Category Archives: Hermetic Library Reading Room

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition, Hermeticism in a broad sense, and Aleister Crowley’s Thelema. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

It was as if one of these people—he always thought of them as “these people,” much as he had grown to like and to admire them—should find himself dealing with a group of very alert and resourceful chimpanzees.

Walter Tevis, The Man Who Fell to Earth

Forgotten Templars

Hermetic Library fellow Colin Campbell reviews Forgotten Templars: The Untold Origins of Ordo Templi Orientis by Richard Kaczynski.

Every so often, I am reminded what a crap writer and researcher I am. Those times often, and justifiably, coincide with Richard Kaczynski publishing something. Did he really have to put out a second edition of Perdurabo just to rub it in, though?

Just released is a new title, Forgotten Templars: The Untold Origins of Ordo Templi Orientis. For the most part, people equate O.T.O. with the most famous of its members, and second Grand Master, Aleister Crowley, but beyond that knowledge of the founders drops off precipitously. In fact, Crowley was not even a founding member, though it is argued that he really did “get the ball – pun intended – rolling” as it were. Those more familiar with the history might be able to come up with Theodore Reuss, but fewer still would be capable of listing out names like Klein, Hartmann, Kellner, or Krumm-Heller.

Like Perdurabo, this book has a lot of information, is meticulously researched, and contains a great number of pictures from both modern day and the relevant time period to help set the visual setting for the underlying events.

As the book began as a research project on Henry Klein, it begins with this man’s own journey through his life in the music business and eventually into esoteric Masonry in the heyday of rite-swapping that invariably connects with the likes of John Yarker (given no short mention in the book). Reuss, Hartmann, and Kellner are subsequently covered in greater detail than I have seen elsewhere at any time, and I found it especially helpful to have the additional context of their personal lives apart from their strictly Masonic work.

From the detail of the individual personages comes an exceptional exposition of the nascent origins of OTO and its basis in the various extant (worked or otherwise) rites circulating at the time. This, for me, was the most fascinating part, as you can see the groundwork laid toward the gradual development and emergence of OTO pre-Crowley, whereas most literature has focused on post-Crowley. In fact, only in the final chapter is Crowley’s association and subsequent contributions (not inconsiderable, given that he re-wrote the initiation rituals) covered: and they are that much better for having the detailed background leading up to his involvement.

Forgotten Templars is exceptionally well researched, well organized, and equally well written, and without a doubt should adorn the shelf of anyone with an interest in the historical context of the OTO. Kaczynski has done an amazing job. Again. [via]

Grimoire of Aleister Crowley

Hermetic Library fellow Colin Campbell reviews Grimoire of Aleister Crowley: Group Rituals in the Age of Thelema by Rodney Orpheus.

It’s not that I didn’t expect Grimoire of Aleister Crowley: Group Rituals in the Age of Thelema by Rodney Orpheus to be great, which it is, I’ve just never considered myself a “group ritual” sort of guy. Okay, there are certain rituals that are greatly enhanced by the presence of another person, like the tango, but aside from those… and a few others…. Alright, I guess it made me admit to myself just how much group work I participate in despite my self-proclaimed (and self-perceived) mindset. My name is Colin, and I… I find benefit in social interaction. There, I said it. Eleven steps to go.

Let’s start with the introduction by Lon Milo DuQuette. In a word: excellent. I am continually astonished and amazed at the depth and insight that he provides, and the clarity that he brings to the complexities of Thelema and the “spiritual journey” (for lack of a better term) in general. He addresses the conundrum of magick, whose object is a change in the individual, being seemingly at odds with the idea of ceremonial group work. This is an important prelude to the work, and he handles the topic admirably.

Within the work itself, each ritual is given a historical introduction. Every one is well written and provides a fantastic background to the ritual itself. It notes the time at which Crowley constructed the ritual, the backstory, and on a practical note also cites the expected duration, layout, number of participants, equipment and other mundanities that make for a smooth performance. There is also an introductory section on general safety that should serve more than profitable for someone not well-seasoned in this sort of work. No one wants to be known as “[N] the One-Eyed Magician”.

As I cannot possibly touch on each and every one of the fifteen rituals included (plus some more in the appendix), and a short sentence itself would be an equal disservice, I will take them in total and say that each is well thought out, practical, and provides ample instruction for the novice to the journeyman and beyond. Any organized body of magicians (an oxymoron, I know) would benefit from this on a bookshelf, and I highly encourage it specifically for building up a magical current in such a group. My favorites include the “two fragments of ritual” that evolved into “A Ritual to Invoke HICE” and “The Supreme Ritual”, the “Mithraic Liturgy”, “An Evocation of Bartzabel the Spirit of Mars”, and “The Bacchanal”.

To risk both cliche and hyperbole at once, the Grimoire of Aleister Crowley is an instant classic. It is a fantastic work, combining practical advice, experience and historical perspective to deliver a truly exceptional modern grimoire.

All opinions expressed herein are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organizations that I might be affiliated with, employed by, &c. [via]

The Arch Conjuror of England

Hermetic Library fellow Colin Campbell reviews The Arch Conjuror of England: John Dee by Glyn Parry.

Firstly, I would like to suggest that if and when I am named the arch-conjuror of the United States, or a particular state, or perhaps even the local Starbucks, I would prefer it to be done so without the hyphen. “Archconjurer” just seems more tidy to me; but then again, arch-nemesis is hyphenated, so there’s the counterpoint to my own argument. Or should it be “counter-point”? Either way, someone had better conjure up an iced grande skinny vanilla latte, no whip, or there will be hell to pay.

I just finished up Glyn Parry’s work ‘The Arch-Conjuror of England: John Dee”. I was very excited about this book, firstly because I had to get it all the way from England, or rather all the way from Amazon.uk which makes me feel like the consummate occult hipster (at least outside of the UK), and secondly because it was about John Dee, about whose work I wrote a little bit about some time back. Furthermore, the author is from New Zealand, which country I was in while finishing up the last edits on the aforementioned work, The Magic Seal of Dr. John Dee, The Sigillum Dei Aemeth. I mean, what are the odds? I was meant to read this book – nothing short of Divine providence, I tell you!

And read it, I did. Now, readers be warned, this is not a book like most books on Dee that follow his career in conjuration, exposing all the minute details of his magical system that continue to baffle a number of us well past the point of insanity. There are no speculations on odd lettering or table construction, his seemingly endless dependency on the letter ‘b’, or what Angelic Governors might rule over IP address sub-domains of the World Wide Web. This book is different: it’s about politics, especially the red-state/blue-state conflict of the era, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation that set the stage for the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. This conflict would include, of course, the treatment of “popish” – that’s “Pope-ish” – witchcraft and conjuring, bringing Dee right into the midst of the milieu.

While a number of books from magically-inclined authors have noted political machinations as a side-note to the magical work of Dr. Dee, this work does us all the exceptional favor of looking at it from the other direction. Its focus is on the politics and intrigue of Tudor England from the time surrounding Dee’s birth through to his death in 1609. (Parry actually provides reference to external documents showing Dee died in 1609, and not in 1608, about which there has been some debate given the absence of Dee’s diary entries past the earlier of the two dates.) Magic is thus relegated to the side-plot, though not entirely, as its involvement and/or utility in court matters (royal, not legal) was often the measure of Dee’s fleeting successes and failures. It also focuses on his much-overlooked work with alchemy, usually deemed to be Kelley’s forte, but only because the latter seems to have been the more successful promoter of his efforts.

Those of us that have studied Dee know that he was at least at times close to Queen Elizabeth and had the pleasurable acquaintance of many in the upper echelons of the Elizabethan court. However, Dee’s own diaries do not give us much insight into the background of these interactions, nor the many political ramifications that might precede or promote them. Parry’s book does so marvellously, detailing the plots, sub-plots, twists and deceptions behind the national and international political climates of the time.

So, if you are looking for a work on the magic of Dr. Dee, this is not it. There are a few of those about, however, and a quick search on certain online auction sites can quickly part you from a great deal of your money should you choose to pursue some of them. (There are also a number of them readily available that can do so for a much more reasonable price.) However, if you are looking for a fantastic book on the politics underlying and informing the magical work of John Dee, then this is definitely the book. I am glad to have made the purchase.

Sincerely,

Colin Campbell, Arch-Reviewer of New England [via]

re·bar·ba·tive adj. FORMAL unattractive and objectionable: rebarbative modern buildings. late 19th cent.: from French rébarbatif, -ive, from Old French se rebarber ‘face each other “beard to beard” aggressively’, from barbe ‘beard’.

Erin McKean, The New Oxford American Dictionary

Red Dragon

Hermetic Library fellow Colin Campbell reviews Red Dragon, Le Véritable Dragon Rouge, trans. Joshua A Wentworth, introduction by Silens Manus, from Teitan Press.

In full disclosure, I have published through Teitan Press, so I may be somewhat predisposed toward their catalog. The truth is, they simply do great work, which is why I feel fortunate to have published through them in the first place. Thus, when I was alerted to their limited release (800 copies) of the infamous grimoire “Le Veritable Dragon Rouge”, I rushed to pick up a copy and once again found myself more than glad to have done so.

First, in accordance with their style, the binding is wonderfully done, hard bound in black with an image of the red dragon stamped in gold. (I suppose that makes it a gold dragon.) The backings are a brilliant scarlet, which really “sets the mood” for an infamous book of black magic. I’m a binding fetishist, so those sort of things are important to me. Both the editorial and introductory work are written under pseudonyms, and each adds a great deal of background context to the text and its origins. I am not in any way privy to who the contributors are, nor would I be at liberty to speak of it if I did; all I know is that neither one is me.

While dated 1521, Le Veritable Dragon Rouge appears to have been produced closer to three hundred years later (if not precisely three hundred years later) during the French occult revival.[1] Perhaps my favorite quote is a citation in the front material that states the work is “remarkable for compressing in a hundred and six small pages as much grave absurdity as ordinarily would suffice to fill a folio.” Frankly, that’s what makes it so much fun!

Instructions are given for making the philosopher’s stone (almost certain to kill you), how to maim your enemies, making a pact with the Devil, making women dance naked (okay, I’m listening…), and winning the lottery. All of these, pursuant to the genre, are aimed at very material ends, though again the methods are straight out of a B-grade horror film.

There is a note preceding the text (included by the current author and publisher) that one should not try any of the practices detailed therein: wise counsel, indeed.[2] However, there are elements of the grimoire tradition in it that are not so far afield – orations calling upon the names of God, preparations of magical instruments such as a wand and magick mirror, and the like. Aside from that, you are instructed to slaughter the better half of a barnyard to get your work done, including a goat, a wolf, a cat, a badger, and so on. Please understand that no one should actually perform these operations. Unless you’re an idiot. Even then, really…

An infernal hierarchy is also detailed, which is interesting in and of itself, as this is a common preoccupation of necromantic/nigromantic grimoires. A partial listing of spirits from Goetia is given, eighteen of them as subservient entities to their infernal overlords, and their order matches exactly that of Wier’s Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, making it almost certainly the source of the listing. Lucifer, Beelzebub and Astaroth are given as the chief spirits, the latter rather interesting in that it is not Satan. A “Satanachia” is given a lesser rank thereafter.

Lastly, the secret of the Black Hen (Poulet Noire) is detailed, wherein one is able to get whatever he or she desires. It reminds me once again of Goetia in the description of the Seal of Solomon, which is to be written with “the Blood of a Black Cock which never trode hen.” (See if that phrase gets past your adult content filter!) In this case, however, the shoe is on the other foot, as it calls for a hen that has never been approached by a rooster. Naturally, you are instructed to kill it, after which a few orations are said, a spirit appears, and is then bound to do your bidding.

All in all, the work is well done and very interesting from a historical context if not a practical one. (Practical magic so-called is a complete misnomer in the first place, mind you.) Nonetheless, I am glad to have it on my shelf (finally!) as one of the key texts in the lineage of the grimoire period. It even sounds cool:”Le Veritable Dragon Rouge.” Try rolling that off your tongue a few times and tell me you don’t want that title on your shelf!

Note: inviting someone to look at your “red dragon” may have unintended consequences.

… and yes, if any of this “red dragon” talk brought you back to your Dungeons & Dragons days, wondering how many hit points the book might possess, then congratulations: you are a nerd. Like me.

[1] I am not aware of any direct connection, but it reeks of Simon Blocquel. He is perhaps indirectly famous for Le Triple Vocabulaire Infernal, used by A.E. Waite as a sourcework in the Book of Black Magic and Pacts, as well as being the source for Jimmy Page’s (Do I need to mention Led Zeppelin here?) “Zoso” symbol.

NB: Jimmy Page is awesome.

[2] My use of the text was nixed at the admonition to not enjoy the company “of women or girls” for the space of a week. Totally not worth it. [via]