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esotericism

Das Lehrsystem des Ordens der Gold- und Rosenkreuzer – Bernhard Beyer (1923/2008)

I was curious if I could find any material of the German ‘extra-Masonic’ order of the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer (1757-1787). Just like when I was doing the same for Fraternitas Saturni I found my way to the Austrian publisher Geheimes Wissen (‘secret knowledge’). I thought that Pansophia was perhaps a publication of the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer and that the publisher republished it. That is not the case though.

It appears that in the 1920’ies in Germany there was a “neo Rosicrucian” movement (according to the German Wikipedia) called “Pansophische Gesellschaft”. Between 1923 and 1925 they published six volumes of a periodical called Pansophia, Urquellen Inneren Lebens (‘Pansophia, primal sources of inner life’). The third volume of which contains material of the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer.

The author / compiler of this work went to different Masonic archives to gather material of the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer. This material is ordered by the nine degrees that the order had. Beyer did not manage to gather a complete archive. Of some degrees he found ritual texts, of other degrees only secondary material. He was not able to consult the famous Kloss archive in Den Haag which also contains Gold- und Rosenkreuzer material.

Beyer starts with giving some background to the material. Even though the order was not founded by Freemasons, it was initially intended to be a system for ‘higher degrees’, so only Master Masons could apply. Later the “Juniores” degree was added which is basically a summery of the three “craft” degrees of Freemasonry. Of the first degrees you get (snippets of) the rituals with educational texts and Beyer’s elucidations. It is not always clear what text is of Beyer and what of the material that he gathered.

The Gold- und Rosenkreuzer different substantially from ‘Freemasonry proper’. The first degree has three tracing boards for example. Several of the rituals need more rooms than what is common in Freemasonry. Almost needless to say, but the texts are much more esoteric than your ‘average’ Masonic ritual. There are interesting alchemical texts, also what appear to be instructions for practical Alchemy. There is a bit of Kabbalah. But mostly, many texts are mostly procedural and rather dull. Detailed descriptions of what and how a table should be set, requirements, etc.

The book contains several images, some in colour and all the way at the back, there is a fold-out page. Oddly enough none of the images are anything as elaborate as the famous Geheime Figuren which are also supposed to be from the same group and published around the same time. Perhaps the present title was internal material and for the Geheime Figuren they set out to make a better looking publication for a larger audience.

All in all the publication gives a fair insight into the working of the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer. In the German language by the way.

2008 Geheimes Wissen, isbn 3902705027

The Hermetic Science of Transformation- Giuliano Kremmerz (2019)

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.

2019 Inner Traditions, isbn 1620559080

The New Age of Russia – Hagemeiser / Benzel (2012)

A while ago I ran into the name of Konstantin Serebrov, some Russian spiritual leader. He writes about a “Master G.” who appeared to be a man named Vladimir Stefanov. I looked around a bit for this Stefanov and I found a text of Mark Sedgwick as one essay in the present title. This concerns an academic title about esoteric currents in Russia. Interesting.

The book is 450 pages and contains texts by a long list of authors, only one of whom I knew. The authors write about esotericism in Russia in different eras showing how little I actually know about Russia. The interest in things esoteric had its ups and downs. As Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal writes:

In Russia, occultism surged in the revolutionary and early Soviet periods (1890-1927) and subsided when Stalin became the new God. It (occultism) revived in the wake of de-Stalinization (the 1960s and ’70s), and surged in the late Soviet and post-Soviet Russia (1985-2000).

Different regimes were (more or less) open to esotericism, sometimes openly. In other times the esotericists had to go underground because they (or some of them!) were severely persecuted. Many fled the country. I also had to get used to terms such as “the Thaw” which I guess I am suppose to know. This has nothing to do with the end of the Cold War, but is another description of the “de-Stalinization” from the quote. I suppose I learned a thing or two about Russian society in general along with a thing or two about esotericists in general.

Most authors, and perhaps the Russians themselves, go pretty easily from “magicians” to UFOs to fantasy writers and back. A few essays are about science fiction and fantasy writers which were only mildly interesting to me, even when the authors used novels to present their ideas (and I wonder why filmmakers are not included, but that aside). The most interesting essays can be found in the beginning where groups such as the so-called “Iuzhinskii Circle” (named after the apartment where they met) are spoken of. There were several small groups meeting (in hiding) to discuss all kinds of different subjects, but it is from this particular circle that the named Stefanov came, but also Alexandr Dugin.

Stefanov is mentioned in some of the essays. He was quite the character in the more intellectual type of esoteric groups. Whether it was him that introduced Guénon in Russia or that it was the writer Yuri Mamleev perhaps does not really matter as they met in the same circle, but here we have the (possible) starting point for the now-famous Traditionalist Dugin about whom Sedgwick’s essays speaks. Plus, Stefanov apparently read probably Russian esotericist most famous in the West: George Gurdjieff and used some of his ideas (I also saw these in Serebrov) and so we have another familiar name.

A maybe somewhat less familiar name, but still, is that of Nikolai Roerich (actually Rerikh) a relatively famous painter who tried to make a bridge to the far East. This is not so strange when you realise that Russia reaches all the way to the far East. Roerich hoped to make acquaintances and come to terms with all religions. He was not along (or the first) in this, so you also learn about Russia’s relationship to that far East. In these circles we also see very early expeditions into the Himalayas searching for hidden masters. Perhaps there we also have a source for the Eastern preoccupation of the Orient of the Theosophists. Blavatsky (quite consistently named “Elena” by all authors by the way) is also frequently mentioned, but she appears to be regarded more Western than Russian.

In any case, the book presents a wide and interesting overview of esotericism in Russia which goes from shamanism to paganism to all kinds of New Age type approaches and (new kinds of) psychology. It makes a very interesting read.

2012 Peter Lang GmbH, isbn 3866881975

Western Esotericism – Kocku von Stuckrad (2004)

Looking for a Kindle publication from the Western esotericism academia, I ran into the Dutch translation of Von Stuckrad’s Was Ist Esoterik? Kleine Geschichte des geheimen Wissens (‘What is esotericism. Small history of secret knowledge’) from 2004. The Dutch translation by André Haack and Ruud van der Helm got the title Esoterie. De zoektocht naar absolute kennis (‘Esotericism. The quest for absolute knowledge). The English translation of Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke kept the subtitle in tact (“A brief history of secret knowledge”) but apparently wanted to place more focus on the fact that the book is about Western esotericism. In any case, this review is based on the Dutch translation, but know that there are different translation of the book out there.

Von Stuckrad (1966-) is a Ghanese scholar who lived in Germany for a large part of his life, but who lectures at the universities of Groningen and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. His focus within his field of religious studies: Western esotericism.

His writings are often fairly dry and academic while his colleagues such as Wouter Hanegraaff more often manage to strike a tone more fit for a general audience. Yet, this general audience is exactly what the present title aims at. The book presents a quite general, and more often told, story of Western esotericism, dealing with Greek philosophy, Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Kabbalah, Medieval and Renaissance esotericism, the period of the Enlightenment, ‘secret societies’ and using modern Theosophy as a bridge to the modern era ending with ‘New Age’.

There is not really anything here that I did not already know. It is quite obvious that the author is well informed about most of his subjects and here and there he manages to compress a complex worldview into a short description. There are also subjects which seem to be (somewhat) outside his personal interests.

Like I said, the book brings a general history of Western esotericism and will certainly form a descent starting point if the subject is (relatively) new to you. When you have kept yourself occupied with the subjects in this book for some time and/or are looking for the latest findings in the academic investigations of them, this is not the book you should buy.

2004 Beck, 2014 Routledge (isbn 1844657477), 2014 Amsterdam University Press

Geschiedenis Van De Westerse Esoterie – Jacob Slavenburg & John van Schaik (2021)

Two productive Dutch authors teamed up for a history of Western esotericism. They created a volume of well over 700 pages which I read from cover to cover. It is in chronological order and even though there are chapters per subject, the book is not really presented as an encyclopedia.

700 Pages may make a thick book, when you aim to describe a history of esotericism spanning thousands of years, you are still down to a few pages per subject and that is indeed what happened.

Both authors have written (at length) about Gnosticism (old and new), Hermetica, early Christianity and similar subjects in the past. The chapters about these subject in the present title are concise, to the point and clear. Of course the range of subjects of the book is much wider. It shows (a bit) which movements and thinkers have the authors’ interests and which less so. For example, their information about Freemasonry is pretty weak. The history has holes, there are typos, misunderstandings and cut corners. The information about Rudolf Steiner is better, except, when it comes to his ‘Masonic adventures‘.

I had hoped to encounter more recent information, that the authors had used sources which I had not yet had in my hands. I did not really read anything new. Still the book made a nice read. A summery and retrospect of subjects I read about sometimes long ago. The authors point to some red threads/people and because everything is in one book, make cross references.

Like I said, it is more of a book to get you started on subjects, a general introduction to a wide variety of subjects ranging from Greek philosophy, to mysticism to the Ordo Templi Orientis to New Age. The book is in Dutch and there is some stress on the Netherlands. it comes in a good looking hardcover.

2021 Van Warven, isbn 949317574X

Western Sufism – Mark Sedgwick (2016)

Franz Farwerck joined Inayat Khan’s Sufi order in 1922. Some time ago I was reading Sedgwick’s book about Ivan Agueli who was another Westerner who became Sufi and who even initiated René Guénon. This was another order, so I wondered what Sufism was ‘available’ in the West in the early 20th century. With a little searching I ran into another book by the same Mark Sedwick.

Western Sufism is a term that Sedgwick uses for the ‘Western form’ of Sufism. This can either be brought to the West by Eastern Sufis or a system developed by a Westerner based on or inspired by Sufism.

The book begins with a lengthy investigation into Neoplatonism and “Emationism” and the reception in ‘Muslim minds’. He works towards the first Sufis, how either or not Sufism is connected to Islam and the short-lived Jewish form of Sufism. Sedgwick also looks at the political and radical elements of some Sufi orders and then describes how on the wings of Blavatasky’s Theosophy, Sufism found its way to the West.

The earlier mentioned Agueli was not the first, nor the last, Western to convert to Islam and later become Sufi, He was the first Westerner to initiate another Westerner (Guénon). He joined an existing tariqa and ‘worked from there’. Even though Agueli was not a Traditionalist himself, under influence of Guénon and Frithjof Schuon, a ‘Traditionalistic’ form of Sufism would rise that (mainly in followers of Schuon) still exists today.

Then we had people such as the Indian Inayat Khan (1822-1927) who was initiated into a Sufi order (but also in Hindu orders) and travelled the West as a musician. In the end he would found a Sufi order which had some schisms, some of which still exist today.

As Sufism reached the West, two developments started to emerge. One part of Western Sufism started to move towards Islam, another away from it. The latter is what Sedgwick called the “universalistic” branch. In both ‘camps’ there were moderate and more radical groups. As Islam became better known in the West (often because of members of Sufi orders), the view on Islam developed. Islam itself (outside Sufism) also developed which on its turn changed the attitude towards Sufi orders of Western non-members.

The Netherlands have played a large role in the reception and development of the Sufism that came from Inayat Khan. Sedgwick described how the organisation(s) fared after Khan’s death in 1927, but that did not tell me much about how Farwerck would possibly have developed his view on the order.

You will encounter many more people than the few in this review, giving an idea how big the penetration of Western Sufism into Western society actually was.

The book is interesting as you will learn how an element of Islam had an ever-developing relationship with the West, influencing both Islam itself and the view of the West on it. Western Sufism thrived in the ‘esoteric wave’ that was caused by the Theosophical Society, went down when that wave came to rest, but just like Theosophy, different Western Sufi orders may have gotten smaller, but they survived and still exist.

2016 Oxford University Press, isbn 019997764X

Occult Paris – Tobias Churton (2016)

Another Churton. This time about Paris during the “Belle Epoque”. According to the author an unexposed part of esoteric history, at least in the English language.

As you may know, the late 19th century had an ‘occult revival’. Movements such as Theosophy rose, different systems of ‘high grade’ Freemasonry came into being. Martinism, neo-Rosicrucianity. Much of this can in one way of another be traced back to “Belle Epoque” (“Beautiful Epoch”) Paris.

Eliphas Levi (1810-1875) lived just before this time, but he was one of the inspirators. What Churton mostly concerns is the “Symbolist” movement. Painters, poets, composers, etc. apparently longed back to a time of magic. Bookshop, meetings, groups and movements were formed by people with similar interests where they met, discussed, inspired each other and indeed, held seances too.

In Churton’s book you will not only meet Edmond Bailly, Fabre d’Olivet, Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, Stanislas de Guaita, Lady Caithness, but most of all Joséphin Péladan and Papus. (And many others.)

The movement oddly went from a more occult orientation to a more artistic one and back. Of course there were several big egos, clashes, schisms and the like, so you will learn about Rosicrucian movements that were basically magical organisations, while others appear to be more art-movements. Or were they? Gnosticism, Cathars, Martinism, Freemasonry, magicians and philosophers all these things oddly ran through each other with Paris as focal point, also when we are talking North America and Russia.

Churton has presented another interesting book about a interesting part of history. I do not know if it was a story formerly untold, but it sure was a nice read with here and there some subjects to dive into deeper.

2016 Inner Traditions, isbn 162055545X

Memory Palaces And Masonic Lodges – Charles B. Jameux (2014/9)

Originally published in French in 2014, Inner Traditions published an English translation in 2019. The author picks up after the suggestion of David Stevenson that second Shaw statute (a Masonic “old charge”) refers to the art of memory and that here we have a strong suggestion of very early Hermetic influences in (pre-)modern Freemasonry.

Another book that Jameux uses heavily is the famous Art of Memory of Frances Yates, first published in 1966. Yates makes a similar notes that Freemasonry may be such an art of memory, but leaves it to later investigators to look into the subject. Since Stevenson only raises the suggestion, Jameux thought it was time to combine both sources of information.

Jameux also uses a text of the French author Claudie Balavoine which is included in the appendices. Also an earlier version of Jameux’ text is added as appendix.

Knowing the two mentioned books, you may have an idea of the theory. Systems for remembering things have existed since the Greeks and have been used remarkably long. All the way up to the dawn of modern Freemasonry. As mentioned, Shaw appears to mention the art is in second set of statutes (around 1600).

The idea is not so much that Freemasonry includes the art of memory, but that Masonic symbolism actually is an art of memory. When you want to remember a speech, you can imagine a building and leave things in rooms that you have to remember for your speech and while speaking, walk through the imaginary building, a tracing board is something similar.

It is not so much that Jameux presents something new or extremely groundbreaking, but the book does make a very strong suggestion by combining the ideas found in two famous works. Definite proof? I doubt such a thing exists for a hypothesis such as this, but Jameux certainly strongly adds to the suggestion with some interesting details.

Unfortunately the book is not too well written. I actually found the initial essay (in the appendix) making the point better than the book. Be that as it may, Jameux certainly worked out a theory that I see a lot in better than I could.

2019 Inner Traditions, isbn 1620557886

The Golden Builders – Tobias Churton (2004)

I saw this book referred to in the mildly interesting work about esoteric Freemason The Path Of Freemasonry. Especially references to Elias Ashmole caught my interest.

The Golden Builders is subtitled: “alchemists, Rosicrucians, first Freemasons” which spans a subject I am much interested in as I am curious to know how elements of the named ‘philosophies’ found their way into Masonic symbolism.

Just as the book I found this title in, Churton starts with a fairly general overview of Western esotericism. Hermetica, Alchemy, Renaissance, Hermetica, nothing new really. What is somewhat interesting is that Churton used the (then) latest investigations from academic circles, so he does refer to recent findings here and there.

Especially referring to recent findings of Carlos Gilly, with the part about the Rosicrucians the book starts to become a lot more interesting. Churton really dug in the persons involved in the Rosicrucian ‘movement’, looking at Andreae and his surroundings, the religious turmoil of these days, where inspiration came from, etc. A trace can even be followed to the Royal Society.

Via John Dee we come to Elias Ashmole (1617-1692), whom Ashmole admired greatly. Ashmole is often ‘used’ to make a link between “operative” and “speculative” Freemasonry, but Churton shows that there is much more to say than only referring to both of Ashmole’s diary entrances about Freemasonry, the suggestion that he might have been a Rosicrucian and the fact that he was involved on the early Royal Society, which -in turn- influenced the rising of the ‘premiere Grand Lodge’ of 1717.

Ashmole was initiated a Freemason in 1646, 70 years before the foundation of the first Grand Lodge. Much has been written about why and how a non-“operative” was initiated into an “operative” lodge. Was it an occasional lodge? Where there separate lodges to initiate the “gentry” or did these noblemen join lodges and slowly but surely take them over, reforming “operative” lodges into “speculative” ones? Churton has a thing or two to say about this.

Through his first marriage, Ashmole can be linked to a long tradition of “operative” Masons going back to the dawn of Cistercian cloister builders. Even after losing his first wife the the plague, Ashmole was initiated together with a nephew of his late wife. Churton also has a look at that good man. In this regard it is also interesting to note the suggestion that people adhering the ‘old religion’ (Catholicism) appeared to have played a big role in the Masonic transition.

What makes Ashmole interesting is that he compiled alchemical works, was interested in Hermeticism and he was known for that, even in times of the witch-craze. It could have been Ashmole and perhaps people ‘like him’ who introduced certain elements to Masonic symbolism.

A subject that I would have preferred to have been worked out is the interesting case of Sir William Wilson who was known to be an “operative” Mason who was (again?) initiated, while Churton suggests that there was no “operative” versus “speculative” Freemasonry in these days.

the term “speculative Freemasonry” has been used to make a spurious distinction between post-1717 ‘symbolic’ masonry and the old trade which ‘preceded’ it, in effect drawing a cautious (and unnecessary) veil over the movement’s genuine past.

The Golden Builders became a more interesting book than I expected in the first half. Unfortunately (and of course) not all questions are answered, but the interesting case of Ashmole is a lot more clear now. Churton also published a book solely about Ashmole two years after this one, which is the next title on my reading list. Churton has more titles that appear to be of interest. In The Golden Builders he is not too clear about it, but he seems to do a lot of research himself not only recapitulating what has been written before. He dove into archives, tried to find family information, etc. He may be an author I will read some more of.

2004 Weiser, isbn 157863329X

Journeys In The Kali Yuga – Aki Cederberg (2017)

The author is a spiritually restless Fin who here presents his spiritual autobiography.

His wanderings bring Cederberg to India and Nepal and the first part of the book describes his many journeys there. His vivid descriptions of the (religious) madness in these countries are quite ‘disenchanting’ at times.

On his trips, Cederberg meets kindred souls and after long searches he finds a teacher in the Naga Baba tradition who has Western roots. Baba Rampuri was to be his guru and initiator into the Indian esoteric tradition. This took place in Sweden!

Cederberg went back to India several times, the peak of his visits is the gigantic Kumph Mela ‘festival’ which houses 40 million people on a single day! That experience, as impressive as it was, was a turning point and the author slowly starts to drift back to ancient European spirituality.

He journies remained many but closer to home. Every once in a while Cederberg runs into some Western friends that he knows from his ‘Indian period’, but also these (and also as suggested by Rampuri), connect to ancient European religion. Not as much as Cederberg though.

Thus you can read the spiritual quest of a man living in the desacralized West. A quest with ups and downs. “Journeys In The Kali Yuga” makes a nice read.

2017 Destiny Books, isbn 9781620556795