This essay first appeared several years ago in the blog Woman in the Wilderness – Sustainable Spirituality and the New World. It is being reposted here as we near the anniversary of both de Coppens’ nativity and his death. This is an important essay in that it provides insight into de Coppens and the esoteric milieu of Northeastern Pennsylvania in the 1980s, but acts as a contrast with Joseph Lisiewski. In addition, the philosophical framework with which much of it is taking place – that of the Human Potential and New Age Movements – is a pivotal piece in understanding contemporary spirituality and politics.
Sometime in the spring – May I believe – of 1987, at the age of 23, I was visiting Dr. Meera Sharma at her home near Lake Scranton. Dr. Sharma was a physician specializing in internal medicine who was very publicly active in the local Rosicrucian body, the Wilkes-Barre Pronaos. For about half of its fourteen year existence the Pronaos even met in the waiting room area of her office on the fifth floor of the Bank Towers Building in downtown Scranton. George Seman, also an active member and founder of the affiliated body several years earlier (1984) was also present. It was little surprise to me when the two would later be married. At that time, her spacious and Indian accented living room had become a veritable salon where it was possible to meet all sorts of wonderful people at any time.
On this occasion her father and mother were visiting from Bombay. “Sharma” as he preferred to be called, was a self-made man, having moved from Burma to Bombay sometime in his youth – although I am not certain if it was before or during the Second World War. He eventually made his fortune after much hard work by designing a battery casing that could withstand the brutal Indian humidity. In addition, having begun his practice at the age of forty, he was a profound clairvoyant, and was frequently sought out at home in Bombay and in Scranton for his advice. Also visiting that day was a professor from East Stroudsburg University, Professor Peter Roche de Coppens, tenured professor of Psychology and Sociology.
Peter was a tall, fit middle-aged man, just shy of 50, with a swath of hair pulled across his clearly balding head – on him however, it did not look bad. He was congenial and smiling, in fact, when one met him he was always smiling, but it was as I would later come to believe, not because he was happy, but more because I believed, performing. He portrayed his life as magical, spontaneous, and wonderful all of the time – even when confronted with obstacles. He spoke of love and its various manifestations – he was like Anthony Robbins and Leo Buscaglia combined.
Before leaving, we went for a walk down towards Lake Scranton, a favorite destination of everyone who would visit Meera, and upon returning he went to the trunk of his car and pulled out a copy of his most recent book, The Invisible Temple – The Nature and Use of the Group Mind for Spiritual Attainment (Llewellyn’s Spiritual Science Series, 1987). He inscribed in French the following, “Learn French to accomplish the Great Work”. He followed it with, “find the woman.” Meaning, to find a woman that inspires you to greatness. The French version of the “dakhini principle” if you will. I have succeeded at one, if not at the other.
The fact that Manly P. Hall was looking for a replacement to head the Philosophical Research Society was mentioned to me, that is, that Hall was looking for someone to groom. The implication was that I should pursue that line of inquiry, although no means of introduction was suggested or supplied. Art Kunkin, who I would not meet until seven years later, was part of the PRS Board of Directors after the time of Hall’s death [see: Some Passing Thoughts on Dr. Joseph Lisiewski]. Like nearly every organization, esoteric and mundane, built upon the foundation of a charismatic creator and leader, PRS nearly imploded with his death. For a critical look at Hall and PRS at this time see his biography, Master of the Mysteries: The Life of Manly Palmer Hall by Louis Sahagun (2008).
After our meeting I read two of de Coppens other books, Apocalypse Now – The Challenge of Our Times (Llewellyn’s Spiritual Science Series, published 08 Oct.1995), which was a semi-autobiographical work, and, The Nature and Use of Ritual for Spiritual Attainment – Great Christian Documents and Traditional Blueprints for Human and Spiritual Growth (Llewellyn’s Spiritual Science Series, 01 January 1985). The latter was more to my liking as it addressed the key Christian documents from an esoteric perspective while linking their ideas to the spheres of the Tree of Life. This was the first time I had heard of this idea and was entranced by it. I later would learn that others schools had used it, but along with the collapse of Christian tradition, there was also the collapse of Christian esotericism. The two, as we shall see, go hand in hand – but that is for another time.
He was a Roman Catholic, a member of his local parish, and my wife Andrea and I even attended an Easter service with him, afterward we returned to his house for a light repast of fruit, and tea. When addressing the altar he bent forward, nearly level with the floor, so that the top of his head was pointed at the altar. This he said was to allow the energy to enter into his central channel or Middle Pillar. This is also a very old and traditional manner of approaching the altar. In his later years he wrote mostly about Christian spirituality rather than directly addressing esotericism, although stating that this was not his intention, simply the direction his writing had taken.
Peter was also an admirer of Padre Pio, the Italian stigmatic, and stated to me that Pio had the ability to be understood in whatever language the listener spoke. While I have not researched this to see if it is reported elsewhere, it is an insight into de Coppens’ life: he was a collector of people, and of experiences with them. Something I enjoy doing as well, although to a more limited and more intimate extent.
He spoke vaguely of his involvement in various esoteric movements, never really pinning anything down or disclosing any of the details. He disliked the Rosicrucian Order (AMORC), yet had no problem mentioning his having been “invited to assist them [the French Grand Lodge] with a project” and something similar with Raymond Bernard’s CIRCES [Knights Templar] organization, while stating that he had been involved with the Society Rosicruciana in America (SRIA) established by Dr. George Winslow Plummer.
His calling card read, “Knights of Malta Consultant”. The website for The Knights of Malta states, “The knighthood nature explains and justifies the maintenance of the noble nature of the Order, as most if its Religious Knights came from chivalrous and noble Christian families. Today the majority of Knights of Malta belong to all classes of society. The members of the Order may be defined as Catholics enlivened by altruistic nobleness of spirit and behavior. All Knights of Malta must meet the traditional requirement for the bestowing of knighthood: distinguished themselves for special virtues. The knighthood nature of the Order has kept its moral value, characterized by the spirit of service, sacrifice and discipline of today’s Knights of Malta. Battles are no longer fought with swords, but with the peaceful tools of the fight against disease, poverty, social isolation and intolerance, as well as witnessing and protecting the faith.” Once, as he sat to the left of me on a couch, arm outstretched in my direction, and laughed off the suggestion that Cagliostro might have been a legitimate adept, even a member of the Knights of Malta – stating, “He would never be allowed in, they would not have him”.
Yet for all this talk of groups, he never invited us to participate in any group activity. He mentioned having established groups, and groups using his works, but that was the total of it – nothing specific and substantial. It was all ideas. He loved ideas and was in love with the idea of being important and influential in world shaping events. He let it be known that he traveled on three or four passports: Swiss, American, Italian, and Argentina I believe. Consciously or not, he projected the image of being a secret agent man. The United Nations was mentioned several times, along with other hints of intrigue and special knowledge. One friend, who came to give a presentation and afterward spent the evening in the ‘salon’ remarked about de Coppens, “He does not want to be the man on the throne, he wants to be the man who stands behind him and whispers in his ear.”
During our walk after our first meeting, de Coppens stated, as we walked the last few yards back to Meera’s house, “I am an elitist.” Meaning, he believed that each person must achieve according to their own efforts and merits. There is a distinct hierarchy to life, even if not seen by others, nor understood by them. He was, and at the time I was unfamiliar with the ideas, clearly an advocate of the Traditionalist school of thought, at least in part. At other times Peter also mentioned a quote Nietzsche, and another I thought was from Goethe’s Faust but have not identified. I remember them well:
“Neither God nor the Devil respect a lazy man,” and “Human, all too human.”
The first supports the notion of elitism, the second the reality of our condition – vanity, pride, lust, avarice, and a host of human vices continually attack us as we attempt to better ourselves and the world.