Tag Archives: culture

The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America by J Stillson Judah.

J Stillson Judah The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America

Writing in the 1990s, Wouter Hanegraaff refers to this book as a “standard work” on the topic, and notes that Judah coined the term “metaphysical movements.” (See Judah, p. 7) The volume treats a set of “religious philosophies” in the United States, beginning in the 1840s, and progressing up until the date that the book was written. Although Judah provided no evidence for the claim, he asserted that these religions were growing in popularity at the time of his writing. (p. 12) He characterized these metaphysical movements by family resemblance, with a set of fifteen chief features, including: gnostic anthropology, divine monism, pragmatism, psychological interpretation, optimism, mental or spiritual healing, and preferring “principles” to creed. Even when explicitly Christian, these groups tended to view Jesus as a teacher, rather than as the unique human incarnation of God.

Judah’s first chapter is devoted to inventorying some aspects of the germinal milieu of the American metaphysical movements. Besides the transcendentalist school and its effects, which he remarks as their foremost precedent and influence, he observes the importance of American religious pluralism, revivalism, deism, Swedenborgianism, Puritan utilitarianism, and occultism (i.e. hermeticism and kabbalah). He then goes on to provide historical sketches, with representations of doctrines and practices, for each of the following metaphysical movements: Spiritualism (with its various institutions and sects), Theosophy “and its allies” (i.e. the Arcane School and the Astara Foundation), New Thought (with the precedent teachings of Quimby and Evans, and the progeny of the Divine Science Church and the Church of Religious Science), the Unity School of Christianity, and Christian Science. A closing chapter treats the effect of the metaphysical movements on Protestantism, especially through the avenue of notions of health and mental healing.

Judah repeatedly cites Frank Podmore’s history of Spiritualism, Charles J. Ryan on Theosophy, Horatio Dresser on New Thought, and several secondary sources on Christian Science. For all of the movements surveyed, he makes extensive use of their own doctrinal literature, and in several cases he has interviewed key leaders or their families. Perhaps it is significant that no secondary sources appear in different sections of the book, since Judah appears to have been the first to tie these various groups and teachings into a coherent tradition.

Judah’s theory of religion is partly formulated in his closing chapter, where he insists that all religions can be analyzed in terms of three chief components: mental/philosophical, conative (relating to aspiration and conduct), and emotional. He insists that the conative component, the religious will as such, must be powered by an emotional experience, and he suggests that the historical transformations in American religion have resulted from the waxing and waning of emphasis on emotional experience. He points to the metaphysical movements as offering an orientation to the religious experiences of the individual during periods when mainline Protestantism has become abstracted into concerns about social justice. (pp. 291-2)

A significant part of Judah’s methodology in The Metaphysical Movements might be best characterized as comparative theology, even though that term has not been in vogue since the mid-20th century. He consistently attends to comparing the theological elements in the various metaphysical movements against each other, and against an implicitly normative mainline American Protestantism. But he has no evident chip on his shoulder, and his foreword includes an accounting of his own past engagements in the study and practice of Theosophy, yoga, New Thought, Spiritualism, and other “metaphysical” systems. The frankness of this passage shows a sort of scholarly reflexivity that is admirable in the early and mid-1960’s when Judah was writing. He cautions that any seemingly negative evaluations of the religions in his book “should be considered as constructive criticism offered in the same spirit in which the writer has also criticized the Protestant churches.” (p. 9) He does in the end refrain from offering either praise or condemnation of the metaphysical movements as a whole, but he opines that there would be ample justification for different parties to view them as revolutionary, restorative, or subversive of more customary institutional religions in America. [via]


Approaches to Greek Myth

Approaches to Greek Myth, edited and introduced by Lowell Edmunds, a 1991 paperback from Johns Hopkins, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Lowell Edmunds Approaches to Greek Myth from Johns Hopkins

“There was no simple agreement on the subject of ‘myth’ in classical antiquity, and there remains none today. In Approaches to Greek Myth, Lowell Edmunds brings together practitioners of eight of the most important contemporary approaches to the subject. Whether exploring myth from a historical, comparative, or theoretical perspective, each lucidly describes a particular approach, applies it to one or more myths, and reflects on what the approach yields that other do not.

Contributors are H. S. Versnel, on the intersections of myth and ritual; Carlo Brillante, on the history of Greek myth and history in Greek myth; Robert Mondi, on the Near Eastern contexts , and Joseph Falaky Nagy, on the Indo-European structures in Greek myth; William F. Hansen, on myth and folklore; Claude Calame, on the Greimasian approach; Richard Caldwell, on psychoanalytic interpretations; and Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood, on the iconography of vase painting of Theseus and Medea—and on a methodology for ‘reading’ such visual sources. In his introduction, Edmunds confronts Marcel Detienne’s recent deconstruction of the notion of Greek mythology and reconstructs a meaning for myth among the ancient Greeks.” — back cover


From Ritual to Romance

From Ritual to Romance by Jessie L Weston, part of the Mythos / Bollingen series, a 1993 paperback from Princeton University Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Jessie L Weston From Ritual to Romance from Princeton University Press

“Acknowledged by T.S. Eliot as crucial to understanding ‘The Waste Land,’ Jessie Weston’s book has continued to attract readers interested in ancient religion, myth, and especially Arthurian legend. Here she reinterprets the saga of the Grail by exploring the legend’s Gnostic roots.

Drawing from J.G. Frazer, who studied ancient nature cults that associated the physical condition of the king with the productivity of the land, Weston considers how the legend of the Grail related to fertility rites—with the lance and the cup serving as a sexual symbols. She traces its origins to a Gnostic text that served as a link between ancient vegetation cults and the Celts and Christians who elaborated on the story. Conceiving of the grail saga as a literary outgrowth of ancient ritual, she seeks a Gnostic Christian interpretation that unites the quest for fertility with the striving for mystical oneness with God.” — back cover


Graveyards of Chicago

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Graveyards of Chicago : The People, History, Art, and Lore of Cook County Cemeteries by Ursula Bielski and Matt Hucke.

Matt Hucke Ursula Bielski Graveyards of Chicago

As the authors note, this volume, now in an expanded second edition, is both the most comprehensive book to date on the topic of Chicago cemeteries, and a primer that merely scratches the surface. At the same time, it provides not only orientation to the cemeteries of the area, but a wide-ranging anecdotal history as it contextualizes celebrity graves (political leaders, entertainers), religious and ethnic groups, economic developments, and social and political movements represented in the burial sites.

It’s a shame that the many photos in the book are all in black and white. But the book was grown in some measure out of author Matt Hucke’s graveyards.com website, where he has collected much of his photography on the subject, including color versions of many of the images here. These high-tech underpinnings are further leveraged with the promise of “QR codes … leading to additional photos and bonus material.” Not being furnished with the necessary gadgetry, I can’t tell you for sure what’s on the other end of those codes, but I suspect it’s some version of the material at graveyards.com, which along with photos has more descriptions, and maps, among assorted info that would be useful to cemetery visitors armed with this book and a smartphone.

Although it’s designed as a reference book, with articles on individual cemeteries arranged by location, I found the book a pleasure to read from cover to cover. There were many startling facts, not all of them having to do with the graveyards themselves, that I felt compelled to share immediately with my Other Reader.

I appreciated the extensive information on Masonic cemeteries, and I was especially thrilled to learn about Waldheim Cemetery, with its impressive monument for the United Ancient Order of Druids, and more significant Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument with its neighboring “Communist Plot”! I was also gratified to find information on the burial sites of the early leaders of the Moorish Science Temple and Nation of Islam, but neither of these organizations are found in the index or much noted in the text, so readers will need to know for themselves about Noble Drew Ali and his successors.

Reading this book has inspired me to get a better fix on the burial places of my own relatives in the area, and fueled an ambition to tour their graves as well as to visit many of the sights described in the volume. Authors Hucke and Bielski have my gratitude. [via]

How to Kill a Dragon

How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics by Calvert Watkins, a 1995 paperback from Oxford University Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Calvert Watkins How to Kill a Dragon from Oxford University Press

“In How to Kill a Dragon Calvert Watkins follows the continuum of poetic formulae in Indo-European languages, from Old Hittite to medieval Irish. He uses the comparative method to reconstruct traditional poetic formulae of considerable complexity that stretch as far back as the original common language. Thus, Watkins reveals the antiquity and tenacity of the Indo-European poetic tradition.

Watkins begins this study with an introduction to the field of comparative Indo-European poetics; he explores the Saussurian notions of synchrony and diachrony, and locates the various Indo-European traditions and ideologies of the spoken word. Further, his overview presents case studies on the forms of verbal art, with selected texts drawn from Indic, Iranian, Greek, Latin, Hittite, Armenian, Celtic, and Germanic languages.

In the remainder of the book, Watkins examines in detail the structure of the dragon/serpent-slaying myths, which recur in various guises throughout the Indo-European poetic tradition. He finds the ‘signature’ formula for the myth—the divine hero who slays the serpent or overcomes adversaries—occurs in the same linguistic form in a wide range of sources and over millennia, including Old and Middle Iranian holy books, Greek epic, Celtic and Germanic sagas, down to Armenian oral folk epic of the last century. Watkins argues that this formula is the vehicle for the central theme of a proto-text, and a central part of the symbolic culture of speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language: the relation of humans to their universe, the values and expectations of their society. Therefore, he further argues, poetry was a social necessity for Indo- European society, where the poet could confer on patrons what they and their culture valued above all else: ‘imperishable fame.'” — back cover

Six days left to help crowdfund Eleusyve Productions’ The Rite of Mars

Although I’ve previously mentioned this, there are only six days left for Eleusyve Productions’ crowdsourcing effort to bring to stage their rock opera of The Rite of Mars, one of Aleister Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis, and you may wish to help. They’ve got a long way to go to reach their goal, but the campaign is flexible so anything you can contribute will still help them out. Also, they’ve recently made arrangements so that all contributions are tax deductible, which, in addition to the plethora of rewards for supporters, may help your choice to help them even easier.

“We’ve got just six days left in our fundraising drive for The Rite of Mars, and I am writing to you because I believe that art matters.

Art matters to the people involved — Over thirty creative individuals will donate their time and energies to this project, stretch their limits, build, embellish, sing, dance and grow as artists and people through the course of bringing this project to the stage. It will be an experience that they will never forget, and art matters to them.

Art matters to the audience — Some will come out of curiosity, some will come out of love for the materials, but all of them will be exposed to something that goes beyond entertainment, not simply music and dance for their own sake, but something with a depth of symbolic meaning that will unfold through multiple viewing, something crucial to the human condition that will impact and alter the audience. For the audience, it will take on a weight beyond the measure of the moments invest, and the art will matter to them.

Art matters to our culture — So much of the creative focus of our culture has been redirected toward marketing that symbols are regularly appropriated without any understanding, and art with meaning has become rare. This is a work wherein words, sounds, and gestures are all carefully planned in order to inculcate real ideas. Ideas surrounding concepts like freedom that go beyond slogan and drive at the heart of what it is to be free, and responsible for the choices that accompany that liberty.

Real art inspires thought, awakens curiosity, and deepens understanding, and that is what we do.

I writing to ask you to support art, because real art makes a difference.” — via email

Dionysos

Dionysos: Exciter to Frenzy by Vikki Bramshaw, from Avalonia UK, may be of interest. This volume was due to release in December but appears to still be in pre-order, both via the Avalonia site and through Amazon.

Vikki Bramshaw Dionysos from Avalonia

Dionysos: Exciter to Frenzy is a phenomenal and scholarly exploration of one of the most complex, liminal and paradoxical gods of the ancient world. The author Vikki Bramshaw guides the reader through the mysterious world of the multifaceted Dionysos, revealing his hidden faces and forms and his presence in different cultures, the growth cycles of nature, the establishment of theatre and the ancient Greek calendar.

The roots of the wine god Dionysos, like his vines, spread throughout the ancient world. From the Cretan Zagreus, to the Thracian Sabazios and the Egyptian Iachen, his stories permeated the myths and traditions of both the untamed wilderness and the culture of cities such as Athens. Joined by slaves and rulers, wild flesh-ripping Maenads and vegetarian Orphics, wine-makers and hunters, the thrice-born Dionysos danced his way through the challenges of rebirth and initiation, with the liberating ecstasy of trance and possession.

The god Dionysos unites opposites, he is many-formed, dying yet eternal, chthonian and heavenly. His ancient myths, mystical symbols, pagan rites and incarnations represent a uniquely detailed and relevant perspective of the transformation he brings through prophecy and personal liberation which is still relevant today.” [via]

The Magic Bishop

The Magic Bishop – Hugo Ball is an essay written by Anne Crossey, an artist and student of esotericism working in Cork, IE, which may be of intererest.

“Dada was an attempt to return ‘through the innermost alchemy of the word’ to a more magical, playful reality through overturning of all the conventions associated with civilized adult society—drawing on African, Nordic and Sanskrit traditions, the Cabaret Voltaire was a riot of nonsense, play, colour, and noise—a giant, noisy incantation against all the ills of the world.

Dada was ‘the heart of words’.

It was a fight. It was a magical battle.” [via]

Thee Psychick Bible

THEE PSYCHICK BIBLE: Thee Apocryphal Scriptures ov Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Thee Third Mind ov Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, the 2010 paperback from Feral House, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge Thee Psychick Bible from Feral House

“Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth (TOPY) will be remembered for its crucial influence on youth culture throughout the ’80s and ’90s, popularizing occult investigations, tattooing, body piercing, acid house raves, and other ahead-of-the-curve cultic flirtations and investigations. Its leader was Genesis P-Orridge, co-founder of Psychick TV and Throbbing Gristle, the band that created the industrial music genre.

Thee Psychick Bible is an extraordinary collection of ‘occulture’ texts and images from the TOPY period and today. We have to agree with Genesis when he said that this book may be ‘the most profund new manual on practical magick—taking from its Crowleyan level of liberation and empowermeant of the individual to a next level of realization that magick must then give back to its environment, its community…'”

 

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 Occult Humanities Conference at NYU on Oct 18-20, 2013

The Occult Humanities Conference: Contemporary Art and Scholarship on the Esoteric Traditions will take place at NYU on Oct 18-20, 2013 in New York. The conference was announced today and looks to be quite worth checking out, especially since information about the schedule, participants and exhibition have already been posted. The event is being hosted by Phantasmaphile, the Observatory, and NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions.

The Occult Humanities Conference 2013

 

Pam Grossman announced this on her Phantasmaphile blog today.

I am thrilled to announce The Occult Humanities Conference, taking place on October 18th-20th at NYU, and co-organized by myself and Jesse Bransford. The weekend will feature lectures, an art exhibition, and entertainment, all of which explore occult subject matter.

Speakers include Susan Aberth, Robert Ansell, Elijah Burgher, Laurent Ferri, Mitch Horowitz, Amy Hale, William Kiesel, Gary Lachman, Mark Pilkington, Shannon Taggart, Jesse, and myself.

The accompanying exhibition, Verbal, Somatic and Material, will contain artwork and esoteric books by Jesse Bransford, Elijah Burgher, David Chaim Smith, Fulgur Esoterica, Ouroboros Press, and Shannon Taggart.

Entertainment will be provided by The Parlour Trick and Acep Hale.

And there will be books vended by Catland, Fulgur Esoterica, and Ouroboros Press.” [via]

 

“The Occult Humanities Conference
October 18-20, 2013
Hosted by Phantasmaphile, Observatory and the NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions

NYU Steinhardt
34 Stuyvesant St., New York, NY

The Occult Humanities Conference is a weekend conference to be held in New York City on October 18-20th, 2013. The conference will present a wide array of voices active in the cultural landscape who are specifically addressing the occult tradition through research, scholarship and artistic practice.

The arts and humanities at present are acutely interested in subjects related to the occult tradition. The tradition represents a rich and varied visual culture that displays a complex set of relations at once culturally specific and global in their transmission. Roughly defined, the occult tradition represents a series of culturally syncretic belief systems with related and overlapping visual histories. Though there are as many ways into this material as there are cultural — and personal — perspectives, universal occult concerns often include a belief in some sort of magic; a longing to connect with an immaterial or trans-personal realm; and a striving for inner-knowledge, refinement of the self, and transformation of one’s consciousness — if not one’s physical circumstances.

Intensely marginalized throughout most historical periods, these traditions persist and represent an ‘underground’ perspective that periodically exerts a strong influence on structures of dissent, utopianism and social change. Though history is marked with several so-called ‘Occult Revivals,’ the contemporary digital age is a perfect confluence of several factors which make this moment prime for a reexamination of all of the esoteric traditions. While the information age has allowed for easier access to previously obscure writings, imagery, and social contexts, it alternately elicits a deep desire for sensorial experiences and meaning-making once one steps away from the screen.

The presenters at the OHC represent a rich and expanding community of international artists and academics from multiple disciplines across the humanities who share an exuberance and excitement for how the occult traditions interface with their fields of study as well as the culture at large. The small scale of this conference (approximately 100 attendees) will give ticket holders an intimate look at the presenters and their views.

The visually-oriented presentations will be coupled with an exhibition of artworks by several presenters and artisanal books from Fulgur Esoterica and Ouroboros Press.” [via]