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.

Every library both embraces and rejects. Every library is by definition the result of choice, and necessarily limited in its scope. And every choice excludes another, the choice not made. The act of reading parallels endlessly the act of censorship.

Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher]

Hermetic quote Manguel Library at Night embraces rejects limited scope choice reading censorship

With the Adepts

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews With the Adepts: An Adventure Among the Rosicrucians [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Hermetic Library Figure Franz Hartmann, introduction by R A Gilbert.

Hartmann Gilbert Among the Adepts

Theosophist and Rosicrucian Franz Hartmann first published this didactic fable in 1887, and my copy is the 2003 Ibis Press reproduction of the 1910 edition with an additional introduction by R.A. Gilbert, who compares the story to Hilton’s Lost Horizon. Hartmann’s tale is set in the Bavarian Alps, not in Asia, but he does refer to an elided discussion of “White Magic and the wonderful powers of certain Tibetan Adepts” (87), and it is not impossible that Hartmann’s book could have been an inspiration for Hilton, whose actual sources for “Shangri-La” remain obscure.

In Hartmann’s Tibetan references, I understood him to be addressing himself to the interests of a Theosophical readership. He also has his Rosicrucian Imperator affirm the spiritual and cultural significance of H.P. Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine (50-1), while his occultist doctrines and attitudes toward materialist science and traditional religion are generally consistent with her earlier Isis Unveiled material.

The book attributes the organization of its concealed retreat of adepts to the “Brothers of the Gold and Rosy Cross,” an actual German initiatory order of the eighteenth century, and associates with them an historically extant mystical tome The Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians, of which Hartmann was to produce the first English translation. In fact, the original edition of Hartmann’s “adventure among the Rosicrucians” might be read as little more than an elaborate advertisement for Cosmology, or Universal Science (1888) which Hartmann must have had in preparation by then.

Although Hartmann was one of the founding initiates of the order best known as Ordo Templi Orientis, Gilbert’s biographical essay in the introduction goes to amusing lengths to avoid mentioning O.T.O. as such. His closest approach is in this passage: “Through Kellner, Hartmann had come to know Theodor Reuss, who in 1902 appointed him as Grand Administrator General in the newly formed Sovereign Sanctuary of the German version of the Antient and Primitive Rite of Memphis and Mizraim. … In 1905 Hartmann became Honorary Grand Master General of the Rite, but it fell apart shortly afterwards and he took no part in its later incarnations” (xix). (For considerations relevant to the veracity of this “took no part” claim, see Richard Kaczynski’s Forgotten Templars, 242-3.)

Throughout With the Adepts it is clear that the author’s preoccupation is with the possibility of establishing a secluded spiritual community, which he terms a “Rosicrucian convent.” In the appendix added to the second edition, he claims to have begun this work in Switzerland, although he sounds a clear note of discouragement: “It has not yet been finally decided whether this undertaking will be a success or a failure; but the latter is more than probable, as the method of thinking in old dilapidated and dying Europe is too narrowminded to permit of grasping such an exalted idea” (175). He had in fact taken material steps towards this goal by issuing a prospectus and forming a joint stock company in the late 1880s, but by 1910 it is a little strange to see him still holding out any hope at all for the venture. And yet, the site was close to where Reuss would eventually establish his O.T.O. “Anational Grand Lodge” Verita Mystica at Ascona, perhaps in some measure posthumously answering Hartmann’s aspirations.

On the strength of this context, it seems likely that the emphasis on “Profess-Houses” in the early plans and constitutive documents of O.T.O. may reflect Hartmann’s distinctive contribution to the germinal synthesis of esoteric motives in that organization. Indeed, Aleister Crowley’s much later paper on the governing of Profess-Houses, “Of Eden and the Sacred Oak,” takes for its central metaphor the one introduced here by Hartmann in the voice of the alchemist adept Theodorus:

“Could they not establish a garden, where the divine lotus flower of wisdom might grow and unfold its leaves, sheltered against the storms of passion raging beyond the walls, watered by the water of truth, whose spring is within; where the Tree of Life could unfold without becoming encumbered by the weeds of credulity and error; where the soul could breathe the pure spiritual air, unadulterated by the odour of the poison-tree of ignorance, unmixed with the effluvia of decaying superstitions; a place where this Tree of Life, springing from the roots of the Tree of Knowledge, could grow and spread its branches, far up in the invisible realm where Wisdom resides, and produce fruits which cause those who partake of them to become like gods and immortal?” (156)

I roll over and put my arms around Jesse, we hold each other tenderly and rock in the sun. Jesse pushes into me slowly, wet and silky, lies against me with one leg between mine, his body and the sun one embrace touching and awakening me.

Mary Sativa, Acid Temple Ball [Amazon]

Hermetic quote Sativa Acid Temple Ball body sun embrace touching awakening

The White Tyger

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The White Tyger [Amazon, Publisher] by Paul Park, book 3 of the Roumania series.

Park The White Tyger

The title of this third volume of Paul Park’s Roumania series has multiple meanings. The White Tiger is the hereditary role and spiritual alter-ego of the protagonist Miranda. But the political dimension of this role has been usurped by the Baroness Ceausescu, who is at the center of the palace intrigue that makes up the meat of this book. And she is at work throughout on the autobiographical music opera named The White Tyger, often allowing its themes and speeches to eclipse her perceptions of her immediate circumstance. The play-within-a-play theme exhibits self-similarity in parallel to the relationships between Roumania and our own secondary universe as created by Aegypta Schenck, as well as the material world and the “hidden world” of sorcery.

A process continues here, whereby the central three characters regain their Roumanian identities in priority over those they had been given during their sojourn in the Massachusetts of our abolished constructed world–but not without some complications and regressions. Also, the political conditions in Roumania change as relations alter among the European powers, and a new and ugly form of nationalism is ascendant in Miranda’s country, facilitated by the Baroness but not under her control.

This third book resolved in a manner very similar to that of the second one, The Tourmaline, but with a sense that the fourth and final volume must have a very different outcome.

Her beatitude leant forward to her, as if to embrace. The rich presence enveloped her; out of a broken and contrite heart she sighed with joy. On the inhaled breath her splendour glowed again; on the exhaled it passed. She stood alone, at peace. Dawn was in the air; ecce omnia nova facio.

Charles Williams, Descent Into Hell [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher]

Hermetic quote Williams Descent into Hell beatitude embrace presence joy splendour peace dawn

The Medicine of Metals

Hermetic Library Fellow John Michael Greer reviews The Secrets of John Dee: A Commentary on his Alchemical, Astrological, Qabalistic, and Rosicrucian Arcana [Amazon, Abebooks, Publisher] edited by Gordon James at The Medicine of Metals in the Caduceus archive.

James The Secrets of John Dee

One of the minor alchemical treasures in the British Library is a manuscript (Harleian 6485) entitled “The Rosie Crucian Secrets, their Excellent Method of Making Medicines of Metals, also their Lawes and Mysteries:, and attributed to the great Elizabethan magus John Dee. This is one of a collection of Hermetic and magical documents copied out by one Peter Smart near the beginning of the eighteenth century. Like most of the manuscripts in this collection, the “Rosie Crucian Secrets” is something of a hodgepodge, containing materials on the making of metallic medicines, a letter (supposedly from John Frederick Helvetius to John Dee) describing a transmutation, a glossary of unusual words supposedly found in Dee’s writings, and a discussion of the laws of the Rosicrucian Fraternity.

Like most of the manuscripts in the collection, too, a certain whiff of fraud hangs over this one. The first third of it is nearly identical with Elharvereuna, a book on metallic medicines published by the Jacobean occult plagiarist John Heydon in 1655; the last part is an adapted translation of Michael Maier’s Themis Aurea, published in 1618; very few of the words in the glossary are in fact to be found anywhere in John Dee’s works; and the letter Helvetius (which, incidentally, is well attested elsewhere) was certainly not written to John Dee, given that Dee died in 1608 while Helvetius was not born until 1625!

Despite this, the manuscript is well worth attention; whatever its origin, it provides a detailed and unusually clear look into the processes of metallic alcemy and spagyrics (alchemical medicine). Its value led E. J. Langford-Garstin, and important figure in Golden Dawn circles early in this century, to prepare a transcription, and this was finally published by Aquarian Press in 1985. Unfortunately, Langford-Garstin’s version seems to have been inaccurate in a number of places, with important pieces left out and some of his own material inserted; furthermore, this edition has been out of print for years, and so those with no access to the British Library and its collections have had a long wait for a new and better version.

Fortunately, this is now available. Gordon James’ edition omits the letter of Helvetius, the glossary and the translation of Maier’s Themis Aurea, concentrating on the core of the manuscript — the description of the “Excellent Method of Making Medicines of Metals.” James has modernized the spelling and grammar, a definite help to the Elizabethan-impaired, but otherwise presents the material as it appears in the manuscript. He also includes the symbolic Trees of the Planets, although the reader is unfortunately not given information on the relation of these to the text in the original manuscript.

James has also provided a detailed commentary, presenting his own interpretation of the text’s meaning, which is largely based on the spiritual-somatic approach pioneered by Paul Foster Case and popularized by Case’s books and study courses. His analysis of the text, accordingly, draws extensively on the use of gematria to divine the hidden meanings of various technical terms, on Case’s particular brand of mysticism, and on parallels taken from Hindu yogic sources. He makes it clear in his introduction that, as far as he is concerned, alchemy is to be understood as a purely internal yoga of the spirit, and he dismisses any attempt at laboratory alchemy as misguided folly.

This is likely to be greeted with cheers or boos, depending on the reader’s own take on alchemy, but the dogmatic certainty with which James makes his pronouncements is somewhat irritating at best. Another mild irritation is the fact that his commentary is interspersed throughout the text, divided from it only by brackets; some less obtrusive way of connecting commentary and text might have been more useful to those who take a different approach to the Great Work. Still, the inconvenient is a minor one, more than offset by the value of the text itself — seen from nearly any alchemical perspective.

I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow men. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which I have also imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher]

Hermetic quote Thoreau Civil Disobedience just respect neighbor fellow men perfect glorious state