Tag Archives: john michael greer

Two for Sacred Geometers

Hermetic Library Fellow John Michael Greer reviews At The Center Of The World: Polar Symbolism Discovered in Celtic, Norse and Other Ritualized Landscapes by John Michell and The Byrom Collection: Renaissance Thought, the Royal Society and the Building of the Globe Theatre by Joy Hancox in the Caduceus archive.

Hancox The Byrom Collection

The Hermetic traditions of the Renaissance made use, broadly speaking, of three correlated systems in their attempt to comprehend the physical and metaphysical worlds. Two of those forms — magic, the universe expressed as symbol, and alchemy, the universe expressed as substance — have been fairly well known all through the modern Hermetic revival. The third, once known as mathesis and now more commonly called “sacred geometry” — the universe expressed as pattern — received far less attention for many years, although a series of important reprints and new publications in the last decade or so has done a great deal to redress the balance. The two books reviewed here each build, in a different sense, on that foundation.

John Michell’s name is a familiar one not only among students of esoteric geometry but in the wider circles of what might, unkindly, be called fringe studies as well; his seminal The View Over Atlantis (1969) taught most of a generation about ley lines and megaliths. Central to much of his work, though, are ideas of proportion, geometry and numerical symbolism drawn straight from classical traditions of mathesis. These ideas hold center stage in his later works City Of Revelation (1972) and The Dimensions Of Paradise (1988); much of Michell’s work since the date of this latter has focused on the role of sacred geometry in the traditional geography of various ancient cultures.

At The Center Of The World is a part of this project. Beginning with the image of the central hearth (in Latin, literally, focus), Michell goes on to explore the linked concept of the omphalos or world-center as the ritual locus of ancient systems of sacred kingship. He then maps out a series of traditional assembly-places in northwestern Europe, each standing at the geographic as well as the symbolic center of its surrounding region. The canon of numerology and geometry which Michell sees as underlying the whole system is outlined in a final chapter.

One possibly disquieting part of this exploration is Michell’s proposal that the revival of a sacred monarchy and its associated omphalic center be used as a framework for the political reunification of Ireland. The Western esoteric tradition has a long history of becoming entangled in politics, dating back at least as far as Pythagoras, and a great deal of that involvement tends toward precisely this kind of revival of archaic forms; Plato’s Republic and Laws provide the classic examples. In practice, however, the mixing of politics and spirituality tends to debase both (would anyone actually want to live in either of Plato’s totalitarian utopias?), and it’s to be hoped that Michell’s proposals — harmless as they probably are — don’t encourage the direction of more energy down this particular blind alley.

Still, as an introduction to the ways esoteric geometry can relate to the original meaning of the word “geometry” — earth measurement — At The Center Of The World is a good choice; it develops its themes capably, and does so (unlike, for example, much of The View Over Atlantis) using evidence which can be assessed by the methods of the ordinary historian. Those interested in Celtic and Norse traditions will also find it worth reading.

Joy Hancox, the author of The Byrom Collection, is anything but a household name in esoteric circles, and her own contact with the Hermetic tradition came through the unlikely route of local historical research concerning a Manchester farmhouse she purchased. The collection of documents she unearthed in the course of this research, however, deserves much wider attention from esotericists than it has apparently received so far. A set of 516 geometrical drawings of varying shapes, sizes and topics, they may well prove to comprise the single most important body of work involving sacred geometry available in modern times.

The collection apparently belonged to John Byrom, an eighteenth-century Freemason and fellow of the Royal Society, whose accomplishments included the invention of the first phonetic system of shorthand; the sources and earlier history of the documents in it are anyone’s guess, although Hancox makes some plausible speculations in her exploration of the collection and its history. Drawings shown in the book (a small fraction of the total) include Cabalistic and other esoteric diagrams, intricate geometric constructions, and architectural plans — including what are apparently the setting-out plans and elevations for all of the major theaters of Elizabethan London, including Shakespeare’s Globe.

The obvious first question, given something of this scale, is whether the collection is a modern forgery. While a firm answer will have to rely on specialists in the subject, there is at least one point which argues for its authenticity — the fact that Hancox herself seems to have little notion of the meaning and significance of many of the drawings. Her efforts to educate herself about the background of the collection are praiseworthy, and included both academic and esoteric sources; still, scholars and Hermeticists alike will wince at a fair number of the statements and conclusions she makes in the book.

The Byrom Collection nonetheless provides a helpful introduction, both to the collection itself and to the milieu from which it appears to have come. The real value of this book, though, is in its reproductions of the drawings. Most of them are highly legible photographs, clear enough to study in detail, giving the book real value to the practicing sacred geometer.

Something more will be needed, though, if the potential of this remarkable discovery is to be realized. The best of all possible worlds would be a full-size facsimile edition of the drawings, but almost any further publication of (or about) these documents would be a welcome event.

Find At The Center Of The World at Amazon, Abebooks, and Powell’s.

Find The Byrom Collection at Amazon, Abebooks, and Powell’s.

Hamlet’s Mill

Hermetic Library Fellow John Michael Greer reviews Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge And Its Transmission Through Myth by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend in the Caduceus archive.

de Santillana von Dechend Hamlet's Mill

The analysis of myth has played a substantial role in Hermetic thought all through the history of esotericism in the West, from the mythological interpretations of Orphic mysticism through the efforts of latter-day alchemists such as Isaac Newton to extract the secrets of the Great Work from classical legends. The same habit of thought persisted in more orthodox scholarship to a much greater degree than is often realized. One thinks of the great nineteenth-century philologist Max Muller and his Solar Myth theory, which condensed all mythologies into accounts of the seasonal movements of the sun, and lost its force in academic circles only when it was shown that, by his own criteria, Muller himself was nothing but a solar myth.

This was, of course, far from the only astronomical reading of myth, modern or for that matter ancient. The relationship between the visible heavens and the theological ones has often inspired interpretations of this sort, and the fact that the same names are given to planets and to gods in so many cultures points to the real potentials of this approach. Still, skies and myths alike can too easily serve as Rorshach blots into which preconceptions are read, and this is especially true when the more rigid sort of one-to-one correspondence is imposed between them.

Both the potential and the risk are pointed up by Hamlet’s Mill, a self-described “essay on myth and the frame of time” by the historians of science Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, now back in print in paperback form. This odd but important work has as its major thrust the idea that myths are, in effect, {39} remnants of the technical jargon of an ancient system of astronomy, with the precession of the equinoxes – the slow wobble of the Earth’s axis that causes the apparent points of equinoxes and solstices to slip backward through the Zodiac at a rate of one sign every 2,000-plus years – as its great discovery. This system is traced through a wide range of mythologies, as well as through other sources, particularly the writings of Plato.

The amount of scholarship brought to bear on this thesis is impressive, on a scale reminiscent of the works of Sir James Frazer. The odd corners of the world’s mythologies are shaken out to show parallels, some of them startling, between mythic figures and events of widely separated places and times; these are then connected, sometimes convincingly, to astronomical phenomena. The mill of the title, to mention just one of the vast array of possible examples, is an image from the same Norse legends that ultimately produced Shakespeare’s melancholic hero, a magical mill which ground out gold in a past age of peace but broke free from its timbers and now grinds out salt in the depths of the sea. Drawing on a wide range of related images, de Santillana and von Dechend identify the mill as the cosmos itself, breaking free of the timbers of the familiar solstitial and equinoctial markers, and show that this identification makes sense of features of the legend which are hard to account for in any other way.

It’s of interest to the Hermeticist, also, that much of their work relies on material that has been central to Western esoteric traditions for many centuries. In particular, Platonic ideas and myths have a central role in their interpretation, and the Pythagoreans also receive attention; “Protopythagorean,” in fact, is their term for the hypothesized source of the ancient astronomy they seek to outline.

Their work has some serious weaknesses as well, and with an almost mythic exactness these are made in the exact image of its strengths. The authors fall afoul of the almost universal failing of the interpreter of myth, and having found a scheme that makes sense of some myths proceed to use it as a universal key to all. Worse, they essentially do not deal at all with the massive historical questions raised by their thesis. If Norse, Iranian, Polynesian and Mesoamerican myths, among others, are all expressions of the same system of astronomy in the same symbolic language – a claim implicitly made by the methodology of the book, and explicitly made in several places within it – what were the channels for this astonishing diffusion of ideas across space and time? And why did these channels not carry more easily traceable kinds of information, such as the techniques of metalworking, to the same far corners of the earth?

A lesser criticism has to do with the organization of the book – or, rather, the lack of it. The authors begin with mythological material from the Hamlet legends, and go on to other related stories without explanation; the first discussion of the astronomical background occurs in an “Intermezzo” after Chapter 4; the {40} basic thesis itself is not made clear until nearly halfway through the book. This is justified by the authors on the grounds that the archaic way of thought being discussed was not itself an organized system, but this begs the question; it’s by no means impossible – in fact, it’s often highly useful – to present unsystematic material in a systematic way.

The approaches opened up by Hamlet’s Mill need to be used with care, then; the book has a brilliance of its own, but that brilliance now and again closely resembles the pyrite-glitter of the crank. Still, it has value to the modern Hermeticist, both for its wide-ranging survey of ancient mythical and astronomical lore and for the stress it places on the cycles of the heavens as a model for mythological and mystical symbolism here on earth.

Find this book at Amazon, Abebooks, and Powell’s.

Circles of Power

Circles of Power: A Guide to Ceremonial Magic by Hermetic Library fellow John Michael Greer, second edition from Salamander and Sons, available in 2013, supposedly available from Weiser Antiquarian but not appearing in their catalog, may be of interest.

John Michael Greer Circles of Power from Salamander and Sons

“‘When ritual and the relationships of meaning which underlie it are studied and used deliberately … a whole range of possibilities opens up. These possibilities include most of the methods of magic … symbolism and symbolic action — that is, ritual — form the most important elements of the magician’s toolkit. The mastery of ritual thus offers what is probably the single most important way to begin to make use of the immense hidden potentials of human consciousness, potentials which go far beyond the limits most people nowadays place on what it means to be human.’

One of the most prestigious esoteric groups of the Victorian era, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn has been described as ‘a system for perfecting the raw material that is humanity; a system for discovering the Divine Source within, and for seeing it in all things; a system for awakening the consciousness within and uniting with that of the universe itself.’

In Circles of Power: A Guide to Ceremonial Magic, John Michael Greer provides a practical guide to the eloquent and powerful system of Cabalistic ritual magic developed by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn — arguably the most complete and fully developed of the living traditions of Western magic.

Greer clearly articulates in plain English the nature of Golden Dawn ritual magic; the magical macrocosm and microcosm, and the tools and practice of ritual magic. In doing so, he concisely summarises the foundations of Golden Dawn ritual (such as Invoking and Banishing, the Middle Pillar exercises, and Opening and Closing), the applications of such ritual (including working tools, talismans, evocation, invisibility and transformation, and spiritual development) and the Formula of the Equinox.

Extensively illustrated throughout, Circles of Power features 38 rituals and ceremonies described in detail, plus guidance for the solitary magician and an appendix of cabalistic symbolism.”

The Earth, The Gods and The Soul

The Earth, The Gods and The Soul — A History of Pagan Philosophy: From the Iron Age to the 21st Century by Brendan Myers is due in November 2013 from Moon Books, and may be of interest.

Brendan Myers The Earth The Gods and The-Soul from Moon Books

“Philosophy was invented by pagans. Yet this fact is almost always ignored by those who write the history of ideas. This book tells the history of the pagan philosophers, and the various places where their ideas appeared, from ancient times to the 21st century. The Pagan philosophers are a surprisingly diverse group: from kings of great empires to exiled lonely wanderers, from devout religious teachers to con artists, drug addicts, and social radicals. Three traditions of thought emerge from their work: Pantheism, NeoPlatonism, and Humanism, corresponding to the immensities of the Earth, the Gods, and the Soul. From ancient schools like the Stoics and the Druids, to modern feminists and deep ecologists, the pagan philosophers examined these three immensities with systematic critical reason, and sometimes with poetry and mystical vision. This book tells their story for the first time in one volume, and invites you to examine the immensities with them. And as a special feature, the book includes summaries of the ideas of leading modern pagan intellectuals, in their own words: Emma Restall Orr, Michael York, John Michael Greer, Vivianne Crowley, and more.” [via]

Between the Worlds: An Interfaith Esoteric Conference

Between the Worlds: An Interfaith Esoteric Conference will be held in Wilmington, DE on Dec 13-16, 2012. A number of people you may know from the library are on the presenters list, including Hermetic Library fellows Sam Webster and John Michael Greer, anthology artist T Thorn Coyle, interviewee Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki and a number of others not directly connected to the library, but who may be both familiar and of interest, such as Ivo Domínguez, Jr., Anaar, Jason Miller, Christopher Penczak, and more.

“Between The Worlds is an interfaith esoteric conference. It occurs when the stars indicate that such a gathering is needed and favored. The previous BTW’s were held in 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2007. This is the 5th in the series.

This conference is known for the quality of its workshops and rituals. This event is intended for those at an intermediate or advanced level in their spiritual and magickal studies.

Remember it is not a yearly event, so don’t miss this opportunity for amazing rituals, deep learning, and dialogue.” [via]

The Celtic Golden Dawn: An Original & Complete Curriculum of Druidical Study

The Celtic Golden Dawn: An Original & Complete Curriculum of Druidical Study by Hermetic Library fellow John Michael Greer is due Feb 2013, published by Llewellyn.



“A century ago, groups decending from the famed Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn fused the occult lore of the Western magical tradition with the nature spirituality of the Druid Revival. They invoked Pagan Celtic powers instead of the Judeo-Christian names and symbols. Respected occult author and Grand Archdruid John Michael Greer has re-created a complete magical system based on the Celtic Golden Dawn traditions. This new book provides students with a complete curriculum of Druidical magic and occult wisdom, including training in ceremonial magic, meditation, pathworking, divination, geomancy, and herbal alchemy, allowing self-initiation into the three degrees of Ovate, Bard, and Druid. It features spectacular magical techniques for such things as invisibility, etheric shapeshifing, and conjuring spirits.” [via]


Although the book description doesn’t say so, I’ve seen some comments which state this work has to do with the Celtic Revival of William Butler Yeats, and will cover materials related to Yeats’ attempt to create rituals for his Castle of Heroes and a neo-romantic reconstruction of Celtic Mysteries which was his focus for a time. I was curious whether that was the case, so I asked John and he clarifies:

“Since only fragmentary material survives from the Druid/Golden Dawn hybrid orders of the early 20th century — orders such as the Cabbalistic Order of Druids and the Ancient Order of Druid Hermetists — the sole available option was for someone with a solid grasp of Golden Dawn and Druid traditions to reverse engineer a fusion between them. Since I have the qualifications, I decided to give it a shot. The completed system is an original creation of mine, based on my sense of what the study program of such an order would have been like.” — John Michael Greer [via email]


Open letter from John Michael Greer to the Golden Dawn community

Hermetic Library fellow John Michael Greer, and co-editor of the archived Caduceus: The Hermetic Quarterly, has sent out an open letter about a forthcoming new edition of Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn, as published by Llewellyn.

For those in the Golden Dawn Community:

Avete Fratres et Sorores!

I would like to pass on some important news to the members of the Golden Dawn community, and to ask for the assistance of my fratres and sorores in a project that may make a positive difference for the future of our common tradition. Llewellyn Publications, the copyright holders of Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn, has started the process of preparing a new, seventh edition of that deservedly famous book. As most of you are well aware, the currently available sixth edition has had more than its share of problems – an abundance of typos and other errors introduced during the process of scanning and editing the original text, some serious omissions of material, and more – and this came on top of a range of problems with the original text, some dating back to its writing and first publication, others introduced since then.

In order to fix these problems – and avoid adding any more! – the staff at Llewellyn decided to contract with a writer/editor who was already familiar with the tradition, rather than doing the editing in-house. When they offered me the contract, I accepted on the understanding that I would be consulting with other practitioners of the tradition to make the new seventh edition the definitive version of this classic work. While I have been a student of the Golden Dawn work since 1976, I am well aware that there are many others in the Golden Dawn community whose experience with the tradition goes far beyond mine. Furthermore, beyond all questions of copyright law, The Golden Dawn belongs in a very real sense to all those who have studied it, worked with it,and made the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn a central part of their lives; it seems to me that a project such as this would best be done, not by an individual, but by the whole community. I would therefore like to ask your help with this project.

This is what I have in mind.

First and foremost, all the typos and errors introduced into the text need to be located and fixed. There are a great many of them, and no one person’s eyes are likely to spot them all. I would therefore like to ask all those who are willing to do so, to list all the typos and errors they can find, noting their location by page and line number.

Please use the sixth edition (the currently available large black paperback), since the electronic files of this edition are the raw material I will be using as a starting point for the editorial work. The lists, and all other material,may be sent to the email address that follows.

Second, anything that was left out of the sixth edition needs to be identified and replaced. This will require carefully comparing the text, page by page, between the current edition and the older versions.

Third, all passages in Hebrew, Greek, Coptic, and Enochian need to be checked for spelling and accuracy by people familiar with those languages, and any necessary corrections made. All astrological, elemental, alchemical, and other symbols also have to be checked and, where necessary, corrected.

Fourth, the stage directions in the rituals need to be checked by those who have experience performing them. There have been repeated claims that officers are put in the wrong places, change position without explanation, and so on. All notes on staging the rituals therefore need to be reviewed and, where necessary, corrected.

Fifth, all the diagrams and images need to be gone over carefully, all errors identified and all corrections indicated. This includes checking and correcting the Hebrew and other non-English alphabets in the diagrams. Current plans are to have all the art from the book redone by a capable artist familiar with the tradition, so corrections here need to be suggested as soon as possible.

Sixth, I have been given a certain amount of ‘wiggle room’ to add new material to the book. I plan on doing so very sparingly – an improved and expanded index, and a briefly annotated bibliography of worthwhile books for students of the Golden Dawn tradition, are the two additions I have primarily in mind. Still, I would be willing to listen to proposals for the addition of short essays in the text where that would be helpful to students.

Seventh, and most controversially, I would like to check Regardie’s text against copies of the original Golden Dawn rituals and knowledge lectures. I understand that many of those who have such copies keep them tightly locked in their filing cabinets; still, to make this the definitive edition of The Golden Dawn, referring back to the original source material is an essential step. I would therefore like to ask members of the community who have any of these documents to consider scanning or photocopying the material they have, and allowing me to use the copies as references in the editorial process. Any materials so lent will remain unpublished, and I am entirely willing to abide by any restrictions on the use or distribution of such documents as the lender may find necessary. The point of this request is not to raid anybody’s files; it is simply to make sure that, as far as possible, the lectures and rituals in The Golden Dawn are an accurate copy of the material originally circulated in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

I am aware that not everyone in the Golden Dawn community will be interested in participating in the revision process, and that not everyone who is interested will have the time to do so. Furthermore, I can offer in return only my own heartfelt gratitude, and a published acknowledgment, in the seventh edition, to each frater or soror, each temple, and each order that contributes to this work. That being said, I hope that as many of you as possible will be willing to help make the new seventh edition a milestone in the history of the Golden Dawn tradition. I have set up an email address specifically for this project at gdrevision@gmail.com – please use this for all correspondence related to the seventh edition. In terms of the time frame forthis project, I plan on beginning the editing process in January of 2013, and the completed manuscript is due on the Spring Equinox of 2014.

Sub umbra alarum tuarum, YHVH —

Frater GME (John Michael Greer)


The Blood of the Earth: An essay on Magic and Peak Oil

The Blood of the Earth: An essay on Magic and Peak Oil” by John Michael Greer is available for pre-order from Scarlet Imprint, and is their first title for 2012.

“The Blood of the earth: an essay on magic and peak oil. Industrial culture is in collapse. There is no infinite growth on a finite planet and oil, our most critical resource, has passed peak.

We have entered a period of radical flux, and magic must respond to the world in which it operates, or it is nothing but empty escapism.

The Blood of the Earth is a challenging and radical book. It fuses hard physical science with an adept’s understanding of magic. It is a smart, articulate and devastating piece of writing. You could call it a polemic. You could call it a prophetic work.

We believe it is essential reading for the modern magician.

Magic, like peak oil, is the voice our civilisation has failed to heed. Greer argues passionately that the answers to our darkening age are to be found in the practice of magic, provided we understand what it can and cannot do. He gives a lucid explanation of how magic works and crucially, where it does not.

His vision of the future covers the dangers of political thaumaturgy and the threats of new dictatorships in an increasingly unstable world. Neither does he shy away from a critique of the mind control antics of the black magicians of the advertising industry. Cautionary examples of UFO cults, mysterious assassinations and fake science are all grist for his mill.

Whilst attacking the failures of scientific materialism and the empty technological utopias he does not spare the New Age. Instead he presents a tour de force of occult philosophy covering Neoplatonism, Theurgy, Ritual magic, and thinkers as diverse as Aristotle, Giordano Bruno, Joseph Peladan and Rudolph Steiner.

He presents the highly practical mental training methods of magic for countering the tyranny of dualistic thinking. Clearly written and accessible, The Blood of the Earth is part of the fusion of deep ecology and deep paganism we continue to champion, and is equally relevant to heathen, druid, magician and witch. By reading this book you will have a far clearer understanding of the unfolding future. More than that, it will give you clear and direct strategies to break free of the mind forg’d manacles.”