The Hermetic Tradition * Julius Evola (1995)

la tradizione ermetica 1931/1971

Five years ago I was asked to write an article about Julius Evola. Because of the music that I listen to, I was aware of ‘new right’ thinkers (but never read them), including Evola. I did some investigation and Evola became my first acquintance with Traditionalism. I didn’t quite grasp the implications of this way of thinking it seems when I look back to my review of that time. Now that I am rereading the book I better appreciate what Evola has done. He writes a Traditionalist book, but his Tradition is Alchemy (the Royal Art that he calls The Hermetic Tradition) and this became a Traditionalist book with an alchemical starting point, such as there are Traditionalist books with Hindu or Islamic starting points. Evola was acquinted with René Guénon who is regarded the grandfather of the Traditionalist school and Guénon did not agree with everything Evola writes, including the notion of the Hermetic sophia perennis. You can wonder if Evola can truely be regarded as a Traditionalist, but on the other hand, is Guénon the criterion for Traditionalism? Evola truely believed that that perennial knowledge was of alchemical origin and this book speaks about alchemy tracing the symbolism back to the dawn of men. A nice read, in my opinion not “among the clearest works on alchemy every written” (as the backcover suggests), but a very interesting text from a Traditional point of view. And here follows my 2001 review:

“The Hermetic Tradition” is not the first book that most people think off when thinking of Julius Evola (1898-1974). Of course his “Revolt Against The Modern World” (first published 1934, first English version in 1995) is his best-known and most controversial work. But let us not forget the many non-political books that Evola wrote in his time.
“La Tradizione Ermetica” was first published in 1931 in Bari, Italy and reprinted by the same publisher in 1948. After quite a while, Evola rewrote the book and published the new version for the first time in 1971. It was reprinted two more times in the original language. The first translation was (as with many of Evola’s books) in French in 1965. Piere Pascal was a good French friend of Evola who translated several of his works to French. France had three reprints of “La Tradition Hermetique”. Later there were two Spanish (1975 and 1979) and two German (1989 and 1990) translations/printings and it took as long as until 1994 that for the first time, this book was made available in English. This is the book subject to this review.

First, notion should be made of the way Evola used the expression “Hermetic Tradition”. For him it was a synomymous term to “alchemy”, but not in the way of the predecessor of modern science. Evola’s preface starts with the following lines: “In the present work we shall use the expression “hermetic tradition” in a special sence that the Middle Ages and the Renaissance gave it. It will not refer to the ancient Greco-Egyptian cult of Hermes, nor will it refer solely to the teachings comprising the Alexandrian texts of the Corpus Hermeticum. In the particular sence we shall use it, hermeticism is directly concerned with the alchemical tradition, and it is the hermetico-alchemical tradition that will be the object of our study.” Furtheron Evola says: “we must draw attention to the error of those historians of science who want to reduce alchemy to mere chemistry in an infantile and mythological stage.”

The book is a fairly thin one (only just more than 200 pages) partioned in two parts and 51 short chapters. It is not as much a book about Hermeticism, but a Hermetic book. Many traditional ideas pass the revue, symbols and teachings are explained and indeed Evola managed to make things pretty clear. In contradiction to nowadays books about Hermeticism, there are only a handfull of quotes from the “Corpus Hermeticum” and I don’t think Evola quoted the “Asclepius” (for example) even once. Books and writers that are quoted a lot are Agrippa and especially his “De Occulta Philosophia” (1533); Jacob Boehme, in particular “Aurora” (17th cent); Valentine’s “Bibliotheca Chemica Curiosa” (1702); Berthelot’s “Collection des anciens alchimestes grecques” (1887) and “La chimie au moyen-Í¢ge” (1893), but also a great many other books, modern and traditional, western and eastern.

All in all a nice little book. I didn’t find too much new things, but at least a couple and some different visions of some symbolism and teachings. The translation is well-done and quite easy to read and based on the 1971 first publishing of the new edition of this book.
(10/11/01)
Read quotes of Evola here.

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