Its handy to have friends who are weird as you are.

G. Willow Wilson, & al., Ms Marvel, Vol 2: Generation Why

Hermetic quote Wilson Ms Marvel Generation Why handy have friends weird as you

G Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt, Adrian Alphona, Jamie McKelvie, Jake Wyatt, Ms Marvel, book, comic, graphic novel, handy , have, friends, who , weird , you, are

The Ape Who Guards the Balance

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Ape Who Guards the Balance [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Elizabeth Peters, book 10 of the Amelia Peabody series.

Peters The Ape Who Guards the Balance

In this volume of the fearsomely-long Amelia Peabody series, the second-generation Peabody-Emersons are no longer children. They are even given their own voices as narrators in the interspersed documents designated “Manuscript H” (Ramses, evidently, though he writes of himself in the third person), and “Letter Collection B” (Nefret). The majority of the text remains Amelia’s journal, although given the growing centrality of the younger characters, she is increasingly “Aunt Amelia.” More than many of the other books in the series, this one is anchored in previously-developed characters and plot strands. I don’t know if I have much confidence that it would read well as a stand-alone novel. 

After a fairly lively start involving a theft in England and the attempted abduction of Amelia herself, the bulk of the book takes place in Egypt. The archaeological focus is in the Valley of the Kings, with the Emersons somewhat sidelined by the antiquities establishment. There are kidnappings and murders, and the perpetrators and motives remain obscure for much of the book, with some perplexity resulting from the numerous past villains at loose ends in the Emersons’ world.

There’s a little more action and violence here than the average Peabody book, and plenty of humor — also, some heartache and sorrow. It’s definitely worth the read for someone who has enjoyed earlier volumes in the series.

Call for submissions, July 2022: Anthology, Zine, and Calendar

Here’s a quick reminder about all current open calls for submissions for you to check out.

Hermetic Library Anthology Album for 2022: Magick, Music and Ritual 17

Hermetic Library Call for Submissions to Magick, Music and Ritual 17 for 2022

Magick, Music and Ritual 17 will be the 2022 release from the Anthology Project. The deadline for submissions to this anthology album is September 30th, 2022. Read the call for submissions to Magick, Music, and Ritual for 2022

Hermetic Library Zine

Hermetic Library Zine call for submissions

Got something for the Hermetic Library Zine? Send something!

Hermetic Library Calendar

Hermetic Library Calendar call for submissions

Got a current or upcoming event to share with others for the Hermetic Library Calendar? Add something!

Galactic Empires: Volume One

Hermetic Library Anthology Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Galactic Empires: Volume One [Amazon, Local Library] ed Brian W Aldiss.

Aldiss Galactic Empires Volume One

This anthology volume is made up of science fiction stories mostly from the third quarter of the 20th century (1951-1975). It is constructed around themes within the general space opera subgenre. Its four subsections are titled “A Sense of Perspective,” “Wider Still and Wider …,” “Horses in the Starship Hold,” and “The Health Service in the Skies.” The themes were not as coherently demonstrated as I would have liked, and the book got off to a shaky start with two weaker stories from authors I like: R. A. Lafferty and Arthur C. Clarke.

It was interesting to me to read the original Asimov “Foundation” story in the text first published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1942. Although it has been decades since I read the Foundation novel, one difference was obvious: Hari Seldon was not the pioneer of psychohistory, but simply “the greatest psychologist of our time” (96). I suspect some actual psychologists set Asimov straight regarding the aims and limitations of their discipline. The cliffhanger ending made this piece an odd inclusion here, though.

It had been a long while since I had read anything by Clifford Simak, and I found his longish story “Immigrant” to be one of the more enjoyable ones in the book. I also appreciated the rather naïve romp of Coppel’s “The Rebel of Valkyr,” even though its plot twist was telegraphed quite obviously. It offered better star wars than Star Wars. With some exceptions, I found the longer stories more deserving of my attention, and the shorter ones tended toward negligibility.

Representations of gender in these selections are often painfully dated, if not downright reactionary by today’s standards. There is only one female author included, and her story “Brightness Falls from the Air” is a mournful one about interracial exploitation.

I have a copy of Volume Two of this collection. The first volume was good enough that I expect to read the second, but not so cohesive that I feel any special urgency to do so.

So much of the internet is garbage, and much of its infrastructure and many work hours are devoted to taking out the garbage. For the most part, this labor is hidden from plain sight. But in recent years, the garbage disposal has broken down.

Sarah Jeong, The Internet Of Garbage [Amazon, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Jeong The Internet of Garbage so much Internet garbage infrastructure work hours devoted taking out garbage labor hidden plain sight recent years disposal broken down

The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Stephanie Lynn Budin.

Budin The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity

A few words to describe Budin’s The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity: scholarly, thorough, agonistic, persuasive. As is obvious from the title, the author provides a revisionist approach to a matter that has been taken as factual in many modern histories of the ancient world. Readers should note that she defines sacred prostitution in a very circumscribed fashion, to mean “the sale of a person’s body for sex, where some or all of the money is dedicated to a deity” (261)–of the sort described most notably in Herodotos’ account of Babylon. She does not evaluate the likelihood or possibility of temples as places of sanctioned erotic assignation, or sexual sacraments such as hierogamies, nor does she argue against the sexual element in the worship of the generative powers in antiquity.

According to Budin, the modern expositions of the “sacred prostitution” myth gather their initial steam at the outset of the 19th century, with key inflections occurring later in the contexts of Frazerian anthropology and Neopagan religion. She recounts the origins of skepticism on the issue among scholars studying the ancient Near East, and describes the tenacity of the notion among classicists. 

Most of the book is given over to close examinations and contextualizations of the putative evidence from ancient sources. These are tackled in roughly chronological sequence from Herodotos on. Within the chronology, they are often sorted by geography. This organization permits the collation and comparison of accounts regarding Corinth specifically (260-265), or, say, Heliopolis (276-283). 

In many cases, Budin demonstrates that sacred prostitution has been a matter of misguided inference, and that it actually fails to appear in many texts often-cited to support its reality. In those cases where it does appear, it is unsupported by firsthand testimony, and can be explained in terms of accusational rhetoric and/or quasi-historical fabulation. Even then, the tendency to view it as an actual phenomenon (rather than a rhetorical product) owes more to modern interpreters than to ancient efforts to deceive.

Budin has certainly done her homework. One of the passages I found most impressive and intriguing was her philological re-estimation of the term hierodule. While the prevalence of the sacred prostitution hypothesis has led classicists to understand this term almost uniformly as designating a temple slave with typically sexual duties, Budin demonstrates from scholarship grounded in primary materials that the more likely significance of the term is to describe a former slave who had been manumitted through a mechanism of religious authority (184-189). 

The book is replete with intriguing references. Not only is the immediate topic of great interest, but the whole affair serves as an excellent cautionary example of how a robust historical consensus can be constructed on the basis of shockingly weak primary evidence, to the point where revision like Budin’s is called for.

Dark and Magical Places

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Dark and Magical Places: The Neuroscience of Navigation [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Christopher Kemp.

Kemp Dark and Magical Places

Dark and Magical Places is a popular science book written by a man with “no sense of direction” (4). Author Christopher Kemp rates himself a 1 out of 10 in the ability to find his way through spatial environments, and the text is at least as much about being lost as it is about successful navigation. Although the word doesn’t appear in this volume, neurodiversity is one of its chief themes. While Kemp does marvel at the “very few people who are really, really, really good and … a ton of people who are a little bit worse” at navigation, much of the book is concerned with ways in which “the tail of the graph stretches out and out and out into all sorts of realms of badness” (56, quoting researcher Hugo Spiers).

Since I had recently read and enjoyed Donald Hoffman’s The Case Against Reality, I was skeptical about the veridical model of perception that seems to underpin much of this book’s neuroscience. Kemp at one point draws on The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map (1978) to ask “Can objects exist without space? … Does space even exist, or is it an invention, a human construct–a figment of our imaginations? If we invented space, how did we do it?” (35) but he makes no serious effort to answer these questions. Instead, he relies on the axiom that “space and time are the raw materials of navigation” (16), when they might instead be the products of navigation. Correlating neuroanatomically-specified “activations” with spatial cognitions–a regular preoccupation of the text–does not establish the relevant modes of causation.

The book’s information about neurodiversity of spatial capabilities is not fatalistic. While identifying organic variety and congenital outliers, as well as the apparent heritability of DTD (“developmental topographical disorientation”), Kemp also establishes the possibility for people to improve their navigational capacity through training. Suitable activities include video games designed for the purpose and the practice of origami paper folding (106-7). There is also a dark side to this plasticity: dependence on GPS devices is evidently leading to seriously deteriorated navigational capacity in large segments of our population (173-4).

Kemp consults neuroscientist György Buzsáki for the notion of “mental travel” to characterize the integration of navigational functions with those of memory, planning, and imagination (44-5). In my own work, this idea opens fruitfully onto such “occult” activities as “astral” visionary work, “memory palaces,” and spatial orientation in ceremony. In light of some of the information in this book, I suspect that regular performance of the lesser ritual of the pentagram (and also a daily regimen of solar adorations) could in fact empower the memory, as well as reinforcing navigational ability. This relationship also led me to hypothesize an explanation for the strong mnemonic effects of olfactory stimuli: it seems likely that human smelling abilities co-evolved with our spatial navigation, and the two may overlap one another in their use of neural resources (83).

Despite my reservations about Kemp’s apparently mechanistic metaphysical angle and his unsophisticated epistemology, this book was full of interesting and useful scientific ideas, as well as a wealth of entertaining anecdotes, like the one about Noel Santillan who became a flash celebrity in Iceland by virtue of following hideously mistaken GPS directions (166-7, 177). It’s a short, 200-page volume in the usual format of successful contemporary popular science studies, and its information is terrifically current.