I love to read, and I never go anywhere without a book; making me no different than any other writer. And now that I’ve moved into a more focused chapter of my life, I only read things that matter to me. No more reading because I have to—my grandad used to say, “with age comes freedom,” and now I’m living that out. Remember that while you’re scrolling down through my list. Since I started blogging ten years ago, I’ve annually posted my top books of the year. Oddly enough, the length of the list has not been consistent. This year I’m going with twelve. Don’t think apostles. Think alchemy—three becomes four; the apocalypse, the philosopher’s stone. The books are listed from ten to one. And then I’ve thrown in two extras, just because I wanted to use the number twelve. I’ll start with the apocalypse, that ought to be a fair warning.
Ten—“The Book of Revelation,” translated by Michael Straus and illustrated by Jennifer May Reiland. I’ve read The of Book of Revelation several times, but never in one setting. Now I have. And while The Saint John Bible’s is illuminative, the art didn’t drive me into an apocalyptic fetal position. Straus’s translation is true to the original language yet fresh. And he offers little poetic surprises along the way using Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, and German to accentuate the poetry of the vision. He also includes a bit of alleluia musical score, which I found delightful. Reiland brings the apocalypse alive, shockingly with graphic eroticism. Her detailed watercolors are contemporary in content and style. Reiland’s “Self-portrait of Mary Magdalene Having a Vision of the Apocalypse,” is a juxtaposition of the beauty and the beast.
Nine—“The Tarot, Magic, Alchemy, Hermeticism, and Neoplatonism” by Robert M. Place.
First, Place is an artist, one who wants to know everything about his subject, which for several years has been the tarot. His latest tarot decks are “The Alchemical Tarot” and “The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mysteries.” His research led him into the areas you would expect, hence the long and cumbersome title of this book. I’ve read several books on the tarot and this one offers the most concise and at the same time, in depth, history of the cards. Place does a reasonable job of providing the reader with enough connection, but not too much background, into the other topics, out of which tarot developed and without you cannot truly understand the craft of tarot. His art is beautiful and imaginative. I’m especially fond of the first deck. He also provides several plates of historical tarot cards and alchemical art. The only thing that would have made this volume better would have been color pictures, of course that would have put the price out of reach.
Eight—"Alchemical Active Imagination” by Marie-Louise von Franz. Von Franz was one of
Carl Jung’s closest and most respected students and colleagues. She has written more about Jung’s concept of Active Imagination than anyone. Jung’s technique, along with dream analysis, was central to his therapeutic method. To have any understanding of Jung’s mystical theories and practices, his oft misunderstood “The Red Book,” and the use mandalas, von Franz’s book is a must.
Seven—“Aurora Consurgens: A Document Attributed to Thomas Aquinas on the Problem of
Opposites in Alchemy,” edited with commentary by Marie-Louise von Franz. If you
didn’t read number eight on the list, go back and read it before trying to tackle this work of art. This isn’t the Thomas Aquinas you read in seminary. This is the great theologian facing death, trying to sort out the most serious questions of life and the end, his personal apocalypse. He needed a therapist and a spiritual guide. Therapy hadn’t been invited so he turned to Sophia, the feminine divine to be his confessor and confidant—his ally with God. Mind bending stuff with soul creating possibilities.
Six—“When Nietzsche Wept,” a novel by psychotherapist Irvin D. Yalom. Did philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche have a therapist? What if that therapist was a colleague of Sigmund Freud? What if Nietzsche was the father of talk therapy? Irvin Yalom has been one of the most creative and imaginative therapist and writers of our era. He has used the novel, and in this case, historical fiction, to pose some fascinating questions about the human condition and the practice of therapy. This book is deliciously written and moves quickly across the landscape. If you’re interested in therapy and/or spiritual guidance (spiritual direction), this is an important read in understanding transference, counter-transference, the depths of depression, and suicide. He also wrote “Schopenhauer’s Cure,” a melancholic teaching novel about group therapy.
Five—"The Transmigration of Timothy Archer” a novel by Philip K. Dick. He’s the author of “The Man in the High Castle,” and the film “Blade Runner” was based on his science-fiction work. Dick was a prolific writer authoring 44 novels and 121 short stories, ranging in topics from science fiction, alternative universes, altered states of consciousness, metaphysics, and theology. “The Transmigration of Timothy Archer” was based on Dick’s friendship with the controversial Episcopal Bishop James Pike, who was a precursor to the equally firebrand Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong. The novel provides a picture into the confused psyche of someone caught in the political swirl of the church, illusive historical Jesus research, and the drama of human tragedy. The twist is in the title.
Four—“The Intelligent Enneagram” by A.G.E. Blake. This book has nothing to do with the
Enneagram as a personality typing tool and everything to do with the teaching of G.I. Gurdjieff. If you have read Cynthia Bourgeault’s “The Holy Trinity and the Law of the Three,” you’ll recognize Gurdjieff’s name. Bourgeault does her best to use Gurdjieff’s work in relationship with the Trinity without getting her reader bogged down in the intricacies of the metaphysics behind the Enneagram. I have found Blake’s work to be foundational in understanding the philosophical and magical power of the Sacred Circle. Blake fills in the thought gaps Bourgeault left with her reader. If you want to fully grasp the Enneagram at a deeper level, this book is for you.
Three—“Bodies, Politics and Transformations: John Doone’s Metempsychosis,” by Siobhan
Collins. The Irish author and academic takes on the daunting task of salvaging Donne’s most opaque and often misunderstood poem. In fact, his detractors use this lengthy poem to disparage Donne’s canon. Most aficionados on Donne divide his career into two segments—before and after priesthood. The first half of his writing life was filled with Eros. The second with Agape. Collins succeeds in giving Donne an appropriate Janus-esk reality. Or in Jungian terms, she allows him to individuate. Collins work is true the subject; poetic, illusive, and evocative. If you don’t know who John Donne was, might be good to read a biography, such as “John Donne: The Reformed Soul,” by John Stubbs before starting in on Collins.
Two—“Healing the Wounded God,” by Jeffrey Raff. Raff was a student of Marie von Franz; thus, he’s is a Jungian analyst and a practitioner of alchemical imagination. His other works are “Jung and the Alchemical Imagination,” The Wedding of Sophia,” and “The Practice of Ally Work.” I would recommend you start with “Healing the Wounded God,” but these four volumes have shaped my spiritual practice. He has taught me how to contemplate with and pray to the divine and communicate with my souls. He has led me into the discovery of the Anima Mundi, the world soul and my own anima. His book has also been supportive of the idea of the “disabled God,” and my research into disability theology.
One— “Knot of the Soul: Madness, Psychoanalysis, Islam” by Stepania Pandolfo. Her other equally evocative book is “Impasse of the Angels.” Pandolfo has changed the way I think about the magical realm of writing and engaging the imagination. “Writing is magic…an otherworldly receptivity.” Her work as an anthropologist of psychology takes her into the dark, imaginal, and artistic world of mental illness, a pain that invades all our lives without respect the race, creed, or culture. We sit at her feet while she teaches us about Sufi poets, art, the metaphysics of Islam, and the tragedy of mind. Pandolfo’s writing is a mystical spiral, which induces an altered state of mind for the reader. These books are a pathway into an alternative universe that demands we somehow keep one foot in whatever we might consider “our reality,” each realm in itself that is as allusive as the other.
I said I would give you two extra books. I also realized I gave you ten other book titles while reviewing my top ten for the year; that makes twenty. As promised, though, here are two addition books, just for fun—which makes the Fool’s journey through the Major Arcana complete.
“The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London,” by Christopher Skaife. Just plain fun and a few tidbits about ravens—like Guinness and scones (yes, the two go together; try it.)
“Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice,” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew. This book is for writers at every level of their craft. Insightful and filled with practical tips and exercises. She’s also friends with two author friends of mine, Karen Herring and Beth Gaede.
My planned reading for 2019? I have these in my que, sitting on my desk.
“The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick” by Philip K. Dick
“Science and Spiritual Practice: Reconnecting through Direct Experience,” by Rupert Sheldrake
“The Lifetimes When Jesus and Buddha Knew Each Other,” by Gary R. Renard
“How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence,” by Michael Pollan.
Hope you found something here intriguing. Happy reading.