Tag Archives: cults

Dion Fortune’s Rites of Isis and of Pan

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Dion Fortune’s Rites of Isis and of Pan [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Dion Fortune, edited by Gareth Knight.

Knight Fortune Dion Fortune's Rites of Isis and Pan

Dion Fortune’s Rites of Isis and of Pan is a slender book, but one with a lot of valuable content. As the title suggests, it is constructed around a pair of liturgical texts by the eminent early twentieth-century occultist Dion Fortune. These appear to have been her only forays into dramatic ritual for public audiences or untutored congregations, and they were produced by her at “the Belfry,” a converted church building in the Belgravia district of London. The full rituals are included, and framed by four chapters of editorial text from Gareth Knight, who provides a history of these rituals and delves into the manner in which they were epitomized in Fortune’s principal occult novels: The Winged Bull, The Goat-foot God, The Sea Priestess, and Moon Magic.

Fortune’s rituals with Knight’s study and commentary constitute roughly the first half of the book, and the second is a set of a half-dozen papers and addresses by Fortune that are relevant to her rites. Three of these were originally published as articles in The Inner Light Magazine, but a couple of them seem to be from previously unpublished records of the Society of the Inner Light that Fortune founded, and the very first appendix is the significant 1933 essay “Ceremonial Magic Unveiled” that originally appeared in The Occult Review.

Although Knight avoids crediting Aleister Crowley with any influence on Fortune’s dramatic rites, “Ceremonial Magic Unveiled” provides ample circumstantial confirmation that Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis were a significant model for her (at least as much as the 1899 “Rite of Isis” by Mathers cited by Knight, 8). In that article, Fortune classes herself with Crowley and Regardie as the “unholy trinity of revealers of the Mysteries” (86). She praises the contents of Crowley’s Equinox, which included his Rites of Eleusis, and even calls on Regardie to perform the editorial work by which he would later produce the digest Gems from The Equinox (91). She writes:

“To speak any word in mitigation of the general condemnation of Crowley is a thankless task, for panic-stricken people immediately conclude that one is in league with the devil. Nevertheless, Mr. Regardie has had the courage to do this, and I should like to add my voice to his. To make use of a man’s work without acknowledgement is no better than picking pockets.” (Ibid. That final sentence would become ironic a few years later, when Regardie would quote a full page of text from Fortune’s The Mystical Qabalah in his own The Middle Pillar, attributing it only to “One very clever expositor.”)

Like Crowley in his Rites, Fortune drew poetic passages in her own from the work of Swinburne, specifically “The Last Oracle” (14). Her original contributions as a poet are decidedly less sure than those of the Beast. I suppose I winced physically when I encountered her end rhyme of “path” and “Daath” (74).

Other articles among the appendices supply Fortune’s own extensive analyses of the esoteric infrastructure of her fiction. “In an attempt to compromise between the symbolic and the rational modes of presentation I decided to avail myself of the form of fiction as being a mode of presentation which could approach the subconscious levels of the mind, which think in images, without losing touch with the conscious levels of the mind which think in words, thus making contact once again with those potent levels of the mind that have fallen into disuse in modern civilisation” (103). Her discussion of The Winged Bull in particular highlighted the magical potency of English places in ways that put me in mind of the psychogeography of Iain Sinclair (115-6).

Fortune’s dramatic rituals and her novels alike rely on sexual polarity as the chief engine of magic, and she has the lector of her Rite of Isis declare, “All the Gods are One God, and all the Goddesses are one Goddess” (70). The God can evidently be summarized as Pan and the Goddess as Isis, with these two rituals (each of which features officers of both genders) sufficient for her purpose–which aims more at integration than analysis.

Antichrist

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher] by Bernard McGinn.

McGinn Antichrist

This accessible, well-documented history of the development of the story of Antichrist was surprisingly unexciting. Although a work would have to be much larger to treat exhaustively of the topic, McGinn’s is nearly as comprehensive as its scale permits. He proceeds at a steady pace from pre-Christian antiquity through the late twentieth century, and by the end, he proposes that he and the reader should be tired of the topic. (280)

Theologian McGinn dismisses mythicists like me as a “lunatic fringe” for being skeptical of the evidence for a “historical Jesus.” (34) But his fractious consensus of “New Testament scholars” is even less persuasive than the because-we-say-so of traditional clergy. And, although he is himself evidently a Christian (of the non-Fundamentalist sort, he is quite clear), he seems not to have faith in any sort of antichrist himself, nor to think that an incarnation of the Lie could be a constructive idea for modern believers. 

Writing in the early 1990s, the author may have anticipated a market for Antichrist related to the approach of the year 2000, but he certainly couldn’t have foreseen the Obama Antichrist rumor and ‘net meme that would arise later. Reading his account of the traditional ingredients of Antichrist legend, it is possible to see, for example, deep synergy between the Antichrist allegations and the charge of crypto-Islam aimed at the 44th US President. Another bizarre potential correlation is for born-again Christian George W. Bush to be the “Last Emperor” who is supposed to precede the reign of Antichrist. (The early medieval trope of the Last Emperor is typically absent from the Dispensationalist neo-Millenialism common to today’s Christianist chiliasts, though.) 

One significant element missing from McGinn’s treatment–in its modern phase at least–is the appearance of professed antichrists, such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Jack Parsons. While it could be tempting to excuse such an oversight by disqualifying such figures as lying outside of the spectrum of Christian belief, the book does actually include treatments of Jewish and Muslim Antichrist parallels, as well as a discussion of Jung’s secular psychological theory of Antichrist. 

Overall, the book is useful for readers wanting to get a historical handle on the Antichrist concept and its evolution. McGinn claims that Antichrist belief has become marginal and unoriginal in modern times, but he admits that there’s no way to be sure of the extent to which it formerly penetrated popular consciousness. And I would add that not all our current elites are as erudite as Professor McGinn, so his admission that Fundamentalist Evangelicals are “a limited, if powerful, segment” of Christianity should give the socially-reflective reader pause regarding just how irrelevant the anticipation of Antichrist may be.

The High Couch of Silistra

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews High Couch of Silistra by Janet E Morris, with a mass market paperback cover by Boris Vallejo.

Janet E Morris Boris Vallejo High Couch of Silistra

This sword-and-planet yarn was the author’s first novel, and given that its entire sub-genre tends to fall (at its best) into the “guilty pleasure” category, I think it’s all right. I certainly liked it better than the Dray Prescott book (Warrior of Scorpio) which was my last reading in that field.

The sexual content is more explicit than Burroughs or Akers would deliver, and about comparable with Norman, although without the Gorean sadistic moralizing. In any case, it doesn’t really rise to the level of erotica despite the protagonist’s status as her homeworld’s most celebrated courtesan-madame-sexual athelete.

The metaphysical positioning of the book seems to break with the Burroughs-Norman tradition of fraudulent cults fronting for alien gods. The main plot of Returning Creation—evidently the author’s title, restored in a later edition—is the quest undertaken by a semi-divine woman (the “creation” in question) to find her alien father on his homeworld. Most in her society are skeptical about the “seed-sower” legendary that identifies the god race to which her father seems to belong, but her experiences eventually vindicate the lore, and the story ends inconclusively with her accession to her heritage among her father’s super-powerful people. Seeing that I have the sequels already in my possession, I expect to indulge my curiosity about where the author might take the narrative from that point. [via]

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

The Essence of Religion

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Essence of Religion by Ludwig Feuerbach, translated by Alexander Loos:

Ludwig Feuerbach's The Essence of Religion trans. Alexander Loos

 

This edition of Feuerbach’s The Essence of Religion is abridged by translator Alexander Loos: three only out of the thirty lectures appear under this cover. This text is the earlier, denser, and more “philosophical” exposition of views that are enlarged upon in the later Lectures on the Essence of Religion. The abridgement is not divided into three lectures according to its source, but simply presented as a continuous text of fifty-five numbered sections.

In contrast to the author’s earlier books on Christianity, this one takes a wider, more comparative approach, and consequently offers two complementary theories regarding the nature of religious thought, which is nevertheless always a confusion of subjective and objective phenomena. The Christian type takes the subjective human ideal as an objective cosmic force, while its earlier and less “sophisticated” complement, as is found in ancient Greek pagan cults, attires the objective powers of nature with the human sort of subjectivity.

As always, Feuerbach demonstrates the sane approach to the simple fact that There is no god but man. He writes of the “spiritual” sort of religion championed by Christians: “As the life to come is nothing but the continuation of this life uninterrupted by death, so the divine being is nothing but the continuation of the human being uninterrupted by Nature in general—the uninterrupted, unlimited nature of man” (63, ital. in original). He also exhibits his rancor and contempt for the theological enterprise. He he shows theology straining at gnats while swallowing camels, when it tries to remove the supernatural element from sacramental rites, while retaining the supernatural in stories of cosmic origin. “But it is in the world of theology just as in the political world; the small thieves are hanged, the great ones are suffered to escape” (58). [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.