I’ve been reading this book literally for years. It’s not very long or dense, but we picked it up for our Pagan Book Club back in the day. For some reason or another I was never able to finish it, until now. Aside from my 1-billion-year hiatus (I started it in July of 2011) from this book, I actually really adored it. Loved it, in fact. I’d recommend it to anyone!
Hidden Wisdom basically looks at many Western mystery traditions and offers a short survey of their history, basic beliefs, controversies, and mythology. The authors point out that in modern Western society, we often look to the East for our mysticism (India and China, mostly.) While they recognize that lots of great things have come from the East, they encourage Westerners to examine their own mystery traditions, too. There’s so much there to be proud of!
They also wanted to write a book to help people within the New Agey communities to understand the roots of the modern mystic movements. Smoley and Kinney did a great job of keeping their book on track with these goals, and because of this, I think it would be fabulous as a foundational or beginners book to those who are interested in Mysticism or the spiritual side of New Age thought or even Paganism. They really do a great job of laying out the basics, adding a lot of context and history that is otherwise missing from many New Age or Pagan resources.
All of these movements have been incredibly influential on modern mystic thought. I personally knew a bit about most (but not all!) of the chapters. Through spanning so many topics, there’s something in Hidden Wisdom for everyone. Those chapters that were familiar topics to me (Gnosticism, Jung, Neo-Paganism) offered a great review and refresher. When it came to the chapters on Ceremonial Magic, G. I. Gardjieff, and Hermeticism, I found every word and concept to be fascinating. These thoughts were totally new to me, and it was great to read about something that I’d never heard of before.
Smoley and Kinney did a great job of offering lots of information without bogging the book down. And while I’m sure they missed some key ideas here or there, I didn’t feel like anything vital was lacking. There’s just enough to get the general idea and to gain an appreciation of the topics being discussed. Furthermore, each section has quite an extensive list of sources and resources, which is quiet excellent for those who would like to learn more about a specific topic.
As a Neo-Pagan Priestess, I’d love to use this book with people who I am mentoring. While most of the mentoring I’ve done has been basic Pagan 101 stuff, this book would be a good one to explain the more mystic and spiritual aspects of where Neo-Pagans are coming from. Furthermore, it offers a very good history of the roots of modern Neo-Paganism. We’re not just modified Wicca. We have roots in all of these mystery traditions – in the philosophies of Jung, in the ideals of Gardjieff, in the dreams of the Alchemists. And yes, we even have very clear connections to Gnosticism and Mystic Christianity.
So, I pretty much loved this book. I’m a little embarrassed that it took me so long to read, but that’s my fault, and not the fault of Smoley or Kinney.