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.

Ancient Light

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Ancient Light by John Banville.

Banville Ancient Light

John Banville’s two previous novels about Alexander Cleave and his daughter Cass (Eclipse and Shroud) were synchronized with one another, so that neither was needed to appreciate the other, but either would “spoil” the other’s ending. I expected this third book, focusing on Alexander Cleave a decade later, to be a continuation of Eclipse for which Shroud would not furnish any explicit background. I had not reckoned on Banville’s ability to construct one of the most elaborate instances of dramatic irony I have ever encountered on the printed page. It started early, and continued for nearly the entire book within one of the two major plot strands. I don’t know how the book would have read in the absence of that very vivid irony, which depended entirely on familiarity with Shroud.

“Cleave” is aptly named in this book, split between memories of his sixteenth summer, when he had an affair with his best friend’s thirty-five-year-old mother, and his first movie role fifty years later, coming out of retirement from his stage acting career. Just as the titles of the previous books applied to their contents in over-determined polyvalent ways, so too does “ancient light.” The other titles appear again, subtly worked in to the closing passages, where Banville also quite overtly opens towards a possible further volume.

I liked Ancient Light better than Eclipse and perhaps not quite as much as Shroud. Consistent with the others, the prose is writerly, but still tailored to the voice of the principal character, and the book is filled with sensuous observation along with both epistemological and emotional difficulty. Critic Keshava Guha derided Ancient Light for its “vagueness,” but I found it to have a real precision in the construction of its characters and the development of its themes.

Omnium Gatherum: October 12, 2018

An irregular hodgepodge of links gathered together … Omnium Gatherum for October 12, 2018

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

  • With “Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina” And “Charmed,” Witches Have Made Their TV Comeback. In Sabrina and Charmed, the main characters are literally empowered to take on the patriarchy.” — Alana Bennett, Buzzfeed

    “Once again, these shows center on young women learning to champion their powers and, by extension, themselves. Both model “girl power” through a 2018 lens — with the conscious inclusion of a more diverse cast and a connection to the darkness that surrounds modern conversations around feminism.”

  • Chilling Adventures of Sabrina | Clip: Salem Appears” — Netflix

  • Witchcraft Spells Being Cast Following Kavanaugh Confirmation #WitchTheVote” — Paul Bois, Daily Wire

    “The witch trial of Justice Brett Kavanaugh has inspired actual witches to cast spells in his name, including the organization of a “Hex Kavanaugh” event.”

  • Sabrina’s Weird Sisters Share How They Developed Their Creepy Bond” —
    Beth Elderkin, io9

    “I didn’t find out until they actually got here who they had chosen. So I was like, ‘Oh my god, yes! Yeah! You two were my choices—they didn’t ask me but you two were my choices!’” Gabrielle added.

  • Servants of the Star & the Snake: Essays in Honour of Kenneth & Steffi Grant [also], compiled and edited by Henrik Bogdan, from Starfire Publishing [HT Watkins Books]

    Bogdan Servants of the Star and the Snake

    Servants of the Star & the Snake is a scintillant and substantial collection of writings in celebration of the work of Kenneth and Steffi Grant. Their diverse published work extends across six decades, taking in articles on Advaita in Indian magazines from the early 1950s; a series of illustrated essays, known collectively as the Carfax Monographs, from the late 1950s to the early 1960s; their magnum opus, the Typhonian Trilogies, from 1972 to 2002; studies of the work of Austin Osman Spare in 1975 and 1998; poetry collections in 1963, 1970 and 2005; and a series of novellas from 1997 to 2012.

    Each piece of writing included in Servants of the Star & the Snake explores a different facet of this extensive body of work. Whilst the contributors have adopted different approaches to their subjects – ranging from scholarly discussions through to fictional narratives – what they have in common is an appreciation of the extraordinary work and legacy of the most influential couple in the history of modern occultism, Kenneth and Steffi Grant.

    The pieces of writing which comprise this fascinating and inspiring collection include:

    Kenneth Grant: Servant-Satguru-Savant, by Martin P. Starr;
    From Zos-Kia to the As-If: Kenneth Grant and Austin Osman Spare, by Michael Staley;
    Advaita Vedanta in the Works of Kenneth Grant, by Henrik Bogdan;
    Kenneth Grant and Lord Kusum Haranath, by Ruth Bauer;
    From Central Africa to the Mauve Zone: Gerald Massey’s Influence on Kenneth Grant’s Idea of the Typhonian Tradition, by Christian Giudice;
    Lam and the Typhonian Tradition, by Michael Staley;
    Inside Outer Space, by Kyle Fite;
    The Other Woman: Babalon and the Scarlet Woman in Kenneth Grant’s Typhonian Trilogies, by Manon Hedenborg-White;
    The Nuclear Art of Steffi Grant, by Henrik Bogdan;
    The Art of Darkness: Kenneth Grant and the Unity of the Soul, by Vadge Moore;
    Kenneth Grant and Maat, by Nema;
    Clarity versus Weirdness: A Vital Tension Within Magical Culture, by Ramsey Dukes;
    Foundations of the Typhonian Trilogies, by Michael Staley;
    Beyond Crowley: The Foundations of Sexual Magick, by Jan Fries;
    Evocation of the Fire Snake: Kenneth Grant and Tantra, by Henrik Bogdan;
    The Magic in Fiction, by Alistair Coombs;
    The Role of H. P. Lovecraft in the Work of Kenneth Grant, by Stephen Dziklewicz;
    Shakti in Chinatown, by Michael Bertiaux.

  • Far right, misogynist, humourless? Why Nietzsche is misunderstood. The German philosopher has been adopted by the alt-right, but he hated antisemitism. He has been misappropriated and misread, argues his biographer” — Sue Prideaux, The Guardian; writing about the ideas in her book I Am Dynamite!: A Life of Nietzsche, due Oct 30th

    Prideaux I Am Dynamite

    “Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx and Charles Darwin are the great triumvirate of 19th-century thinkers whose ideas still have huge impact today. Nietzsche was philosophy’s supreme iconoclast; his sayings include “God is dead” and “There are no facts, only interpretations”. Highly relevant, yet his association with concepts such as the Übermensch, master morality, slave morality and, possibly most dangerous, the will to power, have also contributed to him being widely misinterpreted. There are three myths in particular that need dynamiting: that his politics were on the far right, he was a misogynist and he lacked a sense of humour.

    Misappropriation has been rife.”

  • Pope blames devil for Church divisions, scandals, seeks angel’s help” — Philip Pullella, Reuters; from the Nobody-Did-It dept.

    “The devil is alive and well and working overtime to undermine the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis says.

    In fact, the pope is so convinced that Satan is to blame for the sexual abuse crisis and deep divisions racking the Church that he has asked Catholics around the world to recite a special prayer every day in October to try to beat him back.

    “(The Church must be) saved from the attacks of the malign one, the great accuser and at the same time be made ever more aware of its guilt, its mistakes, and abuses committed in the present and the past,” Francis said in a message on Sept. 29.”

  • Swedish girl Saga pulls out pre-Viking era sword from lake” — Associated Press

    “Her name conjures up Old Nordic tales about heroic accomplishments and that’s exactly what Saga this summer did when she stumbled on a pre-Viking-era sword in a southern Sweden lake.

    Saga Vanecek, 8, was helping her father with his boat in the Vidostern lake when she stepped on an 85-centimeter (34-inch) sword in a holster made of wood and leather. The sword is believed to be about 1,500 years old.”

  • Tweet by Sarah Anne Lawless

  • Towards Liber LVI: The Sainthood of Woman” — T Meithras, Ecclesia Gnostica Universalis (in Anglia)

    “Our on-going project of creating a new, Thelemic Gnostic Mass to explore the Alchemical Mysteries of transformation and rejuvenation from a different perspective, while celebrating and enthroning the role of Woman in the tradition, has attracted some interest exactly as we expected.

    Here we offer a non-definitive list of the mythical and historical figures of female Adepts we are establishing communion with […]”

    “As for the list of male Gnostic Saints of Liber XV, this too is not to be considered exhaustive, but rather a celebration of some of the brighter Stars who helped to Perfect, and Manifest, the Feast we partake with the Holy Spirit.”

  • Hypervelocity alien stars could be invading the Milky Way” — Anthony Wood, New Atlas

    “Astronomers have discovered a population of incredibly fast-moving stars bearing down on the Milky Way. It is possible that these newly found “hypervelocity” stellar bodies were created in another galaxy, before being hurled out into intergalactic space on a collision course with the Milky Way.”

  • Tweet by Order of Sasquatch

  • William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ‘n’ Roll by Hermetic Library Anthology Artist Casey Rae, due June 2019

  • William S. Burroughs’ “The Revised Boy Scout Manual”: An Electronic Revolution (Bulletin) by William S Burroughs, edited by Geoffrey D Smith and John M Bennett, afterword by V Vale [HT Xeni Jardin]

    Burroughs The Revised Boy Scout Manual

    “Before the era of fake news and anti-fascists, William S. Burroughs wrote about preparing for revolution and confronting institutionalized power. In this work, Burroughs’ parody becomes a set of rationales and instructions for destabilizing the state and overthrowing an oppressive and corrupt government. As with much of Burroughs’ work, it is hard to say if it is serious or purely satire. The work is funny, horrifying, and eerily prescient, especially concerning the use of language and social media to undermine institutions.

    The Revised Boy Scout Manual was a work Burroughs revisited many times, but which has never before been published in its complete form. Based primarily on recordings of a performance of the complete piece found in the archives at the OSU libraries, as well as various incomplete versions of the typescript found at Arizona State University and the New York Public Library archives, this lost masterpiece of satiric subversion is finally available in its entirety.”

  • Philip Pullman: why we believe in magic. The world of magic defies rational explanation, but beware dismissing it as nonsense. Like religious experience and poetry, it is a crucial aspect of being human, writes the Dark Materials author” — Philip Pulman, The Guardian; writing about Spellbound: Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft at the Ashmolean, an exhibit through January 2019 [HT Matthew Frederick]

    “A new exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford brings together a multitude of objects and artworks – there’s a “poppet” or rag doll with a stiletto stuck through its face, an amulet containing a human heart, a wisp of “ectoplasm” apparently extruded by a medium in Wales, and too many others to count – from a dark world of nonsense and superstition that we ought to have outgrown a long time ago. At least, that’s how I imagine rationality would view it. I find myself in an awkward position rationality-wise, because my name is listed on the website of the Rationalist Association as a supporter, and at the same time I think this exhibition is full of illuminating things, and the mental world it illustrates is an important – no, an essential part of the life we live. I’d better try to work out what I mean.”

it is no longer individuals only, or cities, that enrich themselves by distant commerce and export; but whole nations grow rich at the cost of those nations which lag behind in their industrial development.

Petr Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread

Hermetic quote Kropotkin Bread rich

Call for submissions on the research topic Enneagrams

I am announcing today an ongoing call for submissions on Enneagrams, and related specific research topics such as George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, Fourth Way, and so on. These are topics that would be of interest to the audience of the library, which includes academics, researchers, practitioners, and the curious.

Hermetic Library Call for Submissions on Research Topics

If you would like to pitch a new work, please pitch your idea! Hermetic Library would like to encourage you to create your new art, writing, video, or … something else? Gratitude, gratis music downloads, and an honorarium payment, supported by the ongoing Patrons of the library, are all available for creators of successful submissions.

If you have an existing work, please consider submitting that to the Hermetic Library Zine. Hermetic Library irregularly issues a ‘zine with various materials, when there are enough submissions available.

There’s also a lot that could be done for the library, in terms of adding key entries into Hermeneuticon wiki and more. So, consider getting in touch if you are willing and able to help.

This research topic was suggested by one of my ongoing Patrons with the Research Topic perk. If you’d like to participate in the submissions process, or help in developing research topics, become a Patron of Hermetic Library today!

Conan the Free Lance

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Conan the Free Lance by Steve Perry.

Perry Conan the Free Lance

I had honestly hoped–and with good reason, I think–that Conan the Free Lance would be the worst Conan novel I had ever read. But I’m afraid that distinction still belongs to the same author’s Conan the Indomitable. The two do have formal similarities that are worth remark in the larger world of Conan pastiche novels.

Despite frequent invocations of the geography invented by Robert E. Howard, Steve Perry’s setting for Conan tales seems more like the planet Mongo than it does the Hyborian Age. It teems with intelligent species of widely divergent origins, and he seems happy to introduce two or more exotic races per book. In this one, we have Pili (naturally-evolved lizard-men), Selkies (thaumaturgically-created fish-men), and other creatures formed by sorcery: skreeches, eels of power, and the Kralix.

There is more use of a comic narrative tone than is customary in Conan pastiche, and not with Howard’s original sense of black humor. The various sexual incidents, although not presented graphically, have a sort of juvenile camp atmosphere. And the climactic battle in this book has more than a whiff of farce about it. The chief villain, despite his vast sorcerous power, is injudicious to the point of witlessness. Also, feigned archaic diction is thrown in with some unwelcome regularity, and it manages to sound “wrong” even when it’s grammatically correct.

The characters are flat, and the plot is unremarkable. All I got from this book was the satisfaction that it was almost as bad as I thought it would be.

Unflattening

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Unflattening by Nick Sousanis.

Sousanis Unflattening

Unflattening is a book-length comics composition–hardly a “graphic novel,” since it is a work of non-fiction. Author/artist Nick Sousanis adapted it from his own academic dissertation. The contents are highly reflexive, and consist for the most part of a discussion of parallax and its value in perception, epistemology, social change, and even biology. It is an inspirational book that is entirely free of supernaturalism or speculative “woo.” Although its first and primary explanatory paradigm is the hypergeometry intimated by Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, Sousanis does not insist on a fourth spatial dimension, only further conceptual dimensions beyond those of the reader’s conscious orientation.

Although the book has only eight short chapters, the individual pages are “long.” There is an exhibition of parallax in the complementary but non-identical content of the the words and images, a phenomenon explicitly discussed in the course of the book. Part of the “distance” between the verbal and visual contents is the difference in the form of citation. When the text cites a writer (e.g. Buckminster Fuller or George Lakoff), Sousanis mentions the source at the site of the reference. But when the images cite precedent visual sources (e.g. the Mona Lisa or Doctor Who‘s TARDIS) these are usually just verbally identified in the endnotes, if at all. (There are some exceptions: “after Boticelli,” “after Watterson.”) One or two pages might be enough for a single sitting, if one “reads” them carefully–attending to the images, reading the words, and reviewing both to see the ways in which they inform one another. The reader should be attentive to the full page as the unit of composition, rather than allowing the gutters between panels to restrict attention. Sousanis emphasizes the value of simultaneity in visual presentation, as opposed to the linear seriality of text.

This volume encodes a lot of valuable concepts, but none of them were really new to me. It expresses an outlook with which I am in sympathy, and it does so in a manner that I think is really admirable.

They bore witness, in a serious and ceremonious manner, to the unravelling of this union.

Uvi Poznansky and Zeev Kachel, Home

Hermetic quote Poznansky Kachel Home unravelling

Summary for the week ending Oct 7, 2018

Here’s a summary of activity for the week ending October 7th, 2018.

Still looking for help and others to join me in a working community around the library, of course.

Lots of new pages and work on old pages on the site, which is pretty much every week, really. You can always check the front page of the site which shows the most recent changes and new pages, or check out the Recent Changes special page for a full list.

Want to join me on this blog and create new art or writing for Hermetic Library? Pitch your Idea.

Help get some conversations started over on the BBS and Chat.

Be sure to check out the actual Hermetic Library, and drop a buck in the tip jar or become a Patron.

Consider also checking out what I’m up to on my personal blog and at Odd Order.

Here’s a summary of posts on the blog from this last week

Some top pages at the library

Some top posts on social media