Revolutionaries of the Soul: Reflections on Magicians, Philosophers, and Occultists

REVIEWS, 6 Oct 2014

René Wadlow – TRANSCEND Media Service

Gary Lachman
Revolutionaries of the Soul: Reflections on Magicians, Philosophers, and Occultists
(Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2013, 304pp.)

The development of a deeper or higher consciousness has often been compared to a journey toward an ultimate goal with steps along the way and with entries into an inner dimension of the person, called by some ‘the Spirit’, by others ‘the Soul.’ Plato uses the image of the passage from the shadows of a cave to the sunlight of reality. To help the individual on this journey, there are signposts; sometimes giving directions, at other times warnings, at times encouragement, at times techniques for walking.

Garry Lachman who has written separate, book-length biographies of a number of spiritual teachers, here brings together essays written for journals of individuals who have helped to design such signposts. Except for the earlier Swedish Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), Lachman outlines the lives of writers whose impact goes from 1875 − the founding of the Theosophical Society in New York City by H.P. Blavatsky (1831-1891) to the death of the Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung (1875-1961).

During this period, we find Lachman’s portraits of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) with his lasting contribution to the education of children and ecological agriculture, as well as Jung, some of whose ideas and techniques of analysis have become part of the general field of psychotherapy even among people who do not consider themselves as Jungian analysts. Lachman also has chapters on interesting personalities but whose work had only very temporary significance or were known only in small circles: Julius Evola, editor of Fascist journals during the reign of Mussolini, P.D. Ouspensky and G.I. Gurdjieff, Violet Firth who wrote as “Dion Fortune”, Aleister Crowley, and Manly P. Hall whose book The Secret Teachings of All Ages is better known than his Hollywood life.

As Lachman says of this collective “These were not bloodless rationalists, sizing life from a comfortable distance, but men and women who found themselves in the thick of it, as well as in dimensions of reality most of us rarely encounter. They lived life to the hilt and then some.”

Gary Lachman follows in the tradition of the English author Colin Wilson whose books have touched on some of the same themes and persons. The essay on Colin Wilson who died recently opens the book.

The title of the book is misleading. These persons were not ‘revolutionaries’ of the soul, but ‘evolutionaries’ − bringing in ideas to a general current of new approaches. If there had not been a wave of interest in more creative and child-centered education after the destruction of the First World War, Rudolf Steiner’s educational views would not have had the impact that they did. The techniques used in his schools and after his death, with mentally-handicapped children are useful and stand apart from Steiner’s view of the Christ as the center of History. Likewise, Jung is important as part of a general trend in depth psychology and a study of the unconscious. Thus also, Jung’s interest in the ways of thought of tribal societies in Africa and Native peoples of the USA is part of a trend in anthropology to move beyond the visible to try to understand ideas, values, and the world view of peoples.

Although there has always been a fascination with “secret societies” and power held by occult groups − the number of current conspiracy theories is an indication − the ideas of magicians, philosophers and occultists have an impact only as spice within a larger brew of ideas. Lachman is a good guide to personalities, but one needs to recall from other sources the general trends of ideas of a period.


René Wadlow, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and of its Task Force on the Middle East, is president and U.N. representative (Geneva) of the Association of World Citizens and editor of Transnational Perspectives. He is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 6 Oct 2014.

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