Kete Books reviews Shadow Worlds


In the 1970s, I went on a very specific book-buying bender and was soon adrift in a confusing confluence of esoteric knowledge and practices: Gurdjieff,  J.G. Bennett, Madame Blavatsky, Aleister Crowley, Subud, Rosicrucians, the Kabbalah, Ouspensky…

‘In Shadow Worlds, teasing apart these threads of Theosophy, The Temple of the Golden Dawn, Anthroposophy and various types of spiritualism is the admirable work of art and cultural historian Andrew Paul Wood.

‘He excuses himself from discussing Māori spiritual practices and those of the Chinese migrants because their esoteric practices and beliefs would require specialist knowledge and a different cultural context. Although when Māori spirituality was appropriated or bastardised by various outsiders he accounts for those and looks at mākutu and the suppression of tohunga. But he has plenty to explore in the early colonial era and the arcane, esoteric, occult, offshoots and lone wolves living in places like Havelock North, Southland and Hastings.

‘This is a fascinating, readable book – if complex, have pencil handy -- which illuminates numerous subcultures and belief systems which often found sizeable audiences here. The author accounts for the international rise of many groups – mostly from Britain or the United States – then identifies how, through missionaries or lecture tours, they connected with this country which to many practitioners seemed full of promise as a new world uncoupled from old Europe.

 ‘The seemingly staid folks of Christchurch were particularly well disposed to esoteric spiritualism and ideas.’

Read the full review by Graham Reid at Kete Books here.