Praise for Alice Bailey biography

I’m truly humbled by all the praise pouring in for my biography of Alice Bailey. Such kind words as these warm my heart.

“This is so much more than a very detailed biography of Alice Ann Bailey; it is also a very comprehensive review of the many interesting groups and people throughout the history of theosophical thought and the continuing impulse of the Ageless Wisdom teachings. At every turn we feel like we are on intimate terms with the lives and events of this span of time, and the overall view is awesome and inspiring.” – Gail Jolley, School for Esoteric Studies.

“Our thanks to Dr Blackthorn for her insights into the life of one of the most influential esoteric teachers of the twentieth century. As scribe for the Tibetan Master, Alice Ann Bailey provided a body of teachings unrivaled in their importance at the dawn of the Aquarian Age.” John F. Nash, PhD www.uriel.com

“A thorough documentation of Blackthorn’s years of dedicated research into Alice Bailey’s life and spiritual output. This book encapsulates the wide-ranging illumination which flowed through Bailey’s life, along with its trials and triumphs. Gaps are filled and misconceptions corrected, which have allowed many a conspiracy theory and error to proliferate. A treasure for the serious student of life in all its dimensions.” – Murray Stentiford, physicist and student of universal human spirituality

“A must-read for any Bailey student, anyone interested in the New Age movement, and for those who wonder, amidst our confused and divided world, where will it all end?“-  Steven Chernikeeff, author of Esoteric Apprentice

“A really enjoyable read! A clear light shining on a very important spiritual scribe of our age, and that to come. The inclusion of historical context gives great flavor and understanding of AAB’s challenging life, and clears up many misunderstandings of her views. An erudite explanation of living theosophy for general consumption – no mean feat!” – Brenton Phillis,  www.heartforchange.net

“As a long time student of the blue books and someone who deeply admires AAB I couldn’t have asked for a better biography. It is all I hope for and more, combining scholarship and heart. A pleasure to read. Many clues are drawn together to provide a fuller picture of AAB. New information is given. Key periods in her life are given new light – such as the Ascona period. Alice Bailey and her writings are made more accessible and put into historic and esoteric context. It is high time the myths and misconceptions about AAB and her writings be dispelled and she takes her place as one of the greatest esoteric thinkers of the 20th Century. Isobel Blackthorn has done a great service to Alice Bailey’s legacy and provided a gateway for a new generation of Alice Bailey students.” – Patrick Chouinard, theosophical scholar and teacher

“This remarkable, deeply researched book on Alice Bailey is a fascinating read for anyone who has an interest in the occult, Theosophy, the origins of the New Age movement, spirituality or the esoteric. Isobel Blackthorn has done an extraordinary job of writing an accessible biography of a unique woman whose ideas and writings have inspired generations, yet remains obscured and half-forgotten in history.” ~ Right Worshipful Master K. Crombie, 18° Freemason.

“This is a remarkable biography for its sheer scope and level of detail, placing Alice Bailey clearly amid her spiritual contemporaries. One of the many strengths of Alice A. Bailey: Life and Legacy is the way it enables the reader to follow the maturation of Bailey’s teachings, and to witness how through Bailey’s unique spiritual guidance, she arrived at such a large vision for humankind.”  – Maggie Hamilton, author of The Secret World of Fairies

“I don’t think you will find a more thorough and documented treatment of Bailey’s life. Extremely well researched.” Dr Lisa Love

“One of the most fascinating visionaries of the 20th century is Alice A. Bailey, often called the Mother of the New Age Movement. Although her cultural influence has been immense she is still very much vilified and even neglected by academic scholars of Western Esotericism. Hopefully this situation will change with the biography Alice A. Bailey: Life & Legacy by Isobel Blackthorn. She is eminently qualified for this difficult task, holding a PhD from the University of Western Sydney for her research on the texts of Alice Bailey. Blackthorn´s study is a treasure trove of new data on the life and work of Alice Bailey, The Arcane School and the many organizations and activities based on her writings. This biography is an important and ground-breaking contribution to our understanding of, not just Alice Bailey, but also the Esoteric Tradition, the third intellectual force or pillar in cultural history alongside science and religion. Isobel Blackthorn is to be commended for an excellent work of interest to all serious students of esotericism.” Håkan Blomqvist, Sweden Librarian and co-founder of Archives for the Unexplained (AFU)

“This biography details the turbulent life of Alice Bailey, the Mother of the New Age. An orphan by the age of eight, living a rigidly disciplined childhood with grandparents, a violent husband, lone parenthood, the struggle for survival, and constant ill health. Hardly a promising start for the woman who brought so much esoteric knowledge to the world through her writing and teaching. Isobel Blackthorn’s thorough research and compelling style present the polarity of experiences of Alice Bailey: admiration and antagonism, leadership and service, devotion and betrayal, and the accumulation of wisdom that underpins, without acknowledgement, much of our modern belief systems. Lovers of enlightenment and esoteric philosophy will treasure this book.” – Veronica Schwarz, author and editor.

“Isobel Blackthorn, does an excellent job of weaving the many threads of Bailey’s life and works into a cohesive, well-written and very readable biography with just the right balance of biographical details and critical discussion around the intellectual, spiritual and theosophical thoughts and tenets that emerged at different points along Bailey’s life journey. The contention around Bailey’s legacy is also addressed and will be of particular interest to specialist readers as will the author’s inclusion of a good range of photos, lists and extensive chapter notes. The book’s subject matter is not for everyone but I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in esoteric thought and/or the subjective nature of spiritual experience in general and in the contribution of Alice Bailey to New Age ideas in particular.” – Carmel Bendon, Scholar in Medieval Literature and Culture

 

Purchase on Amazon here – getbook.at/AliceBaileyBiography

Or through all good booksellers!

 

New Release: Alice Bailey Biography

I’m delighted to announce the forthcoming full biography of Alice Bailey, to be released on Wesak 7 May 2020 thanks to my obliging publisher.
(Please note, this version of the biography is no longer for sale. A new edition is due to be published on 5 August 2020 by Shooting Star Press)

Here’s the new cover:

I have created a dedicated Facebook group for those who want to follow the story of this biography and Alice Bailey more closely.  https://www.facebook.com/groups/394500304830614/)
And here is the book page on my website – https://isobelblackthorn.com/alice-a-bailey-life-and-legacy/

ABOUT ALICE A. BAILEY: LIFE AND LEGACY

From tragic beginnings as an aristocratic orphan to becoming the mother of the New Age spiritual movement, Alice A. Bailey is one of the modern era’s most misunderstood occult figures.

Bailey’s journey is a story of faith, from orthodox Christian beginnings, through a protracted spiritual crisis, to a newfound belief in Theosophy. A mystic and a seeker, a founder of global spiritual organizations, and a surmounter of adversity, Bailey’s past is rife with injustices, myths, and misconceptions – including that she was an anti-Semite and a racist with a dark agenda.

With scandals and controversies laid bare, Bailey’s extraordinary life is revealed as a powerful, remarkable legacy.

Some background on the creation of this book

I say this is my life’s work and it really is. I was first urged to compose a biography back in 2007, a year after I was awarded my doctoral thesis at the University of Western Sydney for my comprehensive study of the Bailey books, when I scored a job with a high-powered literary agent representing Nobel prize winners and prime ministers and the like. Back in 2016, the now retired agent wrote me a rather exasperated email in response to mine saying “Isobel, I just don’t know why you won’t write a biography of Alice Bailey.” Sometimes you just have to do what you’re told. I ‘obeyed’, but the manuscript I produced lacked the sort of detail that makes for a good biography. So I transformed what I had into The Unlikely Occultist: a biographical novel of Alice A Bailey.

As a result of that book, which serves now as a companion book to the biography, a door opened. The vital element that was missing until we met was trust. Suddenly, what seemed an impossible if essential task was made possible because of that trust.

There are so many I owe my gratitude to in the creation of this work, those who have given vital resource material willingly and bravely so that certain key moments in the story of the Bailey community post-1949 could be told. Photos have been provided, the Lucis Trust, the Agni Yoga Society and the School for Esoteric Studies provided their assistance, and a number of key individuals with certain specialisms read over chapters to make sure I had things sitting right and had not omitted anything vital. Thank you! I have mentioned you all in my acknowledgements.
I am sure more detail will arise, oversights come to light and revisions will be made – I have a very flexible publisher who will facilitate this – but for now, the moment has come and this book will be in the world sitting alongside biographies of HPB and the Roerichs and Steiner and Jung…
In the end I am left with one essential thought about Alice Bailey. She was her whole life a spiritual activist and it is that activism that so inspires me and so many others. My life has been touched and shaped by Alice and DK for many decades. What an honour now this moment is! LLP

Alice Bailey, World Goodwill and the United Nations

Alice Bailey

I am delighted to share my piece on Alice Bailey, World Goodwill and the United Nations, featured in the March issue of Live Encounters Magazine.

Alice Bailey, World Goodwill and the United Nations

“Esotericism is concerned with explanations and manipulations of the inner planes of existence. Alice Bailey’s writings belong to the variant of Western Esotericism known as Theosophy. While the term can be traced back to Neoplatonist Porphyry to describe a combination of the capacities of the philosopher, the artist and the priest, it was Russian aristocrat and Spiritualist Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky who harnessed theosophy when she founded the Theosophical Society in 1875. British aristocrat and former devout Christian, Alice A. Bailey (born in 1880 Alice La Trobe-Bateman) was a second-generation Theosophist in communication with the same Master of the Wisdom as Blavatsky: The Tibetan or Djwhal Khul.

Drawing on Eastern mysticism and Western occult formulations, Bailey wrote twenty-four volumes, most as The Tibetan’s amanuensis, dedicated to informing future generations of seekers of the coming new age of spiritual enlightenment. Written between 1919 and 1949, Bailey’s opus includes works on meditation, esoteric healing, astrology, initiation, the chakras, yoga, education and psychology, along with an abstruse treatise on cosmology, A Treatise on Cosmic Fire. She also provides detailed explanations of the Plan of the Spiritual Hierarchy of Masters for the forthcoming era and instructions to her disciples to make that plan a reality. Much of the writing is impenetrable and alien to non-esotericists. The tone is instructional and dry. There is nothing exotic and enticing in the style and yet many will mention a strange almost magnetic pull once the mind starts to grapple with the meaning held within.

Of all the spiritual and occult teachers of her day, Alice Bailey was one of the most prolific and determined. Her legacy, whilst hidden, runs deep. She is regarded in scholarly circles to be the main theorist of the New Age movement, her teachings informing an early vanguard of writers and practitioners who went on to influence future generations of seekers. Many leading New Age proponents champion or acknowledge her influence. She is also a pet hate among conspiracy theorists, mostly due to her belief in the need for a ‘new world order’ based on ‘a plan’ devised by spiritual masters.

Alice Bailey’s main goal was to purify esotericism and make esoteric practice serve good not evil purposes. She imbued Theosophy with the basic Christian principle of goodwill and believed in the Second Coming of Christ. She exercised her formidable missionary zeal to establish all the foundations necessary to fulfil her vision for a better world…”  To continue reading the article:

Live Encounters Magazine March 2019 – https://liveencounters.net/2019/02/28/live-encounters-magazine-march-2019/

To download PDF click on this link – https://liveencounters.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Live-Encounters-Magazine-February-2019.pdf

To read the digital mag on your phone click on this link – https://issuu.com/liveencounters/docs/live_encounters_magazine_february_2_4eeba753253cf2?e=0

Alice A. Bailey

To read more about Alice Bailey in my biographical novel, click this link.

How I came to write a doctoral thesis on Alice A. Bailey

It was 2001 and the twin towers had fallen the month before. 9/11 marked an event in my own personal story as my mother chose that day to migrate back to Australia, leaving me alone with my twin daughters in the UK. I was a high school teacher at the time, and that year I was teaching a small group of students A level Religious Studies. For the coursework component, they all chose to write an essay on the New Age, or alternative spirituality, as it is now known. They had no idea the woman teaching them was an esoteric thinker with a profound interest in Theosophy and the occult, and one figure in particular: Alice Bailey.

New Age

A Turning Point

I was dedicated as ever to being the best teacher I could be, but while I worked hard at my job something nagged at me, some part of me that remained unfulfilled. I wanted to strive for higher things, maybe teach at tertiary level. I thought I would undertake a PhD. I could study part time and somehow fit it in to my already overloaded life.

I searched for universities with a progressive religious studies department offering distance education and ended up emailing my old university, The Open University, where I gained a First-class Honours degree many years before. I received no reply. Then I was told there was a fault in the system and would I re-send. I did. Still nothing. I sent another email. Silence. I waited. Months passed. I had just about given up on the idea. Then, one day in February 2002, I took my students to Warwick University to research their coursework essays. We visited the library and then browsed the bookstore.

On a bottom shelf, looking a bit battered, was a book on alternative spiritualities, co-edited by a Dr Marion Bowman, based at the University of Bath. Realising its value to my students, I bought the book (scoring a discount because of its poor condition) and we all went home.

Marion Bowman

I still have the receipt!

 

That afternoon, in my inbox was an email from the same Dr Marion Bowman. To my astonishment she now worked at the OU! She said she had received my email but she couldn’t open it and would I re-send it. I did, going into a ramble about how I wanted to research something on the nature of god, throwing in Alice Bailey as an afterthought. She emailed me back within the half hour. Then came the phone call. Alice Bailey, she said, you must do a PhD on Alice Bailey. She urged me to study full time. Apply for a scholarship. I could scarcely believe it. I gazed at the row of Blue Books on my shelf. It felt like fate.

A Crisis

But the workings of fate are mysterious and not always straightforward. I did apply for that scholarship, but before I could tell my school what was happening, the OU contacted them for a reference. Ouch. By now it was March. The headmaster was understanding but my head of department was not. It was Mother’s Day when she phoned me and gave me a piece of her mind. She was so angry I had to hold the phone away from my ear. As she ranted, something in me snapped. I had been putting up with her shenanigans for years.

I went on stress leave. I contacted my union. I was about to put in a grievance. I wanted to quit and study but the scholarship was a pittance and I would never have survived. I was in a real quandary. Then life started intervening and everything went wrong. My whole back fence fell down in a storm. I had problems with tax. My daughters missed their grandmother and one was especially unhappy. Everything was pointing to me returning to Australia.

A life-changing decision

I arrived in Australia in May 2002. An old friend put me onto the School of Social Ecology at the University of Western Sydney who offered distance education. I contacted them, found a marvellous supervisor in Dr Lesley Kuhn, applied, and secured a handsome scholarship, far in excess of what I had been offered in the UK. It almost made up for the sadness I felt at leaving my home, my career, my friends, my life – all of it, especially my A level students. I still have the farewell card they gave me (the school kept the true story quiet and word went around that I was ill).

I have never been sure if I made the right choice leaving England, but that first university residential school in Sydney I was walking on air. Everything about it was surreal. The people I met, the friendships formed, the chance encounters on the long journey there and back – the entire experience had a definite charge to it. I felt endorsed, sanctioned and somewhat revered as those who knew of Alice Bailey also knew what an enormous undertaking I was embracing. (My thesis, The Texts of Alice A. Bailey: An Inquiry into the Role of Esotericism in Transforming Consciousness, is available online)

In 2007, a year after I received my doctorate, I secured a job working for a high-profile literary agent. It was Mary Cunnane who urged me to write a biography of Alice Bailey. Instead, years later and after much hesitation I wrote The Unlikely Occultist: a biographical novel of Alice A. Bailey. The novel is a labour of love and service, in honour of a truly remarkable woman who deserves to be far better known and appreciated.

Alice A. Bailey

 

Review: Harlequin’s Riddle by Rachel Nightingale

Here’s my review of a sensational debut novel by Australian author and award-winning playwright, Rachel Nightingale. It might look like a YA fantasy novel, but don’t be fooled! Read on and discover why I am in rapture over this book.

“The Gazini Players are proud to present
For your Edification and Enjoyment
Tales of great Joy, and of great Woe

Ten years ago, Mina’s beloved older brother disappeared with a troupe of travelling players, and was never heard from again.

On the eve of Mina’s own departure with a troupe, her father tells her she has a special gift for story telling, a gift he silenced years before in fear of her ability to call visions into being with her stories.

Mina soon discovers that the travelling players draw their powers from a mysterious place called Tarya, where dreams are transformed into reality. While trying to solve the mystery of her brother’s disappearance, she discovers a dark secret to the players’ onstage antics. Torn between finding her brother or exposing the truth about the players, could her gifts as a story teller offer a way to solve Harlequin’s riddle?”

*****

It is a stark fact that for the last few decades the major players in the book publishing industry have chosen to be led by their sales teams, and commissioning editors must bow to their publisher’s bottom line. Editors may fall in love with a story, want to praise it from the rooftops, but they are stuck with having to tell the author the harsh truth that their sales department, not known for vision and decidedly risk averse, have deemed the work unsaleable. It happens time and again that a truly great work slips through the cracks and ends up – because it IS truly a great work – being picked up by one of the lesser known small presses. If you want to read excellent original fiction, hunt out works released by reputable small presses.

Harlequin’s Riddle is one of those books, for Rachel Nightingale has composed a work of remarkable vision and depth of insight, a work narrated in an accessible and enchanting style; gentle, inviting, sensory, like silk and gossamer. The pace is slow at first, but never meandering, and quickens at each plot point, as what begins as a quest evolves into a dark mystery.

 Harlequin’s Riddle is a story of illusion and make believe in art and theatre. The novel opens with Mina watching a travelling theatre troupe perform in her village as she misses her older brother, Paolo, who took off with a troupe a decade before, and never returned. She was seven when he left, and she’s seventeen when with her mother’s blessing she joins the theatre troupe in the hope of finding him. The reader is swept along on the aspirations, hopes and dreams of innocence, a false innocence for Mina’s childhood scars are many, and the grief and anguish and betrayal are buried so deep Mina is numb to them, until they surface and form a destabilising force, propelling her into understanding and ultimately wholeness.

Despite the fictitious setting, Nightingale paints an evocative portrait of medieval Italy with its rugged coastline, its quaint villages, forests and northern lakes. The author’s depiction of the theatre troupe with their colourful sets and costumes is vibrant and alive and enthralling, the reader provided a privileged view, looking over Mina’s shoulder at the other players and the audience. Much of the story involves the travellers journeying in their wagons to the Festival of Lights held in the large city of Aurea, and again, the reader is swept along for the ride as the troupe cope with various dramas and adventures along the way. There is much here to entertain every reader, young and old, the final quarter of the novel dripping with visual splendour.

On another level, Harlequin’s Riddle is less a tale of Mina’s quest to find her brother, and more a study of the nature of imagination and creativity, that curious moment of conjuring, bringing into being that which we inwardly see, and seeing that which we inwardly describe – words and pictures, which comes first? The creative process, at the moment of conception, differs between the arts and among artists, but always there is a point of manifestation and it is this that fills the pages of Harlequin’s Riddle.

Coupled with the theme of creativity and the creative process are ideas of spirituality and healing, the very quality we access when we transcend ordinary reality in creative imaginative acts, is also a powerful source of beneficial transformation and healing. Nightingale calls this multidimensional realm Tarya. It is what esotericists call the ‘inner planes’, and it is here that the deeper essence of Harlequin’s Riddle is apparent. 

Entering Tarya involves altering your state of awareness, undergoing an out of body experience, and engaging in astral travel. Tarya is the realm of the shaman, the magus, the trickster, the psychopomp. Here is a small taste of Tarya.

“A subtle buzzing of hidden energy surrounded her. She looked down on distant mountains, and nearby trees, and people, many people, and each shape glimmered with light, layer upon layer of light, blurring outlines of real objects. There were intricate spiderwebs laid across the whole scene, gold threads wrapped around and over everything.”

In the villages, the players are feared for it is known they have occult or arcane power, one that destroys as it sets out to give joy. Unlike the players, Mina has the gift of storytelling, and she accesses Tarya differently, going far beyond the realms accessed by the players, realms that are connected to the  living earth, to enter the purer planes of existence, where spiritual wisdom resides. This innate ability sets her apart, leads her into danger and ultimately drives her quest.

There is much to reflect on in Harlequin’s Riddle, and much to appreciate. Harlequin’s Riddle  is a story to lose yourself in, and can be read on many levels. It isn’t necessary to understand anything about the occult or arcani to appreciate the novel, although the astute reader will recognise Harlequin’s Riddle  as a transpersonal journey, one of initiation and healing. Nightingale has penned a unique and exquisite tale that deserves to be widely known, a story with a depth of awareness and understanding that will hold special appeal to those with an interest in alternative spiritualities. In the final analysis, Harlequin’s Riddle a work of intelligence and refinement that I can only compare to an Ursula le Guin, with overtones of Umberto Eco in theme but not in compositional style. A visionary fiction masterpiece.

Harlequin’s Riddle is available through all good booksellers.

 

On ‘Narziss and Goldmund’ by Hermann Hesse

First published in 1930, Narziss and Goldmund forms part of a profoundly insightful body of work by Hermann Hesse.

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I visited Goodreads and was not surprised to find well over a thousand reviews. I’ve only read the first few, and I’m left wondering what I can add that would contribute to the collective understanding of this work.

I will admit I am not a scholar of literature or history, nor have I read any biography of Hesse. I first came across his work in my twenties and devoured Steppenwolf and The Glass Bead Game among others. Back then I had not a clue about the spiritual path or western esotericism. But decades have passed and now I do, and it is with fresh eyes that I can perhaps see what Hesse might have been trying to achieve.

In Narziss and Goldmund, Hesse presents the reader with two sorts of spirituality and the two paths that unfold from each. Narziss is destined to be the Abbott of a cloister. He is a philosopher, a thinker, living close to God in the realm of the abstract mind. He is the archetypal master of wisdom.

His pupil, Goldmund, is at odds with himself. Memory of part of his childhood is denied him and when he awakens to it, he begins a journey of self discovery that takes him away from the cloister and out into the world. Not the ordinary world of duty and work and family and community. His reality is akin to Arjuna in the battlefield, as written in the Bhagavad Gita; a journey through the realm of extreme emotions, with desire and lust on the one hand, and death in all its forms on the other.

So intense are Goldmund’s responses, that at first he cannot find meaning. But eventually, as he journeys into and through the experiences that befall him, he does. He is a seeker, and the journey is an initiatory one, culminating in the realisation that we transcend the ravages of the emotions through the faculty of imagination, and its finest expressions in art.

Those who resonate with this story are engaging with a work of visionary/metaphysical fiction of enormous profundity. Those who see past the compulsions and shallow satisfactions of the flesh; detect the irony in Goldmund’s relentlessly questioning mind; see into his frustrations and emerging detachment; may understand that through his character, Hesse is portraying the most fundamental pairs of opposites upon which human experience is cleaved: woman and man; lust and death, passion and intellect, good and evil.

And the esoteric thinker will also understand Hesse’s portrayal of the transmutation of the emotions through the faculty of imagination; the image maker within, existing on the plane of intuition, sees in patterns, in completed wholes; thus it is through the harnessing of this faculty of the soul through the imagination that the artist stills the emotions and imbues them with the stamp of something transcendent and universal. And so it is through this process that the pairs of opposites may sit in loose unity.

I’ve long admired Hermann Hesse’s work. I resonate with it now more strongly than ever. As an author I’m in awe of his achievement.  Narziss and Goldmund is not a piece of entertainment; it’s a literary portrayal of the spiritual path.

The Prague Cemetery – a belated review

The number of authors fascinated by metaphysics and the supernatural never ceases to make me wonder about the relationship between the creative psyche and that vast realm of the imagination.

There are those who immerse themselves in mythical and symbolic riches and create complex fantasy landscapes. I’m not a huge reader of fantasy and can only mention Ursula le Guin’s The Earthsea Trilogy, which I have read and thought amazing.

Others tackle the metaphysical side of reality in more direct ways, taking journeys into the supernatural and occult. Bram Stoker’s Dracula seems a good early example.

There are the magical realists from Jorge Luis Borges on, who include the paranormal in their stories as if it were a given. Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits is just one example.

Then there are those who embed their insights to give shape to themes. I think of how Doris Lessing’s interest in Sufism inspired her Canopus in Argos Archives.

And it seems that down the ages many writers, along with artists, composers and scientists have had more than a passing interest in the occult. I found a list on a website of Rosicrucians and was astonished to find Bram Stoker, Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, Yeats, Satie, Edith Piaf and Walt Disney on the list, along with more obvious suspects, such as Jacob Boehme and Francis Bacon. I have no idea how accurate the list is or how immersed in Rosicrucianism each person listed may have been.

ECO

I do know a fair bit about the occult though, or western esotericism as it is more properly called. Which is why I found Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery such a compelling read.

The Prague Cemetery might seem at first like a cook’s tour of the upheavals and power struggles of Europe at the time, written from the perspective of a fierce anti-semite. The basic plot is very simple, the reader uncertain as to whether the protagonist, the repugnant Simonini, has a split personality.

Following Freud’s thinking on the matter, Simonini, who seems to have no idea himself, decides to write a diary to find out. What ensues is a journey through the latter part of he nineteenth century, as Simonini, a master forger of documents, becomes immersed in a web of lies, misinformation, and elaborate inventions of truth designed to discredit the Freemasons and the Jews. Simonini is an unscrupulous psychopath, who works for the secret service of first Italy, then France. What is remarkable is that every other character in The Prague Cemetery existed in reality and all the historical events and those involved are verifiable.

While much has been made of Eco’s fictional depiction of the notorious The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a complete invention that inspired Hitler decades later, in my view a subtler and more general point is being made.

That behind the scenes of history there are those hard at work creating one conspiracy theory after another, whether in fiction or as apparent fact, in other words conspiring to accuse others of a conspiracy in order to fulfil their own agenda, an agenda as simple as personal greed.

I salute the author for hammering this point. For it is my contention that the ultimate coup of the propagandists today is the discrediting of the very conspiracy theories they themselves have created in order to cement in the zeitgeist the view that all conspiracy thinking is rubbish, thus allowing them a huge freedom to continue to conspire.

Umberto Eco’s interest in western esotericism is well known. Through his fiction he explores this world within the world while keeping himself distant from it. An observer, not a practitioner. A thinker who questions and probes, not an adherent who adopts without question. It is this distance that allows him to write works like The Prague Cemetery.