One of the most powerful life skills, and one of the most important to hone and develop for both professional and personal success, is creating clear outcomes. This is not as self-evident as it may sound. We need to constantly define (and redefine) what we’re trying to accomplish on many different levels, and consistently reallocate resources toward getting these tasks complete as effectively and efficiently as possible.

David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher]

Hermetic quote Allen Getting Things Done creating clear outcomes define and redefine what we're trying to accomplish

A great many things await you; I hope you will meet the challenges. Our Castalia is not supposed to be merely an elite; it ought above all to be a hierarchy, a structure in which every brick derives its meaning only from its place in the whole. There is no path leading out of this whole, and one who climbs higher and is assigned to greater and greater tasks does not acquire more freedom, only more and more responsibilities.

Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher]

Hermetic quote Hesse Glass Bead Game greater tasks not more freedom only more responsibilities

Mason opened the door, said, “Ground floor, ladies and gentlemen. Department of frame-ups just ahead of you—separate cells, phony confessions, telling the daughter her mother’s confessed, telling the mother the daughter’s confessed, throwing in stool pigeons and detectives as cell mates, and all the usual police traps, right this way!”

Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Lazy Lover [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher]

Hermetic quote Gardner Case of the Lazy Lover ground floor all the usual police traps

The Sentinel

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Sentinel [Amazon, Bookshop] by Arthur C Clarke.

Clarke The Sentinel

The Sentinel collects nine pieces of Arthur C. Clarke’s short fiction, with an author’s introduction. These represent earlier work, since the 1972 story “A Meeting with Medusa” was Clarke’s last, after which his fiction consisted entirely of novels (237). Each individual story is also supplied with a brief introduction by Clarke circa 1983.

Several of these stories are notable as having eventually contributed to novels by Clarke. The eponymous “The Sentinel” was the germ of 2001: A Space Odyssey. “Guardian Angel” was the basis of the first part of Childhood’s End. “A Meeting with Medusa” contributed premises to 2010: Odyssey Two.

Despite some later incorporation into larger works, these stories do not generally presume a shared narrative continuity or “future history.” Clarke was distinctive for his emphasis on scientifically plausible “hard” science fiction, to the point where composing a story could require “twenty or thirty pages of orbital calculations” (153). As a result, his relatively near-future stories of space exploration written over four decades had to change in order to align with the real-world developments of astronautical knowledge.

Clarke tended to err on the optimistic side. It was a little sad to read him writing in 1951 about a manned lunar surface exploration in 1996 which most certainly did not come to pass (139). Generally he avoids specific dates in these stories, though.

The story that was most interesting to me was “Breaking Strain,” something of a psychological sketch regarding two men on a spaceship reduced to life support resources for one. It had a passing literary reference–somewhat anomalous among these pieces–to Cabell’s Jurgen. Another story where there was a curious real-world reference was “Refugee,” which painted a rather flattering picture of the British monarchy.

My copy of the book is a Barnes & Noble reprint of the Byron Preiss Visual Publications collection. It includes attractive and apt illustrations by Lebbeus Woods in black and white–roughly one full-page drawing per story (and in one case a two-page spread).

The Mystery of the Letters and The Tree of Life

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Mystery of the Letters and The Tree of Life: Interrelationships Among Symbols in the Aeon of the Child [Amazon, J D Holmes, Publisher] by Robert C Stein.

Stein The Mystery of the Letters and the Tree of Life

This book by Robert C. Stein is a recent development of the Hermetic Qabala in a Thelemic context, comprehending the study of several specific “Class A” documents of Aleister Crowley’s canon, i.e. scriptures “of which may be changed not so much as the style of a letter.” It is valuable but difficult. It will be bewilderingly useless to anyone who does not already have a qabalistic practice and orientation to magick, because it is narrowly focused on “interrelationships among symbols” with very little information about any empirical phenomena to which those symbols might refer.

A helpful comparandum in this case is the later work of Charles Stansfeld Jones (e.g. The Egyptian Revival), in which he posited and elaborated a “Reformed Order” of the paths on the Tree of Life, completely rearranging the traditional attributions. This effort met with justified derision from Aleister Crowley. Stein does not scrap the old correspondences; in fact he preserves them more rigorously than Crowley did when proposing the “heh-tzaddi switch” in The Book of Thoth. He does, however, advance the relevance of a “Quantum Tree” that complements and expands the received model, based on novel readings of the “Class A” literature. Like Jones, Stein works with the symbols themselves as reified, objective entities, seeking to define their correct arrangement in light of symbolic contexts only.

The first full chapter of the book consists primarily of an edition history of Liber AL vel Legis, and this chapter is perhaps the one which I could most easily recommend to a general, non-technical readership. The three most substantial chapters are each oriented around exegesis of a different Class A text: Liber Trigrammaton, Liber Legis, and Liber CCXXXI. I found the Liber Trigrammaton study very stimulating, and it is foundational for Stein’s concept of the Quantum Tree. Thelemites should be intrigued to know that his treatment of Liber Legis promises elucidation of the cryptographic elements in each of the three chapters: the “glyph” of I:57, the “riddle” of II:75-6, and the “key” of III:47. The chapter on Liber CCXXXI devotes some welcome attention to the actual verses of the book, along with larger and clearer reproductions of the sigils and discussions of their possible meaning. I was not always persuaded by the philological analyses of the names of the spirits, however.

Some appendices supply references and treat isolated problems in the context established by the book. One of these vividly illustrates Stein’s general method: a discussion of the first word of the third chapter of Liber Legis. Noting a manuscript irregularity, Stein suggests that “Abrahadabra” is inaccurate in this case, and that “Ahaahadabra” is a “closer transliteration” (although the ambiguous r/a character is clearly filled in a way that other letters a in the manuscript are not). From this observation he goes on to perform gematria and analysis towards a meaning for “Ahaahadabra” distinct from “Abrahadabra.”

In the end, The Mystery of the Letters does not give explanations that will make these documents and symbols important to anyone who does not already value them. But for those who do, it outlines some original and provocative readings and methods of analysis.