Tag Archives: Edward Bulwer-Lytton


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Zanoni [Amazon, Bookshop, Internet Archive, Local Library] by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

Lytton Zanoni

Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Zanoni romanticized Rosicrucianism for 19th-century readers, and it became a staple of occultist bookshelves. It tells the story of a Rosicrucian adept in the 18th century whose use of the elixir of life has sustained him since the ancient Babylonian empire, and who ultimately sacrifices his magical immortality.

Zanoni refers to the adept’s Holy Guardian Angel or personal genius as “Adonai,” a usage later adopted by both Anna Kingsford and Aleister Crowley, among others. Golden Dawn founder MacGregor Mathers first became interested in the occult after reading Zanoni. He used “Zanoni” as a nickname; his wife and close friends called him “Zan” in conversation.

Zanoni also depicts an ordeal involving “The Guardian of the Threshold.” Madame Blavatsky would evolve this phrase into “the Dweller of the Threshold,” specifically citing Zanoni, and she affirmed the reality of the phenomenon, also referencing “Porphyry and other philosophers” regarding its nature. Blavatsky was so taken with the occult descriptions in Zanoni that the first volume of her Isis Unveiled quotes the novel for more than a full page. “Such,” she writes, “is the insufficient sketch of elemental beings void of divine spirit, given by one whom many with reason believed to know more than he was prepared to admit in the face of an incredulous public” (IU, I, 286).

Crowley later took up this thread in Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente, chapter IV, verse 34: “On the threshold stood the fulminant figure of Evil … .” In his commentary, he relates this figure explicitly to Zanoni’s exposition of “the Evil Persona, the Dweller on the Threshold, portrayed sensationally for the trade by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton.”

It is hard to overestimate the influence of Zanoni on occultists in the late 19th century, and the extent to which it was credited as an informed representation of magical adeptship.


Vril, the Power of the Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1986 second printing from Spiritual Fiction Publication / Gerber Communications, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton Vril from Spiritual Fiction Publication / Gerber Communications

VRIL, mankind’s occult power of the future, and the kind of life and society created by its use in the interior of the earth, is the vivid picture presented in this book. Written 100 years ago by Lord Bulwer-Lytton, famous English Rosicrucian, statesman and author (see: Zanoni, a Rosicrucian Tale another Steiner-book), VRIL, his last book, stands as stern warning and reliable witness to his profound concern for the future welfare of mankind.

VRIL made today’s science-fiction books possible and interesting, but VRIL itself was a serious and prophetic testament that man today must pay heed to, if he is to survive, and become MAN.” — back cover


Vril: The Power of the Coming Race” by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, from Edda, available in the US and Canada from J D Holmes, may be of interest.

Edward Bulwer Lytton Vril from Edda

“Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton’s cautionary tale of occult super-powers and advanced subterranean cultures have fascinated readers since 1871. Part early science-fiction, part educational tract, part occult romance, Vril keeps spellbinding readers thanks to its wide range of themes and emotions, as well as its thrilling sense of adventure.

A curious man descends into a mountain through a mine and experiences far more than he bargained for. Deep inside the mountain lies a completely different world. Its inhabitants, the Vril-ya, are human-like but physically superior and philosophically more advanced. They live in harmony made possible by their wisdom but also by the powerful and potentially destructive magical energy: Vril.

The impressed yet terrified visitor is allowed to stay and learn more about their ancient and advanced culture, something very few visitors have—it seems that all the previous adventurers have been mercilessly disposed of by the Vril-ya.”

The Coming Race

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton The Coming Race

Lytton’s Coming Race is brief, even if a little slow at points. As a seminal piece of 19th-century science fiction, the whole plot is just an excuse for fictional anthropology, since the protagonist/narrator is utterly unchanged by the experience. The utopian element reflects a little bit of Fourierist background (with one explicit reference to Robert Owen), mostly in the small scale of community and the valorizing of the industry of children.

The reader may weigh the extent to which Lytton was actually employing the subterranean civilization of Vril-ya as an alternative in order to criticize modern industrialized nations, democratic politics, and traditional gender mores. The protagonist is never fully persuaded of the superiority of the Vril-ya’s social system, but the fact that the English author used a proud American narrator suggests that the fictional speaker’s convictions don’t necessarily match those of the writer.

What goes without question by the narrator is the physical and technological superiority of the Vril-ya. The book’s title alludes to the idea that any full-scale contact between them and the humanity of the Earth’s surface will only leave the Vril-ya as complete conquerors. But this scenario is left as an intimation of the future.

This novel was almost as influential on the hollow earth conspiracy meme (and eventually UFO culture) as the same author’s Zanoni was for traditional Western occultism. The story seems even to have contributed to Aleister Crowley’s Atlantis, where Lytton’s Vril energy sets a precedent for Crowley’s mysterious ZRO.

Read for it’s own sake as a fictional entertainment, The Coming Race is a little exotic, but fairly dated and plodding. Taken as a node in the discourse of 19th-century social reform and occult science, however, it is abidingly curious and engaging. [via]