Author Archives: Roy

Rediscovered Rituals Of English Freemasonry – David Harrison (2020)

Once again Harrison publishes a book about old Masonic texts. About I must stress as we will see.

The concerning texts is a collection of Masonic rituals made by Richard Carlile (1790-1843) under the title Manual Of Freemasonry (first published 1845).

The book begins with Carlile, a political radical and not a Freemason (!) who wanted to educate the general public about a variety of subjects, including Freemasonry.

Carlile proves to be a good investigator with good sources and a keen insight in the symbolism and workings of Freemasonry. He compiled 30 rituals, including the three “craft degrees” (entered apprentice, fellowcraft, master mason). They are not presented as one system, Carlile compiled degrees from all kinds of systems. Besides, in these days, may degrees not all really were part of a system. The compilation does show what degrees were ‘worked’ in these days of course.

So you get ‘high degrees’, ‘side degrees’, many degrees that are now part of the Ancient And Accepted Scottish Rite, etc., etc. Unfortunately Harrison chose to only retell the stories of the degrees, rather than printing the texts that Carlile has published.

The historical part is somewhat interesting. The short stories of the degrees is only mildly so. What is of more interest is that Harrison shows how Carlile ordered his degrees so that there is some sort of developing story throughout the degrees.

It seems that again I have to conclude that the author appears to have much more information available than what he presents is this little book (just a little over 100 pages of text). Harrisons books would be much more interesting if he did not compress his information into tiny books such as this one.

Do I have to say that this book will only be interesting for people either ‘going through’ Masonic degrees and/or interested in their histories?

2020 Lewis Masonic, isbn 9780853185710

Autobiography – Adam McLean (2020)

Adam McLean (1948-) is the (in)famous man behind Alchemywebsite.com. I remember knowing that website for as long as I have access to the internet, so even when it was still hosted at Levity.com. This book shows why that recollection is correct.

Of course McLean did way more than hosting a website. He is probably best known for coloring Alchemical plates, but he published many, many Alchemical texts, wrote books himself, had some journals (the most famous of which is the Hermetic Journal), etc. etc.

Now that McLean is starting to become of age, he not only started to look back at his life, but also to sell his massive collections of book, tarot decks, paintings, drawings and whatever he collected during his life. And a collector he sure is. As an example. Quite late in his life McLean developed an interest in the art of tarot cards. In the next decade he collected several thousands of them!

The autobiography starts quite autobiographical. McLean was interested in electronic devices and chemics from a very early age. He experimented, created his own devices and picked up an interest in maths. Formal education did not quite bring what he hoped, so McLean started to look for other ways to pursue his interests. Needless to say that somewhere along the line, he got interested in Alchemy.

You can read how he prints his own books, what projects he worked on, how he met people such as Joost Ritman of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, conferences he organised and attended, the many times he moved residence, his experiments with early computers and indeed, how he created a website as soon the internet became available to the general public.

(Overly) active, even obsessive perhaps, McLean goes after anything that triggers his interest, being it surreal art, Jeroen Bosch, mathematics, magic, (al)chemy, etc. A driven man indeed and he still is. Also his entire life he tries to convince people that a more rational approach of his subjects is to be preferred, something which is not always received with applause.

The book is an amusing read. Here and there I got some context to history that I was (vaguely) aware of before, such as the founding of the Ritman Library. As the book continues, it becomes less autobiographical though and more a list of McLean’s numerous projects.

2020 Kilbirnie Press, isbn 979-8669905583

How Thor Lost His Thunder – Declan Taggart (2018)

This book has been on my wish list for a while. It was an expensive academic publication though. The hardback is still around $ 150,-. A while ago I noticed that there is a Kindle version (Amazon ebook) for $ 37,-. Still expensive and I did not have a Kindle. By the time I got myself one, Amazon also started selling a paperback for the same price as the digital version. Weird, how the book market can act!

Taggard had published articles about the subject of his PhD and the publication for this PhD is worked into this book.

Taggart’s book is both dull and fascinating. Dull, because the author meticulously investigates all ancient written sources about the God Thor. Page after page about some literary expression or another detail. On the other hand, this is fascinating too. Seldom do I see such thorough scholarship, weighing arguments, comparing interpretations. Of course the book is stuffed with references to texts that we know, but also lesser known sources. It does help if you know your sources, as Taggart does not always provide context to the details he presents.

As the title suggests, the main thesis of Taggart is showing that the often repeated connection of Thor to thunder and lightning is not entirely corroborated by the sources. Much (the book is 228 pages) is presented to investigate this. Taggart describes the sources, looks for original meanings for names and words, investigates landscape and climate of the regions where the sources were written down, takes a critical look to the interpretatio Romano and the other way around and then starts investigating different sources and elements thereof.

So where is Thor actually connected with thunder, not in translation, but in the original texts? What do words in these texts mean in another context? These are the things you will read about in Taggarts book.

There are also subject such as, what does “Thor vigi” actually mean? Is every symbol that looks like a hammer a reference to Thor and what could these symbols, pendants, etc. have been for?

Taggard is critical, but positively so. He is more positive to Snorri than some other authors for example. He explains in detail why he refutes or corroborates interpretations or when he simply cannot be entirely sure.

Indeed, How Thor Lost His Thunder is an interesting read. Perhaps too detailed for some, but it are investigations like these that really polish the way we look at the old texts.

2018 Routledge, isbn 0367889021 (of the 2019 paperback version)

The Essential Seyyed Hossein Nasr (2007)

Seyyed Hossein Nasr is a contemporary Traditionalist and born Muslim. He was born in 1933 and is still around, 87 years of age.

As the title suggests, this is a collection of his writings. The book was compiled by fellow Traditionalist William Chittick and has a foreword by Huston Smith.

Chittick made three divisions in the book. The first part is about religion, the opening texts is called “Living In A Multi-Religious World”. Then we have a larger part specifically about Islam and the last part is about Tradition.

Of course there are similarities between Nasr and other Traditionalists, but this book reads nothing like a book of Guénon or Coomaraswamy. Nasr is more academic on one side, and more traditional religious on the other. Of course he was born a Muslim in a conservative Muslim country (Iraq), so Islam is the basis of his thinking. And an interesting thinker he is! Nasr’s academic career obviously made him very well acquainted with different religions. Also he does not shun authors who were not Muslims from birth, such as Frithjof Shuon. Moreover, the different branches of Sufism are dealt with alongside the various kinds of ‘mainstream’ Islam.

As said, Nasr’s writing is quite academic. He can be somewhat extensive and his style is not really light reading. I liked the texts in which we see a modern Muslim looking at the world better than the Traditionalist texts at the end, but Nasr is good in the comparative approach and that is something I enjoy reading.

The book is undoubtedly meant as an introduction to the author and I guess you indeed will get a good idea of Nasr reading this book.

2007 World Wisdom, isbn 1933316381

Introduction To Magic – Julius Evola (2001)

I have known about this book for a long time, bu due to the subject, it was not high on my wish list. Only recently did I realise that this is not a book by Julius Evola, but these are actually texts from the UR and KRUR magazines from the magical group that Evola was involved in early in his life. Actually, there is much more material, so this book is actually volume 1 of 3 and written by “Julius Evola and the Ur group.

Evola himself compiled the texts from the periodicals into a book. He introduced, edited and annotated the texts. This work has been available in Italian since 1971.

I found the introduction by the original editor Renate Del Ponte the most interesting part of the book. The author sketches the occult scene in Italy in Evola’s time and thus introduces the (KR)UR group. The authors wanted to remain anonymous and used pseudonyms, but Del Ponte identified most of them. A varied group. Evola used different pseudonyms.

Among the texts Evola’s are not only recognisable, but also the most interesting to me. They are more esoteric and somewhat Traditionalist than many of the other texts which are often practical magical texts. As interesting as I find people experimenting that way, as little interesting I find it to read about magical operations.

The book goes from -as mentioned- practical magical exercises and rituals, to translations of texts (alchemical, philosophical), initiation, ancient cultures and what not. Very varied indeed. Not all texts are equally interesting to me.

I am not yet sure if I am interested in the other two volumes. Supposedly they contain translations of old texts and other material not necessarily written by the members of the UR group.

So not your typical Evola work!

2001 Inner Traditions, isbn 0892816244

A Cultural History Of Tarot – Helen Farley (2009)

Suddenly I felt the need to look at the symbolism of the Tarot. I wondered if I should just buy different decks or a book with images of different decks. Well, I have found no book of the latter type, but there is an excellent website. Farley’s book seemed to be the closest to what I was looking for, so I got myself a copy.

Farley “is lecturer in Studies in Religion and Esotericism at the University of Queensland, Australia”, so it at least is a serious / academic work. As the title suggests, it is a history.

The author investigates several histories of Tarot, mostly mystical and comes to the conclusion that it developed from common card games in Renaissance Italy, more specifically the Visconti court. The card games of before did not have the trump cards that Tarot decks have, but there are three different sets from roughly the same time that do. The designs Farley traces back to the history of the Visconti family. For example, the card “tower” was called “La Torre”. Also on old decks this tower is destroyed by lightning. The Torre family was a family that the Visconti’s had problems with.

For many years Tarot was in fact but an extended card game. There is symbolism on the cards, but the esoteric interpretation of the cards, and thus, the use for divination, came many, many years later.

In her interesting book Farley not only gives the history of the game, but also puts the symbolism in a context. As the popularity of the game rose, new interpretations followed especially when the cards landed outside Italy. Farley describes the symbolism and the development of Tarot into an esoteric system.

The latter gives some history of esoteric currents that many readers may already be aware of. Eliphas Levi, the Golden Dawn, Westcott, Matters, Crowley and of course Waite are dealt with. Of course there is some highlight to their connections to Tarot, but there was little new here for me.

Farley does not shun treating modern Tarots and names many, many New Age type decks.

Not a book if you want to learn how to lay cards and interpret them. Farley’s book does offer a wonderful and sometimes fascinating history and shows that there are many variations in decks with different names for cards, different cards altogether, different numbering, different order, etc. What I was after myself, I also learned a bit about the development of the symbols of the cards too.

The book is fairly thin (270 pages) and about a third is notes, bibliography and the like, so do not expect a massive reference work. There are images from different decks, but only a handful and only in grey.

2019 Bloomsbury, isn 1788314913

Mysticism After Modernism – James O’Meara (2020)

Manticore has titles that take me (slightly) out of my usual bubble, but I did not expect that when I ordered this book.

The book is about: “Crowley, Evola, Neville, Watts, Colin Wilson and Other Populist Gurus”. A few names that are (relatively) unknown to me, but some ‘Traditionalism’ is promised and of course Crowley and Evola make an odd combination, (well, of course not entirely).

The book proves to be a second edition, the first was published in 2018. It is a compilation of essays, most of them published at “North American New Right” website and publishing house Counter Currents. Other texts have been available before in “Aristokratia“. So indeed, you can expect some politics here too.

The book opens with Alan Watts, somewhat new to me and somewhat interesting, but too much Watts for my liking. Then we have William Burroughs (and a bit of Genesis P. Orridge), Aleister Crowley, Julius Evola, Gnosticism, Neville Goddard and at the end, Donald Trump.

There is some sort of red thread here in the author’s words: “America’s home-made Hermeticism, our native-born Neoplatonism, our own two-fisted Traditionalism, the movement generally known as New Thought.”

New Thought, I heard about that. Positive thinking, the Law of Attraction, the Secret, Will what you Want, that sort of things, right? Right indeed! Even though the author has explained it on a few occasions, I cannot make the step from Traditionalism to New Thought in my mind. Neither do I find the essays about the New Thinkers very interesting.

What is a merit of the book is that the texts are written with some humor, references to pop culture (mostly the “Madmen” series and the “Manhunter” film) which gives a new approach to some ideas. Also O’Meara manages to mix up a massive amount of different sources.

Overall I found the book somewhat amusing in its better parts and not entirely my cup of tea in most.

2020 Manticore press, isbn 0648766020

The Mystical Foundations Of Francis Bacon’s Science – Daniel Branco (2020)

Strange timing this publication. I recently read three books mostly about the events leading up to the formation of the ‘premier Grand Lodge’ of Freemasons. When I was about the finish the third, this book about Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was published. Bacon is (of course) mentioned in the books of Earnshaw.

Also I started to read a Dutch translation of Frances Yates’ Rosicrucian Enlightenment. I have had the book for many years, but I bought a Dutch translation when it came out eight years ago (probably because of the Monas Hieroglypica on the front) and I felt like taking it out of the plastic. (Of course) Bacon is in there too.

Already clear in Yates’ book is that Bacon had similar ideas to those expressed in the Rosicrucian manifestos of the early 17th century. He was careful to avoid being associated with them though. Shortly after the publications of the manifestos, especially governments were not very enthusiastic about the ideas expressed therein. Still, Bacon is often associated with the current and therefor also with proto-Freemasonry.

Not much of all that in the present title written by Branco in Spanish and translated to English though. Branco is a philosopher who, as the title says, investigated the non-scientific elements in Bacon’s thought. Besides being connected to esoteric currents, Bacon is also often seen as the first of the scientists. His ideas were indeed often rational, materialistic even, but besides an early scientist, he was also a late Renaissance-man and he worked within a religious frame.

Branco portrays Bacon as a much more complex thinker than authors of either side (esoteric or scientific) show him to be. From radical scientific ideas of his predecessors, Bacon knew about mystic, Hermetic and Rosicrucian ideas, was aware of the various branches of Protestantism and with all that tried to create a system of knowing encompassing all. A project for which is was both lauded and loathed, the latter mostly because people thought it was way too complex.

The book is a bit too philosophical and scholarly for me, but it is interesting to see ideas of both ‘camps’ are both confirmed and contradicted. Bacon was -as said- a complex thinker with inner contradictions too.

2020 Manticore Press, isbn 0648766004

Freemasonry: Initiation By Light – Christopher Earnshaw (2020)

And number three published in the ‘spiritual Freemasonry series’. This time the author seems to imply that there will be only three books in these series.

The first book that was published in these series was very interesting, the second less so and the third is interesting again. I do -though- sure wish that it had been published in a single volume. There is a large part of history again in the beginning of this book, but it seems a bit out of place. My guess is that the author had intended a historical part and more esoteric history of the three degrees and had to spread that over three books, the result is a bit odd at times.

The largest of the three books again has much history, but it is more connected to the subject than in the previous book. Again there is a lot of focus on “the first three Grand Masters” and their connections. Earnshaw’s stance towards ‘the operatives’ confuses me. One time he seems to say that these “operatives” have nothing to do with modern Freemasonry and at other times he says that one of the first three lodges was an operative one.

We follow the trail to America and back, the expansion of Freemasonry in Britain and abroad and then comes the part that is the main focus of this book: China.

Earnshaw has a very interesting tale of Jesuits going to China, a convert visiting Britain and the influence of this Chinese Jesuit on the minds of some people close to the founders of the first Grand Lodge. Via this route Earnshaw suggests that the Dao ‘initiation by light’ heavily influenced the first degree of Freemasonry. The Chinese influences also partly explain the alchemical elements in the second degree.

I am mostly interested in Earnshaw’s information about the people around the first Grand Lodge, but the story of Shen FuZong is intriguing. The arguments and comparisons do not always convince me, but Earnshaw certainly describes how different influences came together in the early 18th century and how (possibly) modern Freemasonry was brewed from them.

2020 Lewis Masonic, isbn 979-8605924371

Quadrivium & Trivium (2010 / 2016)

You heard about the seven liberal arts, right? I thought it was time to educate myself a little, so I looked around for a book that teaches about them. That became two books which on their turn are compilations of smaller books that have been published before.

So we have ‘number’, ‘geometry’, ‘music’ and ‘cosmology’ in the first book and ‘grammar’, ‘logic’ and ‘rhetoric’ in the second.

I was somewhat disappointed when I saw the fancy presentation of the books. They look like these big audience hip books for cheap bookstores. The texts seemed alright so I started with the “Quadrivium”.

I was not all that bad in math when I was younger, so the first part about ‘number’ was quite alright. It starts with some information about different numbers, but also has more interesting subjects such as Gematria and Gnomons.

‘Geometry’ makes an interesting subject, part of the information I had recently encountered in a wholly different way (a lecture about Jacob Böhme!). When this part moves more towards art-forms it became less interesting to me.

So, the Platonic solids. They were also part of the same Böhme lecture, so I figured this could not be too hard. Hopefully partly because English is not my mother tongue and some words simply mean nothing to me, this section was pretty tough!

This became even worse with the part of the harmonograph, a very interesting device to make music visual, but I stranded in the musical terms and the section after this is… about music. I was pretty lost in that section.

Very interesting was “coincidence in the solar system”. A fascination part about proportions in space which are extraordinary similar to those down here.

Overall, the “Quadrivium” book made me question my IQ a bit too often… And the other book is about subjects many of which I was never really good at and it is in another language too.

“Grammar”, ah, that I can follow even in English. “Logic” was well enough to understand and rhetoric was… Well actually the whole two books are mostly encyclopedias, explanations of terms, rather than learning you how to use it. This is mostly apparent in the “Trivium” book. The “rhetoric” part gives a lot of theory and examples, but I cannot say that I learned much about being a better “rhetorican” and looking back, the same goes for all subjects.

So we have two nice books in which you can look up things about subjects connected to the seven liberal arts, but do not expect to be a ‘homo univeralis’ afterwards. Most subjects span just one or two pages including images. Maybe the books are meant to make you acquainted with the seven liberal arts rather than teaching them.