Tag Archives: Cultural anthropology

Occult Features of Anarchism

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Occult Features of Anarchism: With Attention to the Conspiracy of Kings and the Conspiracy of the Peoples [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Erica Lagalisse, foreword Barbara Ehrenreich.

Lagalisse Ehrenreich Occult Features of Anarchism

“There is no politics without conspiracy. The question is simply ‘who’ is conspiring to do ‘what.'” (103)

This slender volume contains a lot of food for thought. After methodological preliminaries, “Supreme Magus” Erica Lagalisse supplies a history of modern esoteric movements with attention to their roles as precedents for revolutionary and anarchist political movements. A five-page “coda” bridges from this first half of the book to the second, where she treats contemporary concerns. The first of these is the cultural underpinnings of anarchist socialization, and the second is the role of “conspiracy theory” in political organizing. With respect to the former, Lagalisse concludes that “anarchism has always been a gendered and racialized domain authorized by speculative elites as much as real builders” (87). On the latter count, she ponders the anarchist reactions to “conspiracy theories” and wonders:

“Are anarchists truly interested in mobilizing people and their discontent into resistance movements? Or is the priority among activists to distinguish one’s self as having ‘good politics’ and protect their small, safe social enclave?” (101)

The author’s academic discipline is anthropology, so in both the diachronic history and synchronic analyses, her perspective takes an ethnographic orientation. She anticipates two and a half audiences for her work here. She expects both scholars and activists to benefit from her overview and to pursue the many worthwhile resources for inquiry indicated by her footnotes. (Some of these references were new to me, and I will indeed be chasing them down.) In addition, she expresses “hope that some persons identified as ‘conspiracy theorists’ read it and feel both productively challenged and validated by my words” (110).

With a different motive than those “anarchist academics” asking Lagalisse “to authorize my texts by citing Carl Schmitt” (87), I could not help noticing a couple of key sources missing from her references, which would complement the exposition that she has undertaken in the first part of the book. Godwin’s Theosophical Enlightenment remains a helpful unveiling of the leftist valences of occultism and its forebears, while Couliano’s Eros and Magic in the Renaissance gives further insight on those topics for which Lagalisse appears to have relied on the work of Frances Yates, and reaches conclusions about the modern transformations of hermetic magic similar to those intimated in the final paragraph of Occult Features of Anarchism.

Lagalisse offers brief but trenchant discussions of some of the shibboleths of 21st-century social critique, including “cultural appropriation” (75-6) and “intersectionality” (97-101). Honestly, the book would have been worth reading for these bits alone, but to have them treated in the larger context of this discussion of esoteric history and political culture is highly worthwhile.

Opposing the System

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Opposing the System [Amazon, Local Library] by Charles A Reich.

Reich Opposing the System

Yale law professor Charles A. Reich’s best-known book is The Greening of America (1970), in which he promoted what he saw as the goals of the youth counterculture of that time. Opposing the System was written in the mid-1990s, shortly after the so-called “Republican Revolution” in US electoral politics and reflects on Reich’s concerns at that later period.

The book is a manifesto for social renewal in the US. One of its most valuable observations is that large commercial corporate entities are in fact governments, simply authoritarian ones unaccountable to the public–or even to their own shareholders in most cases. The quasi-libertarian rhetoric so common in establishment US politics and punditry reflects the functioning of a System in which private and public governmental functions are interlocked (military-industrial complex, “mainstream” media, carceral industry, etc.) to escape responsibilities and externalize/deny costs.

Every troubling symptom in Reich’s diagnosis has gotten significantly worse in the last quarter century. He doesn’t even mention climate change. The System he outlines has gotten more entrenched.

“We cannot expect to control the System unless we can place ourselves at an intellectual level above the System, where we can see the infinite other possibilities of life as well” (199). Reich makes this observation in the context of the need to restore citizenship. But he leaves unspecified how people are supposed to rise above the System. Formal education has been degraded into training, especially at the primary and secondary levels. In recent years especially, public education is under a full-scale assault, both figurative in the sense of ideologies imposed by the System on schools and teachers (including budgetary austerity), and literal in the sense of massacres and the terrorizing “drills” they inspire.

Reich’s occasional appeal to “American ideals” supposedly held by the Constitutional founders of the US rings as a little naïve, but it is understandable in the context of public persuasion. More importantly, he points out the real value and context of the aborted New Deal, and the recognition in the mid-twentieth century of the threat that has come to manifest in the System.

The book is no silver bullet, but it is something of a tonic for those of us who are caught in the cognitive dissonance that results from the massively propagandized world of what Reich calls the “Existing Map” of reality.

since he had read the Word, the Word was now lodged inside him, even if he had not met the Author; that he had become the Book, the Word made flesh, through that little bit of the divine that the craft of reading allows to all those who seek to learn the secrets held by a page.

Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Manuel The Library at Night read word lodged inside become book word made flesh divine craft reading seek learn secrets held by page

The past (the tradition that leads to our electronic present) is, for the Web user, irrelevant, since all that counts is what is currently displayed. Compared to a book that betrays its age in its physical aspect, a text called up on the screen has no history. Electronic space is frontierless. Sites-that is to say, specific, self-defined homelands-are founded on it but neither limit nor possess it, like water on water. The Web is quasi-instantaneous; it occupies no time except the nightmare of a constant present. All surface and no volume, all present and no past, the Web aspires to be (advertises itself as) every user’s home, in which communication is possible with every other user at the speed of thought. That is its main characteristic: speed.

Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Manguel The Lbrary at Night web quasi-instantaneous occupies no time except a nightmare of a constant present


Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches by Charles Godfrey Leland, newly translated by Mario Pazzaglini and Dina Pazzaglini, with additional material from Chas S Clifton, Robert Mathiesen, and Robert E Chartowich, with foreword by Stewart Farrar, a 1999 paperback from Phoenix Publishing, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Charles G Leland et al Aradia from Phoenix press

“When Charles Godfrey Leland published Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches at the end of the nineteenth century as the crowning product of his Italian researches of the 1880s and 1890s, he believed he was preserving what remained of an ancient but dying tradition before it was too late. he could not have known that in so doing he was providing one of the key source-books which would inspire a vigorous revival of that tradition half a century after his death. Had he been able to foresee it, he would have been astonished, probably amused, and almost certainly gratified; for in spite of the occasional Victorian caution with which he expressed himself, his research was clearly a labor of love.

This expanded edition features contributions by several eminent authorities:

Mario Pazzaglini, PhD, whose family origins on both sides are deeply rooted in the area where Aradia originated, has spent 25 years working on this new translation. He gives line-by-line transcription showing where Leland made his original errors as a result of his lack of comprehension of the dialect of the area. The new translation is then presented in the same format as the original edition (which is included here as well), Mario’s research notes are also included.

Chas Clifton has been studying witchcraft and the occult for over 25 years. He teaches at the University of Colorado and has a long list of published books to his name, including: Iron Mountain: A Journal of Magical Religion, The Modern Rites of Passage, Witchcraft and Shamanism, and Sacred Mask, Sacred Dance. He discusses the significance of Aradia on the revival of modern witchcraft.

Robert Mathieson [sic], PhD, has been a member of the faculty of Brown University for over 30 years. During the last decade most of his research has been on the historical development of magical theories and practices from the Middle Ages to the present. He writes on the origins of Aradia, including the culture and religion of the area, as well as the difficulties involved in retranslating the book.

Stewart Farrar is a professional journalist and author of many books on the occult including The Witches’ Goddess, The Pagan Path, Spells and How They Work and The Witches’ Way. He regularly appears on television and radio and has been featured in a film on witchcraft.” — back cover