A Skeptic/Atheist Critic of the Bestseller ‘Many Lives, Many Masters’ by Brian Weiss
Critique: “Many Lives, Many Masters” by Dr. Brian L. Weiss
Written by Wes Hagen, 5/24/10 (I was amazed that i couldn’t find a single article discussing this book critically on the internet. So I gave it a shot after reading the entire book carefully.)
Thesis: While constituting a beautiful modern religious parable describing a physician’s relationship with an anonymous, angelic patient, the book ‘Many Lives, Many Masters’ can only be appreciated in a poetic sense. Just like the Bible, when read as a newspaper instead of a poem, the story becomes ridiculous and meaningless.
A Word from the Critic:
First, I found the story in Many Lives, Many Masters meaningful from a poetic sense. I have a strong background in Jungian Archetypal Criticism as well as a deep interest and life-long scholarship focusing on comparative mythology. I have finished the four book series of Masks of God by Joseph Campbell as well as James Gordon Frazer’s The Golden Bough, which I’ve been studying for longer than a decade. I have also read every major work of western and eastern religion: The Bible (although I needed an extra cup of coffee to get through Deuteronomy), am currently reading the Qu’ran, have read the Book of Mormon, the Upanishads, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Taoist and Buddhist manuals. I even read the Necronomicon. Interestingly, I found more similarities between MLMM and both modern and ancient religious texts than I expected.
If I had to define MLMM, I would call it a series of dream-parables aimed at assuaging man’s fear of death in a a modern society by replacing faith with a quasi-pyschological assertion that the transcendent can be defined. Taken loosely and poetically, as I implied above, there is nothing wrong with the message. This life is one of many physical tests for an immortal spirit…tests that promote : “balance and harmony” , and suggests that “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
The revelations are purely retold in a persistent mythical archetype evident in most religious traditions: the Anunciation. Like Moroni to Joseph Smith, Gabriel to Mohammed, Gabriel to the Virgin Mary (see a pattern here?), Catherine is presented in Weiss’ book in purely angelic terms. Even though she is a philandering bathing suit model, she becomes more and more angelic through MLMM, and Weiss himself becomes more of the prophet/messenger archetype. Catherine is unfailingly described in terms of her other-worldy beauty after the first two chapters, and never treated as a human with frailty of failings after she begins anunciating her mystical wisdom.
Each chapter begins with a description of Catherine as she comes into the office for her hypnosis:
“Beautiful to begin with, she was more radiant than ever.”
“Her face was peaceful and she was enveloped with serenity.”
“..she was radiant, serene and happy beyond my wildest hopes.”
“The inner diamond that was her true personality was shining brilliantly for all to see.”
And their relationship becomes the clear connection of an angel with his/her prophet:
“I had a vision of Catherine’s face, several times larger than life sized.”
Before I make this critique as long as the book itself, I would like to point out my general criticisms of the book: some inconsistencies and some commentary that I found inescapable on a careful reading.
• Many Lives, Many Masters follows the traditional religious structure of a relationship between an angel and a prophet: the angel speaking secrets to a prophet who can offer no concrete proof of his convictions. Whether it’s the missing tablets of Joseph Smith or the protection of doctor/patient confidentiality, the process is the same. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and without any peer reviewed and scholarly review of the evidence presented in MLMM, the book relies greatly on faith to be believed.
• While it’s easier to believe a doctor than a prophet of old for most modern humans, the text of MLMM are very similar to ancient religious texts.
• The angel can only recount her wisdom after sacrificing his/her previous life, by going through a sacrificial death through regression hypnosis. After the Jesus-esque sacrifice of recounting pain and giving the universe its due, the ‘spirits’ speak through her as a conduit to the prophet, Dr. Weiss.
• Each description of a previous life by the ‘Angel’ Catherine is a spiritual parable that serves as an introduction to the lesson that follows, given to the Prophet Weiss by the ‘Masters’.
• Religion evolves like all life: MLMM is an example of a purely post-Freudian spirituality, where the scientist/doctor becomes the prophet and we have a quasi-scientific basis for believing on the surface, but this is only related to the messenger. The lack of any type of peer-reviewed evidence, or the fact that the session/regression tapes are not able to be studied, makes this just another religion of faith.
• Like all religions, belief requires us to shut off our critical faculties. When Catherine goes into one of her first hypnotized regressions (that she supposedly has no memory of afterwards), she says: “We live in a valley, there is no water. The year is 1863 BC.” Wow, I have to admit I’m impressed. Not 1864 or 1865. I’m amazed that she has the foresight to know when Christ will be born almost 2000 years before the event is said to have occurred. Either she is consciously lying under hypnosis, or her ‘Aronda’ character has an amazing ability to use BC dates more than 2000 years before they were brought into common usage. Whoops! Guess that didn’t get caught in the editing.
• All the details that Catherine provides are vague in a historic context of someone who is living there. Only first names are offered, and there are never details provided that could prove these lifetimes in a way that would satisfy any serious secular historian. There are no details provided that couldn’t have been studied and memorized between hypnosis sessions. The fact that she knew the Prophet’s father’s Jewish name and the fate of his first son could have been gleaned from a number of sources.
• Certain passages smack of the same type of manipulative, religious fervor that is common in religious texts such as the Qu’ran. Reading the Qu’ran was an exercise in patience. It seems the first 50 pages were mostly devoted to a repeated chorus of “Everywhere you go, people will test your faith. The devil and the infidels will tempt you at every opportunity.” Over and over the Prophet Mohammed’s warnings repeat: ‘Your faith will be tested.” In Chapter 6, Catherine admits that her life and death in the ‘body’ of an Eighteenth Century servant girl (no name given), helped her learn that she had no faith in the ‘Masters’. The reliance on religion to believe in an antiquated and disgusting Master/Slave relationship (which finds its highest poetic representation in the Holy Qu’ran), is not pruned out of the Prophet Weiss’ new quasi-religion, shown when Catherine the Anunciator tells the doctor/prophet: “I want control, but I don’t have any. I must have faith in the Masters. They will guide me throughout. But I did not have faith. I felt like I was doomed from the beginning.[…]We must have faith…we must have faith. And I doubt. I choose to doubt instead of believe.” This is pure Old Testament religion. Based on nothing but a belief that there are invisible Master(s) in the sky that will guide and judge us.
• For a ‘skeptic’ and a ‘man of science’ I find it very odd what Dr. Weiss’ first reaction to Catherine’s hypnotized regression. “Go back to the time from which your symptoms arise,” he tells Catherine. Catherine responds with a description that is in no way indicative of a past life experience. She describes a building and pillars, her long white dress, “My hair is braided, long blond hair.” Earlier the Dr. notes that Catherine has medium length blond hair. There is nothing in the passage that could not have been a simple memory from her own life. Why then does the doctor reply: “I asked her what the year was, what he name was.” Why would this skeptical man of science ask her who she was? That’s like a therapist asking someone under hypnosis: “Do you see hooded men standing in pentagrams, touching you in strange ways?” From the VERY beginning of this hypnosis, the Dr. SUGGESTS to a hypnotized patient that she may not be herself.
• Depending on what you prefer to believe, this book presents an unbelievable or at least a questionable narrative that could have been faked by Catherine, Doctor Weiss, or both. It is clear that Dr. Weiss has profited greatly from the book being on bestseller lists for 22 years, and from giving paid lectures on the subject past-life regression therapy. Perhaps it started as a=n attempt to rebuild a spiritual core in America by suggesting, pretending or inventing ‘evidence’, and then shoring up his defenses as the project took a life of its own, or was edited to be more exciting and compelling.
• I certainly do not impugn Dr. Weiss humanity, compassion, or his attempts to help his fellow humans. But by creating a quasi-religion based on clearly fallacious ‘recovered memories’, he destroys his own message by not providing any peer-review or replicable study of his outrageous claims.
• Read like poetry, Many Lives, Many Masters is a brilliant modern parable of humanism—it clearly wants to guide people down a path that will help society gain understanding, peace and harmony. The problem is that it tries to sell us a ghost story that is clearly fabricated. Whether it was done on purpose, or even if it was miraculously true, doesn’t matter. I don’t see a problem with people drinking the Kool Aid offered by this short, fun and easily consumed Fairy Tale—I don’t see those who believe in the Masters warring against Christians or Muslims. At least not yet, until the believers start to break into sects, fundamentalists. Seems unlikely until you read some history.