Saturday, September 8, 2018

A damn good mystic

"Apprenticed to Spirit" is a partially autobiographical book by spiritual teacher (and seeker) David Spangler, whose message sounds like a less dogmatic and more sympathetic version of Anthroposophy or perhaps Theosophy. Spangler takes us on a tour of a somewhat strange childhood, during which he often encountered angelic beings and had one particularly dramatic out-of-body experience. Already as a small kid, Spangler was "psychic" (a bit like Steiner). As a teenager, he often felt cosmic energies flowing through his body. As a young man, Spangler gave up what could have become a promising career in science and instead decided to become a mystic or metaphysical teacher. His initially sceptical father eventually supported him with the somewhat strange words: "If you're going to be a mystic, go out and be the best damn mystic you can be." However, Spangler did get in trouble with his father at a later point, when the old man threatened to have him arrested. Apparently, a rumour had spread that Spangler had become the leader of a sex cult!

In reality, Spangler is surprisingly low-key, laid-back and undogmatic for a "mystic" associated with California (he even left the golden state at a later point). His teachings emphasize communion, love, cooperation with the spirits on equal terms and the right to say "no" to purported guidance from the spirit-world. He doesn't claim to know the full truth about the "subtle realms" and often criticize self-proclaimed gurus and prophets. Above all, Spangler is critical of New Age seekers who uncritically accept every communication from the spirit-world at face value, or demand that the spirits tell them exactly what to do. The book contains several absurd episodes of how such "guidance" can go dangerously wrong. Apparently, Spangler's critical attitude made him a few enemies in California, where his freedom-loving message was seen as a threat by aspiring gurus and (perhaps) their prospective followers.

But sure, even Spangler claims to have direct access to the spirit-world. His spirit-guide is an entity named John. John is said to look like a man in his early forties, with dark brown hair, wearing a light shirt and dark trousers beneath a tweed jacket! Had I read this during my most sceptical period, I would have concluded that poor Dave, although obviously not a leader of a sex cult, is nevertheless either a hoax or barking mad... A spirit wearing a tweed jacket? And while Spangler is generally sceptical of prophecies, he claims that John did give him two glimpses of the future which turned out to be correct. Already before the death of Andropov, John predicted that a certain Mikhail Gorbachev would eventually become Soviet leader, and that his politics would lead to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. John also predicted the rise of Islam and Islamic~related violence. Or so Spangler believes.

"Apprenticed to Spirit" further tells of Spangler's visit to the well-known Findhorn community, a New Age project in Scotland. For a number of years, Spangler was one of the de facto leaders of Findhorn, until he moved back to the United States and founded his own group, Lorian. At Findhorn, Spangler met William Irwin Thompson (another somewhat unusual spiritual pilgrim). Out of their discussions grew the Lindisfarne Association, which regrouped famous scientists, spiritual teachers and societal critics in an attempt to aid the emergence of a new planetary consciousness. However, Spangler also admits that the high hopes for a New Age didn't materialize as the idealistic 1970's gave way to the materialistic 1980's, when the New Age was turned into a marketing brand and dreams of a planetary consciousness were turned into a frantic quest for purely individual improvement. The term "New Age" became so tainted among serious~minded people that Spangler and several of his associates had to stop using it altogether.

Today, Spangler and his co-workers at Lorian have developed a concept they call Incarnational Spirituality, which emphasizes the positive aspects of our material incarnation and even claims that, in a sense, we aren't incarnated enough. This is also stands in sharp contrast to many other metaphysical schools, with their hierarchical and de facto dualist perspective, where spirit is seen as better, higher and more desirable than matter. Spangler, by contrast, believes that the material world and the spirit-worlds are on the same level, complementing each other, both being direct manifestations of the Divine Ground.

"Apprenticed to spirit" is an interesting read, but I also have one problem with it. Judging by Spangler's earlier texts, his worldview was originally obviously Theosophical, with ideas about the Cosmic Christ, Lucifer, Atlantis, Sanat Kumara being the true initiator of the Earth, etc. There are no traces of this message in Spangler's book, not even when he discusses his early meetings with John or the stint at Findhorn. Perhaps Spangler feels that his basic teachings have always been the same, and that only the language has changed. Maybe, but another possibility is that Spangler is projecting his current message on his past... The question should at least have been discussed in a book that comes close to being a spiritual autobiography.

That being said, I nevertheless recommend "Apprenticed to spirit" to all serious spiritual seekers, in particular those tired of all the commercialism, ego-tripped gurus and world-denying nihilists. Although Dave is a bit "soft" to my tastes, he *is* a damn good mystic!

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