The Celestine Prophecy: An Adventure
The Celestine Prophecy was the biggest-selling book in the world for three years in the late 1990s. The two most common reactions to it are 'This is utter trash' and 'It changed my life'. The first group of readers focus on the of the writing; the second hone in on Redfield's messages, codified in the nine insights woven into the story.
This book is not highbrow literature, but on the other hand critical praise or condemnation is irrelevant for a large portion of the reading public - we want to know if our friends liked a book - and it was word of mouth that turned Celestine into a hyperseller.
Redfield has admitted he is more of a social commentator than a novelist, and the book reads as if it is a set of ideas with the convention of a novel foisted onto it. He could easily have written Celestine as non-fiction, making a chapter out of each of the insights, but would more than a few thousand people have read it? The grand theme - an emerging humanity-wide consciousness - required a fictional narrative to make it really come alive, in this case an adventure story which carries the reader into the Peruvian Andes, where an ancient manuscript surfaces in jungle ruins. The manuscript states that the end of the 20 th century will be a time of spiritual awakening.
The originality of The Celestine Prophecy is that it combines the soul-searching character of the New Age with a Hollywood screenplay sequence of close scrapes and sexual attraction. But what is it about the ideas that makes the novel so alluring?
Some creative works stand out because they were the first to express in a popular way what was latent in the culture, and this book really tapped into something. The idea of synchronicity, first postulated by Carl Jung, is no longer new, but Redfield revived interest in it by saying that coincidences were happening more often, to a greater number of people, and that they were somehow linked to our evolution as a species. His book focused a growing belief that some or all coincidences are not instances of mere chance but carry meaning.
The first insight says that it is awareness of synchronicity more than anything that will lead us to a cultural transformation, because once you admit it is real, your whole view of how the universe works must change - it becomes a meaningful universe. It is no surprise that in The Celestine Vision, Redfield refers to Thomas Kuhn, whose book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions showed us how it is the small anomalies which can eventually turn upside down a whole theory or way of seeing the world.
The second insight Redfield describes is the 'longer now', an enlargement of the circle of our thinking beyond our life, our job, our country, to appreciate humanity across the ages. We see the evolution of humankind almost as the story of a single person. A character in the book explains that in the last thousand years we have moved from a world centered on God to one based on our own achievements and discoveries. The philosophical security we felt in the Middle Ages was replaced by a drive for secular material security, but now this is being questioned. The attachment to 'scarcity consciousness' is being eclipsed by the realization that we must now pursue that which has most meaning for us. The past few hundred years have set the stage for a new era of 'mystery appreciation' - whatever we find amazing, and nothing less, will determine how we spend our time.
The third insight says that the universe is pure energy. Our way of seeing the world is based on the apparent solidity of matter, but our science is yet to detect the subtle energies that flow through and around things, including the living. Astounding experiments in particle physics show that the forms in which particles manifest depends on whether they are being observed. Other experiments show that among two sets of plants in the same conditions, those which are given 'loving attention' grow more rapidly. Redfield's question is: to what extent does the universe as a whole - since it is made up of the same particles - respond to our expectations?
The fourth and fifth insights extend the concept of 'everything is energy' to human relationships: because we don't know exactly how to restore the energy flowing around the universe back into ourselves, we seek to 'steal' it from other people. The fifth insight is the antidote to the fourth: the knowledge that at any time we can access the 'higher source' and regain any lost energy. Instead of the crime of using other people to get energy, we go into ourselves and access it through meditation, silence or being with nature.
The sixth insight is about the 'control dramas' which we all develop in order to direct energy to ourselves, taking on the roles, for example, of 'Intimidator', 'Poor Me', or 'Aloof'. Control dramas do not let us progress as human beings, but seeing them objectively gives us the power to kill them off.
Space permits only a brief look at the insights. You will have to get the book to find out the last three. The tenth insight is the subject of Redfield's second novel.
The Celestine Prophecy was successful because it focused renewed interest in spirituality while being tough on traditional religion. In asserting the idea of direct intuition of spiritual knowledge rather than receiving it second-hand, it was a genuinely Gnostic work. Redfield tapped into the feeling that 'the truth is out there', and by merging the ancient spiritual quest with a racy adventure set in the here and now (the first chapter begins in a parking lot), he masterfully satisfied a market thirst for danger and sacredness.
Though it is easy to be cynical about Celestine, it has had a transformative effect on many people, and its insights relate directly to the concerns of our time: the preoccupation with relationships and their fragile balance; environmental awareness; and, as we leave behind the 20 th century and all that history, the desire to see the human experiment in its entirety. In this respect, though initially attractive as a spiritual self-development book, what makes The Celestine Prophecy so compelling is its broader theme of the non-physical evolution of the human species.
Perhaps Redfield's major theme is that the resolution and avoidance of conflict in human relationships is the most important issue in the great universal scheme of things. Conflict and ill will create friction against the natural flow of energy in the universe, whereas to love unconditionally is to move with this energy and take on its grace and power.
Source: Tom Butler-Bowdon 50 Spiritual Classics: 50 Great Books of Inner Discovery, Enlightenment and Purpose (London & Boston: Nicholas Brealey)
"I could almost see the momentum of the Modern Age slowing as we approached the end of the millennium. A four-hundred-year-old obsession had been completed. We had created the means of material security, and now we seemed ready - poised, in fact - to find out why we had done it."
Born in 1950, Redfield grew up in a Methodist family near Birmingham, Alabama. He attended Auburn University, where he studied eastern philosophies, including Taoism and Zen Buddhism, as part of a sociology major. He later received a Master's degree in counseling and spent more than 15 years as a therapist to abused adolescents.
Quitting his job in 1989 to write full-time, Redfield took almost two and a half years to write The Celestine Prophecy. The first edition was self-published, but word of mouth spread so quickly that Warner Books bought the rights. It spent 145 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and between 1996 and 1999 was the biggest selling title in the world.
Redfield's other books include the sequel, The Tenth Insight: the Afterlife Dimension, The Celestine Vision, The Celestine Prophecy: An Experiential Guide (with Carol Adrienne) and The Secret of Shambhala: In Search of the Eleventh Insight, another adventure, set in Tibet.
A Hollywood film version of The Celestine Prophecy was released in 2006.
Redfield lives in Alabama and Florida.
© COPYRIGHT TOM BUTLER-BOWDON, 2021
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