Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Secret Doctrine Reviewed

Sally Dougherty was the editor of Sunrise magazine before it ceased publication. She wrote the following review of the edition of The Secret Doctrine, abridged and annotated by Michael Gomes, which we are happy to share here:

The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky's 1500-page masterwork, is the foundational text of the modern theosophical movement. Still, many find it difficult to read. Its main lines of reasoning are often obscured by a plethora of examples from world cultures, citations from authorities, and arguments about the scientific, religious, and philosophical thought current in the late 19th century when she wrote. This skillful abridgment preserves the poetic flavor of her writing and the main outline of her theme while removing references to other writers and texts as well as criticism and analysis of scientific ideas and theosophical misconceptions.

Gomes organizes his abridgment around the Stanzas, giving a paragraph or two, or sometimes several pages, of her explanatory material about each. As he explains: "In this way the stanzas receive more of a central role and are allowed to speak more clearly than before. With their strange cadences and rhythmic flow, they provide the means to an alternate way of looking at the world, humanity, and the saga of creation, or, as the author describes it, 'a glimpse into eternity.' Fact or fiction, the stanzas provide one of the great mythos of our time, whose influence on modern esotericism is undeniable." (p. xxv) Portions of several of the chapters on symbolism are also included.

This is a useful introduction to theosophical thought which would also make a good choice for book groups.

The literary critic, Bib Leo Phyle, in his column, Notable Books, at Theosophy Forward, also gives the book his sanction, noting:

The need for a new, current abridgment is clear. And Michael Gomes has provided it. His work is the best entry to The Secret Doctrine for twenty-first century readers. Gomes captures the essential points of the book and highlights many notable features…HPB was indeed a sphinx, and a marvelous one, deserving our awe and appreciation. But like the question of the sphinx, her writing can sometimes be a puzzle. So Michael Gomes deserves our gratitude for producing this excellent clue to unraveling the puzzle of The Secret Doctrine.

While the Summer 2010 issue of Quest, the Journal of the Theosophical Society in America at Wheaton, Illinois, carries a review by the noted scholar of religion, Robert Ellwood:

Gomes is to be commended for doing this job in the elegant, painstaking way one would expect from him. His is a book every Theosophist and spiritual explorer ought to have at hand, to pick up for adventures in occult knowledge at odd moments, which will often turn into hours. Reading Gomes’s abridgment of The Secret Doctrine will add to the student’s store of wisdom and to his or her appreciation of the original. Many will eventually be led back to the original by way of this introduction.

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