Saturday, October 19, 2019

A Swedish mystic

“Mäster Fritz. En svensk mystiker” (or “Mäster Fritz.” with a dot at the end) is a peculiar work by Åke Åredal, of whom relatively little is known. The book is only available in Swedish. I honestly don´t know how to review it without sounding unnecessarily harsh on both the author and his chosen topic, but the tome *is* very, very strange.

Åredal claims to have discovered a spiritual master, a certain Master Fritz (Mäster Fritz in Swedish). His real name was Fritz Olofsson. He was born in 1929 and died in 2008. Åredal hardly met him and spoke to him over the phone only once. Thus, the book is based on reminiscences of other people. He also exegetes Fritz Olofsson´s only book, “En mystik troslära” at some length. Clearly, Åredal was touched by Master Fritz, but even his sympathetic portrait of the man and his work cannot hide the fact that Olofsson was – by all standard metrics – completely insane.

Olofsson was probably heavily autistic. He had very little social life, spent most of his waking hours procuring and reading rare books on mysticism, walked in a weird way oblivious to the outside world, and constantly showed up at public examinations of doctoral candidates in Uppsala, where he pestered all and sundry by long-winding interventions about mysticism. The Uppsala university library eventually banned him from borrowing any more books (he borrowed too many) and the local vendors didn´t like him either, since he insisted on reading every magazine at the newsstand without paying for it. It seems he even read soft porn mags, and had a childish infatuation with “The Phantom”. Olofsson was completely incapable of taking care of himself, including basic things such as washing, grooming or ironing shirts. According to Åredal, Master Fritz lived in a permanent “mystical state” since around the age of 30. I don´t rule out anything, but alternative explanations do come to mind, including some kind of kundalini-like psychotic break (compare U G Krishnamurti). His constant repetitions of mantras as he was walking around doesn´t sound very sane either, and even Åredal at one point wonders whether the Master may have used his vast knowledge of mysticism as a kind of coping mechanism from an uncomprehending and cold world…

I never read “En mystik troslära”, but judging from Åredal´s extensive exegesis of the volume, Master Fritz was a rather typical impersonalist mystic. In India, he would be considered a follower of Shankara and Advaita Vedanta. Nominally, Fritz was a Christian, indeed, he was technically speaking an ordained priest in the Church of Sweden, but was incapable of actually functioning as such expect for very brief periods. His Bible interpretation was extremely allegorical, and seems to have virtually no connection at all to any Christian tradition. The goal of the mystic is to realize his oneness with “God” (or “It” or “The All”), the true meaning of the famous phrase “I am who I am”. Once realizing this, the mystic doesn´t have to leave the world. He can stay within it, since he knows that all is God. Evil is an illusion, and so is isolation from God. Suffering comes about when we don´t realize that we´re constantly in God. Indeed, suffering is a necessary purification of the soul on its way back to God-realization. God creates in two phases. The “exhalation” phase creates the material world, the “inhalation” phase reunites everything and everyone with God. It is this process of reuniting which causes friction, suffering and “evil”. I readily admit that I don´t vibrate with this kind of message at all… Apart from the usual stuff, Fritz Olofsson also expounded at length at the meaning of certain mystical (?) symbols, including a grid of nine points and a curiously shaped cross adorning the church tower of his native village. This is the reason, I think, why the author chose to call his book “Mäster Fritz.” with the dot (point) at the end.

Fritz Olofsson´s impact on Church life and theology in Sweden was virtually non-existent. He had certain contacts with Hans Hof, a mystic and Swedish priest influenced by Zen Buddhism. He was also a member of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, an Orthodox-dominated group promoting dialogue between Eastern Orthodoxy and the Protestant churches. Åke Åredal seems to be one of the few people who were seriously influenced by the old eccentric. While Åredal is probably a Christian, his book is distributed by the Theosophical Society Adyar and published by a small New Age press called Siljans Måsar. They have published several other books on the “autistic and mentally handicapped people are really deeply spiritual” theme. (I admit that I don´t like it.) One problem with “Mäster Fritz.” is that Åredal frequently inserts his own interpretations of Olofsson´s message at various points in the work. It´s not always obvious when the Master ends and the Disciple begins. The book is also written in a weirdly pedantic style and could have needed better editing.

I´m not sure how to rate this curious work, but had this been an Amazon review, I would probably give it three stars for the contents but only two stars for the style.

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