The Celestine Prophecy, 1995
James Redfield. Warner Books, New York, NY, 240 pages.
Reviewer: Joseph P. Szimhart (1996)
Book jackets can be interesting. The one on this book is plain with a white title and author copy on a mid-tone blue-green field. On the front is an endorsement by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: "A fabulous book about experiencing life—I couldn’t put it down." On the back of the jacket in orange tone we read: "You have never read a book like this before.... A book that comes along once in a lifetime to change lives forever."
When Redfield first self-published his book, before the best-selling Warner edition, it had been a word-of-mouth sensation among New Age circles: the jacket says it was read by more than 100,000. Warner then offered Redfield a deal that he did not refuse. In the early edition it was classified as a New Age book according to the bookseller I bought my copy from. When the Warner edition came in, she said it was reclassified as fiction. After reading the book, I believe "New Age fiction" describes it well enough. Recently when I was in New York, I was directed to the New Age section of a large Greenwich Village bookstore by the owner who commented that this is the section where "the books take themselves seriously." I shared the humor. The Celestine Prophecy is a book that takes itself seriously.
One thing about Redfield’s "adventure," as it is subtitled, is its familiar format. It is an occult adventure story of the same genre of "true story" occult fiction made popular in the mid- to late-nineteenth century by Bulwer-Lytton (Zanoni, The Coming Race), Marie Corelli (A Romance of Two Worlds), and a host of less popular writers. Bulwer-Lytton was a Rosicrucian sympathizer who expressed the "mysteries" of his sect in Zanoni. In that book the author purports to merely rewrite a manuscript that is mysteriously left in his office.
Mysterious manuscripts have influenced popular imaginations to the extent that several new religions, cults, and belief systems have formed around such documents. The "golden tablets" allegedly translated by Mormon founder Joseph Smith, the shadowy Book of Dzyan seen only by Theosophy’s Madame H.P. Blavatsky and on which she based her Secret Doctrine, the missing Mayan tablets about the alleged lost civilization of Mu by James Churchward, the bogus manuscript about the lost years of Jesus allegedly seen by Nicolas Notovitch in Ladakh, and so on.
The cult of the mysterious manuscript or prophetic revelation carries over to the twentieth century in esoteric adventures by Baird T. Spalding (Life and Teaching of the Masters of the Far East), Guy "Godfre Ray King" Ballard (Unveiled Mysteries), Eugene E. Whitworth (Nine Faces of Christ: Quest of the True Initiate), and more recently in books by Carlos Chastened and Lynn Andrews. The Mayan Factor by Joss Arguelles prophesied a planetary "harmonic convergence" in 1987, after loosely interpreting an ancient calendar.
Redfield takes up the theme of a mysterious Manuscript. His contains the secrets of life (10 "Insights"), written in Aramaic around 600 B.C., but found in Peru. This theme, more properly called a literary device, is engaged by writers with a deep need to get what they believe is a serious personal vision across to the public through the vehicle of a magical autobiographical experience. In his story, Redfield takes us on his journey of incredible coincidences as if he is guided by some unseen hand or telepathic force to meet the right people in his vague quest to find the Manuscript. He avoids getting shot while encountering sinister forces headed by a Cardinal Sebastian who somehow controls the military and the Manuscript. I was reminded of the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Redfield unabashedly panders to some New Age beliefs of his admirers:
1. The ancient wisdom or truth has been made occult (hidden) because the established orthodoxy, jealous of its power, does not want the masses to know the truth.
2. We are on the verge of a paradigm shift in human evolution. Does anyone remember the dawning of the Age of Aquarius in the late 1960s or the already mentioned Harmonic Convergence in 1987? How about the hundredth monkey idea popularized by John Keyes, Jr?
3. When enough people get it (i.e., the Insights), the human race will hit the "critical mass" level and we will all be enlightened. We will have peace on earth, the lion will lie down with lamb, and we will walk in bodies of light. The Maharishi of Transcendental Meditation has been selling a path like this for decades.
4. The Christian Church has been responsible for repressing the truth that in reality we are all "the Christ," that we are truly God if we could only transcend our ignorance, or the "brainwashing" imposed upon us by the Church, the Bible God, the popular consensus, or modern scientists.
5. When we awaken (raise our energy levels) to this inner reality or gnosis, we will have magical powers like clairvoyance, healing, invisibility, and immortality.
6. We are co-creators of the universe. We create our own reality.
7. If we get rid of "fear and doubt" we will maintain the "energy level" of our "higher self." The suggestion here is that anyone who might criticize the "teaching" (The Celestine Prophecy, in this case) is merely expressing his or her fear and doubt, therefore that person will not gain the magical powers or "Insights," or be saved.
Redfield’s book jacket lied to me in several ways. I have read books like this one and it is not a prophecy. It is a didactic regurgitation of simplistic occult notions that have been expressed by more or less talented writers and fringe groups for well over a century. Redfield’s style is cynical. He must take his audience for pathetic fools. His book, if nothing else, seems to describe a pyramid scheme with him at the top of his "spiritual" franchise which expects people to support whoever reveals the 10 Insights to them. From the book:
"But what about money?" I asked. "I can’t believe people will voluntarily reduce their incomes."
"Oh, we won’t have to," Dobson said. "The Manuscript says our incomes will remain stable because of the people who are giving us money for the insights we provide." (p. 225)
Since Redfield is the only source of revelation:
"I’ve been thinking," Fr. Carl continued, "that they’re going to release you. You may be the only one who can look for it [the tenth Insight]." (p. 246)
Guess who gets most of the money? Guess who gets most of the adulation? If you think I am merely being cynical, read the promotion at the back of his book: $29.95 for the newsletter and $49.95 for an audiotape reading of your sun and moon sign by Redfield. So now we know that he is an astrologer. That explains a lot, to me at least, about his worldview and his milieu. Also, Redfield promises us a second book explaining the "tenth Insight." Do we have a new guru with a new religious movement here?
The popularity of Redfield’s book is not, therefore, surprising. Now and then, books come out that appeal to a New Age or esoterically inclined audience, which easily numbers in the tens of millions. Among them are the folks who read and believe books by Carlos Castaneda, Shirley MacLaine, and Lynn Andrews. Some readers have been influenced by reactionary revisions of the Jesus story and Christian teaching in dictatorial tomes like A Course in Miracles or The Urantia Book. The Celestine Prophecy will go on my shelf among those just mentioned, but alas, unlike The Urantia Book, it is not large enough to serve as a doorstop.
(Joseph Szimhart, 1996)
this book has sold over 23 million copies at this note in 2016