Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews In the Company of Friends: Dreamwork Within a Sufi Group by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee.
Author Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee is very consciously speaking from within the Naqshbandi tariqa of Sufism, but the doctrinal aspects of his writing in this book are at least as much a function of Jungianism, where Self, Shadow, and Goddess are key figures. Still, it assumes a high level of somewhat conventional piety in the reader. There were points where I could have believed I was reading a more mainstream sort of post-Behmenist Protestant mysticism.
The subtitle “Dreamwork in a Sufi Group” denotes the context more than the topic of this book. It seems somewhat loosely organized, and the tone is that of sermons, each with one or two dreams that serve as exempla to discuss mystical aspiration and attainment. Several passages emphasize the value of group work to the essentially solitary mystic, as well as the value of dreams to the mystic attempting to awaken a consciousness of the divine. I think I most enjoyed the chapter “People of the Secret,” with its subheadings “Love’s Martyr” (i.e. Al-Hallaj), “The Nature of Longing,” “Sharing the Secrets of Love,” and “The Secret of Seduction.”
Although the essays have both descriptive and hortatory elements, they are not procedural in character. The text is not a cookbook of gnosis. At the same time, it acknowledges the importance of a “tradition” comprehending “rituals and practices”: “This may be through dance, or through prostrations, or through silence. It can be through chanting or pilgrimages, fasting or the sharing of dreams. … We are attracted to a path or lineage that is in tune with our soul, and whose practices will help orient ourself towards our true nature” (170-1).
Vaughan-Lee’s citations are mostly sources familiar to me: Corbin, Massignon, Schimmel, along with Sufi classics and the Qur’an. He received his authority in the Naqshbandi Order from Irina Tweedie, and he refers to her in this book without any explanation of her standing or background. Inspiring a curiosity about her work was perhaps one of the main benefits of this book to me.