Reviewed by Mike Gleason
The Mystic Foundation
by Christopher Penczak
Published 2006 by Llewellyn
Paperback 319 pages
More Information on this book at Amazon
While I don't own copies of all of Christopher Penczak's works, I have read the majority of them. In understand his background in the Craft, even if it isn't my own. And I appreciate his desire to make information both available and attractive to the general public.
Before I even started to read the text of this current work I posed a question to be answered at the time I finished reading it: Was he trying too hard to be all things to all people?
This book is an extremely ambitious undertaking by anyone's standards. In it, Christopher attempts to lay bare the commonalities which underlie most spiritual paths. In fact, the appendix even includes extracts from the sacred writings of paths as divergent as Muslim (the Koran), Hindu (the Vedas), Zoroastrian, and Wiccan. And that list does not include all the sources he uses.
For anyone who has a basic grounding in any magickal system most of this book consists of "101" style information - the elements, feeling energy, the organization of the planes of existence, etc. It is not until the fifth section (starting on page 199) that new material comes into play. I still would NOT recommend skipping the first four sections. Christopher always manages to stimulate a few "Oh, yeah, now I see that" moments in his writing. This book is no exception.
The final 100+ pages of this book consist of thumbnail descriptions of assorted mystical traditions from Alchemy to Zoroastrianism; from East to West; a list of thirty traditions (which is nowhere near comprehensive, but it is extensive enough to be fairly informative); and a glossary of many common terms. Between the descriptions and the glossary is an appendix composed of extracts from sacred teachings of a number of traditions,
The sheer variety of the writings in this section borders on amazing. You can find writings from all the major religions of the world, as well as from some lesser known religions.
I found a few faults in this book (a poorly explained illustration on page 178 is one example), but overall I was impressed, once again, with Christopher's ability to convey basic information without "talking down" to the reader. This is, in essence, yet another "101" book, but it focuses on mysticism and opposed to religion. It is one of the most wide-ranging books I have read recently and, although it isn't vital for your average Pagan/Wiccan to add to the library shelves, it serves as a good introduction to multiple systems of thought.
The exercises he provides are all very basic, as is appropriate in a book aimed at this audience. If you have read any of Christopher's :temple of Witchcraft" series and/or availed yourself of the CD Companions to that series, you will be familiar with his style and techniques of meditation and ritual; if not, you will find them easy to understand, follow, and use.
As a, mostly retired, teacher of Paganism and the Craft, I enjoyed this book. I know how difficult it can be to attempt to convey this type of information clearly and concisely. Christopher succeeds admirably. You may not agree with some of his conclusions and statements, but you should respect his convictions and willingness to state them to the general public.