Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Anya P. Foxen's "Inhaling Spirit"

Anya Foxen is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2015.

Foxen applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Inhaling Spirit: Harmonialism, Orientalism, and the Western Roots of Modern Yoga, and reported the following:
I have to admit, I was kind of excited to see what the “Page 99” test would reveal. I mean, I know I wrote the book, but when I finally got to hold a paper copy in my hands, I had little idea of even the chapter that this seemingly random page would land me in. Upon actually flipping the thing open, I was first confused, then annoyed, then perplexed, and then finally fascinated.

Page 99 contains the only passage in the book dedicated to a fairly major 19th-century historical figure—specifically one whom I had originally excluded, but was forced to reexamine by one of my readers during peer review. This figure is Andrew Jackson Davis (1826–1910), the “Poughkeepsie seer” who synthesized much of the ad-hoc theology for American Spiritualism out of an eclectic mix of Mesmerism and Swedenborgianism and authored an entire six-volume encyclopedic work called The Great Harmonia (1850–1861).

Now, given that my book is about “Harmonialism,” it seems like Davis should have been a shoo-in, which of course is precisely what my reader pointed out. I had originally chosen to ignore Davis because I found him a little overrated. Davis, who was so prolific a writer that one finds it difficult to believe he ever had a thought he didn’t see fit to publish, authored over thirty books over his lifetime. These books, all on more or less related themes, were simultaneously masterful syntheses of contemporary metaphysical thought, but for this same reason not particularly novel or unique. The book I spend quite a bit of this page describing was titled The Harbinger of Health (1861). It’s lengthy and consists largely of home remedies—some magnetic, though the majority herbal—for nearly every condition known to man, from hemorrhoids to being struck by lightning. One aspect of it, however, was particularly relevant for my purposes. As part of his discussion of magnetic healing, Davis describes something that he refers to as the “Pneumogastric Treatment,” through which one may receive “spiritual strength” from the air by means of deep and steady breathing performed in a supine position while directing the will to the various parts of one’s body. This, of course, is precisely what is meant by my book’s title—“Inhaling Spirit.”

Ultimately, I begrudgingly incorporated Davis because, harmonial jack-of-all-trades that he was, he represented the most perfect little microcosm for the diffuse yet consistent idea I was working to establish under the label of “harmonialism.” Down to the fact that he grounds his personal origin story in an astral double-team visitation by Galen and Swedenborg. So, in the end (and as evidenced by my whirlwind of emotions as I once more processed Davis’s relevance), I think the “Page 99” test worked.
Visit Anya P. Foxen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue