Category Archives: The Hermetic Library

The Hermetic Library

Archiving, Engaging and Encouraging the living Western Esoteric Tradition, Hermeticism & Aleister Crowley’s Thelema

Mind and Nature

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity [Amazon, Publisher, Local Library] by Gregory Bateson, forewords by Sergio Manghi and Alfonso Montuori.

Bateson Mind and Nature

Mind and Nature is Bateson’s last book, although two followed it posthumously, and in the colloquy with his daughter that closes Mind and Nature he discusses his ambition to write a volume called Where Angels Fear to Tread that would more directly treat concerns about consciousness, aesthetics, and the sacred. Mind and Nature is preliminary to that latter book (which became Angels Fear), laying out the epistemology and notions of organization and change that would underlie it.

This book treats the features that human thought (i.e. perception, ideation, logic, and explanation) has in common with biological change in individuals and populations (adaptation and evolution). Bateson characterizes these two fields (the “mind” and “nature” of the title) as the “Great Stochastic Processes.” Beginning with an emphasis on “the pattern that connects,” he introduces a kit of ideas with putatively universal application in what he calls — taking a cue from Jung’s usage in Septem Sermones ad Mortuos — the Creatura. He uses contemporary biology for his understanding of nature, but he uses philosophical materials and cybernetic theories in preference to the products of academic psychology.

I found this book a fast read, but it is not for the intellectually lazy. Although there is a glossary of particular words Bateson felt his readers might find alien, his general lexicon pulls no punches. He makes great hay out of Russell’s theory of logical types, metaphorically expanding its application to the whole panoply of hierarchical phenomena and systems. Most of the text is organized into long chapters containing sets of numbered theses, each treated in a few pages of discussion and example.

In some respects, the part of the book that most excited me on this re-read was the appendix “Time Is Out of Joint,” a memorandum circulated to the University of California Regents (of whom Bateson was one). In less than seven pages, Bateson sums up his most important arguments from Mind and Nature and applies them to the difficulties of governing an educational institution. The result is startlingly similar in content, if not in form, to Aleister Crowley’s early essay “Thien Tao: Or, the Synagogue of Satan.” Bateson and Crowley alike try to communicate the need for human striving to comprehend complementary poles, in order to progress by dialectical transcendence. It is a matter of enantiodromia, rather than compromise: not to say, “Light — Darkness — I am the Reconciler between them” like the officers of a Golden Dawn Equinox ceremony, but rather to say, “I am Light, and I am Darkness, and I am that which is beyond them” like the Crowned and Conquering Child in the utmost aire of LIL.

Their wider scope,
        Limitless Empire o’er the world of thought,
            Help my desires to press
    Beyond all stars toward God and Heaven and Hope;
        And in the world-amazing chase is wrought
            Somehow — all Happiness.

Aleister Crowley, “Dreams” in Mysteries

Hermetic quote Crowley Dreams Mysteries wider scope limitless empire world through help desires press beyond all stars god heaven hope chase wrought somehow happiness

The Doctor Is Out

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Strange: The Doctor Is Out [Amazon, Hoopla, Local Library] by Mark Waid, Emma Rios, & al.

Waid Rios Doctor Strange The Doctor is Out

Although I came to it without high expectations, Mark Waid has provided the best Doctor Strange story I’ve read in many, many years. He has opened up room to reinterpret the character by centering the story on Casey, his new apprentice. Things have not been going well for Strange since he is no longer Sorcerer Supreme, and his broody attitude seems more justified than it has been in the past. He doesn’t have the use of much of his accustomed magical ability; the damage to his hands has returned as a kind of stigma.

While a previous Strange title (based on the unrealized movie script) reconstructed Doctor Strange’s origin story along the lines of The Matrix, the narrative device of the new apprentice’s perspective makes this one feel quite a bit like an occult version of Doctor Who.

The art by Emma Rios is really excellent. Although I was not seized by it at first — mostly because of the overpowering floral colors (never have I seen so much fuschia in an occult comic!) — a few pages of reading showed me that she could really tell a visual story. Her Doctor Strange is more worn and expressive facially, and he largely keeps to street clothes rather than the ceremonial/superhero getup. Rios noticeably incorporates some of the stylistic traits of Ditko and Colan’s classic Strange art, and she acknowledges their influence in a brief interview appended to the comics. In fact, the off-putting element for me (other than the palette) may have been a sort of extreme “looseness” of composition that I also associate with Colan’s work.

Most importantly, Rios draws the magic well! While keeping some continuity with the Ditko and Colan representations of sorcery, she develops her own graphic idiom for the purpose to good effect — entirely distinct from, but comparable to P. Craig Russell’s past turns on Doctor Strange. This book is also full of nonhuman spirits (yeah, demons), and Rios offers persuasively outre and varied forms for these.

This volume, despite collecting four individual comlcs, reads like an integral graphic novel because they were a “limited series.” It does provide a very conspicuous opening for a sequel, and I would certainly be interested if the creators of this one were to fulfill that.

Kalle was burdened with an intense pain located about a hand’s breadth below his right collar bone. No, there was no tumor or anything of the sort there, he had had it checked, but it was exactly there that it started to hurt whenever life got to him. A black heart pumping despair into his body.

John Ajvide Lindqvist, trans. Ebba Segerberg, Let the Old Dreams Die: Stories [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic-quote Lindqvist Let the Old Dreams Die burdened intense pain no tumor exactly started hurt whenever life got him black heart pumping despair into body

A Rendezvous in Averoigne

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews A Rendezvous in Averoigne: The Best Fantastic Tales of Clark Ashton Smith [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by Clark Ashton Smith, illo Jeffrey K Potter, intro Ray Bradbury.

Smith A Rendezvous in Averoigne

A Rendezvous in Averoigne is a comprehensive, if not exhaustive, collection of Clark Ashton Smith’s short fiction. A Weird Tales contributor and member of the Lovecraft Circle, Smith wrote like a sort of extraterrestrial version of Edgar Allan Poe. Although the title of this book refers to the imaginary medieval setting of Averoinge (compare James Branch Cabell’s Poictesme), its contents span across the various settings and story cycles deployed in Smith’s oeuvre. After “Averoigne” follow “Atlantis,” “Hyperborea,” assorted “Lost Worlds,” and then most fully “Xothique” (the “last continent”).

Each of these stories has a lapidary merit that rewards repeat reading, and I have been able to return to this volume with pleasure many times over the twenty years I’ve owned it. There are no dependable themes throughout; the reliable common denominator is the beauty of Smith’s language, and his ability to communicate a sense of the alien and the abominable. 

Noted weird fiction critic S.T. Joshi has dismissed Smith’s stories as superficial, but to my reading they often have profound contents. As an example, I recently re-read the Zothique tale “Necromancy in Naat,” and realized that its household of three necromancers was the centerpiece of an inverted gospel of the post-Christian far future, in which Yadar and Dalili (twisted from Joseph and Mary) come to the three magi, rather than the magi to them. (And the guiding influence is a black ocean current, rather than starlight.) The inaugurating event of the narrative is death, rather than birth. And Dalili is magically sterile, rather than miraculously fertile. There is to be no redeeming death, since the liches stumble along even after the expiration of the magi. And the curious episode in which a local cannibal is fed to the demon Esrit is a symbolic criticism of the Christian Eucharist that is beyond my powers to gloss! 

This book also includes an introduction by Ray Bradbury and deliciously surreal illustrations by Jeffrey K. Potter. I don’t think there’s any bad place to start reading Smith, but if you had to confine yourself to a single volume of his work, this might well be the one.

The Long Tomorrow

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Long Tomorrow [Amazon, Bookshop (New), Publisher (New), Local Library] by Leigh Brackett.

Brackett The Long Tomorrow

As an SF author, Leigh Brackett is known for her planetary romances, which are indeed very fine. But this novel, perhaps her most lauded book-length work, involves a more serious and credible look at the future of our society. Indeed, the book’s scenario for the not-so-distant time to come is not much less believable now than it was when she wrote it about sixty years ago. The only ways it seems dated are that she didn’t predict the microprocessor, or describe any anthropogenic climate change. Given the nature of the story, the first of these is not a significant lack. 

In some features, this book resembles Logan’s Run, which I read recently. Both involve a protagonist rejecting a stultified society and looking for a possibly-mythical site of organized resistance which has continuity with the lost values of the past. Where Logan’s Run has Sanctuary, The Long Tomorrow has Bartorstown. But while Logan flees an urban technocracy, Brackett’s Len Colter is trying to escape an American anti-civilization in the etymological sense: a society that has overtly rejected the idea of the city, along with all of the industries and technologies of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. 

With this rural, piously conservative, post-apocalyptic environment as the setting for what is in large measure a coming-of-age story, the novel invites an even more direct comparison with John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids. On the whole, I consider Brackett more successful. She better realizes the ways in which even those oppressed by the prevailing morals have internalized them, and she traces a more extensive and nuanced process of maturation in her characters. 

The Long Tomorrow reads quickly — “I finished The Long Tomorrow today,” I remarked paradoxically to my Other Reader — with digestibly short chapters divided into three component “books,” which might have been titled “Piper’s Run” (the village of Len’s childhood), “Refuge” (a community where his exile leads him as a young man), and “Bartorstown.” Although it was not issued as YA fiction, it would serve that increasingly sophisticated market well today. And it continues to deserve the attention of adults willing to reflect on social and technological change outside the myth of progress.