Skip to content

esotericism

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

The Three Stages Of Initiatic Spirituality – Angel Millar (2020)

The latest Millar is published by Inner Traditions, known for English publications of Evola, but the publisher has also published books from Joscelyn Godwin, Stephen Flowers, Henri Corbin, but also more new-agey books.

Millar has made a name in Masonic circles with a book on Lewis Masonic and many lectures, but he is not afraid to connect his name to smaller imprints such as Manticore Press and now a publisher with ‘controversial’ publications.

This also shows Millar’s own varried interests and that variety is clearly portrayed in his latest book. Where he earlier published books specifically about Freemasonry, he slowly shifted towards “Freemasonry+” and now we go from Freemasonry (a little bit) to ceremonial magic and from Islamic esotericism to Aleister Crowley.

As you can expect with the subtitle “craftsman, warrior, magician”, there is an influence of Georges Dumézil (though he is seldom mentioned) and his division of three “functions”. Millar also refer to Mircea Eliade, René Guénon, Julius Evola and a few other Traditionalists.

It had been a bit too long since I read any comparitive mythology and comparitive religion, but alongside Dumézil’s three “functions”, Millar oftentimes refers to the four “ages” (Gold, Silver, Bronze, Iron) found in many myths and religions and in the writings of Traditionalists.

It may not be new that he poses that within all three “functions” there are initiatic paths, but Millar suggests his readers to practice all three, more in the sense of functions than (what is more often the explanation) classes (“castes”).

Something similar Millar does with the ages. They are not so much successive time-periods, but more like ‘levels’, so an initiate (or more generally, a spiritual person) may ‘reach’ for the Golden Age. That age is more like the goal or endpoint of spiritual development and not so much a time that lays in the distant past.

And so we Millar guides his readers through different forms of spirituality, different paths of initiations, making cross-references and comparisons. Surely interesting!

I do not always follow the author’s assumptions. I would -for example- not place ceremonial magic in Dumézil’s third “function” and I see little in the references to Carl Jung, but different ideas from my own are always good to ponder about. It is nice to see that Millar does not shy to name Guénon together with Blavatsky, Freemasonry together with sex magic and martial arts with Gnosticism. He may bring some uncommon ideas to readers of his previous works.

Ultimately, the Craftman, Warrior and Magician – like the mind, body, and spirit – are not separate but connect and overlap in different ways. […]

Yet today society emhasizes the intellect and promotes specialization in education and employment. As a result, we produce technicians and dogmatics, and we revere the sickly intellectual who, enstranged from the physical, attacks both beauty and strength. (p. 206/7)

A call for a more spiritual life and since Millar writes about so many different approaches, not afraid to be critical here and there, the book has a potential wider audience than his previous works.

2020 Inner Traditions – isbn 1620559323

Oog Voor De Wereld – Brink, Martin, Muratori (2019)

Until March 14th there is an exhibition about Jacob Böhme in the Embassy Of The Free Mind (aka Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica aka Ritman Library) in Amsterdam. In a way, it is part of a travelling exhibition. In 2017 there was an exhibition in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, after Dresden there was an exhibition in Coventry cathedral and at the end, there will be a permanent exhibition in Görlitz, the place on the German / Polish border where Böhme lived most of his life. I was in Görlitz years ago and there was not too much about Böhme there, so it is good that this will change.

Scholars from Dresden, Coventry and Amsterdam have worked together on a book / catalogue of which there seem to be Dutch, English and German versions (I have not found webshops that sell the English and Dutch versions, but the Ritman website is worked at).

The Dutch book has three introductions, then speaks about the life of Böhme (Cecilia Muratori), portraits (Lucinda Martin), concepts from Böhme’s philosophy (Muratori and Martin) and then Böhme in Amsterdam (José Bouwman and Cis van Heertum) and the etches of Michael Andreae (Boudewijn Koole).

Much of what can be found in this pretty book I have ran into somewhere. Since Böhme is pretty hard to read it is always welcome when people manage to give some sort of apprehensible summery and Muratori and Martin manage pretty well. The part about Böhme in Amsterdam makes a nice read too.

Early Dutch and German publications of Böhme contained title plates of which only recently the creator became known: Michael Andreae. Andreae fell out of grace of the publisher and his plates and accompanying texts were removed. Readers were not amused and the plates and texts were published separately and these are translated and presented here. The texts are as elusive as those of Böhme himself!

Compared to Böhme’s own work, this book is easy reading, but the highly spiritual philosophy of Böhme is not easy to start with. The book makes a nice addition to recent and less recent Böhme publications, so if you can, you should visit the exhibition and buy the book or at least buy the book when the library has got its webshop back up. It is a luxurious publication with many images.

2019 Sandstein verlag, isbn 9783954985302

The Magic Door – David Pantano (2019)

“A Study on the Italic Hermetic Tradition: Myth, Magic, and Metamorphosis in the Western Inner Traditions”. That is a title.

The author starts this little book (small size, about 200 pages) with an introduction that suggests a Traditionalist approach. The “Hermetic Tradition” from the title gets the Evola explanation of alchemy, but first we start with Roman myths, Pythagoras, Ovid, Apuleius, Dante, Ficino, Pico, Bruno, etc. You get it, the history of esotericism that has been told a few times in recent decades. What does add to the book is that the author also cites Italian sources that I have not yet seen translated.

Halfway things get more interesting. The Magic Door from the title proves to be an actual alchemical / Rosicrucian door that can still be found in Rome. This is the start of a part with more contemporary Italian esotericists. Some I knew or at least heard of (Cagliostro, Kremmerz, Evola), others were new to me (Vico, Daffi, Giammatria). What is more, Pantano writes about groups that I never heard of (Neapolitan Mysterio, Fraternity of Myriam, Circle of Kronos). It is interesting how such groups sprouted from one another during quite a period.
Also here Pantano uses sources that I do not think were available in English before. It also sheds some (to me) new light on Evola.

“The Magic Door” is (as you can gather) mostly interesting for dealing with the period from the 18th century to the present concerning Italian esoteric circles. From (semi-)Masonic to downright magical, also Italy proves to have had it’s share of alchemists.
What surprises me a bit is that Reghini is hardly spoken about. He seems to have been a spider in a web as well.

2019 Manticore Press, isbn 0648499642

The Man-God – Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (2017)

Amazon.com

Willermoz (1730-1824) was an interesting man living in an interesting time. As a Freemason he was involved in several systems. He also fathered a form of Martinism together with his master Claude de Saint Martin. He joined the Elus-Cohens of Martinez de Pasqually.

My main interest lays in ‘his’ Masonic system of the Strict Observance which he developed together with Baron von Hund. A system that is still worked today here and there, but about which not much information can be found.

Willermoz being a Frenchman and apparently not enough in the limelight for the non-French-speaking to know much of him (probably mostly because many of the organisations and systems that he was active in, no longer exist), close to nothing about or from Willermoz can be found in another language than French.

So I was somewhat surprised to run into this book. It comes from the ‘Martinist corner’. It is only 54 pages, printed on A4 and is some sort of mystical vision about Jesus Christ and his mission. It reads a bit like Jacob Böhme or a similar author. This is not entirely my kind of literature. Towards the end things become a bit more interesting.

The translator did make an introduction and he added a short text of Martinez de Pasqually.

According to Amazon, the translator, Felix Mupidia Lonji, translated other texts of French esotericists whose texts are not yet available in English. Let us hope he will translate more texts of Willermoz!

2017, isbn 1549869957

The Hermetic Journal 1978

Amazon.com

As I said in my earlier review of a course by Adam McLean, the author has been active with the subject for a long time. He has published a journal since 1978!

These journals are apparently scanned and made available as printing-on-demand books. The journal has run from 1978 to 1992 and are avaible for Kindle via Amazon, but also in print from Adam’s own website.

The first issues (the first two are printed in this little book) contain quite some occultism and esotericism and of course alchemy. Explanations of alchemical “mandalas”, ceremonial magick, Satanism even, can be found within these pages. Also lists of “other occult journals”, references to all kinds of groups that are active (or were, probably). Also published are translations of texts that in the time were hard to get.

All in all a varried journal with (to me) content of varying interest. It is a great idea to make such old material available again. The books are not too cheap, $ 20,- to $ 30,- per book, depending on your choice for softcover or hardcover. An advice. Go to the Amazon kindle versions of the journals were you can see the tables of content, so you can better choose which issues you are going to purchase.