Tag Archives: books

The Fabric of Reality

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes—and Its Implications by David Deutsch.

David Deutsch’s Fabric of Reality is woven from what he refers to as “four strands”: the multiverse interpretation of quantum physics (credited to Hugh Everett), evolutionary biology grounded in genetic selection (Richard Dawkins), the postulate of a universal computer (Alan Turing), and scientific epistemology composed of problems and explanations (Karl Popper). Near the end of the book, physicist Deutsch admits that when first observing similarities and connections among these four, he had taken the latter three to be emergent from, if not reducible to, quantum physics. Ultimately, though, he presents them as equally fundamental and mutually illuminating. According to Deutsch, all four of these theories have arrived at the practical domination of their respective fields, vanquishing competing theories, but all four have failed to be integrated into a widespread worldview. It’s his contention that they need each other to fill the explanatory gaps that make them each seem “‘naive,’ ‘narrow,’ ‘cold,’ and so on” (346).

The book is divided into fourteen chapters, each of which ends with a glossary, a thumbnail summary of the chapter’s argument, and a tease for the following chapter. This signposting structure would make it easy to cherry-pick chapters of interest to a particular reader. On the other hand, the thesis of the whole book relies on the interdependence of the concepts treated in different chapters. So–other than the philosophy of mathematics in Chapter 10, which the author himself says can be merely skimmed by those without strong prior orientation to that field–it’s probably worth reading from cover to cover for full appreciation. I enjoyed doing so, at any rate. Although the concepts may sometimes be on the forbidding side, the prose is lucid. I especially liked the philosophical dialogue in Chapter 7.

This text is now twenty years old, and most of its component ideas were at least that old when it was written. Deutsch insists that his is a “conservative” approach to elaborating the worldview that is a consequence of “taking seriously” the four theoretical perspectives of the book. Considering that, by his lights, the explanations that they afford are the best for their respective fields of inquiry, he says that the worldview that he has assembled from them is the one that needs to be challenged by new ideas in the future. Despite all of the advances in communications technology in the 21st century, though, this contemporary philosophical worldview has yet to be accessed even by many readers who will find it interesting and perhaps compelling. [via]

Eros, Magic and the Murder of Professor Culianu

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Eros, Magic, and the Murder of Professor Culianu by Ted Anton.

The greater portion of Ted Anton’s Eros, Magic and the Murder of Professor Culianu is a biography of the slain historian of religions, a Romanian national defector who was ascending to an accomplished position at the University of Chicago in the footsteps of his countryman Mircea Eliade. Anton’s long-form journalistic approach braids the biographical narrative intriguingly with accounts of Culianu’s own scholarship and writing of fantastic fiction. I think I’ve read a little over half of the academic works that are available in English under Culianu’s byline, and this book does a decent job of glossing their theses and contents. Additionally, it has interested me in the volumes that he issued under Eliade’s name after the older scholar’s death, pointing out the extent to which Culianu used these as vehicles for his own bolder ideas.

The title Eros, Magic … evokes Culianu’s own seminal study Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, but the Murder of Professor Culianu is necessarily the event towards which the entire book is oriented. Culianu’s daylight assassination at the University of Chicago Divinity School is still officially unsolved. Anton gives plenty of reasons for readers to suspect the involvement of the Romanian Intelligence Service (RSI), but efforts of the Chicago police and FBI to identify the murderer(s) were dilatory, ineffective, and possibly even compromised.

The book reads very quickly, with short chapters and engaging prose. There was an odd clinker, where Anton quoted Culianu’s secretary bewailing his murder with “Not Mr. Culianu!” (17) And similarly, Anton has Culianu himself drolly remark, “Mr. Eliade had some pretty daring ideas after he died” (228). Having had a little firsthand experience of the University of Chicago, an institution that lionizes its faculty while sorely indenturing graduate students and treating undergraduates with grudging tolerance, I find it nearly impossible to imagine the title Mister rather than Doctor being applied to either of these men by their colleagues or staff.

The event of Culianu’s murder begins the book, and returns at the end of the biography proper. Then the narrative proceeds to the funeral events and the murder investigation. All along, there are parallel accounts of developments in Romanian politics (a story that was new to me in many details). Culianu’s engagement with current events in his native country waxed and waned, and he never returned in person. But his relationship to Eliade–perhaps the most lauded Romanian scholar of the century–made him an object of Romanian attention, which he sometimes leveraged through philippics published in Romania and abroad.

Perhaps the most surprising bit of the book was the appearance, after Culianu’s death, of a suburban Chicago couple who claimed to be receiving spiritualist communications about the murder by somniloquy. This peculiar episode seems to have come from nowhere and led to nothing, but it cannot be dismissed as irrelevant, especially considering Culianu’s personal and professional interests in the paranormal. But even eerier was Culianu’s own longstanding fascination with the Borges story “Death and the Compass,” and the ways in which he seemed to have divined his own murder.

Anton undertook this book while working at DePaul University in Chicago. It really pulls together an impressive amount of research. It had been on my shelf waiting for me for several years, and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it. [via]

Against the Light

Julianus reviews Against the Light by Kenneth Grant in the Bkwyrm archive.

This is the second novel of Grant’s to be published and the first book from Starfire, longtime publishers of the “Typhonian OTO” journal. The production quality is quite lavish and this was certainly printed with an eye for the collectors’ market, but what of the story? Against the Light covers the search for an ancient Grimoire containing the sigils that are Keys to the Nightside. The star of this narrative is none other than Kenneth Grant himself, with a supporting cast of his own friends and relatives, some of whom will be familiar to readers of his “non-fiction”, but which are here used (or so one may assume) fictitiously. One of the natural results of this is that one is uncertain just how to take much of the story. Is Grant disguising fact as fiction or fiction as fact? I have long suspected that he’s been doing the latter in his other books, so is he finally coming clean here? I confess I simply can’t tell. For one thing I don’t know his family history, something that is crucial to the plot.

Essentially this novel is a sort of Lovecraft pastiche consisting of long dreamlike passages through various Gateways into other realities. I get the feeling that Grant mined his dream journal for most of the episodes. He still insists on depicting magical work in the most lurid, pulpish light and tries to fill the reader’s head with all manner of silly warnings. Seems that Kenneth still needs fear to get the juices flowing after all these years. Nothing really fits together very well and, while this may have been the intent, I can’t help feeling the book would have been better for another rewrite. There is no attempt at characterisation and the story is never resolved: it simply stops. [via]

Aleister Crowley and the Practice of the Magical Diary

Bkwyrm reviews Aleister Crowley and the Practice of the Magical Diary, edited by James Wasserman, in the Bkwyrm archive.

This is a great reference text for any magic-user, be they Pagan, Wiccan, or of an entirely different tradition. The work primarily consists of two sections from diaries that were published in The Equinox many years ago, “John St. John” and “A Master of the Temple”. John St. John is a section of Crowley’s own diary; first published in The Equinox (Volume 1, Number 1, 1909). A Master of the Temple is one of the first magical records by Frater Achad, with comments by Crowley, also published in The Equinox (Volume III, Number 1, 1919). These excerpts are introduced by a brief essay by James Wasserman, who explains the purpose of a magical diary, and the importance of keeping accurate records of all magical activities. He provides excellent suggestions on what kind of records to keep, when one should make a record, and what kind of information goes into a magical diary. The usefulness of the information aside, it’s a great read. Both of the diaries are fascinating glimpses into the minds of two men working to achieve magical goals, and the essay by Wasserman is clearly written and entertaining.

This book is highly recommended for anyone of any tradition who is interested in keeping accurate and informative magical records. [via]

An Introduction to Chaos Magick

Randall Bowyer reviews An Introduction to Chaos Magick by Adrian Savage in the Bkwyrm archive.

This over-priced and under-edited essay starts off with fifteen pages of goofy misconceptions about Satanism, Ceremonial Magick, and Wicca, then contrasts these three with Chaos Magick. Briefly, the author states that Chaos Magick is a free-form synthesis of Eastern religion and Western Magic, with a special emphasis on the techniques of Austin Spare. This may sound fairly typical of contemporary neopagan eclecticism, but we are assured that Chaos Magick is far superior to “the man-hating mouthings of the maxi-matriarchal Wiccans,” the gross stupidity of the Satanists, and especially the Ceremonial Magicians, who are too busy “licking the toes of their Aleister Crowley statues.” Sure, whatever. [via]

Art and Symbols of the Occult

Randall Boyer reviews Art and Symbols of the Occult: Images of Power and Wisdom, edited by James Wasserman, in the Bkwyrm archive.

It’s an attractive occult coffee-table book, with slightly cooler pictures than most other occult coffee-table books. The text of course is Really Basic, in the way of such books. The author is obviously enthusiastic about Crowley (something rare in this genre), but still misquotes him just like King or Cavendish or Maple or those other guys. The dust jacket promises an “extensive bibliography of classical occult works,” which has perfidiously been replaced by a one-page reading-list. Oh well, it still looks nice on my coffee-table. [via]

Athenaze: An Introduction to Ancient Greek

Magdalene Meretrix reviews Athenaze: An Introduction to Ancient Greek, Book I by Maurice Balme &al in the Bkwyrm archive.

Ceremonial magicians often work in dead languages for a variety of reasons. Attic Greek, one of my favorites, tends to be very popular. Greek is one of the more difficult languages to learn, but I’ve found it to be very rewarding magically to learn a language rather than just to decode it or to parrot it mindlessly. Words have a great deal of magical power and knowing the sources and subtle nuances of a word often boost a working tremendously.

The Athanaze series is the best way I’ve found to learn Greek outside of a classroom and also happens to be the text most Greek professors choose for their lessons. Its lessons build vocabulary and grammar slowly, focussing on the many sections of text which start with extremely simplified but grammatically correct Greek and work their way up to Greek the way it was written in Pericles and Pythagoras’ time.

The backs of the books are filled with chart after chart of grammar paradigms and a small dictionary that not only translates Greek words into English but English into Greek as well, something most dictionaries of Ancient Greek do not. The pronunciation guide in the front of Book One and the dictionaries in the backs of both books are very helpful as well to those who do not wish to actually learn to read and write Greek but only to calculate Gematric values of translated or transliterated words. [via]