The legend of the Wandering Jew is a thread connecting the episodes of this novel of occult initiation, set in early 20th-century Amsterdam. But Meyrink was neither a folklorist nor a religious propagandist. His literary skill serves to give the reader a sense of the tenuousness of the mundane events and places that we consent to call real, and he captured the apocalyptic zeitgeist of the early years of the New Aeon of the Crowned and Conquering Child.
Franz Rottensteiner’s afterword in the Daedalus European Classics edition of The Green Face goes further than any other single source I have read in attempting to call out the specific occultist interests and involvements of Meyrink. I would certainly like more detail on Meyrink’s 1895 correspondent from Manchester, who assigned him a new name or occult motto; it sounds as if this instructor was an initiate of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. In fact, Rottensteiner insists that Meyrink “apparently had no knowledge of English fiction of the supernatural,” (221) although Godwin, Chanel and Deveney relate that Meyrink was responsible for a German edition of P.B. Randolph’s Dhoula Bel (The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, p. 365). Meyrink was also involved “with French and British Freemasons,” including the Antient and Primitive Rite, and Rottensteiner claims that he joined the “Order of Illumination” (Reuss’ Illuminati Order?) in 1897. All these details serve to make his work of special historical interest to initiates of O.T.O. and its emulators, as well as relating far more clearly to the metaphysical content of Meyrink’s work than the usual biographical gloss of him simply being Theosophist.
The Green Face has a status in Meyrink’s oeuvre second only to The Golem, and the two were written during the same period (1910-1916). While brimming over with supernatural revelation, it maintains a vigorously esoteric perspective independent of any social institution or codified tradition.
The Dutch setting, largely in the shadow of the Sint Nicolaas Kerk, was especially effective for me as a reader. In fact, it worked almost exactly like my viewing of The Matrix (a curiously similar story, despite its science-fictional premises). In that film, there were frequent dialogue references to Chicago street geography, although the movie’s cityscape was actually shot in Sydney, Australia, which created an alienating sense of familiarity for this Chicagoan. Just so, my time in 21st-century Amsterdam helped me achieve the same sense of situated displacement with respect to Meyrink’s Zeedijk.
Meyrink begins this 1921 novel by making some startling claims for the reality of its clearly mythic protagonist Christopher Dovecote. The tale alternates among biographical narrative, visionary episodes, and didactic explication of the latter. It offers little in the way of resolution, but rather ends with the intensification of and insistence on its central enigmas.
There’s no physical adventure: everything (material) takes place in a small Bavarian town. A form of occultism is taken as the necessary complement of Christian religion, with allusive Freemasonry as the most exoteric reflection of the occult, and a nebulous (Taoist? the jacket copy thinks so) form of Asian adeptship as its origin. The account reviles Spiritualism as a deception by malign powers, and Charismatic Catholicism as no better.
Science fiction author John Clute introduces the Daedalus/Ariadne Press edition, with some fascinating information about Meyrink, and the situation of The White Dominican in the author’s total oeuvre. Clute does provide some “spoilers,” and can be skipped at the first pass by those who fear such things. He also spends a little too much attention on the fact that Meyrink’s tale doesn’t fit neatly into Clute’s ethics of gender.
This brief novel is sure to be savored by serious occultists in general. The fact that it was not available in English until 1994 may account for its not being as well-known among contemporary magicians as it deserves to be. As a Thelemite, I found it intriguing with respect to possible interpretations of Liber LegisI:30 and II:44. [via]
Meyrink’s Walpurgisnacht is set in the castle district (Hradschin) of Prague during World War I. The aristocratic inhabitants of the district don’t view themselves as residents of Prague, and they are oblivious to the brewing civil unrest and the obsolescence of the Austrian political order. To this setting, add an apocalyptic occultist sensibility, according to which an ancestor possesses her descendent through the medium of a painted portrait, the one-eyed Hussite general Jan Žižka returns from the grave, and Lucifer visits the dreams of a retired court physician.
The narrative is impressionistic and mysterious, full of portents and wry observations. The flavor of the novel reminded me a lot of Moorcock’s Brothel in Rosenstrasse, which is set in the same part of the world during a previous war, with similar social myopias afflicting the characters, as well as twinning the themes of decadence and senescence. Walpurgisnacht has elements of the supernatural missing from the Moorcock book, though. Lucifer’s soliloquy in Chapter Seven is a piece of theological insight on a par with the similar exposition of Janicot in Cabell’s The High Place, but it goes further, in providing a glimpse of important magical doctrine.
The technique of aweysha, or magical domination of the personality, is important to the plot of the novel, but one of its fascinating features is the ambivalence of agency in such occult transactions. To what extent are those manipulating others themselves psychic puppets? The occult conundrum meshes perfectly with the moribund persistence of social custom and the horrors of violent revolution. [via]