“A meditation on the meaning and mysteries of libraries through history, beginning with Manguel’s extraordinary library in the French countryside.” — back cover
Pagan Britain by Ronald Hutton is due in February 2014 from Yale University Press, and may be of interest.
“Britain’s pagan past, with its mysterious monuments, atmospheric sites, enigmatic artifacts, bloodthirsty legends, and cryptic inscriptions, is both enthralling and perplexing to a resident of the twenty-first century. In this ambitious and thoroughly up-to-date book, Ronald Hutton reveals the long development, rapid suppression, and enduring cultural significance of paganism, from the Paleolithic Era to the coming of Christianity. He draws on an array of recently discovered evidence and shows how new findings have radically transformed understandings of belief and ritual in Britain before the arrival of organized religion.
Setting forth a chronological narrative, Hutton along the way makes side visits to explore specific locations of ancient pagan activity. He includes the well-known sacred sites—Stonehenge, Avebury, Seahenge, Maiden Castle, Anglesey—as well as more obscure locations across the mainland and coastal islands. In tireless pursuit of the elusive ‘why’ of pagan behavior, Hutton astonishes with the breadth of his understanding of Britain’s deep past and inspires with the originality of his insights.” [via]
Solomon’s Secret Arts: The Occult in the Age of Enlightenment by Paul Kléber Monod, from Yale University Press, is a recent release that may be of interest [HT Arts & Letters Daily, also].
“The late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are known as the Age of Enlightenment, a time of science and reason. But in this illuminating book, Paul Monod reveals the surprising extent to which Newton, Boyle, Locke, and other giants of rational thought and empiricism also embraced the spiritual, the magical, and the occult.
Although public acceptance of occult and magical practices waxed and waned during this period they survived underground, experiencing a considerable revival in the mid-eighteenth century with the rise of new antiestablishment religious denominations. The occult spilled over into politics with the radicalism of the French Revolution and into literature in early Romanticism. Even when official disapproval was at its strongest, the evidence points to a growing audience for occult publications as well as to subversive popular enthusiasm. Ultimately, finds Monod, the occult was not discarded in favor of ‘reason’ but was incorporated into new forms of learning. In that sense, the occult is part of the modern world, not simply a relic of an unenlightened past, and is still with us today.”
Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Ethics in the Sanctuary: Examining the Practices of Organized Religion by Margaret P Battin from Yale University Press:
Battin points out how religious bodies and organizers have often been excused from ethical criticism, and develops an approach to some of the ethical problems common among religious organizations. She draws on both the discipline of professional ethics and “everyday” ethical notions commonly used in criticizing the derelictions of leaders and teachers. The issues in her principal case studies are confidentiality, informed consent in decision making, and paternalism. This book provides valuable food for thought for any clergy. [via]
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“The Arch-Conjuror of England: John Dee, By Glyn Parry” is a book review by Ronald Hutton of a new biography of John Dee, due to release in the states in April, from Yale University Press. (HT @t3dy)
“One of the most colourful and least respectable figures of the European Renaissance was the magus, a scholar, expert in the hidden wisdom of the created world, who sought the power to manipulate it to the advantage of (depending on his degree of probity) himself, his employers or humanity.
The most familiar such character in fiction is of course Dr Faustus, but the best known in real life is John Dee, a Londoner of Welsh blood who haunted the English and other royal courts throughout the late 16th century.
Much has been written about him in modern times, though little has been produced by experts in his period. To most historians he represents a tragic waste of talent; a brilliant scientist who was diverted into a fruitless attempt to converse with angels, thereby ruining his career and reputation and falling prey to the demented or unscrupulous adventurers who posed as his mediums: above all Edward Kelley, who combined both characteristics and, at one point, even persuaded Dee to swap wives with him under angelic instruction. Modern ritual magicians, by contrast, have seen Dee as a hero who discovered an occult system of genuine validity.
But in Glyn Parry, he has at last attracted a biographer with a talent for uncovering fresh archival material, who has conducted thorough research both into his life and the circles in which he moved.
The basic argument of the resulting book is that Dee was not an anomalous figure at the court of Queen Elizabeth, because that monarch and her leading courtiers – like their counterparts on the Continent – were deeply interested in the occult arts and sciences and were prepared to invest large sums in practitioners who promised material gains from them. As a result, they tapped into an underworld of alchemists and ritual magicians who became tangled up in turn with royal policy-making, political rivalry, and conspiracy.” [via]