Author Archives: John Griogair Bell

Église Gnostique

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Église Gnostique: History, Sacraments and Teachings by Jules Doinel, edited and translated by Rune Ødegaard.

Doinel Ødegaard Église Gnostique

This book from a small Norwegian press collects a variety of texts from the 19th century, chiefly by Jules Doinel, the founding patriarch of the Église Gnostique (or “Church of the Paraclete”). Editor and translator Rune Ødegaard apologizes that he is not a native French speaker, and invites correction regarding his understanding of the texts (16). Alas, on the evidence of spelling, grammar, and typographical errors, he is also not a native English speaker, and this book would definitely have benefited from further proofreading. 

The Église Gnostique was autochthonous, so to speak, emerging from Doinel’s antiquarian researches and his experiences in the seances of Lady Caithness’ circle. Its liturgy was chiefly an effort at Cathar revival (though admittedly less rigorous than the medieval original) and its doctrines drew on what Doinel and his fellow bishops were able to discover about the ancient Gnosis of Simon Magus and Valentinus. The valorization of the divine feminine was a chief mission of the church. Deacons and Deaconesses had complementary functions in ceremony, while male Bishops and female Sophias (“Sophials” in this book) were of equal rank in their sovereignty over congregations. 

Ødegaard supplies an original biography of Doinel and history of his church up to Doinel’s death in 1903. The historical primary documents which make up the remaining two-thirds of the book include creeds, catechisms, sacramental liturgies, homilies and other articles. Much of the doctrinal material was familiar to me from previous study, as were the main ceremonies. This reading did provide my first encounter with the (ultimately unproductive) chivalric component of Doinel’s organizing: the three grades of the Order of Knights of the Dove and the Paraclete. 

Latin hymns and prayers in the liturgies are largely untranslated. Ødegaard claims to have drawn on the archives of the Martinist Ordre Reaux Croix in Oslo for the basis of much of the book’s content, but individual items are not given source citations, and the “Main References” in the end matter specify just three further books, along with an “outdated online mms” regarding Gnostic Church History. Despite the book’s apparent scholarly weaknesses, it is a helpful digest of material from the early history of the modern Neognostic movement.

A preface consists of friendly impressions from an anonymous attendee at a 21st-century Gnostic service among Norwegians working in a filiation from the Église Gnostique. Ødegaard’s afterword laments the later shift of the Neognostic movement to emphasize apostolic succession and high-church liturgies, while downplaying Doinel’s work and visionary experiences. I am curious about what sort of “Sethian” Neognosticism is represented in the other books under Ødegaard’s independent byline.

The Last London

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Last London: True Fictions from an Unreal City by Iain Sinclair

Sinclair The Last London

I know I once read, and I suppose it may still be true, that London is the most surveilled city in the world, based on the number of CCTV cameras per person. An awareness of this reality is one of many that hovers in the margins of Iain Sinclair’s Last London, but the lines of the pages are Sinclair’s own indefatigable observation, overhearing, trailing, tailing, and cultural auditing, as he orbits through Olympicopolis, “Shardenfreude,” and a variety of other psychogeographical states and locales. The text combines his own stream-of-consciousness flâneur experiences with kledomancy, graffiti transcription and exegesis, literary anecdote and gossip, and historical research.

In the 1925 story “He,” H.P. Lovecraft wrote of New York City “the unwhisperable secret of secrets—the fact that this city of stone and stridor is not a sentient perpetuation of Old New York as London is of Old London and Paris of Old Paris, but that it is in fact quite dead, its sprawling body imperfectly embalmed and infested with queer animate things which have nothing to do with it as it was in life.” In the twenty-first century New York’s unlife has since spread to cities throughout the United States, and through the neoliberal metastases of capital it now spans the world, infecting even the London and Paris that Lovecraft used to supply a contrasting sense of durable urban vitality. (Not that HPL himself ever visited either city.) Arriving at this conclusion independently, Sinclair seeks in this book to preserve his observations of the “last London” as it succumbs to the virus.

The press of gentrification, speculative property redevelopment, and globalized real estate investment all contribute to the sense of expiration here. It’s the sterility and expropriation that are so fatal, not the decay and mutation. The book’s not sad, though. “I love it,” Sinclair writes of the “panoramic edgeland vista” he encounters in his effort to walk to Barking, under the spectre of the US Presidential election of Donald Trump (241). The final chapter is festive in a manner that might take less artistic people 20 to 40 micrograms to achieve. Also notable throughout is Sinclair’s network of fellow creatives, who accompany him and serve as rests, termini, and haunters of his walks. 

Many allusions to contemporary literature, politics, business, and so on are made at a rapid pace with little assistance to the reader’s comprehension. I guess that’s what search engines are for, when it seems important. The book is longish for its style, but Sinclair’s elliptical rants and musings all add up to a worthwhile read. He’s an author I’ve been curious about for many years, and I’m glad to have finally gotten around to reading this very current work.

Summary for the week ending Jul 8, 2018

Here’s a summary of activity for the week ending July 8, 2018.

I’ve received a package from Fiddler’s Green with things I’ll be sending out to Patrons with Postal Exchange and Publication Subscription perks. I should get those out this week, if I get them all sorted!

Don’t forget that I announced the call for submissions to Hermetic Library’s anthology album for 2018, Magick, Music and Ritual 14!

Hermetic Library Anthology 2018 Magick Music Ritual Call for Submissions

For some reason, I appear to have started doing some Iconomancy and Pilgrimage to Far-Distant Countries activity again, at least for now.

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 last month

Some top pages at the library

Some top posts on social media

The Mystery of Numbers

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Mystery of Numbers by Annemarie Schimmel.

Schimmel The Mystery of Numbers

The Mystery of Numbers was developed by Annemarie Schimmel from an earlier text in German by Franz Carl Endres. Presumably, Schimmel’s version (for publisher Ulf Diedrichs) was originally in German also. No translator is credited here, but Miriam Rosen was the editor, whether in English or German is unclear. Schimmel uses “components” (e.g. on page 14) to mean factors, which is a little confusing in US mathematical idiom, and possibly an artifact of translation from German. German folklore and poetry does loom a little large in a book that on the whole makes serious efforts to be a wide-ranging cross-cultural survey. 

There are seven chapters of “Introduction” discussing the history of number systems and evolution of number symbolism. Generally, depth is sacrificed for breadth, in an effort to touch on systems throughout Western history, and also in Asia and pre-Columbian America. The historical essays are followed by “A Little Dictionary of Numbers,” organized in numerical order starting at 1. The highest value to receive an entry is 10,000, but even below 50, many numbers significant to me are not represented with their own articles, such as 23, 31, 34, and 44. 

On the whole, the book is a decent introduction to its topic, and it can be a useful supplement to other more specialized treatments.

Death’s Master

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Death’s Master by Tanith Lee.

Lee Death's Master

This second of Tanith Lee’s Flat Earth novels is very good, but not as cover-to-cover amazing as the first. The hectic fabulism of the previous book slows down to a pace more similar to Lee’s earlier novels, such as The Birthgrave. Azhrarn, the demon monarch of Night’s Master, is still important in this book anchored by his peer Lord of Darkness Uhlume, who is Death himself. The real protagonists of the book, though, are the ambiguous heroes Zhirem and Simmu. 

My favorite part was probably the wonderfully-imagined undersea adventure of Zhirem, well toward the end of the book.

Anyone who destroys more than he creates must be miserable beyond expression. Question what you see by all means, but believe in something first.

Ramsey Campbell, Demons by Daylight

Hermetic quote Campbell Demons believe

In Bad Faith

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With The Opium Of The People by Andrew Levine.

Levine In Bad Faith

Andrew Levine not only supports what scholars of religion call the “secularization hypothesis,” according to which religions are in a gradual and global state of social decline, but he also subscribes to what one might term a secularization agenda: approving that decline and hoping that it proceeds swiftly. In this brief volume, he traces a line of investigation through a set of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Continental thinkers: Feuerbach, Durkheim, Nietzsche, and Freud. The question at issue for these four presumes the falsehood of conventional religion, and seeks to understand why it persists. 

Although I was in many respects entertained by and sympathetic to the treatment of the nineteenth-century figures, there was little new to me here. The one point in this book where I actually felt I was getting some fresh education was in Levine’s history of the emergence of liberal Judaism (175-180). This passage was set within a more general chapter on “The Liberal Turn” that provides accounts of liberalizing developments in Protestantism, Judaism, Catholicism, and Islam. 

The focus is exclusively on the European history of religion, along with its radiation to colonial and post-colonial environments. The book has nothing useful to say about Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or other religions outside of the “Abrahamic” traditions. At several points it offers and uses an explanation of Deism that seems to make theism a specialization of the more general Deist principles (20, 130). While this might be a way of characterizing their relationship in the logical space of theology (with credit to Ioan Culianu for that paradigm), it is misleading in terms of their genealogy and intellectual history. The Deist creed–to which hardly anyone any longer subscribes as such–was an early effort at liberalizing Western religion, a fact which is obscured in this book where it ought to be highlighted. 

Categorically hostile to religion, Levine is willing to dismiss all mystical experience as pathology. In this, I think he errs. For example, he takes drug-based instances of religious ecstasy as demonstrating that mystical raptures generally have “no cognitive import” (120). The fact (supported by drug evidence) is that mystical experience is not theologically probative. However, the similarities and interplay between religious and psychopharmaceutical phenomena are worth more serious consideration. Ethnobotanical theories of religious origins are not trivial, and lie well beyond the Feuerbachian and Freudian concepts of god-formation. 

The moral of Levine’s story is that full secularization–the extinction of religion–is needed and inevitable, but may not come soon enough. The engaging and somewhat ironic dimension of his analysis is that the liberalized religious communities will be the hardest to break of their delusions, weak tea though they may be. Liberalism may serve as a vaccine against the godlessness needed to achieve human freedom.

Unfortunately, it is human nature to seek simple solutions to complex problems, and when a “solution” is found that is not immediately disastrous, it is often embraced with enthusiasm far outstripping its actual merit.

Robert Kroese, Starship Grifters

Hermetic quote Kroese Grifters solutions