Notable Books

Notable Books 21

Always on the lookout for a good book….

Barber, Phyllis. To the Mountain: One Mormon Woman’s Search for Spirit. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, Quest Books, 2014. Pages x + 258. $18.95.

Mormonism has some historical links with Freemasonry (“Masonry in Mormonism,” by Joseph Lloyd), but Co-Masonry is not one of them, nor is sexual equality in spiritual matters. I am probably one of the few non-Mormons who can claim to have read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover. It is a fantastic (in the sense “based on fantasy, conceived by unrestrained fancy”) account of ancient prophets who lived in America from approximately 2200 BC to 421 AD. It was first published in March 1830 by Joseph Smith as The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon. According to Smith’s account and the book’s narrative, the Book of Mormon was originally written in otherwise unknown characters referred to as “reformed Egyptian” engraved on golden plates. Smith said that the last prophet to contribute to the book, a man named Moroni, buried it in a hill in present-day New York, then returned to earth in 1827 as an angel, revealing the location of the book to Smith, and instructing him to translate it into English for use in the restoration of Christ’s true church in the latter days.


Popular knowledge of the scripture is doubtless based on The Book of Mormon, a satirical musical telling the story of two young Mormon missionaries sent to a remote village in northern Uganda, where a brutal warlord is threatening the local population. Naïve and optimistic, the two missionaries try to share their scripture — which only one of them has read — but have trouble connecting with the locals, who are more worried about war, famine, poverty, and AIDS than about religion. The show opened on Broadway in March 2011.

Phyllis Barber’s book is the story of her spiritual quest over a variety of religious traditions with no mention of Theosophy, which lacuna indicates the lack of relevance of this book for readers of Theosophy Forward. As my academic father, Tom Pyles, once trenchantly remarked, this book fills a much needed void.

Lizzio, Kenneth P. Embattled Saints: My Year with the Sufis of Afghanistan. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, Quest Books, 2014. Pages xii + 231. $18.95.

The term Sufi is from Arabic ṣūfī, literally “woollen,” from ṣūf, “wool” (because of the rough woollen garment associated with ascetics). The proper noun denotes a member of any of various spiritual orders within Islam characterized by asceticism and mysticism. It has sometimes been thought of as a Middle Eastern equivalent of “Theosophist,” but that association has severe limitations. In this volume, the association is reinforced by, for example, a chart on page 142 that links “Formless Existence” at the top with “World of Creation” at the bottom by seven intermediate states. That chart is said to be of the “Naqshbandi Cosmology.” According to Wikipedia, “Naqshbandi . . . is a major spiritual order of Sunni Islam Sufism. It is the only Sufi way that traces its spiritual lineage to the Islamic prophet Muhammas, through Abu Bakr, the first Calif and Muhammad’s companion.”

However, this book also belies the association with Theosophy by depicting the Naqshbandi Sufis as charismatics, persons whose worship is marked by enthusiasm, spontaneity, and ecstatic utterance, like that of Pentecostals, who engage in glossolalia, faith healing, and other expressions of religious feeling through enthusiastic clapping, shouting, and uninhibited actions not usually associated with church services.

Afghanistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, a landlocked country of Central Asia, was much in the news during the second decade of the twenty-first century. Its political contentiousness was a major problem for American interests in Asia and had no associations with saintliness.

The book includes a useful glossary (pp. 215-217) and a bibliography (pp. 219-221).

Amao, Albert. Healing without Medicine: From Pioneers to Modern Practice. Theosophical Publishing House, Quest Books, 2014. Pages xii + 323.

Theosophy is not listed in the index or mentioned anywhere in the text (so far as I could discover). But one short, though noteworthy, statement in made on p. 245: “One of the latest modalities of healing without medicine is Therapeutic Touch (TT), which was developed by Dora Kunz and Dolores Krieger at Pumpkin Hollow Retreat Center in Craryville, New York.”

Therapeutic Touch was widely used at one time, even being taught to nurses as part of their training. I was both a recipient of TT treatments and, on a few occasions, a practitioner administering them. They worked, improving the recipient both physically and psychologically. Dora Kunz was a prominent Theosophist who was raised at C. W. Leadbeater’s center in Australia and became active in the United States after her marriage. Pumpkin Hollow was a well-known Theosophical center to which I went frequently, first alone and after my marriage with my wife. It was idyllic, but one had to exercise great care about deer ticks, avoiding them or removing them promptly from one’s skin, as they carried Lyme disease

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