Our society doesn’t prepare people to deal with most of the challenges we actually end up facing. Stress, overwhelm, constant worry, the breakup of meaningful relationships, death of loved ones—these are just a few of the aspects of life that our schooling never addresses.
“Religion & the Decline of Magic is Keith Thomas’s classic history of the magical beliefs held by people on every level of English society in the 16th and 17th centuries and how these beliefs were a part of the religious and scientific assumptions of the time. It is not only a major historical and religious work, but a thoroughly enjoyable book filled with fascinating facts and original insights into an area of human nature that remains controversial today—the belief in the supernatural that still continues in the modern world.” — back cover
“VRIL, mankind’s occult power of the future, and the kind of life and society created by its use in the interior of the earth, is the vivid picture presented in this book. Written 100 years ago by Lord Bulwer-Lytton, famous English Rosicrucian, statesman and author (see: Zanoni, a Rosicrucian Tale another Steiner-book), VRIL, his last book, stands as stern warning and reliable witness to his profound concern for the future welfare of mankind.
VRIL made today’s science-fiction books possible and interesting, but VRIL itself was a serious and prophetic testament that man today must pay heed to, if he is to survive, and become MAN.” — back cover
The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord, newly translated and annotated by Ken Knabb, is due March, 2014. You can check out the text of this online at the Bureau of Public Secrets, and pre-order the print edition via AK Press.
The Society of the Spectacle, originally published in Paris in 1967, has been translated into more than twenty other languages and is arguably the most important radical book of the twentieth century. This is the first edition in any language to include extensive annotations, clarifying the historical allusions and revealing the sources of Debord’s ‘détournements.’
Contrary to popular misconceptions, Debord’s book is neither an ivory tower ‘philosophical’ discourse nor a mere expression of ‘protest.’ It is a carefully considered effort to clarify the most fundamental tendencies and contradictions of the society in which we find ourselves. This makes it more of a challenge, but it is also why it remains so pertinent nearly half a century after its original publication while countless other social theories and intellectual fads have come and gone.
It has, in fact, become even more pertinent than ever, because the spectacle has become more all-pervading than ever — to the point that it is almost universally taken for granted. Most people today have scarcely any awareness of pre-spectacle history, let alone of anti-spectacle possibilities. As Debord noted in his follow-up work, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1988), ‘spectacular domination has succeeded in raising an entire generation molded to its laws.’ [via]
How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics by Calvert Watkins, a 1995 paperback from Oxford University Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.
“In How to Kill a Dragon Calvert Watkins follows the continuum of poetic formulae in Indo-European languages, from Old Hittite to medieval Irish. He uses the comparative method to reconstruct traditional poetic formulae of considerable complexity that stretch as far back as the original common language. Thus, Watkins reveals the antiquity and tenacity of the Indo-European poetic tradition.
Watkins begins this study with an introduction to the field of comparative Indo-European poetics; he explores the Saussurian notions of synchrony and diachrony, and locates the various Indo-European traditions and ideologies of the spoken word. Further, his overview presents case studies on the forms of verbal art, with selected texts drawn from Indic, Iranian, Greek, Latin, Hittite, Armenian, Celtic, and Germanic languages.
In the remainder of the book, Watkins examines in detail the structure of the dragon/serpent-slaying myths, which recur in various guises throughout the Indo-European poetic tradition. He finds the ‘signature’ formula for the myth—the divine hero who slays the serpent or overcomes adversaries—occurs in the same linguistic form in a wide range of sources and over millennia, including Old and Middle Iranian holy books, Greek epic, Celtic and Germanic sagas, down to Armenian oral folk epic of the last century. Watkins argues that this formula is the vehicle for the central theme of a proto-text, and a central part of the symbolic culture of speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language: the relation of humans to their universe, the values and expectations of their society. Therefore, he further argues, poetry was a social necessity for Indo- European society, where the poet could confer on patrons what they and their culture valued above all else: ‘imperishable fame.'” — back cover
The Magic Bishop – Hugo Ball is an essay written by Anne Crossey, an artist and student of esotericism working in Cork, IE, which may be of intererest.
“Dada was an attempt to return ‘through the innermost alchemy of the word’ to a more magical, playful reality through overturning of all the conventions associated with civilized adult society—drawing on African, Nordic and Sanskrit traditions, the Cabaret Voltaire was a riot of nonsense, play, colour, and noise—a giant, noisy incantation against all the ills of the world.
Dada was ‘the heart of words’.
It was a fight. It was a magical battle.” [via]
This volume is a fairly comprehensive treatment of the idea and social phenomenon of church laity in the first half-millennium of the Christian era. For the first 40% of that period, according to author Faivre, the laity did not even exist as such, and it was only in the third century that the laity followed the clergy into being as a distinction within the larger population of Christians.
“The layman is a strange being, subject to mutation, born the prisoner of an analogy, conditioned by a climate of conflict and formed in a cultic environment. There is nothing to indicate that this mutating being should be called upon to become a species.” (21)
Early factors in the development of a concept of laity were the growth of church populations, official persecutions, and efforts to define the nature of the clergy. Other pressures came into play after Christianity was endorsed and subsidized by the empire. The rough arc traced in this book is one from the nonexistence of laity, to its presence as a virtuous subset of male Christians (from which clergy might be drawn), to its role as a mutually-exclusive and inferior complement to the clergy. Finally, the monk is introduced as a tirtium quid, drawing at first on lay aspirations alien to the administration of the church, but quickly becoming implicated with the clergy in a complex economy of holiness.
Faivre is a French Catholic academic, and he seems to handle his sources fairly. In his conclusion, he suggests that 20th-century concerns with the status and powers of the laity were paralleled by the tensions and mutations evident in the early centuries of the church, and he proposes that these are evidence of a major historical transition in the relationship of Christianity to society. [via]
The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.