This 1940 work is a decidedly chatty melange of memoir, folklore, occultism, and parapsychology. Seabrook insists on his materialistic skepticism throughout, but towards the end provides powerful anecdotes to test it.
He compliments the laboratory parapsychologists for taking the matter seriously, while suggesting that they are unlikely to succeed with their clinical approach. He points to Sufism, particularly the Mevlevi Order, as a repository of disciplines which might lead to genuinely “supernormal” power. “Dervish dangling” becomes his shorthand for the inducement of visionary states through physical stress, which he observes in “games” with a girlfriend, and in a shamanistic eskimo ceremony.
The book provides eminently fair (some might say generous) sketches of three prominent occultists who were the author’s contemporaries: George Gurdjieff, Aleister Crowley, and Pierre Bernard. The chapter which covers this ground (ch. III of part three, “Our Modern Cagliostros”) is alone worth the rest of the book to read. Seabrook was personally acquainted with the first two, and his account of the I Ching elsewhere in the book shows traces of Crowley’s unacknowledged instruction.
There are some basic factual fumbles, like the “pentagram” that has seven points, or the “57 varieties of the mystical hexagram” from the I Ching (p. 147—even while the illustration on p. 148 shows all 64). Long pieces of text have been relegated to appendices, which seems like an odd choice in a book that is basically a topical survey without a sustained argument or chronology.
In any case, it is a quick and entertaining read, and Seabrook’s sincerity seems unimpeachable. It’s good amusement for anyone interested in the occultism of the first half of the 20th century. [via]