Author Archives: John Griogair Bell

About John Griogair Bell

My name is John. I'm the enigmatic super villain, known only, to some, as the Librarian.

Start with Why

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher] by Simon Sinek, book 1 of the Start with Why series.

Sinek Start with Why

There are no genuine new ideas in this managerial self-help screed. Rigorous adherence to advertising principles of repetition makes the book a chore to read, no matter how engaging some of the individual anecdotes might be. The main theses are more concisely expressed in the TED Talk version, where author Simon Sinek nevertheless comes off almost as a parody of a motivational speaker.

While Thelemic doctrine uses “Why” to indicate rationalization, Sinek wants to use it to mean purpose, aim, or will. Alas, often enough in his various case studies of corporate business CEO heroism, he accepts the self-serving rationalizations of such figures as their genuine aims. For example, he praises Bill Gates as embracing “a higher cause” summarized as “A PC in every home and on every desk” (194)–as if Gates were interested in empowering people with personal computers, as opposed to seeking 100% market share for MS-DOS and Windows by means of notorious anti-competitive strategies that distinguished Microsoft among its rivals. Siknek also adulates Sam Walton as a salt-of-the-earth type who “talked about building stores in rural communities so that the backbone of America’s workforce didn’t have to travel to the urban centers,” which is rich. Walmart’s willingness to set up shop in small towns, drain off the local economies, pull up stakes and move on is cast as a virtuous service to consumers.

Sinek’s “Golden Circle” is a model that he asserts is bolstered by neurobiological findings, but there’s little consequence to that justification, which is largely rhetorical. It does attempt to integrate the fact that effective decision-making is pre-verbal and non-rational. In light of models and nomenclature I prefer, I found his WHY-HOW-WHAT anatomy opaque and muddled. For my purposes, the three-part formula would be better expressed as Will-Work-Result (cf. CCXX I:44) . But I did think that the corresponding sequence of clarity-discipline-consistency was well formulated.

Near the end of the book, Sinek supplies a conversion account, in which he was saved by the power of “WHY,” brought through an entrepreneurial dark night of the soul to behold the power of the Golden Circle. This evangelical narrative helps to demonstrate his motive for identifying “WHY” with “belief,” which is again at odds with the ways in which I constellate these symbols or the ways in which I would seek to help others use them.

“If Will stops and cries Why, invoking Because, then Will stops & does nought. If Power asks why, then is Power weakness.” (CCXX II:30-31)

there are no eternal truths, no divine virtues, no heavenly ethics decreed by any God upon mankind. Morals are not carved into stones as commandments by a God; they are a product of societal agreements among people. Mankind makes its own rules, laws, and morals.

Tom Taylor, Aphorisms to the Individual: Notes for my Sons [Amazon]

Hermetic quote Taylor Aphorisms to the Individual no eternal truths divine virtues heavenly ethics mankind makes its own rules laws and morals


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Nunquam [Amazon, Publisher] by Lawrence Durrell, book 2 of The Revolt of Aphrodite series.

Durrell Nunquam

Nunquam is the second half of a “novel in two parts,” of which Tunc is the first. There’s no point in planning to read only one of them, or of taking them out of sequence. All of the critical stage-setting and character development for Nunquam takes place in Tunc, and Tunc opens numerous plot-lines without even artfully suspending them before their resolutions in Nunquam. The Latin titles are taken from the phrase aut tunc, aut nunquam, which is to say: “either then or never.” (53) Neither part is terribly long, and I would recommend reading them in the combined edition titled The Revolt of Aphrodite.

Hardly any new characters are introduced in Nunquam. About a quarter of the way into this second volume, the narrator/protagonist Felix finally gets to meet in person the mysterious Julian Pahlevi, his elusive employer. The meeting is the occasion for a rather spectacular monologue on Julian’s part. (70 ff.) All the characters who do recur go through significant transformations, and this fact is a further point which demands that Tunc be read first. 

While carrying forward the contemporary setting of the first book (written in the late 1960s), Nunquam seems less modern, more grounded in archetypal narratives. Still, such grounding provides a basis for considering the cultural and psychological changes wrought in modernity. Nunquam has both explicit allusions to and thematic resonance with the Pygmalion and Faust stories, not to mention their prior modern synthesis in Frankenstein. The last invites as much contrast as comparison when it comes to the matter of sex and gender, which is not at all peripheral to The Revolt of Aphrodite.

Although Durrell wrote that in going from the first volume to the second he “tried to move from the preposterous to the sublime,” he does so by heightening the absurdities of his scenario. Durrell also described The Revolt of Aphrodite as an interpretation of the preface to Spengler’s Decline of the West. Having enjoyed the novel in both its parts, I’m now thoroughly tempted to follow up by reading its purported inspiration.

When you have magic powers and know it, it can be a fine feeling, like a pleasant tingling inside. But in order to enjoy that tingling, you have to know just how much magic you have and what the rules are for using it.

Edward Eager, Half Magic [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher]

Hermetic quote Eager Half Magic magic powers know feeling pleasant what the rules are


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher] by Bernard McGinn.

McGinn Antichrist

This accessible, well-documented history of the development of the story of Antichrist was surprisingly unexciting. Although a work would have to be much larger to treat exhaustively of the topic, McGinn’s is nearly as comprehensive as its scale permits. He proceeds at a steady pace from pre-Christian antiquity through the late twentieth century, and by the end, he proposes that he and the reader should be tired of the topic. (280)

Theologian McGinn dismisses mythicists like me as a “lunatic fringe” for being skeptical of the evidence for a “historical Jesus.” (34) But his fractious consensus of “New Testament scholars” is even less persuasive than the because-we-say-so of traditional clergy. And, although he is himself evidently a Christian (of the non-Fundamentalist sort, he is quite clear), he seems not to have faith in any sort of antichrist himself, nor to think that an incarnation of the Lie could be a constructive idea for modern believers. 

Writing in the early 1990s, the author may have anticipated a market for Antichrist related to the approach of the year 2000, but he certainly couldn’t have foreseen the Obama Antichrist rumor and ‘net meme that would arise later. Reading his account of the traditional ingredients of Antichrist legend, it is possible to see, for example, deep synergy between the Antichrist allegations and the charge of crypto-Islam aimed at the 44th US President. Another bizarre potential correlation is for born-again Christian George W. Bush to be the “Last Emperor” who is supposed to precede the reign of Antichrist. (The early medieval trope of the Last Emperor is typically absent from the Dispensationalist neo-Millenialism common to today’s Christianist chiliasts, though.) 

One significant element missing from McGinn’s treatment–in its modern phase at least–is the appearance of professed antichrists, such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Jack Parsons. While it could be tempting to excuse such an oversight by disqualifying such figures as lying outside of the spectrum of Christian belief, the book does actually include treatments of Jewish and Muslim Antichrist parallels, as well as a discussion of Jung’s secular psychological theory of Antichrist. 

Overall, the book is useful for readers wanting to get a historical handle on the Antichrist concept and its evolution. McGinn claims that Antichrist belief has become marginal and unoriginal in modern times, but he admits that there’s no way to be sure of the extent to which it formerly penetrated popular consciousness. And I would add that not all our current elites are as erudite as Professor McGinn, so his admission that Fundamentalist Evangelicals are “a limited, if powerful, segment” of Christianity should give the socially-reflective reader pause regarding just how irrelevant the anticipation of Antichrist may be.