Category Archives: esotericism

Esoteric Studies In Masonry volume 1 – Daath Gnosis (2016)

When I ran into this book, published in 2016, I thought (hoped) that it would be a recent publication with an esoteric take on Freemasonry. In a way it is, but not the way I hoped.

The book contains old texts about: “France, Freemasonry, Hermeticism, Kabalah and Alchemical Symbolism”. They are presented in two languages. The left columns are English translations, the right columns are the French (original?) texts. There are texts that I do not know otherwise available in English such as texts from J.M. Ragon and L. Travenol. That make the publication, in a way, interesting.

Most of the book consists of catechisms, Masonic Q&As. These usually tell you something about the rituals, but they are not ritual texts themselves. These catechisms are presented per grade: Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason or equivalent. The latter I say because texts are presented from different Masonic orders such as the Rite of Memphis Misraim and adoption Freemasonry (pre co-Masonry Freemasonry that included women) where terms and symbols sometimes differ.

The book makes a mildly interesting read. You can, to some degree, compare symbols and ways of working from different Rites. There is one part with completely alchemist Masonic catechisms which show that alchemy once formed a major part of Masonic symbolism (at least in some organisations) with pretty practical information too. The more studious parts of the book are of the usual 18th and 19th century shallowness. Nice to read, not enough to study. read more

Myth, Magic & Masonry – Jaime Paul Lamb (2018)

This book was written by a Freemason who is also a member of the Ordo Templi Orientis and I understood the book would be about where the two systems touch. This is partly true.

The book has about 120 pages of text and actually contains four essays. In the first “section” the author writes about “The integral relationship between Freemasonry and Ceremonial Magick”. The other sections are about “Solar and astrological symbolism in Freemasonry”, “Elements of classical mythology in modern Freemasonry” and “Freemasonry and the rites of Mithras”.

Most contemporary Western magical orders somehow sprang from Freemasonry. In the time that esotericists and occultists alike joined Masonic lodges they also founded their own societies. Therefor it is not strange that within these orders many Masonic elements can be found. Where (a large part) of Freemasonry developed towards a moralistic society, some of the magic(k)al orders survive until the present day doing more or less what they did in the time of their foundings. The author gives an idea of what magical traces are left in Freemasonry and how a modern magician can look to Freemasonry. This may not be groundbreaking, but it is nice to read this from someone who still has his feet in both currents.

The astrology, Greek mythology and Mithras sections have a few nice findings here and there, but they are mostly not too much in depth and do not really give any new information. They can be better regarded as summaries of what can be found elsewhere and of course there is something to say for someone doing that. read more

Saturn Gnosis band 1-5 (2008)

When I was reading Flowers’ book about the Fraternitas Saturni I was curious if the mentioned publications would still be available. This proved to be very well so. Both “Saturn Gnosis” and “Blätter Für Angewandte Okkulte Lebenskunst” are available in reprint. The first five issues of “Saturn Gnosis” from the publisher “Verlag Geheimes Wissen” (along with other Fraternitas Saturni material), the rest (further “Saturn Gnosis” and “Blätter) from the publishing house of a follow-up of the original order. The Amazon link under the cover goes to a limited first edition, but the book can still be ordered from the earlier mentioned Verlag Geheimes Wissen.

The first five issues were published between 1928 and 1930, were first reprinted in 1992 and have been available for the general public since 2008. The publication is a little odd. Each issue contains fairly long essays that are fairly general and therefor seem to aim at the general audience rather than the order’s membership. Then each issue ends with “Logenmitteilungen” (‘lodge announcements’) listing new members (under pseudonym), who went to another grade, etc. That sounds much like an internal publication. Also there are a few texts directed to members.

The interested contemporary reader will not learn too much about the organisation from this book. The grade system is explained in one article, but besides a handful of references to rituals, there is little here that will teach you much about the workings of the Saturn brotherhood (that also contained women by the way). Perhaps this is for the better, since almost a century after the original publications, there are texts here that can still be of interest to the esotericist of today. read more

Fraternitas Saturni – Stephen E. Flowers (2018)

Just as most of his books, Flowers has revised this book a couple of times and republished it. The book was first published in 1990 as Fire And Ice: The History, Structure And Rituals Of Germany’s Most Influential Modern Magical Order – The Brotherhood Of Saturn. A second edition was published in 1994. For the third edition 2006 (self released on Runa Raven) the title was changed to The Fraternitas Saturni – or Brotherhood Of Saturn: An Introduction To Its History Philosophy And Rituals. This fourth edition is published by Inner Traditions, is again revised and expanded and this title changed again, this time to The Fraternitas Saturni: History, Doctrine, And Rituals Of The Magical Order Of The Brotherhood Of Saturn.

The story behind the book is interesting. When studying in Germany, the author received actual documents of a notorious magical order about which not much had been published, certainly not in another language than German, including history and rituals. There are still people working under the name and Flowers got permission to publish the information. The rituals are not those that are in use nowadays anyway.

The Fraternitas Saturni is (of course) best known for its links with Aleister Crowley and its sex-magical workings. Flowers soon puts things in perspective. In its 33 degree system, sex is only part of one (the 18º). Now the initiation is more sexy than in most esoteric orders and there are private workings involving ritual sex, but it is certainly not so that this was the main focus of the brotherhood. read more

Tantric Traditions – Gwendolyn Taunton (2018)

Even though the title suggests that this is one of the Primordial Traditions / Numen Books / Manticore Press journals with a collection of different authors and which mostly have the word “traditions” in the title, this is actually a book solely written by the person behind the publishing house.

“Tantric Traditions” is not a large book. It has a little over 200 pages of text and then some addenda. It is a very nice book though. Frequently railing against the popular Western view of Tantra, Taunton sets Tantra as the religion for the Kali Yuga. Also she shows that Tantra is not a separate renegade Eastern religion, but that is actually comes from the Vedic tradition. Last but not least, beside a sinister side, there is also a ‘lighter’ side to Tantra and the sinister side is much more sinister than you would imagine.

In the beginning of the book, the author explains the idea of the four ages and how Tantra is to be placed in the latest of these, the Kali Yuga. For this she draws on Traditionalists and might have benefited from a book of Joscelyn Godwin that I recently reviewed.
After this she continues with Tantra itself, highlighting different aspects, speaking about its mantras, yantras, but also about the darker rituals. In doing so she quotes primary and secondary sources. All this give a colourful of an interesting Eastern current about which much more is to be said that the popular “sacred sex” books. As a matter of fact, you will not read all that much about Tantric sex. There is so much more to say about Tantra. read more

Secret Teachers Of The Western World – Gary Lachman (2015)

It does not happen to me often that I impulsively buy a book. This book was (automatically) recommended when I ordered another book and I saw Western esotericism and René Guénon, so I figured I might give it a go.

Lachman wrote a large number of books about Western esotericism. Biographies of Crowley, Blavatsky, Steiner, Jung and Ouspensky, but also books Hermetism or the roaring 1960’ies. The name struck me as a popular author on the subject, even though I never read anything of Lachman. Reading the book, my initial thought proved to be correct.

The book proves to be some sort of history of Western esotericism for the larger public. There is almost no information in the book that was new to me and the people that Lachman calls “secret teachers” are in fact the best-known people within the subject.

The book starts in a somewhat original way. The author explains the “split brain theory” that says that our left brain is for our rational thinking and filter for the flow of information that our right brain processes. This right brain Lachman connects to esotericism. People who (naturally or by training) manage to reduce the filtering of the left brain are the seers, esotericists, mystics, etc.

Then follow chapters about Hermes Trismegistus, ancient knowledge, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, the Gnostics and then Lachman works towards more recent times with Alchemy, Kabbalah, Dante, Grail legends, then Renaissance, Rosicrucians, the upcoming of science, a little bit about Freemasonry, Romantics, Theosophy and its derivatives, Jung, Gurdjieff,The Beatles and the 1960’ies. read more

Renaissance Man And Mason – Piers Vaughan (2016)

Somewhere I read that this author writes about Freemasonry and alchemy. When looking for such a title, I saw no such book. Among the titles of this author at Amazon, the present one seemed the most interesting.

“Renaissance Man and Mason” is a reference to the fact that the author has broad interests like the Renaissance ‘homo universalis’, at least, he is of the opinion that a Freemason should study further than just memorising the ritual.

The book is a collection of lectures that Vaughan gave during the course of many years and at different meetings. Some were addressed at lodges, others at public events. Most of them he gave more than once and here he presents the final version.

The subjects differ widely. The lectures go from (Masonic) history to things like Masonic meditation, spiritual healing, the symbolism of specific degrees and indeed “alchemy in Freemasonry”. The book seems to aim at a Masonic audience, because more than once knowledge of (for example) a certain degree seems required. He is quite explicit here and there. When some (ritual) text is already available on the world wide web, Vaughan does not shy to write about it in this public book.

Interesting I find the historical notions of early Freemasonry in England, how the “Moderns” and the “Antients” split and reunited, and how Freemasonry reached the colony America with lodges chartered by the “Antients” and the “Moderns”. Before the “Antients” and the “Moderns” reunited, America declared itself independent from England, so what about the two different types of Freemasonry? read more

Spiritual Body And Celestial Earth * Henry Corbin (1977)

However in writing style, this book is a much easier read than the recently reviewed Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam, this new title proved to be quite a read. It is not like it is extremely big (372 pages a large part notes and biography) and I thought I knew a thing or two about Mazdeism and Shi’ite Islam, but this book constantly gave me a feeling of information overload with descriptions that I did not (immediately) understand or failed to see the connections aimed at. Still the book makes a nice read and some of the traditional texts that are published are beautiful, but it is not like I have a clear idea of what this book is actually about.

The author starts with about 100 pages with his own introduction, descriptions, etc. The subject at hand seems to be the concept of two cities, Hurqalya and Jabalqa, which are part of what Corbin calls the Mundus Imaginalis or “Imaginal world”. Many speculations have been made about the nature of these cities and its inhabitants. After a few of these speculations, Corbin prints “selections from traditional texts” which make out the next 170 pages. The texts are from authors from the 12th to the 19th centuries. Of most of them I never heard, but a better-known author that seems Corbin’s favorite is Shihabuddin Yahya Suhrawardi.

I cannot tell you a whole lot about this book. Perhaps the audience that Corbin aimed at is better versed in near Eastern religion and philosophy than myself. As a layman I can say that the part that Corbin wrote himself is informative enough (but I do not remember much of it) and the traditional texts vary from very dry to more mystical texts, the latter of which I prefer to read. read more

Swedenborg And Esoteric Islam * Henry Corbin (1995)

I had heard of the French author Henry Corbin (1903-1978) a couple of times and I thought it was time to read something of this author whom some regard as a Traditionalist, others certainly do not. He definately was a scholar in comparitive religion.

I set out for titles that are well available and potentially interesting. The thin (160 pages) “Swedenborg And Esoteric Islam” is one of the two books that I got.

The title of this book suggests that Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) had something to do with esoteric Islam, that the former was influenced by the latter or vice versa, but that is not what this book is about. Corbin taught Islamic studies at the Sorbonne University and he deeply studied Swedenborg. He certainly found resemblances, but that does not mean that there are direct links between the two subjects of this book.

The translator Leonard Fox says in his introduction that Corbin does not have an easy writing style. He sure is right about that! The book does not make an easy read. It is a bit like a mash of information not too well structured to easily make sense. Yet the book makes a good read. As for Islam, the author mostly focusses on Isma’ilism, a branch of Shi’ism (also: Shia Islam), but other forms of Islam are also written about.

There are chapters about the Hermeneutics of Swedenborg, that of Isma’ilism and of course there are comparisons between the two. Sometimes Corbin goes so deeply into a subject, that it is hard to figure out how this information fits into the whole of the book. The subjects that are dug out in both ‘systems’ mostly are the story of Noah and the flood and what Corbin called the “imagninal world”. read more

Western Esotericism and Rituals of Initiation * Hendrik Bogdan (2007)

“Hendrik Bogdan teaches in te Department of Religious Studies and Theology at Göteborg University in Sweden.” Apparently he has an interest in the new field of Western esotericism on universities, because he refers to scholars such as Antoine Faivre, Wouter Hanegraaff. In this book Bogdan describes Western rituals of initiation, which are (almost by definition) Masonic, Masonically related or derived from Masonic ritual. Or the other way around, Bogdan places Freemasonry and its rituals in the larger context of Western esotericism and that makes an interesting starting point.

The first chapter is dedicated to Western esotericism in general and the scholarly investigation thereof. The author refers a lot to Frances Yates, the first to approach the subject scholarly, but who is not taken too seriously in the current scholarly milieu I have the idea. Bogdan gives her the credit she deserves.
Towards the end of chapter one, the author explains what he means with rituals of initiation, contrary to rites of passage. Here he uses Mircea Eliade.

What follows next is an introduction into the subject of Masonic rituals of initiation (chapter 2), a history of Western esotericism (chapter 3) and then he starts to analyse some Masonic rituals, linking elements to Western esotericism and seeing if there is continuity. Bogdan does not differentiate between “regular” and “irregular” Freemasonry, neither does he touch upon the subject if iniation in any of the organisations that he describes is valid in the ‘Guénonian sense’. Bogdan is only interested in the texts of the rituals. He makes purely textual comparisons. read more