I have never been much fond of Joseph Campbell (1904-1987). In the Amazon Kindle Store (but you can also get this book as a soft- or hardcover or audio book) I ran into a stack (18 so far) of titles in a series of collected works. Since it never hurts to learn of other opinions and because the subject of the present title is interesting, I decided to read me another Campbell.
The collected works series are compilations of articles, essays, lectures, etc. of Campbell, given sometimes over the course of decades and then compiled and ordered per theme. Therefor it is not a work by Campbell, but a book edited, in this case by Evans Lansing Smith.
In the introduction we read how the editor as a student got acquainted with Campbell, first on an excursion later attending lectures at universities and other occasions. Campbell is presented as a story teller and that is exactly what he is in this book.
After a general introduction into the (pre)history of the Arthurian myths follows a long and detailed retelling of the Parzival story of Wolfram von Eschenbach, but in the words of Campbell. This is amusing here and there, but in general I find it too popularly. With the Tristan story things become more informative and part three even has a theme: “the waste land”.
The first appendix is Campbell’s dissertation and I prefer the (somewhat) more academic presentation over the previous parts. The text about the “dolorous stroke” is -in my opinion- also the most interesting part of the book, even though it is a text of a young Campbell.
Overall I can only repeat once more that Campbell’s approach often is not mine. Blunt statements such as “he was a sun god”, following Frazer in seeing “fertility gods” everywhere, the stress on the psychological approach, I prefer Campbell’s colleagues with other nuances.
But, the book shows that Campbell spent decades on the subject, returning to it, evolving in his thinking, mirroring it to new discoveries either or not from other cultures. He obviously had a wide interest and he seems to present all information and comparisons straight from his head. He also has many things that I do agree with. Overall, Romance of the Grail made an alright read.
Kremmerz is a name that I sometimes run into, especially when it comes to Italian occultism. I did not know that one of his books is available in English.
Kremmerz (1861–1930) was born Ciro Formisano. He is a generation older than Julius Evola (1898-1978). Kremmerz’ thinking is not unlike that of the (KR)UR group. It seems he was involved in this group in his last years. If he knew Evola from that group, the latter must still have been pretty young. Reghini (1878-1946) was more a contemporary of his. Perhaps I should reread the introductions to the first two Introduction to Magic books again for more context.
Kremmerz had a (somewhat) scientific approach to magic, but Kremmerz had a more Christian approach than Reghini or Evola.
The book was originally published in 1897. It seems that he and his Confraternita Terapeutica e Magica di Myriam (Therapeutic and Magic Brotherhood of Myriam) have published more, but if that is correct, this material is not yet available in English.
The present title is not written in name of the Myriam group. Kremmerz claims to write as clearly as he could about magic, but do not expect a manual with practices. The book has more a philosophical and theoretically esoteric approach to the subject, but of course, I may not have the ‘ears to hear’. The book is somewhat interesting and Kremmerz has some things to think about, but overall the book is not more interesting to me than the works published in (KR)UR (and yet I just started the third part of the books with these texts). The Hermetic Science of Transformation mostly gives a step in recent Italian occultism with Reghini before and Evola and (KR)UR after.
“Occulture” author Abrahamsson used to have a journal which are now made available again. Here we have the first three volumes original published between 1989 and 1993. The total number of pages is well over 300.
Within the pages you can find texts of Abrahamsson and range of author authors, but also interviews. There are a lot of noticeable name. Genesis P-Orridge, William Buroughs, Kenneth Anger, Freya Asswyn, the Order of Nine Angles, Anton LaVey and more.
There is too much satanism here for my liking, especially towards the end, but ironically it are a few of the texts of LaVey that I found most amusing. Much of the other texts are too serious. The background information about people such as P-Orridge and Anger is interesting though.
There are short texts, poems, but also very long essays. Overall, there was not a whole lot that I found very interesting, so I do not think I am going to catch up with the next reissued issues. At least not any time soon.
I ran into this fairly recent (Januari 2023) book which aims to update the readers about the current state of research into the Picts.
The authors begin with a broad stroke history of the research and the Picts themselves. This opening chapter is the most interesting of the book. In the last decades the knowledge about the Picts increased exponentially. There have been many findings. Older findings can now sometimes be (better) ascribed to the Picts. There are new methods of dating and new methods of finding spots. The authors mostly take you along the new information, but also say a thing or two about the new methods of research.
The following chapters are more specific subjects. Everyday life. Elite life. From paganism to Christendom. Funerary customs. The symbols. The end of the Pictish civilization.
To start with the latter. For five centuries the Picts have ruled (large parts of) what is now Scotland. It is not that the Picts were a homogeneous civilization though. There were different tribes, different overmen, even different languages. For a short while there was a larger Pictish kingdom. The Picts managed to keep the Romans at bay, but there were major influences from the Gauls from the South and the Vikings from the North. It seems that “Pictland” had been largely “Gaulisized” before the influx from the North started. In the end all (new) civilizations appear to have merged together. Also the influence of Christianity seems to have been larger and longer than earlier concluded.
As the book continues you will learn a thing or two about the way the Picts built their houses, forts, cemeteries, etc. A bit about Pictish society and a wee bit about their pagan and Christian believes. When it comes to the symbols, the best conclusion that the authors can distill from all that has been written before, is that they refer to names and in possible extension, rank and descent. The symbols disappeared together with the Pictish language, so the somewhat disappointing conclusion is that they represent some sort of writing.
Many questions are unanswered and many sites have to be investigated further. Finally the research into the Picts is making serious progress, but there is still a long way to go. In this book you get an update about where the researches stand today. The book is fairly dry, but not too academic.
Evola himself compiled the texts of the journals UR and KRUR, wrote an introduction, elucidates on some texts, etc. In 2001 the first volume of English translations of these compilations was published and apparently only in 2019 volume II saw the light of day.
Again I find the introduction the most interesting part of the book. This time it was written by Hans Thomas Hakl who just like Renate Del Ponte in volume I gives an overview of esoteric and occult circles in Italy up to and after the UR and KRUR group. Del Ponte proves to be one of the heirs of these groups.
Volume II seems to be a bit more theoretical than volume I, but also here there are translated alchemical texts and magical instructions. A few of the texts are fairly interesting, several are not entirely my cup of tea. There is a great variety in subjects, so when your interests are esoterically broad, there might be some nice reading material here. It is a bit of a sad conclusion that I enjoy reading about esotericists more than I do reading what they had to say.
Volume III was published in 2021 and there is now also a book that contains all volumes.
So, Polemos was initially a 1000-page book written in Russian by an author born in 1991. First published in 2016, at the age of 25! Also the translator, Jafe Arnold, is a young author and the man behind the Prav publishing house. I also ran into his name in an academic Traditionalistic work.
Part II is another massive work, over 500 pages. The ‘pagan perspectives’ are sometimes not that obvious. There are lengthy chapters are subjects such as the “creationism” of Abrahamic religions, the left hand path, dualism, more or less obscure currents within Eastern religions or within Islam. Sometimes interesting, sometimes a bit too ‘off path’ with only here and there references to “pagan traditionalism”. Often quoted is Evola, but Svarte also refers to less known authors such as Troy Southgate. Obviously, politically Svarte is not in the corner of the masses, but he is critical to both ‘left’ and ‘right’. He is also critical towards Traditionalists such as René Guénon.
The red thread of this volume is:
Paganism is opposed by the creationism in the face of the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as their offspring – Modernity and Postmodernity.
For a full-blooded revival of the true pagan worldview in modern conditions, the philosophy of Traditionalism is a categorical necessity.
To make that point, Svarte goes at great lengths displaying his extraordinary well-readness. Also he frequently manages to shortly explain some difficult writings or authors, so he not only read it all, he understands it as well.
Interesting, thought-provoking, but not very much to-the-point. You can read both Polemos volumes for an introduction into modern Traditionalism, the Russian and foreign pagan ‘scenes’, the woes of modernity and the Abrahamic religions. The second volume is even more theoretic than the first one.
Sedgwick wrote a few books about Sufism. I guess the title made me think that this is a book with Sufi texts. It is not really. The book is mostly an introduction to Sufism. Where in “Western Sufism“, obviously, the encounter with the West was central, here we have a little book with Sufism as it was and is in Muslim countries.
In this early book on Sufism you can read what Sufism is and how it came to be. The author has information about different branches and different orders and how these differences originated. Then there is a chapter about Sufism in Muslim societies and how that role changed from elite to pariah.
The book is interesting, but very basic and fairly thin (132 pages). There is some Sufi material to read, the Hikam of Ibn ‘Ata Allah, but these are only a few pages all the way at the end.
2000/3 American University in Cairo Press, isbn 9774248236
In 2016 Frimurerne i Vikingtiden was published. It took me some effort to get the book and even more to read it in Norwegian! Since that time the author had been trying to have it published in English. Finally he succeeded. Where the first book was published nicely as a hardcover by a Norwegian publishing house, the English edition is self published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and it comes as a paperback (so far at least). The book has not only been translated, it has also been updated.
About Ystad’s theories, I have written elsewhere (here and here). In short, Ystad is one of the few authors who looks for the origins of Masonic symbolism in the pre Christian past of Northern Europe. In Ystad’s case, he thinks that the Viking rituals of initiations to Freyja, Odin and Thor are the basis for the three degrees of Freemasonry. During the Viking settlement on the British isles, these rituals were introduced the cradle of Freemasonry.
In English, the information that Ystad presents is of course much easier to follow than in Norwegian. The updates in the new edition can be found in more cosmological interpretations of Norse myths.
What makes the book interesting to people who have not necessarily have an interest in the Masonic side of the story, but more in heathenry in general, is that Ystad refers to many Scandinavian publications and that he uses recent archaeological findings. These have been updated for the new edition too. The reader will also be introduced to investigations and findings that are probably unknown outside Scandinavian specialists.
Even though the author refers to Georges Dumézil he came to other conclusions regarding the “functions”. As we saw, the rites of Odin supposedly became the second degree of Freemasonry. Those of Thor the third degree. Also Ystad sees Thor as one half of the “divine twins”, while in Dumézil’s scheme the first and second “function” are ‘doubly occupied’ while the second (where he places Thor) not. The other half of the twin, according to Ystad, may originally have been Loki.
Since 2016 Ystad has been telling that his next book will be about these twins. Now this book has a name: The Myth That Shaped Our Culture.
According to Ystad Vikings founded the city of Jorvik which later became York. For his Masonic information he mostly leans on the famous (and easy to obtain) Duncan’s Masonic Ritual and Monitor (1866) which is the “York rite”. It is but one of many Masonic rituals. As Duncan’s book has been publicly available for many years, Ystad does not shy to quote it in detail. Hence: the book is full of ‘Masonic spoilers’. There are also references to the “Swedish Rite” in which the author worked for three decades. In both cases you can see conclusions based on the peculiarities of these rituals.
This is one of the problems of the book. Fairly disparate elements are compared to also disparate elements of Norse culture (different cultures, different times). This is interesting in a way, but with such an approach you have to present a lot of similarities to make the underlying hypothesis likely. Also there are a lot of “could it be?” type questions and some conclusions of the author would not have been my own.
Indeed, an investigation on shaky ground with many holes and ‘convenient conclusions’. Then again, it is never going to be so easy that we find ritual texts, new versions of which we can trace through time until the dawn of Freemasonry. Speculation will always be involved. Ystad made a brave attempt to present a little-known theory. His attempt even costs him his membership of his mother lodge!
The reason that I heard of the first book, was that it had been picked up by the major German journal Der Spiegel and their publication caused a little stir online. Let us hope that this revised and enlarged edition will also cause a little stir so that this too-little-heard-of theory will reach a larger audience. Ystad’s book is not the ultimate explanation of the origins of Freemasonry, but in 400+ page he certainly shoots enough similarities and theories at you, to make you wonder if Northern Europe [was] one of the sources of Masonic symbolism as Franz Farwerck named one of his books.
I probably ran into his name before, but I ran into Grimsson in the book of Askr Svarte as a pagan Traditionalist, so I decided to try one of his books.
The book is about the “Mannerbund”, as Grimsson writes is. More specifically, it is about the “Mannerbund” as an “Androphile Mystery Cult”.
When we read of the Germanic tribes the initiatory eros of their practises is little discussed.
Grimsson describes the men-bonds of old (and the present day) as groups of men with ‘special friendship’. In a way this is a daring theory. Warrior-bonds are usually associated with ‘manly men’ and male-male love is not. Of course this is the perception of our own time. I get the idea that when a bond of man have a closer connection than just membership of the group, they will more easily risk their own lives for their brothers.
That is an approach that perhaps could have been described in a fraction of the book. There are also lengthy decline of our own time (here Grimsson has some ‘Traditionalistic traits’), but also “Androphilia” in literature and in movements of the past. A bit too much of related subjects to my liking. The parts about “sexual fluidity” in Norse myths are more interesting.
The author refers to Jan de Vries and “Frans Farwerck” (!) which is something that does not often happen in English literature. I believe he himself is from Australia.
A mildly interesting book with a ‘wildly’ different approach to the subject.
Books of Konstantin Serebrov have been translated into different languages, mostly Dutch and English. These translations are published by the Dutch publishing house Serebrov Boeken (‘Serebrov Books’). They are divided in series and one such series is ‘Lessons of Master G.’ which consists of three books: Follow Me, Live Three Incarnations In One and On The Path of Alchemical Fusion. (And the ‘psychedelic’ appendix Adventures of Master G and his faithful Disciples Morose and Bitumen in the Nigredo Valley, or Modern Alchemy. Phantasmagoria).
It took a little searching, but there were originally two Russian books and the three translations have different editions with different titles. The first book was originally called Один шаг в Зазеркалье (2001) which Deepl translates to ‘One step into the looking glass’. This became The Mystical Labyrinth In Russia translated by Robin Winckel-Mellish (a South African who lived in the Netherlands) in 2006. In 2015 a new edition (a new translation?) was published as Follow Me by Gouri Gozalov (the Gouri in the book I guess) and Maria Toonen (a Dutch woman).
The there was the book Мистический Андеграунд (‘Mystic Underground’) also published in 2001. This book is translated into two parts. The first edition of the first part was published in 2006 as The Mystical Underground Of Moscow and in 2016 as Live Three Incarnations In One. The second half was first published in 2006 as On The Path Of Alchemical Fusion and kept its title in the second edition of 2017. The physical copies have quite high prices at Amazon.
The current review is about the two part translation of Мистический Андеграунд (‘Mystic Underground’) to be obtained -as mentioned- as the titles Live Three Incarnations In One and On The Path Of Alchemical Fusion.
Just as Follow Me we basically have diary entries of Serebrov (“Kasyan”) and sometimes Gouri. How they give up their jobs to follow “Master G.” (Vladimir Stepanov) around Russian territory, constantly meeting familiar and new people, talking about ‘the Path’ and stumbling into ‘situations of high temperature’. A bit more than in the first part of the trilogy, we hear G. explaining things, mostly the bad elements of the characters of Serebrov and Gouri (which are very alike in many ways). Even though even in the last two decades of the previous century interest in the esoteric was dangerous in Russia, in every city where they go, new recruits (“sea cadets”) for the “Ship Argo” which is “in search for the mystical Golden Fleece” are found. These recruits are often lovely young ladies, but can also be male brutes. For two books I had the impression that even though G. is able to change the atmosphere in a group, give his recruits mystical experiences, etc. the “School” was mostly a teaching environment. Rudolf Steiner “who was his [G.’s] favourite author”, a bit of Blavatsky, but mostly Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Berdyaev and to some extend “Mamley” (Yury Mamleyev (1931-2015) the ‘founder’ of the “Iuzhinskii Cirle”?) are authors that are referred to. In what way does that explain G.’s abilities? As I wrote elsewhere, G./Stepanov came from the “Iuzhinskii Kruzhok” (‘Iuzhinskii Circle’, sometimes spelled ‘Yuzhinsky’). Several of the people in the book can also be linked to this circle. At one point G. remarks that he “had become completely disillusioned about the circles of Moscow philosophers”, but he obviously remained in touch with some of its members.
Even though Serebrov and Gouri are constantly scoffed by G. about three quarters into the second book (the first part of the ‘Mystic Underground’ translations) Serebrov starts to teach himself and Gouri is made “mayor” or the hometown of the two, meaning that his is supposed to lead the local ‘circle’. As the book continues, “Kasyan” becomes more and more of a teacher and Gouri at the same time his helper and a disciple, but Gouri’s spiritual path rises slower than that of Kasyan.
Towards the end of the book Kasyan and Gouri go into a three week drinking frenzy at the “Admiral” (another Iuzhinskii member) after which they are initiated into the mysteries of alchemy in somebody’s kitchen by means of a short ceremony.
The appendix plays six years later. It also bears Serebrov’s name, but the writing style is completely different and (contrary to the first three books), “Morose” (a new nickname for Serebrov who became depressed because of his lack of progress) is written about in the third person. It is a psychedelic book which reads like the report of the lucid dreams that become more and more frequent in Kasyan’s and Gouri’s lives.
All in all the books make alright reads. They are mostly reports of spiritual seekers and especially the look into the remains of the Iuzhinskii Circle are interesting. As mentioned before, there are no ‘clear cut lessons’, no practices that you can copy, nor even an indication how to get in contact with the “School” should you be interested in that. The books give much to think about, suggestions for spiritual development, but then in a very alcoholic, Russian way, but all as parts of a narritive.