Tag Archives: occult sciences

A Dweller on Two Planets

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews A Dweller on Two Planets: Or the Dividing of the Way [Amazon, Abebooks, Internet Archive, Local Library] by Phylos the Thibetan (Walter Pierson, Frederick Spencer Oliver).

Phylos the Thibetan Pierson Oliver a Dweller on Two Planets

“Phylos the Thibetan” was the mantonym of Walter Pierson, a gold miner who is the contemporary narrator of this 19th-century work. Frederick S. Oliver, who wrote it in 1886, claimed to have been the amanuensis for the adept Phylos. Oliver was a seventeen-year-old in Reno, Nevada when he received the book by intermittent dictation from its author. Although later secondary references often describe the production as a case of “automatic writing,” Oliver himself expressly disclaimed that his hand was moved by any other force or that he was in a trance, insisting that he heard Phylos’ speech and set it down, with chapters being delivered out of sequence and often backwards, sentence by sentence.

However, the book wasn’t published until 1905 after Oliver’s death, and a great deal of editorial treatment may have been involved. Most of the book reads like a straightforward novel of the reincarnation romance genre–already a popular mode of fiction when it was written–although it is notable for having its principal earlier age set in antediluvian Atlantis or “Poseid.” In that period, Pierson was Zailm, an up-and-coming Atlantean gold miner. (No reader should be too surprised to find out that the teenage Oliver was involved with his family’s mining claims in Nevada.)

Ancient Atlantis has a great deal of super-technology, which Phylos assures us will be surpassed by modern America, the new Atlantis. It is also an enlightened socialist state with a religion of solar deism. There is, however, a fairly plain prophecy of Christianity (72). A bit more than the first half of the book consists of the Atlantean tale, which gradually culminates in great tragedy.

Part II picks up with the life of Pierson in the mid-1800s. Eventually, he is received by a society of adepts who dwell in Mount Shasta. These recognize his development (largely the work of prior lifetimes) and he is taken by one as a student to the other of the “Two Planets” of the title. The second planet is Venus, or as its inhabitants call it, Hesper. Phylos explains a scheme according to which spiritual progress involves centripetal migration through the solar system, with the interior spheres acting through finer sorts of matter, so that when Phylos goes to Venus, he does so in his consciousness only, a new, more spiritual body being supplied for him there.

Another doctrine important to the story is that of the original sexless soul divided into differently-sexed complementary beings who are mutually dependent for spiritual attainment (311-2). This process is expected to take long ages to resolve in any given case, so no one should assume that they have access to their own destined spiritual partner. But of course we see it worked out in the story. In addition to this accomplishment, Phylos is provided with a guardian angel (379ff., interestingly with explicit reference to John 16.13). Then he undergoes the Ordeal of the Abyss, under the figure of the Tempting of Christ in the desert.

The much shorter Part III has three main features: 1) It ties up the whole Phylos narrative, bringing him to perfected adeptship and confirming the continuous identities of his reincarnating associates in the Atlantean and modern settings. 2) It gives an account of the Fall of Atlantis, involving moral decline and physical catastrophe. 3) It offers prophecies regarding the United States, taken as the Atlantis of our current historical cycle, and many of these are dire. This third section is thick with Bible exegesis. But the Bible is placed by Phylos on a par with the Vedas.

The book is a real smorgasbord of American metaphysical religion. While recounting his trials as Zailm in Part I, Phylos indulges in some New Thought. The interludes between incarnations take place in devachan, a term doubtless taken from Theosophical sources. He has an occultist’s contempt for Spiritualism. While anti-racist, he also manages to give voice to some strident Nativisim (252-3), and he expresses a species of feminism (305, e.g.). His praise for Atlantean socialism is paired with an indictment of modern Capitalism as “denying the God-born declaration that all men are created free and equal, and warping it to seem a giant lie” (419).

The prose style of this book is dated and plodding. There are many digressions of little consequence. Although Oliver was greatly impressed at the prophetic accuracy of Phylos regarding Atlantean technology and modern science, I think it rates as tepid science-fictional insight. The religious elements were far more interesting to me, and I did catch glimpses of some genuine esoteric doctrines. It seems likely that Oliver did have some unusual experiences that resulted in the original text of this book, but what made it to print has the style of a weak imitation of Bulwer-Lytton.

I think there was as much genuine spiritual insight, greater moral sophistication, and far higher literary quality in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Years of Rice and Salt, another saga of reincarnation published a century after A Dweller on Two Planets. But given my interests in that peculiar period when Oliver’s book was written and published, I don’t regret the effort that I put into reading it.

Phylos the Thibetan Pierson Oliver a Dweller on Two Planets 1905

The Sorcerer and His Apprentice

The Sorcerer and His Apprentice: Unknown Hermetic Writings of S.L. MacGregor Mathers and J.W. Brodie-Innes [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by S L MacGregor Mathers and J W Brodie-Innes, edited and introduced by R A Gilbert, reviewed by Bkwyrm in the Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews archive.

Mathers Brodie-Innes Gilbert The Sorcerer and his Apprentice

Mr. Gilbert has taken a collection of short papers on various occult subjects by Mathers, and by Brodie-Innes, and has presented them as “An anthology of writings….on Tarot, Kabalah, Astrology, and Hermetism.” The introduction provided by Gilbert is all of three or four pages and imparts no information that anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with G.D. history wouldn’t know. Some of the essays are fascinating, and I’ve never seen them anywhere else. Of course, I don’t spend a lot of time tracking down Brodie-Innes books. Essays by Mathers include The Kabbalah, The Qliphoth of the Qabalah, The Azoth Lecture, and Twelve Signs and Twelve Tribes. Papers by Brodie-Innes include Some Psychic Memories, The Tarot Cards, Witchcraft, and The Hermetic System.

If you’re a Mathers fan, or a Brodie-Innes devotee, you’ll want to pick up this book. Serious students of the Golden Dawn system will probably also find many of these essays worthwhile. The Tarot essays, read together, make for a (I thought) rather nice, short tutorial on the Tarot in the Golden Dawn worldview.

This book is part of the “Roots of the Golden Dawn” series – and its inclusion in a series is probably why a book this uneven was published. None of the essays hung together into any kind of a cohesive structure, even taking into account that both authors were members of the Golden Dawn, and that Brodie-Innes was Mathers’ chosen successor. They bounce from topic to topic, belief system to belief system, with very little in common. As far as I can tell, the only reason they were put in a book together is because they are little-known essays by a set of famous and semi-famous magicians. There are other collections of essays that are much more rewarding reading. This is a collection that is probably only of interest only to someone actively studying material covered in the essays. It’s not something you can sit down and read through, like an “anthology.” These are bits and pieces of published and unpublished writings by two men, written at different times and for widely varying purposes, that have been collected into one place for no apparent reason.

The Legacy of the Beast

The Legacy of the Beast: The Life, Work, and Influence of Aleister Crowley by Gerald Suster, with foreword by Francis X King, the 1989 paperback from Samuel Weiser, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Gerald Suster The Legacy of the Beast from Samuel Weiser

“Tracing the roots of Crowley’s ideas and demonstrating their enduring relevance, Gerald Suster has produced a much-needed reappraisal of the ‘Great Beast’ and his continuing influence, as well as fascinating exposition of a supremely practical spiritual discipline.

Casting a critical but sympathetic eye over Crowley’s writings, the author reveals a man of enormous and original intellectual gifts, whose contributions to the understanding of the occult sciences are matched only by his daring experiments in the development of human consciousness. Crowley’s own magical system encompassed Buddhism, ritual magic, the Qabalah, Yoga, the Tarot and Taoism, though its most original element derived from the personal revelations Crowley received in Cairo in 1904 and which formed the basis of his most important work—and perhaps the most important occult work of the century—The Book of the Law.”


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

The Occult Mind

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Occult Mind: Magic in Theory and Practice by Christopher I. Lehrich:

Christopher I Lehrich's The Occult Mind from Cornell University Press


I’m so profoundly impressed with Lehrich’s The Occult Mind that I hardly know where to start reviewing it. Perhaps I should point out that the title (as contrasted with the borrowed subtitle Magic in Theory and Practice) is not much reflected by the contents. This book is not about psychology (“mind”), nor does the word “occult” appear in the text as a technical term, or very frequently at all. It is a book about magic as signifying the occult sciences, taking the early modern cases of Bruno, Dee, and Kircher as paradigmatic. But the operation performed throughout the book is theory (in a sense indistinguishable from the “practice” of intellectuals), and the Renaissance magi are treated as theoreticians on a comparative footing with their twentieth-century reader/successors Frances Yates, Mircea Eliade, and Claude Levi-Strauss.

Lehrich stares down and embraces the difficulties and necessities of comparativism and historicism, using these (and other) highly enigmatic and suspect figures as his points of exploration. In the process, his reflections on theory engage subjects ranging from Noh drama to tarot divination to musical composition. He does not (could hardly) claim to have delivered a new historical or comparative method, but only to have explicated his gropings towards one.

Among the book’s many other positive features, it deserves applause for harvesting theoretical perspective (and a piece of indispensable jargon) from the fiction of John Crowley. It is no casual read: prior familiarity with structuralist anthropology and Derridean deconstruction are useful, and it is hard to imagine it holding the attention of a reader unversed in any of the modern scholars with whom Lehrich enters into conversation. For those who are mentally equipped to consume it, however, it offers the nearest possible thing to proof that rather than being a history of “nonsense,” the legacy of the occult sciences is in fact a history of the sense of sense, a record of skilled attempts (however unproductive) to grapple with the very nature of meaning and its creation.

Superlative. [via]



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