Tag Archives: T Polyphilus

How to Meditate

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews How to Meditate: A Guide to Self-Discovery by Lawrence LeShan.

LeShan How to Meditate

This little volume, evidently written as a practical textbook on its topic for the Human Potential movement, had been through 20 printings by 1988, and the jacket copy makes the false claim that its contents allow the reader “to bring meditation effortlessly into your life” (emphasis added)–a claim that the text itself firmly disavows. The title How to Meditate really applies to only chapters 8-10 of the dozen in LeShan’s book. The rest are concerned to motivate potential meditators, to provide a typology of meditative practices, and to discuss the interface of meditation with psychology and parapsychology. Chapters 3 and 11 are sufficiently peripheral to the main business of the book that the author actually suggests to readers that they can profitably skip those chapters. 

The actual instructions for meditative practice in chapter 8 are adequate, and cover a respectably diverse set of techniques. Chapter 9 consists entirely of negative advice, i.e. traps to avoid, and much of it is useful. I especially liked the passage warning against “‘Vibrations,’ ‘Energy,’ and Other Cheap Explanations of Things.” (83-88) But in the subsequent section, LeShan cavalierly dismisses all theories of occult correspondence, appreciating neither their value as conventions in communicating ideas, nor the ways in which they reflect systems of congruence. (A better instruction reads, “…so also is the triad Osiris, Isis, Horus like that of a horse, mare, foal, and of red, blue, purple. And this is the foundation of Correspondences. But it were false to say ‘Horus is a foal’ or ‘Horus is purple’. One may say: ‘Horus resembles a foal in this respect, that he is the offspring of two complementary beings’.”–Liber 175, point 32) 

A repeated refrain throughout the book is the author’s contempt and derision for those who would presume to acquire mystical experience by psychopharmaceutical means. He presents drugs and meditation as exclusive alternatives, never considering the possibility–indeed the likelihood suggested by traditions around the world and throughout history–that the two may complement and assist one another: psychedelic drugs being enhanced by the mental discipline of meditation, and meditation being potentiated by the breakthrough experiences of “heroic” drug use (to use the terminology of Terrence McKenna, a theorist with a much better handle on this conundrum). In a typical piece of anti-drug rhetoric, LeShan insists that “meditation (as opposed to … drugs) does not produce bad trips” (25); but later he concedes that meditation has its own hazards, including “depressions and bad trips.” (64)

The basic typology offered here corresponds to the yogas: jnana yoga (“The Path Through the Intellect”), bhakti yoga (“The Path Through the Emotions”), hatha yoga (“The Path Through the Body”) and karma yoga (“The Path Through Action”). But there are a good range of examples from other cultures and traditions, rather than a fixation on the Indian forms. Curiously, given the set selected, there is no type equivalent to raja yoga. This omission is all the more surprising in light of the goofy definition and etymology that he provides for “mystic” as “training in closing off all those artificial factors which ordinarily keep us from this knowledge, this birthright we have lost.” (7)

Since the author is a psychologist, the overall approach is predictably secularist, and although he does go to some lengths to discuss various religious contexts for meditation, he does so on the basis of universalist assumptions. In fact, he goes beyond religious universalism to a metaphysical universalism that comprehends traditional mysticisms, parapsychology, and modern physics, in what would shortly after his writing of this book become a staple of the New Age worldview. An afterword praising LeShan is provided by a clergyman-psychologist. 

LeShan is ideologically opposed to initiatory secrecy–which has little enough to do with meditation per se, but is often found in traditional contexts that facilitate or encourage meditation. LeShan does not see the value of such secrecy, only its potential for abuse. He writes, “Can you imagine a Socrates, a Jesus, a Buddha, telling his disciples that his wisdom was to be kept secret?” (102) Not only can I imagine it, I don’t have to. Mark 4:10-12 is a perfectly canonical instance. 

As someone with some background and experience in the topic of this primer, I may not be the best judge of its appeal for those to whom it was directed. Reading it was good for me, though, inspiring me to revisit some practices that have served me well in the past, but have become a little dusty in my recent work.

Cthulhu’s Reign

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Cthulhu’s Reign edited by Darrell Schweitzer.

Schweitzer Cthulhu's Reign

As one among innumerable collections of Lovecraftian short fiction, a couple of features distinguish the recent Cthulhu’s Reign. First, all of the stories are new, evidently commissioned for this volume, with none garnered from zines and prior anthologies. Second, the unusual theme that they share is that of the Cthulhoid eschaton accomplished: the stars have been right, and humanity’s domination of Earth is over and done with. 

There are a total of fifteen stories, each by a different author. Most of them don’t venture too far beyond the return of our alien landlords; only in a couple instances does the narrative comprehend events that follow the end of our history by more than a single generation of dispossessed humans. In at least a few cases, the packaging seems to work against the content–that is to say, the story might have had more dramatic force if the reader hadn’t come to it already informed that the setting was “an Earth ruled by Cthulhu, or his minions (or even his enemies)” (per Schweitzer’s introduction, 6). All of them show a distinct level of creativity beyond the ordinary Lovecraft pastiche. After all, while the wholesale return of the Old Ones is an invariable element of the mythos, HPL only actualized it in narrative once, in the brief, dream-inspired “Nyarlathotep” (1920). 

The stories that do go further into the future than the immediate aftermath of the Old Ones’ return are certainly the most exotic. I liked the surreal solipsism of Laird Barron’s “Vastation,” and Brian Stableford offers piquant food for thought (or is it thought for food?) in “The Holocaust of Ecstasy.” In other standouts among the generally high-quality selections, I appreciated the well-informed Central Texas setting of “Sanctuary,” as well as its wry blasphemous features that were surely imperative in a story written by Don Webb and dedicated to Robert Price. The most overtly theological entry is “The New Pauline Corpus” by Matt Cardin, which demonstrates even better than Webb’s story how adaptable the human religious attitude really is. More pedestrian Cthulhu cultists feature in “Ghost Dancing” by the volume’s editor, and in “The Seals of New R’lyeh” by Gregory Frost. The last couple of stories, “Nothing Personal” by Richard A. Lupoff and “Remnants” by Fred Chappell, both expand the context to an interplanetary scale, and tip the genre strongly toward science fiction. 

The experience of reading these tales over the course of a week or so brought into relief for me the background sense of recent cataclysm that seems to be part of early 21st-century life, whether it’s the 9-11-2001 events, hurricane Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, or the flood of Pakistan, it seems like the world has always just gone to hell. At one point, someone mentioned Houston in conversation, and I found myself mentally groping for the horrible event that had just befallen that city, before realizing with some relief that it was merely a passage from Cthulhu’s Reign that I had mentally misfiled too closely to “fact.”

Nietzsche Against the Crucified

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Nietzsche Against the Crucified by Alistair Kee.

Kee Neitzsche Against the Crucified

Kee’s Nietzsche Against the Crucified is a lucid approach to Nietzsche’s thought, from the uncommon perspective of a professor of Religious Studies. As Kee notes in his introduction, most of the secondary literature on Nietzsche is generated within the discipline of “Philosophy,” and much of it reflects a disinterest in the religious context and theological consequences of the material–a disinterest that is alien to Nietzsche’s own perspective. This book covers Nietzsche’s principal themes and topics adequately, and concludes with a sound argument against viewing him as the “father of postmodernism.” 

There is brief but sufficient biographical material to appreciate Nietzsche’s situation, and the distinctions between his lived experience and his espoused values. Kee also provides helpful context regarding the evolution of counter-Christian thought in 19th-century Germany, where Nietzsche figures as the third of three antichrists: the first was Ludwig Feuerbach, and the second David Strauss.

Kee’s handling of the doctrine of eternal recurrence is quite sensitive. He does not deform it into something with which he can be more intellectually comfortable, nor does he attempt to downplay its importance in Nietzsche’s ouvre. Similarly, his appreciation of the Will to Power is careful, and framing it with religious concerns gives it a different cast than most introductory treatments. 

Once in a great while, Kee’s prose indulges in a sort of vernacular banter, which I found mostly ineffective. The book as a whole reads quickly, and I would recommend it as an accessible interpretation of Nietzsche, especially useful to Thelemites.

Lion in the Valley

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters.

Peters Lion in the Valley

Highlights of this fourth volume of Amelia Peabody amusement include: a mysterious redheaded opium-eater going by the name Nemo; the excruciating Mrs. Axhammer of Des Moines, Iowa; the corruption of a village priest; the birds and the bees explained to Ramses Emerson; and the peculiar generosity of the Master Criminal Sethos. 

Previous volumes in this series have carried me along by dint of sheer wit and engaging character, but this one also got me fascinated with the plot in the way that a mystery novel is supposed to–goading me to read the last sixty-odd pages at a single sitting.

The Goddess’ Son

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Goddess’ Son by Skott Holck.

Holck The Goddess' Son

This self-published first novel is a little rough around the edges, but it tells a distinctive story. The amnesiac protagonist presents his experiences in a non-linear narrative, while a third-person omniscient voice intervenes in alternating chapters to relate both contemporary events involving related characters and prehistoric scenes relevant to the supernatural entities in the tale.

There’s a little neopagan religious testimonial sprinkled through the book, as the title might suggest. Keith, the central character, has made it to his twenties without being subject to any of the popular American slave-religions, and he considers himself a pagan. There are a number of passages that center on his theological concerns, in dialogue with several different Christians: a door-to-door evangelist, a college professor, and an anti-abortion activist.

The principal setting of the book is in the Pacific Northwest at roughly the turn of the millennium, and the author’s acknowledgments indicate that he lived in Oregon while writing it. The fantastic elements of the story fall in the wide confused space between the works of say, Tom Robbins and Phillip K. Dick, with a somewhat closer kinship to the former. Despite the convoluted structure of the story, the prose is direct and fast reading.

Faith of Tarot

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Faith of Tarot by Piers Anthony.

Anthony Faith of Tarot

This final volume of Piers Anthony’s science-fantasy adventure Tarot overtly ties it in to his “Cluster” novels (which I haven’t read). It supplies a fanciful historical origin for the tarot among the Waldensian heretics of the fourteenth century, as foreshadowed at the start of the first book. In this multi-chapter medieval passage, there is even a feint at the Sacred Magic of Abramelin, as the hero Brother Paul meets Abraham of Worms. But the augoeides doctrine does not appear in Anthony’s work, despite the persistence of “Love Is the Law, Love under Will” (sic, with impertinent capitals).

The solution of the “God of Tarot” conundrum comes three chapters before the end, leaving a long unwinding denouement to address the fates of the various characters. By the time the revelation arrives, it’s not much of a surprise, but I won’t spoiler it here. The further explication of various psycho-sexual motives (particularly for the Crowley-derived character Therion) were not terribly convincing, and the final resolution was perhaps too tidy.

I’m satisfied to have finally read these books, and I can recommend them for light entertainment. But they seem to pretend to a profundity that I think they lack. Each chapter is headed by a long epigraph, and these often set a tone of sage contemplation. There are metatextual references to medieval dream-visions and the chapter sequence is keyed to the tarot trumps. Perhaps it would be an effective “gateway” work for readers with no prior education in occultism, but its take on esoteric materials is very idiosyncratic and supports its own fiction better than it would any factual efforts. As evidence, the “Animation Tarot” variant (with its hundred-card deck of thirty trumps and five small suits) appears never to have been executed or published in the decades since these books were written.

American Cosmic

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews American Cosmic: UFOs, Religions, Technology by Diana Walsh Pasulka.

Pasulka American Cosmic

The book American Cosmic was six years in the making by an established scholar of religion and issued by Oxford University Press. Nevertheless, it is very accessible and addressed to a general audience. It has a significant measure of “reflexivity,” often exhibited in stretches of first-person narrative. Author Diana Pasulka references as sympathetic colleagues Jeffrey Kripal and Tanya Lurhmann, both researchers I’ve met and whose work I’ve found valuable. Within the relevant field of UFO studies, Pasulka boasts herself a “fan” and co-worker of Jacques Vallee, making special reference to his book The Invisible College.

Paulka says at the outset that the investigations she undertook to research this book resulted in multiple forms of “epistemological shock” for her. Not only was she brought to confront the currency of ufological beliefs among members of the economic and intellectual elite in the US, but she also realized the extent of the willful falsehoods and disinformation presented in various media and social milieus. Early on, she addresses the manner in which the research regimes of academic transparency and trade/military secrecy create unbridgeable chasms in communication. Although she demonstrates it in the course of the book, she doesn’t explicitly call out the extent to which this tension can come to lodge itself within the experience of an individual, and I think this dynamic, as much as the “embarrassment” often remarked by Paluska, helps to account for the anxiety and social opacity of those she calls “experiencers” (i.e. contactees and witnesses) and “meta-experiencers” (a.k.a. “scientist-believers”).

The extreme case of this latter category Paluska calls “Invisibles.” These are successful scientists who avoid any public profile for their work, rejecting visibility in any media including the “social” media of the Internet. Two of these Invisibles figure as sources and collaborators in the book, where she has given them cover names: “Tyler D.” (“the first rule of Fight Club is …”) and “James” (“Master of the Multiverse”). Although she is scrupulous about their anonymity in the book, some of the incidents related there imply that their identities might be deduced by some of her fellow academics.

The book repeatedly though briefly references the modern philosophical tradition. Pasulka’s readings of Heidegger and Baudrillard, while certainly relevant to the subject at hand, tend to simplify the positions expressed by those writers in ways that gave me pause. On the other hand, her engagement with Nietzsche is one which I can both respect and sympathize with.

I think Pasulka amply demonstrates the usefulness of religion as a paradigm for viewing the social effects of UFO phenomena and ideas. Not only does she (following Vallee and Kripal) highlight the elements of the miraculous, but she discusses the ways in which non-empirical concepts become experientially actual. She does not compare the passion of UFO researchers to religious fanaticism, but rather to religious vocation. The book makes passing reference to parapsychological idioms and theories, but does not resort to them as part of its method. There is also very little reference to esoteric religion or occultism, although those familiar with that field will have little difficulty seeing the considerable areas of overlap with the business of this study.

The Delights of Anna

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Delights of Anna by John Colleton.

Colleton The Delights of Anna

This eleventh installment of the 14-book “John Colleton” series of erotic pseudo-memoirs has for its settings Charleston, Madrid, and Rome. I’ve previously read only the second and the seventh books, which made the early chapters of this one a little bewildering for me. They do take for granted a fair amount of prior character relationships, and narrator Beuaregard “Bill” Benton seems disinclined to supply context rather than witticisms. He does occasionally fill in details retrospectively–often with block text that looks like it might be quoting earlier books.

This short book is not psychologically profound, nor morally responsible. In The Pleasures of Cloris, Bill had already shown a lack of confidence in his abilities as a writer, and that note is sustained here, nine books later. In addition, he declares, “As must be evident by now, I am not comfortable with myself. I am bothered always by conflicting loyalties, mixed emotions, mixed emissions” (127). I can’t say that I judge his adventures admirable, but I do find them entertaining.

Stars of Black

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Stars of Black: Contemplations upon the Pale King by Julian M Miles.

Miles Stars of Black

Stars of Black is a self-published collection of weird horror short stories by Julian M. Miles. Although the jacket copy also refers to Ambrose Bierce, it’s clear that this cycle is rooted in the four seminal jauniste stories by Robert W. Chambers from The King in Yellow. Chambers’ tales have their geographic orientations to America and France, but Miles works with characters who are chiefly English, and typically in England.

These stories have an internal consistency, and in a few cases there are actually allusions between them, but there is no direct contiguity of plot or character. Still, this makes for a tighter and more rationally integrated set of tales than one usually encounters in the jauniste tradition. Although the stories have a fairly wide-ranging historical scope, the ones set in the twenty-first century generally engage a premise according to which clandestine agencies are urgently concerned to suppress circulation of the play The King in Yellow, because of its hazard to society as a whole. Some of the stories most connected to this conceit are “Tatters,” “House of Sorrows,” “Vade Mecum,” “Perfidious Counsel,” “Heart’s Abyss,” and “Storm Warning.”

Miles avoids any influence of the mutation of jauniste lore in fantasy-horror gaming, although he alludes to it once, when the heavy metal musician of “Implosion” works through “a load of stuff from a games company who seemed to have the goods on all of it. I read through the lot, as soon as they arrived, and thought it was all a bit trite: not even remotely what I was looking for” (156).

There are two stories that are outliers, being more directly concerned with the extra-terrene realm of Carcosa itself, without any framing in quotidian reality. “Thirteen of the Clock” is a very short piece that seems to integrate the King in Yellow lore with Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” “The Last King” is the penultimate and longest selection in the volume, and it enlarges in great detail on the doom of Carcosa and its King. The style here reminds me more of Clark Ashton Smith’s otherworldly brocades than the enigmatic weird of Chambers (or the spare parable of Bierce), and I’m glad that this story was positioned at the end of the book so that it didn’t influence my reading of the others. On its own, it’s an interesting and somewhat satisfying read, but I would have found it distracting as an implicit context for the other, subtler work in this collection.

This book, more than any other I’ve read, works to affirm a specific mythos, as opposed to a more generalized mood, mechanism, or menace of the Pale King. Cassilda and Camilla do not appear, but the women of Carcosa all share that C initial. Is it merely a lunar hieroglyph? Or does the voiceless velar stop establish a class for which “Kupris … the Greek or Syrian Aphrodite-Venus, is the outstanding example in Theogony” (AC, “The God-Letters” in MWT)? Stars of Black is obscure but easy to obtain, and worth the bother.

Vision of Tarot

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Vision of Tarot by Piers Anthony.

Anthony Vision of Tarot

This second volume of Anthony’s Tarot trilogy is mainly made up of episodes powered by the exo-planet’s mysterious “Animations,” providing a curious course in comparative religion. There are episodes treating Buddhism, Vodou (elliptically via syncretistic religion on an alien world), and the initiatory mysteries of ancient Egypt. A secular two-chapter arc focuses on the protagonist’s college, with a set of recollections of his student career and a return visit in the future. This pair of chapters seem to have been derived from Anthony’s own experiences at Goddard College, and they sit awkwardly in the future history that the books have provided so far.

Four out of the eleven chapters treat the history of Christianity, with an unusually perspicacious reading of the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, a fair measure of “shaggy god story” in which Anthony’s hero strangely usurps the role of John the Baptist, and some not entirely faithful rehearsals from such visionary literature as Langland’s Vision of Piers Plowman, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. The book’s hero is a liberal Christian with a strong streak of skepticism, and so this section of the book, as much as any, has him addressing his own religious preconceptions.

After all of that, I began to harbor doubts that there will be a satisfying development of the plot in the frame of Planet Tarot and its society. The Animation concept seems to be largely a device for Anthony to supply himself with a narrative sandbox for discussing social issues and history of religions. In a prefatory note, he writes, “this segment is unified around the social and religious theme,” so perhaps the resolution of the main plot in the next book will supply the coherence that the first two have lacked.

This book definitely had a few high points. The alien sexual ethics of the Nath were cleverly developed, and I especially enjoyed the ritual ordeals under the Sphinx at Giza. The Christian material was about equal measures of hits and misses, but I’m not at all discouraged from moving on to the third and final volume.