Category Archives: esotericism

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. 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

Freemasonry: Foundation of the Western Esoteric Tradition * Angel Millar (2013)

This is Millar’s third (and currently last) book. For me, since it was the second one he published. Also it is the least easy to get. Salamandar and Sons sell their books themselves and through a handfull of bookshops that do not list this title on their websites. Getting the book to Europe, makes it quite expensive too. The publisher is a nice one to have a further look at though, especially when you have an interest in alchemy.

Millar’s first book is a nice, but nothing really new, history of Freemasonry, mostly in America. His other two books are also about Freemasonry, but about aspects written about less. Freemasonry and its influence in the Middle East in The Crescent and the Compass and Freemasonry and it relation to esoteric and occult societies in the current title.

Now of course there have been many spectacular books written about occultism and Freemasonry, but Millar’s book is more serious and leaves aside all the conspiracy theories and speculations. It certainly makes a nice read. Millar writes about the foundation and development of some of the High Grades, semi- and para-Masonic organisations and of course how things such as Alchemy and Kabbalah krept into Masonic symbolism in its developing days. read more

The Crescent And The Compass * Angel Millar (2015)

Subtitled: “Islam, Freemasonry, Esotericism and Revolution in the Modern Age”, the description even promises Traditionalism. A promising combination!

“The Crescent And The Compass” makes a much more interesting read than Millar’s recently reviewed “Freemasonry, a history”. This is not the least because in the current book, the author walks new paths. According to himself, noone so far has investigated the influence of Freemasonry on Near-Eastern cultures and vice versa.

The first half of the book is with quite a distance the most interesting part to me. Millar opens with a chapter about “Gnosis in Shi’ism and Sufism” speaking about initiations and the various kinds of the two named branches of Islam. Chapter two continues with a similar approach to Freemasonry and quickly runs up to the connections between Freemasonry and Islam, how Sufis became Freemasons and how ‘ideologically’ mixed orders were founded. Then Millar says a thing or two on how (Near-)Eastern religion influenced Freemasonry when Freemasons opened their eyes to exotic religions of the East. The strongest influences can be found in what Millar calls “Fringe Freemasonry”, orders that work similarly to Freemasonry, but are not recognised by Masonic bodies. Chapter two is informative and entertaining.

Then we move to a Sufi Freemason that launched a revolution within the Islamic world to get rid of the colonists, but this revolution would eventually backfire and “Freemasonry” became synonymous with Western decadence in the eyes of many Muslims. In the meantime we learn about the first Muslim convert in the UK, about René Guénon and about anti-Freemasonry, a (to me) new look on the Ayatollah Khomeini and we swiftly roll into Jewish/Masonic conspiracies that followed the publication of the Protocolls of the Elders of Sion.
The start of “Prince Hall” (‘black’) Freemasonry followed by black nationalism in the USA is followed by Anders Breivik and Prince Charles in three very different chapters.

In his conclusion, and especially his afterword, Millar calls to us to develop new ways of looking at the world, especially the religion of Islam and its role therein.

I mostly enjoyed the historical parts about Freemasonry in Muslim countries, but in general this little book (some 180 pages to read) touches upon subjects close to my heart. Numen Books has added an interesting title to their roster and seeing how much attention this book gets on Facebook, the publisher might reach quite an audience with this title and the author most likely a different audience from his less innovatory title of a decade earlier.

2015 Numen Books, isbn 0994252501

An Introduction To Sufi Doctrine * Titus Burckhardt (1951/1976)

I recently read and reviewed Burckhardt’s “Alchemy” (click on the author’s name above). That book is a much easier read. Now I noticed that there are two translations of this introduction to Sufism. I got a translation of D.M. Matheson from 1976, but there is also a translation by William C. Chittick from 2008. I do not know who is the translator of the title that I linked the cover to. I could not even find the cover of the version that I have on the web, let alone a link to that particular publication. In any case, I do not know if this book was written in a more difficult style of translated in such a manner.

This little book (126 pages) is divided in three parts with 5, 6 or 7 chapters. The sections are called “The nature of Sufism”, “The doctrinal foundations” and “Spiritual realization”. The first part makes a nice introduction speaking of different kinds of Sufism. In the second we learn about what Sufism has to say. The first part is the most interesting since it describes how Sufis reach for the above. Not very much in depth though, but enough to get an idea.

Burckhardt was, of course, a Traditionalist. You may know that the Sufi doctrine is quite close to the Traditionalistic way of thinking in several aspects. This is undoubtely the reason that more than one Traditionalist became Muslim or Sufi. The Traditionalistic approach may have coloured Burckhardt’s account written down in this book, but I am not versed in Sufi doctrine enough to be able to say anything about this.

Like the title says, this is an introduction to Sufi doctrine. I guess I will try to find a more in depth book, because this path is certainly interesting.

1951 Du Soufisme, 1976 The Aquarian Press, isbn 0850302927

Sacred Geometry * Nigel Pennick (1994)

I do not often just buy a book that I see on a shelve, but the cover caught my attention, then the name of the author. It took a while before I read it though.

Sacred Geometry: Symbolism and Purpose in Religious Structures is an alright read. The author starts with two introductionary chapters about the principles and the forms of sacred geometry. These are the most interesting parts of the little book. The next chapters are about the application of sacred geometry in different times and cultures, like ancient Britton, Egypt, Mesopotamia, but also the Middle Ages the Renaissance and our own time. The chapters go from rather technical and mathemetical descriptions of geometry to more general observations about cultures and architects. I really had to think back of my mathemetics lessons of way back. The author even lost me on a few points. Also I fail to find the logical in the elaborate diagrams with triangles, squares and circles that supposedly explain the basis of some designs.

Most of the book is easy enough to follow though and Pennick presents a nice introduction into a nice subject.

1994 Capall Bann Pub, isbn 1898307156

Secret Practices of the Sufi Freemasons * Rudolf von Sebottendorff (1924/2014)

I read about this book on the blog of Mark Sedgwick. Of course the title is enigmatic, but it was mostly because it was mentioned on a Traditionalistic source that it caught my attention. There are two English translations of this weird, little book in German and I just ordered one of them. This proved to be a book translated and introduced by Stephen Flowers! The full title goes: “Secret Practises of the Sufi Freemasons; the Islamic teachings at the heart of alchemy”.

The book is only 138 pages, 63 of them are introductionary and another 8 contain notes. Flowers wrote an interesting introduction about the man who would be one of those behind the infamous Thule Gesellschaft, but this was not after he moved to Turkey and got initiated into the Sufi order of the Bektashi. However Adam Alfred Rudolf Glauer (Sebottendorff’s birthname) was born in Germany, he lived most of his life in Turkey, also before, during and after WWII. According to Sebottendorff the original Freemasons came from Rosicrucian circles (and way before, he has Freemasons in 900 CE) and the original teachings and techniques were kept by Freemasons in Islamic countries, the West has only maintained a shadow. These Eastern Freemasons seem to be Sufis, one order of which Sebottendorff was initated into by the adoptive parents that he also has to thank for his title.

The little book of Sebottendorff contains some history and theory, but mostly practices through which his readers can develop a “spiritual body”. In total it comes to me as a mishmash of Theosophism (indeed, the book was first published by the German Theosophical publishing house and some books that the author recommends also come from this corner), some sort of ‘Arabic Kabbalism’ (I guess he learned this in the Bektashi order) and indeed, the practices include grips and words that reminds of Freemasonry.

A strange little book to read and I still wonder how it ended up on a Traditionalistic blog.

1924 Die Praxis der alten türkischen Freimaurerei, 2014 Inner Traditions, isbn 9781594774683

Western Esotericism * Antoine Faivre (1992/2010)

This book is subtitled “A Concise History” which I initially thought to mean exactly the opposite of what it actually means: a birdfly overview, a summery. In about a 100 pages Antoine Faivre (1934-), former head of the Paris University esoteric chair, speaks about some 2000 years of esotericism. He quickly works towards the Renaissance to give the period from then to our own day some more space. The author opens with setting up his framework. Six meanings of the term “esotericism”, the meaning that his uses, indeed, a methodology as a scholarly work like this needs. From then on a staggering amount of individuals and groups fly by high and low, often not more in depth than given a name and the primal title that that person produced. Only a handfull of characters are written about with some more length. Especially when we come closer to our own time, Faivre seems to have a preference to French thinkers and authors influenced by esotericism. This leads to names and titles (the bibliography is also for a large part French and the book was originally written in French, probably for the students of the Sorbonne) that hardly ring a bell. A good turn in this emphasis is the presence of René Guénon. Faivre includes Guénon in the stream of Western esotericism and even seems to use some of his methodology for his own. 19th Century Theosophy is called “Theosophism” (“generic term”) that I only know from Guénon. Furthermore, esotericism is presented as mostly a search for the philosophia perennis. Faivre is both laudatory and critical towards Guénon. The inclusion of Guénon was one of the decisive arguments to buy the book and it was nice to see a scholar put Guénon (and some of his followers) in the line of influence and history and read come critique from an outsider.
Overall the book will not learn you much about esotericism. You will get a whole lot of names, shortly put in their historical framework so you might run into a lead to follow. Faivre’s aim is also strictly historical. He almost never says anything about the ideas of the people that he writes about. With the large index and helpfull bibliography it is probably nothing more (but on the other hand, probably meant to be nothing more) a starting point for students in the field.
1992/2010 Suny Press, isbn 9781438433783

Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians of the 16th and 17th Centuries * a brother of the Fraternity (1785)

This was the third attempt to get me a book with the secret symbols of the Rosicrucians and this time I got it right! Of course Kessinger Legacy Reprints had the title. The A4 size book is about 60 pages thick and contains the secret symbols “with several figures of similar content added by P.S.” There are of course the wonderfull, famous and elaborate images, but also a couple of very long texts in a tiny font-size. Everything is translated to English and I suppose the translation, because the printer had obvious diffulties with placing the texts everywhere and quite often the texts had to be written by hand in order to get them in the right spot. I still hope to find a printing with better quality, but almost everything is readable, sometimes with some effort though. The images are so weird that you can keep pondering about them, especially because the R.C. used quite a lot of abreviations, some obvious, some totally unclear to me. A nice reprint if you are looking for the same thing.
1785 in German, years of English translations and Kessinger reprints unknown, isbn 9781162575193

Hermes In The Academy * Hanegraaff & Pijnenburg (editors) (2009)

1994. I leave secondary school not knowing what to do after. I did not find anything that I wanted to study, so I did not have much intention to continue with an education that could be a step-up for university. I decide to aim lower with a two-year ‘middle level’ education and just start to earn money to allow myself to buy the things I want and do my own studies. 2002 I meet my girlfriend who is about to finish to two university studies and has some time in the scholastic year left. I had heard of the “Hermetic chair” in Amsterdam which she indeed attended for a short while.
Hermes In The Academy, ten years’ study of Western Esotericism at the University of Amsterdam edited by main man Wouter J. Hanegraaff and one of his students Joyce Pijnenburg is the celebrating publication of that “Hermetic chair”. In this thin book (162 pages) you can read about the history of the chair (which was actually founded by a single woman!), how it grew rapidly, early and current problems of the field of investigation, experiences of cooperators and student, world-wide connections and influences, the connection to the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (but mentioning nothing of the problems that were also there in 2009) and also some of the investigations that are performed there. It is a nice little book to read through to learn more about this black sheep in the global scholarly milieu. What would have come of me when this chair was there when I still had the choice to aim for university? Would I have went for it? Would I have had the skills for that level of education? A fact is that whatever is taught there, I have dealt with myself before the chair even existed, but certainly more scientifically sound. No need to ponder about all that too long. It is good to read how many students attend the chair for the “Geschiedenis van de Hermetische Filosofie en verwante stromingen; GHF” (“History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents”) and how many new investigations are started. I might have to look for the publications that came from under its wings, but not everything published at univesities is easily accessible for people outside that milieu.
2009 Amsterdam University Press, isbn 9789056295721