Tag Archives: occultism

Memory Palaces and Masonic Lodges

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Memory Palaces and Masonic Lodges: Esoteric Secrets of the Art of Memory [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Charles B Jameux, trans Jon E Graham.

Jameux Graham Memory Palaces and Masonic Lodges

This short volume contains texts from disparate sources, and has been assembled mostly in a sort of reverse chronological order. I think most readers will more easily follow its arguments and be better served by reading it from back to front, and this review will treat it in that sequence.

Appendix B is a 1995 article by the book’s author Charles B. Jameux, originally published in the French periodical Points de Vue Initiatiques with the title “The Ancient Sources of Initiatic Transmission in Freemasonry: The Royal Art and the Classical Art of Memory.” It presents Jameux’s first published development of a thesis grounded in the prior work of two profane historians: Frances Yates (The Art of Memory) and David Stevenson (The Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland’s Century, 1590-1710), each of whom had suggested that the early modern developments of mnemotechny could have determined the form of early Freemasonry. Stevenson had bolstered Yate’s tenuous hypothesis by citing the explicit requirement of memory training from the Schaw Statutes of 1599 governing Scottish Masonry. Jameux quotes at length from each of the two prior authors and uses his own initiated perspective to amend some of their details, as well as to reinforce and extend the basic concept. Reading Yates and Stevenson myself some few years after Jameux had published his article far from my ken, I came to similar conclusions. While this appendix offered little new for me personally, I thought that it was a solid presentation of the history and its relevance for modern initiates.

Appendix A makes no direct mention of Freemasonry or initiation. It reproduces in English translation a 1988 paper by scholar Claudie Balavoine, “Hieroglyphs of Memory: Emergence and Transformation of a Hieroglyphic Script in the arts of Memory during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.” This brief study discusses the changing appreciation of Egyptian hieroglyphs in early modernity, along with the emergence of figural alphabets, and relates these to the transformation and decline of the art of memory. Although composed and published earlier than Jameux’s “Ancient Sources of Initiatic Transmission,” it came to his attention later, and it then became an important source for the development of his understanding of the relevant Masonic history, reflected in the five brief chapters of the body of Memory Palaces and Masonic Lodges.

The body text orients to 1637 as a point of historical discontinuity (of the sort proposed by Michel Foucault in Les mots et les choses) signaled by both the appearance of the Master’s Word in Masonry and Descartes’ publication of his Discourse on Method. Jameux presents Masonic initiation as a compensation and potential remedy for the modern fracturing of “the original unity of thought into conceptual, rational, and quantified thought on the one hand and analogical thought as a storehouse for the ancient traditions on the other” (38).

I am a little mistrustful of the Jon E. Graham translation of Jameux’s text, which tends to feature rambling sentence structures, of which the following is a gruesome specimen: “Far from an elsewhere and nowhere of utopia according to Campanella, wouldn’t the future operative and non-operative Freemasons of 1600-era Scotland, engaged in an outside of work quest for method but remaining immersed nevertheless in the here and now of spiritually conflictive societies, be in the process of discovering the Masonic symbol beneath the memorized image?” (16-17) I know that French intellectual exposition often uses this sort of monster pile of clauses and phrases, but preserving that form is not particularly helpful to English readers.

Also, on page 15 I encountered a defective passage, in which “the conversation he recounts” should have been attributed to Plato in the Phaedrus (as Yates does, in the citation given by Jameux), but some elided wording here makes it seem as if “he” is Alexander Dicson, who is then confusingly said to have “reproduced” the conversation with his own characters. Whether the error in this case is that of author, translator, or editor, it undermined my confidence in what I was reading.

The book is equipped with two short laudatory forewords by Francis Bardot and Patrice Corbin, and they are worth reading if only to demonstrate that Jameux’s ideas in this book have a sympathetic audience among eminent French Freemasons.

Decoding the Enochian Secrets

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.

DeSalvo Decoding Enochian Secrets

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.

all who seek to discover through personal vision the secrets in human nature must follow the golden rule of true spiritual science. This golden rule is as follows: For every one step that you take in the pursuit of higher knowledge, take three steps in the perfection of your own character.

Rudolf Steiner, How to Know Higher Worlds [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Steiner How to Know Higher Worlds seek discover personal vision secrets human nature golden rule true spiritual science every step pursuit higher knowledge three steps perfection character

Occult Paris

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Occult Paris: The Lost Magic of the Belle Époque [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Tobias Churton.

Churton Occult Paris

Tobias Churton’s Occult Paris is an impressively wide-ranging yet detailed account of the French occult revival, treating developments in art movements, philosophy, politics, religion, and secret societies. Although the book’s scope is much larger, it takes for a principal guide and perspective the memoir Les Compangnons de la Hiérophanie by Victor-Émile Michelet (1861-1938). Personalities central to the history in question include Lady Caithness, Stanislas de Guatia, Joséphin Péladan, Erik Satie, Gerard “Papus” Encausse, Jules Doinel, and many others.

Those interested in the history of esoteric movements will appreciate the focus on the Kabbalistic Rose-Croix (R+C+K), its competing Catholic Rose-Croix Order (R+C+C+), the Gnostic Church and its offspring, and the Martinist Order, all of which are treated as central topics with a wealth of detail not easily accessed in other English-language publications. In addition, Churton supplies a Paris-centric perspective on the Victorian Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and information on the Parisian manifestations of the Antient & Primitive Rite with connections to the early Ordo Templi Orientis.

I feel a special responsibility to recommend this book to readers concerned with the early history of the Église Gnostique, for its very full accounting of the context of those developments. As regards the actual founding of the church, Churton relies chiefly on Doinel’s own account transmitted by the Cathar revivalist and onetime Église Gnostique bishop Déodat Roché (1877-1978), and provides a more coherent and detailed picture than I have encountered elsewhere.

The book is amply illustrated with black-and-white figures throughout, plus a generous set of color plates. Most of the figures are portraits of key individuals, and while these usually give the dates of the subject’s life, they only rarely give the date of the portrait, leaving the reader sometimes a little confused about whether they accurately represent that person at the time treated in the neighboring text.

At numerous points I found Churton’s prose a little off-putting in its chattiness, but even when the text seemed digressive it had valuable knowledge to offer. I read a borrowed copy of this book, but I will seriously consider acquiring my own, because I don’t doubt its value as a continuing reference in future study.

Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Glenn Alexander Magee.

Magee Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition

Writing very consciously in the vein inaugurated by Frances Yates’ Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Glenn Magee details the esoteric contexts and underpinnings of the work of G.W.F. Hegel. This is not a work of tendentious revisionism. The wonder is not that Magee can read Hegel as a Hermetic thinker, but that — in light of the evidence which he marshals — so many others have managed to avoid the obvious conclusion. A review from The International Philosophical Quarterly quoted on the back cover of my copy claims that the work exposes “Hegel’s dark side,” but Magee makes no such judgment. When he writes about indicting and convicting Hegel of Hermeticism in his final chapter, he is very plainly using a cacophemistic rhetorical figure. Hermeticism as Magee defines it (and he does a competent job of doing so) could be “dark” to the conventionally pious Christian, or to the rationalistic secular sorts who may have had the upper hand in the 20th-century study of Hegel, but it wasn’t to Hegel, nor to Magee nor me.

I came to this book after reading a good deal of the “Young Hegelian” Ludwig Feuerbach, for whom Hegel figures as the culmination of an obsolete crypto-theology, and I was open to the possibility of heightening my intellectual sympathy for Hegel. Magee pulled that off quite nicely. After reading his treatment of The Phenomenology of Spirit as an initiatory rite (!) I found myself for the first time ever actually considering a full read of that forbidding tome.

Magee has a lot to say about the kabbalah, which he understands to have been influential on Hegel both directly (in Rosenroth’s Kabbalah Denudata and the like) and via the work of Jacob Boehme. Most of his points are fairly sound, but he did not impress me as a scholar of kabbalistic history. He seemed thoroughly dependent on Gershom Scholem. And his transliterations were distractingly erratic; for instance, he wrote Ayin for AIN, although the same word was elsewhere Ein (in Ein Sof).

Likewise, Magee’s appreciation of the history of alchemy seems adequate for his task, but not thorough. In this case, I think he errs (in a way he does not with the Kabbalah) in deeming alchemical methods to be all of a sort. When he declares that “there is no way to decide if the alchemical opus is intended to be entirely figurative or symbolic, or if there is both a literal, physical operation of some sort coupled with a mystical doctrine” (209), it seems clear that he could benefit from the work of recent researchers into alchemy in the history of science, such as Lawrence Principe.

I have no such complaints about Magee’s efforts to contextualize Hegel with reference to the development of Rosicrucianism in Germany. In this case, he draws on appropriate and reliable scholarship in a way that has apparently been neglected by earlier Hegel scholars. Merely in passing, I was delighted to note Magee’s observation about the genesis of the phrase “immanentize the eschaton” in The New Science of Politics by Eric Voegelin (1952), where he is discussing the effects of Joachimist prophecy. 

I was cumulatively impressed with Magee’s thesis, which at one point he puts like this: “Hegel’s speculation, as I have characterized it, is a sophisticated, post-Kantian reappropriation of the memory magic and ‘active imagination’ of Hermetic thinkers such as Bruno and Boehme” (103). He covers Hegel’s ideas about magic, and the essential identity between Hegel’s “speculative philosophy” and esoteric (or mystical) religion. I strongly recommend this book to those who enjoy readings in the history of ideas, and who want to be able to appreciate the aquifer feeding a wellspring of 19th-century philosophy.

Lunar and Sex Worship

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Lunar and Sex Worship [Amazon, Abebooks, Weiser Antiquarian, Publisher, Local Library] by Ida Craddock, edited and introduction by Vere Chappell.

Craddock Chappell Lunar and Sex Worship

Lunar and Sex Worship is an initial, long-posthumous publication of two chapters of a projected larger work on comparative religion by the American sex-reformer and mystic Ida Craddock. As it is, these two chapters make a hefty book. Barely 50% of the verbiage is Craddock’s own, since she quotes at length from her preferred sources, who include Thomas Inman, J.G.R. Forlong, and most prominently Gerald Massey (who is probably the least credible of the lot, alas). For those familiar with the earlier works on which Craddock depends, there may not be much new here, other than her particular feminist perspective on the material. The book does stand as a pretty accurate and accessible digest of 19th-century solar-phallic theory of religion, however. 

Surprisingly, Craddock has interesting contributions to make on the topic of “aeonics,” or the historical succession of global magical formulae. She uses a novel strategy in an attempt to pinpoint what Thelemites will understand as the transition between the Aeons of Isis and Osiris (19-21). She also discusses the messianic moment corresponding to the advent of the Aeon of Horus (264).

Editor Vere Chappell has been a relentless 21st-century researcher and champion of Craddock, and his introduction contextualizes Lunar and Sex Worship well enough for contemporary readers. I am grateful that he also furnished the book with an index: considering the wide range of topics that it covers, with no subheadings within its two enormously long chapters, the index is a crucial feature–even if it fails to have an entry for “ass” (Craddock’s passage on lunar onolatry may be found on 94-95)!

The best part of the book is the closing pages, where she decries the sexual repression of modern Christianity, and calls for a return of phallic religious sensibility. She holds out hope that the “storehouse of symbolism” in Catholic Christianity may yet contribute to a restored worship of the generative power, enhanced by scientific knowledge and an ethic of universal brotherhood (252).

Tantra for Westerners

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Tantra for Westerners: A Practical Guide to the Way of Action [Amazon, Bookshop, Local Library] by Francis King; newer edition Tantra: The Way of Action. A Practical Guide to Its Teachings and Techniques. [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library].

King Tantra for Westerners

King Tantra The Way of Action

Francis King’s treatment of Tantric practice in this volume is more attentive to authentic source materials and ethnography than most Neo-Tantric literature of the last few decades has been. Even so, he seeks to universalize it beyond its original south Asian context. His emphasis on what defines Tantra as such is not so much “sex” (as the typical Neo-tantrist would have it) as it is a dualist metaphysic and transgressive method.

Tantra is compared to ritual magic of the Golden Dawn school throughout the book. In particular, there is a claim that the tattwa materials that circulated in the GD were rooted in the Bengali Tantric text Nature’s Finer Forces published in English by the Theosophical Society. King carefully examines the correlations between the sat chakras and the qabalistic Tree of Life made by Aleister Crowley, J.F.C. Fuller, and Dion Fortune, rendering his own verdict and recommending related practices. He also weighs in on whether Crowley should be viewed–in King’s terms–as “an authentic, if unorthodox, tantric” (76), ultimately answering in the affirmative and citing (without details) various secret instructions of O.T.O. to support the point.

In this book, King has an awful lot of opinions for someone who does not make any direct admission to being an actual practitioner. Most of them sound quite sensible, but it’s reasonable to wonder about the nature of King’s authority when encountering his authoritative tone. His historical speculations on the relationship between the Tantras of different religious traditions (Hindu, Buddhist, Jain) fall within what I understand to be the range of current scholarly views on the topic.

A set of appendices cover such diverse issues and items as psychedelic drug use in “Western tantra” (King’s basically against it), a revision of the invocation of the “Bornless One” for goddess devotions, and a comparison of Taoist “internal alchemy” to parallel Tantric practices.

Deeply hidden characteristics in other souls can be perceived by this organ, but their truth depends on the attainment of immunity from the above-mentioned illusions. For this purpose it is necessary that the student should control and dominate everything that seeks to influence him from outside. He should reach the point of really receiving no impressions beyond those he wishes to receive. This can only be achieved by the development of a powerful inner life; by an effort of the will he only allows such things to impress him to which his attention is directed, and he actually evades all impressions to which he does not voluntarily respond. If he sees something it is because he wills to see it, and if he does not voluntarily take notice of something it is actually non-existent for him.

Rudolf Steiner, How to Know Higher Worlds [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Steiner How to Know Higher Worlds truth depends attainment immunity illusions development powerful inner life effort will only see attention directed voluntarily respond

Spiritual Centers in Man

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Spiritual Centers in Man [Amazon, Publisher, Local Library] by Manly P Hall.

Hall Spiritual Centers in Man

The original and more descriptive title of this booklet was “An Essay on the Fundamental Principles of Operative Occultism.” The earliest copyright given is 1978, so that date may be the one of original publication. It consists of the main essay and a short appended paper. The essay breaks down into several series in different categories.

The first category is “seven cardinal requirements [which] constitute the fundamental ethic of occultism” (19). These “requirements” are on the whole sound enough. Of special note and interest is the adjuration to “shun all kinds of psychism and phenomenalism,” although this part also includes some funniness about “a comparatively high degree of Chelaship” (13-4).

Hall then inventories seven considerations for undertaking training in occultism: access to a teacher, duration of study, obligations of secrecy, hazards of black magic (“Dugpa sorcery”), the ban on commodifying the mysteries, the importance of equilibrium (of mind, body, and spirit), and the esoteric value of profane arts and sciences.

A third heptad is an inventory of the sat chakras. He identifies these with the seven churches of Asia from the Apocalypse, although without crediting James Pryse, whose Apocalypse Unsealed had provided this correlation in much greater detail as early as 1910. Hall does switch the attributions for Smyrna and Pergamos, while qualifying all of his attributions with “probably.” Hall writes, “The story of these centers is clearly set forth in the Book of Revelation, where the seven seals, the seven trumpets, the seven vials, and the seven voices all refer to the spinal centers and the various mysteries concerning them” (37).

Finally, he runs through the eight limbs of raja yoga, or “eight steps of the Yogi School,” devoting two or three paragraphs to each. Among these, he especially identifies pranayama with raising Kundalini in the central column of the body, and warns about its dangers to “the average Occidental” (40).

The paper at the end of the booklet is “A Synthetic Elemental Cross,” in which Hall expounds on cross symbolism generally–emphasizing its universal rather than Christian provenance–with particular reference to a Rose Cross emblem he had designed in 1923.