I squeeze my eyes shut and try to reach for him across the hundreds and hundreds of miles, to send my thoughts into his mind, to let him know he is not alone. But he is. And I can’t help him.

Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher]

Hermetic quote Collins Mockingjay to let him know he is not alone but he is

Oldest Chicago

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Oldest Chicago [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by David Anthony Witter.

Witter Oldest Chicago

Oldest Chicago is a guidebook to the most venerable sites and businesses in the Chicago area. Each location is accompanied by a black-and-white photo, usually taken by the author. The main text for each short chapter gives the history of the venue in question, usually grounded in the author Witter’s interviews with proprietors or experts, whom he quotes liberally. A significant exception is the rich chapter on Chicago’s “Oldest Indoor, Olympic-Sized Swimming Pool (Now Junior Olympic),” in which Witter discusses his own experiences working at the pool of the Medinah Athletic Club in the 1980s. Every chapter concludes with a boxed inset directing attention to other attractions that are nearby or conceptually related to the main subject, even if the others lack Oldest credentials. This device permits Witter to introduce more information about Chicago neighborhoods, and provides the reader with better justification to make visits to the sites that are most intriguing, with the opportunity of a fuller trip in the offing.

The book is divided into three sections. The first is “The 1800s Club” with survivals from that period. The second is misnamed “Food, Fun, and Entertainment,” even though it includes chapters like the “Oldest African-American Newspaper” and “Oldest Vertical Lift Bridge,” that evidently don’t fall in those categories. What the second section really is, is simply “20th-century Classics,” continuing past the year 1900 with the same chronological sequence of chapters established in the first section. The final section has its own separate chronology, and treats notable old places outside of Chicago proper, in “The Suburbs and Exurbs.”

Although I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, have lived in the city, and reside in the area today, there were plenty of interesting facts that were new to me in Witter’s book. I was shocked to discover the Chicago whereabouts of “the largest mass grave in the northern hemisphere.” (21) Learning where I could spot a dirigible port in the downtown skyline was a piece of delicious trivia. (164) The identity of Chicago’s earliest recorded Chinese resident as “Opium Dong” certainly gave me a laugh. (147) 

Witter is a lifelong Chicagoan, whose pride and sense of place is clear in his lucid, journalistic writing. He commits some howlers when he resorts to historical generalization, though, of which the worst by far is to claim, “America was settled largely by Puritans, whose beliefs in temperance still influence much of the politics of the nation’s heartland today.” (Here he also neglects specific Chicago history. If there were a sectarian connection for the origins of the temperance movement, it would probably be the Methodism of key Women’s Christian Temperance Union president Frances Willard, who was a Dean of Women for Northwestern University in Evanston, immediately north of Chicago. Evanston was a hub of the temperance and prohibition movements, and remained an entirely “dry” community until the 1970s.)

A major failing of the book is the omission of maps! Both historical maps to show the changing contours of the city around the sites described, and contemporary maps to help orient would-be visitors today, are unfulfilled desiderata for this volume. They might also have helped orient the author, who in at least two instances writes “west” where “east” would be accurate. (96, 131) Still, Oldest Chicago is entertaining and educational, and should be useful for both prospective visitors and longtime residents. 

Theory Now

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Theory Now [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] edited by Grant Farred and Michael Hardt, South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol 110, Iss 1, Winter 2011.

Farred Hardt Theory Now

This number of South Atlantic Quarterly debuts its division into a main body of articles plus a smaller section of less research-driven and more topical essays, and it seems to work well enough here. I read the latter portion first, mindful of its timeliness. Titled in this case “Against the Day,” the title couldn’t help but remind me of the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name (which I have two-thirds read), about a different “day.” (There is a surfeit of polysemy in Pynchon’s title on its own ground, but I’ll leave that for its own review.) These essays on “Obama and the Left at Midterm” are really about “The Left at Obama’s Midterm.” The articles are all very short, often insightful, and actually less dispiriting than I had anticipated. 

The larger portion of the book is a special issue called “Theory Now” edited by Grant Farred and Michael Hardt, each of whom also contributed articles to it. In addition, the collection is introduced by Kenneth Surin, and afforded an afterword by Jonathan Culler. Of the two, I thought Culler did the better job of summarizing the contents and identifying lines of connection among them: a tall order, since the contributors had been asked not to write about “theory now,” but simply to write theory in the way that they do now. 

Culler notes the theoretical approach to “spectrality” as a recurrent feature, and I most enjoyed the articles exhibiting it: Hanson on reparative reading, Gordon replying to the film The Halfmoon Files, and Naas digesting Derrida on photography. Theory regarding race and gender was, if not ubiquitous, common to many of the better articles in the volume. I was pleasantly surprised by Rei Terada’s “Frailty of the Ontic,” which demonstrated an approach to psychoanalysis as a form of philosophy, whereas I am used to considering it a mutation of religion–and have no patience with its self-presentation as a form of therapy. I was disappointed by Ellison’s “The Spoiler’s Art,” which discussed architectural matters with the stakes of “embarrassment” (so I suppose that my lack of enthusiasm was somehow in harmony with the content). 

Of the two articles written by the principal editors, I was less excited by Farred’s reflections on interdisciplinarity, which I found to be a rather unuseful exercise in ivory-tower navel-gazing, somewhat heavy with cant, and notably dependent on a canonical reverence for Heidegger. By contrast, Hardt’s “Militancy of Theory” reviewed an important trajectory in the critical tradition which now has me reflecting on what I may someday write about as the final paradox of philosophy.

I am a sometime buyer of SAQ, grabbing issues off of the newsstand as they catch my interest. I always find some of the contents challenging and worthwhile, and this number was no exception.

The Sacred Canopy

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Peter L Berger.

Berger The Sacred Canopy

Here is an older book I should have read a couple of decades ago (when it was not new), in order to apply its insights in my academic work. First published in 1967, Berger’s The Sacred Canopy is subtitled “elements of a sociological theory of religion.” Despite his insistence on sociology as an empirical discipline, the book is not oriented to primary studies of the sociological features of contemporary religious operation. Most of the book is trained on very large-scale phenomena over long periods, using lenses inherited and adapted from theorists such as Weber, Durkheim, and Mead.

Berger hardly touches the term “belief,” but makes extensive use of the closely related concept of “plausibility,” advancing the creation and maintenance of “plausibility structures” as inherent operations undertaken by society in the religious mode. There are useful distinctions between the methods used to maintain plausibility in religions that dominate entire cultures and the different strategies that are necessarily adopted by “cognitive minorities” He also highlights theodicy, taken in a sense generalized beyond the usual theological problem to any religious explanation of the anomic phenomena of death, suffering, and evil.

The later parts of the book are preoccupied with the phenomena of secularization and their relationship to parallel and dialectically related developments in economic and scientific development. Throughout the book, Berger uses examples from a wide diversity of religions, but in these sections he pays special and deserved attention to Christianity generally, and Protestantism in particular. “If the drama of the modern era is the decline of religion, then Protestantism can aptly be described as its dress rehearsal” (157).

Perhaps the high point of the whole volume for me was “Appendix II: Sociological and Theological Perspectives,” in which Berger points out some methodological distinctions, withdraws and revises positions made in a previous book (The Precarious Vision, 1961), and proposes possibilities for constructive dialogue between sociology and theology. He is clear that such possibilities may not be realized, because of the demands for “openness” that they make on both sides.

This Is Not An Anthology Album -2

This Is Not An Hermetic Library Anthology Album -2 is a special alternative issue in 2020 released today exclusively for Patrons on Patreon and Subscribers on Bandcamp, ongoing supporters of Hermetic Library.

This Is Not An Hermetic Library Anthology Album -2 subscriber and patron exclusive by Hermetic Library in 2020

Please join the Hermetic Library in promoting these artists who have contributed their work to this benefit anthology album project. Please also spread the word about these anthology albums to people you think may be interested in the work of artists who combine magick, music and ritual.

Be sure to also check out the entire Hermetic Library Anthology project, all the previous releases; and consider becoming a Patron or Subscriber to pick up the digital download of this album and help support the work of the library!

The full tracklist for this exclusive consists of 5 tracks by 4 artists:

  1. Jericho Button – Wode 07:41
  2. King Venus – Inhumite 06:07
  3. Mishorka – Eventide 03:19
  4. Mishorka – Hekate 02:56
  5. The Arcanauts – Moonflower Waltz 06:03

This Is Not An Hermetic Library Anthology Album -2 is a special alternative release in 2020 just for Patrons and Subscribers of Hermetic Library. This playlist, presented in no particular order, has 5 tracks by 4 artists, all new voices to the project this year.

An essay about Moonflower Waltz by David Moore / The Arcanauts is also included as a bonus download along with this issue.

For 2020, I decided to ask for two submissions as part of the call for participation in another attempt this year, after a hiatus, at releasing Magick, Music and Ritual 15. One submission each for the regular anthology issue along with another specifically for this additional release in 2020. So with extra gratitude their way, those who were kind enough to submit additional material, here is this special new issue exclusive to Subscribers on Bandcamp and Patrons on Patreon. This, then, is a thank you gift just for those who offer their ongoing support for the library and my work as the librarian, from both myself and these artists.

To both participants and supporters, I say happy and hearty Thanksgiving day, and, moreover, thank you, thank you, thank you!

The Hermetic Library at Hermetic.com has an overall vision of Archiving, Engaging and Encouraging the living Esoteric Tradition, Hermeticism, and Aleister Crowley’s Thelema for over 20 years. I started the benefit anthology project to help promote newer works in the Esoteric Tradition to the audience of the Hermetic Library and beyond. The anthology project also further raises awareness about the corpus and culture of magick and ritual.

I encourage you to check out the Hermetic Library at Hermetic.com, if you aren’t already familiar with it, as that’s the reason this project exists and may also offer inspiration to you. The site was started in 1996 and has ever since consistently been an extremely popular resource for students and researchers interested in the Esoteric Tradition.

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Production and Design by John Griogair Bell

All songs used with permission. All rights reserved.