Tag Archives: review

Loose Ends

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Loose Ends: Schism, Betrayal, Longing, Masturbation, Abandonment, and other Primary Papers in Archetypal Psychology by James Hillman.

Hillman Loose Ends

The subtitle classes this collection of papers as “Primary Papers in Archetypal Psychology,” and they are primary in the sense of being–as Hillman writes of Jung’s typology (now best known in its development through the Myers-Briggs assessment)–“elementary, both in the sense of fundament and also in the sense of preliminary, merely a primary step” (189) in Hillman’s development of his distinctive archetypal psychology, developed on the basis of work at the C.G. Jung institute, where he studied with Jung and subsequently served as Director of Studies. 

This context is set out most clearly in the second half of the volume, with four papers classed as “Theories,” of which two concern “archetypal psychology” as such: the first being a discussion of Hillman’s preference for that phrase, and the second being a chapter that he prepared on his theoretical approach for inclusion in a survey textbook. Another “Theory” concerns “Methodological Problems in Dream Research,” which raised more questions than it offered answers. In this 1963 paper, Hillman was just starting to consider the possible relevance of mid-20th century sleep lab research to the development of theories of dreaming. As it happens, that research does not figure in his later—and quite excellent—work on The Dream and the Underworld, which presents his more fully-formed “archetypal” dream theory and fulfills the dissatisfaction with Freudian theory expressed here. The remaining “Theory” paper addresses the perspective that Jungian psychology shares with Neoplatonism in both Antiquity and the Renaissance, particularly in the persons of Plotinus, Marsilio Ficino, and Giambattista Vico. 

The first half of the book is made up of papers called “Themes,” which treat particular topics within the field of archetypal psychology. All of these are provocative in one sense or another, and some of them had special value for me as a Thelemite. The paper on “Abandoning the Child” supports a plea for a “psychology less given over to the child, its woes and romanticism.” (46) Hillman looks for a release from the “dominance of the child archetype” in order to recover the imaginative power that has been deposited in the “child” of rationalized fantasies. The immediately following paper treats “The Nostalgia of the Puer Aeternus” with a classically-oriented analysis that culminates in a paean regarding desire for union with the Holy Guardian Angel. A paper on “Betrayal” treats it as having initiatory value for both the betrayer and the betrayed. The paper “Towards the Archetypal Model for the Masturbation Inhibition” was especially interesting in its insightful treatment of a critical question rarely framed in such a manner.

The polytheistic and anti-instrumentalist perspectives that are so characteristic of Hillman’s later writing are evident in these papers, which are nevertheless more conventionally psychoanalytical in their presentation. I would recommend this book to someone who has already read and enjoyed some of Hillman’s later and more popular work, or who is approaching him for the first time but with prior familiarity with psychoanalytic literature. [via]

The Mummy Case

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters.

Peters The Mummy Case

This third volume of the Amelia Peabody stories brings her young son Ramses Emerson into his own as a character. The “romantic” element between the adult Emersons is even more hilariously overplayed than in the previous books, and the supporting cast is also full of funnier characters than before. [via]

Alan Moore’s Light of Thy Countenance

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Alan Moore’s Light of Thy Countenance by Alan Moore and Felipe Massafera.

 The Light of thy Countenance

Although Alan Moore’s principal fame is as a writer of comic books, he wrote Light of Thy Countenance as a straight prose piece, and I can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t be more effective that way. It’s not that I have any objections to the general pacing and structure of the adaptation by Antony Johnston, and the fully-painted illustrations by Felipe Massafera are all wonderful in their way. But the words of Moore’s “story” are so powerful and still so challenging to digest, I’m afraid that the other elements of this comic book repackaging might distract from the text more than amplify it.

I put “story” in scare quotes, because the narrative element is rather slight, even though much of the text is built around a chronology. The genre here is actually that of an oracle: the thoughts of a god reduced to human language. And the god is the transcendent self-consciousness of Television, regarding with sublime contempt the human psyches that it exploits and impoverishes. “I am the silence of the will,” it declares. “I am the last voice you will ever hear.” 

Even Cronenberg’s film Videodrome couldn’t make TV as creepy as this Light does. There’s nothing supernatural or counterfactual in Moore’s treatment. It’s just a brutal confrontation with the global and individual consequences of the mass psychological experiment cum global cult called commercial television. All that makes it fiction is giving the phenomenon an honest single voice. [via]

The World’s Tragedy

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The World’s Tragedy by Aleister Crowley. This book can also be found at the library at The World’s Tragedy.

Crowley The World's Tragedy

Why did Aleister Crowley hate Christianity so much? You would too, if you were “Alec.” The long autobiographical preface to The World’s Tragedy makes his personal motivation abundantly clear. The main text of the book is a play in verse, re-writing the entire Gospel myth to subordinate it to the worldview of Crowley’s “Pagan rapture,” and soundly trashing all of the fondest and most revered of Christian imaginings. 

A prologue in “The Garden of Eros” translates the Christian Trinity into a not-even-demiurgic threesome of schemers in an antelapsarian Arcadia. The first act is “The Red Star,” in which an act of child sacrifice (what else?) inaugurates the drama, and the spiritual life of humanity turns toward the darkness of Christianity. In “The White Wind,” the annunciation is supplanted with a depiction of the rape of the Virgin Mary by a Roman centurion (an allegation advanced in antiquity by both critics and believers of Christianity). “The Blue Dwarf” is the act that presents the nativity of Jesus, who comes forth as a bottle-bound genie, under the sage appraisals of the magi. The fourth act is “The Black Bean,” showing unpleasant domestic relations among Jesus and two “beloved disciples” (John and Magda). The final section crucifies Jesus in the “thick darkness of the Emptiness of Things,” and heralds the act as the beginning of the end of classical virtue, descending into “The Grey Night” of Christianity.

The second printing of the New Falcon Press edition includes two additional pieces of font matter. An introduction by Israel Regardie describes his own personal relationship to the text, as well as vouching for its literary quality and keen sense of humor. The foreword by Hyatt and DuQuette places the 1991 republication of the book in the context of aggressive political reaction on the part of fundamentalist Christians in the USA. The two also mention that the play had at that time never been staged.

I have talked with Thelemites from time to time who think it would be rewarding to publicly stage this often hilarious and unquestionably blasphemous work. In truth, it would not be worth the bother to amass the necessary resources for a full and polished production. The play is almost entirely destructive and anti-Christian: its final message of messianism for a new Aeon is too cryptic to communicate effectively to profane audiences. On the other hand, individual acts can make excellent reader’s theater for consumption among the cognoscenti. They can even be timed to the liturgical calendar: I have enjoyed seeing “The Blue Dwarf” put on as the Worst Xmas Pageant Ever. [via]

Rabelaisian Dialectic and the Platonic-Hermetic Tradition

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Rabelaisian Dialectic and the Platonic-Hermetic Tradition by G Mallary Masters.

Masters Rabelaisian Dialectic and the Platonic-Hermetic Tradition

This fairly modest monograph occasionally references the excellent study on similar lines by Florence Weinberg, The Wine and the Will, which was at that time still an unpublished dissertation. Masters is a little less provocative than Weinberg, and his routine habit of quoting brief phrases from Rabelais in the original French certainly slowed me down. He is principally concerned to identify the ways in which Platonic and Hermetic themes inform the five books of Rabelais, and to situate those themes as elements of a dialectic for which the basic design is the unification of opposites. While admitting that the distinction is somewhat artificial, Masters divides the analysis between Platonic and Hermetic themes. He construes these as having complementary concerns: “Platonic idealism vs. Hermetic naturalism, or intuitive reason vs. empiricism,” the latter pairing of which fits into his enantiodromian scheme. (8)

Masters makes much of the reference to Plato’s Symposium in the description of Gargantua’s jewel (Gargantua, ch. VIII)—without actually mentioning that it is explicit in Rabelais’ text! (17-20) He also works to connect the concept of pantagruelisme to a Platonic sense of cosmic harmony, in which symbols mediate between noumena and phenomena. With some difficulty, Masters tries to demonstrate the “Platonic” character of Rabelais by emphasizing the use of allegory and poetry to convey truths that transcend rational discourse. While it is true that Plato himself used myths to crucial effect in various dialogues, it is also notoriously the case that he argued in the Republic (X, 595-607) for the abolition of poetry and suppression of poets. Inasmuch as Plato claimed a method for the approach to truth, it was that of philosophical dialectic. The examination of extraordinary states of consciousness (frenzies or furores) in the Phaedrus seems to suggest other avenues to truth, but Masters reserves discussion of those for the next part of his study.

The pivotal section of Rabelaisian Dialectic is the one that is the most coherent and effectively argued. In it, he begins with the convivial aspect of drinking, by which voluntary socialization manifests a refined society. From there, he progresses to the imbibing of the colloquium, through which discourse is decanted. He concludes with the Dionysiac frenzy, a divine light dawning by means of initiatory inebriation. This chapter is intended to bridge between the mystical business of “Rabelais Platonicus” and the magical matters of “Rabelais Hermeticus.” 

In the chapter on Hermetic themes Masters acknowledges Rabelais’ borrowings from Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, but these are in fact underestimated, probably because Masters did not have the advantage of the excellent and comprehensive 1999 Godwin translation of the Hypnerotomachia. This chapter also includes reflection on Rabelais’ attitudes toward the “black arts” and the empirical sciences. Masters suggests that the principal characters Pantagruel, Friar John, and Panurge could be an allegory for the psychic anatomy, in which Pantagruel represents the transcendent intuition, Friar John the discursive reason, and Panurge the appetitive passions. Accordingly, he understands the culmination of the Cinquiesme Livre to represent the redemption of the base appetites, and the reintegration of the soul through initiatory frenzy.

Like Weinberg, Masters is anxious to keep Rabelais as the proper author of the Cinquiesme Livre, with its overtly Hermetic conclusion; and Masters dedicates an appendix to this purpose. His evidence, however, is limited to demonstrations of thematic unity between the books, which could still result from the efforts of an able posthumous ghostwriter or redactor. In fact, one point that Masters cites as supporting his case seems to damage it: he writes of “Rabelais’ acceptance of woman as the means of salvation of man and the cosmos.” (104) While he alleges that the exaltation of feminine figures in the final chapters of the Cinquiesme Livre is prefigured by the role of women in the Abbey of Theleme in Gargantua, I’m far from persuaded. In fact the very different treatment of femininity and feminine figures seems to set the last book apart from its predecessors.

In any case, I enjoyed Rabelaisian Dialectic. In many instances, I thought the author could have pursued his points further. But for those interested in Rabelais as an esoteric author in his own right, or as a resource for later esoteric thinkers, the study is worth a read. [via]

The Body of Light

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Body of Light: History and Practical Techniques for Awakening Your Subtle Body by John Mann and Lar Short, illustrated by Juan Li.

Mann Short Li The Body of Light

Despite the title, this volume is not concerned with the “body of light” (a.k.a. the “astral body”) as described in Aleister Crowley’s Magick. The Mann & Short book is instead a quite digestible primer on subtle anatomy, emphasizing a comparative approach that references Hindu tantra, esoteric Buddhism, and Taoist lore regarding chakras, meridians, and the like. It’s about the the body in your body, more than your body for out-of-the-body. (I don’t want to suggest that these two topics have nothing to do with one another, but they do reflect different immediate goals and techniques.) The authors also provide a bank of helpful exercises that are relatively free of sectarian or ideological baggage. 

On the whole, the scholarship involved is rather slight. There are only four sources cited for the entire survey of “The Hindu Tradition.” The chapter on “Other Traditions” does not impress with its attempt to incorporate a kabbalistic perspective; the authors describe the kabbalah as if it were a monolithic tradition internal to and coeval with Judaism, and then they use non-Jewish occultist Dion Fortune as their principal resource on its specifics. The book would have benefited–as its readers may still–from appreciating the material offered in Israel Regardie’s The Middle Pillar, although to go further and examine the Thelemic version offered in Liber V vel Reguli would certainly have exceeded the scope of this introductory text. 

The authors are at admirable pains to highlight the differences among the traditions that they treat, and they avoid both sloppy syncretism and flippant subjectivism. Although I have not attempted all of the practices that they recommend, they are described clearly, and all seem worthy of sincere exercise. [via]

The Perfumed Garden of the Shaykh Nefzawi

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Perfumed Garden of the Shaykh Nefzawi by Shaykh Nefzawi, translated by Sir Richard Francis Burton.

Nefzawi Burton Walton The Perfumed Garden

Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Nafzawi’s 15th-century treatise Er Roud el Aater p’nezaha el Khater on the amatory arts is consciously written in the tradition of the Kama Sutra, and he refers respectfully to the existing Indian literature on his topic. I found it abundantly more entertaining than the Indian texts, though. For one thing, it is chock full of anecdotes and parables, and this narrative element gives it a richness that is lacking in the esteemed Indian classic. 

Nor is it short on technical detail. When the author provides instruction in the postures most suitable to coitus between short and tall, fat and thin, it seems helpful enough, but when he goes on to different sorts of hunchbacks I began to wonder if he was just trying to dazzle with his encyclopaedism. Modern readers will also be justly skeptical of the abundant apothecary recommendations. The medical lore of Nafzawi includes a pronounced fear that any fluid might ever enter the male urethra, with warnings of the dire consequences. In a related trope, he also often emphasizes the desirability of dryness of the vagina, even during the act of coition (viz. Chapter 13).

Chapter 11 “On the Deceits and Treacheries of Women” contains some of the most delightful stories. Whether their moralization (and similar remarks throughout the book) points to Nefzawi’s own misogyny or to the anticipated chauvanism of his readership is impossible to determine, but they can be read quite differently than to “Appreciate … the deceitfulness of women, and what they are capable of.” In his description of “Women who Deserve to be Praised,” Nefzawi emphasizes their deference and dependence, which is no mark in his favor, but also is at odds with some of the narrative elements. A feminist Straussian reading of this book would be incredibly tendentious, but great fun nevertheless!

My favorite part of the book was chapters 8 & 9 “On the Sundry Names Given to the Sexual Parts” of men and women, respectively. The various titles might be used as secretly auspicious nicknames for people, and Nefzawi goes a far sight beyond Aleister Crowley’s “Glossary of Synonyms and Phrases from ‘The Nameless Novel,'” in that the Arabic author provides specific characterizations expounding on the qualities indicated by each name. 

My copy is the Castle Books edition of the Burton translation, which provides no editorial framing whatsoever beyond the front flap of the dust jacket, with its three paragraphs of sales copy. [via]

Hero of Dreams

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Hero of Dreams by Brian Lumley.

Lumley Hero of Dreams

This book is the first of a series by Lumley set in the Dreamlands of H.P. Lovecraft, a milieu first devised for such stories as “Celephais” and “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.” But the tone of Lumley’s yarn doesn’t manage to carry forward the neo-Dunsanian atmosphere that Lovecraft cultivated. Nor–despite a smattering of allusions to Titus Crow and his adventures–is it really a match for other more Cthulhu-oriented Lovecraftian yarns that I’ve read by Lumley. Instead, it reminded me of nothing so much as the Dying Earth stories by Jack Vance. It has a similar tongue-in-cheek feel of fantastic, almost psychedelic contrivance; which is not to say that it is in any sense laborious. The story was an effortlessly digestible confection. And despite the promise of further volumes, it provided a complete and satisfying plot. [via]

The God of Socrates

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The God of Socrates by Apuleius, foreword by Daniel Driscoll.

Apuleius The God of Socrates

This Apuleius text is a crucial example of middle Platonism, and a key source for theology of the augoeides (or “peculiar genius”) in antiquity. “[T]he daemon who presides over you inquisitively participates of all that concerns you, sees all things, understands all things, and in the place of conscience dwells in the most profound recesses of the mind.” (37)

This particular edition is the final product of Daniel Driscoll’s Heptangle Books imprint, due to Driscoll’s death in 1993. It was issued posthumously, and it looks as though the work may have been incomplete. There are a handful of minor text errors unusual for the craft typically shown in these books. As is customary for Heptangle books, the volume is beautifully typeset in a Bembo font, printed on heavy acid-free stock, and bound by hand. 

Driscoll is credited with the foreword, but no translator is indicated, nor is there an attribution for the numerous explanatory footnotes. Based on the content and style of the footnotes, I strongly suspect the work of Thomas Taylor (d. 1835), but perhaps Driscoll did even more for this book than I am at first willing to credit.

On Deception

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews On Deception by Harry Houdini, foreword by Darren Brown.

Houdini Brown On Deception

This slender volume is engaging reading for any student of the history of stage magic. It is full of curious anecdotes and interesting trivia, including ones bearing on the sharp rivalries of performers. When it discusses Houdini’s own methods, it is impressive in showing the length to which a performer’s preparatory disciplines can extend. 

Houdini’s prose is generally sufficient to the task, but nothing much to be admired. It’s no wonder he hired H.P. Lovecraft as a ghostwriter for the story “Under the Pyramids.” (LibraryThing reviewer saroz suggests that even the essays in On Deception may have been ghostwritten, perhaps by William Brown Gibson.) 

A posthumous collection of articles, this book does not hold together well as a single work. It sort of fades away at the end, with the last section of the final part treating the decidedly marginal topic of “Defiers of Poisonous Reptiles.” 

The foreword by contemporary British magician Derren Brown is entertaining and insightful.