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Polemos: The Dawn of Pagan Traditionalism – Askr Svarte (2020)

I found this book when I was browsing the Kindle store to see what Traditionalist books are available. So there are more writers writing about Traditionalistic paganism. Svarte does it a lot better than I did, though, and way more lengthy. The book is over 400 pages! Moreover, Svarte refers to other Traditionalistic pagan authors.

Oddly enough, the author (whose name is an pseudonym of Evgeny Nechkasov (1991-)) is a Russian. For some reason Russia and Russian thinkers gravitate towards me recently.

It seems that Svarte has published extensively in Russian and now English versions of both Polemos books have appeared (as there is a second part). The present title was first published in 2016.

The book goes from Guénon, Evola, Dumézil and Eliade to different kinds of paganism. Svarte proves to be very well acquainted with paganism in his own country, but also abroad. The book sets off wonderfully with Traditionalism, comparative mythology, initiation, etc. Things get a bit less interesting when he continues with endless descriptions of the woes of modernity, currents that Svarte calls “pseudo paganism”, “counter initiations”, etc. Quite like some books of Guénon actually. In these parts Svarte can display his wide knowledge of groups and thinkers all over the globe. Of course there are many references to groups and thinkers in Russia, so you can learn a thing or two about the Russian heathen and Traditionalistic scene(s) too and he even sheds some light on the events in the Serebrov books that I am reading.

We have defined polemos as the nerve of being, as that which according to the myths and teachings of traditions creates and orders the world.

Especially the first part of the book is good. I may not agree with each and every statement of the author makes, but is not necessary. Even though Svarte is about as strict a Traditionalist as Guénon, he (like myself) has to bend things a little in order to (for example) disapprove of Northern European paganism in Northern America while he is a Northern European heathen in Russia. The overly intellectual second half is a bit tiring at times, but overal this first part makes a descent read. The second volume is even larger, but I will give it a try too.

2020 Prav Publishing, isbn 1952671000

Freemasonry: Thirty-Three Lectures – Christopher Earnshaw (2023)

Earnshaw published three books about “spiritual” freemasonry, presenting three different approaches to the subject, roughly connected to the three degrees. Later followed a book about the “Royal Arch” and now there is a fifth title.

Earnshaw has been Worshipful Master of a Japanese research lodge and in that function he gave many lectures. He compiled these lectures and published them in Japanese. Later he decided to make them available in English as well.

Where the other books are largely written around certain approaches to researching Masonic history, here we have a wide range of different subjects without much depth and about questionable subjects such as that Christianity is actually a retelling of Egyptian history, summaries of popular works about Freemasonry, Templars, Rosslyn Chapel, the Kybalion, ceremonial magic. Indeed, it almost seems as if Earnshaw aims for a Dan Brown audience rather than a Masonic one.

The lectures were given before he published his first book. As a matter of fact, all the way towards the end he announces Initiation By Light. The information is shallow, not very interesting, many of the subjects are shallow. I do not really understand the reason for this publication. Does Earnshaw hope that new readers will start with this title and then continue with the other four?

2023 self-published, isbn 979-8398263992

Follow Me – Konstantin Serebrov (2018)

After reading Practical Alchemy I noticed that English Serebrov books are available in the Amazon Kindle store which lowered the barrier to try some more of his writings. I bought the first two of the series “Lessons From Master G.”, Follow Me being the first one.

The book was originally published in 2001 in Russian and was first made available in English in 2006. Where after the first book I had to look around a bit who “Master G.” would be, the current title begins with a photo saying: “This book is in memory of Vladimir Stepanov a.k.a. Master G”. So no secrets about his identity.

Where in Practical Alchemy Serebrov is the master and G is only in the background, Follow Me tells the story of how the author met his master. Just as the other book, it is written as a story with people talking and thinking; the observations of the author.

I am not entirely sure when everything in the book took place, but the second book starts in 1982, so I suppose we are here talking late 1970’ies. Serebrov presents himself as a searcher for enlightenment who is acquainted with other people who have the same goal. At some point he dreams he has to visit a friend and there he meets a mysterious person “just call me G”. This is the beginning of a lengthy apprenticeship.

We follow Serebrov as he is taken onboard the metaphorical ship of Master G and in spite of having a job, he is constantly called to accompany G to cities all over Russia. He has to choose between “the path” and normal life. On their travels the author meets a wide range of different people, many of whom appear to be other disciples of G, often charming young ladies, some male brutes. Everywhere the author comes, he is mocked by the other people present. Apparently this is a method of G to “raise the Alchemical temperature” in order smelt the author’s gold and to burn vices. The author describes talks between himself and G and between G and other people giving a bit of an idea of what is going on, but do not expect some sort of coherent philosophy or initiatic path.

In my review of The New Age Of Russia I wrote of Stepanov (G): “He was quite the character in the more intellectual type of esoteric groups.” Serebrov does not present him as just an intellectual. G’s eyes show infinity, his touch gives Serebrov a mystic moment, G controls the spiritual atmosphere in his presence, etc. In other words, G is the initiate who has a very personal approach of recruiting and teaching his students. Towards the end he says:

I’m busy creating a mystical group that will continue building on the School in the worlds behind the curtains.

As the story goes on, the reader gets an idea of the esoteric undercurrent in Russia, what kind of people are involved, different cities are encountered, some of the (drinking) habits of these often upper class people, the risks of esoteric interest in Russian society etc. A humble author who mercilessly describes his own doubts and failings. I suppose in later books he develops the confidence who portrays in Practical Alchemy.

The New Age of Russia – Hagemeiser / Benzel (2012)

A while ago I ran into the name of Konstantin Serebrov, some Russian spiritual leader. He writes about a “Master G.” who appeared to be a man named Vladimir Stefanov. I looked around a bit for this Stefanov and I found a text of Mark Sedgwick as one essay in the present title. This concerns an academic title about esoteric currents in Russia. Interesting.

The book is 450 pages and contains texts by a long list of authors, only one of whom I knew. The authors write about esotericism in Russia in different eras showing how little I actually know about Russia. The interest in things esoteric had its ups and downs. As Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal writes:

In Russia, occultism surged in the revolutionary and early Soviet periods (1890-1927) and subsided when Stalin became the new God. It (occultism) revived in the wake of de-Stalinization (the 1960s and ’70s), and surged in the late Soviet and post-Soviet Russia (1985-2000).

Different regimes were (more or less) open to esotericism, sometimes openly. In other times the esotericists had to go underground because they (or some of them!) were severely persecuted. Many fled the country. I also had to get used to terms such as “the Thaw” which I guess I am suppose to know. This has nothing to do with the end of the Cold War, but is another description of the “de-Stalinization” from the quote. I suppose I learned a thing or two about Russian society in general along with a thing or two about esotericists in general.

Most authors, and perhaps the Russians themselves, go pretty easily from “magicians” to UFOs to fantasy writers and back. A few essays are about science fiction and fantasy writers which were only mildly interesting to me, even when the authors used novels to present their ideas (and I wonder why filmmakers are not included, but that aside). The most interesting essays can be found in the beginning where groups such as the so-called “Iuzhinskii Circle” (named after the apartment where they met) are spoken of. There were several small groups meeting (in hiding) to discuss all kinds of different subjects, but it is from this particular circle that the named Stefanov came, but also Alexandr Dugin.

Stefanov is mentioned in some of the essays. He was quite the character in the more intellectual type of esoteric groups. Whether it was him that introduced Guénon in Russia or that it was the writer Yuri Mamleev perhaps does not really matter as they met in the same circle, but here we have the (possible) starting point for the now-famous Traditionalist Dugin about whom Sedgwick’s essays speaks. Plus, Stefanov apparently read probably Russian esotericist most famous in the West: George Gurdjieff and used some of his ideas (I also saw these in Serebrov) and so we have another familiar name.

A maybe somewhat less familiar name, but still, is that of Nikolai Roerich (actually Rerikh) a relatively famous painter who tried to make a bridge to the far East. This is not so strange when you realise that Russia reaches all the way to the far East. Roerich hoped to make acquaintances and come to terms with all religions. He was not along (or the first) in this, so you also learn about Russia’s relationship to that far East. In these circles we also see very early expeditions into the Himalayas searching for hidden masters. Perhaps there we also have a source for the Eastern preoccupation of the Orient of the Theosophists. Blavatsky (quite consistently named “Elena” by all authors by the way) is also frequently mentioned, but she appears to be regarded more Western than Russian.

In any case, the book presents a wide and interesting overview of esotericism in Russia which goes from shamanism to paganism to all kinds of New Age type approaches and (new kinds of) psychology. It makes a very interesting read.

2012 Peter Lang GmbH, isbn 3866881975

Patterns in Comparative Religion – Mircea Eliade (1949/1958/1996)

Eliade wrote so much, there that are still titles out that that I have not yet read. This is an early one. Initially published in French in 1949, translated to English in 1958 and having been available in print since. It is a large work of 480 pages.

The book is divided over chapters, but mostly the paragraphs that we got to know Eliade for. So any edition or any translation can simply refer to ‘paragraph 109’. The book seems to contain all subjects that Eliade would come back to later in his long writer career. The sacred and the profane, sky and sky-Gods, the sun and sun-worship, the moon, the waters, stones, earth, vegetation, agriculture, the centre of the world, sacred time and symbols. His paragraphs go from subsubject to subsubject constantly shooting examples at the reader from any place in the world to any time in history. Eliade was a walking encyclopedia!

Because many subjects and example are rather folklore than (for example) mythology, I started to get worn off by the constant rapid fire. It is highly interesting to read about all the comparisons and different examples, but often they are mentioned, not (deeply) explained. This makes Patterns perhaps more of a reference book. Indeed there is a descent index and an extensive table of contents.

every magico-religious object or event is either a kratophany, a hierophany or a theophany.

Not everything that Eliade stressed in the present title, got as much attention in his later works, but we sure can see the basis for his later works in Patterns and perhaps that is the main reason to read it.

1949 Traité d’histoire des religions, 1958 Patterns in Comparative Religion, my edition 1996 Bison Books, isbn 9780803267336

Foundations of Post-Traditionalism and The Mystery and Its Philosophy of Life – Michell MacLaughlin (2017)

I ran into this book in the Kindle store and read it out of curiosity. It is presented as two books in one, while it is only 44 pages. In the book the author says he writes too much. Seven volume tomes, three part books. He does have quite a few titles available on Amazon, but none large. Perhaps he started with his massive works and then started to present his ideas in smaller editions, while the former are not available easily?

There have been so many avenues and attempts to unify the world’s religions, but thus far all have failed Now, however, I have founded this school of Post-Traditionalism, and I have succeeded in unifying our religious pursuits and understandings.

Quite a statement! However the author does say a bit more how and why he came to his “post-Traditionalism”, none of the ‘traditional’ Traditionalist authors are mentioned and I find little agreements to their writings. Perhaps there is a bit of the Schuon/Smith ‘transcendent unity of religions’, but outside Christianity, there are but few references to religion. Therefor I have not tagged this book as “Traditionalist”.

MacLaughlin has the odd term “Religion without religion” (written like that) which appears to be something ‘deeper’ than religion as such. “It is exactly what it says, getting rid of all dogma and superstition and all false notice of God, the universe and man, and keeping only the metphysic and the ethic that we have seen elsewhere in my work.” The author is usually negative about metaphysics (and thus strays from Guénon). He does not really get any clearer than this. He likes to speak of “virtue ethics, remaking ourselves as examples that others will follow.” Nothing very ‘practical’ though. I guess you do have to read his larger works for that, but where do you get them?

MacLaughlin tries to speak with some authority because “I have experienced this revelation and am now giving it to you throughout the whole of my work.” All in all I found this little book uninspiring, not too interesting, not too well written even. It certainly does not make me want to try other writings of MacLaughlin, which -I suppose- was the reason for publishing this little summary.

So I still do not know in what way MacLaughlin thinks to connect to Traditionalism and exactly how he thinks to save the world.


Practical Alchemy – Konstantin Serebrov (2006)

By some accident I ran into the name of Serebrov. He was (is?) said to be a Russian esotericist working with Alchemical symbolism. Out of curiosity I looked to see what books he has available and found a Dutch publisher that has a lot of his books. As a matter of fact, it seems that this Dutch publisher also takes care of (the) other languages. At first glance it seems that there are more books in Dutch than there are in English. I happen to have picked one that is available both in Dutch and English. Originally they were written in Russian.

The books are divided over series. Practical Alchemy is the third of a series of three, so perhaps not the best introduction. The book is written as a story around a gathering of spiritual seekers who meet up frequently and the book is a report of one such camp. As teachers we have the I-character (Serebrov?) and “Master G.” who is presented as Serebrov’s teacher. In the book there are a host of students, ‘green’, ‘doubting Thomasses’, more experienced, etc.

Right from the start the reader is presented with all kind of jargon. “Horizontal karma”, letting “the wheel of karma rotate in opposite direction”, “energetic cocoon”, “kundabuffer”, “Schooltemperature” and most of all: “reconsideration” (word in English, but with Dutch conjugations, suggesting that the word is in English in the original texts), “deleting personal history” and “cutting ethereal lines”. Some of these phrases are explained along the way, some are not.

Serebrov appears to have been active in the Russian ‘esoteric underground’ of the 1980’ies, where he was acquainted with the systems of Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and Castenada and with some Eastern systems. He is a not uncritical follower, but the students in the book do speak about “tensegrity” and “magical passes”. There are all kinds of exercises that are recommended to students, some daily. These exercises are oddly specific. Think of a person, breath in, pull in energy a few inches below your belly button, turn your head from left to right and back five times, breath out half of the air in your lungs, etc. And there are many such exercises, sometimes explained, sometimes only mentioned. (“Do daily Tao exercises.”)

There is quite some attention to all kinds of spiritual paths. Serebrov wrote about Yoga, Tao, Alchemy, etc., but the Orthodox Church is half of the path to God. The book gives a wee bit of an idea of the ‘Russian spiritual underground’, but stresses that real progress can only be made in a school lead by a real master, hence: “Master G.” and his followers, such as Serebrov. Yet it is remarkably hard to find information about the school, when and where they meet, etc. G. seems to be a man named Iurii or Vladimir Stefanov who introduced Guénon in Russia. Interesting.

For a large part, Practical Alchemy is yet again book for spiritual seekers with some exercises and the suggestion that the only true path is presented. This is poured into a story with characters many people can relate to. Amusing are the ‘Russian elements’ such as Wodka which flows abundantly.

What about the reason I bought this book in the first place? Yes, there is ‘spiritual Alchemy’ here. There are 21 beautiful pen drawings, with fairly simple Alchemical symbology, but still recognizable. Several of the major symbols are used to explain the spiritual path, the phases of Alchemy, the king and queen, etc. Serebrov does have an odd explanation of the ouroborous as the lower self, though. The Alchemical element actually is interesting, but the whole ‘packing’ is a bit too fluffy to my liking. On the other hand, much of what I read is dry and academic, so a few notes on the spiritual path are good reminders.

I am not immediately planning on getting other Serebrov books, but I am just going to see what is available and decide then.

2006 Serebrov Boeken, isbn 9077820043

Traditionalism: The Radical Project For Restoring Sacred Order – Mark Sedgwick (2023)

Almost 20 years after Against The Modern World, Sedgwick thought it was time for an updated history of Traditionalism. Both books are histories of Traditionalism. Both books deal with ‘Traditionalism in practice’. Still, the books differ.

The reader gets a history of Traditionalism, of course starting with René Guénon. Well, first Sedgwick is going to tell you in what tradition Guénon can be placed, thus describing Neoplatonism, Renaissance Perennialism, etc. Then the author moves to the most eye catching element of Traditionalism: the critique on modernity.

In part II Sedgwick starts to describe what he calls “core projects” of Traditionalism. Personally I never had the idea that there ever was such a thing as “projects”. Of course some of the Traditionalist authors (or perhaps all of them) had their centres of gravity, but Sedgwick also describes projects which he had to distill from various writings.

Guénon’s “project” was “self-realization”. Schuon’s “project”, “religion” and Evola’s “project”, “politics”. Roughly spoken, perhaps indeed. Then we get other “projects” such as “art” (Coomaraswamy, still agreed), “gender” (here things become fuzzy), “nature” (mostly Nasr) and “dialogue” (Schuon, Smith). There is also a “post-Traditionalism” “project” “the radical right”.

Guénon certainly was the intellectual, critical of religion. Evola was more interested in political action. Schuon “rehabilitated religion”. In Seyyed Hosein Nasr, Schuon’s “project” was stretched and extended. Nasr was the first Traditionalist indicating environmental awareness. Schuon also had ‘followers’ in authors, scholars and religious leaders who took his “transcendent unity of religions’ to heart and who investigated different religions, comparing them, not on the abstract level of Guénon, and who brought religions together in dialogue. This is a logical outcome of Traditionalist thought, but a “project” of Traditionalism or rather the projects of individuals and groups, some of whom had an interest in Traditionalist thinking?

Like in the other book, I have the idea that Sedgwick stretches the subject to describe the influence of Traditionalism on elements of our own time and age, however indirect. Then again, Traditionalism isn’t a philosophy of the past and Traditionalist thinkers did and do influence (academic) thinking, so I guess we are just talking about a “project” of Sedgwick himself.

Shortly the ‘traditional’ Traditionalists, their lives and thought (but not as much about their lives as in the previous book) and then rapidly on to more contemporary thinkers. There is a bit too much stress on the political side of the story, but I guess also there we see a preference of the author. So you can read about Alain de Benoist, Alexandr Dugin, “alt-right”, etc. Also, more interesting to me personally, yet shorter, Nader Ardalan, a Traditionalist architect; Keith Critchlow who wrote about geometry and John Tavener, a composer; and even a little about “music scene Traditionalism“.

The book is not a crash course in Traditionalist thought, but -as mentioned- a history of that thought. It is a readable book, fairly interesting and it does touch open some new related subjects.

2023 Oxford University Press, isbn 0197683762

De Weg Terug – Jan de Meyer (2022)

Jan de Meyer (1961-) is a Flemish sinologist (scholar of Chinese studies) who wrote several books and translated traditional texts. Some of his work is in English, most is in Dutch. This is one such Dutch title. Earlier I read Wat Kan Ik Leren Van De Taoïsten? (‘What can I learn of the Taoists?’) (2020). This is also a Dutch title, perhaps that was the reason I did not review it.

The title of the present book translates to ‘The way back’. It is about “Chinese hermits and Daoism”. Where the other title (‘what can I learn’) presents translations of classic, Chinese texts (with elucidations) about a list of subjects, ‘the way back’ is an in depth study into the subject of Chinese hermitage.

Early in the book De Meyer explains that Chinese hermitage is not quite the same as people retreating into a cloister. The book is mostly about people who have retreated to inhabitable areas, often mountains, to stay away from normal life. Some of these hermits also studied Confucianism, Taoism, or both. Some made a name of being wise. Then the irony occurs that some of these people fled the dangers of society (China has a violent past), when at the same time they are approached for public functions. The book seems to say that in ancient China you either worked for the government or you retreated from public life.

Spanning centuries upon centuries, De Meyer presents a long list of hermits, some (relatively) famous, some translated into a Western language for the first time. You encounter Taoism, some Confucianism, Chinese culture and politics and of course the life of the (un)common man and woman.

Just as in the other book, De Meyer has a very easy-to-read writing style with humour and obviously a massive knowledge about his subject. A book about people living in mountains may seem a bit dull, but ‘the way back’ is a very nice book about old and not-so-old Chinese culture.

2022 Athenaeum, isbn 9789025313029

al-‘Ilm al-Huduri: knowledge by Presence – Sayyed Hejazi (2012)

“This book is a comparative study of the epistemology of Suhrawardî and Mullâ Sadrâ Shîrâzî, two Muslim thinkers of the 6th/12th and 11th/17th century.” This sounded interesting. Suhrawardi and Mulla Sadra are two Muslim thinkers I liked to read more of/about, so both of them in one book sounded like a good idea. Perhaps the word “epistemology” in the description should have sounded an alarm.

The book is very academic. Can I even say “philosophical” in the modern, Western explanation of the word? How many times on each page can you use words such as “epistemological” and “ontological”?

Hejazi focuses on two phrases: “knowledge by presence (al-‘ilm al-hudûrî)” and “formal, empirical, or conceptual knowledge (al-‘ilm husuli)”. Judging the title mostly the former. It takes about a book to explain the concepts and the different interpretations of the two mentioned, but also a few other authors.

The book is somewhat interesting, but too ‘philosophical’ and academic to my liking and too limited in scope. I would have liked to learn more about Suhrawardi’s and Mulla Sadra’s thinking. I guess I do not belong to the intended audience of this book.

As a closing remark. The Kindle version is quite flawed with disappearing sentences.

2012 ISRA Academy Press, isbn 1453779043