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The Philosopher's Secret Fire: A History of the Imagination Hardcover – November 4, 2002

4.3 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This fascinating book provides a historical look at the expressions of human imagination and how ideas of reality have been shaped over time. Harpur (Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld) examines a wide range of imaginary creatures and concepts, including those found in folklore and mythology, religion and philosophy, poetry and drama, spiritualism and psychology. He thoughtfully presents traditions from around the world and illustrates the cultural similarities and symbolic role each plays in society and for the individual. The author demonstrates that in modern times beliefs have moved away from explanations based on the supernatural toward an overreliance on scientific interpretations. However, he also shows that even scientific methods and models rely on the imagination and that new concepts of reality continue to be created. The book is scholarly in tone, presenting a wealth of literary allusions and erudite analysis. Recommended for larger public and academic libraries.
Eloise R. Hitchcock, Middle Tennessee State Univ. Lib., Murfreesboro
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

British writer Harpur, author of Daimonic Reality (1994), is a passionate explorer of the vast, varied, and vital Otherworld, the realm of spirit, soul, archetype, and the imagination, and he begins this fluent, wildly inclusive, and exponentially thought-provoking tour of the wellspring of myths (which by his bold definition include folktales, religion, and science) by introducing an assortment of the realm's magical denizens, beings who mediate between the human and the divine, such as fairies, jinn, and mythological heroes. But Harpur's main mission is to trace the course of Western civilization's effort to turn "the Otherworld into an intellectual abstraction," and relocate in our psyches what was for eons envisioned as an integral aspect of nature. A learned and holistic thinker, Harpur excavates the "root metaphors" in everything from shamans' dreams to Plato's concept of the soul of the world, the Kabbalah, Greek myths, Jungian psychology, and the theories of evolution and particle physics. Whatever readers may make of Harpur's intriguing, even daring interpretations, the truth that emerges is while myths change, the great mysteries remain the same. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ivan R. Dee; First Edition edition (November 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566634857
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566634854
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,175,712 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roy E. Perry on January 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Rilke once wrote: "Don't kill my demons, you might kill my angels too." This aphorism could serve as the epitaph of Patrick Harpur's new book, The Philosophers' Secret Fire: A History of the Imagination.

Harpur, who lives in Dorchester, England, is the author of The Timetable of Technology (1982); Mercurius; or The Marriage of Heaven and Earth (1990); and Daimonic Activity: A Field Guide to the Otherworld (1994).

In The Philosophers' Secret Fire, Harpur revisits "the Otherworld," a realm of imagination--of mythology and folklore, metaphor and analogy, spirit and soul. It is a world celebrated by Plato and neo-Platonists; by shamans and soothsayers; by alchemists and magi; by mystics (Jacob Boehme and St. John of the Cross); by Romantic poets (William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and W. B. Yeats); and by the psychologist C. G. Jung.

The burden of Harpur's message is that modern man has lost his soul. The spiritual hubris of his literalism, materialism, rationalism, and scientism has separated him not only from his own "soul, but also from Nature and from the "World Soul," which permeates the cosmos and which, in a pantheistic sense, is the cosmos.

Two of the Synoptic Gospels record "The Parable of the Haunted House" (Matthew 12:43-45; Luke 11:24-26): "When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. So it returns and finds that its former home swept and clean, but empty. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Patrick Harpur's 'The Philosopher's Secret Fire: A History of the Imagination' (2002) is further hard evidence that Harpur is a bright, complex thinker with a genius for digesting and assimilating complex threads of Western history, philosophy, religion, and science, as his 'Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld' (1994) has already demonstrated. In fact, 'The Philosopher's Secret Fire' reads like a sequel to the first book. While 'Daimonic Reality' dealt directly with cases of paranormal and metaphysical visitation, 'The Philosopher's Secret Fire' underscores and elaborates on the history of Western culture's "golden thread," Harpur's name for the centuries-old ideas, beliefs, and mystical traditions which have attempted to identify, name, and encompass the broadest possible view of the nature of reality. Harpur's work stands as a considerable reproof against books like Daniel Pinchbeck's recent 'Break Open the Head' and other earnest but ill-conceived works which attempt a grasp at the inexplicable.

Beginning with Plato and moving through the Neoplatonists, Christian mystics, Renaissance High Magicians, alchemists, Enlightenment scientists and philosophers, Romantic poets, and 20th century depth psychologists, Harpur lays down an extremely complex argument in the simplest of language.

Plotinus is here, as are Heraclitus, Cornelius Agrippa, Jacob Boehme, John Dee, Paracelsus, Copernicus, Immanuel Kant, Isaac Newton, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Darwin, William Butler Yeats, and Carl Jung, among several dozen others.
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While I have read many excellent books in the last few years, I would have to say that this volume is the most profoundly significant of them all. It is profound because it successfully challenges the accepted, modern view of "reality."
This book is a continuation of the ideas explored in the author's previous masterpiece, _Daemonic Reality_. It examines the "Otherworld", the Anima Mundi, or soul of the world. This is the larger Reality that was accepted by all traditional cultures, but which is now rejected, suppressed, and ignored by Western man. Yet, just because it is ignored doesn't mean that it doesn't exist- and doesn't make itself felt in our lives.
While _Daemonic Reality_ emphasized the modern phenomena that seem to represent "break-outs" from the otherworld (UFO's, crypto zoological species, Marian apparitions, angels, etc.), this volume goes into more historical and philosophical depth. It is a round about approach, but then it almost has to be for such a complex and unusual subject. Modern language and mindsets are simply inadequate for the purpose. Indeed, the book appropriately mirrors a hermetic labyrinth in its approach.
Yet debunking the hyper-rational and ultra-materialistic world of modern scientism isn't the foremost objective here. The author is primarily trying to give us some sense of the mind-set of traditional man, of a supernatural world that existed in close communion with the natural world and human society. Our western religious and scientific tradition has driven a wedge between us and both nature and heaven. This is an alien and unbalanced state for a person, or a society. This seems to be why the old immortal daemons periodically break through the veil into our false, shallow, consensus reality. They are trying to awaken us.
Yes, we are truly initiated by what we cannot control....
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