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.

Golden Dawn Rituals and Commentaries

J S Kupperman reviews Golden Dawn Rituals and Commentaries by Pat Zalewski at Temples, Portals and Vaults in Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition, No 0, Introduction to the Western Mystery Tradition.

Zalewski Golden Dawn Rituals and Commentaries

Zalewksi brings student of the Golden Dawn tradition previously unpublished material from one of the original off-shoot Temples of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

The work is published in three volumes, each dealing with a differing aspect of the Golden Dawn. Volume one includes an introduction and history of the Golden Dawn and the Smaragdum Thalasses (ST), the New Zealand branch of the Order founded by Dr. Felkin after the schism in 1903. The rest of the volume contains the grade ceremonies of the Outer Order as used by the ST. The reader may find that these ceremonies somewhat different from previously published versions. Zalewski states that they more closely resemble those used by the original GD and Mathers’ Alpha et Omega than those used by the Stella Matutina.

Volume two consists of Zalewksi’s commentaries on the rituals, as well as anecdotal accounts from his teacher Jack Taylor, a 7=4 and long-time Hierophant under Mrs. Felkin. Each ritual commentary has its own introduction, diagrams, and figures, including tarot cards for each path. Those familiar with Zalekwski’s The Magical Tarot of the Golden Dawn will find that these tarot cards differ from those used in his first self-published book. Where this volume shines, however, is in its publication of parts of a 6=5 paper on the god-forms and currents of energy in the temple by Moina Mathers.

Volume three of Rituals and Commentaries focuses on the Portal and Adeptus Minor initiation rituals. This volume contains both the ritual texts and commentaries on these ceremonies, as well as the list of 302 endnotes.

Aside from material written by Moina Mathers, Zalewksi provides a great deal of information on Golden Dawn ritual from a point of view that may be completely new to many readers. Not only does he discuss some of the standard interpretations of Golden Dawn material, but he also provides his own interpretations based on his experiences with Taylor and Chakra and Kundalini practice.

Rather than reproducing the Mathers material in full, Zalewski instead incorporates it into his commentaries and diagrams, demonstrating where the various god-forms are stationed and their relation to the pattern of energy in the hall. It is interesting to note that the god-forms used throughout the grade ceremonies differ radically from what might be expected. God-forms used in the 0=0 hall are not necessarily the same as used in other halls, and the same god-form may be used by different officers or stations in different halls. Numerous diagrams are included in these volumes, some of which have never been printed before and many of which differ from those used by the Stella Matutina.

As interesting and informative as this book may be, it still has its problems. Chief among these is the numerous typographical errors. A more thorough editing job would have easily remedied these difficulties.

Originally the publication was meant to be released as separate books by Llewellyn Publications as the Z-5 series. Zalewski did not, however, adequately revise his work to compensate for the merging of the separate works into one whole. The result is noticeable redundancy. The introductory paragraphs to the ritual commentaries are largely repetitive, indicating that they were intended to be printed in separate books, providing minimal new information in each introduction.

Published in 2000, the book was written in the early and mid 1990s. The historical information provided in the first volume, while interesting, is in some cases outdated, and includes several references to the publication dates of Zalewksi’s own work. These volumes were apparently intended to be released before the publication of The Magical Tarot of the Golden Dawn, which was published a few years before.

While the typos and occasional redundancy contained in Golden Dawn Rituals and Commentaries can be annoying at times, they in no manner outweigh the importance of the new information in its volumes. The Mathers information alone will make this book invaluable to Golden Dawn scholars and magicians alike. The anecdotal information from Taylor as well as Zalewski’s unique insight (whether one agrees with his conclusions or not) more than make Golden Dawn Rituals and Commentaries a worthwhile book and an excellent addition to anyone’s Golden Dawn library.

The Magical Household

Bkwyrm reviews The Magical Household: Spells & Rituals for the Home by Scott Cunningham and David Harrington in the Occult Book Reviews archive.

Cunningham Harrington The Magical Household

Let me preface my review of this work by mentioning for what seems like the nine millionth time that Cunningham wrote beginner books. If he had lived longer, he probably would have written intermediate and advanced texts on Wicca, but he didn’t. He died before he had a chance to write anything beyond the absolute basics. If you’ve been practicing for a while, and you’ve got a fair number of books on your shelf, Cunningham works are not going to be all that helpful to you. This is a work about hearth-and-home Wicca. It is intended to guide the reader through charms and spells to make the home happy, productive, and magical. Nineteen short chapters include Thresholds of Power, Bathing and Brushing, The Mystic Garden, Household Purifications, and suchlike. The writing is clear and easy to read – the usual standard Cunningham fare. Charms and rituals are scattered throughout the book, together with folklore on the home from many cultures and traditions. Each chapter stands on its own, as a self-contained essay on a particular subject. It might be because the book was a collaboration project, but I didn’t find this book particularly interesting or useful. The sections seem disjointed – while there is an overall coherency to the style, the varied topics are arranged in such a way that the reader is shifted from one concentration to the next, with no transition. The different cultures and traditions that the spells and charms come from are given a very superficial treatment, with no materials suggested for further research and study. As Cunningham’s books go, this is certainly not one of the best examples of his work.

The Lord of the World

Julianus reviews The Lord of the World by René Guénon in the Occult Book Reviews archive.

Guenon The Lord of the World

Rene Guenon is the founder of the Traditionalist school of religious philosophy. They consider that all “authentic” religions are derived from the “Primordial Tradition” and spend a great deal of time denouncing the anti-Traditional trend of modern civilisation. This odd little pamphlet is all about Lord of the World who is sort of a Secret Chief behind all valid Traditions. Much of this material comes from Theosophy, which Guenon denounced as a “pseudo-religion” in an early book, and this edition is published by some Gurdjieffians, who Traditionalists abhor as horrid anti-Initiates. This strange bedfellowship suits the odd mix of Hinduism, Grail mythology, 19th century occultism, and Qabalah in the text. Not bad for a guy who looked like a dead fish.

The Lives of a Cell

Magdalene Meretrix review The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher and The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher by Lewis Thomas in the Occult Book Reviews archive.

Thomas The Lives of a Cell

Thomas The Medusa and the Snail

These, Dr. Thomas’ first and second books, are timeless classics. Though Dr. Thomas is discussing science in his essays, his writing style has a mystic and poetic quality to it and his thoughts are inventive, unique and quirky. I imagine the late Dr. Thomas would be intrigued by alchemy and other hermetic disciplines though he might not take them seriously as being applicable to modern times. Still, there is a strong quality of magick in Dr. Thomas’ writing, particularly in his first book, Lives of a Cell.

For the scientist who enjoys a poetic view of nature or for the magician who tends to incorporate modern science into his world paradigm, these essays will be a delight. Some are sad, some will make you chuckle, all will make you ponder the universe whether on a large or small scale. I highly recommend Dr. Thomas’ essays to the intellectual reader.

The Light of Egypt

Randal Bowyer reviews The Light of Egypt, Vols. I and II: The Science of The Soul and The Stars by Zanoni (Thomas H Burgoyne) in the Occult Book Reviews archive.

Burgoyne The Light of Egypt

T. H. Burgoyne (co-founder of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor) speaks with an unusual level of authority on occult matters, in the second volume at least. If I understand the situation correctly, Burgoyne published Volume I in 1889, died in 1895, and then published Volume II in 1900 through the mediumistic assistance of Henry and Belle Wagner. I understand that after the deaths of Dr. and Mrs. Wagner, they collaborated with Burgoyne on a third volume which was channelled through their son, the publisher H. O. Wagner. I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing Volume III, nor have I been able to discover if H. O. Wagner has yet “crossed over;” if so, I do hope he will join in the family business, and give the world a fourth volume via the next generation of Wagners.

Anyhow, the best parts of volume I are reprinted in The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, and those who are only interested in the stuff written before the author died can get by with those reprinted selections. Personally, I liked what Burgoyne had to say after he was dead better than I liked that Great Cosmic Cycle goo he emphasized while alive: death seems to have made his outlook more practical and his style a little, well, livelier. I can think of a few contemporary esoteric writers who would do well to repeat Mr. Burgoyne’s experiment.

The Law Is for All

Randall Bowyer reviews The Law Is for All: The Authorized Popular Commentary of Liber Al Vel Legis Sub Figura CCXX, The Book of the Law by Aleister Crowley in the Occult Book Reviews archive.

Crowley The Law is for All

Back in the 1970s, everybody and his dog decided to publish Crowley’s commentary on Liber AL: Grant & Symonds did Magical and Philosophical Commentaries on the Book of the Law in ’74, then Regardie produced The Law is for All in ’75, and Motta joined the fray with The Commentaries of AL in ’76. All these books are abridgements of Crowley’s voluminous commentaries, and all differ according to the views of the editors.

Twenty years later, Hymenaeus Beta has given us the abridged commentary which Crowley himself intended to publish. Intended for the layman, this “Authorized Popular Commentary” brushes aside Qabalistic complexities and metaphysical fuzz to focus on the central message of The Book of the Law – just the thing to give your favorite Minerval!

The one thing I really dislike about the book is that it uses Regardie’s title from 1975, The Law is for All, instead of the straightforward Commentary on the Book of the Law which Crowley intended. Of course, Crowley bibliography has never been a simple matter, so I suppose the existence of two distinct books on the same subject, with the same author, same title, and same publisher, will only confuse a few tyros.

The House of Toad

Julianus reviews The House of Toad by Richard Tierney in the Occult Book Reviews archive.

Tierney The House of Toad

A sort of modernised Cthulhu Mythos novel featuring a Black Magician named “J. Cornelius Wasserman” who is fond of saying, “Let thine own Will become the Law of Laws.” Like many such books, it starts out interesting and then succumbs to deus ex machina as the author lets the good guys win. File it under “fictional use of Crowley”, cross-index it with “Lovecraft pastiche”, then go reread the real things.

The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries

Bkwyrm reviews The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries: Feminist Witchcraft, Goddess Rituals, Spellcasting and Other Womanly Arts … Complete In One Volume by Zsuzanna Budapest in the Occult Book Reviews archive.

Budapest The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries

Subtitled “Feminist Witchcraft, Goddess Rituals, Spellcasting, & Other Womanly Arts”. This subtitle gives Z. Budapest’s bias away – she’s a Dianic Witch and a feminist.

There’s a ton of information on her own tradition of Dianic Wicca in this book, including holidays, beliefs, tools, and just about everything else. All of it, however, subject to Budapest’s personal views and opinions. Contains thought-provoking essays, including a whole section on “The Politics of Food”. Budapest includes rituals, meditations, and group-working activities in this book. A useful reference if you’re a Dianic, or interested in Dianic trad. Still a useful reference if you’re a Witch of a different tradition – Z. Budapest is a well-known author, and this book is a good example of why so many people read her work.

The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor

Randall Bowyer reviews The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor: Initiatic and Historical Documents of an Order of Practical Occultism by Joscelyn Godwin, & al. in the Occult Book Reviews archive.

Godwin The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor

This book certainly provides more information about the H.B.L. than did the previously available sources: the first half of the book gives historical information about the colorful personalities involved in the order, and the second half offers a heap of primary-source material by and about the order.

The H.B.L. secret documents are pretty disappointing, and consist mostly of the sort of metaphysical gup that was popular in the nineteenth century–you know, vague pseudo scientific theories about magnetism and verbose yammering about Great Cosmic Cycles that guide the course of history. There’s some stuff lifted from Levi which will be familiar to students of Crowley or the G∴D∴, and there’s some occasional stuff about sex to revive the reader’s interest. More interesting and more entertaining, though more frustrating, is the historical section. Unfortunately, the material is not organized chronologically; instead it is grouped anecdotally around the major figures in the order’s history, which makes it a little difficult for the reader to keep in mind what was going on when. I suspect the authors chose to present their research in this odd fashion to give the impression of a connected story, since it seems that they really don’t know much about the chronology of the order. Even a century ago the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor was pretty obscure, and modern researchers just don’t have much to go on. For example, O.T.O. initiates would be very eager to learn more about the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light, which was somehow involved in the early history of O.T.O. The entire discussion of this H.B.L. offshoot is one sentence on p. 67, which informs us that the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light was either founded or reorganized in 1895, at either Chicago or Boston, and that it “fed the streams of sexual practice flowing into the Ordo Templi Orientis….” While that is more than I knew previously, it is not quite as much as I had hoped to learn from this book.

The Healing Runes

Ingeborg Svea Norden reviews The Healing Runes by Ralph Blum in the Occult Book Reviews archive.

Blum The Healing Runes

Yet another book in the same vein as his previous two; he produced it with the help of a Christian minister, which should give you some idea of how seriously he takes Germanic pagan beliefs. The only good thing about it is the cheap rune set that comes packaged with the book. If you’re a rune reader who desperately needs to replace a lost set, buy this book–then throw it away and keep the runes.