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John E. Mack. Passport to the Cosmos: Human Transformation and Alien Encounters. Crown Publishers, 1999.
In his new book John Mack has abandoned any facade of science to present what is in effect the outlines of a new neo-Pagan religion in which environmentalism, abductionism and a world of living powers or spirits form major components. Short on actual facts but long on syrupy phrases it might indeed be the first serious attempt at a fully fledged Disneyworld religion. Mack's version of how this all came about would be quiet worrying if true; it is that his exploration of the abduction experiences forced him to choose between the western world view and his 'clinical experience'. Heaven forbid that there could be anything wrong about his 'clinical experience' or judgement, therefore the Western world view had to go. I suspect things were more complicated than that.

Central to his latest presentation are the claims of three so called 'tribal shamans', Bernardo Peixoto, Sequoyah Trueblood and Credo Mutwa. All three however are deeply socialised into Western society, and I am not at all convinced that the spirits they are summoning are not those of Carlos Casteneda, Grey Owl and Princess Caraboo. What they are selling is clearly not traditional wisdom but at best a syncreatisation of parts of traditional cultures with a large dose of Western new-agery and popular culture. In a way they would resemble the prophets of previous revitalisation movements who sought to fuse elements of their traditional culture with elements of mission Christianity. Today the New Age and popular entertainment have replaced Christianity as the icons of the western world. Of course the previous generations of revitalisation movements were aimed at the spiritual transformation of their own society, the new generation are marketing their product at the vast legions of First World intellectual masochists.

Most controversial of these characters is Mutwa, denounced as a fraud and an "apartheid regime apologist" in his own country. Mack 's venture into the politics of South Africa is one of breathtaking condescension and naivete, and might easily give the impression that he is a racist, who believes that the 'natives' should stay loyal to tribal tradition, and not mess with the white man's ways such as commodity brokering and surfing the Internet. Of course this is just what the apartheid regime was about in its project to 'retribalise' the black African community (by 1950 the processes of Christianisation, intermarriage and urban migration had considerably blurred tribal identities and the masses increasingly saw themselves as citizens of South Africa, demanding civic rights, education, and an end to segregation, which was a threat to white power and privilege, so stooges like Mutwa were hired to aid in the process of divide and rule).

For the price of 'retribalisation' you only have to look at Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as the too many places in Africa where the politics of ethnicity have been played. It doesn't seem too impossible to imagine a parallel universe in which the likes of Mack would have been praising Radavan Karadic as a 'preserver of traditional culture'. Like most western multiculturalists, Mack doesn't apply the ideology to himself, there is little sign of him seeking to return to traditional Jewish culture, say joining a Hassidic community. On the contrary his neo-Paganism marks a decisive rejection of the Jewish tradition of divinity being reserved exclusively to the transcendent creator God, with matter being a created substance. Nor is there any sign of him leaving his nicely appointed tenured office at Harvard · to live in an AD 1000 house, with no mod cons and no modem medicine, or in a Neolithic hunter gatherer 'commune'! – Peter Rogerson. Magonia 70, March 2000.

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