They say confession’s good for the soul, so here goes:
I’ve read The Celestine Prophecy.
Yes, that’s right. Me, the hard-nosed skeptic. Well, that wasn’t always the case. There was a time when I was a bit more interested in the woo-woo side of things. And in my defense, I didn’t really know what the book was about until I actually read it. See, sometime in 1995 I’d heard about this new Vertigo series called Seekers Into The Mystery, to be written by J.M. DeMatteis (who’d also written Moonshadow, which at the time I loved); it was described as “X-Files meets The Celestine Prophecy.” Well, that was enough to pique my interest. I really liked X-Files, I liked J.M. DeMatteis so to get the proper feel, I also decided to read Celestine.
And holy shit did it suck. At first I wanted to like the book—because, if it inspired J.M. DeMatteis, it couldn’t be all bad—but the further into it I got, and then the more I thought about it, the more vapid, shallow and insultingly stupid it seemed. Even then, in my idealistic sorta-paganish phase, I hated it. The writing was horrible, the plot was dumb and amateurish and boring, filled with 2-dimensional characters that were nothing more than talking heads for the message: nine “insights”—I’m using sarcastic quote marks—about core New Age concepts like energy and intuition and pop psychology and vibrations and whatnot, that are supposed to change your life and make you more deeply spiritual or something. The worst part is, it (and its sequels and assorted merchandise) have made author James Redfield a very rich man. As I’ve said many times before, I’m in the wrong line of work.
Anyhoo, all this is to introduce Seekers Into The Mystery, which is filled with exactly the same kind of shallow New Age tripe. But to be fair, unlike Redfield, DeMatteis is an excellent writer. I just object to the content.
The series began in January 1996 and lasted for 15 issues. It was divided into three story arcs, each consisting of four issues plus a single-issue epilogue. I only kept up with it for the first story arc, which introduces the series’ protagonist, one Lucas Hart. He’s a pathetic loser and wannabe screenwriter living in Hollywood. Initially tortured by his addictions and inner demons, he eventually gets born again into enlightenment and cosmic mystery. Incidentally, just like Moonshadow, the story is narrated by an older, wiser Lucas. This (again, like Moonshadow, except somewhat worse) makes for some occasionally tiresome foreshadowing or hyping of mysteries still unsolved—and by the end of the first storyline, that was still pretty much all of them.
Lucas and the other protagonists are very generic cyphers, making it easy for most readers to identify with them: we never get a real feel for what makes them tick since everything they feel and do is driven by their revelations and visions, rather than any actual personalities. This is unfortunately similar to The Celestine Prophecy, and that other gem of New Age woo-woo proselytising, What The Bleep Do We Know. Unlike those titles, though, Seekers has no explicit message, though there are a number of recurring themes and implicit morals: the power of intuition over skepticism. The need to embrace the unknown and the irrational. The truth of dreams. Reincarnation. The actual plot goes something like this: burned out, strung out, and in a mostly unhappy relationship, Lucas connects in his dreams with a local crazy homeless guy who turns out to be some wise astral-traveling shaman (sort of like Don Juan?); uncovers repressed memories of being sexually abused by his father, during which experiences he learned to project astrally to escape; and is strangely fascinated by the many pictures his girlfriend has of a serene long-haired man looking kind of like Doug Hennings, whom she calls “the Magician” (more about him later). And so begins his rebirth.
All this would be harmless New Age fluff, a more adult version of Moonshadow, except for one extremely disturbing scene. Well-intentioned, I’m sure, but it shocked me then and still creeps me right out. Having uncovered the memories of his abuse (which was enough to immediately make his addictions and general fuckedupness disappear), Lucas goes home to confront his father, only to learn that he’s died. At the funeral he unexpectedly meets his father’s ghost. Lucas is understandably furious but the dead father is irritatingly serene about everything, even what he did.
“I’m not asking you to understand. I’m not sure I do… yet. But maybe… maybe somebody did the same things to me when I was a kid—and it was a compulsion. I couldn’t stop myself from doing it to you. Or… maybe I was just sick. Twisted. And maybe I’m going to burn in hell for what I’ve done. Or maybe…”
“Maybe you needed it. Spiritually, I mean. Maybe without the pain I caused you, you wouldn’t be where you are today. Maybe it’s your suffering that put you on the path. Set you on your search.”
Okay, seriously. What the fuck? If there’s a moral to this scene I’m having a hard time figuring it out. So either Lucas’ father couldn’t help himself or he was an agent of fate? (He’s definitely not burning in hell, because we see him surrounded by angel-like figures.) How very convenient, because either way, he’s off the hook. He doesn’t have to take responsibility for his actions, or even apologize, because Lucas needed the pain to be where he is today. Hell, instead of being angry, maybe Lucas should be thankful? And indeed, he does end up forgiving his father, whispering an “I love you, daddy” to the vanishing ghost.
In the storyline’s epilogue (issue #5), we find out a bit more about this mysterious “Magician.” So far all we had were a boatload of questions:
Rhonda told me that I’d seen the Magician before: that she’d loaned me several books and pamphlets about him, that I’d asked her about the locket she wore, with his picture in it. The photos of him in her bedroom. Maybe I had. But none of it registered (in retrospect, I don’t think the Magician allowed it to register). I even vaguely recalled him—or someone like him—appearing in my dream (hallucination?) while I was in the hospital. But to all intents and purposes, I was seeing him for the first time that day.
Questions flitted like annoying mosquitos, across my mind: was he an escape artists, a movie star, a cult leader, a king? A comedian, a criminal, a holy man, a fool? (In the years since, I’ve learned that he was all those things—and far more.)
I sensed, intuitively, that the questions weren’t important. The only thing that mattered was that face. I recognized it, adored it, instantly. It made me want to laugh and cry, scream out my purest agony and let fly a whoop of purest delight—all at the same time.
…Okay, then. Among Rhonda’s “many books and pamphlets about him” is a book entitled The Magic Dance, written by one Viola Clark, whom Lucas seeks out in issue #5. He hasn’t even read the book, he just intuitively feels he should meet the author. She’s a frail old woman, dying of cancer, but intuitively (of course) knowing that Lucas is a good guy, she lets him stay at her house. Then, proceeds to tell him her story of meeting the Magician in 1931. Clark had been a successful dancer and dance teacher, but then began to lose her drive, her focus. Her life was going nowhere except down, so she took a trip to America to escape. She was introduced to the Magician by another of his followers and immediately fell under his spell (probably literally). Just as with Lucas and Rhonda, it was adoration at first sight.
And his eyes… how do I explain his eyes? They radiated love. No, that’s wrong. They didn’t radiate it. They… they were love. A love without prejudice, without conditions. A love that existed between us before I walked into that room… and would still be there, linking our souls, till the end of time.
And there’s more: not only can the Magician let people be born again into his love (and conversely, I guess, allow them to languish in their crappy lives), he will someday usher in a new era for the entire world. Viola Clark wrote in The Magic Dance:
He explained that the time was coming soon when he would spin the entire planet like a child’s ball on his fingertips. When consciousness would change on a global scale. When each soul would be offered the chance to break free of its suffering in its own unique way.
“My grace will rain down on everyone,” he said. “And it will come in as many unique forms as there are hearts to receive it.”
And that’s when it hit me, with a dazzling clarity worthy of Lucas’ revelations: all this New Age stuff is just like dippy born-again Christianity. Sure, a few details are different: New Agers don’t talk much about hell, unless it’s a self-imposed hell of repressions and fears. But the philosophies (if I can use the term) have many elements in common: (a) the need to be born again; (b) how before they’re born again, their lives were falling apart—lots of born-again Xians testify they were horrible nasty sinners before finding Jesus; (c) the glorification of faith (another word for intuition) over skepticism; in fact, skeptics and unbelievers are generally seen as closed-minded, angry or fearful when faced with the unknown or confronted with The Truth; (d) the self-centered belief that God or the universe cares about you personally, and everything that happens to you has been engineered by a higher power, for your own good; (e) a guru (or at least a Saviour) that they feel loves them unconditionally; (f) a spirituality that’s often divorced from everyday ethics (what’s good for your soul isn’t necessarily good for your body, mind or heart, and suffering is condoned as long as there are spiritual rewards—see also: the Inquisition, the Crusades, the story of Job); (g) a rebirth of the world, coming Real Soon Now, either from the Second Coming of Christ, Planet X, planetary alignments or whatever, in which the bad guys will disappear or Get What’s Coming To Them. New Age is just Old Age, repackaged.
“My name is Lucas Hart and I’m a seeker. But then, aren’t we all?”
Sure, Lucas. As the old saying goes, there’s a seeker born every minute.