Spiritual Alchemy – Robert Ambelain (2005)

When I heard of this book, an interest in the more interesting side of alchemy was stirred. There are plenty book about the history of alchemy, but I was very interested to run into a book that portrays Alchemy as a spiritual path. I found an English translation freely available online. The translation is from the hand of no one less than Pierce Vaughan who apparently translated the French works of the French Martinist Robert Ambelain (1907 – 1997) in the year 2005 and put them online as PDFs at the website AlchemyStudy.com.

The book starts promising. Ambelain starts to explain Alchemy as a coherent structure of symbolism and opens with a dictionary. After a while the book more leans towards being a spiritual guidebook with practices and prayers.

Ambelain proves to have been inspired by interesting fellows such as Jean Baptiste Willermoz (1730-1824) and Martinés de Pasqually (1727-1774).

Like I said, the book starts interestingly, but gets less so along the way. But since the book is free and now available for non-French-reading audiences, it does not hurt to give it a go. There is more too!

Translated and published digitally in 2005 by Piers Vaughan

Secret Teachers Of The Western World – Gary Lachman (2015)

It does not happen to me often that I impulsively buy a book. This book was (automatically) recommended when I ordered another book and I saw Western esotericism and René Guénon, so I figured I might give it a go.

Lachman wrote a large number of books about Western esotericism. Biographies of Crowley, Blavatsky, Steiner, Jung and Ouspensky, but also books Hermetism or the roaring 1960’ies. The name struck me as a popular author on the subject, even though I never read anything of Lachman. Reading the book, my initial thought proved to be correct.

The book proves to be some sort of history of Western esotericism for the larger public. There is almost no information in the book that was new to me and the people that Lachman calls “secret teachers” are in fact the best-known people within the subject.

The book starts in a somewhat original way. The author explains the “split brain theory” that says that our left brain is for our rational thinking and filter for the flow of information that our right brain processes. This right brain Lachman connects to esotericism. People who (naturally or by training) manage to reduce the filtering of the left brain are the seers, esotericists, mystics, etc.

Then follow chapters about Hermes Trismegistus, ancient knowledge, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, the Gnostics and then Lachman works towards more recent times with Alchemy, Kabbalah, Dante, Grail legends, then Renaissance, Rosicrucians, the upcoming of science, a little bit about Freemasonry, Romantics, Theosophy and its derivatives, Jung, Gurdjieff,The Beatles and the 1960’ies. read more

The Lost Rites And Rituals Of Freemasonry – David Harrison (2017)

The author is fairly active on the world wide web and this book has been announced for a while. Harrison has been working on it for some time too, so I expected quite a book. “The Lost Rites And Rituals Of Freemasonry” proves to be a small publication though, under 150 pages of text.

The author is a British Freemason who writes a lot about that subject, usually from a historical perspective. His latest book is largely historical too. The description it tempting. The book would cover strange, obscure and abandoned Masonic Rites including the systems of Willermoz, Von Hund and the like, about which there is not much information in English.

With the limited number of pages, you can imagine that the book is not really in depth. Harrison starts with the most interesting part, the more exotic ‘high grade’ systems that arose in the time with a peak in occult interests. Here you can read about the likes of Cagliostro, Martinez de Pasqually, Willermoz and Von Hund.

A large part of the book is about the variety of Rites that existed in Britain. When the Grand Lodge of London was founded in 1717 another Grand Lodge arose calling themselves “Antient” (and the other “Modern”) and it took until 1813 before these two Grand Lodges merged into the United Grand Lodge of England. There were differences between the rituals of the Antients and the Moderns, but since it was forbidden to print rituals, many local variations came up, sometimes with “pre-union” elements. Now that the number of members is going down, lodges merge or disappear, many of these local variations also disappear and Harrison mentions a lot of them. Only here and there he shows the differences though. The information is mostly historical. read more

Acta Macionica volume 26 (6016)

Somewhere in the summer (2017) I noticed that the website for the Belgian Masonic studylodge Ars Macionica was back online. Even though the link said ‘Acta Macionica volume 1 to 25’, the table of contents also had one of volume 26. I sent an email, but got no reply. Masonic lodges are usually closed during summer. With the start of the new working year, I was able to lay my hands on a copy of the latest Acta. Apparently not much advertisement has been made for it, since I have not seen any announcements for it.

#26 Has the impressive size of its predecessors, more than 350 pages in a well-printed and well-bound softcover. As we got used to, there are essays in different languages. One is on English, the rest is mostly alternately in Dutch and French. Also as we are used to, there is a big variety in subjects.
The opening text is about Jan Amos Comenius. There are purely historical essays about subjects such as German field-lodges in Belgium or the confiscation of Masonic property during the second World War. Reprint of historical texts can be found next to a wonderful text (and main reason to get this volume) of Koenraad Logghe about the Masonic parallels in the Arthurian novel Torec by Jacob van Maerlant.

I do not find all texts as interesting as the next and I especially did not really read the texts in French. I can read French with a lot of effort, but I usually skipped through the texts to try to see if they were interesting enough to make that effort.

What I like mostly about the <emActas is that, even though it is a publication of the relatively small and only “regular” Grand Lodge of Belgium (the Regular Grand Lodge Of Belgium), there are also references to other Masonic orders and to subjects that caused schismas within Belgian Freemasonry. read more

Im Namen Des Wolfs – Andreas Hebestreit (2013)

A German book about “rites des passages” focusing on the Celts. Would that be political correctness? Not really, since the author does not shy to refer to Jan de Vries and Otto Höffler and he even uses the term “Indogermanisch” rather than “Indo-European”, so it looks like he really wanted to focus on the Celts. Obviously it is hard to draw the line that firmly.

“In The Name Of The Wolf” is a relatively expensive book for its size (125 pages) and does not really seem to contain many new insights. It is good that after Kershaw there are still people conducting research to Männerbünde” and warrior initiations of times passed though. Hebestreit seems to be a well-read and multi-lingual author since he not only refers to titles written in German, but also titles written in French and even some Scandinavian titles. The largest part of the bibliography is in German though.

The author seems to like the term ‘rites de passage’. Since he quotes Eliade, I am sure he knows that a ‘rite de passage’ is not the same a an initiation into a warrior bond.

That said, Hebestreit tells a story in which Celtic warriors go down not so much a Wicker Man, but a wicker-wolfs-head during their initiation. He refers to Roman authors, Teutonic sources, a range of anthropologists and investigates the meaning of the wolf in ancient societies onwards to more recent one (after Christianisation).

I like to think that I read German, actually I frequently do, but somehow a text of a century old is easier to me than a recent one. Also in the little book of Hebestreit I have the feeling that I miss a lot of details and nuances and I feel incompetent to go into his theories in detail. Therefor I will refrain to informing you that there is another book about Medieval warrior initiations which may not bring much really new, but there sure are elements that were new to me. read more

The Forge And The Crucible – Mircea Eliade (1956/78)

I enjoy reading about alchemy and I love the books of Mircea Eliade. So how does it come that I did not read Eliade’s book about alchemy? Time to fix that!

The Forge and the Crucible is a relatively small book which is based on a paper that Eliade wrote as a student. In the second edition Eliade did not rewrite his book, but he did add a (not too interesting) essay on the latest developments in the research in the field.

Eliade’s book on “The Origins and Structure of Alchemy” (the subtitle) is not your usual book about alchemy. It has not many fancy images and does not try to explain alchemical symbolical drawings. Rather, Eliade approached the subject as a “historian of religions”. So he starts with religious views on meteorites and metals, continues with smiths and and metal-working in the iron age and only slowly works towards the period which most books about alchemy are about. Eliade collected information of a vast number of “primitive” societies and their metal-workings, offerings to the furnace and trance-induced visions. Smiths, warriors and eventually initiation.

A few short chapters are dedicated to Chinese and Indian alchemy and of course you will read about Western alchemy as well.

The Forge and the Crucible is very much an ‘Eliade book’ and will make an interesting read to people who enjoy the author, but also to those who like another take on the subject.

1956 (first edition), 1978 (second edition) The University Of Chicago Press, isbn 0226203905 read more

The Great Triad – René Guénon (1991)

I was rereading some works of Guénon and there were several reverences to this book that I did not have. I could quickly get a cheap copy of it, so this is a title to add to my Guénon library. Most other books are published by Sophia Perennis, but this time I got a Quinta Essentia book.

As the cover of this version suggests, there is quite some ‘Chinese information’ in this book. The symbol is called Wang and the three horizontal lines Guénon connects to heaven, man and earth, the vertical line connects the three. Hence: a triad. There are many more references to (ancient) Chinese philosophy in this book.

Of course there are even more references to other traditions. Guénon went out for all different kinds of triads, such as the alchemical sulphur, mercury and salt; the Christian spiritus, anima, corpus and of course the Hindu Triratna.

The most interesting part is the beginning. Guénon finds it odd that all trinities are so easily compared, while they are not. He makes a difference between trinities in which the two emanate from the one, like in T’ai Chi -> T’ien and Ti; and trinities in which two bring forth a third, father, mother -> son. Then -of course- there are less clear trinities, such as Father, Son, Holy Ghost.

But there are also ‘ternaries’ in the book, heaven and earth, solve and coagula, etc. and representations of them such as Yin and Yang, the double spiral and more.

Indeed, The Great Triad is another of Guénon’s books about symbolism, a type that I enjoy a lot. Of course you will also run into his Traditionalist ideas with -for example- a chapter about “Distortions on modern philosophy”. read more

Against The Modern World – Mark Sedgewick (2014)

I have known about this book since it came out, but I do not remember why I never bought it. Perhaps it was first published as an expensive academic publication? The colofon says: copyright 2004, but first issued as a paperback 2009. In that case I still could have bought it 8 years ago.

The subtitle is “Traditionalism and the secret intellectual history of the twentieth century”. That already implies that the book is not just a biography of the most famous Traditionalists. It looks a bit like the author had to stretch the concept a bit to fill the book though.

The book starts with chapters about “Traditionalism” and “Perrenialism”. In these chapters you will find the biography of René Gunénon. His adventures in esotericism and occultism, his pursuit of an academic career and eventually how he started to walk his own path. It shows that Guénon was but a man with his own failures. Sedgewick portrays him as an armchair esotericist who writes about Hinduism without ever having been to a Hindu country or even met a Hindu. Also it took a long time before Guénon actually became a practical Traditionalist. His early initiations into orders that often did not fit his later frames were all abandoned and Guénon did not follow an exoteric religion until he moved to Cairo and that was not even his own idea.
Also in these chapters you will learn about Ananda Coomaraswamy and the way these two persons were in contact with a whole range of people.

The next part of the book is about “Traditionalism in practice” and here we first follow Frithjof Schuon and his Sufi order that at some point started to drift away from ‘Guénonian Traditionalism’.
After this we move to the political dimension of Traditionalism and (of course) focuses of Julius Evola. read more

Renaissance Man And Mason – Piers Vaughan (2016)

Somewhere I read that this author writes about Freemasonry and alchemy. When looking for such a title, I saw no such book. Among the titles of this author at Amazon, the present one seemed the most interesting.

“Renaissance Man and Mason” is a reference to the fact that the author has broad interests like the Renaissance ‘homo universalis’, at least, he is of the opinion that a Freemason should study further than just memorising the ritual.

The book is a collection of lectures that Vaughan gave during the course of many years and at different meetings. Some were addressed at lodges, others at public events. Most of them he gave more than once and here he presents the final version.

The subjects differ widely. The lectures go from (Masonic) history to things like Masonic meditation, spiritual healing, the symbolism of specific degrees and indeed “alchemy in Freemasonry”. The book seems to aim at a Masonic audience, because more than once knowledge of (for example) a certain degree seems required. He is quite explicit here and there. When some (ritual) text is already available on the world wide web, Vaughan does not shy to write about it in this public book.

Interesting I find the historical notions of early Freemasonry in England, how the “Moderns” and the “Antients” split and reunited, and how Freemasonry reached the colony America with lodges chartered by the “Antients” and the “Moderns”. Before the “Antients” and the “Moderns” reunited, America declared itself independent from England, so what about the two different types of Freemasonry? read more

Women’s Agency And Rituals In Mixed And Female Masonic Orders – Alexandra Heidl & Jan Snoek (editors) (2008)

This book is published by the Dutch academic publisher Brill and these books are always very expensive. The publisher sells the book for € 181,-, the Amazon prices start at $ 194,-. It seems that when you are affiliated to a University, you can get a cheap (€ 25,-) printing-on-demand through Brill.com/mybooks.

As the title suggests the book is about women in Freemasonry and similar orders. It is a collection of essays of a variety of authors. There are some very interesting texts in the book based on meticulous investigations, so it is too bad that these are only available to a specialist audience. Brill has many interesting titles, but you either have to dig deep into your pocket to buy it or to be lucky.

After a lengthy introduction by Jan Snoek, the first text is from the hands of Bärbel Raschke. Raschke writes about Masonic-like organisations that involved women in the early days of Freemasonry. He mostly looks at the well-documented case of Ordre des Hermites de bonne humeur (‘Order of the happy Hermits’) in Sachsen-Gotha (1739-1758). This was an organisation founded by an aristocratic woman who knew many early, German Freemasons. The author writes about the history and a bit about organisation and ritual.
Malcolm Davies wrote the next essay about a very early (1752) lodge of adoption in Den Haag (The Hague), Netherlands. Lodges of adoption were lodges created for the women of Freemasons. They were mostly ‘Freemasonry-like’ with adapted rituals and under patronage of a male Mason. La Loge de Juste seems to have been more of a mixed gender lodge and for a short while it worked under the same Grand Master as the men-only organisation in the Netherlands. Scandals and financial problems brought the end of both the “regular” and adoption organisations. Eventually the (still existing) Dutch “regular” organisation (the Grand Orient of the Netherlands) would only be founded in 1756.
Probably the most controversial essay is of Andreas Önnerfors who wrote about plans to start a Maçonnerie des Dames (‘Ladies Masonry’) of the very conservative Strict Observance. Önnerfors found 57 pages with detailed plans (including rituals for five degrees) in the Masonic archives in Copenhagen, Denmark. Many of these pages are reprinted at the end of the article.
James Smith Allen describes how the rise of women’s rights movement in France ran parallel with the rise of mixed gender Freemasonry. Many persons can be found in both movements.
Anton van de Sande describes the discussion within the Grand Orient of the Netherlands about the admittance of women. A decision that was almost made (!) but when mixed gender Freemasonry reached the Netherlands, the point was put in the refrigerator.
Leaving Freemasonry Hendrik Bogdan presents his essay about women in the Golden Dawn.
The next text initially does not seem to be about women in Freemasonry. In an article translated from French Bernard Dat investigates the claims of Etienne Stretton that he was a high ranking member of an operative organisation in the early days of Freemasonry. At the end the role of women is shortly treated.
More women rights in the text of Ann Pilcher Dayton Freemasonry and Suffrage: The Manifestation of Social Conscience.
Andrew Prescott has a detailed biography of Annie Besant who was very important in the expansion of mixed gender Freemasonry. She was an extremely active and very versatile person.
The last text is a masters thesis investigation into the perception of the three different rites within the Dutch federation of Le Droit Humain by its members. read more