My Original Mystical Booklist

Note from Carl: I began this list in 2007, and added to it here and there over the years. Eventually it seemed large and unwieldy, and so I created shorter, more focussed booklists, like the ones you can find here, here, and here. But this is my original attempt to put together a useful bibliography for Christian and world mysticism. So enjoy!

Christian Mysticism: Twenty-Five Essential Books

World Mysticism: Twenty-Five Essential Books

Writings of the Mystics: Anthologies

Writings of the Mystics: General

Writings of the Mystics: the English Mystics

Writings of the Mystics: the Spanish Mystics

Writings of the Mystics: the German/Rhineland Mystics

Writings of the Mystics: Eastern Orthodox Mystics

Writings of the Mystics: Protestant Mystics

Writings of the Mystics: Gnostic and/or Heterodox

Books on Christian Mysticism and Contemplative Spirituality (Kindle Editions)

Books About Mysticism: Written for General (Non-Scholarly) Readers

Books About Mysticism: Surveys and Histories of Mysticism

Books About Mysticism: Concerning Specific Mystics
See below for books about Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton, or Evelyn Underhill

Books About Mysticism: The “Traditions of Christian Spirituality” Series

Books About Mysticism: Academic and Scholarly Works

Books About Mysticism: Contemporary Guidebooks for Aspiring Mystics

Books About Mysticism: Denunciations of Mysticism

Books About Mysticism: Reference

Special Topics in Mysticism: Julian of Norwich

Special Topics in Mysticism: Evelyn Underhill

Special Topics in Mysticism: Thomas Merton

Special Topics in Mysticism: The Song of Songs

Special Topics in Mysticism: Deification

Special Topics in Mysticism: Benedictine and Cistercian Spirituality

Special Topics in Mysticism: Carthusian Spirituality

Special Topics in Mysticism: Centering Prayer and Christian Meditation

Special Topics in Mysticism: Eucharistic Devotion and Popular Piety

Special Topics in Mysticism: The Anamchara (Soul Friend) and Spiritual Direction

Special Topics in Mysticism: The New Monasticism

World Mysticism: General Titles and Anthologies

World Mysticism: Sufism and Islamic Spirituality

World Mysticism: Kabbalah and Jewish Spirituality

World Mysticism: Buddhism

World Mysticism: Vedanta and Hindu Spirituality

World Mysticism: Miscellaneous Eastern Spirituality

World Mysticism: Classical and Ancient Pagan Mysticism

World Mysticism: Indigenous and Shamanic Spirituality

World Mysticism: Neopagan and Goddess Spirituality

World Mysticism: Interfaith Spirituality (Christian and Non-Christian)

World Mysticism: Post-Sectarian and Integral Spirituality

Miscellaneous: Literary Works Relevant to the Study of Mysticism

Miscellaneous: Spiritual books that are not necessarily “mystical” (but I like them anyway)

Miscellaneous: Music

Miscellaneous: Movies

Miscellaneous: Spoken Audio

Miscellaneous: Software

February 5, 1977

Here is an excerpt from my book The Aspiring Mystic: Practical Steps for Spiritual Seekers (2000), which unfortunately is out of print, although used copies are fairly easy to find.

This passage describes my own initiation into an embodied, luminous encounter with the Divine, after which “spirituality” for me would always be a lived reality, not just an abstract idea.

The highlight of the weekend was the Saturday night communion service. With all one hundred or so of the participants present, we’d have a long, comfortable, folk-style service, with plenty of singing as we stood arm in arm, swaying to the music. Although I had participated in such acoustic-guitar-driven worship services before, this one seemed different, from the start. As we sang, and eventually shared the bread and wine of Holy Communion, it seemed to me as if the entire room began to glow. Not a physical glowing, as if someone had turned on additional lights, but a radiance, a presence—words fail to describe. Slowly, but suddenly and obviously, things were different. Only words associated with light seem to capture the experience. Luminous, resplendent, glowing.

It’s as if everything—the walls of the room, the various people within it, the bread and the wine being passed from hand to hand—shimmered with a light that I could still perceive even when I closed my eyes. Call it energy, perhaps. It wasn’t just as if there were a nonphysical light, it felt as if a new kind of love or joy had become manifest for the first time ever. I felt loved like I never had before. It seemed to me as if every person in the room became radiant with a visibly miraculous glow. Once I noticed it, I felt simply carried along by this serenity and joy that I had never felt before. It wasn’t ecstasy, for I didn’t feel like I left my body; nor was it a vision, for physically things appeared just as they always had. It had nothing to do with drugs; indeed when at a later date I experimented with LSD or cocaine or magic mushrooms, those substances always seemed pale and physically jarring in comparison to the loveliness I had known that night in Massanetta. Nor was it any kind of psychological breakdown—it had no ill effect on me physically or emotionally, other than to leave me with a sense of serenity and a feeling of connection to the God whom we were worshipping that evening.

This supernatural energy was so gut-level real to me, and so far beyond anything I might have imagined or tried to concoct, that I thought something objectively miraculous had happened in the room, some sort of profound moment in which God chose to reveal himself. By “objective,” I mean I thought everyone must have experienced what I did. Honestly. It never occurred to me that this might have been just a subjective experience! But I soon discovered to my surprise—and somewhat dismay—that others hadn’t felt or seen anything at all unusual that evening. After the service ended, I said to two or three people, “Wasn’t that amazing?” to which they replied with a totally noncommittal “Uh-huh.” Soon I realized that, for some reason, I had been given a unique gift.

It happened at church camp, but this wasn’t about church. I’ve been to plenty of church-sponsored events both before and since, and never did the windows of eternity open like they did that evening. No, it was something far deeper, far more profound, than mere religion.

— from The Aspiring Mystic: Practical Steps
for Spiritual Seekers
by Carl McColman

Update 2019: I’ve recounted this same story, in greater detail, in chapter 2 of my book Unteachable Lessons.

Sylvia B. McColman (1923-2007)

Sylvia B. McColman, 83, of Hampton, Virginia, passed from this life on January 4, 2007 surrounded by loved ones. She graced the lives of countless friends and acquaintances with her warmth, her charm, and her playful sense of humor. Her life will be celebrated through a funeral service at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Hampton on Tuesday, January 23rd at 7 PM with a reception afterwards. Interment will be in the Gloria Dei Memorial Garden.

Born Sylvia Bertha Batina on January 29, 1923 in Roosevelt, NY; she married John D McColman of Port Huron, Michigan on December 14, 1945. Along with her husband, she first moved to the Virginia Peninsula in 1961 where they lived for most of the past 45 years.

Sylvia was an active member of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. She was a long-time volunteer at the Langley AFB Thrift Shop and an accomplished bridge player. With her husband, she spent many years camping and living the RV life, forming friendships wherever she went.

Survivors include her husband, John D McColman of Hampton, Virginia; three sons, Donald E. McColman of Williamsburg, Virginia, John C. McColman of Chester, Virginia, and Carl D. McColman of Stone Mountain, Georgia; two granddaughters, Elizabeth A. McColman of Richmond, Virginia, and Rhiannon G. Wilburn of Stone Mountain, Georgia; two sisters, Flora Steiner of Schenectady, New York and Wilma Berry of Charlotte, North Carolina; a brother, Arnold Batina of Longmont, Colorado. She is preceded in death by her brother, Ernest Batina of Long Island, New York.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Gloria Dei Lutheran Church or another charity of your choice.

Here’s the contact information for Gloria Dei as well as two other charities here in the Atlanta area:

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church
250 Fox Hill Road
Hampton, VA 23669

Friends of Disabled Adults and Children
4900 Lewis Road
Stone Mountain, GA 30083

Monastery of the Holy Spirit
2625 Highway 212 SW
Conyers, GA 30083

If you wish to notify the family of any charitable contributions made in Sylvia’s honor, you can contact us through Carl McColman, P.O. Box 1146, Clarkston, GA 30021. Thank you.

Sparkle the Dark Up

Every year on December 1, I play what is far and away my favorite secular song for the holidays: December will be Magic Again by Kate Bush. Rhiannon and I listened to it this morning while I was helping her brush her teeth and get ready for her school bus to pick her up.

It’s a hard track to find—to get my copy on CD, way back in 1990, I had to purchase the Kate Bush box set This Woman’s Work which I bought at the Piccadilly Circus Tower Records in 1990 for £99 (at the time, about 200 US dollars)!

If you are more sensible with your money than I am, you can look for the Moments of Pleasure EP (used copies on Amazon run about $25). It also shows up from time to time on Christmas anthology CDs, but those seem to go out of print as fast as they are released, so you might have to find a used copy.

Here’s a “live in the studio” version of the song from Kate’s 1979 Christmas special on the BBC:

So, perhaps you are wondering why I would be so nutty as to drop two Ben Franklins just to get my hands a holiday song by the British songstress who put the “ethereal” in “ethereal music”? (well, in my defense, the entire box set is well worth having!)

Never mind that Kate Bush has a gorgeous voice (and is just plain gorgeous, for that matter), that her songwriting hails from the same creatively quirky otherworld that must have inspired folks like Peter Gabriel and Roger Waters, and that her music figured prominently in the soundtrack of my college years. For now, let’s just focus on this one song.

From the very first notes—a trancey minor-key piano riff that simultaneously evokes John Lennon’s most psychedelic work and Christmas sleighbells—leading into Kate’s dreamy “Doo-do-do-do-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo, Doo-do-do-do-doo-doo” vocalise, this is more than just a song, it is a magical soundscape into which the good witch of British pop music will inexorably draw you.

The storyline itself at first seems just a bit, er, eccentric: a disjointed collection of seasonal images, from running your dog on the ice to humming along with Bing Crosby; but quickly it starts to gets truly weird on you: from Saint Nick in the chimney, the song’s field of vision pulls back to that of a paratrooper falling in the snow (many of Kate’s songs have an almost paranoid sense of military foreboding), and then the music abruptly changes tempo, jangling bells start to drive the melody over an insistent drum and piano, and the vocalist’s point of view shifts to that of the snow itself: “Come to cover the lovers, Cover the lovers, but don’t you wake them up, Come to sparkle the dark up, Sparkle the dark up, with just a touch of make-up, Come to cover the muck up, cover the muck up, ooh with a little luck.

And all that’s only the first verse.

The second verse dances from the mind of Oscar Wilde to lovers liplocking under mistletoe to the odd sensation of finding the vast mysteries of the universe revealed in someone’s laughter, all finding resolution once again in the parachutist’s refrain: “See how I fall… see how I fall… see how I fall… like, the snow!” and then we’re back into the consciousness of a snowflake.

Flakey? Perhaps. But when Kate jubilantly assures you that she’s come to “sparkle the dark uuu- uuuuu- uuuuuuu- UUUUUUPPPPPP!” in a glorious crescendo, well, the song could be just as weird as possible (and it IS just as weird as possible), and you wouldn’t care, because this is the singing of a genuine snow fairy, and she has woven her spell all about you, and you are entranced, and you are the snow, and you’ve come to sparkle the dark up, and it’s all glorious and beautiful and ecstatic and wonderful and passionate and lovely.

And December is magic again. Once again.


The lyrics to this wonderful song can be accessed here: www.metrolyrics.com/december-will-be-magic-again-lyrics-kate-bush.html


2009 Update: this video clip features a mini-documentary/homage to Kate from British television. Includes commentary from Peter Gabriel, Lilly Allen, Neil Gaiman, Elton John, and even John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon.


2016 Update: Apparently Kate’s version still is not for sale as a digital download (I checked both Amazon and iTunes), but a cover version by “The Christmas All-Stars” can be downloaded from either source; here’s a link to the song on Amazon. It’s definitely not Kate (no ecstatic crescendo), but it’s worth a listen.



2018 Update:
Perhaps the easiest way to get your hands on a copy of this wonderful song is to purchase the newly released Kate Bush remasters. Her complete catalog, including rare tracks, remixes, etc., is available in a four-volume vinyl collection or a two-volume CD collection. “December Will Be Magic Again” can be found on Volume IV of the Vinyl Remasters or Volume II of the CD remasters (of course, you will want to get all of her remastered albums, whether on vinyl or CD — but these are the volumes that feature this particular track).


Five Goals of Celtic Spirituality

Well, at least, these are my goals for doing the Celtic do:

1. Development of the imbas, which is to say, higher/mystical knowledge;

2. Growth in the nine virtues, including contemplation, courage, earthiness, eros, healing, honor, hospitality, peacemaking, and wisdom;

3. Cultivating the aisling, the ability to dream or envision alternative ways of living in our world;

4. Growth in the three realms of love: Love of the Gods (devotion, service, sacrifice); love of others (community building, kinship, ethical sexuality, healthy relationships, environmental responsibility); and love of self (personal power, pursuit of happiness, emotional maturity, self-care); and

5. Sufficient knowledge of Celtic lore to relate it to everyday life, including your spiritual path (i.e., relating Celtic lore to these goals).

Box of Fairies

The softly romantic cover illustration of Gwen Knighton’s Box of Fairies, replete with a half-dozen or so cute diminutive naked fairies frolicking about Gwen Knighton and her harp in a bucolic setting, might lead the listener to expect a disc full of saccharine new age melodies with insufferable affirmations strung together as lyrics. Not!

The irony of the cover design is but the first trickery of this powerful and unforgettable recording filled with bardic surprises and artistic enchantment. Sure, Knighton— award-winning harpist and member of the pagan/filk trio Three Weird Sisters— is a romantic, as revealed by her reliance on fairytales as subject matter. But like all the best romantics, she’s as interested in the dark as in the light, and so her debut solo recording explores a world where safety and danger rub elbows alongside the piercing longing of a stepchild as much as the sweet innocence of love between friends.

Box of Fairies is a solo album in the truest sense of the word: neither of Knighton’s bandmates appear, and with the exception of bass on one song and bass and guitar on another, the rest of the album features only Knighton’s harp and her voice. But this woman is a bard (never mind how much she would deny it), and like all bards she not only makes music, she enchants as well. Which means that it’s easy for the listener to forget that the rich cascade of harp music and the emotional intensity of her voice are the artistry of but one person.

With the exception of a passionate reading of Leonard Cohen’s “Joan of Arc,” all the songs on the CD were written by Knighton. They’re not pagan songs in the sense of yet-another-chant-to-Isis, but rather bardic in their exploration of a deeply lived inner world, where myth and reality collide (and collude) with varying degrees of success. While love songs like “Common Land” and “Free Fall” reveal a lyrical romanticism ably given voice by melodic tunes and confident singing, the finest and most luminous songs found here are— surprise!— the dark ones. “Ghosts” uses the metaphor of psychic ability to plumb the shadowlands of self-doubt, and “Stepchild” gazes into the world of a selkie from the forever-left-out perspective of her all-human stepdaughter, magnifying the longing for an unattainable mother’s love with a similar ache for a watery world forbidden to those not born of it.

Some of the twilight tunes feature lyrics that are as funny as they are ominous: “Cinderella Sleeps” muses on the misadventures and dysfunctional lovestyles of fairy tales princesses transported into twenty-first century America, while “My Fairy Tale” takes the heroine-as-victim motif to a sardonic extreme. Humor notwithstanding, the heart of the bardic art is the telling of a story, and each song included here has its own tale, implied if not declared: such as the Arthurian backstory of “Gwen’s Lullabye for Ygerna” or “Last Run,” an impressionistic study of cyberpunk instincts based on the roleplaying game Shadowrun.

Musically, Knighton’s compositions are “folk” in the truest sense of the word: straightforward melodies, edgy but memorable. Adorned by her fluid “harpistry,” the music seduces as much as it plays. Box of Fairies reveals a world rich with mythic power. May Knighton take us there again and again.

"The More We Are Protected, The More We’re Trapped Within"

Last night I saw Peter Gabriel and Sevara Nezarkhan at Chastain Park Amphitheatre here in Atlanta. The set list:

Red Rain
More Than This
Secret World
Games Without Frontiers
Mercy Street
Darkness
Digging In The Dirt
Don’t Give Up (duet with his daughter, Melanie Gabriel)
The Tower That Ate People
Growing Up
Animal Nation
Solsbury Hill
Sledgehammer
Signal To Noise

In Your Eyes
Biko

It was a fine evening. Although Gabriel doesn’t seem to have the same kind of commanding onstage presence that blew me away when I first saw him in 1983 (complete with the ritualistic face paint he sports on the cover of his “Plays Live” album), his voice was still in fine form, his band sounded great, and his two hours’ performance was well-paced and nicely blended his old and new material. Indeed, the new material really made the show: songs like “Growing Up” and “Signal to Noise” revealed an edgy, muscular sound that differs dramatically from the cool reserve of much of Gabriel’s pop work. “The Tower” from his “OVO” soundtrack crackled with a sense of energetic urgency, built around what seemed to be the theme of the evening: that when we try to protect ourselves, we end up just becoming trapped within. In introducing the song, he used gated communities as his example, but given that the concert included several political numbers (“Games w/o Frontiers,” “Signal to Noise” and “Biko”) it’s clear that the “protection” that is bothering PG also functions on the level of nation-states. Other highlights included an a capella intro to “Mercy Street” and the dedication of “Animal Nation” to the Atlanta-based Language Research Center, where bonobo chimpanzees have demonstrated complex language skills (and where Gabriel has participated in research). I saw the setlist before the show (more on that later) and the encore was listed as either “Come Talk to Me” or “Biko.” I got my wish: when announcing the final song, PG said “We did this one last night for the first time in a long while, and it feels really good to be singing it again. It’s a song about the importance of resistance.” Amen! And just like he did the previous times I saw him perform that song, he ended it with the audience singing along with him, only to issue us a challenge: “The rest is up to you.”

Beautiful women: the opening act of the show featured Sevara Nazarkhan, a lovely vocalist from Uzbekistan with a great stage presence. Her CD is fabulous, if you like worldbeat stuff. She joined PG for the encore, covering Youssou N’Dour’s part on “In Your Eyes.” Also on stage with PG was his daughter, Melanie Gabriel, who covered Kate Bush’s parts in “Games w/o Frontiers” and “Don’t Give Up.”

Fun and games on stage: This was the “Growing Up” tour, and so the show had a playful edge. PG and Melanie rode around stage on segways during “Games” while “Growing Up” featured PG rolling around the stage inside a huge plastic ball, propelling it like a hamster in a wheel. And the singer sported a large jacket with blinking lights during “Sledgehammer.”

A stroll, but no dive: Longtime fans of PG know that in the old days, he would sing “Lay Your Hands on Me” and literally dive backward into the audience. While no such stunt happened at this show, the band finished “Solsbury Hill” with a quick stroll into the audience at the front of the mezzanine level.

Unexpected celebrity sighting: my wife and I got our tickets through a friend who works for Real World Records. As is often the case when we get tickets through my industry connections, we end up sitting with industry people. Sure enough, next to my wife were several folks with backstage passes. Indeed, the guy right next to her was quite good-looking and seemed familiar, although I couldn’t place him… he had a copy of the setlist, which he gave to me; we were chatting so I asked him if he was with a label. He laughed a bit self-consciously and said he was a musician and had helped PG with a recent remix. “That’s great,” I said, and introduced myself. He smiled shyly back and said “Hi, I’m Trent Reznor.” I tried to act cool (don’t think I did a very good job of it).

Sorry this is such a long post: but it was truly a magical evening!

Note: Featured image (Peter Gabriel with camera) comes from the page on his website where you can order a DVD form this tour.

Priestess of the Drum: An Interview with Layne Redmond

Author, recording artist, and drum instructor Layne Redmond is passionate about the frame drum, the music of ecstasy, and the recovery of women’s role as percussionist priestesses to the Divine Mother.

Loreena McKennitt sings about “drums that pulse in echoes of darkness,” and Mickey Hart wrote about how drumming took him to the “edge of magic.” Drumming has a primal connection to magic and the spirituality of the earth — the spirituality of the Goddess. So how wonderful it is that we have Layne Redmond, the stunning woman who almost single-handedly is carving out a large and bountiful space for women to tap — literally — into their own ecstasy, the ecstasy of the primal rhythms of the Divine Feminine.

Layne practically sneaked onto the stage of contemporary spirituality, recording several CDs with frame drum virtuoso Glen Velez, and later with her legendary group of women drummers, the Mob of Angels. But in 1997 she caught our attention with her provocatively titled and profusely illustrated book, When the Drummers Were Women. Here she expands on the theme she first lays out in her first video, A Sense of Time — that drumming, far from the being the male enclave our society assumes it to be, originally was the province of women, especially priestesses of many Goddesses and mystery religions throughout the ancient world. And she backs up her assertion with artistic evidence from around the globe. In the image of the drumming priestess emerges an exciting nexus of feminism, music, and pagan spirituality — a life-giving pulse dedicated to the Sacred Mother, in which women find the freedom to be who they truly are.

Her performance as a musician is precise and hypnotic — listening to her and her partner Tommy Brunjes perform, entering a trance state is almost irresistable. In interviewing her, I found a woman who is intelligent, articulate, and passionate about her message.


You recount an amazing story in your book — of being a woman in a male-dominated field who gradually discovers that there is an ancient link between drumming, women, and the Sacred Feminine. How did your discovery of the heritage of women drummers impact your spirituality?

My research revealed to me that the earliest religions were based around the concept of god as the divine mother of all life in the universe. I was an art major, but it wasn’t until I was researching the history of religious ideas that I saw the oldest art known to have been made by human beings — sculptures and reliefs carved in rocks, depicting the sacred vulva of the goddess, the gateway through which we all must pass when we are born as human beings. These exquisite images are from the Paleolithic period, around 30,000 years ago. Such images are not in our art history books because they are considered inappropriate to be seen. According to the traditional patriarchal mind set, since they depict the sexual organs of women they are therefore obscene, possibly pornographic and certainly not for public view. I was astounded to find out that our oldest art is not in our history books–you could major in art history and never see them.

These images are always painted red, the color of blood, one of the most sacred substances in the ancient world. These pieces of art depict our oldest religious mysteries — the mystery of woman turning water into blood and then turning the blood into a new human being. The second mystery is that woman transforms water into blood into milk, the divine nourishing fluid, to feed the new born human being. For our ancestors these images were far from obscene — they were sacred images of the oldest religious mysteries of birth, growth, fruition, death and rebirth. Of course this information transformed me. I had spent many years studying yoga and Buddhist meditation with predominantly male teachers. And I’m grateful to the many wonderful teachers I had, but I knew it was time for me to leave the patriarchal lineage of spiritual disciplines. Women’s spirituality is just coming into being in our culture and we’re searching in many ways to find out what it actually is and what it will become.

I believe that powerful music is essential for religious or spiritual transformation. We are in the process of creating that new music. In the ancient Mediterranean world ritual music was based on ecstatic trance rhythms. We are in the process of becoming rhythmically literate once again and many are drawn to the ecstatic quality of rejoicing and worshiping the sacred through drumming and dancing.

What role do you see the Goddess playing in the spiritual life of women (and men) of our time?

It is certainly a time of return for the feminine face of god. From the many sightings of Mary to the actual excavation of many of the images of the ancient goddesses, to the tremendous amount of research being done on her traditions by scholars, awareness of the goddess is rising and becoming easily accessible. As a child, the only goddesses I had ever heard of were the Greek goddesses and now I can walk into any bookstore and buy books on goddesses from all over the world and from many different time periods. Many groups are practicing rituals and meditations to invoke the sacred feminine within us here in America and it is extremely transformative for women and men to see themselves as a reflection of Her. Also it is very powerful for women to take on the role of priestess for their communities. In the ancient world, priestesses presided over every religious function of life. At some temples in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Turkey there could be up to two to three thousand priestesses working at one temple complex. I also love visiting other cultures like Brazil and India where She is a living part of everyday reality. In these cultures there is no questions in anyone’s mind whether or not God can manifest in feminine form — She certainly does!

How do you distinguish between music-for-entertainment and music-for-ritual? Is it even a valid distinction to make?

I am drawn to music that entrances, enchants and transforms me rather than entertains me. I want to be woken up to the powerful unlimited possibilities of the spirit and led into greater realizations of the meaning of life. In ritual we use music to tune ourselves to the elemental forces that constantly swirl around us the in the physical world. Through the vibrations of the music we entrain with these forces which transform and clarify our connection to the source of all that is. Music which supports ritual helps to bring us into alignment with the spiritual unfoldment of our lives.

Tell me about your forthcoming CD.

The new CD is called Roots of Awakening, Chanting the Chakras. Amitava Chatterjee, Steve Gorn, Tommy Brunjes and Laurel Massé are the musicians I was so fortunate to have work with me on this project. Amit has a number of recordings of his own including Songs of Kabir and Colors of the Heart. Besides being an outstanding sitar player and vocalist in the ecstatic tradition of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, he’s also one of the top fusion electric guitarists and played with Joe Zawuinul’s Syndicate. Steve Gorn is probably the premier western player of the North Indian bansuri bamboo flute. He plays traditional ragas and has been in demand as a fusion player. Tommy Brunjes has performed and recorded with the pop groups, PM Dawn and the Murmurs. Laurel Massé was a founding member of the Manhattan Transfer.

Roots of Awakening is a meditation practice for re-tuning the entire mind and body by chanting the fifty “seed syllables” or letters of the ancient language, Sanskrit. Each syllable sits on a petal of one of the six chakras within the body and each vibrates a specific part of the body. For example, the mouth, the tips of the right fingers, right ankle, etc. This practice is at least a thousand years old and very likely three to four thousands years old — or according to my primary South Indian yoga teacher, Swami Bua, millions of years old! He does not accept the traditional historical accounts of reality. He insists that people have been here and practicing yoga for millions of years. This particular practice is based on the essential sounds, the alphabet, that make up one of the oldest languages, sanskrit. Language is the very structure through which we think, communicate and understand our world. This is a primordial meditation that cleanses and restructures our very apparatus of consciousness. Amit helped translate old texts out of Sanskrit and Bengali and I was very fortunate to have him chanting and playing sitar on this recording.

What potential does the music of ecstasy have, to really make a difference in people’s lives? How do you think exploring the ecstatic dimension of drumming has changed your life?

When I first got involved in Tibetan Buddhism, I went to an Empowerment — a four-day long ceremony with beautiful music, a shrine where offerings were made, and the meditation was being chanted–and I was just stunned. There were only four musicians, but it was so astounding, and this is what completely changed me. At that time, I was involved in the New York “new music” scene, which wasn’t new age at all–but after the Empowerment, I left that downtown art realm — the “art and ego” realm. I knew something was actually going on with ritual music. The music was providing the energy to invoke the blessings and the deitie. I can’t tell you exactly how it all works, but that’s what I’m interested in–when the music is an essential part of aligning our minds with the energy of — I don’t even want to limit it to “beings beyond us” or “Goddesses” or “Gods” or “deities” — it’s consciousness beyond us, the divine, the sacred.

It’s the music that actually taps in, that creates a pathway or circuitry for that sacredness and the divine to manifest. It’s rare, you know — it’s a rare experience, and it’s a big thing to take on to say that’s what I’m interested in trying to accomplish. But I think there’s a number of us who are trying to help bring that into being at this time, help create it, because we don’t have a shared musical culture. People here are from so many different groups of people, and many of our traditions were already lost and destroyed before we even got here.

So it sounds like the Empowerment was truly a life-changing experience for you.

It was. It changed me. I saw that something was actually happening. It was beautiful to see. The shrine was extraordinarily beautiful; colorful. I had seen so much self-indulgence in New York; even great people with lot of talent were empty inside, so the stuff that was manifesting might have been interesting, but it was empty, and not pointing to a greater reality.

What about the Mob of Angels? Do they still exist?

Well, sort of. What’s happening is we’re doing a big CD-release concert in Berkeley, and it’s the end of one of my six-month training programs, so that whole group — about twenty-five of them — will perform with us and we’re calling them the “West Coast Mob of Angels.” The original Mob of Angels was pretty fluid; there was a core group of people who were always in it; that was from about 1990 to 1994. Then I got the book contract and I moved to upstate New York, and at that curtailed anything else as I worked on the book. So that original Mob of Angels is no more; what we did at that time was very profound and really extraordinary; we were very successful, especially for New York, simply showing that people really wanted ritual. But for now, it looks as if the Mob of Angels will manifest as more and more groups that are trained throughout the country, that also have a purpose to come together again.

What advice do you have for women who are interested in drumming?

That there’s nothing to be afraid of, except maybe finding yourself completely addicted to being in rhythm with a group of people! And there is a particularly powerful quality when women drum together. The voice of the drum is calling many people right now, particularly women, some of whom had always wanted to play but were never given the opportunity or permission. Many of my women students were told that the drums were for boys, and they should play the piano or sing instead. Or sometimes it happens almost by chance — someone ends up at a drum circle and without any prior interest is suddenly captivated by the drums.

Take it even further: what advice do you have for women who are “not sure” what their calling is? You began as an artist, and almost fell into frame drumming. What did you learn about yourself, both as a spiritual person and as a career woman/artist, in the process?

But essentially the time to pursue your dreams is right now. Don’t wait until you have more time, more money, less responsibilities, etc. One must start doing the things one dreams of in the present moment or they never become reality.


This interview first appeared in the November 1999 issue of New Leaves.

Postscript: Layne Redmond passed away on October 28, 2013, at the age of 61.


Disclosure: products mentioned in this post are linked to Amazon. If you follow one of those links and make a purchase, the author of this blog receives a small commission. Thank you for doing so: it’s the easiest way you can support this blog.

 

February 5, 1977

Here is an excerpt from my book The Aspiring Mystic: Practical Steps for Spiritual Seekers (2000).

This passage describes my own initiation into an embodied, luminous encounter with the Divine, after which “spirituality” for me would always be a lived reality, not just an abstract idea.

The highlight of the weekend was the Saturday night communion service. With all one hundred or so of the participants present, we’d have a long, comfortable, folk-style service, with plenty of singing as we stood arm in arm, swaying to the music. Although I had participated in such acoustic-guitar-driven worship services before, this one seemed different, from the start. As we sang, and eventually shared the bread and wine of Holy Communion, it seemed to me as if the entire room began to glow. Not a physical glowing, as if someone had turned on additional lights, but a radiance, a presence—words fail to describe. Slowly, but suddenly and obviously, things were different. Only words associated with light seem to capture the experience. Luminous, resplendent, glowing.

It’s as if everything—the walls of the room, the various people within it, the bread and the wine being passed from hand to hand—shimmered with a light that I could still perceive even when I closed my eyes. Call it energy, perhaps. It wasn’t just as if there were a nonphysical light, it felt as if a new kind of love or joy had become manifest for the first time ever. I felt loved like I never had before.It seemed to me as if every person in the room became radiant with a visibly miraculous glow. Once I noticed it, I felt simply carried along by this serenity and joy that I had never felt before. It wasn’t ecstasy, for I didn’t feel like I left my body; nor was it a vision, for physically things appeared just as they always had. It had nothing to do with drugs; indeed when at a later date I experimented with LSD or cocaine or magic mushrooms, those substances always seemed pale and physically jarring in comparison to the loveliness I had known that night in Massanetta. Nor was it any kind of psychological breakdown—it had no ill effect on me physically or emotionally, other than to leave me with a sense of serenity and a feeling of connection to the God whom we were worshipping that evening.

This supernatural energy was so gut-level real to me, and so far beyond anything I might have imagined or tried to concoct, that I thought something objectively miraculous had happened in the room, some sort of profound moment in which God chose to reveal himself. By “objective,” I mean I thought everyone must have experienced what I did. Honestly. It never occurred to me that this might have been just a subjective experience! But I soon discovered to my surprise—and somewhat dismay—that others hadn’t felt or seen anything at all unusual that evening. After the service ended, I said to two or three people, “Wasn’t that amazing?” to which they replied with a totally noncommittal “Uh-huh.” Soon I realized that, for some reason, I had been given a unique gift.

It happened at church camp, but this wasn’t about church. I’ve been to plenty of church-sponsored events both before and since, and never did the windows of eternity open like they did that evening. No, it was something far deeper, far more profound, than mere religion.

— from The Aspiring Mystic: Practical Steps
for Spiritual Seekers
by Carl McColman

Update 2019: I’ve recounted this same story, in greater detail, in chapter 2 of my book Unteachable Lessons.

 

David and the Phoenix: A Gentle Masterpiece of the Mythic Imagination

David and the Phoenix, gentle masterpiece of children’s literature first appeared in the late 1950s, bringing a dimension of magic and wonder to young baby boomers growing up in a society dizzy with consumerism, the space race, and post-WWII arrogance. Recently reprinted in both hardback and paperback editions, and available on the Kindle and Nook, this book is now available for an entire new generation of budding visionaries.

The 1998 movie Toy Story 2 looks back on the fifties as a time when science fiction triumphed over cowboys as the dominant mythology for American youth. But Ormondroyd’s David and the Phoenix, a genuine relic from that era, hearkens back to an even grander myth, or set of myths. Peopled with Banshees and Leprechauns, Griffins and Fauns, Sea Serpents and of course the magnificent Phoenix itself, this story cracks wide open the rich treasure-trove of world mythology and makes it fun, appealing, and shimmeringly real for today’s post-modern youth.

Like Harry Potter’s train to the magic land of Hogwart’s, David and the Phoenix uses the concept of journeying to transport its young protagonist to the enchantments of the other world. On a beautiful summer day, David climbs the mountain behind his new home to discover the last secret refuge of a legendary bird. Stumbling upon the Phoenix quite by accident, David encounters a being with a gloriously imperfect character: learned but a bit pompous, potentially fierce but often comical, contemplative and meditative yet with a genuinely warm heart.

When the boy and the bird strike up an unexpected friendship, the mythic creature decides that David deserves a “practical” education, unlike what he is receiving in school. Although the Phoenix’s notions of practicality may seem a bit eccentric (“How do you tell a true Unicorn from a false one?

What is the first rule of defense when attacked by a Chimera?”), this overriding theme of their friendship also serves as the moral of the story: don’t let the encroaching claims of “Science” and “Modern Life” get in the way of a real education, which is based in wonder, imagination, and sometimes just lollygagging around on a sunny day. Long before movies like E.T.or Splash explored the conflict between empiricism and imagination, David and the Phoenix made an articulate case for putting science in its rightful place as only one aspect of a truly educated life.

The tension between science and myth is heightened by the Phoenix’s bête noir: an over-eager scientist who is so obsessed with hunting down the bird that he would even kill it. Some of the novel’s most brilliant humor involves the lengths that David and the Phoenix go to foil the scientist and dissuade him from his quest.

I properly first discovered David and the Phoenix as a boy, and today I cherish its message of the primacy of myth and wonder. Going back to re-read it in 2001, I am struck by how masculine a book it is (although the Phoenix’s gender is never disclosed); I also wince at its portrayal of witches as either petulant or comically threatening (one old Irish hag keeps trying to get the Phoenix to sell David to her. “Ah, the wee darling, the plump little mannikin. What a broth he’d make, to be sure”). But I can forgive these flaws as symptoms of the book’s age, especially given the overall feeling of magic and enchantment that fills this too-brief story.

The resolution of the conflict between the Phoenix and the scientist brings themes of loss and renewal together in a heartbreaking climax. At least the hostile scientist doesn’t win, but he isn’t defeated, either. We readers are left to carry on the battle, of providing the Phoenix and his kind safe harbor and refuge in a world where “getting and spending” and the “obsessive interest” of arrogant science have threatened the eternal beauty and truth of the mythic world.

It’s a challenge I’m willing to take.