Here and in the following article, I want to look at some of the ideas of New Thought teacher Emma Curtis Hopkins (the “teacher of teachers”) in connection with a few other sources to see what interesting insights it may give us.  Where we are headed is towards a greater understanding of her spirituality of Being.

In this first part, we will consider how shifting our mental map to include a consideration of the “great chain of being” coupled with the principles of polarity and correspondence can help us in our understanding of Emma and the true nature of her “science”.  In part 2 we will make some connections between the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow and Hopkins’ call for us to “seek the Good”. 

Reading Emma

Hopkins was a spiritual teacher who lived from 1849 to 1925.  Although she was exposed to varied spiritual teachings during her schooling, it was through the influence of Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy that Hopkins became fully engaged in metaphysics. She rose through the ranks of Eddy’s students to take on the editing of the Christian Science periodical for a year or two.  However, Emma found that ultimate truth for her transcended the teachings of Christian Science. Her writing about other spiritual ideas and writers led to her parting ways with Eddy.

Hopkins then founded a spiritual school and taught and ordained many individuals.  Among her students were the founders of Divine Science, Unity and Religious Science.  Most of her classes and books revolved around 12 key lessons which she called the “twelve doctrines of Jesus Christ”.  Yet these doctrines did not relate to Jesus being some divine being that was set apart from us.  Instead, what she says he taught were the keys to our creating and living the highest miracle of our own lives.  Hopkins considered these lessons a type of “spiritual science”.

For more on Hopkins’s background and for links to many useful online resources including free eBooks by her, visit our resource page.

For many people first reading Emma, it can be tough going.  First off, her writing style is more in alignment with how folks wrote in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  However, secondly (and more importantly), Emma appears to have taught and written from a state of mystical consciousness which can be hard to connect with if we are approaching her from a lower consciousness.

Here’s a quote from her book Scientific Christian Mental Practice to get a sense of what I am talking about:

“As nearly as possible, the twelve lessons which we now begin will take the absolute meanings of the words of Jesus Christ. If we take the absolute meanings, dear friends, we are obliged to say that our life needs no material or physical effort to keep it forever. It needs only the true Word of God. It is not profitable to say that our life needs no material support. It is only profitable to say that our life does need the Word of God. The Word of God IS Truth. God works only in Truth.”

Say, what? Approaching such language as we normally read books can leave us lost.

So, the question to consider when reading Emma (or any other spiritual teacher who is writing from such awareness) is how can I best approach her to make sense of what she is saying?  To answer that question, we may need to read her with a different mindset.  To that end, let’s look at the concept of our mental map and how we might best shift it to understand a mystical viewpoint.

Mental Maps

Recently, I assisted in facilitating a men’s spiritual retreat up in the Colorado Rockies.  It was a great experience, as pretty much any such retreat is, and the first major “post-covid” face to face event I have done in a while.  One of the topics that I incorporated into my presentation was the notion that we all operate in life with an invisible “mental map” that both guides what we see and how we see it. Hence, this topic was fresh in my awareness right now!

We all construct these maps to some degree. We build a model of how we think the world works and then we continuously test our model against our experience of the world.  Our model gets “fine-tuned” as feedback comes in….and we adjust it based on our introduction to new theories and information that resonate with us as true.

For example, I can quickly point at things like “Maslow’s hierarchy”, split brain theories, Science of Mind and New Thought, Spiral Dynamics, Ken Wilber and Integral Theory along with the ideas of spiritual evolution as being major steps forward in filling in the blanks of my continuously evolving mental map.  At least, I hope (and feel) that it is continuously expanding. Those of you who follow my writings will note these topics come up from time to time as my map of how ultimate reality works is informed by them.

Although we may always be open to a degree to adjusting our mental map, there are many people who may be moving through a developmental stage where their existing map may just be too “sticky” in their consciousness to let go of it for a new model!  In fact, we may go about in our search for feedback not realizing that we are only looking for verification that we and our map are correct.  Consider the psychological concept of “confirmation bias”.

One aspect of my own personal mental map that I believe relates to all such maps humans hold is the concept of the “evolving worldview”. I first discovered this idea via studying Spiral Dynamics and then enhanced it in learning Integral Theory.  For more on those subjects, check out my brief overview videos:  Link to Spiral Dynamics Video    Link to Integral Theory Video

The idea of this evolving worldview, simply stated, is that we each have adopted a wide-ranging viewpoint about life, sort of like a set package of ideas, that we share with many other people.  Frequently, we are not even aware that we have taken on this set of beliefs…. it’s simply the way we “see the world”. We evolve through these set packages of ideas in the same sequence as others. 

At some point in our lives, many of us tend to settle into one of these worldviews as our primary way of seeing life. This is so ingrained in us as “right and true” that we cannot understand why others think like they do if they see the world differently.  We cannot comprehend that they are thinking and seeing through a different package of ideas (until we evolve into a later worldview that sees the importance and value of all of the viewpoints).  These different ways of “seeing the world” is at the heart of what we tend to label as the “culture wars”.

Briefly, let’s consider the three main worldviews at play in modern culture (although there are evolutionary levels before and after them):

Traditional worldview – sees things in “black and white”, likes some rules to guide life, believes that the world was better in the “good old days”, typical example is a religious fundamentalist.

Materialistic/Scientific worldview – sees all as “matter” which can be understood via material science, goal of life to master the physical world by accumulation of wealth, experiences, power or knowledge.

Humanistic/Cultural Creative worldview – sees the world as interconnected, sees value in all life (humans and animals), sees value in our diversity, has a desire to honor the Earth and the variety of all people on it.

This, of course, is a way oversimplification.  However, what I want you to consider is that your ever evolving mental map includes one of these “package of ideas” that helps you answer questions of meaning about life and the values that guide you.  You then add your own unique experiences and learning to create your own unique map.

Great Chain of Being

Now I would like to offer you a few thoughts to consider seeing how they might they fit with your “mental map” to enhance your reading of certain mystical writings.  First is the idea of the great chain of being.  Secondly, we will connect that to the principles of polarity and correspondence. Don’t worry, these are straight forward concepts!

The genesis of the great chain of being can be traced back to Aristotle.  The concept can be found in many religious traditions.  It basically considers reality as a hierarchy of life starting with the most ethereal God/Spirit at the top and the densest material world at the bottom with intervening levels.  There have been many different iterations of the “great chain”. Most common is the breakdown of spirit, soul, mind, life, matter. Sometimes there is an emphasis on the lower areas of the world of matter with the breakout of God, Angels, Demons, Man, Animals, Plants, Minerals. There are other ways to show the chain but generally we also we the similarity of from top to bottom, first the spiritual realm, then the mental realm, and finally the physical realm. 

I, and many others, liken the sequence of the chain to the four bodies often taught in energy healing and other esoterica. Hence, we end up with the realms of spirit, mind, emotions and body. The point is not to get hung up on the specific levels and names but rather to recognize the general sequence from the divine down to form with levels in between.  Here’s a quick typical picture of the great chain (along with the branches of human study that focus on that level) to get the idea:

Polarity and Correspondence

Now, a frequent mistake I believe many make in looking at the different levels of the great chain of being is seeing them as distinct stages that are separate and apart from one another when really, they are more of a sliding scale along a continuum. 

This brings us to using a couple of ideas that I wrote about recently regarding the book The Kybalion, its principles of “polarity” and “correspondence”.  In reference to polarity The Kybalion states, “Everything is dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.” 

Hence, we can consider the extreme ends of the great chain of being as a polarity with Spirit on one end, physical matter on the other and many gradient levels (such as emotional and mental “bodies”) in between.  At the “top” is the world of the Absolute (Spirit), at the “bottom” is the world of the relative (matter). We experience both polarities and can move up and down the intervening degrees.

So, picture this in your mind — when you are focused on the material world such as when you are driven by food or other physical bodily needs, then you are towards the bottom of the continuum.  When you are thinking about things, weighing options rationally in your mind and making a conscious choice and so on, you are somewhere in the middle of the continuum.  When you are experiencing a sense of oneness (such as in meditation or in nature) or when you feel a sense of transcending the physical, then you are still higher on the continuum. 

The point is, we move along this scale all the time, up and down. As many including myself often state, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.  But we are also having emotional, mental and spiritual experiences too.  The question becomes, where are we most of the time in our consciousness?

Building on this sliding scale map of reality, let’s add in the idea of “correspondence”. The Kybalion summarizes this principle through this quote: “As above, so below; as below, so above.”

In other words, changes in any of the realms—spiritual, mental, emotion, physical—can impact the others.  The actions above can create effects below.  The actions below can create effects above. Our mental thoughts can impact our emotions and our physical world.  Actions in the physical world can impact our emotions and mental beliefs. And, so on.

With this potential addition to our mental map…. that we are living simultaneously in multiple worlds (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual) ….and that each area has the ability to impact the others……let’s return to Emma.

Emma Curtis Hopkins – Mystic and Spiritual Scientist

One of Hopkins’s last students was Ernest Holmes, founder of Religious Science (Science of Mind).  Writing about his experience being a student with her he stated:

“What she said was it and that was that; and like some ancient seeress, dispassionate but not cold, she powered it with a conviction so great that it imparted something – a definite impartation, in fact, so great that at times it was almost like a wind, like the “psychic breeze,” a phenomenon familiar to inquirers. It was something alive, animated and inspiring. It was due neither to her words nor to her manner. She awakened an awe which was at once personal and impersonal, identified with her and yet something more.”

In other words, Holmes described someone who was teaching from a “higher” level, a more mystical or spiritual level.  Hence, our charge when we attempt to read Hopkins is to allow her words to flow by us like the wind, to see them coming to us from a higher level.  To the degree possible, we need to imagine our consciousness moving up that sliding scale we mentioned earlier, shifting to a higher state where we are opening ourselves to the “Divine Flow”.  Then let the mystical nature of the text continue to lift you to even higher levels!

To that end, here are a few practical steps you might consider:

  • Anchor in your awareness the map of a sliding scale polarity with Spirit/God/the Absolute on one end and the workings of the physical universe on the other.  Picture that polarity and the ability to shift along the continuum in our consciousness.
  • Set an intention to read the words with an awareness of the various realms in which we live and how each effects the other through the principle of correspondence.
  • Take a moment to relax or meditate and get into the flow before reading.
  • As you read, be open to see any references to the different levels of Being. Notice when there is language that appears to support this map of Ultimate Reality and what wisdom if offers.
  • Optionally, you can consider reading the text out loud or listen to an audiobook.  And, of course, read the words more than once! 

So with these steps in mind, let’s return to our earlier quote and see if helps in reading it:

“As nearly as possible, the twelve lessons which we now begin will take the absolute meanings of the words of Jesus Christ. If we take the absolute meanings, dear friends, we are obliged to say that our life needs no material or physical effort to keep it forever. It needs only the true Word of God. It is not profitable to say that our life needs no material support. It is only profitable to say that our life does need the Word of God. The Word of God IS Truth. God works only in Truth.”

Hopefully we can now see that Emma appears to be saying that she is using the words of Jesus with the meanings that come from the absolute realm.  As we “take the absolute meanings” from the spiritual realm and incorporate them into our mental realm, then we can see that no effort is needed in the material realm to manifest the life we desire there.  Hence, all we need to do is to use the Truths that come from the divine realm and employ that “Word of God” in our own thoughts and words to manifest the support we need in all of the realms.  Anyway, that’s how I am reading it.  Your interpretation may differ!

Now one final thought before concluding this part of our exploration:  I want to consider the idea of a “spiritual science”.  What does that mean?  

Again, let’s return to our mental map of the sliding scale polarity.  Just as there are different levels or aspects of reality, could there not be different “levels” of science?  Could there be different “sciences” that focus upon different levels of being as we slide up and down the scale from the Absolute to the relative?  Can there be a science of spirituality?  Can there be a science of the mental realm?  What about a science of the emotions? Obviously the answer is “yes” as we see the labels on the chart of the great chain above. But some people might question “mysticism” or “theology” as a science.

The problem for many people is that we have been ingrained with the belief that “science” is something that must involve empirical testing.  Further, it is felt that it is only in the realm of the material world that we can agree of the results of such tests.  Such a viewpoint discounts any data based on reports of our inner awareness as unverifiable. 

Therefore, the issue for many becomes that a science that is non-material related to emotional, mental or spiritual experiences, is dependent upon one’s inner awareness and we have difficulty verifying those inner experiences.  It’s so much easier to agree on things that we both experienced “out there” in the physical world.  

However, I believe that such a limited view of science relates more to one’s worldview as previously described.  If your mental map includes assumptions coming from the “materialistic/scientific” worldview, then you begin with your basic view of reality that only “matter” is real.  But ironically, even people who believe this are open to you answering some questions about what you think or feel on a questionnaire and then using that document as “material evidence”.  Never mind that the responses came from that “inner” (and non-material) world of your thoughts and perceptions.

Consider this definition of science, according to Wikipedia: it is “a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.”  Doesn’t the universe include the inner realms?  Doesn’t it include the spiritual and transcendent aspects of life?  And we can (and do) create testable predictions about the mental realm already if we consider much of the experiments in psychology. 

Therefore, when Emma Curtis Hopkins referenced “Scientific Christian Mental Practice” and what she taught as a “spiritual science”, she was referring to a type of science that was up the sliding scale towards the Absolute end.  Hopkins wrote:

“If you will look into the Science of Spirit you will see that your life is meant to be sustained by the Science of God and not by the science of matter.  God is Spirit, therefore it is the Science of Spirit which we are to study when we open the reasoning with the word “God” …Thus it is plain that by opening our study with the word “God” we are beginning the study of Mind.”

What Hopkins wants us to do, just as Ernest Holmes did in his “Science of Mind”, is to seek to verify the teachings for ourselves.  If someone says that our practicing certain concepts of a “spiritual science” or a “mental science” will lead to certain results, then we can test it ourselves.  We can follow the council and then see what results we receive.

Which brings us to another question…. where on that sliding scale of reality will we experience the results?  Do the spiritual practices of a spiritual science have results only in the spiritual realm?  Do the mental practices of a mental science have results only in the mental realm? Well, obviously the answer to both questions is “no”. Remember: “As above, so below; as below, so above.”

Hopkins calls us to follow her 12 doctrines to experience the “Good” (more on that next time). Holmes calls us to use the techniques of Science of Mind to create worldly “demonstrations”.  All of New Thought connects the power of the mental realm to creating effects in the physical realm.  That’s basic “law of attraction 101”.

Conclusion

Thanks for reading to the end of part one and going along for the ride.  I hope you got something out of it.   Next time, in part two, we will build on the ideas here and get into what Hopkins means by the “Good” and how that relates to the concepts of Abraham Maslow. Till next time!

Mark Gilbert

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