Tag Archives: kabbalah

Mysticism East and West

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Mysticism East and West: A Comparative Analysis of the Nature of Mysticism by Rudolf Otto.

Rudolf Otto Mysticism

This book was developed from Otto’s lectures presented at Oberlin College in 1923-4. It principally consists of a detailed attempt to compare and contrast two prominent mystics: Śankara from the Indian East and Meister Eckhart from the European West. In so doing, Otto proposes to demonstrate that there are distinct forms of mysticism which reach across boundaries of religion, culture and geography, and also that any mysticism will be essentially inflected by its particular religious basis—the soil in which it grows, to use Otto’s recurrent metaphor.

“Part A” of the text emphasizes similarities between Śankara and Meister Eckhart, and Otto manages to detail many of these. First, he points to their shared orientation to ontological ideas, and develops the technical and theological parallel
Śankara:Brahman:Isvara:Ātman::Eckhart:Godhead:God:Soul (14, 77-78). He also compares Śankara’s “Maya” to Eckhart’s “creare” (95). Otto emphasizes the religious, salvific, and theistic qualities of both thinkers’ systems, and points out that neither prescribes a “method” of attainment (29). He proposes a couple of idealized “schemas” of mystical experience, claiming that Śankara and Eckhart each engage both schemas (52).

In the process of comparing Śankara and Eckhart to each other, he distinguishes their type of (speculative) mysticism from other usual sorts: affective mysticism (72-73) and nature mysticism (73-74). Then, in the “Transition from Part A to Part B,” he uses specific schools of Indian mysticism to demonstrate the “differentiation of mystical experience in general,” showing that the similarities between Śankara and Eckhart are not common to all mysticism. Other individual mystics who play supporting roles for contrast include Plotinus and Hallaj.

Finally, in Part B, Otto provides some contrasts between Śankara and Eckhart. In these (generally shorter) chapters, the difference is usually expressed as a valuable quality or sensibility that is present in Eckhart but absent in Śankara. According to Otto, Śankara’s mysticism lacks dynamism, vitality, religious conscience, sense of righteousness, positive regard for the world, agape-love, and pastoral sensibility. In this portion, Otto remains engaged in the sort of “comparative religion” that he produced in Das Heilige (The Idea of the Holy, 1923) : he creates a basis for comparison in order to conclude which is better, and it is no surprise that a German Christianity is better on the scale of this theologian from the University of Marburg.

Otto notes that Mysticism: East and West presupposes ideas and positions that he advanced earlier in Das Heilige (vi). That work has become especially identified with “the discourse of sui generis religion,” which has been criticized (e.g. by Russell McCutcheon) for setting arbitrary boundaries between “religious” phenomena and other spheres of personal and/or social activity and ideas, as well as a tendency to abstract religions into essences. Such problems remain evident here, e.g. in the hypothesized/ hypostasized doctrinal conflict (82), the valuation “peculiar to all religion” (94), and the elision of economics and politics from caste doctrines (120).

The “soil” metaphor persists in this book’s efforts to characterize the source of differences between instances or types of mysticism—apparently, the “seed” is mystical capacity or aspiration, and the soil is the religious and cultural context. Otto claims, “the very different ground upon which mysticism rose in Europe also colors the highest mystical experience in a way which is Christian and not Indian” (162). But he does not demonstrate a relevant, describable difference between “the soil of Palestine” and “the soil [of the entire subcontinent!] of India” (206) I don’t doubt that this trope is either a conscious or an unconscious invocation of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:18-23. Note also: Eckhart had been a poster-child of the ‘German mystique’ since the early 19th century, and Alfred Rosenberg called him a paragon of the “new, reborn Teutonic man” in 1938.

Otto insists, “The difference between [Brahman mysticism and Atman mysticism] is not to be reproduced in intellectual conceptions and is only comprehensible in the mystical experience itself.” (146) I find myself dubious that he has experienced all of these diverse mystical attainments among which he professes to discriminate for scholars! If “intellectual conceptions” cannot effectively communicate the differences between various mysticisms, what possibility is there for scholarship to assert or explain such differences? Ultimately, I must suspect Otto of using a globe-spanning erudition to reinforce his own metaphysical prejudices. [via]


Imagining Karma

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Imagining Karma: Ethical Transformation in Amerindian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth by Gananath Obeyesekere.

Ganath Obeyesekere Imagining Karma

Obeyesekere works through a project of “comparative structural interpretation” (354), using simplified and idealized models of the processes described by rebirth doctrines within and among various cultures. One of his goals is to demonstrate that reincarnation “eschatologies” are not unique to Indic religions, as is sometimes supposed. The societies that furnish Obeyesekere with ethnological data are Vedanta and Upanishadic Hinduism, Theravada Buddhism, West Africa, Trobriand, Northwest Coast Amerindians, Inuit, Tlingit, Kwakiutl, Classical Hellenism (as Pythagoreanism and Platonism), “Heterodox Islam” (as Druzes and Ismailism), and Bali. He omits the kabbalistic metempsychosis of mystical Judaism, as well as some Australian and Asian cultures of reincarnation, noting that he is especially interested in those who hold beliefs permitting cross-species rebirth of humans. This latter idea he ties to the notion of “species sentience” (his term) and relates structurally to vegetarianism, by means of an endoanthropophagy (cannibalism) taboo.

Obeyesekere distinguishes a “karmic eschatology” from the basic “rebirth eschatology” according to the presence of two features, which he groups under the process of “ethicization” of the reincarnation process. The first feature is a differentiation of post-mortem otherworld experiences based on the ethical status of the deceased. The second is the ethicization of rebirth per se, so that the ethical value of one life has the determinative effect on the identity and quality of the next life. (He notes that this latter feature correlates to a devaluation of animals, when compared to rebirth schemas that lack it.) Tied to this ethicization is the establishment of a salvation that lies outside the cycle of rebirth altogether. Obeyesekere also asserts a parallel process of “axiologization,” by which preexisting local values are conceptualized and universalized. While outlining his model of the “karmic eschatology,” he counters Western descriptions (or “inventions”) of Buddhism as essentially and originally “rational” (151 ff.).

Having constructed the model of Buddhist rebirth ideas, with reference to those of “small-scale societies,” Obeyesekere compares it to other cultures under his consideration. He also discusses instances of deviance from the model within Buddhism (e.g. 132), and variability within the other cultures. None are presented as static or uniform, but the structure(s) described by Obeyesekere serve(s) as a strange attractor around which the instances group themselves, according to “expectability” and its circumstantial thwarting. He emphasizes (e.g. 139) that “popular” features durably contradicting “pure” doctrines are as likely to be survivals from the religion’s first codification as they are to be “contaminations” from a subsequent, alien source.

He explains that his methodological goal is to demonstrate that while cultures as wholes may be “incommensurable,” comparison of important aspects or dimensions of culture can be undertaken productively. Although I found plenty of his more specific arguments questionable (often provocatively so), I think he succeeds on this most general plane of his ambition. [via]


The Magic of a Symbol

The Magic of a Symbol by Florence Farr, edited with an introduction by Darcy Kuntz, Vol 6 of the Golden Dawn Studies Series, the 2005 second revised edition published by J D Holmes, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Florence Farr The Magic of a Symbol

“This book contains Florence Farr’s ideas on Symbolism, the Kabbalah, Egyptian Magic, the Vedanta, Rosicrucians, Alchemy and the Tree of Life. Edited with Introductory Note by Darcy Kuntz.” [via]

Éliphas Lévi and the Kabbalah

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Éliphas Lévi and the Kabbalah – The Masonic and French Connection of the American Mystery Tradition by Robert L Uzzel.

Robert L Uzzel Eliphas Levi and the Kabbalah

Even the clumsy style and sloppy research of this book is overshadowed by the typos, misspellings and bad grammar. The author is a Texas Mason and pious Christian, and I can only hope that this book has been little improved over its original composition as a Ph.D. dissertation—or else Baylor University is dispensing its degrees quite cheaply.

The topic is certainly interesting, and the overall structure of the study is reasonable. Uzzel attempts to trace Levi’s influence on American metaphysical religion (or as he puts it without clarification, “the American Mystery Tradition”), with a biography of Levi, an examination of Levi’s legacy in Europe, a consideration of Levi’s influence on Albert Pike, and an inventory of Levi’s legacy among American sects and initiatory orders.

But, oh! Why an explanatory footnote for the word zeitgeist? Why did Uzzel—who actually bothered to correspond with OTO Treasurer General Bill Heidrick on the topic of Levi’s influence on Aleister Crowley—use Colin Wilson’s Mammoth Book of the Supernatural as his chief reference on Crowley? Isn’t there a better source than Holy Blood, Holy Grail to cite regarding Levi’s relationship to Charles Nodier? I see that Uzzel raised Carl Raschke’s claims about Levi in Painted Black in order to take issue with them, but shouldn’t they be beneath the contempt of actual scholarship?

The meatiest part of the book is the chapter about Albert Pike. But in the final analysis, Uzzel contributes little to an understanding of Levi’s influence on Pike besides a digest of choice selections from Rex Hutchens’ Glossary to Morals and Dogma.

Uzzel’s syntheses and conclusions are less than gripping. He gives Levi credit for the prominence, or perhaps even the presence, of Templarism and Rosicrucianism in Masonic high degrees. (I don’t think the facts are with him, here.) He compares Levi’s aspirations for universal religious synthesis to the project of the World’s Parliament of Religions, but the comparison is vague and unproductive. He also offers some entirely unpersuasive, Newagey reflections on the mystical and holistic implications of quantum physics.

It’s obvious that a lot of labor went into this text, and its positive potentials make it a more frustrating read than it would otherwise be, given its glaring deficiencies. [via]

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Events at Treadwell’s Books for September, 2013

Here is a selection from the upcoming events at Treadwell’s Books in London for September, 2013, which may be of interest.

Treadwell's Books in London

Tarot Foundation Course
3 September 2013 (Tuesday)
Sue Merlyn

Treadwell's Books in London - Tarot Foundation Course

Learn to read Tarot with a gifted experienced teacher. In an active class, you learn the mystical symbolism of the cards, the visual language of their codes and archetypes. By the end of the eight weeks course, students can do basic readings and use tarot in mediations. Includes practice sessions, homework, backup support and exclusive handouts. Tutor Sue Merlyn has been reading Tarot for over thirty years and her teaching gets rave reviews. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Treadwell’s certificate and can attend follow-on sessions. Max 14 students per class.

Price: £200 (£100 deposit, balance due on first night)
Time: 7pm – 9:30pm

 

Tarot Intermediate Course
4 September 2013 (Wednesday)
Diana Taylor

Treadwell's Books in London - Intermediate Tarot Course

This eight-week course is for people who have a working familiarity with the Tarot. It is dedicated in full to an in depth analysis and exploration of the 22 trumps of the major arcana — from the Fool to the Star to the World, and all in between. Each is covered in turn, with discussion on the multifaceted ways of understanding it, including Kabbalah, depth psychology and Western classical magical tradition. Students receive a large body of handouts, exclusive to those on the course. Diana Taylor is a knowledgeable and gifted teacher with 20 years experience in the subject. Class size is limited to 14 students, and those who successfully complete the course will receive a Treadwell’s certificate.

Price: £200 (£100 deposit, balance paid on the first night)
Time: 7:00pm-9:45pm

 

Abraxas 4 – Launch
20 September 2013 (Friday)
Treadwells and Fulgur invite you

Treadwell's Books in London - Abraxas 4 launch

This night launches Abraxas Issue Four, with a night of partying, 40 minute session of speeches, short presentations and a few words from each of the contributors who can join us. When you’ve finished looking at the art on the walls we will serenade you with three short readings. Think of it as a salon for magic and the imagination. Join us, meet the contributors, and revel in the delight of magic and the imagination. Brought to you by Christina, Livia, Robert, Merlin — all of whom work behind the scenes to bring Abraxas to life. Let us meet you, the community we celebrate.

Price: free but please RSVP to Treadwells
Time: 7pm to 10 pm

 

The Lairs of Cthulhu II: The Hollywood Years
30 September 2013 (Monday)
Dr James Holloway

Treadwell's Books in London - The Lairs of Cthulhu II

Tonight archaeologist and Cthulhu buff James Holloway explores archaeological concepts found in Lovecraft’s mythos, turning to look at how these concepts of land, history and the past are reformulated in Lovecraftian-based films which have come out in the decades after the author’s death. A riveting and intelligent speaker whose ideas always invite new questioning, this lecture is a sequel to his now-famed 2009 Treadwell’s Lecture. Dr James Holloway studied archaeology at Cambridge University, where he received his doctorate, and returns to Treadwell’s with a warm welcome.

Price: £7
Time: 7.15pm for a 7.30pm start

The Ruby Tablet Vol 1 No 5

The fifth number of The Ruby Tablet is now available. The Ruby Tablet is a periodical compiled and edited by Darcy Kuntz, under the auspices of the Golden Dawn Research Trust, which may be of some interest. So, check it out and consider helping with a donation to keep new issues of this periodical coming.

The Ruby Tablet is a periodical featuring reprints of articles from esoteric magazines and journals from the past. The subjects covered in each issue are drawn from the esoteric genre such as Alchemy, Hermetic, Enochian, Kabbalah, Tarot, Martinism, Masonry, Rosicrucian, etc.

Download Vol. I. No. 5

The fifth issue of The Ruby Tablet features a number of articles on the Zodiac. We are also printing a five-part article on The Rosy Cross in Russia by A Russian. This issue has parts one and two and it will be concluded in the next issue. We have reprinted Frater Achad’s interesting ritual on the Conjuration of Kronos. Also featured are esoteric papers on Abracadabra, Pasquales and his Elus Cohen, Astrology, Kabbalah, and the Laws of the Brotherhood of the Rosicrucians.

Contents:

The Rosy Cross in Russia Part 1 by A Russian
Abracadabra
Golden Dawn Research Trust
The Rosy Cross in Russia Part 2 by A Russian
Kerubim Press
The Conjuration of Kronos by Frater Achad
The Twelve Angels of the Zodiac
Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn Books
Laws of the Brotherhood of the Rosicrucians
The Mystery of the Lords Prayer
Rosicrucian Order of the Golden Dawn
Pasquales and his Elus Cohen by Sendivogius
Skylight Press
Astral Origins of the Zodic Signs
The Ineffable Name by A[lexander] W[ilder]” [via]

 

 

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William Blake and the Tree of Life

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews William Blake and the Tree of Life by Laura DeWitt James:

Laura DeWitt James' William Blake and the Tree of-Life from Shambhala

 

This slender collection of interlinked essays was originally published as William Blake: The Finger on the Furnace in 1956. The Californian author, about whom I have been able to discover very little, was evidently the founder of a small, initiatic “Blake Society” of three degrees, that convened for some years before her book was first issued (this per research by Keri Davies). It is easy to imagine the contents of the volume in hand serving as instructions to aspirants in such a context.

James quotes extensively from Blake’s prophecies, and it is never entirely clear what she asserts to be the formal connection (if any) between Blake and the Qabalah (sic). The spelling of the latter, and the fact that she cites no Jewish or secular scholarship to support her remarks about it, suggested to me that her own knowledge of it (which seems robust and largely accurate) was derived from occult sources. And indeed, in the final essay on “Sweet Science,” she does indicate occultist and Thelemite Charles Stansfeld Jones (under his byline of “Frater Achad”) as an important “student of the Qabalah” (110).

Although she addresses herself explicitly to the “beginner in Blake,” James’s exposition is dense and tersely allusive. She several times mentions grail symbolism, without going into much explanation of why such a matter should be of interest to the Blakean or the qabalist. In the longest essay, “Vertical Disaster: A Study of the False Tongue beneath Beulah,” she offers a fairly provocative set of claims regarding esoteric human anatomy.

I was in fact relieved that this book was free of the sort of wild biographical speculation that has characterized recent works on Blake by scholars of esotericism. James confines herself to the ideas, and terrific ideas they are. At the same time, this book will offer the most satisfaction to readers with some mystical aspirations of their own, and literary scholars are likely to find it somewhat frustrating. [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

The Destiny of Ethan King

The Destiny of Ethan King by Martin Cosgrove has arrived at the Reading Room, courtesy of the author.

Martin Cosgrove's The Destiny of Ethan King

 

“A university professor discovers the notes of a little-known 12th century alchemist detailing the creation of a mystical substance called Universal Matter. This substance is capable of generating unlimited energy and has the power to either end humanity’s greatest problems, or destroy us all. The ancient documents claim that, when the time is right, one human soul will be given the ability to create Universal Matter. His name is Ethan King.” [via]

 

“An emotionally-charged tale of fantasy, the supernatural and the unexpected.

The Destiny of Ethan King has all the elements of a modern fantasy, but nothing is as straightforward as it first appears. Ethan’s life is turned upside-down by a series of events which are out of his control. And to top it all, he learns that he is the only person on the planet capable of creating a mystical substance with infinite power which could either end humanity’s greatest problems … or destroy us all.

Thrown into a world in which the boundaries between good and evil are blurred, Ethan is left with no choice but to embark on a cosmic adventure with potentially global consequences. The Liverpudlian teenager quickly learns that good and evil is a sliding scale present within each of us and that big words such as ‘destiny’ and ‘morality’ are a smoke screen when dealing with real matters of family, friendship and love.

The Destiny of Ethan King can be read on several levels. To the uninitiated, it reads as a modern fantasy in the style of The Magicians by Lev Grossman. To those adept at peeking behind the veil, however, this is an occult novel containing true esoteric knowledge drawn from Hermeticism and Kabbalah.”

 

“I would classify this book as an ‘occult novel’ in the traditional sense of Zanoni or The Red Lion for example; books that try to convey essential ‘truths’ about magic in a fictional context, often revealing actual occult practices and beliefs. That is what The Destiny of Ethan King is, a true ‘occult novel'” — Rawn Clark

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Psychosynthesis from Problems on the Path of Return by Mark Stavish, M.A. in Vol 3 No 1 of Caduceus.

“In Hardy’s work, A Psychology with a Soul, these areas of consciousness are examined in light of he traditional hermetic methods and kabbalah. Ferucci in What We May Be takes his mentor, Assigoli’s thesis, and explains consciousness in laymen’s terms, devoting substantial material to the pathologies that can arise in psycho-spiritual work.” [via]

Psychosynthesis from Problems on the Path of Return by Mark Stavish, M.A. in Vol 3 No 1 of Caduceus.

“How one makes these attempts at parallels between the Tree of Life and psychological models such as presented by Psychosynthesis is somewhat arbitrary. Exact matches across the board rarely occur. Function is what designates similarity, and function in Kabbalah is often a matter of perspective more than anything else. Several models exist for placing the Worlds on the Tree as well as their psycho-spiritual functions. The models put forth by Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi are quite different from the generally accepted Golden Dawn models of the psyche. However, since it is these models, derived from interpretations of late 19th and early 20th century British occultism that most students are familiar with, it is their designations of the Worlds and Sepherotic functions that will be applied.” [via]