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Review: Ringing Cedars of Russia

Anastasia - Ringing Cedars book 1 I first came across the series from full-page advertisements placed in the magazine Nexus mentioning (within the advert) that sales have reached over 10 million without advertising, and must admit that such advertising oxymoron did not predispose me to a favourable view of the publisher’s honesty: either they do not advertise and indeed sales spread by word of mouth, or they do advertise (and fair enough too). In this series of nine books, this very method or claiming self fulfilling prophecies is also used. Psychologically, it’s an effective marketing strategy that’s long been used by brands with which the world is now all too familiar – without any comment as to those brands’ respective quality.

In this review, however, it is precisely this latter on which I would like to focus a little: the quality of the content. But first some other brief comments.

Vol. 1: Anastasia
Vol. 2: Ringing Cedars of Russia
Vol. 3: Space of Love
Vol. 4: Co-Creation
Vol. 5: Who Are We?
Vol. 6: Book of Kin
Vol. 7: Energy of Life
Vol. 8.1: New Civilization
Vol. 8.2: Rites of Love

1st & rev. edition, Vol. 1

Writing style

It’s well-neigh impossible to truly comment on the writing style of a translated text except by comparison to other texts translated from the same language of origin. In this case, and as the translator similarly mentions in his preface, Megré’s style is one that (fortunately) radically improves over the course of the nine books. As a side note, the author mentions early in the series that there will be a total of nine volumes – something that at that time probably seemed rather over-ambitious – and yet, reaching the eighth volume, it may have seemed to him that more than nine may be achieved (or needed, in order to include ideas since acquired), and as a consequence the eighth and ninth are respectively numbered 8.1 and 8.2 – a little reminiscent of counting down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, .5, .4, .3, .2 &c..

If it had not been for a friend of mine who highly values the books, and volume 3 having some pedagogical references (references that will inevitably arise in the teacher-training courses) I doubt I would have bought the set or, obtaining volume 1, persisted past the first half of the book. Yet it is from the second half of volume one that more interesting content is reached. The first half of the first volume is very poorly written and, to be frank, even fails in what may otherwise be seen as titillation; the second half gets interesting and brings together the groundwork for what is to come in the later books.

Though the overall style in which it is written remains (for myself at any rate) rather tedious, much of the content can be divided into broad categories that follow – the obvious omissions from the subheadings below are the autobiographical and the claimed meetings with Anastasia and her kin.

On this last point, and given that the question about the existence of Anastasia remains a point that appears to be of interest to various readers, I personally do not consider the question of strict literal importance. It could be, for example, that Megré did in fact meet (and even fall in love) with a woman he met in the Siberian area, and then used part of the experience in order to provide context for the narrative he writes which brings together his own various views on politics, gardening, and the religio-spiritual. Bringing these views into a written form always needs some kind of context, and making one of the characters speak words that the author himself holds dearest lends a relative ease to what may otherwise be considered a formidable task.

Socio-politics and Religion

It is clear that Megré writes from his Russian perspective, and remnants of the Marxist-Leninist views that have pervaded Russian society still abound. Here, the insight that society is ultimately governed not so much by laws and regulations but by the Zeitgeist (or more accurately the Weltanschauung) is clearly spelt out, and he seeks to alter it by presenting not only an alternative imaginative worldview, but also reminding his readers that whatever one’s worldview brings about changes in community: in other words, be conscious of the view you hold, for therein will be the basis (for good or bad) of the world in development (reminiscent of comments in Haanel’s 1912 Master Key System: ‘the image is the mold or model which will serve as a pattern from which your future will emerge’).

His view of institutionalised religion is, however, classically neo-Marxist, and reflects the second of the three anti-religious views in European culture, succinctly described by José Casanova in ‘Beyond European and American Exceptionalisms’ (in Predicting Religion, p 24) thus (my emphasis):

Three dimensions of the Enlightenment critique [of religion] have been particularly relevant:

[a] the cognitive critique of religion as primitive, pre-rational world view to be superseded by the advancement of science and rational thought;

[b] the political critique of ecclesiastical religion as a conspiracy of rulers and priests to keep the people ignorant and oppressed, a condition to be superseded by the advancement of popular sovereignty and democratic freedoms;

and [c] the humanist critique of the very idea of God as human self-alienation and as a self-denying other-worldly projection of human aspirations and desires, a critique which postulated the death of God as the premise of human emancipation.

Although the prominence and pertinence of each of these three critiques may have changed from place to place, each of them to varying degrees has come to inform most modern European social movements, the political parties associated with them, and European theories of secularization.

In presenting the view that there remains in the world a rulership of image-maker priests who control the whole world, and by demonising the Levites as effectively a class of people who reflect the second view ([b]) of the three quoted above, Megré perpetuates a form of anti-semitic conspiracy theory that is still rampant amongst too many European communities. Yet he does so in a way that can then be self-justified by pointing out that even they (both the Jews and especially the Levites) are used by the ultimate six or seven ‘leader-priests’ who operate incognito behind the scene.

Still, what is left is a sense that the Levites within the Jewish community, and all major religious ecclesiastical groups (whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant) are somehow seeking to manipulate. Certainly there are numerous aspects of their respective history that is deplorable, and, it could be pointed, against the very impulse at work in the foundation of Christianity and Judaism, but Megré goes further than just that.

Theology

Despite the above, the theology presented in the books (especially from book 4 onwards) seems to be a type of Christianity somewhat admixed with contemporary views. The form of Christianity is very much Russian Orthodox, especially with regards to its Sophianic impulse at work in presenting Sophia (Wisdom) as both immanent and transcendent; as both part of the Godhead and part of each of us infused with her fragmented being (an aspect of this Sophianic Russian Orthodoxy is reminiscent of some of the Gnostic ‘heresies’).

That Megré presents the figure of Anasthasia as Sophia-like is, in so many ways, inevitable if the dominant narrative is made to speak through her voice. For those in the West, this voice is all too often virtually unheard, or heard via the translations of, for example, other Russians (such as Pavel Florensky or Vladimir Solovyov). [For those interested in this Sophianic impulse, I would foremost recommend Christopher Bamford's An Endless Trace].

In this overall context, the world in inhabited with various spiritual beings, and Man (to use the term in its generic sense as the translator wishes) is seen as the pinnacle of creation. In such a context, other planetary life-forms, also mentioned in the series, are seen as more or less what Steiner may have described as Ahrimanic entities. Also, UFOs are also explained as indeed real, the result of ‘simple’ but highly advanced technology. (A nice aside to this is the description of computer technology as more or less equivalent to brain prosthetics – inadvertently contra Raymond Kurzweil, who would instead see a progressive replacement of body parts to bio-technological developments).

Yet, to be sure, the theology is also reflective of what seems to be his dominant motif: political reform and the distribution of private land to Russian citizens.

Gardening

On a practical aspect, Megré’s presentation of a few tidbits is fantastic. It is inevitable that there is much traditional lore that is being lost across the world as effective gardening techniques are not taken up by (our and) the next generation. Already, I have frankly little idea as to the many ‘obvious’ and effective involvement my grandfather had with his marvellous garden. Here, if nothing else, Megré shows how valuable gardens (and non-chemically fertilised and non-GM crops) are. His mention of holding a seed below one’s tongue prior to planting would certainly trigger various enzimes that may well assist the germination process. Similarly, to walk barefoot on the land has inevitable tangible positive influences.

What he also brings forth is half-forgotten tree-lore. In his case, that of Siberian Pines (throughout the series called ‘Cedars’) and the benefit of not only its fruit (or nut, in this case), but also of the wood as conducive to certain healing. In the 1990s, some of this tree lore was starting to make itself known, and the benefits or Rowan, Birch, Beech, and a host of other woods was advocated. The Ringing Cedars series may inadvertently bring some of this back to consciousness.

Political reform

As already indicated, by far the most dominant of themes through the books is in seeking political reform in the Russian dominions: the move from state-owned to private-property is inevitably complex, and yet here is a real opportunity for fair distribution by allocating small blocks (an hectare) to each and every family who wishes to cultivate such.

If indeed he is successful in bringing about such land reform, then he will have achieved, through the set of books, socio-political changes that can only be of incredible short, medium and long-term benefits to those former Soviet states who participate. In the West, I suspect that it will not be taken up in the same way: apart from any other consideration, land taxes or council rates that increase on speculated land-improved value (irrespective of CPI) will see to that.

…on the whole

It’s a tough call, and my written comments above may give the impression that I am less positive towards the books than I in fact am. On the one hand, it’s a set of books that is likely to have far more influence than may at first be supposed, and for that reason may be well worth reading in order to understand the provinance of some of the ideas, and to partake of what remains, on the whole, a wholesome meal (which is not something I can say of most books). On the other hand, the nine volumes are written in manner that makes re-visitation of ideas rather tedious. Inevitably, someone (if the series indeed has the popularity claimed and continues to so have) will bring together the main thoughts in some type of compendium… but then, the purists will argue that the ‘sequence of letters has changed’, and that it is Anastasia’s will that the presentation as is is to remain as is.

Perhaps the easiest recommendation is to read a library copy with the result that, very likely, you’ll end up with a set of your own…

titles in the series

Vol. 1: Anastasia
Vol. 2: Ringing Cedars of Russia
Vol. 3: Space of Love
Vol. 4: Co-Creation
Vol. 5: Who Are We?
Vol. 6: Book of Kin
Vol. 7: Energy of Life
Vol. 8.1: New Civilization
Vol. 8.2: Rites of Love

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