John Michael Greer is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, a Druid in the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, a Freemason, and a Bishop in the Universal Gnostic Church. He once said, only half jokingly “some people collect stamps. I collect initiations.” Couple that with Greer’s detailed study of Peak Oil and its implications for our relationship with the Earth and you have a very good background to write Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology.
Full disclosure: I am studying for ordination under John Michael Greer. However, this book isn’t part of that program – unless his clairvoyant skills are off the charts, he doesn’t even know I read this book. If the book sucked I simply wouldn’t review it. If it was a book I thought you shouldn’t read I wouldn’t be studying under him.
This is a short book (160 pages) that matches its subtitle: an introduction to spiritual ecology. It begins with a brief overview of the purposes and methods of mystery schools throughout the ages, with emphasis on the fact that they are schools: with teachers, students and most importantly, curriculums. It is through the study of the school’s material and through the practice of its teachings that students obtain the wisdom of the mysteries. Initiation ceremonies, while important, cannot replace the hard work of preparing for initiation.
Mystery teachings can take many forms and they work best when they use topics and symbolism that are both current and, well… mysterious. Greer gives the example of Pythagoras basing his teachings on geometry and the occultists of the last century basing theirs on the then-new field of psychology. For most of us, natural science is complex enough to be mysterious and yet critically important to our futures.
Greer proposes seven laws of spiritual ecology: the Laws of Wholeness, Flow, Balance, Limits, Cause and Effect, the Planes, and Evolution. He describes each law, gives an illustration from Nature, explains its relevance to personal growth and to a healthy society, then gives a meditation exercise to contemplate all the implications of the laws in your life. The process is incredibly simple and very powerful, but like so many things in life, what you get out of it depends entirely on what you put into it.
Greer spends a fair amount of time on the topic of magic and what it can and can’t do. That leads into a sharp critique of the purveyors of pop spirituality who would have you believe that the only thing standing between you and your every whim is your mind. The human mind is incredibly powerful and can shape reality, but it can’t bend the laws of Nature – especially the Law of Limits. No amount of spell casting, visualization, affirmation or prayer is going to increase the amount of oil in the Earth. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Contrary to what those who benefit most from the Western status quo would have you believe, it isn’t physically possible for 7 billion people to live an American middle class lifestyle.
The future of the human species will be rooted in living in harmony with the Earth or the human species will have no future.
Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth is a framework for learning that harmony. One of the quotes emphasized in a sidebar says “the initiates of the mysteries practice the art of living deliberately.” I briefly worked through the meditations as I was reading the book. They are effective, and if practiced diligently, they will bring about helpful changes in mindsets and changes in daily behaviors. But they are entirely naturalistic – those looking to re-enchant the universe should look elsewhere.
I think this book will be most useful to Pagans and environmentalists who see a need to live more closely attuned with Nature but who find the idea of gods and spirits unhelpful. If you liked Dark Green Religion and you’re looking for a practical guide for “what’s next?” Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth is a good place to start. It will also be helpful to those who may have gone a little too far into the realm of Spirit and who need to reground their practices in this life and this world. Another sidebar reminds the reader “to attempt to rush through the human to reach the superhuman is to miss all the benefits gained from being human in the first place.”
This book presents truths both timeless and contemporary and it provides a roadmap for integrating those truths into your life. It is helpful and, I think, necessary for facing the challenges of our world. But I can’t help but wonder what would happen if someone came along and overlaid this excellent framework with a series of stories, allowing students to learn the mysteries through myth as well as from the natural world…