Introduction To Magic – Julius Evola (2001)

I have known about this book for a long time, bu due to the subject, it was not high on my wish list. Only recently did I realise that this is not a book by Julius Evola, but these are actually texts from the UR and KRUR magazines from the magical group that Evola was involved in early in his life. Actually, there is much more material, so this book is actually volume 1 of 3 and written by “Julius Evola and the Ur group.

Evola himself compiled the texts from the periodicals into a book. He introduced, edited and annotated the texts. This work has been available in Italian since 1971.

I found the introduction by the original editor Renate Del Ponte the most interesting part of the book. The author sketches the occult scene in Italy in Evola’s time and thus introduces the (KR)UR group. The authors wanted to remain anonymous and used pseudonyms, but Del Ponte identified most of them. A varied group. Evola used different pseudonyms.

Among the texts Evola’s are not only recognisable, but also the most interesting to me. They are more esoteric and somewhat Traditionalist than many of the other texts which are often practical magical texts. As interesting as I find people experimenting that way, as little interesting I find it to read about magical operations.

The book goes from -as mentioned- practical magical exercises and rituals, to translations of texts (alchemical, philosophical), initiation, ancient cultures and what not. Very varied indeed. Not all texts are equally interesting to me.

I am not yet sure if I am interested in the other two volumes. Supposedly they contain translations of old texts and other material not necessarily written by the members of the UR group.

So not your typical Evola work!

2001 Inner Traditions, isbn 0892816244

A Cultural History Of Tarot – Helen Farley (2009)

Suddenly I felt the need to look at the symbolism of the Tarot. I wondered if I should just buy different decks or a book with images of different decks. Well, I have found no book of the latter type, but there is an excellent website. Farley’s book seemed to be the closest to what I was looking for, so I got myself a copy.

Farley “is lecturer in Studies in Religion and Esotericism at the University of Queensland, Australia”, so it at least is a serious / academic work. As the title suggests, it is a history.

The author investigates several histories of Tarot, mostly mystical and comes to the conclusion that it developed from common card games in Renaissance Italy, more specifically the Visconti court. The card games of before did not have the trump cards that Tarot decks have, but there are three different sets from roughly the same time that do. The designs Farley traces back to the history of the Visconti family. For example, the card “tower” was called “La Torre”. Also on old decks this tower is destroyed by lightning. The Torre family was a family that the Visconti’s had problems with.

For many years Tarot was in fact but an extended card game. There is symbolism on the cards, but the esoteric interpretation of the cards, and thus, the use for divination, came many, many years later.

In her interesting book Farley not only gives the history of the game, but also puts the symbolism in a context. As the popularity of the game rose, new interpretations followed especially when the cards landed outside Italy. Farley describes the symbolism and the development of Tarot into an esoteric system.

The latter gives some history of esoteric currents that many readers may already be aware of. Eliphas Levi, the Golden Dawn, Westcott, Matters, Crowley and of course Waite are dealt with. Of course there is some highlight to their connections to Tarot, but there was little new here for me.

Farley does not shun treating modern Tarots and names many, many New Age type decks.

Not a book if you want to learn how to lay cards and interpret them. Farley’s book does offer a wonderful and sometimes fascinating history and shows that there are many variations in decks with different names for cards, different cards altogether, different numbering, different order, etc. What I was after myself, I also learned a bit about the development of the symbols of the cards too.

The book is fairly thin (270 pages) and about a third is notes, bibliography and the like, so do not expect a massive reference work. There are images from different decks, but only a handful and only in grey.

2019 Bloomsbury, isn 1788314913

Mysticism After Modernism – James O’Meara (2020)

Manticore has titles that take me (slightly) out of my usual bubble, but I did not expect that when I ordered this book.

The book is about: “Crowley, Evola, Neville, Watts, Colin Wilson and Other Populist Gurus”. A few names that are (relatively) unknown to me, but some ‘Traditionalism’ is promised and of course Crowley and Evola make an odd combination, (well, of course not entirely).

The book proves to be a second edition, the first was published in 2018. It is a compilation of essays, most of them published at “North American New Right” website and publishing house Counter Currents. Other texts have been available before in “Aristokratia“. So indeed, you can expect some politics here too.

The book opens with Alan Watts, somewhat new to me and somewhat interesting, but too much Watts for my liking. Then we have William Burroughs (and a bit of Genesis P. Orridge), Aleister Crowley, Julius Evola, Gnosticism, Neville Goddard and at the end, Donald Trump.

There is some sort of red thread here in the author’s words: “America’s home-made Hermeticism, our native-born Neoplatonism, our own two-fisted Traditionalism, the movement generally known as New Thought.”

New Thought, I heard about that. Positive thinking, the Law of Attraction, the Secret, Will what you Want, that sort of things, right? Right indeed! Even though the author has explained it on a few occasions, I cannot make the step from Traditionalism to New Thought in my mind. Neither do I find the essays about the New Thinkers very interesting.

What is a merit of the book is that the texts are written with some humor, references to pop culture (mostly the “Madmen” series and the “Manhunter” film) which gives a new approach to some ideas. Also O’Meara manages to mix up a massive amount of different sources.

Overall I found the book somewhat amusing in its better parts and not entirely my cup of tea in most.

2020 Manticore press, isbn 0648766020

The Mystical Foundations Of Francis Bacon’s Science – Daniel Branco (2020)

Strange timing this publication. I recently read three books mostly about the events leading up to the formation of the ‘premier Grand Lodge’ of Freemasons. When I was about the finish the third, this book about Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was published. Bacon is (of course) mentioned in the books of Earnshaw.

Also I started to read a Dutch translation of Frances Yates’ Rosicrucian Enlightenment. I have had the book for many years, but I bought a Dutch translation when it came out eight years ago (probably because of the Monas Hieroglypica on the front) and I felt like taking it out of the plastic. (Of course) Bacon is in there too.

Already clear in Yates’ book is that Bacon had similar ideas to those expressed in the Rosicrucian manifestos of the early 17th century. He was careful to avoid being associated with them though. Shortly after the publications of the manifestos, especially governments were not very enthusiastic about the ideas expressed therein. Still, Bacon is often associated with the current and therefor also with proto-Freemasonry.

Not much of all that in the present title written by Branco in Spanish and translated to English though. Branco is a philosopher who, as the title says, investigated the non-scientific elements in Bacon’s thought. Besides being connected to esoteric currents, Bacon is also often seen as the first of the scientists. His ideas were indeed often rational, materialistic even, but besides an early scientist, he was also a late Renaissance-man and he worked within a religious frame.

Branco portrays Bacon as a much more complex thinker than authors of either side (esoteric or scientific) show him to be. From radical scientific ideas of his predecessors, Bacon knew about mystic, Hermetic and Rosicrucian ideas, was aware of the various branches of Protestantism and with all that tried to create a system of knowing encompassing all. A project for which is was both lauded and loathed, the latter mostly because people thought it was way too complex.

The book is a bit too philosophical and scholarly for me, but it is interesting to see ideas of both ‘camps’ are both confirmed and contradicted. Bacon was -as said- a complex thinker with inner contradictions too.

2020 Manticore Press, isbn 0648766004

Freemasonry: Initiation By Light – Christopher Earnshaw (2020)

And number three published in the ‘spiritual Freemasonry series’. This time the author seems to imply that there will be only three books in these series.

The first book that was published in these series was very interesting, the second less so and the third is interesting again. I do -though- sure wish that it had been published in a single volume. There is a large part of history again in the beginning of this book, but it seems a bit out of place. My guess is that the author had intended a historical part and more esoteric history of the three degrees and had to spread that over three books, the result is a bit odd at times.

The largest of the three books again has much history, but it is more connected to the subject than in the previous book. Again there is a lot of focus on “the first three Grand Masters” and their connections. Earnshaw’s stance towards ‘the operatives’ confuses me. One time he seems to say that these “operatives” have nothing to do with modern Freemasonry and at other times he says that one of the first three lodges was an operative one.

We follow the trail to America and back, the expansion of Freemasonry in Britain and abroad and then comes the part that is the main focus of this book: China.

Earnshaw has a very interesting tale of Jesuits going to China, a convert visiting Britain and the influence of this Chinese Jesuit on the minds of some people close to the founders of the first Grand Lodge. Via this route Earnshaw suggests that the Dao ‘initiation by light’ heavily influenced the first degree of Freemasonry. The Chinese influences also partly explain the alchemical elements in the second degree.

I am mostly interested in Earnshaw’s information about the people around the first Grand Lodge, but the story of Shen FuZong is intriguing. The arguments and comparisons do not always convince me, but Earnshaw certainly describes how different influences came together in the early 18th century and how (possibly) modern Freemasonry was brewed from them.

2020 Lewis Masonic, isbn 979-8605924371

Quadrivium & Trivium (2010 / 2016)

You heard about the seven liberal arts, right? I thought it was time to educate myself a little, so I looked around for a book that teaches about them. That became two books which on their turn are compilations of smaller books that have been published before.

So we have ‘number’, ‘geometry’, ‘music’ and ‘cosmology’ in the first book and ‘grammar’, ‘logic’ and ‘rhetoric’ in the second.

I was somewhat disappointed when I saw the fancy presentation of the books. They look like these big audience hip books for cheap bookstores. The texts seemed alright so I started with the “Quadrivium”.

I was not all that bad in math when I was younger, so the first part about ‘number’ was quite alright. It starts with some information about different numbers, but also has more interesting subjects such as Gematria and Gnomons.

‘Geometry’ makes an interesting subject, part of the information I had recently encountered in a wholly different way (a lecture about Jacob Böhme!). When this part moves more towards art-forms it became less interesting to me.

So, the Platonic solids. They were also part of the same Böhme lecture, so I figured this could not be too hard. Hopefully partly because English is not my mother tongue and some words simply mean nothing to me, this section was pretty tough!

This became even worse with the part of the harmonograph, a very interesting device to make music visual, but I stranded in the musical terms and the section after this is… about music. I was pretty lost in that section.

Very interesting was “coincidence in the solar system”. A fascination part about proportions in space which are extraordinary similar to those down here.

Overall, the “Quadrivium” book made me question my IQ a bit too often… And the other book is about subjects many of which I was never really good at and it is in another language too.

“Grammar”, ah, that I can follow even in English. “Logic” was well enough to understand and rhetoric was… Well actually the whole two books are mostly encyclopedias, explanations of terms, rather than learning you how to use it. This is mostly apparent in the “Trivium” book. The “rhetoric” part gives a lot of theory and examples, but I cannot say that I learned much about being a better “rhetorican” and looking back, the same goes for all subjects.

So we have two nice books in which you can look up things about subjects connected to the seven liberal arts, but do not expect to be a ‘homo univeralis’ afterwards. Most subjects span just one or two pages including images. Maybe the books are meant to make you acquainted with the seven liberal arts rather than teaching them.

Freemasonry: Quest For Immortality – Christopher Earnshaw (2019)

Here we have the second publication in the “Spiritual Freemasonry” series. Here the author speaks about four books. I just ordered ‘volume 3’ Freemasonry: Initiation By Light and I suppose that Freemasonry: Royal Arch which is announced for September 2020 is the fourth title.

The previously reviewed title has an interesting history of esoteric currents and how people involved in “the Revival” of Freemasonry of 1717 fit into these currents. This time there is again a lot of history, but this time dull and I do not always see its use. 70% Of the book is filled with a history of the United Kingdom. Of course some of that says something about the ‘whys’, ‘whens’ and ‘whos’ of early Freemasonry, but of much of it I fail to see the connection.

There is a short chapter about Freemasonry and Kabbala, but unfortunately Earnshaw does not say when and through whom Kabbala found its way into Masonic symbolism, while exactly that was the interesting part concerning Alchemy in the previous book.

I was curious about the parts of this book about the Medieval mystery plays, in which Earnshaw sees the origin of the third degree, but that short part is not too strong.

Towards the end there is some note of the “signposts” (see previous review) and again the Alchemical origins of Masonic symbolism. That is the better part of the book.

With the first Constitutions, the history of Freemasonry was rewritten and expanded to include a glorious legend. The first Grand Masters, George Payne, John Desagulier, together with Anthony Sayer and possibly James Andersson, rewrote the three degrees with the objective of emphasizing the immortality of the soul, at a time when that concept was under attack. (p. 198)

Maybe some stress lays on the third degree in this book, but it is not like it is a book about the third degree, just as the previous was not entirely about the second. The previous book is the more interesting also with regards to the bigger picture that Earnshaw tries to sketch.

2019 Lewis Masonic, isbn 1673308120

Freemasonry: Spiritual Alchemy – Christopher Earnshaw (2019)

The author was writing a book about spiritual Freemasonry and when the book pushed 550 pages the publisher asked to split it into three books because readers would be overwhelmed by a 500 page book. I personally would not have a problem and taken that this book is targeted at Freemasons (the publisher being Lewis Masonic) who, I guess, are used to reading too, I wonder if that was really the reason.

In any case, Spiritual Alchemy was published in August 2019. Then we have Freemasonry: The Quest For Immortality which was published in December 2019 and the upcoming Freemasonry: Initiation By Light (due April 2020). My guess was that Spiritual Alchemy was the first to read. Amazon has it listed as “spiritual Freemasonry series book 2” and towards the end I understand that the present title is mostly about the Fellow Craft degree (the second) and The Quest For Immortality about the third degree. Strange order of publishing! So when you want to read them by grade, perhaps you should wait until the Entered Apprentice book Initiation By Light.

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The Last Heresy – Fabio Venzi (2019)

The two previous books of Venzi that I reviewed are great, esoteric Freemasonry, very Traditionalistic. His latest work is mostly historical.

As the subtitle says, the present title investigates: “The Catholic Church and Freemasonry. Three centuries of misconception, Satanism, Gnosticism and Relativism”

Especially in the first part of the book the author quotes publications from the Vatican on Freemasonry. I suppose that this compilation is interesting to some. It does seem a comprehensive overview, so this will be handy for people with an interest in the subject.

I only started to find the book more interesting when Venzi treats the different subjects to show how the Church misunderstands the subjects it accuses Freemasonry of and of course, how it misunderstands Freemasonry.

For defence, Venzi keeps referring to the very Christian Emulation Rite which I am sure he knows is only worked by a very small part of Freemasonry as a whole.

As I said, the book is mostly historical. I think a large part of Freemasonry does not care much what the Church says about them. Perhaps some in “regular” Freemasonry do. After the publication of the book talks between the Vatican and (some?) “regular” organisations has been started and I suppose this book can help in forming a picture and quick access to points from either side.

2019 Lewis Masonic – isbn 0853185662

The Three Stages Of Initiatic Spirituality – Angel Millar (2020)

The latest Millar is published by Inner Traditions, known for English publications of Evola, but the publisher has also published books from Joscelyn Godwin, Stephen Flowers, Henri Corbin, but also more new-agey books.

Millar has made a name in Masonic circles with a book on Lewis Masonic and many lectures, but he is not afraid to connect his name to smaller imprints such as Manticore Press and now a publisher with ‘controversial’ publications.

This also shows Millar’s own varried interests and that variety is clearly portrayed in his latest book. Where he earlier published books specifically about Freemasonry, he slowly shifted towards “Freemasonry+” and now we go from Freemasonry (a little bit) to ceremonial magic and from Islamic esotericism to Aleister Crowley.

As you can expect with the subtitle “craftsman, warrior, magician”, there is an influence of Georges Dumézil (though he is seldom mentioned) and his division of three “functions”. Millar also refer to Mircea Eliade, René Guénon, Julius Evola and a few other Traditionalists.

It had been a bit too long since I read any comparitive mythology and comparitive religion, but alongside Dumézil’s three “functions”, Millar oftentimes refers to the four “ages” (Gold, Silver, Bronze, Iron) found in many myths and religions and in the writings of Traditionalists.

It may not be new that he poses that within all three “functions” there are initiatic paths, but Millar suggests his readers to practice all three, more in the sense of functions than (what is more often the explanation) classes (“castes”).

Something similar Millar does with the ages. They are not so much successive time-periods, but more like ‘levels’, so an initiate (or more generally, a spiritual person) may ‘reach’ for the Golden Age. That age is more like the goal or endpoint of spiritual development and not so much a time that lays in the distant past.

And so we Millar guides his readers through different forms of spirituality, different paths of initiations, making cross-references and comparisons. Surely interesting!

I do not always follow the author’s assumptions. I would -for example- not place ceremonial magic in Dumézil’s third “function” and I see little in the references to Carl Jung, but different ideas from my own are always good to ponder about. It is nice to see that Millar does not shy to name Guénon together with Blavatsky, Freemasonry together with sex magic and martial arts with Gnosticism. He may bring some uncommon ideas to readers of his previous works.

Ultimately, the Craftman, Warrior and Magician – like the mind, body, and spirit – are not separate but connect and overlap in different ways. […]

Yet today society emhasizes the intellect and promotes specialization in education and employment. As a result, we produce technicians and dogmatics, and we revere the sickly intellectual who, enstranged from the physical, attacks both beauty and strength. (p. 206/7)

A call for a more spiritual life and since Millar writes about so many different approaches, not afraid to be critical here and there, the book has a potential wider audience than his previous works.

2020 Inner Traditions – isbn 1620559323