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∴.

A Princess of Mars

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter: A Princess of Mars [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library]  by Roger Langridge, Filipe Andrade, &al.

Langridge Andrade John Carter a Princess of Mars

This book collects the Marvel Comics title (issues 1-5) released to capitalize on the Disney John Carter film. It is more an adaptation of the original Burroughs story, although the final issue includes an epilogue that draws on the frame story established in the film. 

The writing is reasonably capable, although I was a little put off by the implicit comparisons of Than Kosis to Saddam Hussein. Carter refers to deposing him as “regime change,” and there is a panel of the Zodangan people pulling down the statue of Than Kosis with his right arm outstretched just like this.

The art by Filipe Andrade was deeply unsatisfying to me. As in the Disney movie, Dejah Thoris wears entirely too much clothing. All of the human and Red Martian physiques are impressionistically ropy, and the faces are distorted in stylized ways that make them look as alien as the Tharks. 

Overall, I found this version inferior to the bulk of the current Barsoom comics from Dynamite.

ETA: The “John Carter (TM)” super-title creates the odd effect of suggesting that Captain Carter is himself “a princess of Mars”!

For those in whom the truth has not yet become a living power, fictitious forms are necessary to show them the way, but the majority of the ignorant see only the fiction; there being no truth within themselves, there is nothing to perceive the truth in the form.

Franz Hartmann, In The Pronaos of The Temple of Wisdom

Hermetic quote Hartmann In the Pronaos of the Temple of Wisdom truth living power fictitious forms necessary show the way majority ignorant see only fiction

Mysterious and Horrific Stories

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Mysterious and Horrific Stories [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.

Le Fanu Mysterious and Horrific Stories

This book collects more than a dozen stories by the 19th-century Irish writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. None of the individual stories are published here for the first time, and I suspect that most or even all of them are available for free online. The apparatus of this edition is limited to a table of contents, an appended single-paragraph “Note About the Author” and a similarly short self-promotional “Note from the Publisher.” Just two of the stories have leading editorial notes (227, 255) with a modicum of bibliographic information, but these notes are unsigned and the collection credits no editor. Publisher Mint Editions instead credits a “Project Manager.” The book is a glue-bound hardcover, comfortable in the hand, not ugly, fabricated through a print-on-demand process. I certainly found it more pleasant to read than I would have to scroll through the stories on a screen.

The stories are good. More than half of them are set in Ireland, and nearly all of them involve the supernatural. Although the note to “Stories of Lough Guir” says, “It differs from the other stories in this volume in being apparently a record of stories actually told to Le Fanu and not invented by him” (255), many of the other stories have a very strong aroma of the folkloric, especially the ones about menacing fairies and those ghost stories that lack a moralizing agenda. Even the many vivid Gothic fictional tropes concerning old houses and cursed families are typically hedged about with documentary conceits, including imputed sources and variant tellings.

Le Fanu’s strong influence on writers like Bram Stoker and M. R. James makes many of his techniques seem familiar to readers of older horror fiction, but he was doing this work earlier and every bit as well. This collection does not include the tales for which he is most famous, but they are a solid assortment nonetheless.

The Unholy Bible

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Unholy Bible: Blake, Jung, and the Collective Unconscious [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by June Singer, introduction by M Esther Harding; re-issued as Blake, Jung, and the Collective Unconscious: The Conflict Between Reason and Imagination [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library], part of the Jung on the Hudson Books series. (Amusingly, I have both versions at the Reading Room, each purchased separately, at different times, thinking they were different books. Obviously, the topic sustains its appeal to me!)

June Singer M Esther Harding The Unholy Bible from Sigo Press

June Singer M Esther Harding Blake, Jung and the Collective Unconscious from Nicolas-Hays

Singer’s “Psychological Interpretation of William Blake” is for the most part a Jungian sermon that takes Blake’s prophetic works as its scripture. Sometimes she just rambles off into outright theologizing in that distinctive Jungian fashion. Nor does she avoid the scientism and occasional outright materialistic philosophy to which the Jungian discourse is prone. At times, Singer’s chief concern seems to be whether or not Blake was a good Jungian. But even so, The Unholy Bible is a fairly diligent and perceptive study of Blake’s mature work.

Following a quick but useful biographical preliminary, the largest section of the book is Singer’s analysis of The Marriage of Heaven & Hell, which is quite thorough. Her attention to the symbolic value of the pictorial elements of the plates is especially welcome. She traces some principal themes in the Proverbs of Hell, and offers careful consideration of the Memorable Fancies. 

The book could have used more proofreading. The erroneous transcriptions from Blake’s plates are particularly galling. (See 137, 142, e.g.) And here’s an author’s blunder: She reverses the symbolic attribution of the sheep and the goats relative to Blake’s context! (141)

The later sections of the book treat Blake’s prophecies which are the “unholy Bible.” These are viewed from a wider angle than The Marriage, and with some success. 

The final two chapters seemed relatively disposable to me. “Sources of Creative Activity” hagiographizes Jung and defends Blake against charges of insanity and mysticism — the latter subject to an evidently narrow, yet largely implicit definition. The two pages of “The Symbol” extol “the slender filament which reaches from our world to the Infinite” (247), if you care for that sort of thing. 

For diehard Jungians, there’s probably no better book on Blake. For general readers unfamiliar with Blake’s work, this might not be an optimal introduction, because of its tendency to confuse interpretations of Blake’s writing with assertions of Jungian doctrine. But I did enjoy reading it, and I learned some things along the way.

Furthermore that I will perform all practical work connected with this Order, in a place concealed … that I will keep secret this inner Rosicrucian Knowledge … that I will only perform any practical magic before the uninitiated which is of a simple and already well-known nature, and that I will show them no secret mode of working whatsoever.

Ritual of the 5 = 6 Grade of Adeptus Minor, the Ritual of the Order of Rosæ Rubeæ Et Aureæ Crusis at Aleister Crowley, “The Adept” in The Temple of Solomon the King, Book II, continued, serialized in The Equinox.

Hermetic quote Golden Dawn Adeptus Minor Aleister Crowley Adept will perform work order place concealed keep secret inner Rosicrucian knowledge uninitiated no secret mode working

Head Games

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Locke & Key: Head Games [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, & al., introduction by Warren Ellis, book 2 of the Locke & Key series.

Hill Rodriguez Locke and Key Head Games

Not as violent, but every bit as creepy as its predecessor, this second collected volume of the Locke & Key comics expands the range of magics in play, concentrating particularly on the powers of the Head Key. It also exposes more of the events among the prior generation in the Massachusetts town of Lovecraft that served to set up the present scenario. Existing characters become more complex, and there are some new characters that I liked a lot, like the drama teacher Mr. Ridgeway.

As before, Rodriguez’s art is gorgeous, with a style that is impressively well adapted to the material.

Warren Ellis was a surprising choice for the introduction, which he keeps short and hilarious. There is substantial end matter, including some reference material on the magic keys, reproductions of the individual issue cover art, and a disenchanting account of the art development process used by Rodriguez.

Ille argues that art should express spiritual truths, not worldly observations. Rhetoricians and sentimentalists, according to him, cannot be artists, because the artist is always an outsider, a holy hermit living, as Yeats says in Per Arnica, ‘on the threshold of the sacred house’

Susan Johnston Graf, W B Yeats Twentieth Century Magus: An In-Depth Study of Yeat’s Esoteric Practices and Beliefs, Including Excerpts from His Magical Diaries [Amazon, Bookshop, Abebooks, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Graf Yeats art express spiritual truth not wordly observations rhetoricians sentimentalists not artists outside holy hermit living Yeats says threshold sacred house

The Gods of Xuma

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Gods of Xuma, or Barsoom Revisited [Amazon, Abebooks, Publisher, Local Library] by David J Lake.

Lake The Gods of Xuma

The Gods of Xuma is a mildly metafictional take on Burroughs’ Barsoom, framed by a “harder” SF scenario of attempted 24th-century emigration from the solar system. Instead of being the nearest planet in our system, as Barsoom was, Xuma is in the nearest star system that has an Earth-like planet. The explorers have read the old Barsoom stories, and they are intrigued by the arid planet with a canal-based civilization. The protagonist is the crew’s linguist Tom Carson (note the shared meter and assonance with “John Carter”), who is the first to land on the planet and engage the natives.

In an interesting counter, Carson is not given low-gravity superpowers by the below-Earth gravity of Xuma, because he (like all healthy surviving humans) has actually grown up in even lower gravity among the human settlements on the Moon and Mars. What the humans do have is excessive military technology. The Xuman natives, while suspiciously advanced with respect to cultural continuity and general sciences, have no automated transport or weaponry beyond a medieval standard. But the humans barge in with beam weapons, tanks, and orbital barrages. Thus the star-faring humans are mistaken, first by the natives, and later by themselves, for “The Gods of Xuma.”

Communications between the humans and Xumans are established quickly and easily, although without any cross-species telepathy or magical translation. Although superficially quite humanoid, the Xumans have a very different developmental and sexual cycle, which produces real but not insurmountable cultural distances from the explorers. The book does not shirk from an account of the first sexual encounter between humans and Xumans, along with the subsequent developments of this possibility.

The human characters are reasonably fallible, sometimes verging on pathetic, and the Xumans are a little incredibly benevolent. On the whole, the book is a pretty effective anti-imperialist fable. It has a sequel (Warlords of Xuma), but it doesn’t cry out for one.