Oddly, it would be easy to compare Peter to Joseph Lisiewski. On first glance, they are polar opposites. Dr. Lisiewski was born into a working class family in the hard coal, hard drinking region of Pennsylvania and had all he could do financially to get through college. Dr. de Coppens was Swiss by birth, received his education at prestigious universities on scholarship, including a Woodrow Wilson Scholarship, and became a liberal arts professor. Yet, both were adamant about the correctness of their views, almost to the exclusion of all else. This I believe is the Vice of Pride, raising its head, as these two very accomplished men approached even more deeply into the mysteries that lie behind the Veil, in what qabalists call the heart of Tiphareth. The accomplishments of both men demonstrate the ability to make some level of conscious contact with all of the elements of the Tree of Life and to bring them through – to move them from being abstractions into full manifestations, be they literary or scientific.
However, both were, or are, genuine adepts in their own right having accomplished in both the mundane and metaphysical domains. Both men proclaimed a philosophy of elitism, and of a natural spiritual hierarchy, believing that one must first accomplish something worthwhile in this world, to be able to act with decisiveness and power. This last part is a key theme in Psychosynthesis which both men applied diligently. Assiah is the World of Action. Karma is “action and result”. You must be a ‘somebody’ before you can approach the Nothingness. A strong and healthy ego that was capable of acting and achieving in the material world is the basis for spiritual activity – as well as the result of it. Both men were generous in their own ways, yet had little use for what we think of as the widespread, cradle to the grave, modern public welfare state, and in fact, seeing it as detrimental to the very people its advocates claim it helps.
Where Lisiewski’s main concern in his writings and personal contacts was about ‘results’ – physical and material – the Earth Element if you will, and how that relates to the unfoldment of the individual; de Coppens – coming from a place of greater financial security and class status – was concerned with the ‘ideas’ – the Air Element – and their effect on the unfoldment of the individual. Lisiewski and de Coppens based their teachings on the fundamentals of Christian theology, and then, like Traditionalists, worked their esotericism and occultism from there. Both men in their writings and spiritual practices sought to demonstrate methods wherein individuals could become effective, healthy, and independent – and from that place – work with and assist others in their Becoming on the Path of Return. While de Coppens spoke often of love, and defined it as “right relationships” he also stated that each of us must be able to “bring something to the table” of the relationship and not be dependent on others. Each is a pillar that supports the canopy that covers all parties involved.
It may even be possible to sum up de Coppens’ philosophical view with the inscription he wrote when he presented Andrea, who was just beginning her doctoral program in Molecular Biology at Brown University on a full fellowship with a copy of his book The Spiritual Perspective – Key Issues and Themes Interpreted from the Standpoint of Spiritual Consciousness (University Press of America, 1980), “To Andrea, Don’t ever forget your Ph.D., to unfold, to actualize your highest potential in this life.” [underlining in the original]
Also, de Coppens genuinely liked and enjoyed people, but it always appeared only insofar as they gave him an audience for his ideas. He wrote and lectured a great deal about groups, and with a degree in Sociology that is not surprising. I had the impression that he loved, and wanted to be loved, for his ideas, rather than his actions. Peter was someone who wanted to be looked up to, admired, to be important, to be loved. This is not to say he was purely an intellectual, no, he was active and enjoyed sports in his youth (skiing, like a true Gemini). But he never appeared to be the kind of person who would consider getting his hands dirty in a workshop or garden. However, I may be wrong here, as he participated in charitable relief for the nation of Ivory Coast, although the details of what occurred are not known to me.
Peter’s coming of age was at the height of liberal social idealism and its step-child, the New Age Movement, wherein it was believed that ideas would change the world and bring us all to enlightenment. The naive idealism of the Alice Bailey brand of Theosophy and its insidious influence on nearly every spiritual and psychological school of the mid-20th century appears to have had a large influence in his views. However, in the end, these grand ideas did not, nor could they have, changed anything on a global scale, as good ideas are not enough. Now, a quarter century later we are seeing that the path to hell is paved with good intentions, especially when they are not backed up by real, deep seated wisdom, compassion, and strength.
This is a critical point for me, in that it places de Coppens as a teacher, but not as a leader, as a man squarely in the psychological and spiritual mindset of his time. I am not sure if he simultaneously held two contradictory views, but it appears that he may have: one of personal elitism, and that collective enlightenment, however he did speak of the usual ‘cleansing’ of the earth so common in those days – and even now – after which there would be a utopian world run by the spiritual elite. Maybe he truly believed, as did Alice Bailey, that the United Nations would be the vehicle for such transformation. Regardless, he was taking no chances and made it clear that Montreal was to be his retreat should things turn badly in the United States on this worldwide march towards utopia. Like his predecessors, the term “psycho-spiritual” is used extensively throughout his writings to demonstrate the blending of psychological and spiritual ideas and practices.
Now it would be very easy to get hung up on de Coppens’ personality, just as it would Lisiewski’s, and repeat the mantra of the German adept, “human, all too human” when reflecting about my relationship to him, but that would be missing the forest for the trees.
Despite this criticism of de Coppens, it is important to note that one of the most significant mystical, or meditative experiences of my life occurred working with one of the methods described in his book, The Invisible Temple. It had to do with discovering a powerful and inspirational archetype to guide you, the Divine Ideal, and is derived from the writings of Roberto Assangioli, the founder of Psychosynthesis.
To Peter I owe my interest and in, and subsequent study of Psychosynthesis. To which he stated, that Assangioli had told him, his greatest disappointment was his own students. Later, as part of my research for my Master’s Project in Counseling at Rhode Island College in 1989, I would realize what this meant as the various organizational crises that would strike to the heart of the Psychosynthesis movement in the 1970s. I received an “A+” on the paper, and my written adviser comments stated, “An impressive paper!!! I like your willingness to select something ‘different’ for presentation and something complex and esoteric…well done!!!! Good!!!! [signed] Vin [Dr. Vincent Calia]”.
During one of my visits with Peter, over Andrea’s spring break from her graduate studies at Brown University we returned home to visit with friends and relatives, and one Sunday morning I drove the 90 minutes to visit him. We spoke about lecture topics, and the importance of being published, so as to be a “known quantity” someone recognized, rather than simply a local speaker. To be published was “to be.” I can personally attest to the truth and power behind that statement and that is was among the best advice I have ever been given. When I published my first article, “Pow-Wow, Psalms and German Magical Folklore” in the Samhain 1993 Issue of Mezlim, suddenly, what I had to say had some weight to it. I was published in a respectable esoteric publication with some scholarly as well as practical value. This would only increase overtime with each additional article I would publish. Later I would be able to send him a copy of my first book, The Path of Alchemy, to demonstrate that I had taken he teaching to heart. Andrea would we even ask on occasion, “Did you send Peter a copy of your book?” Yes, dear, I did.
While I never saw him pick up a dinner check, he did established a scholarship fund at the university, in honor of his mother. Adhering to the traditional European perspective that teaching esoteric spirituality was an “avocation, not a vocation” he was ever active in that domain. Even after retirement, Peter organized a public program on spirituality and wellness at East Stroudsburg University (ESU), as well as hosted a local television program along the same lines. He was always the focus of attention, the center of activity, a whirlwind in fact, with his signature beret, pipe, and kiss on both cheeks. Ever the teacher, the performer, bringing people together with ideas – he as a true Gemini, and if he did not have Leo rising, he should have!
On the announcement for the seminar series he was running at ESU in 2010-2011, it states, “There are three essential attributes that human beings have always and will always seek, both unconsciously and consciously. These are knowledge to provide meaning and understanding, love to provide motivation and appreciation, and will to provide energy and power. These are truly fundamental to express ourselves and create both our becoming and our world. In this series we will direct our attention and analysis to knowledge.”
“We will direct our attention to the analysis of knowledge” words well spoken, by a lover of ideas, of humanity, and love itself, and the Great Work still to be done. Thank you Peter, for your ideas and the impact they have had on my life.