You and I have both known him, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say it’s an experience we shan’t ever forget. And even when he and I met in the middle of China, with his mind a blank and his past a mystery, there was still that queer core of attractiveness in him.

James Hilton, Lost Horizon: A Novel

Hermetic quote Hilton Horizon attractiveness

The Complete Golden Dawn Cipher Manuscript

Hermetic Library Fellow John Michael Greer reviews The Complete Golden Dawn Cipher Manuscript edited by Darcy Küntz, introduced by R A Gilbert, in the archive of Caduceus: The Hermetic Quarterly.

Küntz Gilbert The Complete Golden Dawn Cipher Manuscript

Nearly a century after its rise and fall, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn remains at once the most famous and the most puzzling of the magical orders of the modern West. The outlines and many details of its brief career have been traced out in a number of works, most notably Ellic Howe’s waspish but capable The Magicians of the Golden Dawn (1972). Still, conundrums aplenty await both the scholar who wishes to explore the Order’s place in history and the practitioner who hopes to gain a better grasp of the Order’s teachings.

The murkiest of these, unquestionably, have to do with the origins of the Order and its system of magic, and it has not helped that the document at the root of the whole phenomenon – the mysterious “cipher manuscript” which, according to the Order’s own mythology, gave Golden Dawn founders William Wynn Westcott and Samuel Mathers the framework of the Order’s rituals and the address of the mysterious Fraulein Sprengel – had been published only in incomplete form. Fortunately, this has now been remedied.

The Complete Golden Dawn Cipher Manuscript is precisely that, a facsimile and translation of the core document of the Golden Dawn system, giving the grade rituals of the Order in skeleton form along with elements of the Order’s magical teachings. The whole is clear and readable, and has been ably annotated and provided with a useful bibliography of relevant works. An appendix includes a Golden Dawn knowledge lecture on the Tarot which was extracted from the manuscript.

In addition, this volume contains R. A. Gilbert’s fascinating essay “Provenance Unknown: A Tentative Solution to the Riddle of the Cipher Manuscript of the Golden Dawn.” Gilbert’s suggestion is that the original cipher manuscript came to Westcott from the papers of Kenneth Mackenzie, a major figure in Victorian esoteric masonic circles, and may well have been Mackenzie’s work. While the evidence involved is largely circumstantial, Gilbert makes a good case for his suggestion, and in the process helps to link the Golden Dawn more clearly with the murky realm of Victorian fringe Masonry from which it emerged.

This volume is presented as Volume 1 of a “Golden Dawn Studies” series, with at least eight other volumes forthcoming. If these reach the standards of this first book, the whole collection may well become required reading for scholars and practitioners of the Golden Dawn system alike.

Riches she possessed, but that which enriches them, the participation of affection, was wanting. All that they could purchase for her became indifferent to her, because that which they could not purchase, and which was more valuable than themselves, she had, for their sake, thrown away. She discovered, when it was too late, that she had mistaken the means for the end—that riches, rightly used, are instruments of happiness, but are not in themselves happiness.

Thomas Love Peacock, Nightmare Abbey

Hermetic quote Peacock Nightmare riches

The Cube of Space

Hermetic Library Fellow John Michael Greer reviews The Cube of Space: Container of Creation by Kevin Townley in the archive of Caduceus: The Hermetic Quarterly.

Townley The Cube of Space

The predominance of the standard Tree of Life in the modern magical scene can make it easy to forget that this is only one of many models of the universe which are part of the rich traditional lore of the Qabalah. It takes very little digging among materials to come up with others: variations on the Tree, and also wholly different systems such as the Fifty Gates of Understanding or the intricate diagrams of Isaac Luria and his school. Most of these, however, have received little attention outside orthodox Jewish circle.

One such diagram which has seem some use in the modern Hermetic movement is the Cube of Space. This is derived from the Sepher Yetzirah, one of the foundation documents of the Qabalah. Like most Qabalistic patterns, the Cube of Space is based on the internal dynamics of the Hebrew alphabet, the letters forming a geometrical matrix of forces which can be explored in meditation and applied in practical work.

Keven Townley’s The Cube of Space is intended as a thorough introduction to this aspect of Qabalistic theory, and it succeeds quite well at this task. Beginning with the basic symbolism and structure of the Cube, it proceeds through a series of increasingly complex interactions relating to standard Qabalistic symbolism such as the Hebrew alphabet, astrological forces and the cards of the Tarot deck. The book concludes with a Tarot-based interpretation of the Chaldean system of decan correspondences which is highly reminiscent of some of Paul Foster Case’ better work.

This last comment, in a sense, also points out one of the few limitations to this useful book: its approach to the Qabalah derives almost completely from the one developed by Case and taught by the organization he founded, the Builders of the Adytum. (Creditably, Townley is quite open about his reliance on these sources.) Those who disagree with Case’s take on the Qabalah, or simply find it uncongenial, may have some trouble making use of Townley’s work. Still, The Cube of Space is a capable and original study of a neglected area of Qabalistic theory, and it both deserves and repays serious study by anyone interested in the magical Qabalah.

Sitting around all night in a dark apartment with the TV and computer screens providing all the ambient light is bound to affect your perception after a while.

Scott Meyer, Off to Be the Wizard

Hermetic quote Meyer Wizard perception

Omnium Gatherum: June 11, 2019

An irregular hodgepodge of links gathered together … Omnium Gatherum for June 11, 2019

If you’d like to participate, head over to Omnium Gatherum on the BBS, or suggest something.

  • Help! My Boyfriend Thinks I’m the Reincarnation of an Evil Witch.” — Daniel Mallory Ortberg, Slate [HT Digg]

    “There is a complicated gray area in between ‘totally unreasonable/baffling but part of the rich tapestry of human weirdness’ and ‘deeply concerning, time to call a doctor,’ and I’m afraid this might fall into it. “

  • ‘Hadestown’ Is Big Winner At 2019 Tony Awards With 8 Trophies. Anaïs Mitchell’s folk opera smash surprised no one by taking home the Best Musical award on Broadway’s biggest night.” — Curtis M. Wong, HuffPost

    “Anaïs Mitchell’s jazz and blues-inflected “folk opera” beat out competitors like “The Prom” and “Tootsie” for the top prize Sunday night, bringing its total tally to eight trophies.

    ‘If ‘Hadestown’ stands for anything, it’s that change is possible,’ producer Mara Isaacs told the crowd while accepting the award. ‘In dark times, spring will come again.'”

  • To thrive in a “wicked” world, you need range” — Ephrat Livni, Quartz; a discussion about Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

    Epstein Range

    “It’s long been said that a jack of all trades is a master of none. But the myth of the superiority of specialists is apparently based on limited data, and there’s plenty of evidence, now collected in a new book, to suggest that range is the true engine of innovation and creativity in the game of life.”

  • Babalon by Paul Green, April 4-27, 2020, Space 55, Arizona; from Babalon and other plays by Paul A Green, from Scarlet Imprint [HT Broadway World]

    Green Babalon and Other Plays

    “Rocket scientist Jack Parsons helped develop the technology that took America to the Moon. He was also a disciple of Aleister Crowley, performed magical rites with L. Ron Hubbard, and held wild occult sex parties in his Pasadena home. Based on a true story, Paul Green’s Babalon is a poetic and profoundly moving exploration of the strange, explosive forces that brought us into the Space Age. An Arizona premiere!”

  • This religious group formed in 1913 believes African Americans are Muslims and of Moorish descent” — Mildred Europa Taylor, Face 2 Face Africa

    “In effect, the Moorish Science Temple of America may not be as it was in the 1920s, but its influence on black consciousness can never be ignored, observers say.”

  • Walt Whitman: Proto-Pagan At 200” — Tom Swiss, The Zen Pagan

    “There is a direct chain of inspiration from Whitman to the important occultist and Pagan figures Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune, and Gerald Gardner, via the English poet Algernon Charles Swinburne.

    Swinburne was a Whitman fan during the time he produced his most significant work — even writing a poem “To Walt Whitman In America”: “O strong-winged soul with prophetic / Lips hot with the bloodheats of song”. (Though they had something of a falling out later.) According to historian Ronald Hutton, Crowley, Fortune, and Gardner were all influenced by Swinburne. (Crowley even canonized Swinburne as a saint of the Gnostic Catholic Church.)”

  • John Romero releases unofficial 5th episode of original Doom for free” — Aaron Mamiit, Digital Trends

    “Romero said that in Sigil, players will fight through a ‘stygian pocket of evil to confront the ultimate harbingers of Satan,’ after Baphomet sends the player to ‘even darker shores of Hell.'”

  • [Overlook Review] ‘Satanic Panic’ Delivers a Messy Comedy Horror” — Meagan Navarro, Bloody Disgusting; about Satanic Panic, dir Chelsea Stardust, with Rebecca Romijn, Jerry O’Connell, & al.

    Fangoria Satanic Panic film

    “After a day full of deliveries that left her shortchanged on the tips, one final stop in an out of territory rich neighborhood leaves her stranded and the target of upper class Baphomet worshippers looking to sacrifice her before the sun comes up. What transpires is a night of chaotic Satanic rituals, demon summoning, and a whole lot of bloodshed in a very chaotic and tonally strange horror comedy.”

  • The Age of Aquarius, All Over Again! Belief in astrology and the occult is surging.” — David Brooks, New York Times

    “We’re living in the middle of a religious revival; it’s just that the movements that are rising are not what we normally call “religion.” The first rising movement is astrology. According to a 2018 Pew poll, 29 percent of Americans say they believe in astrology. That’s more than are members of mainline Protestant churches.

    These surging movements are people’s attempts to solve the major needs of the current moment.

    The first need is simply to find a way to be spiritual. …

    Second, there is a widespread need to slow down, to escape the pace of life technology wants and to live at a human pace.

    Third, there is a widespread need to express alienation. …

    Fourth is the need for identity markers. …

    Fifth is the desire to live within a coherent creed and community, but without having that creed impinge on your individual autonomy. …

    Finally, many people seem to want to be alternative without actually leaving the mainstream world.”

  • The Rise of Progressive Occultism” — Tara Isabella Burton, The America Interest

    “Back in 1992, Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson warned of the dangers of feminism, predicting that it would induce “women to leave their husbands. . . .practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” Many of today’s witches would happily agree.”

  • When The Religious Left Is Occult” — Rod Dreher, The American Conservative

    “Here’s what I’ve been thinking since our conversation about this piece, and since reading it earlier today: we should take this as seriously as its practitioners do.

    Under liberalism, many of us have a habit of ironically distancing ourselves from taking religion — mainstream religion, or outsider religion — seriously. For example, we think of religious rites as an expression of how the practitioner feels about this or that. Secular unbelievers, obviously, don’t think that there is anything real happening with satanic rites, spell-casting, and suchlike. It is nothing more than a form of theater. They also regard Christian rituals in the same way.

    If materialism is an accurate and complete account of reality, then they’re right: it’s nothing more than emotive pageantry. Still, if that’s all it is, then we should at least take seriously the fact that there are people who wish to express in ritual a desire to “disrupt, distort [and] destroy.” In writing about the believers within these circles, Tara told me that it’s not a joke or a game to them; they really do believe that what they’re doing has an effect, just as much as a Christian faith healer or exorcist does.

    Holden Matthews, the young white man charged with burning down three black churches this year in south Louisiana, was reportedly deeply involved with the black metal scene, a genre of rock that celebrates satanic themes, sometimes attracts white supremacists, and whose followers have been linked to church burnings elsewhere. Maybe there’s nothing to it but expressive pageantry, but then again, Mohammed Atta and his crew hijacked airliners and flew them into buildings for religious and political reasons. My point is simply that religion is not always something nice and respectable and life-affirming. All religion might be false, but most of us would rather live next door to Ned Flanders than Holden Matthews.

    But what if materialism’s account of reality is untrue? What if there really is something actual going on with religion? That is, what if people who perform religious rites — Catholics, Taoists, witches, everyone — are not simply expressing how they feel, but truly making contact with the numinous, and engaging its power?”

  • SpaceTime Coordinates

    SpaceTime Coordinates gold plated rhodium mementos

    “YOUR 3D PRINTED PERSONAL SOLAR SYSTEM CUSTOM MADE WITH NASA’S DATA

    Our designs are produced through a unique, top-tier solar system simulator that was developed in-house and featured by OpenNASA. We offer the most precise product available on the market, using NASA/JPL data that is constantly updated.”

  • The Brain Maps Out Ideas and Memories Like Spaces. Emerging evidence suggests that the brain encodes abstract knowledge in the same way that it represents positions in space, which hints at a more universal theory of cognition.” — Jordana Cepelewicz, Quanta Magazine

    “In the past few decades, research has shown that for at least two of our faculties, memory and navigation, those metaphors may have a physical basis in the brain. A small seahorse-shaped structure, the hippocampus, is essential to both those functions, and evidence has started to suggest that the same coding scheme — a grid-based form of representation — may underlie them. Recent insights have prompted some researchers to propose that this same coding scheme can help us navigate other kinds of information, including sights, sounds and abstract concepts. The most ambitious suggestions even venture that these grid codes could be the key to understanding how the brain processes all details of general knowledge, perception and memory.”

  • Jamaica moving to legalize obeah, a practice banned for centuries” — who, Jamaica Beacon; from the Obeah-Wanga dept. [HT Dr Death & Divinity]

    “Lawmakers yesterday blocked a proposed increase in fines for persons practicing obeah; this amid revelations that plans are afoot to legalize the practice in Jamaica.

    Obeah has been illegal here for centuries, but it is still widely practiced, and law enforcers often turn a blind eye to obeah practitioners.”

  • Longtime Linden minister used oral sex in exorcism ritual, men claim. A Presbyterian minister with deep ties to Union County stands accused of using oral sex in exorcism rituals on victims seeking his counseling.” — Nick Muscavage, Bridgewater Courier News [HT Dr Kate Kingsbury]

    “A Presbyterian minister, who said he was following the Bible, used Native American exorcism rituals, gemstones and even oral sex to extract “evil spirits” from men undergoing crises in their lives, the church and men claim.”

  • At last, Dora Maar emerges from her lover Picasso’s shadow. Major survey of the Surrealist photographer at Centre Pompidou will travel to Tate Modern and the Getty Center.” — Ben Luke, The Art Newspaper; about Dora Maar exhibit, June 5 – July 29, 2019, Centre Pompidou, Paris [HT Dr Sabia Stent]

    Maar exhibit Centre Pompidou

    “The Surrealist artist and photographer Dora Maar’s relationship with Pablo Picasso hugely affected her burgeoning reputation. Specialists in Surrealism are well aware that Maar was an inspired and innovative photographer before she met him, as well as a documenter, as later seen in a series of images of the Spanish artist’s masterpiece Guernica (1937). But for a wider public Maar has been defined by Picasso’s depictions of her, particularly as the Weeping Woman (1937).

    A major survey that opens at the Centre Pompidou in Paris this week, later touring to Tate Modern in London and the Getty Center in Los Angeles, should liberate Maar from that vision. Born Henriette Theodora Markovitch in 1907, to a French mother and Croatian father, she grew up in Argentina but began studying photography in the late 1920s after the family moved to Paris. By the early 1930s she was making studio-based commercial photography, often in collaboration with the set designer Pierre Kéfer.”

Byways of Esoteric History

Hermetic Library Fellow John Michael Greer reviews The Theosophical Enlightenment and Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism and Nazi Survival by Hermetic Library Fellow Joscelyn Godwin in the archive of Caduceus: The Hermetic Quarterly.

Godwin The Theosophical Enlightenment

Godwin Arktos

The relationship between modern scholarship and the Hermetic tradition has always been a complicated one, bedeviled by a radical difference among basic assumptions which many writers recognize but few seem to be able to overcome. For every academic work which combines competent scholarship with the imaginative ability to enter into the worldview of the tradition – the writings of the late Dame Frances Yates come first to mind here – there are far too many which fall into the gap between paradigms and never manage to climb back out. The socioeconomic reductionism wielded by several generations of Marxist scholars, the psychological reductionism common to many of the current interpreters of Carl Jung, and other less popular but equally distorting interpretive schemes have stretched and sawed the Hermetic tradition to fit any number of Procrustean beds.

Given this context, the efforts of Joscelyn Godwin to light up some of the byways of recent esoteric history in the West come as a relief and a delight. Two of his most recent books, in particular, unite capable scholarship with a willingness to let his subject matter speak in its own voice.

The Theosophical Enlightenment is, broadly speaking, a history of English occultism from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. That period saw the rise and fall of major esoteric movements such as Mesmerism, Spiritualism, the Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and by way of these the origins of most of modern Western occult thought and practice. It also saw a great deal of influence by esoteric traditions on the wider culture of which they were an often unacknowledged part; the figures of William Blake at the beginning of the period, and William Butler Yeats at its end, are only the most visible of many carriers of that influence. An amazing pageant of scholars, scoundrels, mages, crackpots, visionaries and out-and-out lunatics filled the space between these two, and it is this pageant which gives The Theosophical Enlightenment most of its subject matter and much of its charm.

One of the central themes of this study is the extent to which the esoteric systems of that age had their roots as much in the scepticism and critical scholarship of the time as in the older and more credulous traditions of medieval occultism. The highly syncretistic approach which marked Theosophy, the Golden Dawn and similar movements would have been inconceivable without the rise of ideas of comparative religion and mythology during the prior century, ideas which removed Christianity from its privileged position and drew attention to the connections between it and other religious traditions.

Another theme, linked to this, is the complex and ambivalent relationship between Western occultism and Eastern traditions. Materials from Hindu sources in particular were borrowed eagerly by esotericists in the West from the Transcendentalists to Madame Blavatsky, but there was also a reaction against this trend. Both these forces showed themselves in the rise and decline of the Theosophical Society, which drew together most of the esoteric currents of the age into a temporary unity, only to founder when the differences proved too great to bridge.

In the process of tracing these themes and others, Godwin casts light on an entire chapter of the history of Western esotericism which has received too little illumination to date. The Theosophical Enlightenment is likely to become the standard starting point for future explorations in this area.

A second book of Godwin’s, Arktos, carries out the same task of illumination in a far stranger region of thought. The subject matter of this work, the symbolism of the poles in Western occult tradition, has long been a kind of lightning-rod for high strangeness in the cultures of the modern West: one of those subjects where the line between the esoteric and the simply crazed is rarely easy to draw.

It says much for Godwin’s abilities that he is able, for the most part, to present this material on its own terms as well. From polar paradises and pole-shift catastrophes through the hollow earth and similar tabloid fodder, up to the heights of Persian Sufi mysticism and down into the psychotic mythologies of race that lay behind the Nazi phenomenon, Arktos provides a glimpse at a world at least as unexplored as the Hyperborea of legend, and even less easy to map.

In some senses, Arktos is a less satisfying book, if a more intriguing one, than The Theosophical Enlightenment. It is very much a first survey of a broad and highly diverse subject, and a great deal of further work remains to be done to fill in the blank areas and trace out the connections between the different uses which esoteric tradition has made of the poles. (I was mildly disappointed, for instance, to see no mention of the Golden Dawn’s relation of the Earth’s axial tilt to Cabalistic symbolism in Godwin’s book.) Still, it forms an excellent starting place for future study, as well as an example of how material from the fringes of modern thought can be lucidly and intelligently explored.

The passionate ecstasy that engendered his poetry was excited by the stark, pagan purity of his sensuality, which found its talismanic representation in the tower struck by lightning.

Susan Johnston Graf, W B Yeats Twentieth Century Magus

Hermetic quote Graf Yeats ecstasy

Robert Fludd

Hermetic Library Fellow John Michael Greer reviews Robert Fludd: Essential Readings selected and edited by William H Huffman in the archive of Caduceus: The Hermetic Quarterly.

Fludd Huffman Robert Fludd Essential Readings

The work of Robert Fludd (1574-1637), the Paracelsian physician and Hermetic encyclopedist who provided the last major statement of the esoteric traditions of the Renaissance, has been best known in modern times by way of the extraordinary engravings created for his vast Technical, Physical and Metaphysical History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm (1617-1626). These are perhaps the most common visual images of Renaissance esotericism at the present time; ironically, though, Fludd’s own writings have all but vanished into their shadow. Most remain available only in their original editions, mostly in Latin, and the few reprintings and translations that have appeared are scattered through the academic literature.

This book of selections from Fludd’s writings is thus a welcome step in uncovering one of the more neglected figures in the Western esoteric tradition. Huffman, whose Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (Routledge: New York, 1988) is a solid general study of Fludd and his place in Renaissance thought, has assembled writings from most of the periods of Fludd’s literary output – the Apologia Compendiaria, an early defense of the Rosicrucians; a selection from the first volume of the Technical, Physical and Metaphysical History; his Brief Declaration to James I of England, defending himself against charges of heresy; A Philosophical Key, an alchemical work describing experiments on wheat; Truth’s Golden Harrow, a defense of the physical reality of alchemy; Dr. Fludd’s Answer unto M. Foster, in which Fludd supported the Paracelsian position in the weapon-salve controversy; and a portion of Mosaicall Philosophy, Fludd’s last work. Also included in the volume is Wolfgang Pauli’s essay “The Influence of Archetypal Ideas on the Scientific Theories of Kepler,” which chronicles the dispute between Fludd and Kepler over the respective places of mathematics and mysticism in an understanding of the world, as well as a mostly biographical introduction and a useful bibliography.

There are a few weaknesses to this otherwise solid work. The sheer volume of Fludd’s prose has forced Huffman to prune his selections extensively, and in some places – particularly in the portion of the History reprinted here – the resulting passages are disjointed and difficult to put in their proper context. The selection of writings is also problematical in one sense: the pieces given deal largely with Fludd the theoretician and philosopher; Fludd’s more practical interests in medicine, technology and the arts, interests which fill the greater part of his works, receive far less attention. Amid the sometimes abstract speculations of his esoteric philosophy, it can be too easy to lose sight of the Robert Fludd who introduced new methods of steel manufacture to England and devised one of the earliest barometers.

Despite these quibbles, though, Huffman’s collection is a solid introduction to Fludd’s thought, and a valuable resource for any student of esoteric traditions in the Renaissance.

I moved forward and out of my embracing surroundings, taking in a deep breath, knowing I was being admired by both good and evil.

Layden Robinson, Chameleon

Hermetic quote Layden Chameleon admired