The advantage of having a spiritual blog are, among other things, that I get free copies of spiritual books occasionally. So far that’s limited to spiritual fiction though, in my case. And it’s not exactly the best fiction I get sent home for free either. I recently received ‘The Happy Soul Industry‘ by Steffan Postaer. I read it out in one go, which means it’s compelling reading. Would I read it again? No, not really. It’s a bit like those books which build in the success of the ‘charmed’ series on TV. I read them, I like them, but I don’t think they’re high standing literature. I would never review them here.
Why is this book an exception? Because it touches on an important theme: the eternal question in Western Society: what is evil and where does it come from? It’s an eternal question because the very question has, as usual, the answer buried inside it. If you look at the world through the paradigm of a war between good and evil, then evil is something that needs to be fought. If on the other hand you see misfortune and greed as the prime suspects, you come up with totally different responses.
Steffan Postaer frames his book in as classically Western a paradigm as possible: God, the Devil and an angel are the prime characters in his novel. It’s set in 20th century USA (or perhaps early 21st century). God, as the source of everything, is the mother of the devil as well. This is a slightly Gnostic (and more logical) version of our old creation myth.
Shifting capacities, miracles, seduction – they all play their part. The main theme is that God has chosen a new way of bringing her message to the people: advertisement. It turns out that actually the devil has a near monopoly on the advertisement industry. After all, it’s all about seduction and greed – two of the specialties of the classic devil. Weren’t the seven sins used some time back to sell ice cream? How diabolical can you get?
What I don’t like about the book is that all the responsibility is ultimately that of God or the Devil. No ordinary people involved at all. But the book has a point. The Advertisement Industry uses state of the art psychological knowledge to get us to buy as much as possible. Whether it’s good for the whole of humanity or not. Profit is the ultimate bottom line. Money as the measure of all things. That’s our culture and spiritual people all over try to find their own way of not getting caught up in that, while not hurting their own bottom line.
For me this is perhaps, and that’s why this book gets mentioned here at all, the hardest spiritual question of all: when does using knowledge turn into misuse of knowledge?
The classic theosophical answer is: Motive. Motive determines whether an action is positive or negative. Motive determines the direction a person grows in. Motive alone. But effects count for something as well. After all – cause and effect together make up the law of karma.
Blavatsky wrote about this stuff in a rather black and white way. Literally. In one Secret Doctrine Studygroup we came to the conclusion that her definition of black magic was: misuse of power. What is misuse in her book? Selfish use. What is selfish? When the self comes into play at all. White magic is then the use of power and knowledge for the good of mankind. Or in Buddhist terminology I’m sure she’d have liked: the use of power and knowledge for the good of all sentient beings.
I’ve looked up examples Blavatsky gives of black magic and most of them would be called psychological in our time. That is: black magic is often the misuse of psychological insight to hurt people or get your own way. Doesn’t that sound like advertisement?
While we are at it: note that this is a rather stricter definition of black magic than the classic Crowlean one. Crowley had it that black magic is only black when other people get hurt. Advertisement doesn’t directly hurt people though, it merely seduces them in doing things that ultimately aren’t good for them, like getting into credit card debt.
The question this book asks is a valid one: could those same techniques be used to inspire people to live right? Without any ulterior motive? Without the wish to sell more books, or even pay the rent, or ‘build good will’?