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∴.

Death Metal Music

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Death Metal Music: The Passion and Politics of a Subculture [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Natalie J Purcell, part of the Studies in Heavy Metal Music & Culture series.

Purcell Death Metal Music

It is not clear to me why I received this 2003 book as a reviewer copy in 2012, other than that I requested it when it was offered (May 2012). Is it possible that the author’s 2012 book from Routledge (Violence and the Pornographic Imaginary) occasioned some sort of rerelease or even reprint by McFarland? In any case, this book’s quite evident effort to be up-to-date is now nearly a decade stale, and the political conflicts that it seeks to address — centered on the PMRC and Congressional culture scolds of the turn-of-the-millennium — have receded well into the background today. 

Author Purcell was apparently quite young when she wrote this book, which collects and reflects on research that she undertook as a political science student at Seton Hall University. Unfortunately, one effect of her immaturity as a writer appears to have been an overextension of her vocabulary. This book badly needed a proofreader to set Purcell straight when she used devious for deviant, propound for propose, attained for obtained, reactionary for reactive, reputed for reputable, ascribe for subscribe, emasculated for masculinized, evasive for invasive, etc. She also has some dismaying errors of incidental fact, such as characterizing H.P. Lovecraft as a “nineteenth-century author” (40).

Despite some self-criticism regarding her survey methods and the limitations of her study population sample, there’s little methodological reflection here. The methods used are predominantly sociological, but Purcell prudently cautions the reader that the small sample size and ad hoc collection methods limit the generalizations that can be drawn from her own conclusions. Some awareness of latter-day anthropological observation techniques would have been useful to her in this project. What she is most concerned to establish, and for which her method is adequate, is valid doubt of existing generalizations offered by politicians and critics whose own study of the subculture was unquestionably less thorough. 

I appreciated the assortment of pictures in the book, showing musicians and fans. The extensive comparison of death metal with horror cinema in the final chapter was a useful and effective choice. But I would also have been interested in more substantial comparisons with other musical subcultures; Purcell offers only the briefest nods to rap and country music as possible comparanda. She claims believably to have exhausted existing literature on death metal only in the political science field. There were certainly relevant works of music criticism and cultural studies that she overlooked, such as Robert Walser’s Running with the Devil (1993).

Still, I found the read fairly enjoyable. In an epilogue “Personal Reflections on Death Metal,” Purcell opens herself to the charge of being an apologist for the subculture, by confessing her sympathy for it, developed during the course of her study, but germinally having inspired the research in the first place. I find such “reflexivity” in scholarship to be praiseworthy. And, quibbles aside, I tend to agree with her conclusions, from my own anecdotally-formed perspective.

Random shelfie for the week, 6dec2023

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

Hermetic Library Shelfie 6dec2023

Enneagram Applications, Thomson / Condon
Speeth, The Gurdjieff Work
Rank, Raglan, Dundes, In Quest of the Hero
Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night
Steig, C D B !
Hollander, The Poetic Edda
Barber & Barber, When They Severed Earth From Sky
Postman, The Cosmic Tribe Tarot
Our Troth, Volume 1
H. R. Ellis Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe
Thorsson, Runelore
Jean Houston, The Hero and the Goddess: The Odyssey as Mystery and Initiation
Spencer Johnson, M.D., Who Moved My Cheese?
House of Earth, Pearl S. Buck
The Basic Meeting Manual
Thayer, LifePlace: Bioregional Thought and Practice
Starbird, The Woman With the Alabaster Jar
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Leloup
The Essence of T’ai Chi Ch’uan, Lo/Inn/Amacker/Foe
Jackson/ Discovering the Vernacular Landscape
Edda, Snorri Sturluson
Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return

I’ll tell you one thing. All of you. As far as I’m concerned, you’re here to make the world a smarter, shinier, braver place. If you start making the world a dumb, frightened place, I will end your contract and burn you up like a fucking marshmallow, body and soul both. So watch your ass, you hear me?

Michael Poore, Up Jumps the Devil [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Poore Up Jumps the Devil youre here to make the world a smarter shinier braver place start making dumb frightened end contract burn you fucking marshmallow body soul watch your ass

Use of Weapons

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Use of Weapons [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Iain M Banks, book 3 of The Culture series.

Banks Use of Weapons

The third novel of Ian Banks’ Culture concerns an agent Zalkawe recruited for chiefly military work by the Culture’s Special Circumstances operative Sma. He is not himself a Culture man, nor is he especially sympathetic at his best, and in some ways this book felt like a return to the form of the first book Consider Phlebas, with the viewpoint agent working for the Culture rather than against it. The chapter IV that described Zalkawe’s first integration into the Culture was the most straightforward of such passages in the books so far.

The chronological structure of Use of Weapons is curious and effective. It alternates two series of numbered chapters, one running forward in time and counting up (One, Two, Three …), the other running backward and counting down (XIII, XII, XI …). The earliest episode of the novel takes place at its midpoint in chapter VII during a set of flashbacks, but these are not given their full context until the end of the book. The most recent events are set into bracketing Prologue and Epilogue passages, along with a short postfactory chapter “States of War.”

This volume was for some reason longer than I had expected it to be, and although it read at a good pace, it took a lot of attention to complete. I’m looking forward to the change of tempo offered by the next in the series, State of the Art, which collects short stories in the Culture setting.

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