Tag Archives: Hermetism & Rosicrucianism

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