A sometimes scintillating, sometimes exasperatingly esoteric examination of "our current American obsession with angels, with parapsychological dreams, with the 'near death experience' and its astral body manifestations" and, in particular, their "clear analogues in the formative period of ancient Gnosticism." Bloom, the prolific (The Western Canon, 1994; The American Religion, 1992; etc.) professor of humanities at Yale and English at New York Univ., is fascinated by the belief system, rooted in the ancient Persian faith known as Zoroastrianism and most fully expressed by the ancient sect of Gnostics, that an eternal, divine being is immanent, in the self, waiting to be known, rather than transcendent, in heaven, waiting to be revealed. In prose that too often seems composed in a kind of scholarly shorthand and that comes close to burying the reader in the author's formidable erudition, he finds elements of this belief in aspects of medieval Christianity, the teachings of the Sufis, and in the 16th-century Jewish mystical movement of Lurianic Kabbalah. He also finds it in such modern thinkers such as Emerson. He argues, not totally convincingly, that gnostic impulses lie at the heart of much end-of-the-century American popular spirituality. In the process, Bloom has some piquant if harsh things to say about New Age spirituality ("an endlessly entertaining saturnalia of ill-defined yearnings"). He is one of the very few contemporary writers to try seriously to trace the underlying religious and intellectual roots of our fin-de-siâ‰¤cle. However, Bloom never quite distinguishes the conceptual limits of Gnosticism, i.e., how it differs from antinomianism. Some of the facile intellectual judgments here seem to offer more a tour de force of knowledge and cleverness than the fruits of a sustained period of reflection.