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The below review was written in 1995 and first published in 2002. This reprint is by permission.
THE CELESTINE PROPHECY: OLD SOCIALISM FOR THE NEW AGE
by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [April 25, 2012]
[WeeklyUniverse.com] The success
Celestine Prophecy proves there's always money to be made by telling
people exactly what they want to hear. The book claims to
be "an adventure" about the coming spiritual revolution in world consciousness,
yet its meandering story is merely a pretext to link a series of didactic dialogues
and feel-good predictions for the near future.
In its slick packaging, the book serves as a sort of tabloid psychic for the "smart set."
I first learned of James Redfield's New Age novel in 1994 when a producer recommended
it to me. I next heard it praised by a casting agent on her voice
mail recording. The Hollywood
Reporter reported that Cathy
Lee Crosby was trying to option its film rights. [It's since been made into a movie, though not by Crosby.]
When I finally
got around to reading it on the New York City set of The
Money Train (I did a lot of extra work in the 1990s), six different women approached me to admire my taste.
Curiously, I've only heard this book praised by women. Men could only comment
that they heard good things about it -- from wives and girlfriends. Whatever its faults, the book is a chick magnet.
Celestine Prophecy's plot is paint-by-number utopian potboiler. An Outsider enters a Utopian Society in which he learns New Things about
human interrelations. (Sharing, caring, and a clean environment
are healthful for children and other living things. Greed, competition,
and Western patriarchy are sickening the planet.)
The Outsider is
Skeptical at first, but the Utopia is filled with Beautiful and Compassionate
People who explain their world to him with Tolerance and Understanding. Left free to decide for himself, the Outsider's Mind comes to realize what
his wiser Feelings have all along intuited: That this New Society is the
inevitable Wave of History. He has seen The Future, and knows that
it is a Good Thing.
Celestine Prophecy, the Outsider is a yuppie who is vaguely dissatisfied
with his successful life. Something is missing. He coincidentally
meets an old flame, a beautiful, liberated, thirtysomething yuppette, who tells him of an ancient manuscript of Nine Insights found in the
rain forests of Peru. (Where else, but a rain forest?) She
only knows the First Insight, and it concerns coincidences.
are spiritual harbingers. The First Insight is that many people throughout
the world will one day notice that they're having an awful lot of coincidences,
and that it must all mean something. This mass awareness and yearning
for something more (at least, among the enlightened) will spark a New Age
in spirituality, science, politics, and psychology.
readers seeking personal validation will interpret their buying this book
as just such a coincidence, proving both its thesis and their own spiritual
advancement. Redfield knows how to stroke a crowd's ego. He makes it
clear that such silly happenstances are indeed what he means by spiritually significant coincidences. So if you
bought the book, you're likely hot stuff. (Skeptics may wish to peruse
John Allen Paulos's Innumeracy,
in which Paulos demonstrates via probability formulas just how common "coincidences"
are in day-to-day life.)
Celestine Prophecy was initially self-published to much word-of-mouth
success on the New Age circuit, and for whatever reason, Warner Books made
no effort to correct its typos, redundancies, inaccuracies, and missing
colons and comas. Maybe Warner, stumped by the book's success, thought
it safest to publish as is. Or maybe after proving publishers wrong, Redfield refused to let anyone tinker with his masterpiece.
aside, consider the general sloppiness. A priest is described as
sandy-haired. Two pages later, he is brown-haired. Another
character refers to the "sixth decade of the twentieth century," obviously
(from the context) meaning the 1960s -- the seventh decade.
Redfield's style. His book abounds with three imprecise adjectives
-- beautiful, incredible, amazing. He uses these three abstract words
to describe people, places, ideas, everything. He also lacks
a sense of voice. Every character sounds like every other character
-- American or Peruvian, urban or rural, educated or not. And everyone
keeps looking at the yuppie, at each other, at everyone and everything,
are not original. The Third Insight states that the universe is energy
and can be mentally controlled, an old New Age chestnut going back to The
Kyballion (1912), which, like Redfield, offers quantum physics for
implied politics explain the book's appeal. Deep in the pristine
Peruvian rain forests, the yuppie discovers that these "ancient" manuscripts,
which were recorded by indigenous Third World peoples, confirm every prejudice of aging
liberal Boomers -- and offer comfort for their waning youth!
range in age from 30s-50s. (Boomer demographics, when the book was
first released). Couples usually comprise older women, younger men. Nothing wrong with that, except that its consistency appears calculated. Everything about The
Celestine Prophecy appears calculated to please Boomers -- especially
Our yuppie meets no conventional Cosmo beauties,
yet every woman in the book is unfailingly attractive. These older
women remain beautiful because of their spiritual glow. Literally. According to Redfield's story, everything emits an aura, which can be seen by staring hard enough. But only progressive, creative, personally fulfilled people glow nicely,
not the repressed or mean-spirited. Luckily for these ladies, they
are all smart, self-actualized, career gals. You just know that
none ever did anything so self-effacing as bake cookies or vote Republican.
the book paints a future in which physical beauty is determined
by one's opinions and lifestyles. An aura's brightness and colors
are directly proportional to one's politics and behavior. The more
progressive your thoughts, and the more you recycle for a cleaner environment,
the more attractive your glow. What a solace to aging liberal women,
to know that they shall one day outshine their younger, more conservative
how the universe is all energy? Well, the Insights also teach that
children need energy growing up, for that healthy glow. So people
shouldn't have more children than they can energize -- which is achieved
by looking at children "with regard". One-to-zero child per couple
is ideal. Good for the child, and good for the planet.
of Redfield's loopily unrealistic characters: a fortysomething Peruvian peasant with only one child, which she bore in her late 30s, by a younger husband. (Finally, an indigenous Third World peasant that American feminists can
news from these "ancient" Insights. It's unimportant that a child
be raised by his own parent(s), only that he be raised by at least one
caregiver committed to focusing all of his or her energy (literally) onto
that child. Welcome news to single parents who deposit their kids
Food is an important
source of spiritual energy. Vegetables contain more and purer energy
than does meat. Just compare their glows. (Naturally, vegans glow
more attractively than meat-eaters.) The book's "scientific explanation"
is that plant energy is depleted when consumed by cows. Thus does
Redfield mix religion, pseudoscience, and squishy-Left politics in typical
New Age fashion.
highest concentrations of energy reside in pristine rain forests, so it's
important to leave them uncut, and to reduce the human population to 100
million, to create room for new forests. This gels neatly with the
optimum one-to-zero child per caregiver.
and greed are bad energy. (And make you glow ugly.) In the
future there will be no money. People will take what they need and
give back what they can. Sounds like Marxism? Yes, but Communism
only failed, the yuppie learns, not for economic reasons, but because the
Soviets were atheistic and materialistic, rather than spiritual. But in the coming New Age, people will be spiritual, so they won't want
unnecessary material goods which rape the planet, and which corporations
convince us we want, but don't really.
And because everyone will
be Really Nice, nobody will feel pressured to horde more food than they
need for their own use, because they won't be afraid that it won't be there
if they need it, because, it will. So there'll be plenty for everyone. Especially since there'll only be 100 million people on the planet (at
most, but hopefully less), which is really all that a healthy Earth can
sustain and still have room left for all those new rain forests.
will be the "new" currency. And those without skills or goods to
barter can still trade energy for food, in the form of spiritual insights. Everyone's got those!
But here Redfield (with his usual sloppiness)
contradicts himself. He'd previously stated that minor personal insights
(as opposed to the Big Nine Insights) are exchanged whenever two
people meet, even if they are unaware of it. So really, neither party
owes anything to the other. The poor man earns no food for his insight,
having already been paid with the rich man's insight, even if the rich
man was unaware of providing one. (It all has something to do with
the coincidences in every encounter.)
contradictions typify The
Celestine Prophecy's overall sloppiness. Apart from its crude
pseudoscience, its lazy caricatures of machine-gun toting Latin American
troops, and its indistinguishable characters mouthing wooden dialogue and
kindergarten economics while observing each other "with regard," Redfield's
book implodes under the slipshod presentation of his self-contradictory
the matter of the form in the back of the book. For $20 you get his
newsletter. For $50 Redfield will personally record an audio tape
-- just for you! -- analyzing your unique astrological aspects within the
context of his Insights. Redfield accepts check or credit card --
but makes no provisions for paying him with your own energy or insights. At least not in my edition.
What gives? I read the book. My energy can't be all that bad. I glow nice.
the book's success, Redfield has squeezed every penny from the sequel gravy
train. Warner has released a Tenth
Insight and Eleventh
Insight, and some other books expanding on Redfield's Insights. There's even a Pocket
Guide to the Nine Insights for readers who find his dummied-down first
book too intellectually taxing.
nothing I say can dampen The
Celestine Prophecy's popularity, because its appeal is not based on
significant or original insights, but on making its core fan base feel
good. It tells its readers exactly what they want to hear about themselves
and their future. Not that there's anything wrong with enjoying a
fantasy (however crudely written), but pity those who read the Celestine
series for real spiritual insights.
Article copyright 1995,
2002, 2012 by Thomas M. Sipos.
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