery schools of his time; quite a bit of his teaching seems to reflect that influence.

  49. Rahul and Doug,

    I don’t know if this was what JMG was referencing, but one example of the full richness and complexness that comes to mind is the theory put forth in Hamlet’s Mill. The authors make a solid argument that certain myths are important astronomical knowledge as it was passed down in pre-scientific terms. Given how widely distributed certain myths were, some could easily have been Proto-Indo-European. An example is given in which a modern tribe in Africa passes down the stories containing esoteric astronomical knowledge in a mystery-school-like format–average folks hear a great story, initiates hear the turning of the heavens.

    Obviously, there would have been a spiritual component to this as well. I doubt the ancients divorced astronomy from spirituality the way we moderns do. If these myths really were what the authors proposed, and were old enough for strikingly similar versions to be scattered across the globe, arguably from a common original, that would constitute a very developed tradition that predates what we usually think of as the beginning of complex civilizations.

  50. Phil, this is my version of the mystery teachings; other teachers express things in other ways. There’s a lot of diversity. With regard to the Akashic Record, I’m entirely willing to accept that such a thing exists, but claims that people can access it run face first into the difficulty that those who make this claim quite reliably spout nonsense as a result. Thus I don’t put a lot of faith in claims relating to the Akashic Record.

    Myriam, I’ve seen the same thing over and over again. The Law of Attraction simply doesn’t work the way the New Age community thinks it does — and many, many people have ruined their lives, the way your friends have, by taking such teachings seriously. In my experience, the only people who ever prosper through those methods are the people who market them to the clueless and rake in the bucks…

  51. Doug, the teachings themselves appear fully elaborated by the time they surface in history; over time, the applications, practical methods have become more fully worked out. With regard to ecology, my guess is that it’ll be treated as simple common sense in the societies that rise on our ruins, and so teachers of the mystery traditions in those days will have to come up with other metaphors to catch the attention of their students.

    Mac, and that’s certainly one way to approach it!

    MJ, cosmology is a source of metaphors that some mystery schools have used heavily and others don’t really use at all; it’s not the same as the teachings. As for children, hmm; the usual practice is to wait until adulthood before introducing the practical side, though it’s common to introduce the teachings to children as a set of ideas and explanations that helop to make sense of the world.

  52. Hello JMG,

    I am likewise delighted that you have elected to use Mystery Teachings in a forum like this. In your books you give excellent homework, this book is no exception.

    As your describe the mystery schools initially, I cannot help but think of Liu Ming (born Charles Belyea), an American Taoist teacher. I came across a riveting talk he gave on youtube a couple of years ago before his passing:

    In the talk he speaks of Taoists not wanting to be come too “Chinese” or eclectic and that they kept many of the teachings strictly in family lineages. He himself was adopted into the family to receive this transmission.
    If you are unfamiliar with him (and perhaps even if you are . . . .), this talk would certainly be of interest.

    It leaves me wondering,quite simply, why the term “Mystery School”? As your description unfolds in the first couple of pages, you avoid any particular organisational name historic or otherwise. I am curious to know the motivation for this. Could this body of knowledge simply be deep wisdom tradition or does it necessitate other practices that make it something other?

    It was only in the afterward (sorry for skipping ahead but I have read this book a number of times!) that I discovered references to ritual magic, theosophy, druidry and others. Would it be possible to create an organizational chart, venn diagram or similar to help me (us?) understand the mystery teachings place in the larger landscape of the “occult”?

    In the comments thread I have seen a couple of new references to discursive meditation practices which I will certainly look up. Can you point me (and others?) to texts on the subject you feel are essential?

    Thank you as always!


    Black Birch

  53. Newtonfinn, thanks for the correction. My point still stands, though — if human beings are part of Nature, as they are, their narratives about Nature are a product of Nature…

    Dewey, that approach is understandable, but it also gets in the way. Can you imagine what would happen if you tried to approach romantic relationships with the same set of expectations? “You say you love me. Can you give me any evidence for that?’ isn’t exactly a way to endear yourself to a potential partner! Similarly, the state of mind that you get into by examining everything with an eye toward evidence is not a state of mind that fosters the kinds of experience we’re discussing — quite the contrary.

  54. Scott, once in a forest in Oregon I had a long and pleasant conversation with someone who’s made psychotropics the core of his personal shamanic spirituality. We compared our experiences of our paths, and agreed that they’re pretty much mutually exclusive — as, indeed, many mystery schools have been saying all along.

    Austin, it may have been telluric electromagnetism. A lot of holy places have strong earth currents, and glowing balls of light not otherwise explained are routinely reported in places where the Earth’s electric currents are unusually strong.

    Stefania, yes, that’s a good example of one of the ways that a discursive meditation can unfold. Once you’ve finished following up that train of thought as far as it seems to go, try taking the same theme and going in a different direction with it.

  55. Emily, I’m glad you liked Kingsport! One of the themes I wove into it, as you’ve noticed, is noblesse oblige — the old recognition that privilege comes with responsibility, and that in particular how you treat the less privileged is a sign of your personal worth or lack of it. Since most of us having this discussion belong to relatively privileged groups of people, it’s something that can certainly be adopted and put into practice here and now — even if you don’t happen to have a butler like Michaelmas. 😉

    A rewrite of the mystery teachings in IT-speak might be possible, but I don’t speak that language, so someone else would have to do that one…

    Kay, you’re not wrong at all. 😉

  56. Stacy, oh, I know. I just like to grumble sometimes. Welcome to Druidry!

    John, I don’t know why it is that people use vegetables as metaphors for supposed lack of psychic ability, but it’s weirdly common, I knew a guy once who insisted he was a “psychic potato.” He wasn’t — he was just scared that there might be more to this stuff than a pseudo-edgy pose. There’s a story there that I might tell here one of these days;

    Walt, excellent! Yes, exactly. The mystery teachings are one piece of the puzzle; ecology is another; there are others as well. The goal of this site, and of the conversations I hope to foster here, lies off beyond each of those starting places. That said, I’d be surprised if the spirituality of nature toward which we’re reaching here would flatly contradict any of the points I’ve tried to make in the book.

  57. Black Birch, now there’s a blast from the past! I knew a student of Liu Ming’s in southern Oregon, and attended a series of lectures Liu Ming offered there.

    The term “mystery teachings” is common in those ends of the New Age scene that border on occultism, and since those were the people I wanted to talk to, that’s the label I used, I use terms like “occultism” and “magical philosophy” in other contexts. As for discursive meditation, the best thing I know on the subject is the chapter I wrote on it in my book “The Druidry Handbook;” I really do need to write an entire book on it.

  58. (For various reasons I decided not to use my passport name here as well as in most of the rest of the Internet. Having IT as the main occupation has a good chance of making one paranoid :-} )

    On the topic of charging money for mystery teachings, there is a relatively popular notion that teacher has to charge students through the nose to make sure he or she is getting their full attention. I got bitten more then once when I tried calling it out as bull’s output. There were two kinds of very emotional responses I was getting in return: I was either called an out-of-touch-with-reality elitist or a silly person with no self-respect who (in both cases) doesn’t understand that spiritual teachers also need to eat something and to pay their bills.

    From what I saw, this was mostly coming from people who decided to put all their eggs into one basket in a single revolutionary move. A Reiki teacher who at some point decided that Reiki is the only way they want to earn their living. An IT person who quit their job to start a new new-agey business from scratch with very little savings to back it up. And a few similar examples.

    All of them were nice people who tried to do their best in a situation they were in. Their main problem was putting themselves in a situation of a financial strain where they had to earn more than what their existing student base could support. I noticed more than once how in such a situation a very well meaning person would unconsciously start cutting corners to work more towards the financial gains rather than towards (actually, quite against) the teaching they initially set themselves out to propagate. It was always manifested in subtle yet very tangible ways:

    – A guided meditation that on a surface was supposed to get people in touch with the love they have inside but instead for three quarters of the time drills it into students heads (with all the manipulative language tricks) how difficult it is to find this love at all. I’m convinced that the guide was sure he is doing a good and genuine job.
    – Convoluted instructions about asanas coming from an experienced and otherwise very eloquent yoga teacher, making it more, not less, difficult for the students to learn the postures.
    – A conscious or subconscious filtering of people into marketable and non-marketable before even deciding whether it’s worth to have a conversation with them.

    As one ex Christian priest told me: “Soul is rarely sold in one transaction. It’s chipped away one little bit at the time”.

    And talking of Christianity, “The Law of Attraction” and “The Secret” phenomena doesn’t seem to be all that young. While looking for a good introductory book on devotional practices I stumbled across “The New Thought” movement and a few books it produced in the early 1900 that could be summarised into “How to become rich and successful by praying to Jesus Christ”.

  59. Hi, again, John. Thanks for your reply. When do you sleep?

    One of the issues in your reply is the comment about those who do not sell out. That leads to point 2 in your posting here. How is it possible, with contemporary urbanisation, for many (beyond a very few devoted individuals) carry on the mystery teachings on a shoestring? We live in a rural setting and I travel to univesity 1-2 days a week (in term) for income. Otherwise, we live in rural life as natives. As much as we strive to share the sort of thinking you (and many others!) suggest, money is always at issue.
    I’m beginning to think that people are more engaged with money than health (personal, never mind ecological). In that setting, I suspect meaning (which is what the mystery teaching, to me, are all about) are buried.


  60. Hi JMG,

    Hope you and Sara are well and enjoying your new digs. I’m curious as to whether any readings were used by you in your decision to move? Of course if professional modesty – or other personal reasons – prevents you from answering that question, then I don’t mind not receiving a reply.

    Anyway, I was rather curious about your reply to Soilmaker where you mentioned that ” is that you can only effectively will one thing at a time”. I am fully aware of this limitation and to do otherwise means diluting your power. If it means anything to you I feel that I am willing this farm forth small steps at a time and it is a consuming process. At the equinoxes and solstices I do seek advice and guidance on that subject as well as meditating regularly on the various small matters here, and the usual feeling returned is that I am only just keeping my head above the waterline whilst swimming in the right direction. It is a precarious and unsettling place to be.

    I have been wondering whether you have felt that particular pressure of being where you were meant to be at a particular time, but that events were rapidly proceeding around you?

    I’m not sure whether you noticed this but: Larsen C: Giant iceberg breaks away from ice shelf in Antarctica. Far out, Antarctica has gone from groaning to cracking. I was surprised not to see this article as a headliner, but then I should not have been surprised by that.


  61. JMG, your saying that one can only will one thing at a time effectively strikes me as very true. How then do you manage to do so many things at a time? How do people forward causes effectively and feed their families at the same time (evening without owning a TV set)?

  62. About “being as psychic as an eggplant”: maybe the arts (music, theater, painting) can provide a more accessible, practical path for evidence-seekers. I daresay that no professional musician or actor can work without relying on techniques that engage the imaginary and the “etheric body” (apart from providing good exercise for memory and will). Many of these people are agnostics, they don’t need to “believe” in etheric bodies or anything else – it just works. There are widespread tricks and techniques that everybody in the trade knows, and personal tricks that each artist has to develop. I think it’s similar for visual artists, sports professionals etc. Thus JMG’s metaphor of learning to play the guitar as similar to magical practice has another dimension…

  63. Dewey, as someone who is trained as a scientist (show me the evidence!) and who has felt many times like the proverbial “eggplant,” your question strikes home. I’ve heard many people ask similar questions. For myself, I was fortunate to have a teacher who gave me a small pearl which was very helpful at the time and perhaps it will be helpful to others such as yourself. I am paraphrasing here, and it has been a few years, but in essence:

    What is the purpose of your quest? The potency of results is related to the potency of purpose. If you just want to find out if something works, that is just barely enough fire to achieve results once, maybe twice if you are lucky. It is sufficient for the learning process to occur, but no more. The universe is nothing if not efficient. This is why some people find that they do in fact see or feel *something* happen, but the effectiveness fades rapidly (rather than intensifying with practice like one might expect).

    Any ‘service to self’ is generally insufficient to achieve results. Curiosity, material wealth, and power are common service-to-self traps in our culture. This teacher of mine from years past was very explicit: one needs to find a purpose greater than oneself in order to walk a spiritual path.

    With that said, I am not a very good student. What does it really mean, to have a purpose greater than self? It is hard to spend even an hour of one’s life devoted to a purpose greater than self. Even when one volunteers in a soup kitchen or picks up trash, most of us have some element of self-gratification in play. After all, we are only here for a scant handful of years, who would want to give up even a piece of this precious life?

  64. @Stefania
    That is a simple, beautiful insight into what I consider to be the practical core of a new spirituality/philosophy: nurturance. Nurturing Life, whether human,plant, animal, at the scale of soil or the scale of entire landscapes, is something that anyone can start doing right now. In fact most of us probably already are doing something along those lines already. But we don’t see it as very important because our culture valorizes achievements (slaying dragons, vanquishing enemies, being the CEO of whatever, etc). I would argue that the difference between the old spirituality/philosophy and the emergent ecological informed philosophy and practice can lie right there in the simple act of nurturing Life – at whatever scale you can manage, even if it be one animal or plant. Nurturing Life and accepting Death because the two go hand in hand, that would go a long way towards heating our wayward, distracted minds.

  65. I have a question about will. You said that “you can only effectively will one thing at a time.” And you give as an example that if you are committed to teaching, then the resources will be available to do that effectively if you keep your will focused. Trying to focus on teaching and amassing wealth at the same time will not work, one of them will take the lead.

    I have at times in my life accomplished things that required sustained will to change the direction of my life. Yet, there are other issues, other things I would like to use my will to accomplish but they elude me. Can you tell me more about how to “will only one thing at a time?” How can you delineate what is “the one thing” ? It seems a bit like the process of defining a question for an oracle. You will get an answer to exactly what you ask, but if you are unclear about what you actually want or are trying to accomplish, then the oracle will give you unclear advice. Is part of the exercise of will learning to discern and define what exactly one is willing?

  66. Archdruid,

    The book is on my reading list, but I’m rather swamped with work and study to get to it right now. Is it still okay if I participate in the discussion?



  67. No question that human beings are part of nature and that our narratives are thus also natural phenomena. But what about certain qualities of subjectivity that SEEM to differentiate us from other species? I am not for a moment suggesting that animals, insects, and plants have no “inner life” and are merely the machines described by Descartes, or that other creatures cannot share with us a sense of identity, relationship, communication, community, etc. But I am suggesting that the kinds of subjectivity probed so incisively by Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, and other existentialists–indeed, the Daemon that spoke to Socrates or the Abba that spoke to Jesus–indicate that even the most extensive knowledge of the non-human forms and forces of nature may miss something essential to the human condition, perhaps a crucial component of the foundation upon which a worthy worldview and genuine ethic must be built. Thus, while the Intro. and Chpt. 1 of “Mystery Teachings” resonated with me in many ways, I could not accept, at least at face value, the principle that the visible is the measure of the invisible. Whether this is more a matter of semantics than substance, I guess we will find out as we dig deeper into your insightful work. Thank you, JMG, for engaging with me on such things, as you do with all who seek to contribute to Ecosophia.

  68. Ganesh, It’s certainly true that spiritual teachers have to eat and pay their bills like everybody else, but that’s their job, not their students! The notion that spiritual teachers ought to be supported by their students, in whatever style they would like, deserves decent burial. With regard to New Thought, no argument there — The Secret merely rehashed the same mistakes that were made by authors in the 1920s and 1930s.

    Brian, it’s really fairly simple. If the school’s teacher has a day job that pays his or her bills, the students are also expected to support themselves, and the dues paid by students are strictly there to cover the actual costs of renting a meeting place (if more than a living room is required) and pay for supplies that are actually needed for rituals and the like, you’re set. This is the way all the mystery schools I’ve studied in have worked, and the results have been quite good, all things considered.

  69. Chris, of course! I use a variety of divination methods to help guide my decisions, and also back them up with more conventional methods of research. As for willing a farm into being, that’s very much the way any significant work happens: you choose a task, and then meet each need and challenge that the task requires as it emerges.

    Anioush, as I was just saying to Chris ;-), every significant task involves lots of sub-tasks. If I’m going to accomplish the overall task I’ve set myself, I have to be able to pay my bills, and that requires earning a living; so I earn a living, and use that as a springboard to my broader goals. Of course there are compromises involved — someday I probably need to do a post about why “compromise” has become a dirty word, and why it needs to be rehabilitated! The point is that you can assess every action in terms of whether it forwards your actual goals or not, and you can often make one action further your goals in more than one way, as my books pay my bills while also spreading certain ideas.

  70. Goats and Roses, that’s an important point. The will isn’t omnipotent — for every person, there are things they simply can’t do, not all of them obvious — and it’s also not always obvious when the will is divided against itself and therefore weak. Yes, emphatically, learning to discern and define what exactly one is willing is central to learning how to use the will — in fact, once you’ve gotten that down, the rest is easy.

    Mac, so am I. 😉

    Varun, of course!

  71. Newtonfinn, will study of nonhuman forms miss some things that are part of the human condition? Sure, just as studying every living thing except pigs will miss some things that are part of the porcine condition, studying every living thing except pond scum will miss some things that are central to the algal condition, etc. That said, when you disagree with the idea that the visible is the measure of the invisible, are you assuming that human beings are invisible? There’s a whole tradition of using the geometries of the human body (which are largely based, like those of most living things, on the golden proportion) to elucidate subtle teachings about the nature of human existence…

  72. The purpose of my quest is to not have one, either purpose or quest.

    Meanwhile they are essential but at the end it all goes.

  73. In a replay to Dewey, JMG mentioned “evidence” and the absurdity of
    using it to measure love. Below is a historical perspective on how
    “scientfic evidence” must supports the interests of wealth and power, or it’s dismissed as unscientific.

    Alfred Russel Wallace, a collaborator of Charles Darwin was promoting
    the theory of “Intelligent Evolution” when Darwin was writing “On the
    Origin of Species.” The people and institutions with the power to
    determine the fate of scientific research then and now, favor Darwin’s
    theory over Wallace’s. The powers that be clearly preferred “survival of
    the fittest” over notions of symbioses and cooperation. Nature is
    replete with examples of both as they are two sides of the same coin,
    but the former standing alone justifies the commodification of life, and
    the exploitative use of power. This begs the question, did the concept
    of Social Darwinism result from Darwin’s book, or was Darwin’s thesis
    favored over Wallace’s because it lends itself to Social Darwinism?

    During the latter part of his life, Charles Darwin focused his attention
    on plants. In 1880 he published The Power of Movements in Plants , it is
    a record of the numerous experiments which he performed together with
    his son Francis. In their concluding remarks, the Darwins wrote that
    “the tip of the radicle [root] acts like a brain.” The eminent plant
    physiologist, Julius Sachs contemptuously castigated the Darwins for
    being amateurs who performed careless experiments and obtained
    misleading results. The hostility that Julius Sachs expressed toward the
    Darwins’ experiments with plants was (and continues to be) the
    predominate scientific attitude regarding the question of non-human

  74. JMG–

    Thanks. Based on both my pathworking experience and your comment about will I’d already decided to make this a meditation theme for the next week or so…

    “You may want to reflect on whether you’re able to give any of your studies the attention they deserve…”

    It occurred to me that I had 3 majors in college, and did fair to poor in each one of them. At one time I was attempting to study 3 different martial arts, with roughly the same results. And then there was that time in my misspent youth when I tried to date 3 different people at once…

    It’s funny that Liu Ming has come up in this discussion. I read an essay of his once where he described systems of spiritual training as characterized by 3 things: View, Method, and Fruition. That is, any given system has a particular view of the human person and their potential; a particular way of unlocking that potential; and a particular set of results you can expect. (Of course, just because I read this doesn’t mean I listened, obviously.) Is that sort of what you’re talking about?

  75. JMG, I mentioned your meditation book to indicate there would be support and interest, but as it relates to this discussion, I think meditation is a significant aspect of Mystery Teaching and will be a very important aspect of the coming post industrial age. As you have written, monasteries were an important part of past dark ages and eras of prolonged war, and meditation is a monastic tradition. I am interested because meditation is one of those activities that I, as part of my green wizardry, seek to ensure make it through the coming dark ages, as best I can, just as others will preserve beer or guitar string making!! Thank you for YOUR support.

  76. Will is an interesting thing. When I first opened my business every penny mattered. Some days I would implore God, please send me customers and often my phone would ring…a customer. These experiences and many, many others have convinced me that the universe provides will we ask. But, I have always believed very deeply that the gifts I receive should never, ever been taken for granted.
    I still believe in the old Chinese proverb “pray to God, but row away from the rocks!”. It’s good to have faith but we still need to employ our energy to help ourselves.

  77. Hi JMG!

    In re-reading this chapter, I was reminded about how helpful the notion was of how the distorted presentations of the mystery teachings are ‘unbalanced truths’. I find it especially interesting that psychology was the framework-focus of the mystery schools under which the “you create your own reality” obsession got started. Having people in my life who have been swept up in this craze, I often find myself swinging to overly skeptical attitudes to counterbalance the over-optimism – but hopefully my own willing balances my skepticism (aka “negativity”) out (we’ll see…)

    Given the psychology connection, I’m curious how Jung approached the balancing of the Schopenhaurian will/consciousness with the will of the greater world/collective unconscious. Did he also connect it to greed and fear? (BTW I really appreciate the line “The gap between the resulting teachings and those of the authentic mysteries can be measured by the roles of greed and fear, the two great rulers of the unawakened consciousness”.)

  78. Thanks for your advice all around. I have been practicing discursive meditation first thing in the morning, and find I actually took an uncomfortable bit of dental surgery in stride, but was energetically drained for 3 days.

    I agree – you can only Will one thing at once. So it’s not just me! It’s a fact!

    Thanks again,


  79. Comment continued! … there was NO way to bring up the Post Comment box otherwise!

    And your advice to stick with the system you know has helped me stick to the Wiccan practices and symbols I’ve been using since the early 1990s, which has kept me from a lot of dithering and blithering and sidetracks. But I’ve needed to avoid the Wiccan lunar focus (hail, Diana!) and keep to the earth path. The Earth Mother in her most primal form now sits on my altar with the old Greek Goat God, both done in Terra-cotta clay. Last full moon, when I put away the pewter pentagram in favor of the silver-with-moonstone, I could not sleep for energetic overload – actually OD’d on Lunar energy, confirming with a bang earlier experiences that had made me feel like an incomplete Wiccan in bygone days. A clearer message from the Gods there never was.

  80. Hi John Michael,

    I love that line, “A mystery school teaching is a toolkit, not a collectible — its value is that it works, not that it’s old.” Thank you so much for that comment. One of the biggest issues I encounter in the mystical community is this seemingly unending obsession with the age of a teaching. I keep reminding people that one of the oldest teachings in history is that the earth is flat, and we see how useful that idea really is.

    Thanks very much for the wonderful work you create, both the free content in blogs like this and the paid books you produce. I’ve really enjoyed Mystery Teaching from the Living Earth and I can’t wait for The Retro Future to come out.

  81. Do I assume that human beings are invisible? In many ways, to me the most important ways, they are:

    “The ‘invisibility of man’ has been incisively described by Maurice Nicoll: ‘We can all see another person’s body directly. We see the lips moving, the eyes opening and shutting, the lines of the mouth and face changing, and the body expressing itself as a whole in action. The person himself is invisible…. All our thoughts, emotions, feelings, imaginations, reveries, dreams, fantasies, are invisible. All that belongs to our scheming, planning, secrets, ambitions, all our hopes, fears, doubts, perplexities, all our affections, speculations, ponderings, vacuities, uncertainties, all our desires, longings, appetites, sensations, our likes, dislikes, aversions, attractions, loves and hates–all are themselves invisible. They constitute oneself.’ …We do not realise that we are in a world of invisible people. We do not understand that life, before all other definitions of it, is a drama of the visible and the invisible.” E.F Schumacher, “Guide For The Perplexed”

  82. Are these teachings relatively accessible, then, regardless of one’s spiritual tradition? I sort of got that impression from the introduction, but then I see you warning about working at cross-purposes by not hewing to but one path, and warning of the dangers of working different systems. Does that only apply to practical applications of the occult (magic, or however it’s to be called), with what we are discussing more general, universally applicable principles? (I’d read ahead to find out, but alas, I haven’t the book before me yet. I was lucky enough to find an e-book ‘look inside’ preview up to pg.15)

    Another question — hopefully not too far off topic — still with regards to finding compatible occult systems, I find myself in a bit of a pickle, rather afraid to try anything. On the old blog, under a different name, I mentioned naive devotions to my own personal gods of sun and moon, in the aspects of Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, characters from My Little Pony:Friendship is Magic. (I did not trust the idea of religion, but did recognize the spiritual void in my life when I left the religion of progress. I wanted some opiate of the people in a form I hoped I could keep from taking too seriously.) I have no idea what magical path would compliment or clash with this erstaz pony paganism. Any advice how one might go about finding out? (Direct revelation isn’t giving me anything I understand, other than, yes, work towards self-improvement. I wish I knew how to go about that, aside from trying to practice stoicism, which is a decidedly mundane way to go about it. I think I’m supposed to / ought to take a more mystical path as well.)

  83. While walking through the garden the other day, I found a beetle I’d never seen before … very colorful, a beautiful iridescence of torquoise & magenta … so I carefully put it in jar to show the wife. Well, I forgot all about it till today, when, in a fit of guilt, I rushed into my shop space where I had left the jar, and upon seeing said insect immobile, I carefully laid it down on the ground in the sunlite, thinking it expired during it’s 2-day confinement. After a minute or two, it retracted it’s legs, and slowly ambled on it’s merry beetle way.
    I was glad, and rather humbled !

  84. I think that the reason why old traditions choose the “mistery” form is to avoid problems and public attention, because some of the teachings can be dangerous. Whitout caution someone is going to get a bit crazy or suffer a psychic accident. And no one wants to be blame for the irresponsibility of others. That’s the lesson that happy New Age movements forgot, always yelling the advantages and never mentioning the risks.
    Bringing the lessons of nature to spirituality can be really interesting because, for example looking a tree, you take the good ideas (patience, equilibrium, being part of the whole…) and avoid the bad ones and their risks (rush, search for power of pleasure, selfishness…).

  85. Hi JMG,

    Thanks for your reply. It is an interesting process that is for sure. Incidentally, I rather like the new emoticons on this new website as they look pretty cool! ;-)! Glad to hear that you yourself gather and use many forms of information prior to making a decision. That is sound thinking in my book. I assume you test your sources of information against events and circumstances as they unfold and then learn more about the sources themselves? I practice a lot of cold readings of people, situations and circumstances and then evaluate how they stack up, and after many years, I can report that you do get better at it (although I still make mistakes from time to time, but I am happy to acknowledge errors).

    I too would be interested in your take on “compromise”. I have to do that all of the time. It is just part of life and I use it as a tool to navigate complex dynamics and situations. The other alternative sometimes appears to me like a rather silly saying I sometimes use: There is not much good in being both correct and dead! Hehe!


  86. Somehow reading this made me realize how disinterested the physical universe is in my petty self.

    Comments works well in Opera. Can copy and paste long segments.
    Sort of works in Chrome.
    Firefox not worth the struggle.

  87. @Chris,

    “The other alternative sometimes appears to me like a rather silly saying I sometimes use: There is not much good in being both correct and dead! Hehe!”

    I have a related saying, often useful in relationships: Would you rather be Right or effective?

  88. It seems that Mystery Schools themselves follow cycles of birth, growth, senescence and death, yet the essence of that which they are attempting to convey remains always. The phenotypic form of the Mystery Schools evolve in response to cultural, linguistic and technic change. This suggests to me that there is a small subset of Schools at any given historical moment that are the “fittest” transmitters of the Mysteries. If this is more or less the case, then what is the typical life cycle of a School and does the egregore engendered by that School become inaccessible after its passing? Are the teachings of senescent Schools more easily corrupted? Are there any diagnostic signs of a School entering the descending phase of its arc? Are only “fit” Schools in a position to make their Trachings available to those with the true desire to learn?

  89. Greetings!

    Alnus Incana- “I now suspect that the parallels to the mystery teachings are easy. A lot of hard work is necessary to increase the fertility of the surrounding spiritual landscape as well.”

    This resonates with me very much! It reminds me of something I read by Gary Snyder a while back, in “Practice of the Wild” or in a similar collection of essays where he wrote briefly about ties between ecological states and processes and spiritual states and processes. The part that intrigued me and continues to persist in my thoughts is the transformation of less useful habits of mind/emotion via processes analagous to composting. At the time it was like a bell ringing deep within.

    I remember at the time being disappointed that he didn’t elaborate much on it. Now I am glad he didn’t because that persistent internal question “well how does one DO that??” led me to explore, notice, and basically find out for myself. I just kept asking that over the years, a question that would not fade. And in a very roundabout way, led me to participating in this discussion 🙂

    JMG- I am curious- do you know of any published surveys of various western mystery schools over the last millennia or so, highlighting the forms utilized and the nature of the distortions that eventually manifested as they progressed through their (formal) life cycles (and as the teachings became popularized)?

  90. John, whatever works for you. I find quests entertaining, so have no problem with the idea that questing doesn’t end.

    Peter, thanks for this. I’ve seen the same thing at work countless times in more recent contexts.

    Steve, if I recall correctly Liu Ming got that from Buddhist sources, and it’s a good way of talking about different spiritual paths.

    Mac, yes, I figured as much — I was just making a somewhat lame attempt at a joke.

    Soilmaker, exactly. One of the rules of practical magic I use always, and generally with good success, is that magic should be worked in parallel with action on the material plane, not in isolation from the latter.

    Migrantharvester, it’s always useful to keep in mind that the opposite of one bad idea is usually another bad idea! As for Jung, it’s been a while since I’ve read his collected works — something I need to remedy soon — and so at the moment I don’t happen to remember whether he discussed that or not.

    Patricia, glad to hear that it’s working. As for the moon energy, yep. One of the major problems with Wicca as commonly practiced is that its symbolism is unbalanced — all that Moon and no Sun. Gerald Gardner balanced it with the solar symbolism of Christianity — it’s a source of some amusement to me that so few Wiccans know that he was ordained a priest in the Ancient British Church, one of the independent Catholic denominations active at that time — and Dion Fortune of course did the same thing, but that’s become unacceptable in modern Neopagan circles.

  91. Chronojourner, you’re welcome and thank you. It’s always a source of wry amusement to me that so many people who wouldn’t think of using a two-year-old computer insist that their spirituality has to be gray with the dust or centuries or it won’t work.

    Newtonfinn, and yet you constantly rely on the visible aspects of humanity to make sense of their invisible aspects — facial expressions, movements, even presence and absence. This is one example of what I’m talking about.

    Dusk Shine, it varies from school to school. There are some mystery schools that have a specific religious component — for example, there are quite a few Christian mystery schools out there, and you basically have to be a Christian, or at least be very comfortable with Christian teachings and spiritual practices, if you want to pursue study with them. There are others that are pretty much wide open. As for systems compatible with your Ponyist faith, I suspect just about any version of standard Neopagan magic would do the trick; they’re usually compatible with your choice of deities. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the chance to check out the offerings in a Pagan bookstore, so am not sure what books to suggest — perhaps other readers can offer a few suggestions.

    Polecat, thank you for the story!

    Esteban, that’s part of it, no question. There’s also a deeper side to secrecy, though. We social primates love to chatter about whatever crosses our minds, and so keeping our mouths shut about something is a great way to train the will and develop conscious awareness of what we’re doing.

    Chris, exactly. In fact, that’s how I teach divination to students — I have them cast a simple reading every morning about how the day will go, interpret it on the spot, and then compare their interpretation to what happened before they go to bed the same night. You get really good at divination that way, because you have immediate feedback.

    John, and that’s a good awareness to have. Thanks for the browser tips, btw! I’ve just downloaded Opera and am using it now, without the disappearing post button that made previous comments of mine so brief.

  92. Dirtyboots, more or less. At any point in time there’s a spectrum of mystery schools, from those that do a very good job of communicating the teachings to those that are actively harmful, with the majority as usual filling the space in between. You can still benefit from a school that’s gone quietly senile, so long as you’re willing to work at it; it’s the ones that have gone septic and predatory that need to be avoided. As for a fixed life cycle, not so much, as the value of a school depends so intimately on the character of the people in charge. You get some schools that get a run of good teachers, and stay effective for several generations — and then you get others where the teacher trips over an overdeveloped ego or what have you, and what starts out as a good school turns sour in a very short time.

    Bonnie, I wish there was such a book! I know of none.

  93. So there is no end point in your philosophy?

    For me I expect at some point it will be game over. With the experiences I have had this life time, which seem to extend other LTs quests from the recent past, this could be my last life time. I am making the best I can of this one but still seriously ill if I have good nutrition which leads to cleansing. Concentrated smog is what has been coming out for the last few months. Probably loaded with nitrates and NOX. It is getting more concentrated. Maybe this is the bottom of the seemingly bottomless pit of toxics accumulated.

    Today and tomorrow I’m getting work done after some depleted days. Then it is back to the misery that follows the fruits and veggies and minerals and supplements. This might be getting easier to control and good days are better.

    If I can get just 2 weeks of actual good health I will be very happy.

    After that I might just continue. Time becomes almost irrelevant as to when to end.

    If you want to connect dots I usually post as inohuri. The comments log in was arduous.

  94. Recently I have been having weekly discussions with Mormon missionaries, even gone to their Church a couple times. Interesting group they are, I can see clear markings of the influence of mystery teachings, but also it seems as though at the Churches large size, it doesn’t have an inner immune system against ‘septic’ elements. I think I can thus identify a specific syndrome of a sickly Mystery School. Universally Necessary Evangelism. I can see clearly that their path has proved very useful for many people who come to it from a certain place in life; but the spiritual pride of figuring one’s own spiritual path as essential to all is really quite gross. I see it, religion of this kind, as filling an ecologically niche neighboring the Mystery Schools, but of a different kind. I know some members who haven’t fallen for this pride, and they have the whiff of initiates about them. For me personally, the only fun that would come from joining would be the swiftly following excommunication; but the discussions are quite enjoyable, and challenging in a way that is refreshing, nothing like religious fanaticism to get past that ‘over cooked noodle’ texture most moderns have in a ethical discussion.

  95. @JMG – thank you! Out here in the high desert at Midsummer, we don’t lack for solar energy or consciousness, though. And as a polytheist, I keep Sekhmet on my altar from just–past-Beltane to Lughnassad. Have ever since I was at a solstice ritual in an overheated bookstore and realized that the deity of the season was She Who Is A Lion. (And also Thor, who brings the thunderstorms.)

  96. As you say, due to the whirlwind of change our up-to-date representations of reality will finally accumulate in a view, which incorporates our changing understandings in one or rather several different new religions. Religion being the overall position we take towards life and our surrounding environment.
    Mystery teachings is part of religion. Religion is an integral part of human life, ever adapting to the continuous change. Uniting us humans intellectually (theology, philosophy) and emotionally by frames representing our desires and fears as well as socially, bounding that anarchistic and chaotic dynamic of many people together by ritual forms, creating a great stability besides that strong centrifugal forces among human groups.

    So the collectively and consensual evolving rituals will rim that source and make it accessible to a greater audience. Either in a monastic setting, being a breeding place for missionaries, or in a pilgrimage site which is a reassuring setting for people in their ordinary way of life as well as a catalyst to speed up certain beliefs, habits and rituals. Last but not least the local community, which incorporates representations in everyday-life, in particular with the assistance of rituals.

    These three did historically ensure consensual embedding of beneficiary teaching and subsequently behaviour ensuring the commoners access to it. Also it keept the personal enrichments of individuals and elite groups in check. So it may well continue to function in this way furthermore.

  97. I have the book and read it a while back. I still do a daily tarot card. Today I got ace of disks, strong earth energy. We live in brick houses which blocks enegy of earth’s magnetic field, everything asphalted, sidewalks, terraced cement, etc. I just stepped outside this morning to conscioulsly feel energy of bushes, trees, free laying earth this morning. Indians in teepees laid on ground, had foests near. The more built up our environment the more alienated and neurotic we become. Under open sky on bare ground with trees near we feel differently. Walls block energy of people too. Open enegy all the way to moon, sun, planets. Thick walls are like lead against radiation. We became humanist due to isolating ourselves against nature. The longer this lasts the worse we go asyray till collapse occurs. My two cents.

  98. Thank you for addressing my question. I thought it might be important, because it was persistently blocking other lines of thought. Sure enough, clearer now.

    The idea I’d been trying to pursue was the apparent value of the models of ecology derived from scientific investigation for assisting the understanding reachable by MTftLE’s formulation of the seven Laws. For example, the role of carbon, especially CO2, in photosynthesis and respiration exemplifies the Laws of Wholeness, Flow, Balance, Limits, and Cause and Effect.

    Indeed, from only unaided sensory observation and understanding of the Laws, it just might be possible in principle to derive the existence of some invisible material substance given off into the atmosphere by animal exhalations (and fire, vulcanism, etc.) that is taken in by, and forms most of the substance of, plants (and in turn of animals having directly or indirectly ingested the plants). But that is a challenging proposition at best. (As far as I know, in all those centuries of meditation upon mystery school teachings, such a substance under any name playing such a role was at best only speculated upon as one possibility among many.)

    I had long speculated that the basic ecology lessons my fellow high school nerd classmates and I taught the school district’s sixth graders (in the late 70s in an annual overnight-camp program), such as the cartoon of a tree, grass, mouse, snake, pond, soil, rock, cloud, and sun that gets filled in with a tangle of arrows as the students point out relationships and dependencies, would have been spiritual teaching of a high order a few centuries earlier. I was thrilled when you published MTftLE.

    But… yikes. This suggests that a necessary component part of Ecosophia is a meaningful unflinching head-on synthesis between science and spirituality. Not just another respectful truce, another mutual withdrawal to neutral corners, nor even another cautious “reconciliation.” For a productive fertile joining, only penetrative intercourse (by which I mean insightful discussion, obviously) will suffice.

    You don’t need me to tell you how tough a row to hoe that is. Addressing and immanentizing the collapse of industrial civilization was just a warm-up by comparison. No wonder the new blog, format, etc.

    Almost everyone I know has managed, in their own lives, to combine spirituality with a scientific understanding of the world, in some way and to some degree. Yet, recent attempts at authoritative “how-to” guides and institutional approaches for achieving or improving such a synthesis have been unsuccessful at best. The overall trend has been increased polarization instead.

    Suggesting that awe and wonder at how big the universe is, and how majestically its purely material laws play out, generally suffices as personal spirituality (e.g. Sagan) doesn’t work. Nor does pretending that quantum mechanics (or merely appending the word “quantum”) or the incompleteness of “dark matter” cosmology constitutes scientific validation for arbitrary New Age notions. The more earnest efforts (e.g. Gould’s “Non-Overlapping Magisteria”) tend to amount to elegant ways to skirt the issue.

    The “mainline” Christian denominations that tried hardest (such as with hymns like “This Is My Father’s World”) have been declining for decades, losing ground to others that now preach evolution and climate science as demonic conspiracies. (The Roman Catholic Church, while many decades late to the game, might have more long-term success. While most of my skeptic friends still like to bash the Church for its treatment of Galileo, I’m imagining a plausible future in which it becomes Galileo’s last defender.)

    It appears the mystery schools have their own superior track record in that regard, albeit with the favorable circumstance of being able to be very selective about their students. I’m starting to see how that “piece of the puzzle” might fit in.

    I hope I can help. I think it’s too early to ask how, but not to start thinking about how. (And to be ready for whatever I’ll have to give up in the process this time…)

  99. JMG: Thx for your comment “one thing at a time”. It makes sense, fits with my experience, and yet I keep finding myself in violation of this principle (often to mediocre effect). Do you find you can effectively, deliberately “wrap” sub-outcomes into a gestalt with the main creation (e.g., “money to spread a school”)? You’ve got me believing my own “magic” IS actually magic…something I’d long discounted due to my other-side science/rational background. I have so many questions. BTW I am having trouble leaving comments more than a few lines long because the “fill out your details” section disappears. Maybe my privacy blockers but thought I’d mention it. I loved ADR but this new site already has me maybe even more enthralled! Thx also for entertaining my comments on Vipassana. It’s the best training I can both get and trust at the moment.

  100. JMG — Sometimes good ideas arise spontaneously in independent places. I remember discussing that interpretation of the Fermi Paradox in high school in the 1970s.

  101. Michelle – re: nurturing

    From even one potted plant, we can learn that we need to give the plant what the plant needs, when the plant needs it, rather than what we want to give the plant, when it suits us. Most plants need water, but if our need is to nurture, it is not by giving the plant water every day (which might feel like nurturing to us), but by examining the soil after watering, and providing water only when more water is needed. But it must be done THEN (give or take a day); if a vacation of two weeks away from the plant would let it become overly dry, then we must make other arrangements for its care. It is a useful discipline: learning what’s needed, observing what’s happening, patient waiting for proper conditions, and appropriate nurturing.

    With fertilizing, the cycles extend over a much longer time span. When “a little is good”, more is not necessarily better (no matter how great our need to be nurturing).

    And yet, mistakes that might appear fatal can sometimes be forgiven. I have a pair of African violets which flourished for a while, then declined, and then were just gray stumps for several weeks. But they still got cautious care, and then the tiniest green shoots appeared. A dry “dead” tuber of some other plant was left in the dirt for months without water, but when a little water drifted onto it by accident, growth re-appeared.

  102. I have been thinking often about the mystery teachings and magic. I have followed the path of a mystic, not a mage. My first mystical experience occurred at the age of 5. I will remember it all my life.
    What I struggle with now is not self awareness or belief, it is how my life can benefit others. Accepting what is, is no longer difficult for me. Changing consciousness at will is not difficult for me. But believing I should employ effort to change others is difficult.
    If my life is enriched by communion with nature that does not mean others lives will be. I am very reluctant to using my will to change the world.
    I am wondering how you suggest using spiritual ecology to effect a positive change in the world.

  103. @Bill Pulliam,

    Indeed, the whole Fermi question of ‘well, where are they?’ has received a lot treatment well back into the 60’s. Somewhere in my archival boxes I have an original copy of the ‘Project Cyclops’ report (more like a fair-sized book), an early effort to sell the building of large dedicated radiotelescopes for SETI detection. In it, Frank Drake lays out the famous (in some circles) ‘Drake Equation’, which is a model that tries to identify the main factors that might determine the probabilities for making contact with ET’s, and plays around with various assumptions regarding them.

    Among them were: number of stars in the galaxy, percentage of stars with planets, percentage of those planets in the ‘goldilocks’ zone (not too hot, not too cold, but just right), the % of those that engendered life, the % of that life that became intelligent, the % that went on to form technical civilizations (capable of producing detectable signals), and finally, of course, the big question mark that everyone wants to know – the average age that a technical civilization reaches before it immolates itself.

    Yes, this stuff has been mulled over for a long time. Of course, most of the factors I’ve enumerated, especially the last few, are more or less unknowable, so everyone can speculate away!

  104. Chris said (quoting a teacher): “one needs to find a purpose greater than oneself in order to walk a spiritual path.”

    It is apparently a line from a recent popular movie that “with great power comes great responsibility”.

    Perhaps we should look for feedback: with “some” degree of purpose comes “some degree of power, from which comes a more ambitious purpose, and greater power, and greater ambition…

    There is no shortage of noble purposes around us: warming climates, disparities of wealth, disparities of health, the great whatever-it-is that leads so many people into destructive drug usage, etc. Pick one. Do what you can. You may discover that you can do more than you expected.

    Caution: I have recently read, on another board, disparaging remarks regarding modest achievements as mere “virtue signalling”. The implication is that if you are doing something visible and good (such as, picking up trash), that’s not part of my grand scheme (Paris Climate Accord, say), then you’re action is empty feel-good play-acting, but not striving toward a Real Solution. [Never mind that my scheme has no chance of actually being implemented! It would be glorious if we could just get everyone to go along with it.] Writing back in my own voice again, I say “go for the tangible, small-scale, action.” Support your local farmer, and she’s less likely to sell out to a developer. Ride a bicycle, and show your neighbors that the bike lanes were worth marking out. Grow a garden, with pollen and nectar for the bees. Do your thing, and don’t let anyone wear you down. You’ll change a little bit of the world, and a little bit of yourself.

  105. JMG, your plan sounds excellent for a single person, or one whose partner shares similar goals. I guess people who take care of children, elderly parents and other family in need have to do a great amount of compromise?

  106. Just saw a T-shirt inscription (don’t agree with):

    “Philosophy is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat.

    Metaphysics is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn’t there.

    Theology is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn’t there, and shouting I found it!

    Science is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat using a flashlight.”

    Excuses to everyone if this is just an old joke I never came across.

    What could we say about magic and mystery teachings in this series? Learning to speak cat language so that it comes to you? (My own cat would show up purring sooner or later)

  107. Hi JMG,

    Of course! That makes sense. I tend to utilise that learning method because it works and it builds upon that feedback. I’m reading Chris Martenson’s book “Prosper” which was loaned to me by a fellow Green Wizard. It is good stuff and that book covers that learning method too, because: TSW! ;-)! I may have to change by handle here to Chris @ Fernglade as there seem to be quite a few different Chris’s here. What can I say, it’s a popular name! Hehe!

    Hi Dave and sgage,

    Thanks for the excellent sayings. Great stuff. :-)!


  108. Greetings John Michael,

    Thanks for the opportunity to have a in depth look at your concise and potent book “Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth”. Having access to others’ views, comments, questions and insights about this subject makes excellent grist for the mind’s mill and your responses help to clarify whether or not I have understood the text thoroughly.

    You say, “A reframing of the mystery teachings in the language of ecology is a good antidote to these distortions, because it’s relatively easy to see how things happen in the world of nature, and apply those to human nature and to our own lives. That’s what this book attempts to do.”

    The book “The Secret” was embraced by many in my sphere of acquaintances, so I know from first hand knowledge how this feel good message resonates with people. What struck me immediately was the lack of critical analysis that would lead them to assume that we really can get something for nothing. From my own perspective spiritual ecology is not even remotely mysterious, it is only too obvious that my existence, physical and ethereal, is inextricably link to the world I perceive. All that is necessary to confirm this is to take a breath of air. What is a mystery to me, and one that this book goes a long way toward solving, is how the faculty of observation we all possess gets lead astray so easily through the narratives we are provided from day one buy our parents and the larger world and then reinforced through our mind’s incessant need for a story of any kind. The capitalist/so-called democratic narrative that was presented to me as fact never really resonated with me and it would appear, from your reader’s comments, that I’m not alone. Pushing up against planetary limits has placed many of us in a state of dread that can be hard to shake. This website and the content that you provide are helping to dispel that dread and instead foster a sense that ‘yes’ we can respond to a narrative that is sound, ancient and relevant in ways that will astound if given the effort and attention it deserves.

    Your magic is well and gratefully received from this reader.

  109. Dusk Shine, I can’t exactly recommend them since I haven’t read them, but Taylor Ellwood has written two books, “Pop Culture Magic” and “Pop Culture Magic Systems” that might be relevant to your interests. A lot of people into pop-culture paganism seem to work with Chaos Magic…odd as that may sound in an Equestrian setting ;-). If/when you get some work done on a system, please share; there’s still a Pegasister hiding out with the otaku deep in my heart!

    Also, JMG, I want to vote in favor of a book on discursive meditation. I’ve seen a couple of recent titles on “Druid meditation,” but they didn’t seem to have much if anything to say about that technique. Some of the books on the recommended reading list from the AODA article are getting hard to find–I was able to snatch up a relatively inexpensive copy of “Western Inner Workings,” but it’s usually very pricey and there’s only a handful of copies in WorldCat, some of which would not be loanable. A contemporary book in your (imho) accessible teaching voice would be much appreciated.

  110. John, if there’s an endpoint it’s as far beyond my comprehension as Mozart’s music was to the dust mites living in his favorite wig. Thus I don’t worry myself about it.

    Ray, that sort of thing can certainly be entertaining!

    Patricia, well, there you are. Glad to be of help.

    Hubertus, those are all possibilities for the future. Right now, we’re in a far earlier stage, when getting the message out is the task that matters.

    Gandalf, you might be interested to know that the last chapter of my forthcoming book The Retro Future makes the same point from a somewhat different angle.

    Walt, in point of fact, the first descriptions of the nitrogen cycle anywhere were in alchemical literature, where the movement of “niter” from earth to air and back again became a significant element of theory from the time of Michael Sendivogius until the very late alchemy of Kirchweger’s Aurea Catena Homeri. Mind you, the alchemists weren’t just working with hermetic principles — they also had a lot of practical experience with chemicals, so that may not count. As for your “yikes!” comment, yep — yikes. It’s not an easy thing, just a necessary one.

    Gnat, another basic rule of magic is “focus on ends, not means.” (There’s a discussion of that in this post of mine from the Well of Galabes.) Focus on your goals and leave the intermediate steps up to the powers you invoke, and you’ll be fine. As for the comments thing, that seems to be a bug in certain browsers, especially Firefox. You may want to try a different browser; Opera, for example, doesn’t do that.

    Bill, always a possibility — but it interests me that several recent books I’ve read about the Fermi Paradox either don’t mention that at all or relegate it to a footnote.

  111. Archdruid,

    In regards to the divination, I’ve been using your system for about a year now but I still feel like I’m missing something vital. Specifically I don’t know if I’m interpreting them properly…The few reads past, present, future. Does it correspond one to one, or are the times for past, present, and future open to interpretation?



  112. @Walt,

    you said:

    (The Roman Catholic Church, while many decades late to the game, might have more long-term success. While most of my skeptic friends still like to bash the Church for its treatment of Galileo, I’m imagining a plausible future in which it becomes Galileo’s last defender.)

    You might want to suggest to your skeptic friends that they actually read a biography of Galileo, with specific reference to the Letter to Christina affair. His later problem, where he insulted the Pope with the Dialog, is worth looking at as well.

    Those probably did as much as anything to poison the Church’s acceptance of heliocentricity.

  113. Soilmaker, that’s a question each person has to settle for himself or herself. We’ll get to some of the details, and to the differences between the paths of the mystic and the mage, in upcoming posts.

    Anioush, er, which plan did you have in mind?

    With regard to the t-shirt, I’d rewrite it as follows:

    Philosophy is being in a dark room and searching for a black cat by exploring the room by feel and trying to figure out where the cat could be.

    Religion is being in a dark room and searching for a black cat by sitting down, patting your lap, and saying, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!” in a soft voice.

    Magic is being in a dark room and searching for a black cat by opening a can of cat food with a noisy can opener and waiting for the cat to show up.

    Science, as presently practiced, is being in a dark room, shouting at the top of your lungs that cats can’t possibly exist, and kicking frantically at any small furry object that happens to come within range…

    Chris@F., I may want to take a look at that book, then. Thanks for the heads up!

    Eric, delighted to hear it. That’s certainly the plan!

    Sister Crow, so noted. I’ve got several book projects currently on the front burner, but when those are done, I’m definitely going to consider a book on discursive meditation.

    Varun, I’ve usually done them one to one, but you might try it the other way as well. The thing to keep in mind is that you decide what the positions are going to mean before you draw the fews.

  114. By the way, I’ve had to delete a couple of long off topic comments. Please do read the text above the comments box — especially the bit about “comments relevant to the topic of the current post” — and the first paragraph of the post as well. (I’m willing to let short off-topic posts through, especially from regular commenters, but long off-topic screeds that are pretty clearly intended to drag the conversation off to some other subject? Not so much. Those belong on my monthly “Ask Me Anything” posts.

  115. @peterboyer

    You did recognize that the first letters of the initials of the name Alfred Russell Wallace are the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th characters in those ‘Darwin’ fish you see on everybody’s bumper stickers, right? I carved mine out years ago, because, while Darwin gets the credit, I’d like to give it to the underdog when I can

  116. JMG,
    Perhaps a different approach to that question would be…how do you use spiritual ecology to effect a positive change in the world?

  117. I’m curious about something: reading the first chapter of Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth you seem to imply that to an extent all mystery teachings are variations on the same theme, while in other works, such as World Full of Gods, you seem to say that different religions are headed in different directions, for example by saying it would be more respectful to stop trying to claim all religions are in fact the same, and acknowledge Buddhism is aiming for something very different from Christianity (apologies if I get details wrong, I don’t currently have access to the book).

    I had thought, perhaps incorrectly, there is a connection between mystery school and religion, and so I find these two a little hard to reconcile. If I have misinterpreted your writings, then that’s an easy answer, but if not, what is the connection between mystery schools and religions?

    @Anioush With regards to searching for a cat: from my experience, cats tend to be scared of bright, focused beams of light. So if you bring a flashlight into the dark room to search for a cat, you’ve just scared the poor kitty into hiding. And that makes it so much harder to find out where it is….

  118. JMG– back in the 70s we were more inclined to think that civilizations would destroy themselves violently. We still were not able to imagine that interstellar colonization was really just not possible

  119. My apologies if this is too offtopic, JMG, but I like the way your t-shirt metaphors can be extended, too:
    Philosophy is the slowest way to find that cat and might never succeed if the cat keeps moving. It gives the most extensive opportunity for knowledge of the room as a whole, though; while some things found might be useless, easy to misinterpret, or even dangerous, and others, like the cat, might be mobile and evade detection, it can show things that a direct route to a particular cat might never go near.

    Religion is highly dependent on the personality of the cat and the relationship of the seeker with it. If the cat is friendly and has a good past relationship with the seeker, it might be rubbing up against the seeker’s legs before they finish calling out. If it’s more indifferent, or if it’s busy with something else, it might or might not show up, and if the cat dislikes the seeker, it might offer forgiveness, or the calling might just tell it where to avoid.

    Magic is the surest way to find the cat, but the seeker has to first have the right tools and know how to use them. A particularly bad job with selecting the tools might also end with the cat vomiting on the seeker’s shoes.

    Science as presently practiced, well, best case scenario, the cat quickly learns to stay far away, and the anti-seeker can continue to think that cats don’t exist without any present conflicting evidence save a few quiet noises in the dark that are surely something else. If they’re less lucky, they get some nasty scratches from something they can’t see and can only flail blindly at, or trip over the cat and go tumbling to the ground.

  120. @emily

    Regarding the mistery teachings in IT speak, I will answer in the most elvish style: yes and no.

    For most commoners, – even otherwise well educated ones, – computers basically are wish granting boxes with a thin layer of technobabble paint to dispell any ugly stain of metaphysics. I expect any attempt to do this to rapidly devolve into “The Secret 2.0, your destiny in the Cloud [s]”.;

    Other than that, I expect this project to be quite doable, but it would have to be addressed to IT professionals to get any traction. At the very least, there’s plenty of raw material to get yourself started. Look for “The New Hacker’s Dictionary”, “The Mythical Man-Month” and “The GNU Manifesto” to get you started. Actually, now that I think about it… the curator of the first one, Eric S. Raymond, is both a pagan and a martial artist; so it might be the case that someone has already worked towards that direction in the open source community.

    Other source of inspiration might be the essays in Paul Graham’s proto-blog… but the language is that of Mordor and I shall not utter it here.

  121. @JMG

    Dear Archdruid,
    I’m very late to the comments this week – I’m in the middle of an unexpected move! I’m sure you can sympathize 😉

    So, I just finished reading the Kybalion. Well, that is to say, I’ve read it through once. I probably won’t be finished with it for a long, long while. I am now reading through the Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth again, and it really puts the book in a whole new light for me, starting from the first page.

    I’m lucky in having had a lifelong interest in philosophy and history, and thus being able to recognize the platonic, aristotalian, socratic and gnostic motives within the kybalion. I found it a wonderful read, but I recognize that (greek) philosophy is far from common knowledge these days.

    It makes sense that, just as the mystery teachings can be found at the mystic heart of every religion, they can be found at the heart of every science – as they are the fundamental truths of creation.

    I have many questions, mostly about relating MTftLE to the Kybalion, but they will have to wait until the appropriate chapters come up.

    All the best,

  122. Reese , if done in haste , ignorance or unwisdom , magic can result in the cat being 12 feet tall and two tonnes in weight and extremely hungry , with all the inconvenient bother that results from that !

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