Tag Archives: General

Masters of Atlantis

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus review Masters of Atlantis [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Charles Portis.

Portis Masters of Atlantis

In his fourth novel, Charles Portis offers the compound biography of a fictional 20th-century initiatory order that arrived in the US following World War I and experienced ups and downs at the hands of its various aspirants and adepts. The author clearly intends the reader to be amused by the eccentric partisans of the Gnomon Society, yet his tone is largely sympathetic. I originally read this book at the recommendation of the head of one of the world’s most venerable esoteric bodies, and Portis does indeed give a far more accurate picture of the ambitions and concerns of most of today’s Rosicrucians and occult Freemasons than any wide-eyed Dan-Brownishness can provide. Shelve it between Foucault’s Pendulum and the Stonecutters episode of The Simpsons.

Prophets of Dissent

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Prophets of Dissent: Essays on Maeterlinck, Strindberg, Nietzsche and Tolstoy [Amazon, Bookshop, Project Gutenberg, Local Library] by Otto Heller.

Heller Prophets of Dissent

Otto Heller was a native of Bohemia who immigrated to the US in 1883. He had a lifelong career as an academic, including a doctorate from the University of Chicago. He wrote Prophets of Dissent during World War I, while he was Professor of Modern European Literature in Saint Louis. It collects four essays on “the foremost literary expositors of important modern tendencies” (vii). There is little or no mutual reference among the component essays on Maeterlinck, Strindberg, Nietzsche, and Tolstoy, even when one mentions a figure treated by another; each will stand on its own for a reader. In each there is a good overview of the literary figure including both biographical details and bibliographic notes.

Of the four writers treated here, Maurice Maeterlinck is the one whom I have read the least and am most likely to read in the future. Heller’s treatment of Maeterlinck, whom he classes as a “mystic,” was encouraging in this regard. He also characterizes Maeterlinck as working within the “new romanticism” of his period (13). The features of Maeterlinck’s work that Heller observes to have been off-putting or even risible to early readers are all attractive to me: a preoccupation with transcendent realities expressed through subtle and enigmatic symbols.

Heller’s study of August Strindberg–whom I have read extensively, but long ago–glosses the notorious Swede as an “eccentric.” I think the observations here are incisive and accurate, if often dismaying. For example, “In Strindberg’s case, religious conversion is not an edifying, but on the contrary a morbid and saddening spectacle; it is equal to a declaration of complete spiritual bankruptcy” (100). The essay necessarily treats Strindberg’s eventual keynote of misogyny, his self-torment, and his apparent ideological fickleness, and gives him credit for “the extraordinary subjective animation of his work” (104).

Friedrich Nietzsche features as the “exalted” figure in Heller’s treatment. As a reader of Nietzsche, Heller would not have been dependent on other translators, and I assume the quotes and fragments that he presents in English are his own translations. These compare favorably with other translations on my shelf. For example, he quotes Also Sprach Zarathustra: “All great Love seeketh to create what it loveth. Myself I sacrifice into my love, and my neighbor as myself, thus runneth the speech of all creators” (128). Heller is of course at pains to dissociate Nietzsche’s intentions as an author from the Great War policies of his countrymen. He surveys the doctrinal leitmotifs of Neitzsche’s work and scores him as a powerful and admirable advocate of self-realization, if nearly useless as a reference for social reform.

The chapter on Leo Tolstoy the “revivalist” marks him as a spiritual successor to Jean Jacques Rousseau, and possessed of a similar “inconsistency between principles and conduct” (205). Heller rates Tolstoy highly as a social critic, while pointing out the unworkability of the author’s proposed solutions in light of actually existing society. (For myself, I see Tolstoy as a puissant modern agent of the Great Sorcery, and I find his moral aspirations somewhat noxious.)

Throughout the book Heller’s own prose is full of little gems. He was clearly a perceptive reader and skillful writer, confined to criticism and academic study through want of his own determining inspiration. This book (along with a separate study of Ibsen) seems to be his principal intellectual legacy, and it is a pleasant and informative read for those of us interested in its subject matter.

Slow Learner

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Slow Learner: Early Stories [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Thomas Pynchon

Pynchon Slow Learner

This aptly-titled collection of short fiction is a superfluity that I keep on my shelf only for the satisfaction of approaching completeness in my Pynchon collection. While none of these stories are really terrible, it is clear that by the time he had written Vineland, Pynchon had already cannibalized his early shorts for everything of value, recycling the elements to much greater effect in his novels. I’d recommend it to scholars and sleuths contemplating the genealogy of Pynchon’s writing I guess, but for most readers I’d say the contents are better encountered in their later, consummated forms.

The Dream and the Underworld

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Dream and the Underworld [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by James Hillman.

Hillman The Dream and the Underworld

Hillman’s slim volume is the best book I have read about the significance and experiential weight of dreams. He opposes the therapeutic and vulgar divinatory approaches that want to merely convert dreams into utilities of waking consciousness. While situating his study within the psychoanalytic tradition, he constructs his theory with extensive reference to classical notions of death and the underworld. 

Magicians reading carefully can also find a wealth of pointers about the “astral” and the full range of visionary experiences which access materials from an unconscious source–collective or individual. In fact, this book is one of the most valuable texts I have found for that purpose. 

An early monograph by Hillman, The Dream and the Underworld has a style that is more incisive and demanding than his later popular work like The Soul’s Code. He often uses untranslated Greek terms in order to orient the reader to what is likely to be at first an alien perspective on the underworld into which we all must descend. Although short, it requires genuine work to read, and it should repay the effort well.

No one, unless they were fanatics, would think of distributing religious tracts to the poor half starved ignorant portion of a large city. The human portion of their natures must be benefitted before any great results in moral improvements can be attained. Commence at the beginning.

Lydia Leavitt, Bohemian Society [Bookshop, Amazon]

Hermetic quote Leavitt Bohemian Society no one unless they were fanatics

The Best of OZ

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Best of OZ [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Stephen J King, & al.

King The Best of OZ

OZ was the regular organ of the Australian Grand Lodge of OTO from 2006 through 2018, with paper distribution left behind circa 2010 in favor of digital only. Although I did often read it, and always found something of value in the issues I did read, I am embarrassed to admit that I sometimes left much of it unread in my inbox, just as the Grand Secretary General intimates in his introduction to this volume. I was excited to get a copy of a handsome softcover book claiming to collect the “Best Of” OZ in a hardcopy format that I could subject to my thorough attentions.

The prohibitive majority of the content in this volume was written by Australian Grand Master Shiva X°, which is consistent with the original periodical that often contained long articles from the Austral Throne. The rationale for the sequence of the selections is not entirely clear to me; they are certainly not chronological. (And for that matter, the date of each article is given at its end, and I would have appreciated seeing these citations at the top of each piece and/or in the table of contents.)

Many of the pieces are concerned with organizational and institutional issues, highlighting the distinctive Australian approach to implementing the constitutional legacy of OTO and its component rites. While they are doubtless invaluable to all members of the Australian Grand Lodge, readers in other countries are most likely to find these pieces useful and engaging if they have already begun to serve in roles of national leadership such as those associated with the Second Triad. OTO-EGC clergy should certainly read the several articles regarding EGC organization and sacramental philosophy, in that they detail an approach distinct from the one in the US, with no less fidelity to the mysteries of the rite.

Two of the longest and most rewarding articles are set near the end of the book, under the byline of Stephen J. King. The first of these is “Apocalypsis 418,” an exploratory doctrinal piece which should be of tremendous value to any serious Thelemite. Its significance relates at least as much to A∴A∴ as it does to OTO, and it includes cross-references not only to the two volumes of Daniel Gunther’s Inward Journey, but to three different volumes by Shiva X° in preparation. In significant connection with this particular essay, I would suggest reading To Take Place by Jonathan Z. Smith as well as Henri Corbin’s “The Imago Templi in Confrontation with Secular Norms” (in Temple and Contemplation).

The second King article is “Temple Mount: The Oriental Templar Crusade for Verità.” This paper was clearly the result of a compositional process originally aimed at and emerging from the Academia Ordo Templi Orientis conference at Monte Verità in Ascona, Switzerland in 2017, although it doesn’t report what form it had been in at that earlier time, and it saw publication in the fiftieth and final issue of OZ in late 2018. It is concerned with Past Frater Superior Theodor Reuss’ efforts in Switzerland and their durable effects in the countercultural milieu of Ascona and later Esalen. While there is some measure of speculation involved in this study, there is also a wealth of positive historical detail to support it. The conclusions offered regarding the history of ideas make this paper valuable to Thelemites seeking to understand the logical (and possibly genetic) relationship of our doctrines to other intellectual and cultural streams with which they are in clear resonance, and not just to scholars of OTO history.

I recommend this book as a useful addition to the library of any chartered OTO body or individual initiate, as well as for students of Thelema generally.