Tag Archives: T Polyphilus

Jezebel

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Jezebel: The Untold Story of the Bible’s Harlot Queen by Lesley Hazleton.

Hazleton has been a journalist and a psychologist in Israel, and she puts both sets of experience to good use in Jezebel, an exploration of the historical figure behind the woman who is the supposed villain of the biblical book of Kings. The great Scarlet Woman of the Old Testament proves to be a very effective focus for viewing the cultures and politics of the ancient near east, and the development of Hebrew monotheism.

Although the book is very pleasant and speedy reading, the author musters a great deal of the latest archaeology and comparative ancient literature to provide persuasive reconstructions of the people and places from the biblical account. The Tyrian princess Isha-Baal (i.e. Jezebel) emerges from this book as a figure whose integrity is evident in the Bible despite the efforts of its redactors, and the court dynamics of the vanished city of Jezreel create a paradigm for “culture wars” in subsequent ages.

To all this, Halzleton adds her own experiences of visiting various sites where the story of Kings is supposed to have occurred, a device which helps her to tie reflections about gender, power politics, and religious fanaticism in ancient Israel together with the same topics in modernity. [via]

The Order of the Solar Temple

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Order of the Solar Temple: The Temple of Death, edited by James R Lewis.

There is little durable literature on the Order of the Solar Temple in English, but the group’s nature and catastrophic demise is extremely important to understanding the situation of minority religions and occult groups in the Francophone world. Over seventy members of this society, constituting the greater part of its core membership, murdered each other and suicided in a few ritual events over the course of three years in the mid-1990s.

Many of the authors in this volume of collected papers evaluate the inevitable comparisons–even drawn by Solar Temple members themselves–with the nearly contemporaneous Branch Davidian massacre in Texas, as well as the later Heaven’s Gate UFO cult suicides and the earlier People’s Temple of Jim Jones. Ultimately, such comparisons or contrasts are unenlightening because even these better-known groups are poorly understood; and in the absence of further supporting detail, the authors seem to be passing judgment on the basis of superficial media representations. In other respects, it’s difficult to generalize about this fairly diverse group of papers.

There is some predictable redundancy among chapters all written in parallel; each reestablishes the basic scenario of the deaths of the members and their discovery, but each emphasizes different aspects of the Solar Temple culture and organization. Papers that stand out for their particular usefulness include Jean-Francois Meyer’s 1993 (i.e. pre-“Transit”) study of the society, Susan Palmer’s analysis using Mary Douglas’ religious purity model, George Chryssides’ discussion of the original sources for Solar Temple teachings, and Henrik Bogdan’s account of the ceremonial rituals of the Temple.

The second paper in the volume, written by Massimo Introvigne for CESNUR in 1995, provides an impressively clear summary of the history of neo-Templarism as a context for the Solar Temple, and raises a number of questions regarding agency and responsibility surrounding the deaths which have yet to be decisively answered, and perhaps never will be. Contrasting with Introvigne’s clarity, the penultimate paper, Marc Labelle on “The Ordre du Temple Solaire and the Quest for the Absolute Sun,” is an attempt to explain the Solar Temple teachings, but culminates in a stretch of unintelligible metaphysical prose that seems to be purely Labelle’s own.

The book also helpfully furnishes the reader with two primary documents: the “Testaments” released by the leadership of the Solar Temple on the occasion of their primary “Transit,” and the ritual text for a ceremony of initiation. [via]

Logicomix

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H Papadimitriou, ill by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna.

Logicomix is a genre-defying graphic novel, a metafictional (the authors insist on the logical term “self-referential”) biography of the logician Bertrand Russell, bringing him face-to-face with other champions and challengers of logic in the first half of the 20th century–whether they really met or not. A recurrent conundrum presents the close relationship between madness and the discipline of logic, and putting Russell’s account into a speech that he gave in the US in 1939 places the essential questions in the context of decisions about war and peace. A 21st-century frame story is set in Athens, thus alluding to the ancient foundations of logical thought, as well as the dramatic form of tragedy, to which author Doxiadis (but not Papadimitriou) refers Russell’s saga.

As the authors are at pains to point out, this book is not a primer on logic in comic form, nor is it really about logic as such. It is about the people who are driven to pursue this line of inquiry, and the stresses and rewards involved with it. At the same time, the story can and should be inspirational to anyone who might want to look into the discipline. I was a little disappointed that the apparent dead-end of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem was allowed to stand as a terminus of axiomatic logic as a whole, with only the algorithmic enterprises of Turing and Von Neumann as a coda. As a fan of G. Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form, I know that the trail didn’t end there, and I would have relished some other pointers. But to give the authors their due, they did accomplish their stated goal to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end–even if the end was “incompleteness.” (Contrast a story that was complete at endlessness.) And they did a good job of it too.

Considering how much of the story necessarily takes place in speech — both to communicate abstractions, and because the two chief framing devices are conversation and lecture — there is really a lot to look at in this book. The artists have rendered all of the historical figures and situations in a streamlined but serious style that amplifies all of the emotional coloration involved with the tale. The book reads amazingly quickly: it’s a fat tome, but if you’re a reader like me, it will be over far too quickly, forcing you to look for a dissimilar sequel in something like Gödel’s Proof or Fuller’s Critical Path. [via]

Gödel’s Proof

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Gödel’s Proof by Ernest Nagel and James R Newman.

The authors provide an overview of Kurt Gödel’s 1931 proof regarding axiomatic demonstration in arithmetic. Gödel constructed his proof on the basis of Principia Mathematica by Whitehead and Russell, but this treatment does not presume a familiarity with that text. It does, however, place Gödel’s work in the larger context of efforts to axiomatize arithmetic, an agenda notably defined by David Hilbert. The first five chapters set the stage for Gödel’s proof in the history of mathematics and philosophy, while the fifth chapter discusses a critical idea underlying the operation of the proof. The long sixth chapter discusses the actual techniques and conclusions of the proof itself. A valuable final chapter outlines the larger implications and consequences, most especially and usefully discouraging misreadings which amount to “an invitation to despair or an excuse for mystery-mongering.” (101) Interestingly, a secondary conclusion that they do support, is that algorithmic computers are unlikely ever to attain the equivalent of human consciousness. Gödel himself took his proof as support for a position of philosophical Realism, although it’s not conclusive in that regard.

For anyone interested in the beauty of logic or the elegance of math, the mechanisms of Gödel’s proof are impressive. This book by Nagel and Newman reads quickly–for a math book. The reader must be prepared to slow down and spend five to ten minutes on a page when getting into the thick of the mathematical concepts in use. The reward of doing so is an appreciation of an intellectual event that provided a turning-point in the philosophy of knowledge. [via]

Aetheric Mechanics

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Aetheric Mechanics by Warren Ellis.

Ellis tells a tidy little story here, reminiscent of the work he used to do on Planetary, but without the attraction of continuing characters. Pagliarani’s black-and-white art is full of detail, with a limited variation in line weight, which makes it slow to take in; but it suits the mood and subject-matter of the piece, set in a “1907 London” of antigravity airships, videolinks, and war with Ruritania. Ellis’ usual talent for dialogue is evident in the Edwardian banter. Ostensibly a murder mystery, the story eventually becomes something else. [via]

The Theosophical Enlightenment

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Theosophical Enlightenment by Joscelyn Godwin.

Many educated people “know” that the occultist and theosophical currents are fundamentally anti-rational, politically reactionary, and in opposition to the forces of liberalism and modernization. This wide-ranging history by Godwin demonstrates rather the reverse in many cases, with studies of the individuals and groups of the 18th and 19th centuries who developed the conceptual worlds of occultism, including theorists of phallic and solar religion, mesmerists, spiritualists, esoteric Freemasons, theosophists, and orientalists.

When this book was written in 1994, the author was explicitly aware of the lack of models for academic work in this field. Happily and deservedly, it has itself become one. It remains indispensable for readers who want to appreciate the historical situation and genealogies of such phenomena as modern initiatory societies, hidden adepts, and visionary divination. [via]

Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth by Henry Corbin.

Although written in part as a continuation of Corbin’s Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi, this volume stands on its own, and is perhaps of even more general interest. In it, the author proposes an esoteric continuity in Iranian religion from Zoroastrian antiquity to the present, and for his demonstration he focuses on comparing the “Mazdean Imago Terrae” to the “Mystical Earth of Hurqalya.” These are respectively Zoroastrian and Muslim approaches to the Celestial Earth of the title, while the Spiritual Body is represented through the systems of pneumatology which Corbin classes as a “fundamental theme” of Shi’ite gnosis (77), also prefigured in Mazdean doctrines. Following Corbin’s essays, the larger part of the book is filled with eleven selected translations from Shi’ite mystics, presented chronologically from Suhrawardi in the 12th century to Shaikh Ahmad Ahsa’i in the 19th.

Corbin is a very demanding writer, and although this book is rewarding, it is no easy read. Not only is he an expert in a culture strange to most Anglophone readers (and he is unconcerned to shield us from technical specifics), he is unmistakably a mystic himself, given to delighting in the paradoxical expressions that demonstrate how the object of his interest transcends rational analysis. At the end of his essay on “Hurqalya, Earth of Resurrection,” in his effort to communicate to the reader that “boundary where the boundary ceases to be a boundary and becomes a passage,” he refers the reader to two pieces of music! (105) Sufficiently engrossed by this book and its messages, I dutifully tracked down recordings of Richard Strauss’ “Death and Transfiguration” and the closing chorale of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, but making those references so central to his exposition really robbed it of its communicative power in the moment of reading.

Even so, the content of this book–both the essays and the translations–is so valuable to those with genuine mystical aspirations, that I recommend it heartily. It is especially apposite for Thelemites pursuing the “Life” of Liber CL. [via]