This “warts and all” account of an American Thelemite’s personal quest also chronicles the axial development of the Thelemic movement in the second half of the 20th century, as well as the New York City occult scene of the 1970s. It reads very quickly. The prose is occasionally transparent as the factual condensation of diary data, but the honesty concerning events described is positively bracing. When I first heard announcement of this book’s impending publication, I knew I would need to have a copy. And now that I’ve read it, that knowledge is thrice-confirmed by the way that it ties together its fascinating matter through the integral experience of a true magician. Br. Wasserman doesn’t hesitate to relay his personal judgments of those characters — living and dead — with whom he has interacted, and in those cases where I have my own personal acquaintance with them, I concur with his verdicts. As rewarding as the text is, the many glossy pages of photos are especially gratifying. My Other Reader considered at least one of them “scandalous,” and they provide an important set of images to complement the narratives I have been gradually learning for the last two decades.
This point being established, let me further make a distinction between the two great classes of sodomites. Ulrichs has pedantically christened them Urning and Uranodioning; for the former we have no colloquial name: the latter we term Bimetallist. Being himself an Urning, he has naturally failed to grasp the vast gap that divides the classes, which is that between an indulgence and a morbid craving; between the insane delusion that one is Jesus Christ or Julius Caesar and the sane and healthy resolve to emulate the exploits of these worthies in mysticism and war respectively. We pity the Urning, as we pity the consumptive or the drunkard; but we do not pity him in any special sense, any more than a connoisseur of fine wines pities the drunkard above all other pitiable folk. We do not acknowledge any nervous weakness as having a peculiar claim on us, just because it lies in the same plane as one of our hobbies.
Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Entheogens and the Future of Religion [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] ed Robert Forte, with Albert Hofmann, Terence McKenna, Ann and Alexander Shulgin, Thomas Riedlinger, Dale Pendell, and Rick Strassman, plus interviews with R Gordon Wasson and Jack Kornfield.
Robert Forte assembled this diverse collection of materials largely from contributions made at a conference in Big Sur, California, on an unspecified date in the 1990s. The term “entheogen” is sometimes (justly, I believe) disparaged as a chemical or pharmacological term. But Forte — unlike some of the book’s other contributors — sets it up as a religious term, to designate the intended use of drugs, rather than their material composition or neurochemical behavior. Thus even alcohol could be enthoegenic under the proper circumstances.
This book includes contributions from some of the great luminaries of 20th-century psychedelic culture, listing among its more than a dozen authors Albert Hoffman (discoverer of LSD), R. Gordon Wasson (amateur ethnomycologist and pioneer in the psychopharmaceutical theory of religion), and Terence McKenna (noted psychedelic adventurer and shamanic lecturer). Hoffman’s essay on “The Message of the Eleusinian Mysteries for Today’s World” actually seemed to me to be the most forward-looking of the pieces in the volume, despite its ancient topic.
There are papers discussing the use of psychedelic sacraments using various perspectival frameworks, including ancient paganism, pentacostal Chrstianity, Buddhism, shamanism, academic inquiry, scientific research, and legal ethics. There is even a long poem treating the genesis of LSD under the figure of the ancient mysteries. But there is surprisingly little tangible planning or call to action, despite the editor’s presidency of the Church of the Awakening (never described in the book) and the issuance of the text under the aegis of the Council on Spiritual Practices.
Although the authors of the later chapters on the academic, scientific, and legal contexts all bemoan the senselessness of the current drug prohibition regime, they offer no instruction on how readers might mobilize to change it. And while some of the contributors express hopes regarding the enfranchisement of new religious traditions that respect and use entheogens, none venture so far as to say what these might look like or who might be most likely to form them. So, again, in spite of the title, I came away from the book with some useful information about the recent past, and a certain validation of my own biases, but no new ideas about the future.
Author Reynold Alleyne Nicholson was an English Orientalist scholar most famed for his work on Jalaluddin Rumi, and this short overview of Sufism is full of his own translations of Rumi and other key Muslim mystics. First published in 1914, it still has value today for readers seeking a historical perspective on Sufism, and it has special appeal to those interested in what an educated Edwardian view of mystical Islam would comprise. While his respect for some Sufi sheiks (not least Rumi) is profound, he does turn up his nose at the antinomian tendencies of the tradition, and he is dubious about its contributions to positive history. In the latter connection, he remarks in a footnote that “most, if not all, mystical Traditions [i.e. hadith] ascribed to Mohammed were fostered on him by the Sufis, who represent themselves as the true interpreters of his esoteric teaching.” (53)
Among the wide sampling of quotations from sheiks and pirs, we can read that the statement “Within my vesture is naught but God” is attributable to Bayazid, just as Hallaj is supposed to have said “I am God.” (132, 150)
While he was older than Louis Massignon, Nicholson paid considerable respect to the younger scholar’s studies of Hallaj and his conclusions about the actual nature of the doctrines held and taught by that controversial figure. In fact, Massignon’s major work on Hallaj was not published until the decade after The Mystics of Islam.
Nicholson uses gnosis as a translation for ma’rifat, and he may have been one of the earliest modern Western scholars to focus attention on the genealogical connections of Sufi doctrines with the ancient Gnosis and Manicheanism. On the modern side, he repeatedly proposes “hypnosis” as a mechanism underlying Sufi ahwal (“states” of attainment), and suggests that the parapsychological approach of the SPR may be useful in the study of the miraculous phenomena attested among dervishes.
Despite the tendencies toward “comparative theology” (where Nicholson judges particular mystical doctrines as laudatory, dangerous, or deplorable) and its slightly dated language, this book is still a valuable primer on its subject, especially for those who approach it with an interest in the 20th-century scholarship on mystical and esoteric religion.
This slender monograph was developed from a paper presented in scholarly sessions on Yeats in 1968, published in 1972, and revised in 1976. In its closing passage, it refers to itself as “this most superficial study of Yeats’s use of the symbolism of magic acquired through the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” (74). Author Kathleen Raine appears to have been in the vanguard of academic research on the esoteric interests and activities of Yeats. She is the dedicatee (“to whom else …?”) of George Mills Harper’s much lengthier 1975 Yeats’s Golden Dawn.
Raine’s preliminary remarks on the historical sources and general applications of Tarot symbolism are sensible and well-informed. She follows these with a history of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, citing reliable sources from among those available in the 1960s and 70s, but here she makes a few odd blunders. For example, she takes the “Roseae Rubeae” and “Aureae Crucis” to have been the “two higher degrees” of the Inner Order (5), when the Inner Order in fact had three grades and “The Ruby Rose and Cross of Gold” was the name of the Order itself.
The 1976 second edition is very amply illustrated in black and white with images of Tarot cards and drawings from Golden Dawn ritual manuscripts. These are all fascinating and well chosen to support the text. I was especially intrigued by the inclusion of cards from the Tarot packs actually owned and used by Yeats and his wife, even though his was a quite conventional Italian deck and hers was the familiar Marseilles design.
At the outset of the second of the text’s two sections, Raine demonstrates that the Stella Matutina ritual for the Zelator grade includes conscious paraphrasing from William Blake (42-3). Her suggestion that pioneering Blake editor Yeats was then necessarily involved in the original composition of the ritual depends crucially on the rather dubious “if the passage belongs to the original text and is not a later addition.” As a general matter, her analyses are weakened by taking the Regardie exposures of the later Stella Matutina rituals as authentic texts of the Golden Dawn order in which Yeats had been initiated. She would have been better served, in fact, to work from Aleister Crowley’s exposures published in The Equinox as Book II of “The Temple of Solomon the King.”
Although Raine consistently disparages Yeats’s esoteric antagonist Crowley as an author of “bad verse” (46), she did find it worthwhile to include reproductions of many Frieda Harris Tarot cards with long captions quoting Crowley on the cards’ symbolism. She even surprised me by suggesting that Yeats’s The Resurrection (1931) may have had a debt to Crowley (47-8). However, I think she erred in pointing to Liber Legis III:34 as the influential text, when Yeats was quite evidently riffing on the Hellas chorus by Shelley (“The world’s great age begins anew”)–a text familiar and dear to Crowley, who used it for the solar benediction at the end of his theatrical ceremony “The Rite of Mars.” (A corollary question: Was Liber Legis influenced by Shelley?)
The most important element of Raine’s study, and one with which I take no exception, is her explanation of the relationship of Yeats’s magical training to his literary production. I am now perhaps sufficiently motivated to read Yeats’s A Vision, which has been on my shelf for decades.
Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Decoding the Enochian Secrets: God’s Most Holy Book to Mankind as Received by Dr. John Dee from Angelic Messengers [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by John DeSalvo.
The highlight of this relatively recent (2011) volume on angelic magic is the first complete publication of the last remaining element of John Dee’s Enochian corpus as delivered to him by spirits through the mediumship of Edward Kelley, i.e. Liber Logaeth, a.k.a. the “Book of Enoch.” Author John DeSalvo provides that text in the form of scanned facsimiles from the British Library. This Appendix B is more than half of the book.
Decoding the Enochian Secrets starts with a couple of chapters regarding the biblical person of Enoch and the ancient (“apocryphal”) Book of Enoch, with some inquiry into their connections with the Dee and Kelley materials. While I was intrigued by the idea that DeSalvo might come up with something new on this front, as he certainly gives it more sustained attention than most authors on the topic, he’s not able to muster anything beyond broad thematic similarities between ancient and early modern “Enochian” lore. He also supplies a high-level summary of the Dee and Kelley evocations, repeatedly quoting passages from the diaries that describe Kelley being struck and lit by radiant beams from the stone.
DeSalvo’s commendable attention to primary materials does result in an editorial clarification of the forty-nine tables of Liber Logaeth, including the “missing” forty-ninth. He emphasizes that Dee’s diaries identify the express purpose of the Calls to be assisting with the understanding of how to operate these tables, also that the angels enjoined Dee not to do that work until receiving further commands–which were never delivered.
Nevertheless, the recommendations here for contemporary practice are surprisingly conventional, and very much in the mode of Crowley and Regardie (the only 20th-century magicians DeSalvo mentions). His method for “meditation” on the aethyrs prescribes the lesser pentagram ritual for opening and closing, and includes goetic-style prayer and “license to depart” both marked as “optional.”
I agree with DeSalvo’s view that original versions of these tables were probably all inscribed by Dee while the entranced Kelley was dictating them. (All but one of the surviving tables are in Kelley’s hand, evidently copied from Dee’s.) He makes the credible and intriguing suggestion that these originals might survive, perhaps even in the British Library, subject to misattribution or faulty cataloging.
DeSalvo speculates that Liber Logaeth was received by Dee, but embargoed by the angels because it is intended to serve as a device of the “end times.” He suggests that his work in issuing this book is part of that instrumentality, even connecting it with “2012 being the end date of the Mayan calendar” (73). On this front, he willfully ignores the chiliastic dimension of Crowley’s The Vision & the Voice, and seems to mistake the immanentization of the eschaton for its “imminentization.”
This book tries to straddle the gap between a popular introduction to Enochian magic and a more specialized defense of DeSalvo’s own theories and excavation of sources. I would only recommend it for the latter, since there are other and better options for the former.
Samuel Scarborough reviews Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires: The Classical Tests of Magick Deciphered [Amazon, Abebooks, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Aaron Leitch in the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition archive.
The lure of that secret, hidden knowledge buried in a old musty tome just waiting for someone to come along and read the words thus releasing some great power, has lured many new magician with the hopes that they can do just that from picking up those slightly scary and to some degree, awe-inspiring books known as Grimoires. Unfortunately, most of the magical community has done just that, but once we had these books with names like Clavicula Salomonis (The Key of Solomon the King), the Lemegeton, the Goetia, Grimoirum Verum, or even that seemingly holy (unholy) book, The Grand Grimoire, what do we do with them? We read them and quickly learn that we are not sure what we are supposed to do with this great secret wisdom and power that we hold in our hands, so these books go back on the shelf to collect dust for most of us.
Now a new light shines on these often discussed, but long neglected books on our shelves. Aaron Leitch, a scholar and spiritual seeker with over a decade of practical experience has written a book that will be helpful to every magician that has the call to work with those classic books on magic. Where books like Modern Magick by Donald Michael Kraig and Summoning Spirits by Konstantinos give the hopeful magician snippets of information or information that is not that helpful to many, Leitch lays out a detailed method of working with these classics.
When I first got the book I was impressed for a product from Llewellyn. In many cases Llewellyn’s books do not have any sort of reference of where the writer is getting his information, but in Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires, there are detailed endnotes at the end of each chapter showing the research that has gone into the material presented. The next thing that caught my eye was the use of relevant images throughout the book to illustrate a point made by Leitch in the text or to help explain passages from those musty old books. Being something of a scholar myself, I just had to check out what the bibliography looked like…I was again surprised to find one of the most comprehensive bibliographies that I have seen in sometime outside of most academic circles. Finally, I got the best surprise of all…I sat down to read the book, and in the text was clear knowledge of those sirens known as the grimoires. Aaron Leitch clearly expressed his points and explained those difficult passages from such esoteric volumes as the Heptameron and the Sworn Book of Honorius in a clear manner that shed the light of understanding suddenly on just what those magicians of 400 – 500 years ago were talking about.
The book is impressive in its size. At four hundred and thirty-two pages with additional xxi pages of Table of Content, Acknowledgements Preface, and Introduction it makes for a large book. Do not let the size fool or scare you away, it is well worth reading. The Preface is full of praise for Leitch and his work on the subject is written by Chic and Tabatha Cicero. The rest of the book covers such topics as medieval magick with a short history of the classic grimoires from the Picatrix to The Grand Grimoire and every other classic grimoire or important text relating to them such as Barrett’s The Magus and Casaubon’s A True and Faithful Relation of What Passed for Many Yeers Between Dr. John Dee (A Mathematician of Great Fame in Q. Eliz. And King James their Reignes) and Some Spirits to chapters on what tools are described in the texts of the old grimoires with modern-day methods of creating them as well as many places to find the required materials for them. The meat of the book though covers the operations listed in the classic grimoires and just what is meant for a person to follow the often misunderstood instructions that were written in them so that a person can perform them in the 21st Century.
If the glowing words above do not inspire you to get this book, then I will say it in very plain English. Go out and buy this book, come home and read it, and then look at those dusty volumes on your shelf that long ago promised you the lure of sudden power and knowledge of our Holy Guardian Angel in a new light.
“The art of the Egyptians is in the occult.
The art of the Chaldeans is in calculation.
The art of the Greeks is in proportion.
The art of the Romans is in echo.
The art of the Chinese is in etiquette.
The art of the Hindus is in the weighing of good and evil.
The art of the Jews is in the sense of doom.
The art of the Arabs is in reminiscence and exaggeration.
The art of the Persians is in fastidiousness.
The art of the French is in finesse.
The art of the English is in analysis and self-righteousness.
The art of the Spaniards is in fanaticism.
The art of the Italians is in beauty.
The art of the Germans is in ambition.
The art of the Russians is in sadness.”
Kahlil Gibran, best known for his book “The Prophet,” was a great mystic and captivating writer. This collection of aphorisms, short-short stories and one short play is small but it packs a big punch.
Though Gibran falls into moralizing towards the end in pieces like “Your Lebanon and Mine” where he says to those who see only the political, warring side of Lebanon, “Remember that you are naught. But when you realize your littleness, my aversion to you will change into sympathy and affection. It is a pity that you do not understand, You have your Lebanon and I have mine.” or “Your Thought and Mine” where he says, “Your thought speaks of the beautiful woman, the ugly, the virtuous, the prostitute, the intelligent, and the stupid. Mine sees in every woman a mother, a sister, or a daughter of every man.” these forays into claimed superiority serve as veins in marble rather than blemishes. Moreover, Gibran tells us, “Our worst fault is our preoccupation with the faults of others.” thus confessing his humanity. Gibran is not a god to be worshipped, he is a brother toiling alongside one in the struggle for enlightenment and peace.
Gibran occasionally lapses into bitterness in his aphorisms though this bitterness mainly centers around being a man without a home or nation. This is entirely reasonable, considering that much of this book was written while Gibran was in exile from his country and excommunicated from his church.
Gibran has been called the Dante of the twentieth century. Orientals call him the Beloved Master. He has been compared to William Blake and to Rodin – in fact, he was commissioned to paint the latter’s portrait. Though born in and in love with Lebanon, Gibran is a mystic for all lands and all religions. As the Beloved Master himself said, “God made Truth with many doors to welcome every believer who knocks on them.”
This book is not one which I can endorse. For illustration, I will provide a critique of the first chapter only. The entire chapter is a gloss on Huxley’s Doors of Perception that I found to be revoltingly parochial. So much so, in fact, that I picked up a copy of the Huxley, and discovered that Zaehner was massively misrepresenting Huxley’s actual text. (I have to hand a 1977 paperback of Huxley’s Doors, and it is those page numbers I will cite for Huxley, despite the fact that they do not match those cited in Zaehner, who would have to have been using an earlier edition.)
Zaehner wastes no time in casting aspersions and spinning rhetoric against Huxley. In his second paragraph, he remarks that “Mr. Huxley appears to have no … scruples [regarding the association of drug experiences with religion]” (1), but I would maintain that here, as in other places, Zaehner’s accusation of unscrupulousness applies more to himself than to his intended victim. The patronizing invective against “Mr. Huxley and his friends” builds until Zaehner climaxes his second page with the declaration that “Huxley’s ‘conversion’ to a Vedantin way of life was due to little more than a total rejection of everything that modern civilization stands for and to a deep-seated aversion to historical Christianity which, though it may not have directly given birth to the modern world, at least condoned it when it was born.”
Zaehner’s emphasis on Huxley’s interest in Oriental religions is not warranted by the text of The Doors of Perception, which uses illustrations from Western religion and philosophy (and particularly aesthetics) a great deal more than it does from the East. But it permits Zaehner to make Huxley’s thought seem alien and exotic, and to castigate it with remarks like these: “The vocabulary used by Huxley in this astonishing passage is largely borrowed from the Vedanta and from Mahayana Buddhism. To the normal, rational mind his remarks make no sense whatever, and might therefore be dismissed as the illusions of a lunatic.” (7) Not content to apply clinical generalizations to those under the influence of mescaline, Zaehner chooses to subtly stigmatize them as “mescalin-takers.” (5, 10)
Much of Zaehner’s derision for Huxley’s account centers around what Zaehner represents as the addled presumptuousness of Huxley’s views and judgments on some works of art. Zaehner represents the sequence of this art appreciation segment thus: Huxley looks at a Van Gogh and becomes “bored,” he is then “distracted from Van Gogh’s poor symbol to, of all things, the trousers draping his own crossed legs!” (7) In reviewing the Huxley, however, it is quite clear that the Van Gogh viewing led to a Botticelli viewing, and the representation of textiles in the latter provoked Huxley’s consideration of his own pants. Zaehner presents them out of order, so that it seems that Huxley’s mind wandered in an undisciplined and valueless manner from the Van Gogh to the pants to the Boticelli. Further on in this artwork episode, Zaehner relates, “…this world seemed to be epitomized by a portrait by Cezanne which was now handed to Huxley. Presumably because it was a good portrait and therefore brought out what was most ‘personal’ in the sitter, Huxey could only laugh derisively. ‘Who does he think he is?’, he indignantly exclaimed. How much better to return to the magical grey flannel of his trousers….” (9)
In contradistinction to the judgment that Zaehner says we should “presumably” hold on Huxley’s internal considerations, here is Huxley’s own full explanation from which Zaehner quoted: “At this stage of the proceedings I was handed a large coloured reproduction of the well-known self-portrait by Cezanne…. It is a magnificent painting, but it was not as a painting that I now saw it. For the head promptly took on a third dimension and came to life as a small goblin-like man looking out through a window in the page before me. I started to laugh. And when they asked me why, ‘What pretensions!’ I kept repeating. ‘Who on earth does he think he is?’ The question was not addressed to Cezanne in particular, but to the human species at large. Who did they all think they were?” (30, emphases added)
In general, Zaehner dwells on Huxley’s negative or incongruous reactions to the artists and artwork, entirely omitting the latter’s praise of Vermeer and Rembrandt. Then he declares that Huxley is “apparently oblivious to the absurd arrogance” of his mescalined opinions, and suggests that Huxley believed himself especially privileged by the drug “to pronounce Olympian judgments.” (9) I think that what Zaehner accused mescaline of having done for Huxley here, an academic soapbox has actually done for Zaehner.
But the most stunning feature of the chapter is its closing paragraph. While Huxley claimed that, drugs aside, “The mental species [of mystic visionaries] … is fairly widely-distributed even in the urban industrial societies of the present day,” (37) Zaehner does not note or argue against Huxley’s observation. Instead, he just provides a completely contrary postulate without acknowledging the conflict: “In the past mystics, even in India, have been few and far between, and praeternatural experiences of any sort have been well out of the reach of the average man; and no visible harm has been done by the small band of ecstatics who had, or thought they had, transcended good and evil.” (12-13)
We could dismiss this discrepancy as a tangential issue, but a similar unacknowledged contradiction follows hard upon it, one that reveals the extent to which Zaehner has been using a caricature of Huxley’s position as a straw man for his entire treatment. In presenting what he construes as the great dilemma of Huxley’s account, Zaehner writes: “If mescalin can produce the Beatific Vision here on earth, — a state that we had hitherto believed to have been the reward for much earnest striving after good, — the Christian emphasis on morality is not only all wrong but also a little naive.” (13)
And now Huxley: “I am not so foolish to equate what happens under the influence of mescalin or of any other drug, prepared or in future preparable, with the realization of the end and ultimate purpose of human life: Enlightenment, the Beatific Vision. All I am suggesting is that the mescalin experience is what Catholic theologians call ‘a gratuitous grace,’ not necessary to salvation but potentially helpful and to be accepted thankfully, if made available.” (58-9)
Voluminous as this critique has been, it is not even an exhaustive account of the problems that I found in Zaehner’s short maltreatment of Huxley’s Doors of Perception. Not that I entirely agree with Huxley’s conclusions or his premises, but he didn’t earn that kind of gross misrepresentation in what, I fear, has been a summary widely read by students of religious phenomena.
I sailed for Ceylon, chiefly because I had said I would go, certainly not in the hope of assistance from Allan. Perhaps because I had found my feet, he was, as will appear, allowed to guide them, in what seemed at first sight a new Path. I had got to learn that all roads lead to Rome. It is proper, more, it is prudent, more yet, it is educative, for the aspirant to pursue all possible Ways to Wisdom. Thus he broadens the base of his Pyramid, thus he diminishes the probability of missing the method which happens to suit him best, thus he insures against the obsession that the goat-track of his own success in the One Highway for all men, and thus he discounts the disappointment of discovering that he is not the Utter, the Unique, when it becomes plain that Magick, mysticism, and the mathematics are triplets, and that the Himalayan Brotherhood is to be found in Brixton.
Aleister Crowley, Confessions, Chapter 27