Not in front of the children;Subject of the week;Reference books

1st May 1998 at 01:00
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF BODY, MIND, SPIRIT amp; EARTH. By Joanna Crosse. Element Children's Books pound;14.99

After reading that British children are among the most materialistic in the world, an encyclopedia concerned with the spiritual, rather than the earthbound desires and avarice which consume our Emmas and Sams, seemed just the thing.

Joanna Crosse's text is gentle, self-assured, even on occasions comforting, and it is also clearly well-meaning. Normal encyclopedias are academic and sometimes coldly detached in their tone. You will find none of that here. The author's viewpoint is made explicit in the cosy homespun advice that is squeezed in at every opportunity: "It is important to be able to share our thoughts and feelings"; "A gentle swim can be as much fun as it is good for you and can become a very good habit!" I do believe that there is a spiritual dimension to human existence and that it is important, but as I read this my sympathies were dissolved in a bath of warm milk and licked off by a coven of cats.

The entry on psychokinesis (using the mind to move objects, apparently) quotes Uri Geller as saying that the most important thing is believing that you can do it. The author comments: "Children are great at doing this because they haven't become disbelievers like some adults!" That coy exclamation mark could turn anyone into a disbeliever. I fear that this book is little more than a vehicle for displaying the author's naivety.

To the Body, Mind, Spirit amp; Earth of the title one might also add "DIY", for this is a book with activities. "Why not try psychometry for fun?", it suggests. Communicating with my wristwatch was not something that I cared to try "for fun".

"One Feng Shui thing you could do to attract money is to get yourself a goldfish tank and stock it with nine goldfish." Nine goldfish versus a Personal Equity Plan. A tricky choice.

"Look into your pet's eyes and try to make contact with his or her thoughts. You'll be amazed how much you can communicate." On reflection, that thing with the goldfish sounds more like my cup of tea. How about calling up your guardian angel? "Welcome your angel into your mind and you can start having a chat." Very cosy, but not something to suggest to Year 6 on a Friday afternoon, or any other time. Then there is healing by the laying on of hands "with a friend". I'm not very comfortable with that either.

Nevertheless, if you want to fill your mind with the flotsam and jetsam of the spirit, you will find a pretty comprehensive choice here: everything from tree worship and the tarot through crop circles and ley lines to Pa Che Feng Shui.

It is to the book's credit that it doesn't bludgeon you with nonsense but it lacks scepticism. The lavish, high- definition colour illustrations and the elegant, clear design do not compensate for these omissions.

In one inaccurate entry we are told without explanation that the Christmas tree is a symbol of Christ.

On Scientology, the author observes: "Some call it a religion, others argue that it is a philosophy of life." Others think that it is a pile of dung on a cesspit, but the text doesn't tell you that. There is also a dubious anti-vivisection polemic under the strange, oxymoronic title "Healing can harm".

Ultimately it was not the whiff of sandals and flowers in the hair that put me off this book (I've got a friend who knows someone who once owned a 2CV). I simply would not feel happy giving it to children.

Paul Noble

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