Tag Archives: religious studies

The Sacrament of Language

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Sacrament of Language: An Archaeology of the Oath [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Giorgio Agamben, translated by Adam Kotsko.

Agamben Kotsko The Sacrament of Language

I have no prior orientation to the larger Homo Sacer project of Giorgio Agamben, in which The Sacrament of Language constitutes part II.3, and it might be argued that this brief text–a mere 72 pages in Adam Kotsko’s translation from the Italian–should have been published with other sections in order to justify its standing as an independent volume. But the topic, sufficiently attractive to get me to read this book, does stand on its own, and Agamben’s treatment is fascinating, albeit distinctly chewy

Rather than accepting the centuries-long tradition of viewing the oath as a rhetorical artifact of a primitive “magico-religious” culture, Agamben insists that the discursive spheres of religion and law were themselves produced by reactions to an essential experience of the oath, which he characterizes as “verediction.” (57) Although unremarked as such by Agamben, this state is also the point of departure for “How the ‘True World’ Finally Became a Fable” in Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols: “I, Plato, am the truth.”

The Sacrament of Language is crucially concerned with the coeval origins of law and religion; it contemplates the tripartite anatomy of the oath as invocation, affirmation, and curse; it details the relationship of the oath to the archaic functions of [con]sacratio and devotio; and it presents the oath and blasphemy as the two sides of a single coin. The theological observations of the book should be of great interest to Thelemites: among other interesting notes about pagan and Abrahamic religions, Agamben references Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas regarding the deity (qui es) invoked in the original anthem of the Gnostic Mass (53).

The supposed context for this entire discussion of the Archaeology of the Oath is a claim advanced by Paolo Prodi in a 1992 work (Il sacramento del potere) that recent generations of the West are participating in “the irreversible decline of the oath” (1). In the final sections of Agamben’s book, he outlines a scenario in which the postmodern condition dissolves the substance of Western ethics, and he proposes “philosophy” as the locus of instruction regarding our possible escape from the dilemma. I certainly appreciate and recommend his speculative philosophy, but it will be in vain unless it is seized by ones who are in fact consecrated and devoted, and put to use in the operative philosophy better known as magick.

A Report on Current Magical and Esoteric Blogs

“A Report on Current Magical and Esoteric Blogs” by Laura Mitchell in the Spring 2013 issue of the Societas Magica Newsletter (PDF Link) includes mention of the Hermetic Library Blog. [HT Sarah Veale]

Societas Magica Newsletter for Spring 2013 (PDF)

I won’t lie: I’m in pretty good company on this short list.

When Mitchell writes that the library blog “is a combination of the more academic-minded and the experiences and thoughts of those engaged in esotericism as a living tradition,” I feel gratified that I’ve apparently been successful in trying to do my little part to bridge some of the traditional divides between town-gown and praxis-theory, and certainly I agree that my musings on the blog are not particularly academic, though I sometimes I do try a bit harder than others, that isn’t my goal necessarily for the blog itself, per se, as much as adding value to the canonical library site as well as having a place for some personal reflective practice, content curation and promotion, and, well … whatever else it is I do!

I’m grouped under the heading of “Hermeticism” along with the blog of the Ritman Library in Amsterdam. One might quibble about the variety of what people mean by “Hermeticism” as opposed to my intentional, personal use of “Hermetism” to generally differentiate between a former modern and a latter historical, or Latin, traditions; just as I’ve tried to be clear about carving out an even additional space for the use of the word “Hermetic” that is distinct, especially as used in the name, and thus prima facie mission statement, of the Hermetic Library; but, ultimately, using “Hermeticism” as the umbrella is fair, pretty normal usage, and certainly matches one aspect of the scope I cover on the blog and at the library, and either way I’m certainly quite flattered, pleased and proud to be included in the list.

You may want to check out Societas Magica itself as well as the other short list of blogs other than this one which are featured.

Mitchell discusses some of the advantages and benefits of the medium in general in the article:

“For those who are not already engaged with the genre, blogging has several advantages as a mode of exchange for scholars. Most importantly, academic blogging is much faster than traditional scholarly media, not only in terms of publishing speed (virtually instant), but also in terms of enabling quick feedback from the reading public. This can make it a good venue for advancing new theories and ideas as well as posting short pieces of the “notes and queries” type. Part and parcel of their greater speed, academic blogs tend to be informal in style, which makes them quick and easy to write, and can be more inviting for readers too. For me, blog posts have sometimes had unexpected professional benefits of various kinds. As a (fairly new) active participant in the academic blogging community, I have found that writing posts gives me a unique opportunity to test out new ideas or examine a subject that I might otherwise avoid because it falls outside of my area of expertise.”

Egil Asperem notes with amusement that this is a round-up of blogs in a newsletter. But, I have to be honest and say the most amusing part for me is when Mitchell says that my blog is “run by an anonymous practitioner (who refers to him or herself as ‘the librarian’)” … which boggles me a little bit, since I think it’s pretty clear who it is behind the mask, so to speak. But, as I have been identified at various times as anonymous, enigmatic and of indeterminate gender as well as being an egotistical self-promoter (based on the same evidence natheless!), I clearly and definitely now have accumulated the necessary mystique and hidden-in-plain-sight misdirection to carry off a double life as both the mild-mannered alter-ego as well as the caped mastermind known as The Librarian. Well, it’s time for me to be off and start that League of Evil now, I suppose! Work, work, work …