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 Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain, reviewed by Magdalene Meretrix, in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.
Twain’s final story, published posthumously in 1916, is, despite its obscurity, arguably one of Twain’s greatest works. In this story, Twain distills all the sarcastic religious views he expressed in “Letters from Earth” into a gem of gnostic thought. Though many modern readers will have already come into contact with the notions of a trickster god in a nihilistic universe that Twain depicts, he was far ahead of his time when he wrote these ideas into The Mysterious Stranger.
The Mysterious Stranger takes place in a small Austrian village in the late 1500s. Three boys meet a mysterious stranger. Is he an angel or a demon? The boys, and the reader, are left uncertain – though what is a demon, after all, but a fallen angel?
The story follows the events that transpire when this angel touches their lives and the lives of everyone in the village. The main character, Theodor, undergoes a painful and sorrow-laden awakening to the reality of the nature of the universe, humans, angels and god that will leave the reader contemplating these philosophical constructs and religious ideas for quite some time.
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.
Joy is replaced by drudgery and individuality surrendered to the social collective. Thus is life passed in stupidity.
Christopher S Hyatt, Black Book Volume 1: Principles of Extreme Living