Tag Archives: Hermetism & Rosicrucianism

Having attained that state, he may retire from the world and employ his energies for the employment and the further expansion of the spiritual power which he possesses. He will be perfectly happy, because that which he desires he can create in his own interior world. He expects no future reward in heaven; for what could heaven offer to him except happiness which he already possesses. He desires no other good but to create good for the world.

Franz Hartmann, With The Adepts [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library, Hermetic Library]

Hermetic quote Hartmann With the Adepts attained retire world employ energies expansion spiritual powers possesses perfectly happy desires create interior world expects no reward heaven good world

Memory Palaces and Masonic Lodges

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Memory Palaces and Masonic Lodges: Esoteric Secrets of the Art of Memory [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Charles B Jameux, trans Jon E Graham.

Jameux Graham Memory Palaces and Masonic Lodges

This short volume contains texts from disparate sources, and has been assembled mostly in a sort of reverse chronological order. I think most readers will more easily follow its arguments and be better served by reading it from back to front, and this review will treat it in that sequence.

Appendix B is a 1995 article by the book’s author Charles B. Jameux, originally published in the French periodical Points de Vue Initiatiques with the title “The Ancient Sources of Initiatic Transmission in Freemasonry: The Royal Art and the Classical Art of Memory.” It presents Jameux’s first published development of a thesis grounded in the prior work of two profane historians: Frances Yates (The Art of Memory) and David Stevenson (The Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland’s Century, 1590-1710), each of whom had suggested that the early modern developments of mnemotechny could have determined the form of early Freemasonry. Stevenson had bolstered Yate’s tenuous hypothesis by citing the explicit requirement of memory training from the Schaw Statutes of 1599 governing Scottish Masonry. Jameux quotes at length from each of the two prior authors and uses his own initiated perspective to amend some of their details, as well as to reinforce and extend the basic concept. Reading Yates and Stevenson myself some few years after Jameux had published his article far from my ken, I came to similar conclusions. While this appendix offered little new for me personally, I thought that it was a solid presentation of the history and its relevance for modern initiates.

Appendix A makes no direct mention of Freemasonry or initiation. It reproduces in English translation a 1988 paper by scholar Claudie Balavoine, “Hieroglyphs of Memory: Emergence and Transformation of a Hieroglyphic Script in the arts of Memory during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.” This brief study discusses the changing appreciation of Egyptian hieroglyphs in early modernity, along with the emergence of figural alphabets, and relates these to the transformation and decline of the art of memory. Although composed and published earlier than Jameux’s “Ancient Sources of Initiatic Transmission,” it came to his attention later, and it then became an important source for the development of his understanding of the relevant Masonic history, reflected in the five brief chapters of the body of Memory Palaces and Masonic Lodges.

The body text orients to 1637 as a point of historical discontinuity (of the sort proposed by Michel Foucault in Les mots et les choses) signaled by both the appearance of the Master’s Word in Masonry and Descartes’ publication of his Discourse on Method. Jameux presents Masonic initiation as a compensation and potential remedy for the modern fracturing of “the original unity of thought into conceptual, rational, and quantified thought on the one hand and analogical thought as a storehouse for the ancient traditions on the other” (38).

I am a little mistrustful of the Jon E. Graham translation of Jameux’s text, which tends to feature rambling sentence structures, of which the following is a gruesome specimen: “Far from an elsewhere and nowhere of utopia according to Campanella, wouldn’t the future operative and non-operative Freemasons of 1600-era Scotland, engaged in an outside of work quest for method but remaining immersed nevertheless in the here and now of spiritually conflictive societies, be in the process of discovering the Masonic symbol beneath the memorized image?” (16-17) I know that French intellectual exposition often uses this sort of monster pile of clauses and phrases, but preserving that form is not particularly helpful to English readers.

Also, on page 15 I encountered a defective passage, in which “the conversation he recounts” should have been attributed to Plato in the Phaedrus (as Yates does, in the citation given by Jameux), but some elided wording here makes it seem as if “he” is Alexander Dicson, who is then confusingly said to have “reproduced” the conversation with his own characters. Whether the error in this case is that of author, translator, or editor, it undermined my confidence in what I was reading.

The book is equipped with two short laudatory forewords by Francis Bardot and Patrice Corbin, and they are worth reading if only to demonstrate that Jameux’s ideas in this book have a sympathetic audience among eminent French Freemasons.

Solomon’s Memory Palace

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Solomon’s Memory Palace: A Freemason’s Guide to the Ancient Art of Memoria Verborum [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Bob W Lingerfelt.

Lingerfelt Solomon's Memory Palace

In my book A Bishop’s Advice there is a chapter on memorization for purposes of religious ceremony. There, as in other presentations I have made on memorization of O.T.O. ritual, I avoided discussions of the classical and renaissance “arts of memory,” although I have made extensive study of them elsewhere. I don’t see those techniques as essential for our ritualists, and they seemed perhaps sufficiently exotic to distract from the other points I was making with respect to ritual memorization. I was, however, very interested to read the recent book by Bob W. Lingerfelt, Solomon’s Memory Palace, which is a brief instructional volume for Freemasons on the very subject of applying traditional techniques of locative memory to the memorization of ritual.

While Lingerfelt is clearly well read in the traditional sources and modern scholarship for ars memoriae, his tone is not at all academic. The approach is colloquial and practical, and often at pains to clarify the sort of dated English diction that pervades Masonic ritual texts. He is a Nebraska Mason, and his book makes it implicitly clear that his jurisdiction places a greater emphasis on ritual secrecy (and consequently memorization) than many do, including today’s United Grand Lodge of England. While the introduction of the book seeks to offer it to other readers in addition to Masons, the text was quite evidently written for the benefit of Lingerfelt’s Masonic brethren throughout. That said, anyone engaged in the memorization of liturgy, scripture, or other texts should be able to apply his advice on the memorization method sometimes called “memory palaces.”

Specific instructions on the technique are amplified with a fair amount of other useful and valid advice regarding memorization, and the author’s “Closing Thoughts” speculate productively on the potential thaumaturgy involved in the development of memory, and its role in traditions of fraternal initiation. Three appendices are more illustrative than procedural, and very much grounded in the details of Masonic ritual.

I feel I can earnestly recommend Solomon’s Memory Palace to my Thelemic coreligionists in MMM and EGC.

Occult Paris

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Occult Paris: The Lost Magic of the Belle Époque [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Tobias Churton.

Churton Occult Paris

Tobias Churton’s Occult Paris is an impressively wide-ranging yet detailed account of the French occult revival, treating developments in art movements, philosophy, politics, religion, and secret societies. Although the book’s scope is much larger, it takes for a principal guide and perspective the memoir Les Compangnons de la Hiérophanie by Victor-Émile Michelet (1861-1938). Personalities central to the history in question include Lady Caithness, Stanislas de Guatia, Joséphin Péladan, Erik Satie, Gerard “Papus” Encausse, Jules Doinel, and many others.

Those interested in the history of esoteric movements will appreciate the focus on the Kabbalistic Rose-Croix (R+C+K), its competing Catholic Rose-Croix Order (R+C+C+), the Gnostic Church and its offspring, and the Martinist Order, all of which are treated as central topics with a wealth of detail not easily accessed in other English-language publications. In addition, Churton supplies a Paris-centric perspective on the Victorian Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and information on the Parisian manifestations of the Antient & Primitive Rite with connections to the early Ordo Templi Orientis.

I feel a special responsibility to recommend this book to readers concerned with the early history of the Église Gnostique, for its very full accounting of the context of those developments. As regards the actual founding of the church, Churton relies chiefly on Doinel’s own account transmitted by the Cathar revivalist and onetime Église Gnostique bishop Déodat Roché (1877-1978), and provides a more coherent and detailed picture than I have encountered elsewhere.

The book is amply illustrated with black-and-white figures throughout, plus a generous set of color plates. Most of the figures are portraits of key individuals, and while these usually give the dates of the subject’s life, they only rarely give the date of the portrait, leaving the reader sometimes a little confused about whether they accurately represent that person at the time treated in the neighboring text.

At numerous points I found Churton’s prose a little off-putting in its chattiness, but even when the text seemed digressive it had valuable knowledge to offer. I read a borrowed copy of this book, but I will seriously consider acquiring my own, because I don’t doubt its value as a continuing reference in future study.

Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Glenn Alexander Magee.

Magee Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition

Writing very consciously in the vein inaugurated by Frances Yates’ Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Glenn Magee details the esoteric contexts and underpinnings of the work of G.W.F. Hegel. This is not a work of tendentious revisionism. The wonder is not that Magee can read Hegel as a Hermetic thinker, but that — in light of the evidence which he marshals — so many others have managed to avoid the obvious conclusion. A review from The International Philosophical Quarterly quoted on the back cover of my copy claims that the work exposes “Hegel’s dark side,” but Magee makes no such judgment. When he writes about indicting and convicting Hegel of Hermeticism in his final chapter, he is very plainly using a cacophemistic rhetorical figure. Hermeticism as Magee defines it (and he does a competent job of doing so) could be “dark” to the conventionally pious Christian, or to the rationalistic secular sorts who may have had the upper hand in the 20th-century study of Hegel, but it wasn’t to Hegel, nor to Magee nor me.

I came to this book after reading a good deal of the “Young Hegelian” Ludwig Feuerbach, for whom Hegel figures as the culmination of an obsolete crypto-theology, and I was open to the possibility of heightening my intellectual sympathy for Hegel. Magee pulled that off quite nicely. After reading his treatment of The Phenomenology of Spirit as an initiatory rite (!) I found myself for the first time ever actually considering a full read of that forbidding tome.

Magee has a lot to say about the kabbalah, which he understands to have been influential on Hegel both directly (in Rosenroth’s Kabbalah Denudata and the like) and via the work of Jacob Boehme. Most of his points are fairly sound, but he did not impress me as a scholar of kabbalistic history. He seemed thoroughly dependent on Gershom Scholem. And his transliterations were distractingly erratic; for instance, he wrote Ayin for AIN, although the same word was elsewhere Ein (in Ein Sof).

Likewise, Magee’s appreciation of the history of alchemy seems adequate for his task, but not thorough. In this case, I think he errs (in a way he does not with the Kabbalah) in deeming alchemical methods to be all of a sort. When he declares that “there is no way to decide if the alchemical opus is intended to be entirely figurative or symbolic, or if there is both a literal, physical operation of some sort coupled with a mystical doctrine” (209), it seems clear that he could benefit from the work of recent researchers into alchemy in the history of science, such as Lawrence Principe.

I have no such complaints about Magee’s efforts to contextualize Hegel with reference to the development of Rosicrucianism in Germany. In this case, he draws on appropriate and reliable scholarship in a way that has apparently been neglected by earlier Hegel scholars. Merely in passing, I was delighted to note Magee’s observation about the genesis of the phrase “immanentize the eschaton” in The New Science of Politics by Eric Voegelin (1952), where he is discussing the effects of Joachimist prophecy. 

I was cumulatively impressed with Magee’s thesis, which at one point he puts like this: “Hegel’s speculation, as I have characterized it, is a sophisticated, post-Kantian reappropriation of the memory magic and ‘active imagination’ of Hermetic thinkers such as Bruno and Boehme” (103). He covers Hegel’s ideas about magic, and the essential identity between Hegel’s “speculative philosophy” and esoteric (or mystical) religion. I strongly recommend this book to those who enjoy readings in the history of ideas, and who want to be able to appreciate the aquifer feeding a wellspring of 19th-century philosophy.

Lamaseries and lodges, orders, monasteries, convents, and places of refuge have been established, where people might strive to attain a higher life, unimpeded by the aggressions and annoyances of the external world of illusions. Their original purpose was beyond a doubt very commendable. If in the course of time many such institutions have become degraded and lost their original character; if instead of being places for the performance of the noblest and most difficult kind of labour, they have become places of refuge for the indolent, idle, and superstitious; it is not the fault of that principle which first caused such institutions to be organised, but it is the consequence of the knowledge of the higher nature of man and his powers and destiny having been lost, and with the loss of that knowledge, the means for the attainment, the original aim, was naturally lost and forgotten.

Franz Hartmann, With The Adepts [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library, Hermetic Library]

Hermetic quote Hartmann With the Adepts places refuge established strive attain higher life unimpeded external world illusions instead indolent idle superstitious original aim lost

“One cannot be careful enough in selecting one’s guides,” continued the stranger. “There are at present so many false prophets and guides. All the world is at present crazy for poking their noses into the mysteries of the astral world. Everybody wants to be taught witchcraft and sorcery. Secrets, which for thousands of years have been wisely kept hidden before the eyes of the unripe and profane, are now bawled out from the housetops and sold at the market-place as objects of trade. Hundreds of self-appointed ‘masters’ and guides speculate upon the selfishness and ambitions of their disciples, and, the blind leading the blind, they both come to grief. If only all the seekers for truth were like you, they would not be deluded by false promises held out to them for attaining adeptship.”

Franz Hartmann, With The Adepts [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library, Hermetic Library]

Hermetic quote Hartmann With the Adepts if only all adepts would not be deluded false promises attaining adeptship

The supreme spirit which pervades, embraces, and penetrates everything, being the very essence, soul, and life of all things in the universe, from the atom up to the whole solar system, is beyond all mental conception.

Franz Hartmann, With The Adepts [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher]

Hermetic quote Hartmann With the Adepts supreme spirit pervades embraces penetrates everything essence soul life universe