Tag Archives: books

So what is the nature of this library? What function does it serve other than being a filing system for books? What, to use the phrase beloved of cultural criticism, does it say about me, and to whom is it addressing this message?

Linda Grant, I Murdered My Library

Hermetic quote Grant Murdered library

From the very existence of these books he learned one primary truth: that everything in the world was enveloped in great skeins of mystery into which one could bravely probe but which one could never fully untangle.

Jeremy P Bushnell, The Weirdness: A Novel

Hermetic quote Bushnell Weirdness books

The Deep Gate

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Deep Gate by Chris A Jackson.

Jackson The Deep Gate

The Arkham Horror novella for “investigator” Silas Marsh teams up the alienated sea dog with Miskatonic University librarian Abigail Foreman. She’s in the throes of a manic episode trained on apocalyptic oracles in a sixteenth-century tome. Marsh is of course kin to the Innsmouth Marshes (of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth”), and the Deep Gate of the title unsurprisingly proves to be at Devil Reef off the Massachusetts coast. 

Author Chris Jackson is an old hand at nautical storytelling and fantasy, but an admitted greenhorn when it comes to horror writing, and this experience base shows in the final product. While there are a few apt touches for purposes of horror and the yog-sothothery is all faithful enough, it’s more a quest-and-challenge sort of story than a genuinely creepy one. It is a fast read, as the books in this series generally are, and it does go a little ways to fleshing out Silas as a black sheep of the hybrid Innsmouthers. 

The full-color “documentary” pages at the back of the volume show as much variety as these have in any of the other books, including correspondence, news clippings, a medical report, a scientific abstract, and a page or two from the Prophesiae Profana. The correspondence, while designed with appropriate old fonts for manual cursive and typewriting, is all anachronistically set up with headers in e-mail format: “From: … To: … Subject: …” above the body text. Also, the pages from the old tome are in English, although the story described them as being in Latin. Still, all this material does provide some entertaining supplementary perspectives on the main story, particularly the Arkham Advertiser story commending the “fine citizens” of the Marsh family.

The Silas Marsh promotional cards for Arkham Horror: The Card Game introduce this character to the game for the first time. I expect him to be fun to play, and I have already designed a deck for him to join with Ursula Downs in my first go at the latest campaign cycle The Forgotten Age.

As great an actor to enact Crowley as this

Not only didn’t I mind Simon Callow’s Crowley, I thought Callow did a really good job … but in a crappy movie. Or, at least, I assume so. I really couldn’t watch the 2nd half of Chemical Wedding because it turned super stupid. I suppose it’s possible that the end managed to turn it around, but I gave up; and, when I talked with people that stayed for the whole thing I’m glad I left.

However, the first half really made an impression, which I was disappointed that the rest didn’t live up to. I kept thinking how interesting, as high concept, to ask what would it be like if Crowley were somehow brought back to life today. What would he say and do, and what would his personality and ideas be like, when placed within a current cultural context. What would he applaud and what would he lament and what would surprise and what would shock, anger, confuse? And what insights and breakthroughs could be made given more time in a new time?

For that matter, it’s an interesting idea which you could ask of any historical figure. Any of the historical figure re-enactments is an example of how this can be compelling. I’m thinking primarily of Holbrook’s Twain and Jenkinson’s Jefferson as these seem to be exemplars. Or, I suppose also the Riverworld stories of Farmer are also examples of this idea of moving historical figures into another context. Maybe some more good examples are the alternative history stories that come out every once in a while and even the recent trend of adding zombies or whatnot to historical literature.

Well, anyhow, I was watching the special features on Branagh’s Hamlet, and I was struck by how closely he seemed to me in some of the videos to resemble Crowley in some pictures.

Branagh [source], Crowley [source]

Admittedly the picture of Branagh above is not the most flattering, but he’s so often smiling that it’s the best I could find on short notice to show side-by-side.

Anyhow, leaving aside the high concept of time travel and resurrection, wouldn’t it be something to see a decent period bio-pic of Crowley done with such production values and acting that someone like Branagh could bring to it? There’s certainly enough material to be interesting. Like the life of Sir Richard Francis Burton which really has only ever appeared once, and then only a short bit, in The Mountains of the Moon (which is actually a really well-done movie that I recommend); a decently done movie about Crowley, with warts and all to be sure, of course, please, but not something that is just stupid sensationalism or worse a really crappy B-grade film, would really be something to see.

Originally posted over on my personal blog at As great an actor to enact Crowley as this.

Truly occult and Theosophical books ought to be prayers and poems; calculated to lift the heart and the mind of the reader up to the highest regions of thought, and aiding him to descend into the innermost sanctuary of his own being

Franz Hartmann, In The Pronaos of The Temple of Wisdom

I Can Explain

I’ll be honest. I picked up Mockingbird Vol. 1: I Can Explain by Chelsea Cain, & al., because I saw the kerfuffle about the cover for the second volume, and grabbed both to support the series. It then languished in my to-read stack for a long time, but I got around to this and devoured it in one sitting.

This is freakin’ hilarious, and smart. The arc in this collection has a modern storyline with a cool narrative structure. It reminded me of Archer and Deadpool in various ways. The dialogue is witty and sharp, there’s tons of easter eggs in the panels to find, and fun cameos, not the least of which is Howard the Duck! And, it’s a female protagonist who’s the smartest person in the room, in charge, and unapologetic about any of that.

Great stuff I definitely recommend.

Originally posted on my personal blog at I Can Explain

A Nation Under Our Feet Vol 1

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Vol. 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates, & al., is narratively deep and visually impressive. There’s social, political, and economic allegorical levels to the story, which are welcome complexity to the overall genre. The inter-, intra-, and extra-, relationships that T’Challa must navigate and learn from are well developed and interesting to see explored. The art style is a nifty syncretic of many influences, both pan-african and including the futurism of Jack Kirby’s technological schematic visual lexicon.

This first collection starts out a little slow as it tries to deal with a bunch of previous narrative threads, but quickly picks up and builds a good foundation on which the following volumes can continue to construct. On the other hand, the apparently slow start also did give me a quick primer on the Black Panther series, which I am not familiar with, as this is the first I’ve read of any of them. These previous events are also the collective source of the current state of unrest and turmoil that is core to the developing story for both individuals and the collective groups involved. In that sense, I’ve just completely talked myself out of this being a problem and into it being a strength.

The last part of this volume includes a reprint of the very first appearance of Black Panther, in the pages of Fantastic Four, which is a nice bonus, and provides interesting comparison and parallax to the current artwork and writing, as well as being a bit of history to include.

I’ve already picked up the next 2 collected volumes, and am looking forward to the rest of the story.

Originally posted on my personal blog at A Nation Under Our Feet Vol 1

Genetic Bomb

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Genetic Bomb by Andrew Offutt and D Bruce Berry.

Here’s a short, odd attempt at erotic science fiction from 1975. The protagonist is a successful high-status pimp in the severely libertarian “Freewill” global society of an indeterminate future. Humanity has populated Mars and some other worlds of the inner Solar System. Procreative partnerships are disparaged, and women who bear children are consigned to “mate slavery,” while children are raised in large communitarian creches insulated from interaction with adults. Most of the sexual episodes actually detailed in the book are interracial. There is a tolerant regard for homosexuality, although one passage involves a man’s rape of a lesbian, strangely “justified” by paranormal circumstances and “all’s well that ends well.”

Throughout the book, key characters have telepathic conversations and psychic premonitions and recollections amounting to full hallucinations. These are at first associated with artifacts called “star gems,” but later revealed to be a function of the human “genetic continuum” established by the original fostering of humanity by a survivor of the destroyed fifth planet. All of this is explained with only brief bursts of exposition in the context of a high-action plot involving threatened invasion by tentacular monstrosities from an alien dimension.

The whole book highlights a distinctively 1970s inflection of the neophilically-imagined future and could never be written today. It’s really not an admirable piece of literature, but it is sometimes amusing, and certainly distinctive. [via]

Black Sun

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke.

Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (1953-2012) was the author of The Occult Roots of Nazism (1985), which is perhaps still the foremost scholarly monograph on its topic. In his 2002 book Black Sun, he followed up by exploring the various religious and quasi-religious strains for whom Hitler is an age-defining hero or “avatar” and Nazi Germany is illud tempus, and who aspire to perpetuate or fulfill what they see as the resulting “Aryan” spiritual legacy. Unfortunately, this 15-year-old book is a timely read for Americans today.

The first two chapters detail the presence and development of avowed neo-Nazi political leaders and organizations in the Anglophone world in the twentieth century. These capable overviews primarily serve as a backdrop for later chapters. About a third of the book consists of examinations of individual figures — mostly non-Anglophone — who have acquired a teaching mystique in latter-day fascist circles. (As Goodrick-Clarke puts it, their writings have “become hot tips” among neo-Nazis.) These include Julius Evola, Savitri Devi, Wilhelm Landig, and Miguel Serrano. Each of these chapters is substantial and supplies a useful brief on both the biography and doctrines of the mystagogue in question.

Chapter 6, on “The Nazi Mysteries,” is a study and synopsis of the sort of “alternative history” and credulous conspiracy-mongering involved with the attribution of occult powers and motives to Hitler, Nazism, and the SS, which began in literature for popular audiences in the 1960s and became a cottage industry in the 70s and 80s. I imagine that this chapter was one of the most satisfying for Goodrick-Clarke to write, given that he was already in a sort of implicit dialogue with this literature from his doctoral dissertation onward, and that his most successful book has often been shelved alongside it. Here, he gets to confront and call out directly the falsifications and errors of such writers as Hermann Rauschning (Hitler Speaks), Pauwels and Bergier (The Morning of the Magicians), Trevor Ravenscroft (The Spear of Destiny), and others. This sort of study continues in Chapter 8, where the scope of the “mysteries” expands with the addition of UFOs and exotic Nazi redoubts in South America and Antarctica and on other planets.

The chapter on “White Noise and Black Metal” is a treatment of white supremacist and neo-Nazi ideologies in youth subcultures and music. Its information on skinhead organizing and pro-racist music labels is well considered and clear. The presentation of black metal is a bit muddled, though, implicitly suggesting more uniform Nazi sympathies in the international black metal scene than a more objective account might find. In his recounting of the Columbine High School massacre, Goodrick-Clarke propagates misinformation about the “Trenchcoat Mafia” that was common to the early reporting on the topic, thus falsely transmuting the Hitler fetish of Eric Harris into the preoccupation of a clique to which he did not even belong. (For corrections on this score, see Dave Cullen’s Columbine.)

There are similar strengths and weaknesses in the chapter on “Nazi Satanism and the New Aeon.” While reasonably noting Aleister Crowley’s writings as being readable for “authoritarian and illiberal doctrine” (213), Goodrick-Clarke actually misses the extent to which they supply the locus classicus of the phrase “New Aeon” in occultist discourse. He mentions Crowley’s membership in Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), characterizing it as “a fringe Masonic organization in Germany,” but omits to observe that it (along with conventional Freemasonry) was banned by the Nazis, with OTO’s German leader of the time arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp for his association with Crowley. Goodrick-Clarke instances the enthusiastic Nazi partisanship of Crowley disciple Martha Künzel, but overlooks Crowley’s own occult activism against Germany during World War II.

He does not in any way mention the later survival of the magical orders actually headed by Aleister Crowley (OTO and A∴A∴), which is fitting, since these are vehicles of neither neo-Nazi nor esoteric white supremacist doctrine. Crowley in fact boasted himself to be “the leader of the Extreme Left in the Council-Chamber of the City of the Pyramids” (Magick Without Tears, Ch. 13). There has however been substantial posthumous misuse of Crowley’s work by neo-Nazis and their ilk, much of which is documented here by Goodrick-Clarke. With the heightened visibility of US far-right groups in the “Age of Trump,” it has become necessary for OTO to inoculate itself against misrepresentations on this score, with a public statement by relevant authorities to affirm the Order’s basic anti-racist philosophy, already reflected in administrative policy. (There were also remarks from the US Grand Master to this effect in 2015.)

After a brief, competent treatment of the early Church of Satan in the United States to accurately appraise their “experiments in exploiting the shock value of Nazism” (215), Goodrick-Clarke offers longer studies of the Order of the Nine Angles (ONA) and Order of the Jarls of Baelder (OJB) and their organizers. (He associates the “New Aeon” especially with the ONA.) For these relatively recent instances of “pagan-satanic movement[s] on the British far right,” as well as New Zealander Kerry Bolton’s comparable Ordo Sinistra Vivendi (OSV), Goodrick-Clarke’s accounts are the most detailed and credible that I have to hand. He concludes that while constituting “the most extreme example of the cultic revival of fascism,” these groups “actively embrace their own marginalization” through emphases on elitism and transgression (231).

Goodrick-Clarke’s survey continues by examining newer American white supremacist and Aryanist groups with attention to their religious doctrines. He provides a characterization and history of Christian Identity with its genealogy in British-Israelism, as well as a discussion of the World Church of the Creator and its anti-Christian racist tenets. He identifies these groups as potential “incubators” for a more widespread “white racial movement” (255-56), seeing them as thus comparable to the pre-Nazi Ariosophists he treated in The Occult Roots of Nazism. He also finds contemporary parallels to the formative culture of Nazism in right-wing Odinist neopaganism, exemplified by the Wotansfolk of David Lane and Ron McVan. (Goodrick-Clarke does note the diversity of Nordic neopaganism, with schisms attributable to differences regarding racism.)

“Conspiracy Beliefs and the New World Order” summarizes the conspiracy paranoia of the far-right militia movement in the 1990s. It also devotes a considerable amount of attention to the ways in which traditionally anti-Semitic and anti-“Illuminati” conspiracy theories have been propagated in New Age media and milieux, with examples such as David Icke. While admitting that “As yet, the New Age has little room for Hitler worship or Nazi UFOs,” Goodrick-Clarke considers the social pessimism of much turn-of-the-millennium post-New Age “alternative” culture to be akin to the “Manichean dualism” historically implicated in anti-Semitic movements. Again, he suggests parallels with pre-Nazi German culture.

Necessarily missing from this book are significant changes in white supremacist organizing in the US since the 2008 election of Barack Obama. Such groups were arguably instrumental in the election of Donald Trump, whose most visible political activity in the 21st century had been as a mouthpiece of the racist-nativist “birther” movement disputing Obama’s eligibility for the presidency. Researchers agree that there has been a tremendous upswing in American far-right and racist groups, with greater exposure for eliminationist rhetoric. I am not familiar with any investigations that would help evaluate Goodrick-Clarke’s prognostications about the influence of the groups in this book on that growth, but the knowledge he supplies may be important in assessing more recent developments.

For three hundred pages, I understood Black Sun to be detailing the perspectives and motivations of neo-Nazi cultists without advocating or apologizing for them. Alas, that perception was significantly eroded by Goodrick-Clarke’s four-page “Conclusion.” When mentioning institutional racism, he puts “institutional” in scare quotes, as if the concept were a figment of the liberal imagination. Correctly noting the perceived tension between popular notions of individual rights and efforts to remedy legacies of racism, he accepts racist framings with such declarations as: “The comparative high performance of Asian minorities in education and employment, and their underrepresentation in prison statistics, demonstrate the untenability of attributing black failure to white racism” (304). I hope readers will appreciate the extent to which the foregoing sentence serves to indict Goodrick-Clarke’s own racism, rather than to exonerate that of the subjects of his study. Nevertheless, the book is a valuable one with a wealth of information, and the author’s final worry about the resilience of modern multi-ethnic societies is not misplaced. [via]

Sure, as a teenager he’d experimented with the whole pose, but found that rebelling against everything all the time was just too exhausting. It was like an emotional treadmill. It never ended and never got you anywhere, because when you live in a state of constant open rebellion, the powers that be disregard you.

Scott Meyer, Off to Be the Wizard