In this book of breathtaking scope and depth, Betty Kovacs reminds us of our inherent divine identity and capacity to create, and how the mystic-shamanic tradition of gnosis has been repeatedly submerged and repressed in Western culture, resulting in a devastating loss of soul and heart. However, her final message is one of hope – if we have created our current world, we can recreate a new one together that truly integrates heart and head, feminine and masculine, love and wisdom. We can transform imaginally from our limited identity as caterpillars into more expansive butterflies.

Betty’s background and experience has some unique features. Her doctorate was in comparative literature and the theory of symbolic/mythic language, and she has taught these subjects for 25 years at university level. In addition, as her earlier book The Miracle of Death recounts, she has experienced many dreams, visions and initiations, centrally the death of her son Pisti in a car accident, followed two years later by the death of her husband Istvan, also in a car accident. In the intervening period, Pisti conveyed some essential insights about the nature of consciousness and our evolutionary phase of development. It was he who instructed his father to look up the 18th hexagram from the I Ching, whose code is ML, or Merchants of Light and which stands for ‘the transformative laws of an energy field that is activated when we work on what is decayed.’ (p. 45) Pisti told his dad to read the hexagram carefully as it was his work, and the work of the Earth in giving birth to a new consciousness at a time when we are ‘dreaming a terrible dream’ and urgently need to distil light out of our darkness.

After an introductory overview, the second part highlights the complementary roles of the scientist and shaman/visionary as well as key developments in quantum physics and wider cultural developments. Betty diagnoses our current addiction to a worldview that is destroying the planet and tells us the story that life is without meaning and purpose and that only conceptual knowledge is of any value. She then gives a sweeping historical account of the shaman-mystic view of life, going back to 40,000 BC, then the Egyptian mysteries, the loss of Yahweh’s partner Wisdom through the Deuteronomists in 621 BC, the significance of the Gnostic Nag Hammadi gospels, and the Church’s destruction of the ancient intellectual and spiritual world. The third part draws on her own visionary experience with sacred medicine in Peru, while the fourth part is devoted to retrieving soul, again with a detailed sequential historical treatment. The fifth part outlines five waves of remembering – the Grail story in the High Middle Ages, the Italian Renaissance, the northern or Rosicrucian Enlightenment, German and English Romanticism, and the current Renaissance, also reflected in the reframing of our consciousness expressed through the voices of indigenous peoples and reminding us of our true spiritual evolutionary blueprint.

The alpha and omega of the deep structure of reality is Cosmic Consciousness. Betty shows how indigenous cultures from thousands of years ago were able to access this, and still carry this tradition today. The realisation of Cosmic Consciousness is an encounter with our deepest Self, as Chris Bache also articulates in his book reviewed below. Betty resonates with and draws on the work of Peter Kingsley on ancient Greek mysticism and the tragedy of forgetting our true identity. For 1500 years, the Greek mysteries initiated people into a larger vision of life and Cosmic Consciousness until, in 392 CE, they were closed down by the Christian emperor Theodosius. Betty’s journey in the book is both inward to the soul or centre of the labyrinth, and outward to history. She shows how the Church’s repression of gnosis prepared the ground for modern and mechanistic science, reflecting what she calls the fiction of the superiority of the conceptual mind over the dreaming, visionary mind, which has resulted in the censorship and dismissal of inner experience. In the 18th century, Vico realised that these functions were in fact complementary, as also brilliantly articulated in our time by the work of Iain McGilchrist with which Betty is evidently unfamiliar.

Another key theme is the marginalisation of the spiritual feminine as Wisdom or Sophia. It is fascinating to read about their relationship and the contrast (p. 161) between the Genesis story involving power maintained by fear and punishment, subjection of the female to the male and that human beings should not become like God. The actual mythic pattern is very different, with life as a process of becoming more conscious through seeking inner knowledge and where masculine and feminine work together, nature is sacred, the goddess is the tree of life and we are initiated into a knowledge of our divinity.

The emergence of the Gnostic Gospels introduces us to a very different ‘wisdom’ Jesus, as I also explain in my review of books about Mary Magdalene above. Here it is not a question of believing in Christ, but rather following the blueprint of becoming Christ through gnosis. As the great high priest, Jesus ‘became the model of the return of Wisdom to Yahweh. Jesus embraced Mary and redeemed Yahweh. Once again, “the spirit of Yahweh was the spirit of Wisdom.”’ (p. 205) However, the Church followed the Deuteronomists, replacing the gnosis of direct experience with dogma and belief in an institutional structure that ‘demands obedience from the many and allows for control by the few’ as set up by the Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century. Followers of the Greater Mysteries were submerged by the power of those who had only participated in the Lesser Mysteries – countless texts were destroyed, this secret knowledge was buried and forced underground, ‘the mystic and visionary life was discredited and lost. Knowledge of the subtle world – the mundus imaginalis – was lost. The Gnostic Jesus was destroyed and his beloved Mary Magdalene pronounced a whore.’ (p. 215)

Betty explains how repeated waves of Renaissance tried to recover this lost knowledge, but it was repressed and eliminated on each occasion: the Grail, the Cathars and the troubadours; the school of Chartres and the deeper meaning of the cathedrals; the denunciation, imprisonment and poisoning of Pico della Mirandola in the late 15th century; the overtaking of the Rosicrucian Enlightenment, rooted as it was in both mystical experience and scientific exploration, by the mechanistic metaphor and Enlightenment rationalism; the attempt by Romanticism to balance imagination and reason; and the failure to understand the deeper significance of Goethe’s Faust in splitting off feeling and the feminine. Betty explains how each renaissance ‘has challenged the Western heroic model of mental development with a more complete archetypal pattern for our evolutionary future.’ (p. 431)

All this brings us back to the present and the extraordinary scientific, anthropological and cultural developments of the past century (p. 404), including the work of Jung in recovering underground traditions and the widespread occurrence of Cosmic Consciousness and experiences such as NDEs that point to consciousness beyond the brain. Betty advances reasons why things are different this time as consciousness is being reframed to include a greater reality. She gives examples of many indigenous cultures that have maintained their access to gnosis and an understanding of the deeper laws of nature and are now warning us that we need to change our ways of thinking and acting, paying heed to ‘the inner music of the universe.’ (p. 417) This is a path of harmony rather than power, manipulation and control, as epitomised in US imperialism that, interestingly, has its roots in a Vatican domination document dating back to 1493. We now need to become conscious of the pathology of the Western worldview with its picture of a meaningless and purposeless universe resulting in an inner and outer wasteland.

However, according to Betty, ‘we are now reclaiming the sacred knowledge of how we evolve. We are realising that the true role of civilisation is to discover and nurture this knowledge. Our ancestors understood that civilisation cannot develop unless it is rooted in the power of the heart to give birth to a feeling world. They knew that without feeling, we cannot bring justice into being. And they understood that without the inward journey to develop soul, creation cannot continue to unfold. The message is clear: without the creative energy of love, we cannot create a true civilisation. And when we cannot create, we destroy.’ (p. 441) This is where we all have a role to play and are being supported in this evolutionary imperative by other levels of intelligence that we have called upon to connect in a network of light: ‘when we love, we attract the light of love everywhere, and the power of love distils darkness into light. However, it appears that now we all need to focus that love by consciously connecting the nexus points in the great net of light, consciously grounding that light in the earth beneath us, and then consciously sending that light around the world.’ (p. 453)

I urge people to read this profound and moving book and become part of this vital contemporary Renaissance, the fulfilment of our deepest longings for wholeness and cosmic consciousness.

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