Peter Roche de Coppens – The Man Behind the Throne
(24 May 1938 – 12 June 2012)
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, as such, 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 manifest ions – 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. It is not surprising that in his later years he wrote mostly about Christian spirituality rather than directly addressing esotericism.
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 stated, “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 time, 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. That there was 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.
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. 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, 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.” [underline 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 maybe 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 advise 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. 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.