The Tao & the Tree of Life

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus review The Tao & The Tree of Life: Alchemical & Sexual Mysteries of the East & West [Amazon, Weiser Antiquarian, Local Library] by Eric Steven Yudelove, foreword by Mantak Chia.

Yudelove Chia The  Tao and the Tree of Life

Author Eric Yudelove is a practitioner of both Taoist internal alchemy and occultist Kabbalah, and this book sets forth his effort to synthesize the two sets of theory while comparing and harmonizing their techniques. It is written with accessible language and a sometimes irritatingly informal tone, occasionally coming across as rather credulous about the metaphysical bases of the two disciplines at issue. In addition, Yudelove is an “initiated shaman” (initiatory pedigree not supplied) who claims that a sort of generic shamanism forms the substratum of all historical mysticisms.

His Taoist internal alchemy credentials are impressive, as he was a senior American student and long personal associate of Mantak Chia, whose instruction and publications represent the most conspicuous and widespread sources of technical information on this school of practice in the late 20th century. At certain points in The Tao & the Tree of Life Yudelove says he is revealing internal alchemy practices about which Mantak Chia had never written in his books, and this claim is ratified in the foreword by Mantak Chia himself. Of special note are the astronomically-oriented mediations discussed towards the end of the book, which Yudelove identifies with certain passages from the Thelemic Book of the Law.

When writing about Kabbalah (his preferred spelling), Yudelove distinguishes between the Jewish Kabbalah, an esoteric religious tradition, and what he calls the “Western Kabbalah,” a syncretist mystical system. (I think “Hermetic Qabalah” is a more accurate and telling label for the latter.) He emphasizes the value of the Western Kabbalah in this book. Here he surpasses Perle Epstein, whom he cites as the only prior writer to intimate the parallel between Kabbalistic and Taoist mediation. She had merely set apart a “Christian Cabala” which she deprecated relative to its Jewish antecedents. Yudelove’s foremost cited authority on Jewish Kabbalah is Ariyeh Kaplan, and for the Western Kabbalah he is openly indebted to both Aleister Crowley and Franz Bardon. Possibly more important, although only cited for one title in the appended bibliography, is Israel Regardie, whose publication of the “middle pillar ritual” is so important to Yudelove’s understanding of Kabbalistic practice. When Yudelove writes that “the Cherubim are the Angels of Yesod in the world of Assiah” (161) he is using Aleister Crowley’s correspondences in 777, but Crowley–who followed Maimonides in this attribution–notes that authorities differ and “there are many other schemes” (note to Col. C).

An interesting feature of the book is the colloquial review of some relevant literature of sex magic and sex mysticism available in the early 1990s. Yudelove praises Ashcroft-Nowicki’s Tree of Ecstasy, and he amusingly dogs Fra. U.D.’s Secrets of the German Sex Magicians: “It just makes me wonder what the German sex magicians were doing before Chia began to publish?” (131) Still, he admits of his own book, “This is not a scholarly, exhaustive work” (159). It is a very broad, practical overview of its subject.

The exception to this wide focus is the detail afforded in the appendices, which represent language developed by Yudelove for in-person instruction in both Taoist and Kabbalist meditations. These are very good, although not flawless. In particular “Taoist Meditation 2” has a passage in which various “points” are addressed, and for each there is the symptom of the point’s “open” (good) and “closed” (bad) functioning, in that sequence. These should really be reversed, so that the sequence reflects and guides improvement rather than suggesting and possibly fostering deficiencies.

As far as I have been able to tell, this 1996 Lllewellyn book was Yudelove’s first. He went on to publish more in the same vein. In 2005, he furnished a minor headline for the New York Post when he was subjected to arrest and multiple criminal charges for altercations he seems to have initiated at the Hustler Club strip joint on 51st Street. To the extent of my knowledge, he is still alive and in good health, so perhaps his claims are sound for the ecstasy and immortality supposedly conferred by his practices. Still, his recorded behavior indicates they are no guarantee of wisdom or beneficence.

The book is useful enough on its own terms, although best read in conjunction with related literature, for which the author helpfully provides a competent biography.

After the War people said he was different. I, myself, think he was. But I can’t help feeling that with all his gifts he ought to have been doing bigger work. All that Britannic Majesty stuff isn’t my idea of a great man’s career. And Conway was—or should have been—great.

James Hilton, Lost Horizon [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote  Hilton Lost Horizon after war different doing bigger work britannic majesty great man career

The Limits of Vision

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Limits of Vision [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Robert Irwin.

Irwin The Limits of Vision

There is usually an exotic element to the setting and/or plot of Irwin’s novels, but The Limits of Vision takes place in a single day in the life of a 20th-century English housewife named Marcia. The text follows her fantasies, wonders, and anxieties throughout, and she gives a wonderful new level of meaning to the phrase unreliable narrator

Despite her morning coffee with the neighbor housewives, Marcia is a solitary soul in a distant marriage, and her visionary experiences stack up favorably against those of any anchorite you’d care to name. Instead of seeing Jesus like Julian of Norwich did, Marcia receives visits from various artistic and scientific geniuses of more modern periods. She also resists the onslaught of the diabolical intelligences that she associates with the dirt of her house.

I can’t offer too much more detail without ruining the delightful surprises of this short book, which develops quite a tense plot, all things considered.

Above all, he came to recognize that all Americans were merchants, that the core of the American Genius, of the Yankee Spirit, was buying and selling. They vended their democratic ideology like hucksters, supported by the great protection racket of armaments deals and economic pressures. Their wars were monumental exercises in production and supply. Their government was a series of social contracts.

Trevanian, Shibumi: A Novel [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Trevnaian Shibumi above all americans merchants core american genius yankee spirit buying selling vended democratic ideology hucksters

Revelation

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Revelation: The Way it Happened [Amazon, Local Library] by Lee Harmon

Harmon Revelation

Revelation: The Way It Happened labors under two main defects. The first is that the author seems to be under the mistaken impression that he is the reader’s pastor. His sometimes chummy tone is often a mismatch for the material, and he clearly presumes that all of his readers are his Christian co-religionists. He often asserts a reading without explaining or justifying it, as if the mere fact that he’s writing a book gives him all the credibility he needs. All of this surprised me a little, in that the imprint doesn’t seem to be a sectarian publisher, and the lead blurb on the cover is from a professor of “Humanities and Religious Studies.” The autobiographical postscript assures us that Harmon has left behind the scriptural inerrantism of his childhood, at any rate, and he protests that he is “no longer very good at believing” (312). And yet he often refers to “our scriptures” and “our Lord,” not to mention “the real throne of God.” (169) 

The second big problem with the book is the way in which it is structured. Harmon provides a fictional late-first-century conversation in which a father instructs his son in the contents and significance of the Johannine vision. Within this dialogue he inserts full quotations of the (NIV) Bible (eventually covering nearly the whole of Revelation), other fictions to illustrate the state of affairs in antiquity, and comments in his own 21st-century voice on all of the above. He uses multiple fonts to keep these various textual registers straight, but the effect of this attempt at synthesizing fiction with historical and textual research is one of confusion rather than clarity. As a Biblical exegesis, it is convoluted. As a novel, it is flat and distracted. And there seems to be a contradiction between organizing the book around an imaginary conversation and titling the resulting volume The Way It Happened!

Harmon has clearly worked hard to appreciate the context in which he believes the book of Revelation to have been written, and he provides a fairly insightful exoteric reading with a number of unusual features. Most notably, he presents a collaborative rivalry between John of Patmos (whom he collapses unimpressively with John the Apostle, and somewhat more convincingly with John of Gischala) and Flavius Josephus. The latter of these is the second beast from Revelation 13:11-15, according to Harmon. In general, Harmon takes the Apocalypse to have been penned a few years after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 e.v., and he understands John’s visions to cover the events of that war, as well as near-future eschatological anticipation. Despite its late and contentious entry into the Biblical canon, Harmon advances Revelation as one of the three earliest documents of the Christian scriptural tradition, along with the Gospel of Mark and the “genuine” Pauline epistles. 

To his credit, Harmon seems to take pains to provide evidence contradicting his own favored hypotheses in many instances. Despite the obvious labor and detail involved with the book, though, Harmon does not provide a scholarly apparatus to support his claims beyond a list of eighteen titles for “further reading” and a tiny handful of footnotes, and he occasionally makes obvious errors. His notion about the extensive circulation of the doctrine of original sin in the first century (287) contradicts the ideas I have formed reading more persuasive authors like Elaine Pagels. 

Harmon refers to his own reconstruction of the first-century reception of Revelation as a “plausible fiction” (86), while skating over the fact that the object of his study actually presents an incredible myth. A full understanding of the Apocalyptic text takes more than knowledge of the period in which it was (may have been?) written, with attention to its events and personalities. It requires some familiarity with the “vision state” taken for granted by Harmon (74), as well as the sort of realization of the story’s symbolic power demonstrated in such studies as Jung’s Answer to Job and D. H. Lawrence’s Apocalypse.