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 Esoteric Tradition, Hermeticism in a broad sense, Aleister Crowley’s Thelema, and much more. If you would like to participate, contact the librarian. And follow along via the Reading Room social feed at Hrmtc I∴O∴.

Pyramid Primer #1

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Pyramid Primer #1 by Andrew Looney. This is no longer in print, and is related to a previous edition of the Looney Pyramids, but the contents can be found at Guide to Looney Pyramids on the Looney Labs site. Check out Pyramid Arcade (which was just, at the time of this post, recently reprinted and restocked) and other Looney Pyramid games.

Looney Labs Pyramid Primer 1

The #1 after Pyramid Primer indicates the Looney Labs aspiration to make this volume of Looney Pyramid game rules the first of a series in this glossy magazine format. It succeeds the earlier rules volume Playing with Pyramids, with surprisingly little overlap in content. (It does, however, entirely obsolete the intermediate 3House rules collection). Pyramid Primer uses the “IceSheet” format and rules style that has been developed in recent years to highlight the variety of games playable with Looney Pyramids (f.k.a. Icehouse pieces). 

Here is a point-by-point comparison of the contents with those of the out-of-print Playing with Pyramids: The first Primer has full sets of rules for thirteen different games, compared to twelve in PwP. Martian Chess, Ice Towers, Icehouse, and Homeworlds are holdovers from the earlier volume. The Tarot-based Gnostica (my very favorite Pyramid game) has been replaced with Zark City, a shorter (and still excellent) game that uses a standard playing-card deck. Volcano has given way to Caldera, a redevelopment that uses one more set of pyramids than its predecessor. Otherwise, the older games are rightfully discarded, with the key exceptions of Zendo (an elegant classic that could take up a 32-page Primer of its own with rules and strategy) and Pikemen. The Primer has a clean, efficient exposition of the rules for each game, but omits some of the strategic advice entertained in PwP.

The actual Looney Pyramids used to play these games are currently available in two game packages: IceDice and Treehouse. Treehouse (the smaller of the two) includes sufficient Pyramid supply for three of the games (although one of those, Martian Coasters, needs a custom modular gameboard to boot); IceDice is enough for four others; and with both sets it is possible to play ten of the thirteen. Looney Labs sells Pyramids in sets of fifteen to supplement the basic sets, to furnish the more demanding games such as Caldera, IceTowers, and Icehouse. 

The Primer succeeds in its ambition to offer a digest of quality Looney Pyramids game rules across a variety of highly replayable games. It is full of useful diagrams and comic-style art by Andy Looney. The Looney Pyramid community wiki has over four hundred different games represented, with thirty invented just this year. The idea of continuing the Primer to circulate the best of these is a laudable intention, and I wish Looney Labs great success with it.

In many respects, no doubt, the Law of Thelema is revolutionary. It insists on the absolute sovereignty of the individual within the limits of his proper function. And this principle will be resented by all those who like to interfere with other people’s business. The battle will rage most fiercely around the question of sex. Hardly any one is willing to allow others their freedom on this point.

Aleister Crowley, The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, Chapter 87

Hermetic quote Crowley Confessions law thelema revolutionary absolute sovereignty individual limits proper function resented interfere other peoples business battle rage fiercely sex freedom

Random shelfie for the week, 29nov2023

A random peek at some of what’s on a shelf of my working library!

Hermetic Library Shelfie 29nov2023

12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time, Mark Jacobson
Sebottendorff, Secret Practices of the Sufi Freemasons
Michel Foucault, The Order of Things
On Dialogue, David Bohm
Kurosawa, Something Like an Autobiography
Lethaby, Architecture, Mysticism and Myth
The Old Farmer’s Almanac, A Millennium Primer: Timeless Truths and Delightful Diversions, Tim Clark
Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good
The World of Goods: Towards an Anthropology of Consumption, Mary Douglas & Baron Isherwood
Finding Flow, Csikszentmihalyi
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Good Business: Leadership, Flow, the Making of Meaning
Jim Rough, Society’s Breakthrough!
Brian Hal, The Saskiad
Parzival An Introduction, Eileen Hutchins
Wittgenstein, A. C. Grayling
Thought as a System, David Bohm
Budge, The Egyptian Heaven and Hell
John F. Kennedy: Words to Remember
Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger
Change, Watzlawick, Weakland, and Fisch
Confessions of an Actor, Laurence Olivier
Campfires in Cyberspace, D. Thornburg

Funeral in Berlin

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Funeral in Berlin [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Len Deighton, book 3 of the Harry Palmer series.

Deighton Funeral in Berlin

Where Horse Under Water (the immediately prior “Secret File” by Deighton) had a crossword conceit, Funeral in Berlin is instead ornamented with chess tactics. I read it as a chaser to The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and it worked well that way, highlighting the distinctive styles of the two authors–not to mention the fact that Deighton’s book did in fact follow le Carré’s by about a year (i.e. 1963, 1964).

The anonymous narrating agent cracks wise with even more consistency than in the previous books. There are fifty-one short chapters, which tend to lengthen slightly towards the end. The extremely circumspect first-person prose is broken up with five chapters that use third-person passages to give the viewpoints of other key characters. There are also a set of six brief appendices furnishing overviews of relevant intelligence agencies and legal and technological contexts. These are helpful for readers enjoying the book more than a half century after it was written, but for some reason I was irked by the footnote method of referencing them during the story.

There were a couple of curious and welcome minor details during the closing chapters. Chapter 45 saw our man unwinding with a copy of J.F.C. Fuller’s Decisive Battles of the Western World. In chapter 49 he discussed with his superior Dawlish the organizational need “to take the social pressures off the homosexuals.”

The 2009 edition I read was equipped with a new author’s introduction regarding his “most successful book” by certain commercial measures. Deighton reflects there on his own experiences in East Germany and his disinterest in writing “serious literature.”

At the rate I’ve been reading these “Secret File” novels, I won’t finish them until 2035 or thereabouts, but they are all at the public library, and they read fast enough individually that I could mop up all of them next month. I certainly aim to continue at some pace or other.

Deighton Funeral in Berlin Penguin

The Beyond

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Beyond [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by Jeffrey Ford, book 3 of The Well-Built-City Trilogy.

Ford the Beyond

“The Beyond exists on many planes and in many times,” says the plant-man (“foliate”) Vasthasha, speaking of the wilderness that exists beyond the realm and civilization, and sometimes, it seems, out of reality altogether. So too does The Beyond.

The third volume of Ford’s Well-Built City trilogy sends his protagonist Cley in a final bid for redemption into the Beyond. This vector is complemented by that of the demon Misrix, a native of the Beyond, who discovers and pursues his aspiration to become civilized, human, and humane. I’m floored by the profound wonderfulness of this adult fantasy saga, which doesn’t even seem to notice that it has discarded all of the threadbare conventions of its genre. Ford combines straightforward prose and a storyteller’s pacing with exotically proliferating images and ideas. The result is truly engaging fiction with characters and situations that encode true dilemmas of the human experience.

Human nature demands (in the case of most people) the satisfaction of the religious instinct, and, to very many, this may best be done by ceremonial means. I wished therefore to construct a ritual through which people might enter into ecstasy as they have always done under the influence of appropriate ritual. In recent years, there has been an increasing failure to attain this object, because the established cults shock their intellectual convictions and outrage their common sense. Thus their minds criticize their enthusiasm; they are unable to consummate the union of their individual souls with the universal soul as a bridegroom would be to consummate his marriage if his love were constantly reminded that its assumptions were intellectually absurd.

Aleister Crowley, The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, Chapter 73

Hermetic quote Crowley Confessions human nature demands most people satisfaction religious instinct very many may best be done ceremonial means

Random shelfie for the week, 22nov2023

My shelving situation and organization here at the library right now is kind of a disaster, but it’s a working library, and it is mine! Here’s a random peek for this shelfie of the week:

Hermetic Library Shelfie 22nov2023

Back row:
The Equinox, Aleister Crowley, Volume III, Number I
Aleister Crowley, Golden Twigs
Crowley, The Heart of the Master
777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley
Crowley, Blavatsky, et al., Commentaries on the Holy Books and other papers x2
Aleister Crowley, The Book of Thoth (Egyptian Tarot)
Crowley, Neuburg, Desti, The Vision & The Voice with Commentary and other papers
Aleister Crowley, Magick Book 4, Parts I–IV
The Secret Rituals of the O.T.O. Edited and Introduced by Francis King

As the Green Star Rises

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews As the Green Star Rises [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by Lin Carter, DAW cover and illo by Roy Krenkel, illo Michael Kaluta, part of the Green Star series.

Carter as the Green Star Rises

The fourth Green Star book was much like the third, continuing the plots begun in the sky city and the forest floor in the new environment of an inland sea and its jungle islands. It was perhaps a tad “spicier” than earlier arcs of the series, although largely through threat and peril, leaving it relatively tame compared to the larger sword-and-planet field. There is also an unwitting and highly ironic non-consummation of the love-quest central to the series. (Other reviewers have called that part of the story “contrived,” but in this sort of exoplanetary fantasy what isn’t?)

The most notable feature of the story was its blind narrator. The boy Karn had been blinded at the end of the previous volume, and while parts of the book held out some hope for recovery of his sight, he spent this entire segment unable to see. But despite the fast pace and surfeit of action, the story isn’t told as an immediate reportage. It instead recounts multiple threads of plot as companions and allies are separated and adventure in parallel. Karn is supposed to have learned later what had happened to his friends, but his telling interweaves the various developments along a synchronized timeline.

The illustrations in this book are collaborations between Roy Krenkel (whose pictures were in the previous one) and notable comics artist Michael Kaluta. None of them particularly thrilled me, though. Krenkel’s cover art is an adequate representation of the moment on page 60, when the women escape an island by means of a great hawk-steed. The rider is thus Arjala, while Niamh the Fair is hanging from the stirrup.


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Anima [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by M John Harrison.

Harrison Anima

This volume is two novels under a single cover. They have similar scales and some thematic common ground, but no narrative coordination. The jacket copy calls them “love stories,” which is not completely off the mark, but probably fails to do justice to them. Publisher Gollancz has classed them as “Science Fiction/Fantasy,” which is again fair, but the subtlety of the fantasy (in the first) and the science fiction (in the second) is profound.

The first is The Course of the Heart. It has a vivid sense of place in its English settings, reminding me in some ways of a very adult version of Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising. The novel impressed me with both its ability to be dreamy and icky by turns, and its verisimilitude in representing postmodern occultism. It’s not about occultism really, but it traces the troubled paths of three characters (one of whom is the narrator) in the decades following their initiation into “the Pleroma” by Yaxley, a loathsome magician who lives above the Atlantis bookshop in London. The closest comparison I could make for this book would be to the “Aegypt Cycle” of John Crowley, but boiled down from those practically Wagnerian proportions to a comparatively Beckettian economy, and with a distinctly different metaphysical verdict.

I found The Course of the Heart enjoyable and enigmatic enough for me to track down and read Harrison’s short story that it had elaborated: “The Great God Pan” (1988). Reflecting on the novel through the lens of Machen’s “The Great God Pan” (1890) is certainly interesting. It places all three of the central characters in the position of Mary, the experimental subject who had her brain altered to expose her to the “real world” in Machen’s story. Harrison uses Gnostic language to figure this exposure as contact with the “Pleroma.” And he supplies each of them with different outcomes. But in an author’s note to “The Great God Pan” in the collection Things That Never Happen (2003), Harrison notes that the story owes more to Charles Williams than to Machen. And indeed, if John Banville were to write a Charles Williams novel, I would expect it to turn out pretty much just like The Course of the Heart, which tips its hat to Williams with a mention of War in Heaven on the final page.

As long as I’m making comparisons (still trying to take a measure of Harrison, who is a new author for me), I would note that the second novel, Signs of Life, reminded me of the work of Chuck Palahniuk — but less funny and consequently more disturbing. It partakes of typical Palahniuk tropes regarding vehicular speed and medical gore, along with laconic characters of inscrutable moral sense. I’m glad to have read this story, although I’m not sure I can quite say I enjoyed most of it, and there are certainly fewer people to whom I would recommend it than The Course of the Heart.