Forgotten Templars

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Forgotten Templars: The Untold Origins of Ordo Templi Orientis by Richard Kaczynski.

Kaczynski Forgotten Templars

Readers of Richard Kaczynski’s Crowley biography Perdurabo will not be surprised to find that his history of the origins of O.T.O. Forgotten Templars is similarly exhaustive. This volume is not for the casual reader: it is intended for institutional libraries (every O.T.O. lodge should have one!) and discriminating collectors. As a material item, it is an impressive hardbound folio with heavy gloss paper and illustrated throughout with black-and-white photographs and document facsimiles.

The start of the book is slow going, with a large section dedicated to the biographical backgrounds of the four principal founders prior to their collaboration. In particular, the two chapters on Henry Klein, the most obscure of the four, are likely to merit skimming for readers who don’t share the author’s special enthusiasm for the history of music publishing and Victorian musical automation. Two appendices even provide a full musical bibliography of Klein’s work as a composer and a publisher. Most readers will doubtless enjoy the details supplied on the three Oriental sages who informed Order founder Carl Kellner’s inquiries: Bheema Sena Pratapa, Soliman ben Aissa, and Agamya Paramahamsa. The last of these was especially outrageous, in no way exaggerated by the unfriendly portrait painted in Crowley’s Equinox (“Half-hours with Famous Mahatmas”). I was surprised and intrigued to discover that the Moroccan Sufi Soliman was supposed to have been a hereditary sheikh of the Aissawa tariqa, the same school of initiation as that professed by Aleister Crowley’s Muslim instructor in Cairo in 1904.

Things start to warm up with the next set of chapters, concerned to address the cultural and institutional background to the formation of the Order, with discussions of German Freemasonry, Lebensreform, Theosophy, the Cerneauist Scottish Rite and other freemasonic hautes grades, and the intellectual career of John Yarker. But it’s not until the middle of the book that the account reaches the actual organization of the nascent O.T.O., and it’s only in the final pages that the organization takes on that name.

Needless to say, there was a good amount of detail that was new to me in this book. Still, the broad outlines were the ones I had been able to discern through the variety of sources I had already studied on this topic. I was especially grateful for the wealth of detail and analysis regarding the 1906-7 scandals plaguing the rites governed by Theodor Reuss and his associates. I found it strange, though, that while the appendices include the full text of the hostile 1905 article “The Manifesto of the Grand Orient of the Scottish, Memphis and Mizraim Rite” by Robert Fischer, they don’t supply a translation of the brief actual 1903 manifesto by Kellner and Reuss (published in the Oriflamme in 1904) of which the article was a criticism.

As the book progresses, it increasingly focuses on the questions that loom largest to students of the topic. Where did the founders of O.T.O. get their “supreme secret”? What was the relationship of O.T.O. to the H.B. of L.? Did the haute grades that Reuss had organized persist in any way outside of O.T.O.? Kaczynski offers a frank discussion regarding the possibilities involved with Crowley’s alleged accidental exposure of the chief O.T.O. secret in The Book of Lies. He does not touch on the peculiar and enigmatic timeline regarding the publication of the book and Reuss’ prior visit to induct Crowley into the O.T.O. Sovereign Sanctuary (see Magick Without Tears, chapter 25). My own longstanding view of this conundrum is that Reuss had access to a pre-publication copy, either directly from Crowley as an “application for the X°” or though Yarker’s agency. The study concludes with Crowley’s reform of the O.T.O. rite in Mysteria Mystica Maxima, preserving its integrity and concentrating its effects, while distancing it from its Masonic origins.

I strongly recommend this book to serious readers interested in the real history behind the establishment of one of the most provocative of modern initiatory societies. [via]

To Fight the Black Wind

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews To Fight the Black Wind by Jennifer Brozek.

Brozek To Fight the Black Wind

This Arkham Horror novella is the one trained on psychologist Carolyn Fern, and it takes her from Arkham Sanitarium to the Dreamlands, a milieu that H.P. Lovecraft highjacked from Lord Dunsany, and which has featured occasionally in Cthulhvian gaming over the last few decades. Author Jennifer Brozek handles the story nicely, composing it in the form of Carolyn’s journal, as she moves through the events that demonstrate to her that it’s not her patient that’s pathological–reality is!

Despite the incidental presence of Arkham Horror characters, this story has less in common with the other novellas in its series than it does with The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, a short novel by Kij Johnson published a couple of years earlier. In both stories the protagonist is a woman, and there is an important focus on the heroine’s relationship to a younger woman who helps to define the heroic task. Johnson offers a little explicit commentary on her own feminine appropriation of the Dreamlands, relative to their prior status under the domination of masculine authors and characters, while Brozek simply tells a story centered on women in the Dreamlands. (Both books pass the Bechdel test with flying colors, of course.)

The “Black Wind” of the title turns out to be a cover-name for an Elder God of great notoriety and familiarity to readers in this genre. Lovecraft’s Cats of Ulthar are conspicuous in this book: they talk, and they have individual names reflecting attributes that they embody or foster, such as Comfort and Foolishness. Brozek also uses the notion of “Ulthar” as the deity worshiped in Ulthar–a scarce conceit evidently not original here, but originating in the Sussex Manuscript of mythos votary Fred L. Pelton.

The glossy trompe-l’œil scrapbook pages at the back of the book (a standard feature of this series) are for the most part fairly continuous with the body text, since the larger part of them are just more of Carolyn’s journal. Foolishness the cat turns out to be one of the alternate signature cards for the Carolyn Fern character in Arkham Horror: The Card Game. Like Norman Withers in his novella Ire of the Void, these cards are for a character not yet otherwise available for the game. Carolyn is a healer who gets bonuses whenever she restores sanity to herself or another character, and I suspect she will be most useful in games featuring three or four investigators where she can play a useful and focused supporting role. Still, I think that my daughter will want to try Carolyn out in one of our two-player games; the dream cat is likely to prove irresistible. [via]

The Stages of Higher Knowledge

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Stages of Higher Knowledge by Rudolf Steiner.

Steiner The States of Higher Knowledge

This small book contains a series of essays first published in the German-language Theosophical organ Lucifer-Gnosis during the first decade of the twentieth century. According to the preface by Steiner’s widow, the series, which took as its point of departure the text of Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, was aborted by the cessation of Lucifer-Gnosis and the transfer of Steiner’s organizing efforts to his new vehicle Anthroposophy.

The stages invoked in the title are Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition, corresponding in Theosophical jargon (not much used here) to the Astral, Etheric, and Causal planes. This sequence involves increasing abstraction from the empirical world of matter, along with a refinement of psychic processes and a turning-inward of the senses. A certain amount of implied standardization in this account may be misplaced. For example, Steiner writes that “Astral beings can also be ‘tasted’ or ‘smelled.’–Only what constitutes in the actual sense the physical element of tone and sound is almost wholly lacking in the real imaginative world” (51). Yet in one of the most significant visionary accounts from Steiner’s own period, it is written: “And there cometh an interior voice, which sayeth to the seer that he hath trained his eyes well and can see much; and he hath trained his ears a little, and can hear a little; but his other senses hath he trained scarcely at all, and therefore the Aethyrs are almost silent to him on those planes” (Liber CDXVIII, 4th Aethyr).

Both the preface by Marie Steiner and a supplementary piece of front matter by Rudolf Steiner–the latter copied from the preface of the 1914 reissue of Knowledge of the Higher Worlds–are concerned to mitigate and downplay these articles’ emphasis on the importance of firsthand instruction from an accomplished occult practitioner. Even in the body of the original text, this issue is raised with some sense of tension:

“As has been frequently mentioned, it is owing to the special conditions of our time that these things are and must be published. But also, on the other hand, it must be ever again emphasized that while it has thus been made easier to acquire occult knowledge, sure guidance through an experienced occult teacher is not yet to be dispensed with.” (46)

That “yet” suggests that Steiner was already looking forward to the position taken in the later writings of the front matter, where he hopes that an occult mentor “will assume the same position in spiritual schooling as a teacher occupies, in conformity with modern views, in any other field of knowledge” (xiv). Still, if my experience is any guide, the autodidact in occultism is at a great disadvantage compared to those with personal instruction and proper initiation. The traditional emphasis on a preceptor is understandable, even if it carries its own hazards in a secular world where authentication of such figures is bound to be dubious. [via]