Category Archives: Hermetic Library Reading Room

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition, Hermeticism in a broad sense, and Aleister Crowley’s Thelema. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Esoteric Pathways to The Divine

Esoteric Pathways to The Divine by Paul Robins, a limited edition self-published paperback, has arrived from Australia at the Reading Room courtesy of the author.

Paul Robins Esoteric Pathways to the Divine

“This book is the result of my search for spiritual meaning, having finally become disillusioned with the opinions of my inherited religion. I felt an inclination to examine esoteric disciplines, and found the paths of that ancient wisdom credible and engaging…and began to understand why religious authorities so actively discouraged its adherents.

As I progressed with my studies, there were many things I did no comprehend about esoteric teachings, and so set out on a long path of research and discovery. Much ‘was’ obscure and hidden, and in seeking to gain an understanding, I began to write down explanations for my own enlightenment.

This book is the result of those writings.” — back cover

Wind from the Abyss

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Wind from the Abyss by Janet Morris.

Janet Morris Wind from the Abyss

One of the features of the sword-and-planet genre that wins my interest (and even loyalty) is its low-culture approach to high-concept issues. Perhaps the chief of these is gender. From the very outset — if we can take Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars as an inaugurating work — these often apparently unreflective adventure stories have been almost obsessively concerned with the ways in which gender can viewed and performed in profoundly differing cultures. The 19th-century American southerner John Carter is shocked (though hardly repelled) by the martial prowess and lack of physical modesty of the princess Dejah Thoris, while she is put off by his efforts to behave like a “gentleman” toward her. That being the case, it is hardly surprising that some of the most effective sword-and-planet authors have been women like Leigh Brackett and Catherine Moore.

This gender-challenging salience may account for the popularity of the genre among authors in the 1970s. Curiously, the vanguard of this group were the Gor books of “John Norman,” which are, on the whole, beyond reactionary in their insistence on a masculinist gender ideology. These were followed quickly, however, by two other highly notable cases that continue the work of interplanetary gender exploration. David J. Lake’s Xuma books may be the extreme instance of thought-experiment in gender, by introducing a humanoid race with a different sexual biology and assortment of corresponding genders. And Janet Morris’ Silistra series seems to continue the conversation begun on Barsoom and further argued in Gor, adding some new perspective.

Unlike Burroughs and Norman, Morris does not have any earthlings to help clarify the Silistran gender dynamic by contrasting reaction. Her protagonist and narrator is Silistran, and although an alien race called the M’ksakkans seems to be a little more “human” in their traits and culture, the books don’t really invite readers to identify with the M’ksakkans who figure in the story.

Wind from the Abyss is the third volume in the series, and it obliterates and then recreates the core relationship of the books: the protagonist Estri’s connections to two men, themselves sometime lovers with one another. The story becomes more explicit, yet still somehow incoherent, about the nature of its gender ideals:

“But therein lies perhaps the difference between the male and the female conception, that difference that was made once and for all understood to me in what was to follow. But not then did I know it, except in the way that all things, if only to themselves, admit their singularity to be dependent upon the effluence of their sex.” (235)

Also, and perhaps not irrelevantly to the sexual component of these books, they present sword-and-planet with substantial magic. This is not the lightly mystical “Force” of Star Wars; it’s more like the prophetic destiny-shaping consciousness of Dune, but with more thaumaturgy. Estri’s accounts of her own sorcery (the books are all told from her point of view) are more psychedelic than most sfnal supernaturalisms.

Still recognizable as part of the genre, Morris’s contributions occupy a very distinctive niche within it. [via]

Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics by Marco Pasi, from Acumen Publishing.

Marco Pasi Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics from Acumen Publishing

I had known about this book for many years, and while I am unequipped to engage the Italian original, I had more than once considered taking on the German edition. I am glad I waited long enough to benefit from the English version, though. Not only does it include the author’s revision and expansion, the timing has allowed it to come into useful dialog with Richard B. Spence’s Secret Agent 666, another volume drawing on an overlapping set of data. Pasi accuses Spence of overindulging in speculation and of oversimplifying Crowley’s motives. (I find myself more in agreement on the second count than the first.) Whereas Spence offers a picture of a Crowley whose loyalties to his home country are privately invariable, Pasi is more apt to take Crowley on the basis of his mercurial presentation.

Among the many variations in Crowley’s character and political interests as traced by Pasi, there is a single watershed point. Like Alex Owen, Israel Regardie, and Crowley himself, Pasi locates this change in the Algerian desert operations by which Crowley completed his passage of the Ordeal of the Abyss. Prior to this episode, Pasi observes, Crowley’s focus was on the adventure of self-development, while after it he pursued the mission of communicating his Law of Thelema and putting it into practice in society.

On either side of this biographical divide, however, Pasi notices inconsistencies in Crowley’s expressed political affections and associations. He tends to characterize these as a function of the magician’s “opportunism” or “pragmatism” with respect to political movements. Given how very contradictory some of these political positions were, however, a further level of explanation is required. Pasi has dismissed (perhaps too quickly, in light of these contradictions) the solution of double agency proposed by Spence, but he omits another possible rationale to which he should have been attentive.

For the younger Crowley-as-aspirant, radical change of political perspective was a magical discipline for spiritual development. He documents this practice in the form of an instruction in the technical paper Liber III vel Jugorum: “By some device, such as the changing of thy ring from one finger to another, create in thyself two personalities … For instance, let A be a man of strong passions, skilled in the Holy Qabalah, a vegetarian, and a keen ‘reactionary’ politician. Let B be a bloodless and ascetic thinker, occupied with business and family cares, an eater of meat, and a keen progressive politician. Let no thought proper to A arise when the ring is on the B finger, and vice versa.”

For the mature magus, on the other hand, there were the words of the Angel of the Fifth Aire whom he had encountered in Tolga, Algeria in 1913: “For below the Abyss, contradiction is division; but above the Abyss, contradiction is Unity. And there could be nothing true except by virtue of the contradiction that is contained in itself.” The Master of the Temple must thus finally comprehend in himself all political valences, expressing them as demanded by the finite conditions of circumstance. If, as the Thelemic scripture of Liber Porta Lucis avers, “To the adept, seeing all these things from above, there seems nothing to choose between Buddha and Mohammed, between Atheism and Theism,” then how much less between democracy and monarchy, capitalism and communism?

Besides a political biography of Crowley himself, and studies of his most politically significant close associates, Pasi’s book includes a special examination of the Beast’s connection with Fernando Pessoa, and the fake suicide that Crowley staged in Portugal. These events, interesting in their own right, shade into the final topic of “Counter-initiation and conspiracy,” the keynote of which is René Guénon’s allegation that Crowley’s Portuguese stunt was intended to allow him to slip off to Germany where he would become a special adviser to Hitler. As a matter of factual claim, this notion is laughable, but it makes an excellent anchor for a limited survey of others’ use of Crowley as a villain in political narratives.

Pasi’s Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics was first published in 1999, but in its second major revision, it stands as one of the best examples of thoughtful 21st-century scholarship on Crowley. [via]

Arrive at Easterwine

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Arrive at Easterwine: The Autobiography of a Ktistec Machine by R A Lafferty.

R A Lafferty Arrive at Easterwine

I have read several of Lafferty’s novels. This one is one of the most opaque, and that’s saying something. The speaker-protagonist of this novel, Epistektes, is a machine created by and from the members of the Institute for Impure Science. Both the machine and the Institute figure in a number of Lafferty’s short stories, but this novel gives them a lot of room to play.

There seem to be obscure autobiographical elements for Lafferty in several of the characters, and I suspect the rambling, poetic and philosophical book of being an allegorical form of introspection. Still, it’s a fun tale eventuating in the discovery of the shape of the universe. It often sports with Christian myth in tantalizing ways, and it has a sort of Fortean jollity that I found enchanting. [via]

Cities of the Fantastic: The Invisible Frontier Vol. 2

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Cities of the Fantastic: The Invisible Frontier Vol. 2 by Benoit Peeters and Francois Schuiten.

Francois Schuiten Benoit Peeters Cities of the Fantastic Vol 2

This “Volume 2″ does seem to conclude The Invisible Frontier, with chapters that become shorter and more discontinuous as the story proceeds. Like the preceding volume, it is full of beautiful images. Shame on the publishers for cropping the English cover image so that the feminine form of the terrain is obscured. [via]

Images & Oracles of Austin Osman Spare

Images & Oracles of Austin Osman Spare by Kenneth Grant, the 2003 hardcover from Fulgur Limited, is part of the collection at the Reading Room. The only place that appears to have this still new in stock is JD Holmes, so the rare 1976 Weiser Books edition seems to have been joined in rareness by the 500 copies of the 2003 Fulgur reprint.

Kenneth Grant Images and Oracles of Austin Osman Spare from Fulgur Limited

Images and Oracles of Austin Osman Spare concerns one of the most unusual artists of the twentieth century. Frequently compared with luminaries such as Aubrey Beardsley, Albrecht Dürer and William Blake, the eccentric genius Austin Osman Spare (1886–1956) was fêted as an Edwardian draughtsman of exceptional power and ability—but he quickly gained another reputation—that of a practising sorcerer.

His early relationship with an aged member of the Witch Cult influenced his entire life, leading him into the more obscure byways of the occult world. Such was his knowledge and ability that Aleister Crowley claimed him as a disciple, but Spare was not born to follow. He turned his back on worldly ambition—the ‘inferno of the normal’ as he called it—and devoted his remarkable gifts to trafficking with the denizens of other dimensions.

Spare’s highly individualistic system of sorcery is applicable to daily life. His magical deployment of art and sex in the service of self-realization may surprise or mystify, but for those who test his methods they will prove certain means of self-knowledge and consciousness expansion—doors opening on worlds of strange beauty.

Written by Kenneth Grant, Spare’s literary executor, Images and Oracles is here reprinted after nearly thirty years in response to an increasing interest in the artist and his philosophy. It contains a biographical essay that includes many personal recollections, a practical introduction to Spare’s unusual system of sorcery—and many excerpts from his final magical treatise: The Zoetic Grimoire of Zos.” — flap copy

Liber Sigil-A-IAF

Liber Sigil-A-IAF by Aion 131, the 2010 library edition hardcover from Waning Moon Publications, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Aion 131 Liber Sigil-A-IAF from Waning Moon Publications

“A modern grimoire of New Aeon Magick that consists of a series of Major Sigils crafted as ritually manifested automatic drawings along with arcane writings ‘pertaining’ to them. Thelemic at it’s core, this work is empowered by the energies of the current Aeon of HORUS but is also deeply rooted in other Aeonic energies, most specifically the magickal current of MAAT: the aeon to come which is manifesting here and now as well. Together they form The Double Current. The book is organized by the ‘natures of the spirits manifest’ into five sections that fall under the major Thelemic/Aeonic Archetypes NU, HAD, HERU, MAAT and the Shadow which is PAN. They are representations of abstract laws, powers, and conglomerates of symbols with uniting elements that can be activated and used to access deep strata of the inner-being. They are not to be intellectualized. The Grimoire is both a work of art magick as well as a tool that can be used to help accomplish The Great Work by the open minded New Aeon Adept with Love & Will.” [via]