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comparative religion

Symbols Of Sacred Science * René Guénon (2004)

symboles fondamentaux de la science sacrée 1961

This is a book that was published post-mortem, containing 75 articles in four different periodicals between the years 1926 and 1950. I ran into this book on the internet when I was writing an article and because yet another ‘Traditionalist clue’ came to me, an interest to deep into this current deeper was awoken within me. This book by Guénon is no easy read. To start with this is the first book of Guénon that I read. Maybe a Crisis Of The Modern World may have been a better starter, but things just didn’t go that way. The book opens with a magnificent article The Reform Of The Modern Mentality from which I quote opening my article about Traditionalism. Then follow a great many chapters explaining symbols, but this sounds a bit different from what you may expect. A few chapter-titles to illustrate what I mean: “The Sacred Heart and the Legend of the Holy Grail”, “The Language of the Birds”, “The Guardians of the Holy Land”, “Some Aspects of the Symbolism of the Fish”, “The Solstitial Gates” and “The Roots of Plants”. A ‘symbol’ can be a theme from mythology, a character in a story, a ‘visual symbol’ such as the Swastika, etc. Guénon really pierces through the surface of superficial explanations giving information of a whole lot of traditions, comparing, cross-referring and putting them against the other. The writer seems to suppose that the writers of the periodicals are well-informed in different traditions, giving Islamic or Hindu terms without (much) explanation. Fortunately I didn’t run into anything that I really never heard about, but I can imagine that people who haven’t different religions and traditions much, may need some kind of reference. Two points of comment about the book is that there could have been more images. Guénon often describes a symbol, but I would have been easier to just show it. Further there are many and lenghty notes which really do not help the well-readedness. Other than that, the English is clear, but Guénon had a very peculiar way of putting things, which undoubtely broke the minds of the translations often. Symbols Of Sacred Science is a book that keeps being of use. Many symbolisms come back in different chapters. This reduces the value of the book for reference purposes a bit maybe, but on the other hand, it becomes a bit of a learning book to get in ‘the Traditionalist way of thinking’. The publisher Fons Vitae has many more translations of Guénon (and also of other Traditionalist writers). This title is supposedly Guenon’s most important symbolism book, while Symbols Of Sacred Science is his most important metaphysical book.
(18/3/06 -4-)
Read quotes of Guénon here.

sophia perennis 2004 * isbn 0900588772

The Myth of the Eternal Return (isbn 0691017778) + Images and Symbols (isbn 069102068X * 1952) * Mircea Eliade * Mircea Eliade

I bought the Dutch translations of these books from the 1960’ies from one bookshop. The books appear to go together. Maybe I had too high hopes about these two books. I expected to get books with comparisons and explanations of symbols and symbology. In a way both books speak about these subjects, but not entirely the way I hoped. “The Myth…” speaks about archetypes in the Jungian sence and how these archetypes shaped mythology, religion and folklore. Eliade speaks about the repetition and periodicity of time and nature and how this led to anual feasts. Also a part is devoted to fate/karma. Is is an interesting little book, but there is a bit too much written about “primitive” African, South-American and far Eastern tribes while I hoped more Indo-European comparisons of myths and symbolism.
“Images And Symbols” partly covers the same ground as the other book, but is more focused on images and symbols. Again more in the sense of mythology, archetypes, the symbol of the centre (also in the other book), repetative time, etc. Nice is the part about the “god who binds” and the symbols of knots in different cultures. A long part is about shells for fertility and the last part is about water (floods, baptism, etc.). Again a nice book, but not exactly what I hoped for.
Read quotes of Eliade here.

Rites And Symbols Of Initiation * Mircea Eliade (1975)

birth and rebirth 1958

My 1975 copy doesn’t have an ISBN code, but since the book is still in print, I used the new cover and ISBN. This is another little book by Eliade, this time exploring the subject of initation. Eliade first speaks about puberty rites and later about “specialized initiations, which certain individuals undergo in order to trancend their human condition and become protégés of Supernatural Beings or even their equals.” (p. 129). As third sort of initiation, Eliade recognises the admittance to secret and/or esoteric groups and the becoming of shamans. As “historian of religion” Eliade gives many examples, comparisons, etc., but these are mostly from indiginous Australian groups. Here and there Eliade speaks of African tribes and even more seldomly about other groups, such as the Celtic and Germanic tribes. However the book is only 170 pages thick, Eliade is quite detailed (even though it is only “a bird’s eye view”) and informative. It is nice to hear of similar structures and symbols of initiations all over the world. I would have liked more focus on Northern European tribes, but you can’t have everything. Not as interesting as the other Eliade booklets that I reviewed earlier, but this writer remains one of my (current) favorites. Noticable are the first lines of the epilogue: “As we saw, modern man no longer has any initiations of the traditional type. Certain initiatory themes survive in Christianity, but the various Christian denominations no longer regard them as possessing the values of initiation.” (p. 132) But also here: “The only secret movement that exhibits a certain ideological consistency that already has a history, and that enjoys social and political prestige is Freemasonry. The other self-styled initiatory organizations are for the most part recent and hybrid improvisations.” (p. 133)
1975 Harper, isbn 0882143581 (26/7/06 -3-)
Read quotes of Eliade here.

Dictionnaire Des Religions * Mircea Eliade & Ioan P. Couliano (isbn 0060621516)

The HarperCollins Concise Guide to World Religion: The A-to-Z Encyclopedia of All the Major Religious Traditions

I found a nicely priced second hand version of the Dutch translation of Dictionnaire Des Religions book (1990) which became Wereldreligies In Kaart Gebracht. I believe it is the first book of the Romenian scholar Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) that I read. It is -so to say- a summery of the massive result of Eliades lifelong investigation of all the worlds religions. A book of not even 400 pages speaking of (almost?) every religion that you can think of, old or new, big or small. African religions to gnostic religions, mystery-religions, Eastern religions, name it, and this duo has a chapter or at least a paragraph about it. The book is divided in 33 groups which are each split up in paragraphs. There is a massive index referring to the paragraphs. Everything is -as Eliade wanted- put to readable (Eliade wanted something for the general public) that it really became “a novel of the worlds religions” as the preface puts it. So just try to lay your hands on this standard-work as well.
Read quotes of Eliade here.

The Sacred And The Profane * Mircea Eliade (isbn 015679201X)

Another Eliade that I found second hand. This little book speaks about the religiosity of mankind. He compares known and less-known traditions and religious expressions, symbolism and mythology. Fairly interesting, especially on a few parts where he comes with new information (for me). Quite some stress on African religion, but also Germanic mythology and initiation ceremonies in different cultures.
Read quotes of Eliade here.

Mitra-Varuna * Georges Dumézil (1940/48 * 1996)

It is a shame to see how few books by Georges Dumézil (1898-1986) have been translated into English and how even fewer books are actually available. Dumézil is famous for being at the cradle of the Indo-European hypothesis, being an imminent scholar in the field of comparative religions and mythology and (later) for recognising the tripartite divsion which comes back in all kinds of Indo-European fields. He may not really have been a ‘Traditionalist’ in the meaning of Guénon’s ‘school’, but he certainly has inspired many Traditionalists. Of the few books that are available through Amazon in English, I chose this one, because Dumézil more or less has an Indian starting point, but here also dedicated a few chapters to the Northern mythology. The book is only 190 pages, well translated by Derek Coltman and reads easily. In a few chapters Dumézil does get a bit scholarly though. The first version of this book was published in 1940. Dumézil has in particular been looking for pairs in Indo-European myths. Oppositional pairs, but just as well supplementary. The brothers Mitra and Varuna were used as example. For the 1948 second edition, the writer has rewritten parts of the book, because in the meantime he built his trifunctional hypothesis, so ‘things do not come in twos, but in threes (as well)’. Not too much information about this in the book though, but in the conclusion Dumézil explains that the pairs remained the starting point, but the trifunctional division is compatible with the other hypothesis, because the pairs come back on each of the three levels or classes.
The book starts with the Roman pair of Romulus and Remus, the Luperci and mythical founders of Rome, takes a few other characters from Roman mythology, continues with Greek mythology (Jupiter and Fides) and then passes Iranian (Ahura and Mithra) mythology to go to the Northern double function of *Wʹdhanaz and *Tͮwaz. All this comes to a conclusion in which the writer summarizes his findings and adds some extra information.
I loved to read the comparisons and cross-references, but I have the idea that this book shows only a tip of what Dumézil has to offer. Maybe his later books give a more complete view of his ideas. Unfortunatetly -like I said- there are not too many titles available in English, so I am afraid that I will have to get (or download!) myself some of the books in French.
(13/6/06 -4-)
Read quotes of Dumézil here.)
1940/48 * 1996 urzone * isbn 0942299132