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The Rehabilitation of the Repressed

LeGrand Cinq-Mars reviews Goetic Evocation: The Magician’s Workbook, vol. 2 [Amazon, Abebooks] by Steve Savedow, Lemegeton: The Complete Lesser Key of Solomon [See] edited with introduction by Wade Long, The Magick of Solomon: Lemegeton Secrets Revealed; How to Invoke Spirits to visible appearance in the Dark Mirror [Amazon (DVD), Amazon (Audiobook), YouTube (Trailer), Distributor (Vimeo), Distributor (Pivotshare)] written and narrated by Carroll “Poke” Runyon, and The Book of Solomon’s Magick: How to Invoke Spirits to visible appearance in the Dark Mirror [Amazon, Abebooks] by Carroll “Poke” Runyon at The Rehabilitation of the Repressed in the Caduceus archive.

Savedow Goetic Evocation

Long Lemegeton

Runyon The Magick of Solomon DVD Video

Runyon The Book of Solomon's Magick

When magic began to be rehabilitated, as early as the Nineteenth Century, the traditional magic of the grimoires was portrayed as a corruption, a superstitious misunderstanding, of a High Magic that provided a royal road to the life of the spirit. When grimoires were republished, it was often with apologies and emendations, and hints of a secret wisdom and intent behind the surface puerilities — or (as with Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magic) in an attempt to show the puerilities of other claimants to esoteric wisdom.

Magic, in its rebirth, was to be divine, holy, transcendental: the highest form of the ancient theurgic art, leading to the knowledge of the Higher Self and beyond, eschewing utterly the “petty trash of small conspiracies” of those older-fashioned magicians who called upon the mighty names of God to send archangels to compel demons to give a neighbor hives, or make a woman acquiescent. Yet MacGregor Mathers is said, when pressed, to have baptized peas in the names of those who usurped his authority, and shaken them together in a sieve, that their plots might be confounded. And despite her vaunted sturdy common sense, Dion Fortune is said to have gone to some lengths to avoid accepting a book Aleister Crowley tried to present to her, lest he use it to establish a magical link by which to attack her.

Times change, however, and fashions in rehabilitation change as well. Now it is just those methods that were taken to be (at best) incomplete and misunderstood debris of an earlier high magic that are being brought back into vogue. Much the same shift has already taken place in alchemical studies. Only perhaps a century ago, alchemy began to be rescued from the dustbin of history by those who presented it as an early psycho-spiritual discipline which had been misunderstood by the literal-minded. More recently, however, alchemy had been rehabilitated from its dalliance with the psycho-spiritualists, and returned it to its dignity as an actual laboratory art.

This same turn has come, it seems, to the practice of magic. The pure, spiritualized, psychotherapeutic understanding of High Magic is now sometimes presented not as the rehabilitation of magic, but as its greatest misrepresentation — as a decline at the hands of prettifying reformers, from whom the art must be rescued, and returned to its proper methods and occupations.

Much of this shift in attitude parallels (and may well have some connection with) a similar shift in emphasis in the academic world— the shift (exemplified by Newman’s Gehennical Fire) that has led to a renewed focus on laboratory alchemy, and a turn away from symbological approaches. There may well be parallels be-tween the shifts in the magical and academic approaches, but they are widely separated, and not only by the difference between scholarly and practical enterprises. There is another set of differences much harder to characterize, yet much more piquant and interesting to observe. They might be treated as difference in style, or class (in a more or less Marxist sense), or sophistication. It is, I think, something more, or other, than any of these. But I will come back to the effort to characterize that peculiar, shared sensibility after discussing the works at hand.

The most radical, because most literal, of these revisionist productions, is Savedow’s presentation of the “Goetia” of the Lemegeton, or Lesser Key of Solomon. Despite some brief introductory material that mentions the value of spiritual (and physical) conditioning, the bulk of the book is taken up by detailed presentation of the goetic system and methods (from a decidedly literal point of view), by appendices with ancillary Solomonic material, and by records of evocations undertaken by the author.

Savedow’s approach to the Goetia hews as closely as possible to a literal reading of the text. When virgin parchment or metal is to be used, for example, when inscribing the sigils of spirits, Savedow recommends using metal disks due to the difficulties of obtaining actual virgin parchment (though many modern magicians would suppose that clean, good-quality paper would do as well). Furthermore, the results he expects (and records) are just as concrete — full, visible appearance of the spirits in manifestations that are almost physical. He sees the Goetic spirits as beings who live in an “alternate dimension,” in a kind of counter-universe to our own, living, dying, reproducing, and carrying on lives in cities and strongholds in a ceaseless struggle for survival and domination.

Despite its literalism, Savedow’s book presents not the text of the “Goetia,” but the information contained in it (and in other Solomonic texts), as they should be studied and used by a magician set on performing goetic evocation. In contrast, Wade Long has published a transcription of the entire text of the Lemegeton, based on Sloane MS 2731, with the sigils and other diagrams scanned and cleaned up in an attempt to make them as close to the manuscript sigils as possible.. Each of the five books is followed by an editorial note addressing various practical or textual points. A brief general introduction describes the process of compiling the book, and includes some remarks indicating that Long understands the spirits somewhat in terms of the formulation of Crowley’s “Initiated Interpretation of Ceremonial Magic.” In other words, he takes the spirits to be personifications of human psychic powers. All the philosophical and psychological questions raised by the phenomena of evocation, however, are passed over as distractions from the real point of the text, which is the actual practice of evocation. The book is intended to be used by practicing magicians, its large format devised to allow them to work easily with it while within a magic circle. (In contrast, the extensively annotated edition of Crowley’s Goetia published by Weiser in 1995 is intended more as a work of Crowley scholarship than as a working manual for a practitioner of evocation.)

In some contrast to these stands a much more ambitious project: a book and video on Goetic evocation as practiced in the Ordo Templi Astartes, produced by Carroll Runyon and the Church of the Hermetic Sciences.

Although one of Runyon’s major claims is that he has rediscovered the key to classical goetic evocation, the key that makes such operations reliably effective, he is far from being a textual fundamentalist. He presents his practical key (hypnotic hallucination elaborated from the reflection of the seer’s face in a dark mirror) in the context of what he, in accordance with occult tradition in such matters, calls a “rectified” system based on two books of the Lemegeton: the “Goetia,” and the “Art Almadel.” He has reconstructed the 72 spirits of the “Goetia” in terms of their zodiacal correspondences (two spirits per decan), and linked each spirit to a corre-sponding angel (as derived from the Shem ha-Mephorash, as presented by the Golden Dawn), thus systematically affirming the control of the demonic powers by the angelic. He has also reconstructed the Almadel system, based on “choirs” of spirits in each of the four quarters, to establish a connection between the archangels of the quarters and the angels of the Shem ha-Mephorash. In other words, from the seemingly arbitrary material of the Lemegeton he has produced an integrated, hierarchical model of a spiritual reality originating in a central divine unity and emanating outward (or downward) until it culminates in a multiplicity of demonic forces that are nevertheless brought under the divine rule through the agency of intermediate spirits. This integrated structure is, in turn, firmly embedded in a syncretic magico-religious matrix of the sort that will be familiar to anyone acquainted with Anglo-American occultism as it has been since the mid-nineteenth century.

The book, which seems to have been in part compiled from previously written papers and articles, is in the same perfect-bound 8.5“ by 1 I” computer typeset format used by Long’s transcription of the Lemegeton (though the typography of Runyon’s book is rather easier on the eye). It is copiously illustrated, and shows signs of careful work yet, like the other books discussed here, it does not lack the usual characteristics of self-publication, such as an uncertain adherence to the conventions of book design, an impatience, born of personal involvement, with the mechanics of copy-reading, proof-reading, and fact-checking, and a reluctance to omit, for the sake of mere elegance of presentation, any of one’s hard-won knowledge.

Despite these traits, the book is an ingenious and intelligent adaptation of the Lemegeton material to the uses of a modern magician, and well worth reading not just for those who want to perform goetic evocations, but for those who want examples of how such adaptations can be carried out, either to learn how to do them in their own ways with other material, or for the sake of literary or historical research.

The videotape is, to my inexpert eye, a more professionally managed production, yet one which does not escape the dilemmas of such a project.

Orotund, stately Poke Runyon presides over the whole, as narrator and principle presence. He introduces his method of hypnotic minor-vision, and tells the story of its discovery, in much the same terms used in his book. He also presents and narrates the procedures used in his Order’s goetic evocations, and provides some sequences (clearly announced as computer-generated, to forestall misinterpretation) that try to convey the experience of the “visible appearance” of evoked spirits in the dark mirror.

In the video, Runyon himself manifests in three forms: as a sport-jacketed narrator whose attainments include a stint as a pulp fiction writer and an MA in anthropology; as a robed celebrant of evocatory rites; and finally as a robed and throned magus, admonishing the watcher of the video from between the pillars of the temple. His manner, which verges at times on the grandiloquence of the true charlatan, has been known to prompt unseemly expressions of mirth from people watching the performance in the privacy of their own homes. Yet it is hard to say, stipulating the desirability of making such a video, how else the thing could be done. It is proverbial that a stage magician is an actor playing the part of a magician. It is perhaps inevitable, then, that magicians (whether theurgic or goetic) who appear on stage must, to make it clear what they are doing, enact the role of a magician, just as preachers on television inevitably must, despite the possible resulting air of insincerity, act their part as well.

Nonetheless, there is a difference between the performances of Jimmy Swaggart and Fulton Sheen. Having made that contrast, it is not easy to place Runyon in the notional continuum that it suggests. In terms of intelligence and critical sense, Runyon is certainly closer to the bishop than to the preacher. Yet there is something else here, something signaled in the modest but prolonged lingering of the camera on his master’s degree (from California State University at Northridge, important perhaps for trumping a certain bachelor’ s degree in magic from UC Berkeley) and bound MA thesis, or in such little but not infrequent errors as interpreting “spiritus loci” as “the place of the spirit’s manifestation”, or the inclusion in the book of a paper written for a class at Northridge as it would have been when handed in, complete with the class number and name of the teacher at the top of the first page.

There is, perhaps, something here of the desire of the autodidact, the marginal intellectual, to share in the sense of reality or legitimacy provided by the apparatus of the world of official learning. It is this quality of the striving of the outsider intellectual that, to one degree or another, pervades these publications. Magic is, as Runyon points out, a learned tradition but it is one with no surviving tradition of learning. A magician who wishes to produce an edition of a magical text must learn textual scholarship from a secular university, and then “appropriate” it to other uses — or, with whatever degree of success, reinvent it, as Wade Long and others seem to be in the process of doing. There are, in the modern west, no magical yeshivas, madrassas, or monastic schools from which a magicianly scholarship can be acquired.

There are, of course, writers like McIntosh or Goodrick-Clark, who can write of magical subjects with the lightness of hand of scholarly training and academic distance. There are also the editions of Crowley’s works being produced under the auspices of the Ordo Templi Orientis, which evidence a confident mastery of the material, a willingness to re-do it until it is done right, and a lack of anxiety over “official” recognition. There are as well magician researchers who are not widely published, but whose studies of older texts are marked by scrupulous care, acute insight, and a lack of posturing.

The increased ease which technological advances have brought to publications in every medium, and the continuing diminution of the authority of “central” academic institutions, suggests that works intended to address the concerns of scholarship as well as magic will increasingly be produced by people whose primary background is in magic rather than in scholarship. In a sense, this would be a return to the situation as it existed before this century’s proliferation of research institutions and their patronage. The rough edges of autodidacts — the ill temper of Thomas Taylor, the eccentricities of A. E. Waite, and other traits temporarily obscured by the disciplined civility of tenured academics may once again appear in works of learning as well as in works of literature.

Or it may not. One of the less-discussed aspects of scholarly studies of magic is the extent to which their readership extends beyond the world of professional scholarship. But communication between scholars is increasingly occurring in the less shielded forums of the electronic world. Certain irruptions from the nether realms were once limited to the form of admiring or carping letters from readers with no institutional affiliation who had nonetheless somehow learned of the existence of one’s papers, or some peculiar volume brandished by occasional undergraduates with more enthusiasm than prudence, or even an unannounced visit by an independent scholar clutching (like those folks known in some science departments as “citizen scientists”) several shopping bags full of proof of one thing or another. Electronic communications, with their lack of non-textual indicators (spell-ing may be haphazard, but none come written in crayon on brown paper bags), tend to have very similar levels of plausibility, differentiated largely by content alone.

It may well be that scholars of things magical will find it increasingly harder to ignore the persistent presence of magical practitioners whose activities include publishing learned if not scholarly works. This may lead to an explicit policy of refusing to pay attention to (or accept claims of publication priority for) works by people without “professional” credentials. It might lead, too, to a marked increase in the amount of energy invested in theoretical elaborations defending (by defining) the purity of the academic enterprise from the insinuations of what Lynn Thorndike called “works of perverse learning”. Or it might even lead to actual discussions between scholars interested in magic and magicians interested in scholarly study of their art.

Time, no doubt, will tell.

Hermetic History — Erase It or Face It

LeGrand Cinq-Mars reviews Ecstatic transformation: Transpersonal Psychology in the Work of Mechthild of Magdeburg by Ulrike Wiethaus and a dissertation The Kabbalistic thought of Eliphas Levi and its influence on modern occultism in America by Robert L Uzzel [see] in the archive of Caduceus: The Hermetic Quarterly.

Wiethaus Ecstatic Transformation

Esotericism, “hermetism,” hermeticism, even magic — there is something of a vogue for these now, it seems, in the world of the official academies. Anthropologists do their field work among urban ceremonial magicians, and textual scholars assess the transmission of grimoires and books of shadows. Their publications are not sold only to large research libraries: the editions of the Nag Hammadi texts, or even the edition and translation of the Greek magical papyri, are not read only, or even largely, by academic specialists. Magicians add the special mojo of philology to their bags of tricks, and magical orders produce critical editions of the works of their founders.

Yet this interpenetration is somewhat less than mutual. These subjects are often approached, from the academic side, with the handy medusa’s head of theory to protect against the possibility of “going native,” or the bland assurance that such things have long since passed from the world to protect against the possibility that any large lecture class may contain devotees of rehabilitated deities for whom monotheism and atheism are equally implausible.

But there is no guarantee of distance, nowadays. A class on Druse or Tibetan religion may well contain Druse or Tibetan students. Nor is there any guarantee that theoretical constructs of the social sciences have been developed only in the hydroponic purity of the academy.

The two works reviewed here both ride this wave of renewed academic interest. Yet they do so on very different trajectories. One is published by a university press, the other extracted from the hoard of University Microfilms; one is a study of a respected mystic, the other a study of someone whose work was described (by no less an authority than Gershom Scholem) as “supreme charlatanism”; one assumes various postures in the heady, non-ordinary world of modern cultural and literary theory, while the other does not give any indication that the author knows such a world exists. The first may not seem to have much connection with the interests of this journal; the other is firmly connected with them. But they both deal with these interests, and the way in which they do so casts light on each other, and on different approaches to studying the history of esoteric traditions.

Wiethaus, for her part, sets out to study the work of Mechtild of Magdeburg in the light of the transpersonal psychology, with extra references to the realm of cultural theory, especially feminist theory and a certain related idea of spirituality. This psychological approach has roots in the work of Abraham Maslow, who, in the early 1950s, in opposition to the largely behaviorist trend in academic psychology, became interested in the study of experience, especially what he came to call “peak experience.” He came to regard peak experiences as characteristic of a stage of development that followed the successful accomplishment of a hierarchy of developmental tasks aimed at satisfying biological and interpersonal needs. Other important, though later, figures in the movement are Stanislav Grof, a psychoanalytically-oriented psychiatrist whose early work developed from his experience in Czechoslovakia with the clinical use of LSD, Ken Wilber, a theoretician rather than a clinician, who has a strong interest in the transformative potential of human consciousness.

The term ”transpersonal psychology,” often used for the work of these and similar writers, indicates a psychology that is oriented beyond the personal and toward the more-than-personal. Although in one sense this development promises a kind of de-mystified mysticism, in another sense (like generic “core shamanism”) it offers a mysticism unmoored from any developed social and community context, and permeated with assumptions (for example, about the need to satisfy needs hierarchically) that are not in fact shared by many mystical traditions.

The enterprise of transpersonal psychology is complicated by the connections, many of them far from explicit, of various transpersonal psychologists with various forms of spiritual practice. These carry with them clear philosophical, theological, or ideological positions, which are often re-packaged in the guise of psychological formulations.

Now, whenever one puts a topic through the mill of an interpretive approach, one risks finding the object of one’s study to be an illustration of the interpretive apparatus one has brought to bear on it. This is a danger that Wiethaus seems to take no pains to avoid. She demonstrates, oddly, no sense that the systems and thinkers she uses in her approach have a history, or that there is anything problematic about them. She accepts her theoretical authorities simply as given, with a lack of critical appraisal that leads her into anachronism and self-undermining judgments.

For example, in an extended discussion of R. M. Bucke’s Cosmic Consciousness, she criticizes his “hierarchical” and “elitist” understanding of the kind of person who could achieve the experience of cosmic consciousness — the kind of person that he understood as being closest to the cutting edge of evolution. Wiethaus objects that he has not integrated his mystical experience (which, because mystical, must have been non-hierarchical and non-elitist) with a critical assessment of the values of his patriarchal culture. (Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs is not, somehow, as objectionable.)

Wiethaus shows no awareness of the ways in which evolutionary schemes had been merged with ideas of mystical achievement during the Nineteenth century, so that spiritual achievement was often seen (certainly not just by Bucke) as an almost biological progress up the Great Chain of Being. And she supposes that “mysticism” is everywhere and always universalist and non-hierarchical, because her modern authorities counterpose “spirituality” and “oppression” (and since hierarchy is oppression, and oppression hierarchy, spirituality must be apart from either). Any acceptance of hierarchy, then, especially on the part of a female mystic, becomes a clear sign of an incompletely realized spirituality, and especially an incompletely realized female spirituality.

She uses approaches and formulations developed by writers affiliated with such enterprises as Oscar Ichazo’s Arica Foundation, the Gurdjieff movement, Vedanta, and modern magico-political religious movements, without any indication that these authors and their ideas did not spring full-grown from eternity — and without any sense that there might be something problematic in using them to understand a medieval Catholic mystic (male or female). This is rather like using the thought of (say) Ian Paisley as a basis for understanding the work of James Joyce, because they are, after all, both Irish.

Even more piquantly, for someone who speaks against the erasure of women’s voices from history, Wiethaus discusses the psychosynthesis of Roberto Assagioli without once giving any sign of recognizing his place in the history of esotericism. Assagioli founded a movement of “psychosynthesis” that became a tributary current of transpersonal psychology. He also was translator for Alice A. Bailey in her European speaking tours. Bailey, who claimed to write as an amanuensis for a telepathic Tibetan, was herself following in the footsteps of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in her elaboration of a decidedly hierarchical, evolutionary, and even elitist scheme of spiritual development. Assagioli was also one of the first to publish systematic expositions of the kind of imaginal work commonly used in occult circles nowadays.

Yet Assagioli, like the others, is presented as a neutral “thinker” or “scientist”, with no suggestion that he might have had a history, allegiances, training, or beliefs, or that he might have been one of the sources for the kinds of practices in which Starhawk (one of Wiethaus’ authorities on feminist spirituality) was trained. Perhaps such avoidance is necessary in order to be able to mount a critique of the “male” hierarchical aspect of Assagioli’s approach; perhaps it is merely a matter of not knowing any better.

The great problem with this book is that one constantly gets the impression that the aim is less to achieve a clearer insight into Mechtild of Magdeburg than it is to appropriate her work as an exemplification of various current ideas about such Good Things as “the female”, “the mystical”, “the spiritual”, and “the marginal” — with no particular interest in the actual, historical people to whom those adjectives might be applied.

Uzzel, on the other hand, takes a much more conventional approach. He is simply interested telling us what he has learned about the influence in America of Eliphas Levi’s ideas about Kabbalah. First he tells us about Levi, relying largely on the prior work of other historians and biographers, as well as on Levi’s own work.

He sketches Levi’s influence in France and Britain, on the Golden Dawn and (in part via P. B. Randolph) on what became the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), and thus on Aleister Crowley, whose magical career, and continuing fascination with Levi, Uzzel summarizes fairly enough. He does not hesitate to discusses Randolph’s sexual magic and its later influences in the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor and the OTO; nor does he omit to mention Crowley’s magical use of sex and drugs.

He goes on to describes Levi’s influence in Nineteenth century America, with a special focus on the mediation of that influence through the extensive appropriations of Albert Pike and thus through American Freemasonry. He also traces Levi’s influence on Blavatsky and her Theosophical Society, and a series of other American movements and organizations, including various magical and esoteric groups like the Ordo Templi Orientis, the Builders of the Adytum, and Order of the Temple of Astarte (OTA). He concludes with a summary of what he takes to be Levi’s influence in this century and the last.

Uzzel addresses the vexed question of Pike’s racism with fraternal forbearance, but does not flinch away from reporting clearly the evidence that Pike’s views were not all that one might hope for from someone pledged to universal brotherhood. Similarly, he discusses the shifts and conflicts in Levi’s thoughts and attitudes as ways into appreciating Levi as a human being, and not simply as a plaster magus.

Uzzel has consulted the relevant works, even the most recent histories of Nineteenth century occult movements. But he has gone further. He wrote to various contemporary organizations, including the OTO and the OTA, and also had telephone conversations with various responsible officials in those organizations. He reports this correspondence, and these conversations, because it makes sense to him to ask people what they think, and to take their answers seriously (though sometimes not without a certain deadpan irony).

The sober biographical note that inevitably accompanies doctoral dissertations informs us that Uzzel is an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the chairman of the Department of Religion at an AME college in Dallas, and that he is an active member of various branches of Prince Hall Freemasonry. He is, in a sense, writing both as an insider and an outsider to traditions that shaped Levi, and that Levi, in various ways, shaped. Uzzel’s Christianity is not Levi’s Catholicism, but the traditions of theological debate make the well-formulated differences a royal road to understanding the issues at stake. Uzzel’s Freemasonry is not (as no real Freemasonry could be) Levi’s idealized initiatic mystery school, but it has had to define itself and defend itself from both admirers and detractors, and bears the scars of these conflicts as badges of honor.

Perhaps the major gap in Uzzel’s treatment of Levi’s influence is his lack of attention to Levi as a stylist. He says little about the influence of Levi’s particular wit and style, with its delight in paradox, and in the insight that paradox brings. (One might say that the idea of the conjunction and interplay of opposites was explored in the German manner by Nicholas of Cusa, in the Swiss manner by C. G. Jung, and in the French manner by Eliphas Levi.) It was Levi’s spirit of paradox and serious play, of delight in the deception that reveals and the revelation that re-veils, that so many have found so attractive in his writing, and that has had a literary and stylistic influence far beyond the influence of specific ideas or concepts. It was Levi, too, who did not shrink from donning the mantle of charlatanism as a fashion statement, and making of it a master’s gown.

Wiethaus, for all her official daring, can only see the respectable side of her subject; for all her admiration for the margins, she ultimately wants to make the margins respectable, and marginalize what to her is dubious or suspect. Uzzel, on the other hand, perhaps because of the conventionality of his approach, shows no signs of anxiety. He examines the sectarianism, the scandal, the sexual magic, and the often peculiar allegiances of his subjects, without batting an eyelash.

If the contrast seems ironic, it is worth remembering that official daring is first of all official, and official interest in the margins is almost always associated with a colonizing agenda.

The Eternal Hermes

LeGrand Cinq-Mars reviews The Eternal Hermes: From Greek God to Alchemical Magus by Antoine Faivre, translated by Hermetic Library Fellow Joscelyn Godwin, in the Caduceus archive.

Faivre Godwin The Eternal Hermes

Although this is a collection of translations of essays that were originally published separately, there is a unity of theme among them that indicates a hidden harmony. The pieces (five essays and a bibliographic survey) that make up this book might almost have been written as part of a coherent project: to demonstrate the persistence of the presence of Hermes, both overt and covert, in Western culture even through the present.

The first fourth of the book is an extended essay, “Hermes in the Western Imagination”, tracing the appearance of the image of Hermes in art, literature and {32} thought, from classical times through the twentieth century. It covers the ground gracefully and thoroughly, including even items like Geofroy Tory’s Champ Fleury (an English translation of which is kept in print by Dover for the delectation of calligraphers and book designers).

The second, briefer essay, “The Children of Hermes and the Science of Man”, discusses the living meaning of the figure of Hermes and its implications for the possibility of human sciences with not only a human face but a human heart. Faivre makes it clear that he is not advocating any manipulative “re-enchantment” of the world — not “the creation of false myths but the refusal of them … not sacrificing to ancient or new idols but refusing to idolize history, that is to say, refusing to succumb to the ideologies and pseudophilosophies of history. If Hermeticism today has a role to play, it is that of demystifying, so as to remythify.”

The third, “From Hermes-Mercury to Hermes Trismegistus: the Confluence of Myth and the Mythical”, surveys the records of vitalizing visions and encounters with the manifestations of Hermes, as sage, as god, as alchemist, as magician, as revealer of the mysteries and secrets of nature (himself revealed by the higher being of the quester), and finally to his manifestations in late (i.e., recent) esotericism.

With the fourth, “Hermes’ Presence in the City”, comes a change of pace. Faivre takes a brief look at manifestations of the Hermes figure as specifically urban (Hermes was known as founder of the magical city Adocentyn) in twentieth century stories dealing the image of the city — the proprietor (named Chidher [=Khidr] Green) of a joke shop in Gustav Meyrink’s The Green Face, the marginal vagabond child in Buñuel’s film Los Olvivados, and certain trickster figures in Beyond Thunderdome. Hermes still plays the psychopomp amid the labyrinthine ruins of popular culture.

In the fifth, “The Faces of Hermes (Iconographic Documents)” Faivre traces images of Hermes through a series of plates, from the fourteenth century to the present; the essay provides commentary for the nearly forty pages of plates, which range from the familiar relics of high culture and the recondite glyphs of esoteric ritualists to the products of popular occultism. One of the most striking, in the light of the frequent quotations from visionary and initiatory narratives dating back over a thousand years, is a plate of a Masonic rite in which Hermes rises from his grave to instruct the candidate.

Although each chapter has it own references, the final section of the book, “The Inheritance of Alexandrian Hermetism: Historical and Bibliographical Landmarks”, provides an additional survey in the form of a list, with remarks and annotations as needed, of books and essays that show the reception of the Hermetic tradition throughout European history. This closes with a useful section on {33} the modern scholarship of Hermeticism.

The book provides an excellent introduction to Hermetic themes and to the significant literature about them. Faivre generally refrains, however, from doing much more than presenting the material. His interpretations are reserved for the figure or presence of Hermes, and he seldom addresses the particular contexts within which it appears. Even some very obvious patterns (like the confluence between the motif of Hermes as entombed teacher in early visionary texts, and the later appearance in initiatory rites of a figure (Hermes or otherwise) teaching from an emblematic tomb) remain unremarked — or, perhaps, left as an exercise for the reader.

Joscelyn Godwin’s graceful translation is eminently readable, and skillfully avoids some of the occasional infelicities that have marred other translations of Faivre’s work.

The book would be useful to anyone with an interest in the history of Hermetic traditions, and especially useful to any library serving an institution with an interest in cultural history. For those just coming into contact with the traditions of Hermeticism, it provides not only access to the literature, but also, and most important, access to the meaning the traditions have had, and continue to have — and without which all the documents and studies are mere arrangements of dry bones.

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

Women of the Golden Dawn

LeGrand Cinq-Mars reviews Women of the Golden Dawn: Rebels and Priestesses by Mary K Greer in the Caduceus archive.

Greer Women of the Golden Dawn

It would be possible, though perhaps not completely accurate, to observe that with this book Mary K. Greer very nearly does for the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn what Marian Zimmer Bradley did for the court of King Arthur.

No prizes are awarded for recognizing that this is an equivocal remark. It captures, I think, the kind of polarization of opinion with which this book is likely to be received — a polarization that is reflected in the ambivalence of my own response to it.

The book has weaknesses, and it has strengths, but because I think the strengths outbalance the weaknesses, I intend to talk about the weaknesses first. {34}

Its central flaw is an anachronistic and intrusive interpretive apparatus that, among other things, obscures precisely what it claims to be making salient — the experience of women of the Golden Dawn as women: in particular, as the women they actually were, of the time and place and social contexts within which they in fact lived.

This in turn is reflected in the author’s project of remedying the omission of women from the histories of the Golden Dawn, as though there had been in some way an excision of women from the history of the Order. But this “omission” is, to some extent, an artefact of the author’s interpretive scheme, which takes the exclusion of women from history as one of its basic investigative assumptions.

There was in fact an excision: but it was magic and esotericism that were its objects. As far as academic histories went, it was only in the 1950s that anything like a history of the Golden Dawn was written, and only because of the subject could not be avoided when dealing with W. B. Yeats. Since it was impossible to ignore Yeats, it was therefore impossible (though for many, like Auden, excruciatingly embarrassing) to ignore the central themes of his thought and writing. Yeats forced the issue by ensuring that his papers would be in public institutions. The papers of others, male and female, were not so readily available, and not so generally interesting; much of what was not destroyed was (and still is) in the hands of private collectors, or family members, or private organizations. As these materials have gradually become more accessible, studies of figures who did not associate themselves in public with magic have become more possible.

Many of the women who were in the Golden Dawn can certainly not be understood without understanding what it as like to be a woman in different situations in the English, French, and American worlds of the time — and without understanding the ways in which women (and men) made sense out of the conflicts about what women were, should be, and might be. This is especially true for the Golden Dawn, which affiliated itself with certain feminist currents in the world of nineteenth century esotericism, in particular, those embodied in movements founded by Helena Blavatsky and Anna Kingsford. But one does not come any closer to the experience of those women by reading it in terms of the concerns of a late twentieth century Californian feminist Jungianism. To do so is to give up doing history, or biography, and to take up packaging. It is adding insult to injury to see people like Maude Gonne, Annie Horniman, Florence Farr or Dion Fortune as predecessors to some of the contemporary purveyors of pabulum with whom Greer links them. It’s a bit like interpreting Hildegard of Bingen as a pioneer whose work led to Amy Grant’s.

In the last few centuries of esoteric and magical movements in the Western world, women have {35} been (like Jane Ward Leade) visionary founding figures, have been involved in institutional issues (like the controversies over Adoptive Masonry), and have been major figures in complex and influential movements (as, in the nineteenth century, Alice Bunter Stockham, Emma Hardinge Britten, or the critical investigator Hannah Whitall Smith). Greer does not begin to engage the real issues of the history of women in esoteric spirituality, and shows few signs of knowing what they might be. (Some of these were the delicate relationships between purity, spirituality, sexuality, and legitimacy (which itself had an ambiguous relationship with conventionality), and the general pressures that brought it about that successful public movements were generally led and defined by women, but often closely supported by men, with implications that are far from obvious.)

A more restricted weakness, also tinged with anachronism, is her constant recourse to astrological analysis. Greer is an astrologer, and it makes as much sense no doubt to indulge one’s belief in astrology when doing biography is it does to indulge one’s belief in psychoanalysis or dialectical materialism. Unfortunately, Greer is in the position of a Freudian biographer of figures steeped in Jungian ideas who does not realize that the two approaches differ..

The Golden Dawn taught a very specific form of astrological practice, one with definite divergences from standard astrology. It makes very good sense to take astrology into account when writing about the specifics of the magical practice of members of the Golden Dawn, and how these practices affected their activities and relationships. But in doing so one should examine their actual practices. Greer, instead, opines (on page xiii), “Although they left little commentary on their own astrological work, the essential principles have not changed in the intervening hundred years …. ” This is simply not true. The Golden Dawn teachings were quite clear about the differences between “true” (Golden Dawn) and “false” (publicly practiced) astrology. Greer mingles charts and interpretations drawn up by Golden Dawn members indiscriminately with those done by other methods, without making any allusion to the differences between the methods (or any remark about whether members were in fact using the methods of the Order). This creates the suggestion that she has not noticed that there is a difference.

The book, however, is quite valuable despite these flaws. The worst of the interpretive apparatus afflicts only the first twenty and last eleven pages, and the astrologizing can be largely taken as the author’s method for describing character traits, garnished with characterizations of the effects of key events in terms of returns, progressions, and so on. The real meat, which is fortunately far from lost within this sandwich, is the detailed chronological narrative that follows the key figures through their lives both in the world of magic and in the world of outward pursuits.

Although some readers may find the writing jarring in its journalistically perky {36} over-familiarity (the central female characters — Moina Bergson, Annie Horniman, Florence Farr, Maude Gonne, are generally referred to by their first names, and W. B. Yeats as “Willie”), it is precisely this blithe indifference to the older fashion of reserve that is the basis of one of the book’s best points — its thorough, unabashed plain-spokenness about the specifics of the personal and magical lives of the members of the Golden Dawn.

Greer has shown a commendable tenacity in ransacking the published and unpublished record to compile this account. She has tracked down and interviewed (or corresponded with) surviving family members, and made extensive use of the Yorke collection at the Warburg Institute. At the very least, her notes and references provide an excellent beginning for anyone wanting to learn more about the Golden Dawn and its members.

Furthermore, she has made the results come alive, by entering imaginatively into the lives of her main characters. While at times this may lead to a certain over-confident willingness to recreate certain scenes as they must have happened, it gives life, energy and organization to a mass of material that could easily have become dull in its profusion. While she may occasionally miss some gems in favor of some paste, she never turns gold into lead, as academic writers so often do.

Again, Greer shows how the magical practices learned in the Golden Dawn were pursued in various ways, long after the Order had broken apart, by former members who had long broken with it. For them, the Golden Dawn did not become irrelevant: its practices and teachings remained as a resource throughout their lives.

Perhaps Greer’s greatest achievement, though she does not quite recognize it, is her elucidation of the connections between Golden Dawn magic and the older and broader traditions of the magical and spiritual aspects of eros and sexuality. That these elements were present in the Golden Dawn material has been clear to anyone familiar with the larger tradition. It was proclaimed loudly by C. M. Stoddart, a former chief of the Stella Matutina, in her denunciations of the Golden Dawn, in terms so eccentric that her claims have been generally ignored ever since. It is one thing, however, to see the implications of symbol and ritual, and quite another to have documentation of what people were actually doing, and how other people were reacting to it.

These issues are discussed in the context of the dispute that arose over the teachings of Thomas Lake Harris. (Greer claims that Harris developed and taught Karezza. He did not. In by making this claim, Greer has excised from history the actual developer of Karezza, Alice Bunter Stockham, one of the first women M.D.s in the US, who wrote a book on obstetrics, and who visited India to investigate Tantric sexual practices, and herself developed and promoted Karezza.) It is not {37} easy to say how far, or in what way, or for whom, Harris’ teaching involved genital sexual activity. There were, however, complaints from women members of the Golden Dawn that at least one follower of Harris had made himself a thorough nuisance by attempting to practice either Harris’ teachings or, perhaps, mere banal lechery.

Members of the Golden Dawn, of all sexual and spiritual persuasions (from the celibate magicians Samuel and Moina Mathers to the progenitive Christian mystic Waite, and all varieties between), were both aware of, and interested in, the symbolic and practical issues involved in these matters. Many of them wrote about it, some publicly, some only privately. The rituals of the Golden Dawn included extensive, specific, pointed references to Zoharic sexual symbolism, and the training methods were clearly linked with aspects of this symbolism. Nevertheless, the connections were not made explicit, perhaps in accord with a fraternalist desire not to bring up divisive issues, or perhaps (as Joscelyn Godwin suggests in The Theosophical Enlightenment) out of a desire to avoid being associated with the Brotherhood of Luxor, which had taught sexual magic fairly openly in the period just before the Golden Dawn was founded. (The promised definitive work on the Brotherhood of Luxor should be appearing in the summer of this year.)

Greer does not explore either the intellectual or the social contexts of the issue of the place of sex in the magic of the Golden Dawn. This is not altogether inappropriate, since it is not clear that most of the members had much acquaintance with these broader issues. Her focus is on the documents, and on the individual, personal reactions. This provides not only a fascinating piece of soap opera, but an instructive demonstration of the difference between magical and psychological sophistication.

That theme has been explored, from quite different points of view, by John Symonds in King of the Shadow Realms (his latest redaction of his biography of Aleister Crowley), and by Israel Regardie in The Eye in the Triangle. Lois Lang-Sims broods on the subject in her account of her relationship with Charles Williams (in A Time to be Born). The biographies of saints are similarly suggestive. Neither sanctity nor adeptship seem to have any necessary connection with psychological health, in any of its conventional senses, or with each other. Although Greer’s basic interpretive scheme (in which the magical is the psychological is the political, and magic is regarded as valid because it leads to “empowerment”) does not make this salient, her close focus on the personal lives of her subjects makes it unavoidably clear.

While it may not be absolutely true that one is forced to choose between “perfection of the life and of the work”, there is no guarantee whatever that if one chooses one the other will be added unto it. Although the conjunction of {38} psychological sophistication with esotericism (and with seminary training in more mundane circles) has led to various attempts to produce an accommodation between the sacred and the profane sides of life, the most common result has been a cozy reduction of the spiritual to the psychological, which in the United States is in turn often equated with the socially effective.

But there are no guarantees, and no deals that can be made. It is just as possible that the magician may be left at the pinnacle of achievement saying, with Cabell’s artists, “What a lot of ruined living it takes to make a little art.” In the fable of the four who entered the Garden, it is said that one died, one went mad, and one lost his faith: only one entered in peace and left in peace. Would they have done better if they had all got counseling, found good jobs, and stayed home?

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