Summary for two weeks ending May 5th, 2019

Here’s a summary of activity for two weeks ending May 5, 2019.

I’m procrastinating over moving the website to a new server. The blog and BBS are on their own separate better servers from the website already, but that last time I tried to move the website was a bit of a technical fiasco and didn’t end up happening. It’s such a pain to do, and so many fiddly bits. But, those performance issues are real, and a struggle that is also too real. So, I’ve got to do it. Ugh.

But, I got Postal Exchange and Publication Subscription perks out to ongoing Patrons! This time with zines and tchotchkes from Praeterlimina.

Hermetic Library zines and tchotchkes from Praeterlimina May 2019

Hermetic Library Postal and Subscription perks for Patrons May 2019

Those are, even now, winding their way to Patrons in four countries across our wide earthy globe!

By the by, as a reminder, May is the month of the anniversary of my birth. I’ll be 50 this year! Also, later this year, in September, will have been 10 years that I’ve been Librarian of Hermetic Library. Wild, and funny, both milestones will occur this year. All I want for my birthday and anniversary is a bunch more Patrons so I can keep doing all this and do more. Become a Patron so I can send you gifts for my birthday!

Still looking for help and others to join me in a working community around the library, of course.

Lots of new pages and work on old pages on the site, which is pretty much every week, really. You can always check the front page of the site which shows the most recent changes and new pages, or check out the Recent Changes special page for a full list.

Want to join me on this blog and create new art or writing for Hermetic Library? Pitch your Idea.

Help get some conversations started over on the BBS and in Chat.

Be sure to check out the actual Hermetic Library, and subscribe on Bandcamp or become a Patron.

Here’s a summary of posts on the blog from these last few weeks

The Magick of Thelema

The Magick of Thelema: A Handbook of the Rituals of Aleister Crowley by Lon Milo DuQuette, reviewed by Magdalene Meretrix, in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews. There is a newer edition.

DuQuette The Magick of Thelema

Love him, hate him, respect him, fear him… matter what the reaction to Aleister Crowley, it’s difficult to honestly deny his contribution to occult science as it is studied today. Potential students of Crowley’s writings are often put off by his obscurity, however. Even his “primer,” Magick Without Tears, is nearly unintelligible to the average person.

This is where Lon Milo DuQuette steps in. DuQuette has served as an officer in Crowley’s magical order, the OTO, for over two decades, studied Crowley’s writings for nearly three decades and was personally acquainted with some of Crowley’s top students. In this book of rituals, DuQuette explains Crowley’s philosophy as best as anyone could demystify a mystic and goes through all the major Thelemic rituals step by step, explaining the visualizations and symbology behind the words and motions.

The text includes lengthy explanations of many Thelemic words of power and the center section has sixteen photos of ritual stances. The entire text of the Book of the Law, the Thelemic holy book, is included as well as a Tree of Life diagram and many diagrams of various pentagrams and hexagrams with explanations of their meanings.

DuQuette writes with humor and more than a measure of self-deprecation, attractive in a man so obviously learned. The only negative comments I could make about this book are that I don’t agree with DuQuette’s stance of taking the sex out of sex magick and I wish the book were spiral bound since it is a reference book that the serious Thelemic magician will want to consult over and over again. Every copy of this book I have ever seen has either been unread or all the pages have come loose from the binding.

Sacred Mysteries

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Sacred Mysteries: Sacramental Principles and Liturgical Practice by Dennis C Smolarski.

Smolarski Sacred Mysteries

Sacred Mysteries is a book about Roman Catholic liturgical reforms, ideals, and ambitions, written by a Jesuit university instructor in the mid-1990s. It reflects a particular historical window, just over one full generation after the first set of ceremonial changes that resulted from the Second Vatican Council. Author Dennis Smolarski chooses to use the word “mysteries” interchangeably with “sacraments,” and he calls the seven chief sacraments of Catholic tradition the “great mysteries,” affording each its own chapter. When he discusses this lexical choice in his preface, he cites the usage of Eastern Orthodoxy and the Catholic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (1963). He raises–to dismiss it–the notion of mystery as an intellectual puzzle, but he seems content with mystery as an arena of the unknown or the unknowable, replete with emotive power. He certainly does not reference the pagan mysteries of antiquity, and he also misses the important English sense of “craft mystery,” according to which a mystery is in fact a guild: an initiated social body of practical experts. The silence about these latter meanings leaves the book’s repeating title conceit somewhat unfulfilled, considering how apposite they are.

Smolarski’s opening chapters establish his method and perspective; then follow the chapters for the seven “great mysteries” and two more for sacramental services of funerals and blessings. The last chapter is dedicated to the topic of pitfalls and and “obfuscations.” Each chapter on a given sacrament is divided into two sections. The first section is on “principles” and summarizes the historical development of the sacrament, along with theological considerations. The second section is on “practice” and discusses Catholic liturgical implementation at the close of the twentieth century.

Some of the liturgical history is worthwhile, and it is written in an accessible form, although there are certainly other books that have that topic as a more central focus. The text mentions in passing, as if it could hardly be questioned, that the eucharist “finds its origin in the family meal” (65). Leaving aside the fact that any and all eating and drinking by humans will in some sense descend from the act of family nourishment, I found that statement profoundly ignorant of (or dishonest about) the genuine historical origins of eucharistic ceremonies.

At one point, discussing the impertinence of popular American wedding customs, this book on Christian worship approvingly offers a quotation on genealogical obscurity from Antichrist Friedrich Nietzsche (115)! But a quick check of the end note shows that it is actually citing Nietzsche’s Human All Too Human at secondhand from page 2 of Celebrating Marriage, edited by Paul Covino for Pastoral Press. I imagine Covino himself got it out of a book of assorted quotations and epigrams. But it still gave me quite a laugh.

I came to this book as an overheard recommendation by a member of the clergy in my own church, although we do not administer the Catholic sacraments as such. Implicitly, the idea was that the analogy to our sacraments (some of them identically named) was sufficiently close that ministers of the Thelemic Gnostic Catholic Church (EGC) could benefit from Smolarski’s analyses. After a thorough reading, I would tend to disagree. First, the book is (properly, by its own lights) oriented toward Christian theology which is profoundly irrelevant to the work of our Thelemic sacraments. Second, it tends to deprecate and deride the Tridentine Catholic forms that were abrogated by the Vatican II reforms. To the extent that Roman Catholic liturgy has provided precedents for EGC ritual, it is exactly those older forms with their “ambience of prayer, awe, and mystery” (67) on which we draw. Finally, it is preoccupied with a specific process of institutional and liturgical reform that does not obtain in EGC.

I concur with Smolarski that liturgy is not reducible to entertainment and should avoid treating a congregation as a passive audience (e.g. 177). Secure in his large and mature institution, he is never in danger of the sort of terminological errors that are all too common in EGC, where officers will apply the jargon of modern entertainment to church ceremony, calling the ritual a “script,” the rubric “stage directions,” or the vestments “costumes.” But he happens to hit on the one sore desideratum for liturgical discourse, a term for what stage performers call “blocking.” There is no traditional ecclesiastical jargon to denote the positioning and movement of the officers in the worship space. Smolarski suggests choreography, which I think has a lot to recommend it.

Sacred Mysteries is probably a helpful book for the audience for whom it was actually written: Roman Catholic ministers and worship organizers. Despite the ongoing change that it emphasizes, it may not even be obsolete twenty years after its first publication.

Swords’ Masters

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Swords’ Masters by Fritz Leiber.

Leiber Swords' Master

Swords’ Masters is the second book club omnibus of Leiber’s Fafhrd and Mouser stories, including the fourth through sixth volumes of their original book format.

The four stories of Swords against Wizardry alternate between substantial novellas written in the mid-1960s and short bridging pieces written later by Leiber to pull them together into a consolidated volume. The bridging stories, “In the Witch’s Tent” and “The Two Best Thieves in Lankhmar,” are both great fun, though. “Stardock” is a wonderful story of fantasy mountaineering, and it is complemented by “The Lords of Quarmall,” set in an underearth kingdom with its dynasty of sorcerers. This last story (the first of them to be written) was grown by Leiber from an unfinished manuscript by his friend Harry Fischer.

Swords of Lankhmar is the only full-fledged novel of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser that I’ve read. At first, it seems like it might not even be such, because a preliminary nautical adventure seems to set it up to be episodic, but indeed, the whole thing is a single, complicated tale centering on an attempted conquest of Lankhmar undertaken by “Lankhmar Below,” i.e. the city of rats underneath Lankhmar. There are love interests for both heroes–likely the oddest such in all their adventures–assistance from their sorcerer-patrons, and more detail than previously available about the unimpressive upper reaches of Lankhmarian aristocracy. In this edition, Swords of Lankhmar is prefaced with a map of the world of Newhon–a welcome feature which is nevertheless awfully difficult to read, owing to varied calligraphy and an odd quasi-global projection.

The last book Swords and Ice Magic is full of retrospective glances at the earlier adventures of the two heroes, and is in many respects a sequel to “Stardock.” It starts with short stories, but these wax interdependent, so that by the time the reader reaches the long culminating novella “Rime Isle,” it feels as if they had merely been opening chapters of a novel. “Rime Isle” itself has more than a little taste of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods about it, concerning as it does fugitive gods trying to reestablish their bases of worship. It is strange that the conclusion of six volumes of Leiber’s stories leaves the heroes somewhere quite remote from the City of Lankhmar, i.e. the titular Rime Isle far out to the north in the Frozen Sea. Although I don’t know if it will assuage this particular discomfort, the fact inclines me to seek out and read the fugitive seventh book: The Knight and Knave of Swords.

Dore’s Illustrations for Rabelais

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Doré’s Illustrations for Rabelais by Gustave Doré.

Doré Doré's Illustrations for Rabelais

These pictures are a pleasure in themselves, and they are wonderful to review after having imagined the Rabelais stories in the course of reading. There is a notable inconsistency to the depiction of various characters by Doré, arguably reflecting a similar inconsistency on the part of St. François. Also, this book is a clip-art goldmine for Thelemites.

They bore witness, in a serious and ceremonious manner, to the unravelling of this union.

Uvi Poznansky and Zeev Kachel, Home

Hermetic quote Poznansky Kachel Home unravelling