Tag Archives: mysticism

Arcana V

Arcana V: Musicians on Music, Magic & Mysticism, edited by John Zorn, from Hip Road / Tzadik, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

John Zorn Arcana V from Tdzadik Hip Road

“Mysticism, magic and alchemy all come into play in the creative process. For centuries musicians have tapped into things spiritual, embracing ritual, spell, incantation and prayer deeply into their life and work. Although the connection of music to mysticism has been consistent, well documented and productive, it is still shrouded in mystery and largely misunderstood. For this special edition, Arcana focuses on the nexus of mysticism and spirituality in the magical act of making music. Far from an historical overview or cold musicologist’s study, these essays illuminate a fascinating and elusive subject via the the eloquent voices of today’s most distinguished modern practitioners and greatest occult thinkers, providing insights into the esoteric traditions and mysteries involved in the composition and performance of the most mystical of all arts.

William Breeze
Gavin Bryars
Steve Coleman
Alvin Curran
Frank Denyer
Jeremy Fogel
Sharon Gannon
Peter Garland
Milford Graves
Larkin Grimm
Tim Hodgkinson
Jerry Hunt
Eyvind Kang
Jessika Kenney
William Kiesel
Yusef Lateef
Frank London
Dary John Mizelle
Meredith Monk
Tisziji Muñoz
Mark Nauseef
Pauline Oliveros
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
Terry Riley
Adam Rudolph
David Chaim Smith
Trey Spruance
David Toop
Greg Wall
Peter Lamborn Wilson
Z’ev” — back cover

The Darkness of God

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism by Denys Turner.

Denys Turner The Darkness of God

This 1995 monograph is by Denys Turner, then on the faculty of the University of Bristol, now holding an endowed chair for Historical Theology at Yale. He characterizes it as “An essay in the philosophical history of some theological metaphors … of ‘interiority’, of ‘ascent’, of ‘light and darkness’ and of ‘oneness with God,’” and his primary materials range from Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius to Meister Eckhart and John of the Cross.

Turner proposes an understanding of mysticism at odds with 20th-century formulations, and founded in the etic sense of late antique and medieval Christian usage, in which (he maintains) the mystical per se was directly opposed to the reduction of God to “experiences.” He designates as “experientialism” the positivist, psychologizing approach to religious experience characteristic of (and limited to) modern thought, that results from (or corresponds to) the fragmentation of religious knowledge in the later middle ages. The Darkness of God suggests a greater kinship between the old mystical theology and deconstructivist philosophy, than between the former and its experientialist—and all too often anti-intellectual—progeny in modern “mysticism.”

I really enjoyed the book because of Turner’s challenge to commonplace formulations in the field of the history of mysticism, and because of his impressive job in making sense out of some extremely challenging primary materials. However, I’m not entirely sold on his meta-narrative of the ruination of mystical philosophy. His desire to make “experientialism” into a (relatively) late development leads him to neglect the medieval affective tradition that is exemplified in the work of Bernard of Clairvaux. It may be that Turner could argue that such works are not really “mystical,” but he doesn’t even make the effort, and leaves a wide and important hole in his historical treatment.

To be fair, Turner is more of a philosopher than an historian. Contemporary mystics and magicians willing to give serious intellectual consideration to the limits of rationality, the nature of experience, and the ultimate goals of mystical understanding should be able to benefit from this difficult but engaging book. [via]

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]

Fifth International Conference of the ASE on Jun 19-22nd, 2014 at Colgate University

The Fifth International Conference of the Association for the Study of Esotericism on June 19th–22nd, 2014 at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. The conference schedule has recently been posted and you will find quite a few presenters and presentations of interest including a couple by Hermetic library fellows:

· Mark Stavish, Israel Regardie and the Theory and Practice of the Middle Pillar Exercise
· Joscelyn Godwin, Esotericism in a Murky Mirror: Strange Practices in Central New York.

Do check out the whole schedule, but a selection of the other presentations, that catch my eye, includes:

· John L Crow (Thelema Coast to Coast), The Theosophical Shift to the Visual: Graphical Representations of the Human Body in the Literature of Second and Third Generation Leadership in the Theosophical Society
· Simon Magus, The fin de siècle magical aesthetic of Austin Osman Spare: Siderealism, Atavism, Automatism, Occultism
· David Pecotic, Building Subtle Bodies — Gurdjieff’s esoteric practice of conditional immortality in the light of Poortman’s concept of hylic pluralism in the history of religions
· Richard Kaczynski, Inventing Tradition: The Construction of History, Lineage and Authority in Secret Societies
· Wouter Hanegraaff, The Transformation of Desire in Machen’s & Waite’s House of the Hidden Light
· Sarah Veale, Disenchantment of the Vampire: Balkan Folklore’s Deadly Encounter with Modernity
· Gordan Djurdjevic, “In Poison there is Physic”: On Poisons and Cures in Some Strands of Esoteric Theory and Practice.

The Mysteries

The Mysteries: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, edited by Joseph Campbell, the 1990 fifth paperback printing of Bollingen Series XXX Vol 2 from Princeton University Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Joseph Campbell The Mysteries from Princeton University Press / Bollingen

“Since 1933, the Eranos Conferences have been held at Ascona in southern Switzerland. Distinguished scholars from Europe, Asia, and America have been invited to a ‘shared feast’ (eranos) and have lectured on themes chosen by the Director of Eranos, the late Olga Froebe-Kapteyn. The lectures originally appeared in the Eranos-Jahrbücher (Zurich) and selections translated into English have been published in Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, of which this is the second volume. Thirteen scholars—including C. G. Jung, C. Kerényi, Walter F. Otto, and Hugo Rahner—are represented in this collection, which is drawn from the years 1936, 1939m 1940–41, 1942, and 1944. The volume is edited by Joseph Campbell and translated by Ralph Manheim and R.F.C. Hull.” — back cover

Essays included are:

  • Paul Masson-Oursel, “The Indian Theories of Redemption in the Frame of the Religions of Salvation”
  • Paul Masson-Oursel, “The Doctrine of Grace in the Religious Thought of India”
  • Walter F. Otto, “The Meaning of the Eleusinian Mysteries”
  • Carl Kerényi, “The Mysteries of the Kabeiroi”
  • Walter Wili, “The Orphic Mysteries and the Greek Spirit”
  • Paul Schmitt, “The Ancient Mysteries in the Society of Their Time, Their Transformation and Most Recent Echoes”
  • Georges Nagel, “The ‘Mysteries’ of Osiris in Ancient Egypt”
  • Jean de Manasce, “The Mysteries and the Religion of Iran”
  • Fritz Meier, “The Mystery of the Ka’ba: Symbol and Reality in Islamic Mysticism”
  • Max Pulver, “Jesus’ Round Dance and Crucifixion According to the Acts of St. John”
  • Hans Leisegang, “The Mystery of the Serpent”
  • Julius Baum, “Symbolic Representations of the Eucharist”
  • C G Jung, “Transformation Symbolism in the Mass”
  • Hugo Rahner, “The Christian Mystery and the Pagan Mysteries.”

The White Dominican

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The White Dominican by Gustav Meyrink.

Gustav Meyrink The White Dominican

Meyrink begins this 1921 novel by making some startling claims for the reality of its clearly mythic protagonist Christopher Dovecote. The tale alternates among biographical narrative, visionary episodes, and didactic explication of the latter. It offers little in the way of resolution, but rather ends with the intensification of and insistence on its central enigmas.

There’s no physical adventure: everything (material) takes place in a small Bavarian town. A form of occultism is taken as the necessary complement of Christian religion, with allusive Freemasonry as the most exoteric reflection of the occult, and a nebulous (Taoist? the jacket copy thinks so) form of Asian adeptship as its origin. The account reviles Spiritualism as a deception by malign powers, and Charismatic Catholicism as no better.

Science fiction author John Clute introduces the Daedalus/Ariadne Press edition, with some fascinating information about Meyrink, and the situation of The White Dominican in the author’s total oeuvre. Clute does provide some “spoilers,” and can be skipped at the first pass by those who fear such things. He also spends a little too much attention on the fact that Meyrink’s tale doesn’t fit neatly into Clute’s ethics of gender.

This brief novel is sure to be savored by serious occultists in general. The fact that it was not available in English until 1994 may account for its not being as well-known among contemporary magicians as it deserves to be. As a Thelemite, I found it intriguing with respect to possible interpretations of Liber Legis I:30 and II:44. [via]


Tartaros: On the Orphic and Pythagorean Underworld, and the Pythagorean Pentagram by Johan August Alm is a monograph available from Three Hands Press. The special leather-bound edition is sold out, but deluxe and standard hardcover editions are still available.

Johan August Alm Tartaros from Three Hands Press

“The magical doctrines of the ancient Orphics and Pythagoreans are poorly understood by modern scholars, in part because they were secretive in their own time. Well-known for speaking in riddles and complex ciphers, its adepts were bound by strict taboo and silence, the breaking of which was punishable by death. The enigma of the cult’s teachings was further shrouded by centuries of suppression, and, in some cases, appropriation or misrepresentation, by the growing forces of Christianity. What remains today are the fragments of its lost books, together with the words of those who, for good or ill, wrote about them. In an original interpretation and synthesis apt for today’s student of ancient mysticism and the occult, August Alm advances a new conception of these ancient mystery-cults and their sublime doctrines of Chaos, Darkness and Light.

A foundational part of these ancient Greek mystery-cults was the concept of Tartaros. As the abyss of primeval darkness and chaos, Tartaros was, in its most ancient conception, the birthplace of the human soul and the cosmos itself. This vast and incomprehensible dominion held at its center a great fire, an Axis Mundi about which the universe was arranged. In later eras, it passed into myth as a vast and voidful underworld; a place of binding for condemned souls and the enemies of gods, sealed fast with barriers of bronze and iron. Christians later appropriated it as a partition of their own concept of eternal punishment, a division of hell which constrained no less than the fallen angels.

An equally enigmatic Pythagorean cipher is the symbol of the Pentagram, or five-fold star, whose form has been revered in western magic for some three millennia, but whose origins and original attributes are shrouded in mystery. Its attribution to the four elements, joined together with aither, was popularized in the middle ages and is its best-known meaning in modern occult sciences. However, its earlier Pythagorean usage was related to health and well-being, and almost certainly adumbrated another retinue of arcana, one which was ancient even at the time of Pythagoras.

Exhuming the scattered fragments of these two elder doctrines of Tartaros and the Pentagram, Alm examines their reverberation as occult—and occluded—concepts through centuries of philosophical thought, in a line connecting the shadowy teachings of such ‘dark traditions’ as the Orphics and the Pythagoreans, later penetrating the adyta of Neoplatonism. Arguing for a new undertanding of the Pentagram, he connects its fivefold mystery to the great powers of Tartaros, and also to such terrifying gods such as Hecate, Nyx, Erebos, Typhon, Cerberus, and the Erinyes. This strand of mystery touches upon such related concepts as the high theogony implicit within the Platonic Solids, the shadowy influence of the Cult of the Idaean Dactyls on Pythagoreanism, the Light which is rooted in Darkness, and the magical pathology of the ‘Unrooted Tree’.” [via]

Initiatic Eroticism

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Initiatic Eroticism: and Other Occult Writings from La Flèche introduced and translated by Donald Traxler from articles in Maria de Naglowska’s La Flèche. This is the fourth volume in the series of Maria de Naglowska material being released by Inner Traditions and Donald Traxler.

Maria de Naglowska Donald Traxler Julius Evola Initiatic Eroticism from Inner Traditions

In common with most Anglophone occultists, my principal knowledge of Parisian sybil Maria de Naglowska prior to the appearance of Donald Traxler’s translations was occasional brief mention as a French translator of some writings by Victorian American sex magician Paschal Beverly Randolph. As it turns out, she occupied a vital node in the esoteric communications of 1930s Paris, maintaining her own small “Brotherhood of the Golden Arrow” while also being actively engaged with Traditionalists, Surrealists, Theosophists, and individual occultists such as William Seabrook. Traxler presents this volume as the fourth of five in his major translation of Naglowska’s work, but it was my starting place, and I would recommend it as a worthy point of entry.

The book presents articles from the twenty numbers of Naglowska’s periodical La Flèche (“The Arrow”), an “Organ of Magical Action,” as she subtitled it. These represent the way in which she chose to express her esoteric ideas to the general public at the time that she was also composing book-length works addressed to formal aspirants and initiates. In addition to expository articles, there are a small number of poetic and narrative pieces, and a final section gives two essays written for La Flèche by Julius Evola. All of this material is quite interesting, and my favorite pieces are probably “The Magic Square,” “The Priestesses of the Future,” and “Masculine Satanism, Feminine Satanism.”

Naglowska’s central doctrine of the “Third Term” is a pristine example of twentieth-century occult neo-Joachimism. In Joachim of Fiore and the Myth of the Eternal Evangel in the Nineteenth Century, scholars Reeves and Gould demonstrate in the world of modern letters a revival of the medieval Joachim’s trinitarian prophetic theory of history, with proponents such as Yeats and D.H. Lawrence. This phenomenon was so widespread that by the 1930s, when Naglowska was writing, it is hard to know how mediated (and by what thinkers) any specific instance might be, even when it is as clear a reflection as the one found in Naglowska’s Third Term. Her Holy Spirit (the Third Term of the Trinity) is emphatically female, and so her teachings also align with the French Neognosticism of Jules Doinel and his successors.

In Evola’s Metaphysics of Sex, he pairs Naglowska with Aleister Crowley as examples of sexual mystics in the contemporary world. Seeing the errors in Evola’s presentation of Crowley’s ideas, I am leery of his reading of Naglowska, although he was certainly on more familiar terms with her. It seems almost unbelievable that Naglowska and Crowley could not at least have known of one another, and yet I’ve seen no evidence that either took such note. In any case, Naglowska’s “Third Term” teaching of the Golden Mass is, I think, a useful way for adherents of Crowley’s Gnostic Catholic Church to understand the role of our own Mass: a synthesis that transcends the white and black masses of the previous age.

I learned a number of useful things from this book, and it was entertaining into the bargain. I will read further in Traxler’s translations of Naglowska. [via]

The Afflicted Mirror

The Afflicted Mirror: A Study of Ordeals and the Making of Compacts by Peter Hamilton-Giles, is available from Three Hands Press. The special leather-bound edition is sold out, but deluxe and standard hardcover editions are still available.

Peter Hamilton-Giles The Afflicted Mirror from Three Hands Press

“A shared feature of genuine magical practice and religious experience is the impression of ‘Otherness’, an entic arena of alienation and unfamiliarity. Contrasted with the more comfortable and known spheres of the Self, this ‘state apart’ provides not only inspiration and wonder, it is the dwelling-place of the gods and the prime source of gnosis, direct experience with the divine.

The Afflicted Mirror, based on a research paper presented at the 1996 AAA Anthropology of Religion inaugural conference in Kansas, suggests that for the metaphysical domain to become significant it must distort its appearance so as to attract our attention. This leads not only to validating the existence of the ‘Other’ but also illustrates its influence on how we shape the world. Providing groundbreaking insight on the magician’s actuated relationship with spirits and Gods, The Afflicted Mirror offers a pioneering examination of a topic often overlooked by scholars. As an original phenomenological model, Peter Hamilton-Giles’ The Afflicted Mirror unites such diverse spiritual states as the mysticism of the Seer, the religious ecstasy of the Saint, and the spirit-conjurations of the sorcerer.” [via]