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.

An unhealthy life of thought and feeling will not fail to obstruct the path to higher knowledge. Clear, calm thinking, with stability of feeling and emotion, form here the basis of all work. Nothing should be further removed from the student than an inclination toward a fantastical, excitable life, toward nervousness, exaggeration, and fanaticism.

Rudolf Steiner, How to Know Higher Worlds [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher]

Hermetic quote Steiner Higher Worlds clear calm thinking stability feeling emotion basis of all work

As John C. Calhoun, the 7th Vice President of the United States once wrote, “The interval between the decay of the old and the formation and the establishment of the new, constitutes a period of transition which must always necessarily be one of uncertainty, confusion, error, and wild and fierce fanaticism.”

J M R Higgs, KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money [Amazon, Publisher]

Hermetic quote Higgs KLF uncertainty confusion error wild fierce fanaticism

The Dream and the Underworld

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Dream and the Underworld [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by James Hillman.

Hillman The Dream and the Underworld

Hillman’s slim volume is the best book I have read about the significance and experiential weight of dreams. He opposes the therapeutic and vulgar divinatory approaches that want to merely convert dreams into utilities of waking consciousness. While situating his study within the psychoanalytic tradition, he constructs his theory with extensive reference to classical notions of death and the underworld. 

Magicians reading carefully can also find a wealth of pointers about the “astral” and the full range of visionary experiences which access materials from an unconscious source–collective or individual. In fact, this book is one of the most valuable texts I have found for that purpose. 

An early monograph by Hillman, The Dream and the Underworld has a style that is more incisive and demanding than his later popular work like The Soul’s Code. He often uses untranslated Greek terms in order to orient the reader to what is likely to be at first an alien perspective on the underworld into which we all must descend. Although short, it requires genuine work to read, and it should repay the effort well.

Living Gnosis

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Living Gnosis: A Practical Guide to Gnostic Christianity [Amazon, Abebooks] by Tau Malachi.

Malachi Living Gnosis

Malachi here provides a primer in Christian Neognosticism generally, and for his own “Sophian” tradition in particular. With respect to the generalities, he emphasizes the variety of Gnostic teachings, the ineffability of genuine gnosis, and the notion of personal experience as spiritual currency. “Sophianism” disclaims reconstructionist motives, professing instead to represent a continuity with the ancient Gnosis via the Rosicrucians and other esoteric traditions. As the founder of the Sophian Fellowship, Malachi traces his initiatory pedigree through the Ordo Sanctus Gnosis (evidently a sect not keen on the genitive case). The “Tau” title implies a connection with the French Gnostic Church of Jules Doinel, but Malachi makes no claims there.

To no surprise on my part, the Sophian tradition as presented by Malachi shows strong influences from Theosophy and Martinism, and evidence of having been steeped in late twentieth-century newage, with a commensurate eclecticism. It presents the “Master Yeshua” and Mary Magdalene as a Shiva-Shakti transcendent erotic dyad, and stresses the use of a Christian Kabbalah. With all that, it will not be entirely alien to Thelemites, and Malachi even once uses the phrase “true will” (169).

His “selected bibliography” contained no volumes unfamiliar to me, and I was mostly curious about the techniques offered in the last few chapters of his text, since it is styled as a “practical guide.” As I read them, I was surprised and puzzled at the coherence of what I found there: a religious form that I don’t ordinarily associate with “gnosticism.” By the time I got to page 184, Malachi had made it abundantly clear: his Gnosticism “is more akin to a science of mind and the knowledge of how to experience prosperity, success, health, happiness, and a Spirit-connection in our lives.” For crying out loud, it’s New Thought!

Now I only wonder if Malachi knows that’s what it is, or if he really thinks it is an an ancient heritage transmitted to him by his mentor Elijah ben Miriam. Still, it’s sexier than Christian Science.

A thrill, like a shot of good booze, ran through Elvis. He had once been a fanatic reader of ancient and esoteric lore, like The Egyptian Book of the Dead and The Complete Works of H. P. Lovecraft, and straight away he recognized what he was staring at. “Egyptian hieroglyphics,” he said.

Joe R Lansdale, Bubba Ho-Tep [Bookshop, Amazon]

Hermetic quote Lansdale Bubba Ho-Tep fanatical reader ancient esoteric lore

No one, unless they were fanatics, would think of distributing religious tracts to the poor half starved ignorant portion of a large city. The human portion of their natures must be benefitted before any great results in moral improvements can be attained. Commence at the beginning.

Lydia Leavitt, Bohemian Society [Bookshop, Amazon]

Hermetic quote Leavitt Bohemian Society no one unless they were fanatics

Litany of the Long Sun

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Litany of the Long Sun [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Gene Wolfe, the first half of The Book of the Long Sun.

Wolfe Litany of the Long Sun

This volume containing Nightside the Long Sun and Lake of the Long Sun was my first reading in Gene Wolfe’s Solar Cycle beyond the Book of the New Sun (including its Urth). While I appreciate that this second series are supposedly set in a shared far-future continuity, there’s no intersection of plot, character, or setting with the five New Sun books.

There are quite a few points on which this Long Sun series differs from its predecessor. The chapters are longer and fewer in number, making for a different reading rhythm. It has a distinct central protagonist (and a more likable one, on the whole), but he is not the narrator. There is no concluding declaration for each book, to punctuate the story. In fact, it didn’t feel like much was resolved at the end of Nightside. So I thought, ok, I’ll look at the start of the next book and see if there’s a gap in the narrative, then I’ll give it a rest for a little before continuing. But–Lake of the Long Sun picks up without any pause for breath. So I ended up reading the first two chapters of the second book in the same sitting as the last one of the first book!

The protagonist Patera Silk’s dreams are important in the Long Sun, just as dreams were for Severian in Urth. Silk’s dreams are described more believably–the telling really communicates the distortions and uncertainty of dream logic, including ambiguity about the reality of events until waking is finally established. Silk is also, like Severian, a reasonably zealous product of a tutelary order. Instead of being a journeyman of the Guild of Torturers, Silk is an augur (priest) of the polytheistic religion of his city, serving in a neighborhood manteion (temple for animal sacrifice) with its attached school. Silk is sometimes called a “butcher,” since killing animals is central to his profession. So, despite the augur’s relative harmlessness Wolfe again raises for the reader the sort of conundrums he created with his torturer hero. He does a very effective job of making Silk into a conscientious, sympathetic character with “innocence” as his keynote.

Where the New Sun had the alzabo as a means to abrogate the conventional boundaries of personal consciousness, the Long Sun presents a number of instances of divine (and possibly diabolical) possession. The nature and ontological status of the gods is subjected to repeated questioning and re-evaluation by Silk and others over the course of the story, and at this midpoint–with two books of the Long Sun left to go–it doesn’t seem to have reached any sense of finality. But effects of divine initiative are certainly real, and they are not limited to theophanies in the “sacred windows,” which are quite evidently some sort of electronic display screens.

As in the New Sun books, the Long Sun presents a richly-imagined setting, working its way out from quotidian details to a much larger and stranger picture as the story proceeds. This setting has been subjected to spoilers in jacket copy and reviews, but I’d rather just say that it’s completely different than that of the other books. It is more fun to discover it through the book than it would be for me to try to reduce it to some of its larger features. One significant aspect that is introduced at the start is the fact that the city of Viron is a consciously mixed society of “bios” and “chems,” where the former are humans of biological descent, and the latter are engineered persons. There is a surprising level of community and reciprocity between these two sorts of people, and Wolfe often plays on the reader’s expectations in order to delay awareness that a given character is a chem.

On the whole, I find that these Long Sun books succeed in perpetuating and renewing many of the most interesting tropes and preoccupations of the New Sun series, while transposing them to an entirely new milieu. It’s an impressive feat, and I’m looking forward to reading the second half of the Long Sun series.