Book Review

In the Dark Places of Wisdom by Peter Kingsley, The Golden Sufi Center, Inverness, CA, 1999; 270 pages, ISBN 189035010x, softcover, $12.95.

Traditionally the West has traced its intellectual life back to ancient Greece, particularly to Athenian philosophy of the 4th century BC which emphasized intellectual discourse and logical analysis. Development of this rational mindset is often pictured as the culmination of Greek thought and its greatest contribution to mankind. As in his earlier Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition (Oxford University Press, 1995), Dr. Kingsley disputes this view, maintaining that Greek philosophy is deeply rooted in the mystical and experiential philosophies of the pre-Socratics, particularly the Pythagoreans.

Writing in an easy style, the author gradually unriddles evidence about the pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides, centering on the opening lines of his philosophical poem and archeological discoveries made in Velia, Italy, some forty years ago. Dr. Kingsley maintains that Parmenides was not only a profound philosopher and logician, but also a mystic, the twice-born follower of Apollo, god of initiation, prophecy, lawgiving, and the midnight sun. The author traces this Mediterranean mystical philosophy to Greek cities in Anatolia (today part of Turkey). Even in the 7th and 6th centuries BC this region was far from isolated: there was extensive contact not only with Spain, Italy, and the rest of Greece, but with Persia, Babylonia, Egypt, India, China, and shamanistic peoples in central Asia as far away as Mongolia.

Dr. Kingsley's presentation throws light on the underlying unity behind prophecy, healing, lawgiving, and philosophy, and their relation to Apollo. The path to discovering these capacities, he feels, involves encountering truth at first hand by entering other states of consciousness. An important factor on this quest was the existence in the ancient world of a succession of spiritual teachers.

The purpose behind In the Dark Places of Wisdom is not primarily academic, however, though many of his comments are documented in endnotes. Rather, the author has in mind a larger goal:

The life of the senses can never fulfill us, . . . if we want to grow up, become true men and women, we have to face death before we die. We have to discover what it is to be able to slide behind the scenes and disappear.
. . . Even in these modern times, what half-heartedly is described as mystical perception is always pushed to the periphery. . . . But what we haven't been told is that a spiritual tradition lies at the very roots of western civilization.
. . . Nothing about who those people were, or what they taught, is appreciated any more. Even the traces of their existence have almost been wiped out. . . .
Now it's important to make contact with that tradition again -- not just for our sakes but for the sake of something larger. . . . And we don't have to look outside ourselves. We don't have to turn to a culture any different from the world we live in. Everything we need is inside us, deep in our own roots, just waiting to be touched. . . .
And yet for contact with that tradition a price has to be paid. . . .
The price is what it always has been: ourselves, our willingness to be transformed. Nothing less will do.
We can't just stand back and watch. We can't stand back because we ourselves are the missing ingredient. Without our involvement words are only words. And that tradition didn't exist to edify, or entertain, or even to inspire. It existed to draw people home. -- pp. 6-8

In seeking this spiritual home, philosophy resumes its rightful place as a way of life based on the love of wisdom. Despite a strong anti-Platonic bias, In the Dark Places of Wisdom represents a much-needed reinterpretation, showing that the elements missing from western thought today were present originally and can be recovered by us as an integral part of our own culture. For the tradition leading back through ancient Greece offers us not only food for the mind, but provides generously for the spirit. -- Sarah Belle Dougherty

(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 2001; copyright © 2001 Theosophical University Press)

World Spiritual Traditions Menu

Boundless Space is our home. Thither we shall go, and there indeed we even now are. We are not only connected by unbreakable links with the very heart of Infinitude, but we ourselves are that heart. This is the still small path of which the ancient philosophers taught; the path of the spiritual Self within. -- G. de Purucker