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∴.

The Invention of Morel

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Invention of Morel [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Adolfo Bioy Casares, trans Ruth L C Simms, preface Jorge Luis Borges, introduction Suzanne Jill Levine, part of the New York Review Books Classics series.

Casares the Invention of Morel

Although this novel is very short, it feels increasingly slow and frustrating toward the midpoint. Rather than a fault, this mood shows its success at getting the reader to identify with its stranded fugitive speaker, who is significantly the aspiring author of two books other than the journal which forms the principal text of The Invention of Morel. The later part of the book involves a crucial anagnorisis and the working out of its consequences.

I was more than a little reminded of The Island of the Day Before, and I feel certain Eco must have read Morel. Although in his praise for it Borges called this book an “adventure story,” I am compelled to view it as a parable.

The moral of Morel: . . (hover over for spoiler) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Psychology of Ritual

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Psychology of Ritual [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by Murry Hope; there is also a newer edition [Amazon, Abebooks, Publisher].

Hope the Psychology of Ritual

This book was an impulse buy for me. It was a cheap secondhand copy in decent condition, and I wasn’t familiar with the author. It didn’t look exploitative or too primerish, so I was intrigued.

The author is not a psychologist, but an occultist. In this book she repeatedly insists that she is a member of no particular sect or school, but according to Wikipedia (consulted 2012.11.05), she cofounded the Atlanteans Society (1957) and later the Institute of Transpersonal Sensitivity (1988). Based on the contents of the book, one can infer a vague Neopagan identity for her, incorporating a discriminating eclecticism. Without explicitly acknowledging the Thesophical Society, she draws on New Age doctrines about “cycles of evolution” that have distinctly Theosophical provenance. Other doctrines of popular esotericism that she promotes include a variety of alternative archaeologies (Atlantis, Ancient Astronauts, etc.) as well as New Age mystical interpretations of quantum physics.

In my attempts to grasp Hope’s context, I thought back to a another book I had read by an English occultist from about the same date: Adrian Savage’s Introduction to Chaos Magick. As I recollect, Savage anatomized the English occult scene into three factions: simpering anti-intellectual Witches, authoritarian toadying Ceremonialists, and daring experimental Chaos Magicians. Hope defines her position relative to the first two, both of which she praises, while seeming to identify a little more strongly with the neopagan witch than the ceremonial magician. And then in a sole hilarious mention, she refers to “chaos magic … as an excuse for hedonistic license. Legitimate mystical sciences are perverted in the name of experiment, and discipline has become a dirty word” (209).

The Psychology of Ritual is divided into three main sections plus a fat set of appendices. The first section provides history (often quite speculative or even obviously fallacious) and some general theory about the importance of ritual in general, or “the Rite,” as she terms it. She deliberately mixes magical and esoteric ceremonies with the rites of exoteric religious traditions in order to assert shared principles across a wide spectrum of ritual. A taxonomy of five ritual “codes” offered in the first chapter appears to be original in this work. Rather than psychology, the emphasis in the first section is more anthropological.

The second section starts with a unique chapter in which Hope goes into a variety of conventional 20th-century psychological theories, with emphasis on neurochemistry and the physiology of emotional states. The exposition is, let’s say, not authoritative. For example, Hope confuses melatonin and melanin. The next five chapters give contemporary occult rituals as case studies for the sort of “psychological” approach Hope applies, which usually has more to do with Jungian theory. (She refers to Jung as “the master” on p. 48, but most of her Jung citations are to the somewhat fictionalized memoir Memories, Dreams and Reflections.) For each of these five chapters, there are one or two full ritual texts among the appendices. Hope herself contributes a neo-Egyptian ceremony and a Celtic healing ritual, while others are from Ashcroft-Nowicki, the Farrars, Thorsson (Flowers), Schueler, and an anonymous Jesuit. She then finishes the section with a “Ritual World Tour” or ethnographic survey, a chapter on traditions of initiation, and a chapter on women’s rites.

In the third section she opines on the contemporary conditions for and uses of magical ritual. The section is wide-ranging, and often consists of passionate but unsupported assertions. Still, as much as she might buy into many of the flaky doctrines current in late 20th-century popular esotericism, I consistently got the impression that Hope had a genuinely broad base of personal experience in occultism, and that she is a basically considerate and practical lady.

The book assumes a fairly informed reader, but the tone is very much that of a lecture. Hope has some idiosyncratic diction beyond “the Rite” mentioned above. In particular, she pretty consistently uses “ever” for “always,” which is a little grandiose for my taste. Although this is more of an “intermediate” book than an introduction for the unlettered aspirant, it really didn’t have any new ideas for me. It was a mostly-pleasant read chiefly distinguished by its author’s voice.

Ἑρμης mente figuratus. Manibus: sedens.

Ἑρμης per anum manibus.

(Hermes formed in the mind. Hands, sitting.

Hermes [imagined] in the anus [using] hands.)

Aleister Crowley, Rex de Arte Regia, diary entries December 22, 1914 and January 14, 1915

Hermetic quote Crowley diaries Rex de Arte Regia King Royal Art 1914 1915 hermes mente figuratus mandibus sedens per anum formed in the mind hands sitting in the anus

Random shelfie for the week, 8nov2023

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 8nov2023

Front row:
Diary of a Witch, Sybil Leek
The Book of the Law
Aleister Crowley, Thoth Tarot Deck
(The Book of Kaos: Tarot Deck, Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule)
Voyager Tarot

Back row:
The Equinox, Aleister Crowley, Volume I, Number I–IV, VI–X

Opus Dei

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Opus Dei: An Archaeology of Duty [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Giorgio Agamben, trans Adam Kotsko, part of the Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics series.

Agamben Opus Dei

This slim volume is reliant on the lines of thought explored previously by Agamben in The Sacrament of Language and The Kingdom and the Glory, although it might be approachable on its own by a generally well-read and determined reader. I found it slow going, requiring as much as five minutes per page.

The first chapter is on “Liturgy and Politics,” but mostly liturgy. It focuses on the emergence and development of a distinction between opus operans and opus operatum in sacramental activity. Only at the very end does Agamben remark that he considers this instrument for the “effectiveness of the cult” to be a “theological model … which has made a lasting mark on praxis in the Marxist tradition” (26).

The first part of Chapter 2 “From Mystery to Effect” should be read in dialogue with Drudgery Divine by Jonathan Z. Smith. It is somewhat amusing that Agamben should take the side of the (anti-pagan) Protestants in the relevant questions about Christian liturgical origins, while Smith assails it. “Effect” is concerned with the “transformation of being into operativity” that results from the “ontological-practical paradigm … of effectiveness” (63) which Agamben identifies with sacerdotal mystery.

The third chapter offers “A Genealogy of Office,” which begins to focus on the historically articulated nature of ministry as a duty and a function. This interesting study culminates in a declaration that “[T]he priesthood, of which the character is the cipher, is not a real predicate but a pure signature, which manifests only the constitutive excess of effectiveness over being” (87). (There is also an interesting mention of Varro’s three modalities agere, facere, and gerere, which seem to correspond to the offices of Cancellarius, Praemonstrator, and Imperator, respectively. 82)

“The Two Ontologies” of the fourth chapter are the philosophical-scientific and the religious-juridical. The former is characterized by the indicative mood and the latter by the imperative. Agamben illustrates various ways in which these two oppose one another and yet have become intertwined and reliant upon one another, with the tendency to privilege the religious-juridical under the cover of the philosophical-scientific reaching an acme in the 18th century. His account here makes solid sense out of Kant, and it almost re-interested me in Heidegger. The alignment of liturgy and ethics is witnessed through the concept of pious “devotion.” Agamben writes, “Theologians never lost awareness of the pagan origin of devotio, with which the commander consecrated his own life to the infernal gods in order to obtain victory in a battle” (103).

The very end of the book offers a discussion of the metaphysics of will, which arrives at remarks perfectly congruent with Beyond Good and Evil section 19, although Agamben never cites Nietzsche in the whole book. And then I was perplexed to read the final sentence, for which he never seemed to have supplied the motivation: “The problem of the coming philosophy is that of thinking an ontology beyond operativity and command and an ethics and a politics entirely liberated from the concepts of duty and will.” As usual, Agamben gives me useful insights and leaves me scratching my head.

Random shelfie for the week, 1nov2023

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 1nov2023

Back row:
(Jane Wolfe: The Cefalu Diaries 1920–1923)
Portable Darkness, Michaelsen
Skinner, Magical Diaries of Aeister Crowley: Tunisia 1923 x2
Aleister Crowley, The Magical Record of the Beast 666
The Thoth Tarot, Astrology, & Other Selected Writings, Phyllis Seckler (Soror Meral)
The Kabbalah, Magick, and Thelema: Selected Writings Volume II, Phyllis Seckler (Soror Meral)
Lunar and Sex Worship, Ida Craddock
The Complete Magick Curriculum of The Secret Order G∴B∴G∴, Louis T. Culling & Carl Llewellyn Weschcke
Wasserman, In the Center of the Fire
Charles Evans, Kangchenjunga: The Untrodden Peak
Martin Starr, The Unknown God
Churton, Aleister Crowley: The Beast in Berlin
Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley, Lawrence Sutin
F.R. Stephensen, Israel Regardie, The Legend of Aleister Crowley

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Spy Who Came in from the Cold [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by John le Carré, book 3 of the George Smiley novels.

Le Carre the Spy Who Came in From the Cold

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was a tardy entry in my reading list for classic espionage books. It was less witty than the Deighton novels of the same era–early 1960s Cold War–but it had more gravity and pathos. I can see how it acquired its iconic status, and I am curious about the screen adaptations. It read in a flash; the prose was practically transparent. The rather limited third-person voice was effective, and the pacing of the short chapters was lightning fast, even though the book features relatively little “action.”

I certainly enjoyed it enough to want to read more le Carré, and I’ll probably proceed forward to The Looking Glass War. While I am tempted to roll back to his debut novel Call for the Dead, I gather that it is a mystery with a retired spy for its protagonist, rather than spy fiction proper.

A man’s possibilities are the heights to which he should climb. They are inherent in his own nature. Possibility fulfils itself whenever any individual makes it actual. The effect of any such act is to create the ineffable joy which accompanies the satisfaction of the ache resulting from the sense of imperfection.

Aleister Crowley, The Comment K on Liber Legis, The Book of the Law, I.13

Hermetic quote Crowley The Comment K Liber Legis The Book of the Law man possibilities heights climb inherent nature fulfils actual create ineffable joy satisfaction ache sense imperfection

Random shelfie for the week, 25oct2023

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 25oct2023

Front Row:
(Aleister Crowley, Magical and Philosophical Commentaries on The Book of the Law, edited Symonds & Grant)
Gertz, Odyssey of a Barbarian
Conjuring Spirits, Michael Osiris Snuffin
The Complete Conjuring Spirits: A Manual of Modern Sorcery, Michael Osiris Snuffin
Introduction to Romantic Satanism, Snuffin
Aleister Crowley & The International, Edited by Jon Lange
The Lunar Dial