Category Archives: The Hermetic Library

The Hermetic Library

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

The Wizard and the Witch

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Wizard and the Witch: Seven Decades of Counterculture, Magick & Paganism by John Sulak, foreword by Carl Llewellyn Weschcke.

Sulak Weschcke The Wizard and the Witch

The Wizard & the Witch is a dual biography of Oberon and Morning Glory Zell, constructed as an oral history. John C. Sulak interviewed over fifty different people in order to assemble the firsthand accounts that make up the body of the book. Although most were almost certainly interviewed separately, the editorial process has set them into dialogue with each other as Sulak works through chronological and topical segments of the book. With one conspicuous holdout, he was able to garner input from a great range of family members, lovers, and creative collaborators. Not all of the accounts are complimentary, but all have the ring of sincerity.

The earliest sections reach back into the childhoods of the two subjects, and the story is told up to 2009. It traces the religious vocations of the Zells and the vicissitudes of the Church of All Worlds of which Oberon was a founder, and with which they are identified. Although first developed as a science-fiction-inspired “grok flock,” CAW became a vanguard of public-facing neopaganism in the United States. Oberon later gained some notoriety for his cryptozoological efforts concerning unicorns and mermaids, and these are treated here also. Morning Glory Zell is commonly credited with coining the word polyamory, and the book provides ample detail on the Zells’ unconventional sexual ethics, their amorous involvements, and the developments of their various households.

I was a personal acquaintance of at least one person named in this book, and I can recall having attended a modest-sized pagan festival in central Texas where Morning Glory was present, so I understand myself to be two degrees of separation at most from the people in this book. Although I am a generation younger than the Zells, I found it easy to appreciate their life experiences by relating my own to some of the accounts given here. Certainly, many readers might consider this story to be an exotic one, but the motives, ideals, and foibles characteristic of the people involved are ones that I recognize, and in most instances, respect. The book is an enjoyable read, and even for those who may understand themselves to have less of a personal interest in the events and persons described, it vividly recounts a valuable perspective on the development of new religious expressions in twentieth-century America.

Echoing all that has been written on and in favor of women, I am only trying to say that in the mystical and initiatory world “they do exist” also.

Hélène Bernard, Great Women Initiates

Bernard Women exist

Omnium Gatherum: July 9, 2019

An irregular hodgepodge of links gathered together … Omnium Gatherum for July 9, 2019

If you’d like to participate, head over to Omnium Gatherum on the BBS, or suggest something.

  • Tweet by Alex Norris

  • The Curious Mystical Text Behind Marianne Williamson’s Presidential Bid. The New Age author was drawn to an esoteric bible in the 1970s. It made her a self-help megastar. And now it has gone mainstream.” — Sam Kestenbaum, The New York Times

    “Ms. Williamson’s debut may have appeared offbeat, a not-so-serious collection of truisms about love. But more was happening here. She was, in fact, drawing directly from a homegrown American holy book called “A Course in Miracles,” a curious New York scripture that arose during the heady metaphysical counterculture of the 1960s.

    This is not some homey book of feel-good bromides. Rather, it is taken by its readers as a genuine gospel, produced by a Manhattan doctor who believed she was channeling new revelations from Jesus Christ himself. And stepping into this unusual book’s story, in fact, is the key to understanding Ms. Williamson’s latest venture.”

  • Followers of occultist Aleister Crowley to be welcomed back to his former Highland home” — Alison Campsie, The Scotsman; from the it-shall-be-your-Wellness-Spa-for-ever dept.

    Campsie The Scotsman followers of occultist Crowley to be welcomed back Boleskine

    “The former Highland home of occultist Aleister Crowley is to be restored and converted into a wellness retreat where yoga and meditation will be taught – as well as the teachings of the notorious religious leader.

    Boleskine House on the south west banks of Loch Ness was destroyed by a fire in 2015 but has now been purchased by three as yet unnamed investors who paid a total of £500,000 for the property and gardens.

    The Boleskine Foundation has now been launched to drive the restoration of the property with parts of the historic estate, which was built in the 1760s, to be opened up to the public.”

  • Why a new generation is turning to Satanism. Devil may care.” — Olivier Pelling, Huck

    “In a time of chaos and uncertainty, when traditional belief systems no longer seem to have all the answers, more and more young people are finding comfort in Satanism. But these aren’t devil worshippers who drink blood or sacrifice animals. They’re just regular people trying to squeeze the most out of life.”

  • The Gnostic Apocalypse That Is Game of Thrones” — Miguel Conner, Aeon Byte

    “Let’s dare the metaphysics of Game of Thrones, now that the dust (and self-righteous internet outrage) has settled on its final season. Specifically, I want to talk about the show’s Gnostic features.

    That’s not as surprising as you might think. Epic fantasies tend to be spiritually eclectic in their massive world-building efforts. It happens, and logically, this can include some gradients of Gnosticism. As an example, it happened in Lord of the Rings. Don’t believe me? Check out Lance Owens arguing on my show that J.R.R. Tolkien’s cosmology is heavily indebted to Gnostic ideas.”

  • Thousands petition Netflix to cancel Amazon Prime’s Good Omens. US Christian group condemns Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s story as ‘making satanism appear normal’ – but petition wrong company.” — Alison Flood, The Guardian

    “More than 20,000 Christians have signed a petition calling for the cancellation of Good Omens, the television series adapted from Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s 1990 fantasy novel – unfortunately addressing their petition to Netflix when the series is made by Amazon Prime.”

  • Tweet by Amazon Prime Video US

  • ‘Hail Satan’ opening prayer at Alaska government meeting prompts walkouts, protest” — Owen Daughterty, The Hill

    “The Associated Press reports the prayer, where a woman declared “Hail Satan,” was given by Satanic Temple member Iris Fontana, who won the right to open the meeting with an invocation of her choice.

    “That which will not bend, must break, and that which can be destroyed by truth should never be spared as demise. It is done, hail Satan,” Fontana said to open the meeting, according to local radio station KSRM

    The controversial prayer Tuesday night started the meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough and prompted several attendees to exit.”

  • By the Book: Denise Mina” — The New York Times

    “What books are on your nightstand?

    ‘The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper,’ by Hallie Rubenhold; Peter Mansfield’s ‘A History of the Middle East’; ‘The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography,’ by Aleister Crowley”

  • Jim Bakker: Christian Leaders and Politicians Will Be Murdered if Trump is not Re-Elected” — Kyle Mantyla, Right Wing Watch

    “End Times prepper pastor Jim Bakker warned on his television program today that if President Trump is not re-elected in 2020, Christian leaders and politicians will be murdered in the streets.”

  • Tweet by Damien

  • Trump spiritual adviser says ‘demonic networks’ have aligned themselves against president” — Rachel Frazin, The Hill

    “President Trump’s spiritual adviser, Paula White, said in the opening prayer before his campaign kickoff rally in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday that “demonic networks” have aligned themselves against the president. “

  • Put down the self-help books. Resilience is not a DIY endeavour” — Michael Ungar, The Globe and Mail; adapted from his book Change Your World: The Science of Resilience and the True Path to Success

    Ungar Change Your World

    “I, too, wish life were as simple as it is described in the first chapter of Eckhart Tolle’s bestselling book The Power of Now. It opens with the story of a beggar sitting on a box. A stranger comes along and asks the beggar what’s inside. The beggar, who has sat on the box for years, has never thought to open it. When finally he does, it is full of gold. Thus we are all beggars seeking something from someone else when everything we need is already there inside us.

    But stories such as this are misleading, if not dishonest. Personal explanations for success actually set us up for failure. TED Talks and talk shows full of advice on what to eat, what to think and how to live seldom work. Self-help fixes are like empty calories: The effects are fleeting and often detrimental in the long term. Worse, they promote victim blaming. The notion that your resilience is your problem alone is ideology, not science.

    We have been giving people the wrong message. Resilience is not a DIY endeavour. Self-help fails because the stresses that put our lives in jeopardy in the first place remain in the world around us even after we’ve taken the “cures.” The fact is that people who can find the resources they require for success in their environments are far more likely to succeed than individuals with positive thoughts and the latest power poses.”

  • Ancient Egypt link to The Beatles points to ‘Macca is dead’ conspiracy, theorist claims. A BONKERS conspiracy claiming legendary Beatle Paul McCartney is dead may have a compelling link to ancient Egypt, a theorist has claimed.” — Simon Green, Daily Star

    “Despite being one of the most recognised musicians of all time, a select few Beatle fans believe Sir Paul was killed in a car crash in 1966.

    They claim a body double was then used after his death, something the iconic band supposedly alluded to in their songs.

    Now, one so-called truth-seeker has offered a different view on the theory.

    This Paul is Dead thing, I am looking at it as an initiation.”

    Andrew stops short of suggesting what Paul was “initiated” into, but linked it to the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley.”

  • Konx-Om-Pax. Ways of Seeing.” — Kareem Ghezawi, The Quietus

    “In the original 1907 publication of Konx-Om-Pax, British occultist Aleister Crowley attempts to discern the nature of the transmundane through a series of esoteric allegories and enigmatic mystical rites. To some he was a spiritual snake oil merchant, while to others he was nothing less than a prophet. One thing for certain is that his personality, life, and works have been a major source of inspiration to artists and leftfield oddballs ever since.

    In that sense, Tom Scholefield shares common ground with the great beast whose work he has named himself after. Because like him, Konx, and his peers on Planet Mu and Hyperdub, are interpreters of the generation’s collective consciousness, it’s ugliness, as well as its beauty. In Ways of Seeing, Konx allows himself to be fully guided by his empathic intuition for the first time and the result is a record which reveals promisingly hopeful patterns in the void.”

  • Rivers of Babylon: 4 Unusual Facts About Cradle of Civilization. As UNESCO names Babylon a World Heritage Site, the ‘Post’ presents five little-known facts about how the fame of the ancient kingdom is still with us today.” — Hagay Hacohen, The Jerusalem Post

    “2. Babalon Woman – In the complex occult magical system created by English writer Aleister Crowley, a special place is reserved for the concept of Babalon. The concept includes both the principle of fertility and female sexuality as well as an actual woman who takes on the role of “scarlet woman.”

    In his own lifetime, Crowley expected romantic partners to take on the role of Babalon for his occult needs. Among them were Jeanne Robert Foster and Leah Hirsig.

    Crowley, who attempted to shock the norms of his day and age, might have been influenced by Jewish and Christian concepts of ancient Babylon as a place of sexual excess. The ‘Whore of Babylon’ is referred to many times in the Book of Revelation. Crowley also saw himself as ‘the great beast.'”

Hermetic History — Erase It or Face It

LeGrand Cinq-Mars reviews Ecstatic transformation: Transpersonal Psychology in the Work of Mechthild of Magdeburg by Ulrike Wiethaus and a dissertation The Kabbalistic thought of Eliphas Levi and its influence on modern occultism in America by Robert L Uzzel [see] in the archive of Caduceus: The Hermetic Quarterly.

Wiethaus Ecstatic Transformation

Esotericism, “hermetism,” hermeticism, even magic — there is something of a vogue for these now, it seems, in the world of the official academies. Anthropologists do their field work among urban ceremonial magicians, and textual scholars assess the transmission of grimoires and books of shadows. Their publications are not sold only to large research libraries: the editions of the Nag Hammadi texts, or even the edition and translation of the Greek magical papyri, are not read only, or even largely, by academic specialists. Magicians add the special mojo of philology to their bags of tricks, and magical orders produce critical editions of the works of their founders.

Yet this interpenetration is somewhat less than mutual. These subjects are often approached, from the academic side, with the handy medusa’s head of theory to protect against the possibility of “going native,” or the bland assurance that such things have long since passed from the world to protect against the possibility that any large lecture class may contain devotees of rehabilitated deities for whom monotheism and atheism are equally implausible.

But there is no guarantee of distance, nowadays. A class on Druse or Tibetan religion may well contain Druse or Tibetan students. Nor is there any guarantee that theoretical constructs of the social sciences have been developed only in the hydroponic purity of the academy.

The two works reviewed here both ride this wave of renewed academic interest. Yet they do so on very different trajectories. One is published by a university press, the other extracted from the hoard of University Microfilms; one is a study of a respected mystic, the other a study of someone whose work was described (by no less an authority than Gershom Scholem) as “supreme charlatanism”; one assumes various postures in the heady, non-ordinary world of modern cultural and literary theory, while the other does not give any indication that the author knows such a world exists. The first may not seem to have much connection with the interests of this journal; the other is firmly connected with them. But they both deal with these interests, and the way in which they do so casts light on each other, and on different approaches to studying the history of esoteric traditions.

Wiethaus, for her part, sets out to study the work of Mechtild of Magdeburg in the light of the transpersonal psychology, with extra references to the realm of cultural theory, especially feminist theory and a certain related idea of spirituality. This psychological approach has roots in the work of Abraham Maslow, who, in the early 1950s, in opposition to the largely behaviorist trend in academic psychology, became interested in the study of experience, especially what he came to call “peak experience.” He came to regard peak experiences as characteristic of a stage of development that followed the successful accomplishment of a hierarchy of developmental tasks aimed at satisfying biological and interpersonal needs. Other important, though later, figures in the movement are Stanislav Grof, a psychoanalytically-oriented psychiatrist whose early work developed from his experience in Czechoslovakia with the clinical use of LSD, Ken Wilber, a theoretician rather than a clinician, who has a strong interest in the transformative potential of human consciousness.

The term ”transpersonal psychology,” often used for the work of these and similar writers, indicates a psychology that is oriented beyond the personal and toward the more-than-personal. Although in one sense this development promises a kind of de-mystified mysticism, in another sense (like generic “core shamanism”) it offers a mysticism unmoored from any developed social and community context, and permeated with assumptions (for example, about the need to satisfy needs hierarchically) that are not in fact shared by many mystical traditions.

The enterprise of transpersonal psychology is complicated by the connections, many of them far from explicit, of various transpersonal psychologists with various forms of spiritual practice. These carry with them clear philosophical, theological, or ideological positions, which are often re-packaged in the guise of psychological formulations.

Now, whenever one puts a topic through the mill of an interpretive approach, one risks finding the object of one’s study to be an illustration of the interpretive apparatus one has brought to bear on it. This is a danger that Wiethaus seems to take no pains to avoid. She demonstrates, oddly, no sense that the systems and thinkers she uses in her approach have a history, or that there is anything problematic about them. She accepts her theoretical authorities simply as given, with a lack of critical appraisal that leads her into anachronism and self-undermining judgments.

For example, in an extended discussion of R. M. Bucke’s Cosmic Consciousness, she criticizes his “hierarchical” and “elitist” understanding of the kind of person who could achieve the experience of cosmic consciousness — the kind of person that he understood as being closest to the cutting edge of evolution. Wiethaus objects that he has not integrated his mystical experience (which, because mystical, must have been non-hierarchical and non-elitist) with a critical assessment of the values of his patriarchal culture. (Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs is not, somehow, as objectionable.)

Wiethaus shows no awareness of the ways in which evolutionary schemes had been merged with ideas of mystical achievement during the Nineteenth century, so that spiritual achievement was often seen (certainly not just by Bucke) as an almost biological progress up the Great Chain of Being. And she supposes that “mysticism” is everywhere and always universalist and non-hierarchical, because her modern authorities counterpose “spirituality” and “oppression” (and since hierarchy is oppression, and oppression hierarchy, spirituality must be apart from either). Any acceptance of hierarchy, then, especially on the part of a female mystic, becomes a clear sign of an incompletely realized spirituality, and especially an incompletely realized female spirituality.

She uses approaches and formulations developed by writers affiliated with such enterprises as Oscar Ichazo’s Arica Foundation, the Gurdjieff movement, Vedanta, and modern magico-political religious movements, without any indication that these authors and their ideas did not spring full-grown from eternity — and without any sense that there might be something problematic in using them to understand a medieval Catholic mystic (male or female). This is rather like using the thought of (say) Ian Paisley as a basis for understanding the work of James Joyce, because they are, after all, both Irish.

Even more piquantly, for someone who speaks against the erasure of women’s voices from history, Wiethaus discusses the psychosynthesis of Roberto Assagioli without once giving any sign of recognizing his place in the history of esotericism. Assagioli founded a movement of “psychosynthesis” that became a tributary current of transpersonal psychology. He also was translator for Alice A. Bailey in her European speaking tours. Bailey, who claimed to write as an amanuensis for a telepathic Tibetan, was herself following in the footsteps of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in her elaboration of a decidedly hierarchical, evolutionary, and even elitist scheme of spiritual development. Assagioli was also one of the first to publish systematic expositions of the kind of imaginal work commonly used in occult circles nowadays.

Yet Assagioli, like the others, is presented as a neutral “thinker” or “scientist”, with no suggestion that he might have had a history, allegiances, training, or beliefs, or that he might have been one of the sources for the kinds of practices in which Starhawk (one of Wiethaus’ authorities on feminist spirituality) was trained. Perhaps such avoidance is necessary in order to be able to mount a critique of the “male” hierarchical aspect of Assagioli’s approach; perhaps it is merely a matter of not knowing any better.

The great problem with this book is that one constantly gets the impression that the aim is less to achieve a clearer insight into Mechtild of Magdeburg than it is to appropriate her work as an exemplification of various current ideas about such Good Things as “the female”, “the mystical”, “the spiritual”, and “the marginal” — with no particular interest in the actual, historical people to whom those adjectives might be applied.

Uzzel, on the other hand, takes a much more conventional approach. He is simply interested telling us what he has learned about the influence in America of Eliphas Levi’s ideas about Kabbalah. First he tells us about Levi, relying largely on the prior work of other historians and biographers, as well as on Levi’s own work.

He sketches Levi’s influence in France and Britain, on the Golden Dawn and (in part via P. B. Randolph) on what became the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), and thus on Aleister Crowley, whose magical career, and continuing fascination with Levi, Uzzel summarizes fairly enough. He does not hesitate to discusses Randolph’s sexual magic and its later influences in the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor and the OTO; nor does he omit to mention Crowley’s magical use of sex and drugs.

He goes on to describes Levi’s influence in Nineteenth century America, with a special focus on the mediation of that influence through the extensive appropriations of Albert Pike and thus through American Freemasonry. He also traces Levi’s influence on Blavatsky and her Theosophical Society, and a series of other American movements and organizations, including various magical and esoteric groups like the Ordo Templi Orientis, the Builders of the Adytum, and Order of the Temple of Astarte (OTA). He concludes with a summary of what he takes to be Levi’s influence in this century and the last.

Uzzel addresses the vexed question of Pike’s racism with fraternal forbearance, but does not flinch away from reporting clearly the evidence that Pike’s views were not all that one might hope for from someone pledged to universal brotherhood. Similarly, he discusses the shifts and conflicts in Levi’s thoughts and attitudes as ways into appreciating Levi as a human being, and not simply as a plaster magus.

Uzzel has consulted the relevant works, even the most recent histories of Nineteenth century occult movements. But he has gone further. He wrote to various contemporary organizations, including the OTO and the OTA, and also had telephone conversations with various responsible officials in those organizations. He reports this correspondence, and these conversations, because it makes sense to him to ask people what they think, and to take their answers seriously (though sometimes not without a certain deadpan irony).

The sober biographical note that inevitably accompanies doctoral dissertations informs us that Uzzel is an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the chairman of the Department of Religion at an AME college in Dallas, and that he is an active member of various branches of Prince Hall Freemasonry. He is, in a sense, writing both as an insider and an outsider to traditions that shaped Levi, and that Levi, in various ways, shaped. Uzzel’s Christianity is not Levi’s Catholicism, but the traditions of theological debate make the well-formulated differences a royal road to understanding the issues at stake. Uzzel’s Freemasonry is not (as no real Freemasonry could be) Levi’s idealized initiatic mystery school, but it has had to define itself and defend itself from both admirers and detractors, and bears the scars of these conflicts as badges of honor.

Perhaps the major gap in Uzzel’s treatment of Levi’s influence is his lack of attention to Levi as a stylist. He says little about the influence of Levi’s particular wit and style, with its delight in paradox, and in the insight that paradox brings. (One might say that the idea of the conjunction and interplay of opposites was explored in the German manner by Nicholas of Cusa, in the Swiss manner by C. G. Jung, and in the French manner by Eliphas Levi.) It was Levi’s spirit of paradox and serious play, of delight in the deception that reveals and the revelation that re-veils, that so many have found so attractive in his writing, and that has had a literary and stylistic influence far beyond the influence of specific ideas or concepts. It was Levi, too, who did not shrink from donning the mantle of charlatanism as a fashion statement, and making of it a master’s gown.

Wiethaus, for all her official daring, can only see the respectable side of her subject; for all her admiration for the margins, she ultimately wants to make the margins respectable, and marginalize what to her is dubious or suspect. Uzzel, on the other hand, perhaps because of the conventionality of his approach, shows no signs of anxiety. He examines the sectarianism, the scandal, the sexual magic, and the often peculiar allegiances of his subjects, without batting an eyelash.

If the contrast seems ironic, it is worth remembering that official daring is first of all official, and official interest in the margins is almost always associated with a colonizing agenda.

In every dictatorship which is tottering, there is an urge towards destruction. Of self, if that only is possible. Of the world, if that is.

Peter Bryant, Red Alert

Hermetic quote Bryant Alert destruction

Gates of Light / Sha’Are Orah

J. S. Kupperman reviews Gates of Light / Sha’Are Orah by Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla, translated by Avi Weinstein, in the archive of the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition.

Gikatilla Weinstein Gates of Light

While there are many books discussing Jewish Cabala today, there are only a handful of primary sources available to the English reader. Written in the 13th century, Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla’s Sha’are Orah or “Gates of Light” can be added to the list of original Jewish Cabalistic texts that have been fully translated into English (a list that includes the Sepher Yetzirah and the Bahir, as well as the Zohar; though there is only one rather expensive English translation of this to-date) whereas many other cabalistic manuscripts have not been translated at all.

Gates of Light takes the reader, step by step, through each of the ten Sephiroth of the Tree of Life. Each chapter discusses in-depth many of the aspects of a particular Sefirah, but for the chapter which covers both Hod and Netzach, which are taken together as their functions are so complimentary to one another that they function often as almost a single Sefira. Primarily, the Divine Name or Names associated with each Sefira is discussed. This discussion often moves to moral concepts applicable to the Sefira in question; how one Sefira relates to another, and even how segments from Torah or the Talmud should be interpreted by the light of Cabala.

While valuable simply because it is a primary source for traditional Cabala, Gates of Light may be even more valuable and interesting for those who have only studied hermetic or magical Cabala. The descriptions of the Sefirot and Divine Names, even the very attitude that the writer takes towards his writing, are very different from those found in hermetic Cabalistic texts. Many concepts, such as the Resurrected God being integral to the makeup of the Sephira Tiferet, are not to be found. Instead one finds that Tiferet is the place of balanced Divine Justice or that visions and prophecy are directly related to Hod and Netzach while true and perfect vision comes from Tiferet. At the same time, familiar concepts are included, such as Tiferet being the focal point of the Tree of Life, balancing the Sefirot above and below it. The reader discovers both the many dissimilarities and similarities between hermetic and Jewish Cabala.

Though not always clearly written, and often digressing into sub-topics, Gates of Light can give the reader valuable insight into the nature of the Sefirot and the Divine unavailable in other traditional Cabalistic texts or in books written from the hermetic point of view. A primary source for traditional Jewish Cabala, and written even before the famous Zohar, Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla’s Gates of Light is a valuable addition to the library of any Cabalist.

There is a ghost of a moral in the story of a sensual Caliph going to the bad, as represented by his final introduction to the Halls of Eblis.

William Beckford, Vathek

Hermetic quote Beckford Vathek moral

Paths of Wisdom

J. S. Kupperman reviews Paths of Wisdom: Principles and Practices of the Magical Cabala in the Western Tradition by Hermetic Library Fellow John Michael Greer in the archive of the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition.

Greer Paths of Wisdom

At first John Michael Greer’s Paths of Wisdom appears to be just one of dozens of hermetic Cabalistic primers that are already available to the public. A deeper look shows, however, that Paths is much more akin to the Dion Fortune’s magnum opus The Mystical Qabalah. Indeed, additional study shows that Paths goes even farther than that seminal work.

Paths of Wisdom is divided into three sections; Principles of the Magical Cabala, Symbolism of the Magical Cabala and Practice of the Magical Cabala. Each section is effectively a separate primer for beginner, intermediate and advanced theories and practices involving the hermetic Cabala.

The introduction and the first six chapters which comprise part one of the book, discuss the history of the magical or hermetic Cabala, as well as the basic concepts surrounding the Tree of Life, the main glyph or symbol of the Cabala. First, the reader will learn about the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, whose practices for working on the Tree of Life Greer describes in the third section of the book, along with the order’s theories concerning the Tree of Life and the Cabala. Greer then describes the Tree itself, its Sefirot or ten basic manifestations of deity, and its Netivot, or the connecting paths between the Sefirot. Also discussed are the Macrocosm and Microcosm and the mystical paths Greer calls “the Way of Creation” and “the Way of Redemption”.

The second part of the book which comprises the bulk of Paths of Wisdom, contains an in-depth description of the ten Sefirot and the twenty-two Netivot of the Tree of Life. These descriptions include practical information such as the Name of God ascribed to each Sefirot or Path, their magical image and associated colors, all of which would be used in hermetic Cabalistic ritual. Going further though, each chapter discusses each of these listed associations, describing what they mean in relation to the Sefirot or Netivoth in question. Each aspect of symbolism is illustrated for the reader and connected to similar symbols existing in other areas of the Tree.

The third and final section of Paths covers everything from the basic theories of ceremonial magic, such as the Watcher on the Threshold and the Tools of the Magician’s Trade; to basic practices including the protective ritual known as the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. In later chapters the reader is introduced to more advanced practices such as pathworking or skyring on the Tree of Life and magical prayer. Finally there is a discussion on bringing the Magical Cabala into one’s everyday life.

Paths of Wisdom: Principles and Practice of the Magical Cabala in the Western Tradition is an excellent introduction to the Magical Cabala. Its language is clear and easy to understand and its descriptions of both ritual practice and the various parts of the Tree of Life are detailed and insightful. While containing very basic information, the book is none-the-less useful for the intermediate and advanced reader on the subject. Its constructive references and diagrams make it a valuable addition to the library of any hermetic Cabalist.

It’s like meeting yourself again and again, at the back of every dream, the author of every trip. We find each other and know each other over and over.

Mary Sativa, Acid Temple Ball

Hermetic quote Sativa Acid meeting

Astrology and the Seventeenth Century Mind

Hermetic Library Fellow John Michael Greer reviews Astrology and the Seventeenth Century Mind: William Lilly and the Language of the Stars by Ann Geneva in the archive of Caduceus: The Hermetic Quarterly.

Geneva Astrology and the Seventeenth Century Mind

The importance of astrology in the culture of the Renaissance has been recognized for some time now, but there is still plenty to be learned about its manifold roles in the interwoven realms of learning, politics and society in the years before the scientific revolution chased it into the back closets of our culture. This is particularly true when it is allowed to speak in its own terms, rather than being forced into the Procrustean bed of some modern intellectual category. Ann Geneva’s recent study of the English astrologer William Lilly does precisely this, and as a result casts an remarkably clear light not only on the work of the most brilliant astrologer of his time but also on a host of other aspects of late Renaissance cultural history.

William Lilly (1602–1691) rose from humble origins to become the most famous astrologer in England during the years of the English Civil War and the Commonwealth which followed it. An important factor in his rise was his unswerving devotion to the Parliamentary cause, a devotion which took the form of anti-Royalist predictions in his extremely popular annual almanacs and many of his other publications. At the same time, he was also an astrologer of genius, and his Christian Astrology — the first comprehensive manual of astrological practice to be published in English rather than Latin — is widely held to have ignited the English astrological renaissance of the seventeenth century, and to have played a critical part in handing down the astrological traditions of the past to future students of the art.

His astrological predictions of doom for the King and success for the Parliamentary cause, however, are the major focus of Geneva’s book. After efficiently clearing away much of the nonsense surrounding the historical study of astrology in a first chapter, she develops two themes through the rest of the book: first, the way that natural phenomena were understood as a language of portents and signs predicting events in the political world; and second, the way that discourse about these portents and signs could be used, and was used, as a tool of political communication and action. In the process, she gives a thorough and eye-opening look at the use of codes, anagrams and encryption in seventeenth-century England, and provides a valuable discussion of the ways in which certain astronomical and meteorological events — notably eclipses, comets, conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn, and those remarkable refracted images of the Sun called parhelia or “sundogs” — were read as portents of coming woe in earlier traditions of astrology.

All of these were grist for Lilly’s mill, as he turned out almanacs and pamphlets predicting victory for Parliament and death for King Charles I. Geneva explores these latter prophecies of regicide in detail, showing how Lilly wove them into the fabric of his discourse, sometimes openly, sometimes under a protective screen of astrological jargon, at times making use of the king’s own natal horoscope to predict his fate and at other times drawing on broader traditions of the interpretation of omens as political signs. These prophecies played a significant role in Parliamentarian propaganda, just as the predictions of the Royalist astrologer George Wharton were used to good effect by the King’s adherents. At the same time, Geneva argues, Lilly’s carefully orchestrated predictions of Charles’ death may well have helped create a climate of thought in which the once-unthinkable idea of ending the monarchy with a headsman’s axe came to be seen as written in the stars.

As a work of intellectual history, then, Astrology and the Seventeenth Century Mind has a great deal to offer, not only to those specifically interested in the late English Renaissance but also to anyone seeking a clearer grasp of the complexities of the magical world view. In addition, some of the byways it opens up offer unexpected access to the more enigmatic parts of the Western magical tradition. The fusion of occult tradition with politics and concealed communication is an old one, and Lilly was far from the first person to work both sides of their interaction at the same time; one thinks of the Steganographia of Trithemius, at once a manual of ciphers and a textbook of angel-summoning, and of John Dee’s Enochian material, created by methods closely linked to the encryption techniques known and practiced at the time. For students of Hermetic magic, the insight provided by this book’s glimpse into one part of that shadowy underworld of hidden discourse may be its most useful feature.