Lords Of The Left Hand Path – Stephen Flowers (2012)

This book of Flowers is in some ways similar to the recently reviewed “Satanism A Social History“. Both give an historical overview of people and groups who ‘walk the dark path’. Introvigne also refers to Flowers’ book frequently. Where Introvigne is mostly historical, Flowers also looks at the ideas and systems of the groups and people he writes about.

Flowers’ book begins with interesting chapters about the left hand path in general, the left hand path in the East and especially how things in the past and in the East are not are clear cut as today in the West. The notions of ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ are not as sharp as we like to think of them today.

The introductory chapter “the roots of the Western tradition” is interesting as well, but slowly but surely things started to become less interesting to me. The chapter about World War II is not the best to me and towards the end the book almost starts to seem to be an introduction to the last two chapters about Anton LaVey and his Church of Satan and Michael Aquino and the Temple of Set.

With these last two persons we of course have people who consciously swim against the stream and do/did so visually. LaVey started in the hippy days, but he also lived through (and survived) the days of the “Satanic scare” in the USA. Flowers looks at the writings and ideas of both LaVey and Aquino in detail. A bit too much detail for my liking compared to previous chapters which were more general. Well, there is a descent chapter about the Fraternitas Saturni about which Flowers wrote an entire book.

All in all I found the book a modestly interesting read. I enjoy reading about people going against the current, but it is a path that is entirely not mine. The “Left Hand Path” for Flowers (and undoubtedly others) is one of individualism without loosing it in a ‘mystic end’. You also get a glimpse of how Flowers sees things himself and it is quite a thing for an academic to display that so clearly. Perhaps that is linked to Left Hand Path organisations such as the Temple of Set (and the Dragon Rouge which is for some reason not mentioned) which’ members more and more frequently also pursue an academic career.

2012 Inner Traditions, isbn 1594774676

Restating Orientalism – Wael Hallaq (2018)

Not quite what I expected (or hoped for). I thought this would be a book showing new methods of an orientalist approach. In a way it is, but not about orientalism as a ‘method’, but about orientalism as a subject.

The “Orientalism” from the subject, is mostly a reference to the 1978 book of that title written by Edward Said (1935-2003) who on his turn leaned heavily on Michel Foucault (1926-1984). Said was quite radical in his critique on orientalism as an academic discipline.

Where Foucault theorised about knowledge and power, Said described how orientalists basically supported colonialism. It was not as much as that orientalists tried (try) to describe the orient (whether near or far), but their descriptions serve the purpose of the western occupying forces.

Hallaq sees much in the ideas of Said, but he also has a lot to say about it and, indeed, restate Said’s theories. This results in very dry and academic writing about the role of the west, politics and “a critique of modern knowledge”.

With regard to the latter, a surprising name pops up: René Guénon (1886-1951), which is probably the reason I heard about Hallaq’s book in the first place. Guénon is presented as an “orientalist” and not as an “islamologist” which is ironic, since an often heard critique on Guénon is that his far eastern knowledge came from books, while he lived as a Muslim half his life. Be that as it may, Hallaq praises Guénon’s fierce criticism on western thinking and finds his work in parts clearer than those of Said. The part about Guénon is about the only part which is somewhat about ideas and theories.

I found “Restating Orientalism” a tough read. It is interesting to read how orientalists started to work out the countless varieties of eastern oral laws to bend it to the wests on purposes, but, as mentioned, most of the book is not about such subjects, but about how orientalism too often serves the dominating politics of the west.

Hallaq does propose alternative views, mostly based on Islam and it is in these sparse passages that the book comes near to what I had hoped it would be.

2018 Columbia University Press, isbn 0231187629

The Maiden With The Mead – Maria Kvilhaug (2009)

In 2004 Maria Kvilhaug presented her dissertation at the department of culture at the University of Oslo. The dissertation was published (I think) but I have never been able to lay my hands on it or it had that ‘academic publishers price’. In 2009 a slightly more affordable version was published. Slightly, since Amazon has the 168 page book listed for $ 95,- which is pretty steep.

As in her later publications Kvilhaug has a quite unique approach to elements in Northern mythology. In this book she investigates the image of “the maiden with the mead”.

Initially this may seem a small subject. We know of images of female figures with a drinking horn for example and in myths and sagas sometimes women are mentioned serving drinks, but in Kvilhaug’s book the subject is much bigger.

Kvilhaug sees initiation stories in these myths and sagas. With Eliade, she sees different kinds of initiations. The maiden is not only the initiator (the mead and her embrace are the goal of the initiation), but also represents its goal as the “Great Mother”. That this is not just a feminist explanation of details in the stories, Kvilhaug shows in detail. She compares different myths and sagas and shows how “the maiden story” is, often not too obviously, present in many stories that we are familiar with. The maidens may seem to be of different kinds, giants, goddesses, queens, but in Kvilhaug’s analysis there is a structure composed of different elements that she finds in the different sources. This gives an interesting approach to famous stories of, for example, Odin’s hanging on the windy tree, his stealing of the mead, but also the Sinfjötli werewolf story.

My main aim […] is not to decide what the hero is initiated into, but to prove that the pattern, the structure of themes, exists, and thus, a “Maiden mythology” reflecting initiation.

An approach I have not come across often even though the thesis is already 17 years old.

2009 VDM Verlag, isbn 9783639161359

Satanism: A Social History – Massimo Introvigne (2016)

The Dutch academic publisher Brill has many interesting publications, but they are always so very expensive. The present title costs €201.00 / $268.00 when you get it from the publisher and that is the price for either the hardcover or the PDF. Amazon has it a wee bit cheaper $247.94. I was more lucky.

Introvigne’s book has been long in the making. In 1994 there was the initial Italian version and it has been revised, expanded and translated into French and Polish and eventually this came to be this English edition of 660 pages.

The definition that Inrovigne uses is the following:

From the perspective of social history, Satanism is (1) the worship of the character identified with the name of Satan or Lucifer in the Bible, (2) by organized groups with at least a minimal organization and hierarchy, (3) through ritual or liturgical practices.

The book features a section about black metal (“adolescent satanism”) which I was curious about, but of course there is more. Introvigne starts in the 17th and 18th century where the earliest forms of satanism can be found. Travelling through time he describes situations in Italy, England, Sweden and Russia. Then we move to the “classical satanism” period of 1821-1952 starting with Fiard and Berbiguier up until Eliphas Levi. Then follows the author Huysmans whose novels had a big impact on later developments. A whole chapter is dedicated to Leo Taxil and his hoax (speaking of which, the author seems to have a bit of an odd view of Freemasonry) and then we move closer to our own time with all kinds of groups and individuals.

Of course we pass Aleister Crowley (not a satanist in the author’s definition, but surely influential), Fraternitas Saturni, Wicca and what would a book about satanism be without Anton LaVey? LaVey’s Church of Satan knew a few schisms and these and separate groups are also dealt with.

A large part of the book is not about satanists, but people seeing satanism under every rock. “The Great Satanism Scare”, anti-satanism and the like. Actually, a too large part of this book is about perceived satanism. This does make the book a lot less interesting to me.

Then we finally have the part about black metal. It starts with an intro about “The Gothic Milieu”?? Then we have histories about the first bands, the second wave, individuals, of course the church burnings and killings, This part is mostly fragmentary and based on anecdotes. There is a lot that makes me think: “but that is not how I experienced it”. The author has some bands that I did not yet know and he quotes interviews. This mostly makes the scene a ‘I am more evil than you’ group. There are some subject discussions too, mostly between ‘LaVeyan’ thinkers and more ‘occult’ satanists.
This part brought back some memories, but I must say I did not find it very strong. (And it makes the current even more adolescent than I remember it.)

The last chapter is about satanic groups from 1994 and after. Most groups and people were unknown to me.

Introvigne refers to quite a few academic investigations into the subject. Apparently the subject appeals to some scholars.

All in all I find the book only mildly interesting. You do now learn a whole lot about the philosophies of most people and groups who are described. The book is mostly historical, or actually “social” as the title goes.

2016 Brill, isbn 9004288287

The Northern Dawn – Stephen Edred Flowers (2017)

Flowers (aka Thorsson) (1953-) is a controversial writer. He is a graduate is Germanic and Celtic philology and has a Ph.D. in Germanic languages and medieval studies. Also he has decades of experience in the field, but studious and practical. That should make him very able to write a book like this, should he not?

Many people seem unable to see that apart from Flowers’ other interests. He follows the “left hand path”, is and has been involved in several organisations, some of which have eye-brow-raising elements. Part of his Germanic approach is rune-magic and does he lean towards a certain kind of politics?

In connection with the latter, I find the cover design unfortunate. Since I do not judge a book by the cover or the interests of the author outside the subject of the book, I was interested to see what Flowers would have to say about “A History of the Reawakening of the Germanic Spirit”.

Well, I have read some American publications about the Germanic past, but Flowers’ books is probably one of the better. Finally we have an author who can read German (and a host of other languages) and refers to classic works in this language about our subject. The book is even structured somewhat like the 1800’s books starting with an overview different approaches of investigation to continue with elements of the subject at hand.

Flowers’ book gives a fair idea of what is available on the subject from the last centuries and how his posits himself in the tradition of investigations. He is also clear about the fact that -even though part of one family- the pre-Christian tradition of ancient nowadays Germany is not exactly the same as that of Iceland. Also he shoves away some of the ever pertaining idea that there are no sources besides the Icelandic and he is not wholly negative about Christianity. As a matter of fact, the thesis is that Christianity was ‘Germanised’ by the Franks before it reached Northern Europe and then some more by the cultures it encountered. One of the ideas in the book is that thanks to Christianity, much of the old religion has been saved. Flowers even speaks of continuity.

The book is well written, it reads easily. The reawakening red threat is a bit too red here and there, but I find this book an excellent starting book for people interested in the subject, but unable to read other languages than English. (Much better than the Hasenfratz book that Michael Moyhnihan translated too.) You will get many references to older and newer other works, old and new theories to compare and a twist of the author. And no, the other subjects that Flowers writes about are no part of this book and why should they?

It is just a bit short. Just 200 pages.

2017 Arcana Europa, isbn 0972029281

Barbarian Rites – Hans-Peter Hasenfratz (2011)

This book entered my radar because of its translator: Michael Moynihan. The title and the cover gave me second thoughts, but I purchased it in the end anyway. The original title sounds more appealing (to me) “Die Religiöse Welt Der Germanen”, basically the subtitle of the translation.

Moynihan sees that readers who cannot read German, miss a lot of information about ancient Northern culture so he decided to fill that gap a little. He took a fairly recent book. The original is from 1992. I did not know Hasenfratz. He seems to be a ‘generalist’ with books about Christianity, Eastern culture, etc.

Especially in the first half, the translated title is annoyingly fitting. Hasenfratz starts with the famous report of Ibn Fadlan, but rather than describing the ship burial, the quotes are about the filthy “Rus”, their bad habits and the way they treat their slaves. Also when discussing rituals and religion, the focus lays on their barbarity.

Only around halfway the tone changes somewhat and the information becomes better. The chapter about magic is alright as is the part about cosmology.

What I find a bit strange is the brevity of the information and the lack of context. Rigr from the Rigsthula is Odin and there is no mention that many investigators say it is Heimdallr. Odin is a war-god with little regard to other features. Only towards the end there is mention of Indo-European culture and the book closes with possible Christian influences on the texts that we have. Here, at least, Hasenfratz has the stance that not everything with a Christian similarity is due to conversion.

Moynihan added a great number of extra notes which adds more context for the English-speaking audience. A bit odd though. Hasenfratz starts over numbering notes which each chapter, Moynihan’s notes run throughout the book.

Here and there Hasenfratz has an angle that is not too obvious, but for the entire book I have wondered why Moyhihan decided to translate this one and not one of the many, many other German books about the subject.

2011 Inner Traditions, isbn 1594774218

De Laatste Heiden – Thorvald Ross (2021)

How often does it happen that a heathen themed novel is published? In Dutch even less so.

The author is also the first‐person narrator of the book. He is a journalist in the outskirts of Vlaanderen, Dutch-speaking Netherlands. He befriends a singular farmer named Firmin. Firmin leads a simple life, but he proves to have deep waters. The initially closed farmer has some peculiar habits. His enigmatic statements make place for deeply personal stories and as the story develops, Thorvald becomes familiar with the heathen practices of Firmin. When Firmin starts to prepare the autumn equinox, Thorvald rides along and the author describes the ritual in such detail and with explanations that the contemporary heathen just may get inspiration from it. Thorvald plunges into a vision which greatly deepens the friendship between the two men.

The story takes a somewhat sinister tone when the Wolf-time becomes more and more apparent. Local events are used to describe the destructive forces of modernism. Firmin does what he can. Different storylines meet at Midsummer and the author again offers a very detailed ritual.

The story contains known themes from Northern mythology, but also (known) themes from ‘the real world’. Some of the characters can (sometimes fairly easily) be connected to characters from Northern myths. These different themes are nicely woven together. The development of the story is not really surprising, especially not when you are familiar with the myths, but this actually adds some charm to the book.

“The Last Heathen” is a little book of only 123 pages. Contemporary (and Dutch-speaking) heathens may appreciate the book, because even though it is a novel, it brings enough to think over. The detailed rituals may even inspire your own.

Published at 25 January 2021, bookshops only have their copies available by 25 February.

2021 Aspekt, isbn 9464240784

Hermes Trismegistus – John van Schaik & Jacob Slavenburg (2020)

For the gift-giving month of December I had to come up with a present and I remembered that Slavenburg had a new book.

Co-authored with John van Schaik, Slavenburg made an overview of Hermes Trismegistus and Hermetism throughout the ages. Who was he? What are the texts? What do these texts say? How did these texts come to us? Who took inspiration from these texts? There is extra focus on Hermes in the Netherlands.

Having been familiar with the subject for a long time, the book does not bring me much news. What is a pro about the book is that the authors used the most recent information, so in a few details I did learn something new.

From people clearly inspired by Hermes / Hermetism, the book continues with subjects in which this gets thinner and the authors more move towards general esotericism with Rosicrucians, Freemasons, Theosophy, Rudolf Steiner, OTO, etc. We close off with the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica and the Hermetic chair at the University of Amsterdam.

The most interesting parts are those in which the authors quite a variety of texts to show something about different subjects. The more general parts are ‘catching up’ or perhaps rather: information for those for whom the subject is new.

The book is in Dutch by the way.

2020 Walburg Pers, isbn 946249486X

Autobiography Of A Sadhu – Rampuri (2010)

De Western guru of Aki Cederberg published his autobiography through the same publisher a decade earlier.

Baba Rampuri was born William A. Gans in 1950. Like Cederberg, his longing for genuine spirituality brought Gans to India around his 20th. Contrary to Cederberg, Gans nevermore left.

Rampuri’s autobiography is an interesting read. On his way to India he meets a Frenchman who has spent more time in India already. The Frenchman gives the young Gans some suggestions. The American starts to crisscross India and in no time the three months that his visum is valid have expired. He manages to prolong his stay.

Gans visits several gurus, gets immerged in the spiritual life of India and at some point decides to look for a guru that the Frenchman suggested. He was expected and is almost immediately pressured into being initiated. A unique event as Westerners usually are not allowed to join.

Now called Ram Puri, Gans describes the hard life of an Indian mystic, how he is taught and what he is taught. This makes vivid descriptions of a life completely alien to a Westerner and beautiful stories about Hindu Gods, Goddesses and Baba’s.

After a while Rampuri is sent on the road to meet other gurus, but he is supposed to be present at the Kumph Mela for another initiation into the tradition that his guru connected him to. Meeting both friendliness and severe resistance Rampuri gets his initiation.

Life is not all fun and joy and we follow Rampuri’s travels, but also the ‘travels of his mind’. His Western upbringing keeps bringing up doubts and whatever he does, he remains an outsider.

Towards the end there is a major turn of events which almost makes me wonder if this is actually an autobiography or rather a novel!

Rampuri’s autobiography is a very nice read, interesting and entertaining. It has both a Western and an Eastern attitude, being initiated into a tradition of storytelling, Rampuri is a storyteller.

2010 Destiny Books, isbn 1594773300

Journeys In The Kali Yuga – Aki Cederberg (2017)

The author is a spiritually restless Fin who here presents his spiritual autobiography.

His wanderings bring Cederberg to India and Nepal and the first part of the book describes his many journeys there. His vivid descriptions of the (religious) madness in these countries are quite ‘disenchanting’ at times.

On his trips, Cederberg meets kindred souls and after long searches he finds a teacher in the Naga Baba tradition who has Western roots. Baba Rampuri was to be his guru and initiator into the Indian esoteric tradition. This took place in Sweden!

Cederberg went back to India several times, the peak of his visits is the gigantic Kumph Mela ‘festival’ which houses 40 million people on a single day! That experience, as impressive as it was, was a turning point and the author slowly starts to drift back to ancient European spirituality.

He journies remained many but closer to home. Every once in a while Cederberg runs into some Western friends that he knows from his ‘Indian period’, but also these (and also as suggested by Rampuri), connect to ancient European religion. Not as much as Cederberg though.

Thus you can read the spiritual quest of a man living in the desacralized West. A quest with ups and downs. “Journeys In The Kali Yuga” makes a nice read.

2017 Destiny Books, isbn 9781620556795