The History of the Manuscripts of
A Course in Miracles
Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.
Helen and A Course in Miracles: Form and Content
What is most important to consider about the public exposure of these earlier manuscripts is that regardless of the version you read, you will receive the essential teaching of the Course. In that sense, no real harm has been done.
In another sense, however, the situation is unfortunate because people could be misled, and at this point nothing can be done about it—the horse is out of the barn, as it were; Pandora’s box is open and can never be closed again—except, perhaps, to clarify what inquiring students may be reading. Let me cite some examples. There is material in the Urtext about sex and sexuality, an area that will almost certainly pique the curiosity (if not prurient interest) of students. Thus, for example, one will read that homosexuality is essentially a pathology (the traditional psychoanalytic view), and that the only purpose for sex is procreation, two positions that are antithetical to Jesus’ own teachings in the Course about seeing all forms of the ego’s world as the same, the correction to the ego’s first law of chaos that there is a hierarchy of illusion (T23.II.2). To believe that these would be the words and thoughts of Jesus is as preposterous and unthinkable an idea as to believe that I could influence Helen as to what belonged in the Course and what did not. It should be obvious that these beliefs belong to Helen and not to Jesus. Helen had her own biases about sex, and unfortunately they came through in these early passages. Yet those who believe that every word in the Urtext is sacred and are Jesus’ words can use statements like these to support their own preconceived notions. This same issue holds, though perhaps with less emotionality, with material related to Edgar Cayce, Freud, and other psychologists (Helen, as I mentioned, did not like Jung), etc.
It would be helpful to digress a moment to speak about Jesus, the scribing, and Helen’s relationship to it. Again, this is discussed in much greater depth in my book and also CDs. To begin with, Jesus does not speak words. It is really important to understand this. I remember when we are at an airport, a very sincere woman came up to Helen after hearing us speak, and asked: “How could Jesus have dictated the Course; he didn’t know English?” I don’t recall Helen’s response to this sweet question, except that she was gracious in providing a brief reply (we had to catch a plane). The question, however, reflects an important point. Again, Jesus does not speak in words. To say it differently and succinctly here, his is the content, our minds (and brains) supply the form. Therefore, Helen’s decision-making mind identified itself with the non-ego presence that is in everyone. This non-judgmental thought system of love was represented for her by Jesus, as it is for so many of us. Her mind took that non-specific love and translated it into words, in much the same way as our brains translate the upside-down image cast on the retina into right-side-up perceptions.
And so, as I have said many times, the form of the Course is from Helen. Here are some illustrative examples of the formal qualities of A Course in Miracles that can be directly attributable to its scribe:
1) It is in the English language.
2) Its idiom is American. There is even a reference to the Declaration of Independence and American currency of “green paper strips.”
3) Helen philosophically was a Platonist. The philosophy of A Course in Miracles is Platonic, and there are even references to Plato’s famous Allegory of the Cave from the Republic. Moreover, the statement that “words are but symbols of symbols. . . .[and] are thus twice removed from reality” (M-21.1:9-10), is also directly taken from the Republic.
4) Helen loved Shakespeare. The Course is Shakespearean in its language. Much of it is written in blank verse (unrhymed poetry) and in iambic pentameter, the form of Shakespeare’s poetry. One can also find allusions to Hamlet, Helen’s favorite play.
5) Helen was enamored of the King James version of the Bible. She did not like the content of the Bible at all, but loved the way it was written. Thus, in the Course one finds biblical “archaicisms”—the Elizabethan way of speaking.
6) Helen was fiercely logical. She had one of the most logical minds I have ever seen, and A Course in Miracles develops its thought system—the ego’s and the Holy Spirit’s—in a strictly logical manner. In addition, one finds that the syllogistic form of argument is both implicitly and explicitly used.
7) Helen was an educator. The Course’s curricular format is clear: text, workbook for students, manual for teachers; the Holy Spirit is our Teacher; and the language throughout reflects the learning aspects of the curriculum.
8) Helen was a psychologist. Her psychological background was Freudian and she had a great respect for Freud’s work. As I have been saying for over thirty years: without Freud, one would not have A Course in Miracles, as the presentation of the ego thought system is heavily based upon Freud’s remarkable insights, which were second nature to Helen.
9) Helen had a love-hate relationship with Jesus. Of course there is no hate in the Course in terms of Jesus, but no one can mistake his loving and non-judgmental presence throughout.
And so, we can see how the form of the Course is all Helen’s. Interestingly, however, the style of the writing was not Helen’s, who wrote in an almost spartan style, appropriate for scientific writing, in contrast to the more poetic and (at times) grammatically loose sentence structure one finds in the Course, which used to, incidentally, drive Helen up a wall. The content of A Course in Miracles, however, is clearly not Helen’s, at least not the Helen the world knew or the person she consciously identified with. This explains why she felt at liberty to change the form, though never the content. Helen knew what the published Course ought to be. One could make recommendations, and Bill and I did from time to time, but Helen had the finished form already in her head. And so the Course published by the Foundation for Inner Peace is the way its scribe knew it should be.
I do believe it is a violation of hers and Bill’s privacy to read the Urtext (or any other version) when she only sanctioned the Foundation’s publication. Helen and Bill wanted me to read it, but it is like reading someone’s private diaries. Why would you want to do that, especially when asked not to, unless you are looking for conflict and guilt? Recall these words from the introduction to the clarification of terms:
“All terms are potentially controversial, and those who seek controversy will find it. Yet those who seek clarification will find it as well. They must, however, be willing to overlook controversy, recognizing that it is a defense against truth in the form of a delaying maneuver” (C-in.2:1-3).
Once again, the personal and private material in the Urtext does not belong in any published version. Most writers destroy all the earlier versions when they finish a manuscript. I do that when I complete a book and it is published. In reading the Urtext, students of A Course in Miracles are not going to find “Jesus’ authentic words,” but the writings of a woman struggling (at first) with the scribal process, and thus are reading what was never meant to be read. Now, if you do read it, I am not saying Helen will strike you dead with a thunderbolt, or that it is sinful, but you should at least ask yourself why you are doing so. As Jesus emphasizes throughout his course: purpose is everything; we need to ask only one question of anything: What is it for? I can guarantee you one thing, however: the Urtext will not enhance your understanding of the Course. If anything, it will confuse you because, as I have indicated, you will come across specific things that were not meant to be read by the public and will seem to contradict what the Course itself teaches, not to mention its use of words and terms that suggest the opposite of what the Course’s teachings are.
Therefore, a question that I think should be asked by students of A Course in Miracles who are interested in this material is: “Why would I want to read something that might be construed as teaching something different from what the Course is actually saying, not to mention that Jesus, Helen, and Bill in effect asked me not to?” It is also helpful to remember that the material that some focus on came during the very early weeks of the scribing, and what followed was hardly changed at all. We thus are speaking of what happened when Helen’s hearing was not that accurate. It was during this time, as I mentioned, that Helen was still influenced by Edgar Cayce, and this was reflected in what she wrote down. However, this interference was short-lived. Yet if readers of the Urtext are not aware of this aspect of Helen’s scribing, they can easily be confused and misled into thinking, to give one instance, that the Course is teaching that the world is real. To be sure, there are intimations of this at the beginning—in marked distinction from the rest of the Course—which reflects the Cayce influence, wherein this great psychic stated that God created the world as a classroom, after the separation. Again, this is hardly the position of A Course in Miracles.
I remember on one occasion that Helen and I were with someone who was prominently associated with the Course, but did not really know what it said. Helen said to him that he would never understand this course unless he recognized that this world is an illusion. She was very emphatic: This world is an illusion. God had nothing to do with it, and you will not understand this course that way. Again, no one understood this course better than Helen.
There is an interesting story about Helen when we were going through the editing process—it was actually quite funny. Helen would frequently become anxious during our editing, and one of the ways she would express her anxiety was that when we would read a paragraph, she would start to laugh and then say: “This makes absolutely no sense to me.” So the first teaching I actually did was “teaching” Helen, knowing full well that she knew full well what the passage meant. And I also knew that if I had said something that was wrong, she would have corrected me on the spot. Helen knew the Course from the inside out. She hardly ever read it, but could quote it at will. In the years we were together, we would always quote lines back and forth, when we weren’t quoting Hamlet. She would get quite judgmental and angry with people who pretended to know what it said but did not. She was very clear that she was never going to teach it formally, but she did not want anyone else teaching it who was obviously expressing his or her ego, and not Jesus.
Returning to this important point, there is a prominent idea that what Helen took down are Jesus’ literal words, and are therefore sacred and should never have been altered. This is as patently absurd as the lady who wrote to me after the second (and numbered) edition was published, accusing me of changing Jesus’ course by adding numbers to it. Helen did not think that way. A lot of what she heard at the beginning was just wrong, and she of course knew that. Again, I had many personal experiences with Helen of her writing down messages she said were from Jesus. This, by the way, occurred during the same time period when she was writing down the pamphlets, which are certainly pure in their teaching. Inaccuracies were frequently the result when she was involved with specifics. Here are some additional examples.
I think it was 1976, a year after we met Judith Skutch, the eventual publisher of the Course through the Foundation for Inner Peace. Helen, Bill, Judy, and I were discussing what we thought was going to happen with the Course and our work with it. As was typical during this period, Helen wrote down a message for us, probably somewhere in the summer, and it said that “This year will end in blazing glory.” The meaning was that there was to be some magnificent breakthrough; perhaps, we thought, Helen and Bill’s relationship would be healed and we would all ride off into the spiritual sunset together—i.e., wonderful things would be happening. Well, weeks and months went by, and no blazing glory. Finally, it was December 31st and we were still waiting. Judy was giving a New Year’s Eve party in her apartment, which overlooked Central Park and provided a beautiful view of the sky. Sometime later in the evening, New York City put on its New Year’s Eve fireworks display, and we turned to each other and said: “There’s the blazing glory!” Obviously, Helen had been wrong.
Another instance of Helen’s inaccuracy with specifics was when she saw her own tombstone, indicating that she would die when she was 72. Well, she died when she was 71. It was close, but if you are Jesus’ scribe, you should not be off even a little. She also that said Bill would die within a year of her death, which became a big concern for Bill. But he lived another seven years and died in 1988. Finally, Helen said that her husband Louis would die within five or six years of her death, but he lived for almost another nineteen years! And so Helen was frequently wrong when it came to specifics—the ego loves specifics— or when her messages related to areas in which she was conflicted, as with sex and death. She was not wrong, however, when her ego was not involved. This is why you can trust what the published Course says.
Thus, it became very clear to me in the years I knew Helen that I should take with a grain of salt some of the things she said or wrote as coming from Jesus, and this clearly included the early Urtext material. Unfortunately, there are also some things there that if you do not know the context, you will not understand what they refer to, or what they mean. This inevitably means that those who were not present and did not know Helen or Bill will misunderstand much of what is found there.
Finally, I can assure all students of A Course in Miracles that they have not been cheated, and Helen, Bill, and I worked very hard to be sure that the book published by the Foundation for Inner Peace was the way Jesus meant it to be, and certainly the way Helen knew he wanted it.