The Myth of the Eternal Return or, Cosmos and History by Mircea Eliade, reviewed by Bkwyrm, in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.
One of my favorite authors. Eliade once said that if someone was only going to read one of his books, they ought to read this one. From the back cover: “This is an essay on mankind’s experience of history and its interpretation, beginning with a study of the traditional or mythological view, and concluding with a comparative estimate of modern historiological approaches. At a moment when modern man has brought his race almost to the point of annihilation, the historical attitude has been all but discredited. The author seeks an answer to the question: What can protect us from the terror of history?”
This isn’t witchcraft, or magic, or ritual. It’s philosophy. I find this work absolutely fascinating. Eliade was the chairman of the department of history of religions at the University of Chicago, as well as the Sewell L. Avery Distinguished Service Professor in the Divinity School and professor in the Committee on Social Thought. He was the author of novels, short stories, and plays as well as works in the history of religions. After you’ve read this work, you ought to read “Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions,” as well as “Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy.”
The Mystery of the Grail: Initiation and Magic in the Quest for the Spirit by Julius Evola, reviewed by Julianus, in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.
This book originally formed an appendix to the author’s Revolt Against the Modern World, which he later expanded into a book in its own right. Evola’s thesis is that the Grail Cycle forms a Pagan “northern” mystery distinct from the “southern” Christian religion, and that this represented an Imperial “resistance” to the Church in the Middle Ages. I am not entirely convinced of this, but there is much interesting analysis of the Grail legends in here.
The Modern Witch’s Spellbook by Sarah Lyddon Morrison, reviewed by Bkwyrm, in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.
Subtitled “A Guide to the Mysteries of the Occult, Explaining How to Cast Spells, Work Charms and Love-Magic, and Improve Daily Living Through Witchcraft”. Almost sounds like an ad for a new laundry detergent, doesn’t it? “Brighten your colors and get those whites really clean, use Witchcraft!!” I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but this was the first book on Witchcraft that I ever bought, at a Waldenbooks in Florence, Kentucky. Sad but true. It doesn’t have any kind of religious focus – it’s a spellbook, published in 1971, and definitely reflects the attitudes of the time it was written in. Morrison has basically tossed together a whole bunch of Wiccan traditions and some Ceremonial Magick and presented it as a “spellbook”.
The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge by K Paul Johnson, reviewed by Julianus, in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.
Everybody in occultism has heard of the Secret Chiefs who direct world affairs from behind the scenes with their awesome powers. H.P. Blavatsky was probably most responsible for popularizing this idea and much controversy has ensued over whether she was faking those “letter from the Mahatmas” or not. Mr. Johnson takes a middle course between the two extremes on this subject; he concludes that HPB really was the representative of a world-wide network of Adepts which she deliberately mythologized for various reasons. The book is mostly a series of capsule biographies of real people that HPB was known to be in contact with (though some cases rest on circumstantial evidence.) These people range from European explorers, occultists, and revolutionaries to Sufi mystics to Indian Rajas. The fact that an overwhelming number of these figures were involved in revolutionary or anti-colonial political movements goes a long way to explaining Blavatsky’s concealment of their identities, and Mr. Johnson presents (for example) internal memos from British intelligence showing that she was watched by Colonial authorities in India.
Another interesting aspect of the “Myth of the Masters” is how it was inflated by HPB’s disciples, much to her annoyance. Mr. Johnson takes great pains to show how the most extravagant claims originated outside of Blavatsky’s control. The result is kind of an object-lesson in human credulity.
The two major problems with this book are, first, that it is really to short– the biographical material is so brief that one feels at time as if one is reading a “Cliffs Notes” version of the real book (indeed this is apparently a “popular edition” of the author’s Master’s Thesis.) The second problem is that many of the “Masters” listed really do not seem to have much real connection to Blavatsky or Theosophy except that the author seems to think they should! Perhaps this due to the above-mentioned abridged quality of the work, and if so I do hope he expands on these points in future editions.
The Masks of Odin: Wisdom of the Ancient Norse, translated and commented on by Elsa-Brita Titchenell, reviewed by Ingeborg Svea Norden, in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.
A native Scandinavian should be able to translate the Poetic Edda very well–at least, that’s what readers expect. Unfortunately, Titchell doesn’t measure up. Not only does she insist on putting a Theosophical spin on her translations (East meets North–UGH!), but she renders the proper names in a confusing mixture of Old Norse, English, and Swedish. One kindred that I hoped to join had this book on its required reading list; after buying and reading this book, I had second thoughts about joining. (Anyone who can’t accept Norse philosophy on its own terms shouldn’t write or teach about it!)
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.
Love him, hate him, respect him, fear him…..no 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.
Bkwyrm reviews The Magical Household: Spells & Rituals for the Home by Scott Cunningham and David Harrington in the Occult Book Reviews archive.
Let me preface my review of this work by mentioning for what seems like the nine millionth time that Cunningham wrote beginner books. If he had lived longer, he probably would have written intermediate and advanced texts on Wicca, but he didn’t. He died before he had a chance to write anything beyond the absolute basics. If you’ve been practicing for a while, and you’ve got a fair number of books on your shelf, Cunningham works are not going to be all that helpful to you. This is a work about hearth-and-home Wicca. It is intended to guide the reader through charms and spells to make the home happy, productive, and magical. Nineteen short chapters include Thresholds of Power, Bathing and Brushing, The Mystic Garden, Household Purifications, and suchlike. The writing is clear and easy to read – the usual standard Cunningham fare. Charms and rituals are scattered throughout the book, together with folklore on the home from many cultures and traditions. Each chapter stands on its own, as a self-contained essay on a particular subject. It might be because the book was a collaboration project, but I didn’t find this book particularly interesting or useful. The sections seem disjointed – while there is an overall coherency to the style, the varied topics are arranged in such a way that the reader is shifted from one concentration to the next, with no transition. The different cultures and traditions that the spells and charms come from are given a very superficial treatment, with no materials suggested for further research and study. As Cunningham’s books go, this is certainly not one of the best examples of his work.
Julianus reviews The Lord of the World by René Guénon in the Occult Book Reviews archive.
Rene Guenon is the founder of the Traditionalist school of religious philosophy. They consider that all “authentic” religions are derived from the “Primordial Tradition” and spend a great deal of time denouncing the anti-Traditional trend of modern civilisation. This odd little pamphlet is all about Lord of the World who is sort of a Secret Chief behind all valid Traditions. Much of this material comes from Theosophy, which Guenon denounced as a “pseudo-religion” in an early book, and this edition is published by some Gurdjieffians, who Traditionalists abhor as horrid anti-Initiates. This strange bedfellowship suits the odd mix of Hinduism, Grail mythology, 19th century occultism, and Qabalah in the text. Not bad for a guy who looked like a dead fish.
Magdalene Meretrix review The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher and The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher by Lewis Thomas in the Occult Book Reviews archive.
These, Dr. Thomas’ first and second books, are timeless classics. Though Dr. Thomas is discussing science in his essays, his writing style has a mystic and poetic quality to it and his thoughts are inventive, unique and quirky. I imagine the late Dr. Thomas would be intrigued by alchemy and other hermetic disciplines though he might not take them seriously as being applicable to modern times. Still, there is a strong quality of magick in Dr. Thomas’ writing, particularly in his first book, Lives of a Cell.
For the scientist who enjoys a poetic view of nature or for the magician who tends to incorporate modern science into his world paradigm, these essays will be a delight. Some are sad, some will make you chuckle, all will make you ponder the universe whether on a large or small scale. I highly recommend Dr. Thomas’ essays to the intellectual reader.
Randal Bowyer reviews The Light of Egypt, Vols. I and II: The Science of The Soul and The Stars by Zanoni (Thomas H Burgoyne) in the Occult Book Reviews archive.
T. H. Burgoyne (co-founder of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor) speaks with an unusual level of authority on occult matters, in the second volume at least. If I understand the situation correctly, Burgoyne published Volume I in 1889, died in 1895, and then published Volume II in 1900 through the mediumistic assistance of Henry and Belle Wagner. I understand that after the deaths of Dr. and Mrs. Wagner, they collaborated with Burgoyne on a third volume which was channelled through their son, the publisher H. O. Wagner. I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing Volume III, nor have I been able to discover if H. O. Wagner has yet “crossed over;” if so, I do hope he will join in the family business, and give the world a fourth volume via the next generation of Wagners.
Anyhow, the best parts of volume I are reprinted in The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, and those who are only interested in the stuff written before the author died can get by with those reprinted selections. Personally, I liked what Burgoyne had to say after he was dead better than I liked that Great Cosmic Cycle goo he emphasized while alive: death seems to have made his outlook more practical and his style a little, well, livelier. I can think of a few contemporary esoteric writers who would do well to repeat Mr. Burgoyne’s experiment.