By Isobel Blackthorn
Reviewed by De Gevallene, October 2020
This book is a work of level-headed and scrupulously annotated research from an unashamed admirer of Alice Bailey’s life and legacy. It is beautifully written and it seduced even this dyed-in-the-wool sceptic. Close up, the author tells Alice’s unique and special life with an affection that makes it impossible not to like both author and subject. Alice was a fine and beautiful human being, and I imagine that the author of this book is also that.
But I was also seduced by the parallel world that this story depicted.
By parallel world, I am not referring to any of the esoteric planes to which Alice Bailey and her associates claimed privileged access, but to the parallels between this remarkable story about the development of the New Age Movement and other stories with which I am more familiar. The development and ongoing impact of psychoanalysis. The birth and growth of the socialist Labor movement in Europe. The organisational and ideological story is one that could be written about any of these nineteenth-to-twentieth century movements. A story of clashing personalities as they struggle for control over “truth”, the formation and splintering of institutions and groups, the inevitably disappointed desire to protect a legacy – and, through all of it, the intensely-felt personal betrayals and rivalries between people divided only by passionately believing almost (but infinitesimally not quite) the same thing. (Just read the competing reviews of this book on Amazon! See those tiny bitter visceral resentments writ angrily there!) This is a cover version of a song sung so many times, in so many voices, probably for as long as there have been human societies.
But this is also a story that is historically specific. Alongside Socialism and Psychoanalysis, the New Age movement weaves through the final century of the last millennium, drawing on threads from different places, but arranged and organized on a loom of the same design, ultimately weaving cloth that is curiously similar, intended for the same grand purpose. In all of these movements we see the same millennial optimism, the belief in the possibility of a new enlightenment and the breathless conviction that the next evolution of humanity is almost within our grasp. Can their emergence at the same point in western history really be co-incidental?
No, I’m not talking about the birth of the Age of Aquarius! I don’t believe in that. Sadly I doubt that these millennial ideologies will survive to the next millennium, let alone through the next 2,000 years till we will enter, as astrologists quaintly declare, the Age of Capricorn. But they are good stories, worth telling in our time, however long that lasts. And Isobel Blackthorn has made the telling of this one a delight.
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