Although the vulgar take the donkey as a symbol of ignorance and stupidity, occultists and magicians know better. Cornelius Agrippa, in his Vanity of the Arts and Sciences, praises the ass as a paradigm of virtue. Giordano Bruno, whose heliocentrism was wedded to his hermetic magic, made the donkey a symbol of the highest mystical state in his personal cabala, declaring it to be the Triumphant Beast.
The Metamorphoses of Apuleius, better known as The Golden Ass, is funny and wise; and despite its unrepentant status as a fiction, its later chapters are probably one of the most accurate and detailed accounts from the period regarding the operation of mystery cults in late antiquity. The “Golden” of the title refers to the value of the text. It was written in a florid, storytelling style of Latin, and has a brisk, episodic pace. There are nonetheless many digressions, including the splendid and famous fable of Eros and Psyche, which falls near the center of the text.
Known in his own day as an orator and Platonist philosopher, Apuleius is also important as a reference regarding the status of magic in the ancient world; he was himself accused of criminal sorcery, although he denied it. The central enchantment of the story is the transformation of the protagonist into a donkey.
The literary progeny of these Metamorphoses are countless, as befits a donkey’s instrument! Apuleius’ story has influenced everything from Augustine’s Confessions to Beauty and the Beast. But the original still deserves pride of place.
You may be interested in Voices of Gnosticism and The Gnostic: A Magazine of Gnosticism, Western Esotericism and Spirituality put out by Bardic Press. I saw several issues of The Gnostic at the Esoteric Book Conference and thought they were well done. I regret not picking them up at the time, but they are available still.
“For several years, Miguel Conner has engaged the most prominent writers and scholars on Gnosticism and early Christianity on Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio. These interviews with 13 leading scholars represent one of the best ways to get to know ancient Gnosticism, the movement that has inspired Dan Brown, Philip Pullman, Philip K. Dick and The Matrix movies. Read what the best minds have to say about the Gnostic sects, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas, Mary Magdalene, heresy, the origins of Gnosticism, and the original teachings of Jesus.
Elaine Pagels · Marvin Meyer · Bart Ehrman · Bruce Chilton · Stevan Davies · David Fideler · Birger Pearson · John Turner · Einar Thomassen · Jason BeDuhn · Karen King · Jane Schaberg · April DeConick”
“The first issue of a tri-annual journal on Gnosticism in all its forms. Featuring interviews with Alan Moore and Sethian Gnostic expert John Turner; a complete translation of the Gospel of Judas; Tim Freke on The Gospel of the Second Coming; articles on William Burroughs, Philip K.Dick, the Alternative Judas, Gnosticism and Magic; columns, book reviews and more.”
“The second issue of The Gnostic: A Journal of Gnosticism, Western Esotericism and Spirituality. Featuring an interview with Colin Wilson and an indepth examination of his ideas on the occult. An interview with Tessa Dick, widow of Philip K Dick, plus an excerpt from her memoir and Anthony Peake’s analysis of Dick’s precognitive abilities. An interview with noted scholar April DeConick on the Gospel of John. The Gnosticism of the TV series The Prisoner. Kimetikos, Jeremy Puma’s Gnostic practice. Tony Blake’s meetings with remarkable people including J.G. Bennett, David Bohm and Idries Shah. Articles on asceticism, the symbolism of the Bible, resurrection, Schrodinger’s Gun, a short story by Andrew Phillip Smith. Extensive book reviews, original art and more.”
“The third issue of The Gnostic: A Journal of Gnosticism, Western Esotericism and Spirituality. Featuring a cover by C.G. Jung, Lance Owens on Jung’s Red Book. Interviews with David Tibet of Current 93, Jacob Needleman and Zohar expert Daniel C. Matt. Articles on Gnostic anime, Robert Graves, Gnostic texts, the Gospel of Luke, William Blake, deja vu, coincidence, a ten page comic, reviews and much more.”
“The fourth issue of The Gnostic: A Journal of Gnosticism, Western Esotericism and Spirituality. Alan Moore’s Fossil Angels, an investigation into the contemporary occult scene. Interviews with Stephan Hoeller and Miguel Conner. Anthony Peake on the Quantum Pleroma. Sean Martin tells a Gnostic sci-fi tale. Robert M.Price on the Gnostic Gospel of John. Bill Darlison on the zodiac in the Gospel of Mark. Gnostic influences on Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. The plight of the Mandaeans. The gematria of Marcus the Magician. The Gospel of Thomas, a translation and Fourth Way interpretation. Gnostic politics. John Cowper Powys. The complete text of the Gnosis of the Light–a book within a magazine! Egyptian cat mummies and more. And we review enough books to fill a whole shelf. Cover and interior illustrations by Laurence Caruana.”