Heralded by no less an authority that Aleister Crowley as “a noble and most notable prophesy of Life’s fair future,” this novel recounts the return of the Old Gods to an English village sometime in the late 19th century. Told from the point of view of the local Church of England Vicar, it begins humbly enough. A not-terribly-bright boy makes panpipes from some reeds and plays them in the forests of an evening and from there the entire valley is slowly brought to the worship of Pan. Dunsany’s eye for the significance of small actions- or omissions- and his prose, less lofty that his earlier works but still marvelous to read, make this the perfect literary counterpart to “The Wicker Man.” One strongly suspects that Gerald Gardner had a copy on his bookshelf and all good Pagans should hope that this comes back into print.
This is possibly the most unique novel I’ve read in years. Our hero (if we may call him that,) is a sort of hard-boiled European private detective with a remarkable specialty: he works for an exclusive handful of antiquarian book dealers and collectors, usually to “acquire” rare books and manuscripts “by whatever means necessary.” He is hired by one dealer to authenticate a manuscript chapter of Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, then a rich collector hires him for what should be a more difficult job concerning The Book of the Nine Doors to the Kingdom of Darkness, which is said to contain the secret of summoning the Devil. The author of this work swore just before the Inquisition burned him at the stake that only one copy existed, so why are no less than three listed in the bibliographies? Our hero’s task is to determine which, if any, of the three is genuine and finding it, to get it however he can.
During the course of the narrative it turns out that these two jobs are not as unrelated as they may appear. We encounter the strange world of rapacious collector, unscrupulous dealers, impoverished noblemen desperately trying to retain their ancestral libraries, famous occultists, restorers who are not above a little forgery on the side, a mysterious young woman who may be an Angel or the Devil or a character out of Sherlock Holmes, several people who take Dumas’ novel VERY seriously, and a disconcerting number of characters who turn up inconveniently dead. This is a first-rate mystery with many twists and an ending as satisfying as it is unexpected.
Julianus reviews The Complete Pegāna: All the Tales Pertaining to the Fabulous Realm of Pegāna by Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Baron Dunsany, edited by S T Joshi, in the Bkwyrm archive.
In the year 1904 e.v. an English Gentleman, big-game hunter and chess enthusiast created a new mythology; and no, I don’t mean Crowley. The gentleman in question was Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, eighteenth Baron Dunsany (1878 – 1957) and the book was The Gods of Pegāna. Dunsany created the first original mythology in English literature since William Blake and his work had tremendous influence on H.P. Lovecraft. Crowley was also passionately devoted to Dunsany’s work and got him to contribute a short story to the Equinox.
Dunsany generally wrote everything in a single draft with a quill pen and his prose style is unique. Brilliant and musical, it truly seems more like a newly-discovered scripture than a literary production. Fate and Chance, Gods large and small, heroes and prophets, Time and Death are all unveiled in glory and tragedy. Only Clark Ashton Smith, one of Lovecraft’s literary comrades, can approach Dunsany’s mastery of the short fantasy.
The present volume contains all the stories from The Gods of Pegāna as well as its sequel, Time and the Gods (1906,) along with three later stories on the theme. These books have not been reprinted in their entirety in eighty years and one may hope that more of Dunsany’s massive corpus, which includes over fifty volumes of fiction, drama (he once had four plays on Broadway at once,) poetry and autobiography, will follow.
This is the first book of its kind and you could not ask for a better introduction to the subject. Well researched and lavishly illustrated this survey covers the development of Masonic iconography in detail and demonstrates its influence on religious and secular architecture. Discussions of Solomon’s Temple, mortuary architecture and Mozart’s Masonic music (“The Magic Flute” being only the most famous example) are included. This is a high-quality art book, easily worth the price to anyone interested in the subject and I hope Professor Curl publishes more on this topic.
It is high time someone came out with a specialised handbook to this important branch of Magick, and this is a fair initial entry. It has the handicap of the usual patented Llewellyn “Magick 001” tone which I can barely stomach anymore. There is also the obligatory “It’s-all-perfectly-safe-and-easy-and-it’s-certainly-not-Satanic-at-all-nope-nope-nope” chapter whose presence I have never understood, since I presume the reader already knows this or he would never have picked up the book in the first place! The book itself is a pretty complete overview of the subject, in fact it is practically self-contained, and I am rather uncomfortable with the idea of divorcing an advanced practice such as Evocation from a fully-rounded Magical curriculum as Konstantinos does. He also places far too little emphasis on banishing and purification, telling the reader to rely on “Divine Providence” or some such goop– and people say Crowley lays booby-traps for the unwary! The author’s research is pretty good, and he thankfully avoids the old “these-spirits-are-really-just-parts-of-your-own-subconscious” cliche. So this is a promising start for a guy who’s just 23– I wouldn’t want to read anything I would have written at that age!– and I’ll look forward to seeing really decent stuff as he matures.
This is an excellent and complex fantasy novel based on Renaissance Hermeticism. It is set in a sort of archetypal world-city where humans are ruled by man-sized intelligent rodents and their huge incarnate stone deities (the rats and gargoyles of the title.) Ms. Gentle has done a splendid job of integrating historical Alchemy and Magick into a fantasy setting, with one interesting twist: she had deleted all references to Christianity. The religious background seem to combine elements of Ancient Egypt, late Antique Mystery religions and Freemasonry. One wishes she had gone into more detail on this point, but it hardly detracts from the book itself.
Baron Julius Evola (1898 – 1974) is the leading Italian representative of the “Traditionalist” school, whose better-known members include Rene Guenon and Frithjof Schuon. Evola seems to be a “difficult” member of this group, as much because of his popularity among the European far-right as for his championing of the Warrior nature over that of the Priest. As this is one of his more “political” works I was rather surprised to see it translated, although English versions of his books on Tantra and Alchemy are available from the same publisher.
Revolt is divided into two parts. Part one, where he describes the characteristic features of an ideal Traditional society is by far the better. His concept of Royalty as the centering force of a civilisation, combining the Warrior and Religious functions, and the distinction he makes between Empire and mere imperialism, are significant and fundamental. Part two, which is a “meta-history” of the progressive degeneration of Tradition over the past millennia, is rather weaker. Evola presents history as the conflict between the Tradition of the Northern Races of Hyperborea (a masculine, ascetic, individualistic, transcendental, solar, warrior culture) and the anti-Traditional Southern Races (who are feminine, sensual, collectivist, lunar, and dominated by priests.) As the above makes clear, Evola’s thought has a strong dualist tone with (ironically) a reliance on some rather un-Traditional turn of the century anthropology. He also displays a glaring misogyny that any psychologically-inclined critic would have a field day with. Still, there is much in part one to interest any Thelemite, and for anyone this is a good book for rattling your modernist paradigm.
P.G. Wodehouse created one of the great duos in humour fiction in the form of Bertie Wooster, the ultimate empty-headed British aristocrat, and his long-suffering omni-competent gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves. Through eleven novels and 34 short stories they fell in and out of some of the most convoluted, absurd and delightful adventures in literature.
Now, imagine if you will that Jeeves and Wooster have been dropped into three stories by H.P. Lovecraft.
Worth the price if only to hear the line, “Most eldritch, sir.”
Looking at the title, one would expect this to be a collection of manifestos, instructions, rituals and other primary source documents relating to Masonry, Rosicrucianism, Illuminism, the Golden Dawn and other Western esoteric bodies. Naturally, in the great tradition of “blinds to deceive the profane,” this is nothing of the sort. What we have here is a collection of essays dealing mostly with history and literary criticism of authors who were somehow involved in esoteric movements– usually in the most tenuous fashion. As such the book is mostly an exercise in the academic practice of pontification by “authorities” who have no connection whatever to their subjects, and only the vaguest inkling of the complexities involved, mostly because they read each others’ flawed commentaries rather than the primary sources. Certainly they would never stoop to actually asking the advice of any modern secret societies.
That said, I must report that there are a few good things waiting here for the diligent reader. Ingeborg Kohn’s article on Joséphin [Sar Merodack] Peladan is an excellent introduction to this important figure in Nineteenth Century art and occultism, and Paul Rich’s study of Kipling’s interest in Freemasonry and its effect on his work (especially in Kim) is a real gem. These are balanced however, by such effluvia as R. A. Gilbert, who really must have a commission from the United Grand Lodge of England to make Freemasonry seem as dull and pointless as humanly possible. His piece on “The Golden Dawn in Popular Fiction” is a monument to the Art and Science of Missing the Point.
Sacramentally, dilucid, in fine, then, we must consider these texts to be, on the whole, extremely un-secret.
Julianus reviews Song of the Cosmos: An Introduction to Traditional Cosmology by Arthur Versluis in the Bkwyrm archive.
The thing to get straight about this book right from the beginning, is that the word “Traditional” in the title refers to the Traditionalist school of Rene Guenon and his followers. As such our author operates under the assumption that all “authentic” religions are descended from one unified “Primordial Tradition,” and so tries to somehow get us to accept any number of differing, mutually contradictory doctrines simultaneously. Now, while there is a great convergence among the world’s many systems of cosmology, Versluis tends to somewhat spoil the effect by insisting that relatively recent doctrinal developments are in fact part of the one original religion. He also has a tendency to fill in “gaps” in one culture’s worldview with elements from another wholly unrelated culture. He is also maddeningly vague on certain points one might think to be crucial, not the least being the literal existence of ancient “Titanic” races.
All this aside, this book is a fairly good cross-cultural overview, and we would recommend this as a starting-point for the subject.