Tag Archives: review

The Devil’s Footsteps

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Devil’s Footsteps: A Dr. Caspian Novel of Horror by John Burke.

Burke The Devil's Footsteps

When I picked up this mass-market paperback in a used book store, it looked like a cheesy contemporary occult thriller from the 1970s. I was mistaken, and the book amply exceeded my expectations for it. It is in fact a Victorian period piece featuring a stage magician who is a skeptical member of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) along with an actually telepathic Welsh photographer. They meet in the rural village of Hexney, where the “Devil’s footprints” of the title are a parapsychological manifestation and there’s something sinister about the local traditions.

Although more contemporary in its pacing and voice, this book has distinct commonalities with Arthur Machen’s better work (e.g. “The Shining Pyramid”) and Dunsany’s Blessing of Pan. A cinematic comparandum might be the original Wicker Man. It most reminded me of the later and longer novel by Ramsey Campbell The Hungry Moon.

The magician Doctor Caspian also turns out to be something of a kabbalist, having had some mystical initiation in Prague, although the emphasis on seven sephiroth was a little peculiar. (The narrator names only five: Kether, Chokmah, Binah, Hod, and Yesod.) A couple of chapters near the middle of the book detail Caspian’s competition with and exposure of some mercenary Spiritualists in London; these events are mostly by way of character development, but they were a high point of the tale for me.

The photographer is a woman who has taken on her father’s intellectual pursuits, and she struck a note similar to that of the young Amelia Peabody in the mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. A significant arc of the book is the development of a romantic interest between the two protagonists. . . . [Spoilers: hover over to reveal] . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Some of the representations of metaphysical evil in this book show influence of yog-sothothery, but none of the telltale names of entities or tomes occur to subordinate it to that “mythos.” All in all, it was a solid little novel of weird horror.

Does the New Testament Imitate Homer?

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? Four Cases from the Acts of the Apostles by Dennis R MacDonald.

MacDonald Does the New Testament Imitate Homer?

Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? is a sequel to author Dennis MacDonald’s Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. MacDonald is a scholar of both New Testament Greek and classical literature, and he is in a surprisingly marginal position in advocating for recognition of the direct literary influence of the Greek classics in the Greek Christian scriptures. This second book allows him to extend his thesis considerably and to answer the critics of his earlier work. He generally classes his intellectual opposition as the proponents of “form criticism,” who want to attribute textual similarities to shared genres and “traditional” tropes, as opposed to what MacDonald represents as mimesis (imitation) and authorial craft.

MacDonald is on very firm ground in proposing mimesis as a key ingredient of ancient composition, since many classical texts do instruct writers in this process as well as demonstrate it. In this book, he focuses on four examples where he maintains that “Luke” (the author of Acts) drew on the Illiad for literary substance in tales about the apostles Peter, Paul, and Matthias. (The Illiad was easily the most popular model for literary emulation in antiquity.) Since these particular biblical stories have no corroboration in ancient historical documents, scholars have generally assigned “traditional” or “legendary” provenance to their accounts. MacDonald is able to demonstrate methodically, however, that they have identifiable literary sources in Homer and that mimesis accounts for details that are difficult to reconcile with the usual explanations of these texts.

MacDonald sets out six criteria to support mimetic authorship, and evaluates them in full for each of his cases. The third and fourth of these are the density and sequence of textual similarities, and these are illustrated throughout the book with parallel columns from the Illiad and the Acts of the Apostles. For those able to work with the original language, there is a 12-page appendix giving all of this matter in the original Greek. There are also some Latin texts, used to illustrate mimesis of Homer by other classical authors.

In his introduction, the author raises an important question: “If Homeric influence on the Gospels and Acts is so extensive and significant, why … in two centuries of critical scrutiny have modern scholars not recognized it?” (13) He gives a number of reasonable answers, invoking Thomas Kuhn’s notion of disciplinary paradigms and pointing to specializations of method in the field of New Testament studies. These could be usefully supplemented, though, with the arguments of Jonathan Z. Smith’s Drudgery Divine, which describe the processes by which a crypto-theological agenda has captured religious scholarship, particularly excluding the consideration of “pagan” sources for Christian beliefs and practices.

On the jacket copy of Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? Mary Tolbert is quoted as saying that MacDonald’s earlier work “poses a profound challenge to current scholarship on the history of early Christianity and the historical Jesus.” In his conclusion to this volume, MacDonald declares that Luke “was by no means a credulous editor of tradition but a sophisticated author; it is we, his readers, who have been naïve” (146-7). For all we know, there was a historical Pinocchio, who in some way informed or inspired the work of Carlo Collodi–and thus all his later adapters and imitators. But it is not any underlying “facts” (however unverifiable) that make Pinocchio’s story compelling and relevant. MacDonald is absolutely right to turn the reader’s attention to the literary craft of the writers of scripture.

A Princess of Roumania

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park.

Park A Princess of Roumania

A Princess of Roumania is the opening of a multi-volume fantasy work by Paul Park. It is an ambitious portal fantasy, with a protagonist who is a teenage girl–in our world, anyway. It postulates a reality of which ours is a disposable alternative. It’s an interesting match for my recent viewing of the (commendable) first two seasons of the Amazon television series based on PKD’s Man in the High Castle. In the world where Roumania and Germany struggle for supremacy in Europe, sorcery is possible (though illicit) and mastodons roam a barely-settled North America. The means of transition from one world to the other is a book, with considerable metafictional implication (again, compare The Man in the High Castle).

The heroine Miranda is named after the author’s daughter, and the New England town where the story starts is a match for one in which the author has lived. I was alerted to these para-autobiographical elements by John Crowley’s essay on Park’s fantasy (included in the book Totalitopia), and it was this essay that led me to read the book in the first place. Miranda is reasonably sympathetic, but the strongest characterization in the book is for the villain (?) Baroness Ceaucescu. The omniscient narrator jumps around quite a lot, and the two main viewpoint threads are those for Miranda and the Baroness.

I liked this book very much, and while it would probably satisfy the YA fantasy market these days, it seemed like mature fare to me. It is, as I mentioned at the outset, only a beginning. Despite its considerable length, there is little resolution of the plot, although there are some deaths of principal characters and other crucial events. I expect to continue reading this work, borrowing the subsequent volumes from the public library in due course, while I hope to pass on my copy of the first one to a sympathetic reader.

The Rune Oracle

Bkwyrm reviews The Rune Oracle by Nigel Jackson and Silver RavenWolf in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.

Jackson RavenWolf The Rune Oracle

At first sight, I was impressed by the rune cards that came with this book; the graphics were colorful, well-drawn, and consistent with Germanic imagery and belief. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the book itself. The author does provide some layout methods that I found useful, but her religious background shows in the meaning she gives for each rune. (Norse Wiccans may find them acceptable; Asatruar probably won’t.) She also uses mixed rune names, upright/reversed interpretations, and the blank rune–not a good sign, on the whole. Since there are a few useful tidbits here, though (and GREAT-looking cards!), I’d put this on the “may be useful” list.

The Rosicrucian Enlightenment

Randall Bowyer reviews The Rosicrucian Enlightenment by Frances Yates in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.

Yates The Rosicrucian Enlightenment

At first, the thesis of this book reminds one of conspiracy fantasies like Holy Blood, Holy Grail. It takes a while to accept the idea that Rosicrucianism began as an odd sort of political propaganda for the Palatine Elector Frederick V, but Yates has piled up enough evidence that one eventually gives in. Occasionally her evidence is inconclusive, and now and then it is just silly (e.g., on p. 160 she sees the Rose Cross motif in a picture of a table with roses on it, where the “cross” is obviously no more than the truss-and-wedge which holds the table together!), but still Yates is onto something. An appendix provides the texts of the Fama and the Confessio, making the book useful even if you’re not interested in the author’s theory.

The Rites of Odin

Ingeborg Svea Norden reviews The Rites of Odin by Ed Fitch in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.

Fitch The Rites of Odin

Made-up runes, calls to the elements, Christian and pagan elements mixed willy-nilly–plus a lot of the author’s personal agenda, like the idea that pagans should feel bad about not getting married and having kids. If this is what real Asatruar are supposed to believe, it’s no wonder that outsiders confuse them with Nazis, Wiccans, or New Agers.

The R’lyeh Text

Majere, Pr.ODF reviews The R’lyeh Text by Robert Turner, introduction by Colin Wilson; in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.

Turner The R'lyeh Text

Another contributor has something to say about The R’lyeh Text:

This volume is a supplement to George Hays’ “Necronomicon: The Book Of Dead Names”, and is basically more of the same. Again, ignore the spurious “fragments” of garbage purporting to be pages from the Necronomicon and read the essays instead. If anything, they are even better than those in the previous volume – dealing with subjects incl. the Egyptian mysteries, Atlantis, creation myths, Lovecraft’s literary inspirations, and the tenuous Crowley-Lovecraft connection. Still, it’s certainly not to everyone’s tastes but as trash, it’s quite readable.

The R’lyeh Text

Julianus reviews The R’lyeh Text by Robert Turner, introduction by Colin Wilson; in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.

Turner The R'lyeh Text

This latest in a long line of H.P. Lovecraft pastiches is a sequel to Hay’s bogus Necronomicon of the 70’s, and it reassembles all the usual suspects from that project for … more of the same. Mr Hay’s editorial style is unusual in that, whereas the editor’s normal job is to prune irrelevancies leaving a concise text, here he has left nothing BUT irrelevancies to baffle the reader’s mind. From the crocodile-infested cover to Colin Wilson’s rambling introduction to Patricia Shore’s oblique concluding essay we are left feeling strangely … unfulfilled. It is especially ironic to see that Robert Turner is behind this, as he spent a good portion of his Elizabethan Magic fulminating against the Golden Dawn for making “inauthentic” additions to Dee’s Enochian system, and now he’s marketing THIS as the decoded contents of Dee’s cypher manuscripts! The supposed “main text” itself is rather inadequate and certainly nothing compared to the original it attempts to ape.

(Quite honestly, if these people continue to take their own insipidities and pass them off as my work, I will have no choice but to take the matter up with my Patrons.
– A. Alhazred )

The Prophet

Magdalene Meretrix reviews The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.

Gibran The Prophet

This timeless classic of mystic philosophy, written in 1923, has long been a favorite for contemplations, weddings and funerals. The story, subordinate to the philosophy, is of a prophet waiting for a ship to arrive and carry him away from the island where he has been living for the last twelve years. His voyage is apparently an allegory for death.

The villagers have gathered to see Almustafa, the Prophet, off on his journey and while they watch his ship grow nearer, they take turns asking him to speak on love, marriage, children, giving, eating and drinking, work, joy and sorrow, houses, clothes, buying and selling, crime and punishment, laws, freedom, reason and passion, pain, self-knowledge, teaching, friendship, talking, time, good and evil, prayer, pleasure, beauty, religion and death. Each of Almustafa’s responses to these questions is a chapter, a poem, a meditation.

Although the author uses the word “God” quite liberally, the text is not specific to any one religion nor is it intrusively preachy or pedantic. Rather it is uplifting and inspiring and even the spiritual atheist can find jewels of wisdom therein.

The Pathworkings of Aleister Crowley

Randall Bowyer reviews The Pathworkings of Aleister Crowley: The Treasure House of Images by J F C Fuller, with Aleister Crowley, David Cherubim, Lon Milo DuQuette, Christopher S Hyatt, and Nancy Wasserman; in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.

Fuller The Pathworkings of Aleister Crowley

This book contains 2 1/2 pages by Crowley, no pathworkings at all, and 57 pages of Really Basic Introductory Stuff – typical New Falcon pabulum. The main text is The Treasure-House of Images, being 90 pages of dreadful poetry by J.F.C. Fuller (who, you may notice, gets no credit on the title-page).

Like other books from these guys, this one seems to be written for either intermediate students or total beginners, depending on what page you read. If you’re advanced enough to create your own pathworkings but have not yet learned the Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, then this book is for you!