Category Archives: esotericism

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

The Doctrine Of Awakening * Julius Evola (1943/1996)

I ran into a free ebook version of this book in the webstore of my ereader’s manufacturer. The version that I have is a pretty badly converted PDF to ebook with notes in the middle of the text (below the pages in the PDF no doubt) and badly converted text with replaced characters (“dtmd” for “atma” for example) and messed-up formatting. Oh well, it is free…

Evola speaks about “the ‘Doctrine of Awakening,” that is to say, Buddhism” (p. 18). He bases himself on the oldest texts which are Pali:

The term Buddhism is derived from the Pali designation Buddha (Sanskrit: Buddha) given to its founder; it is, however, not so much a name as a title. Buddha, from the root budh, “to awaken,” means the “Awakened One”: it is thus a designation applied to one who attains the spiritual realization, likened to an “arousing” or to an “awakening,” which Prince Siddhattha announced to the Indo-Aryan world. Buddhism, in its original form-the so-called Pali Buddhism-shows us, as do very few other doctrines, the characteristics we want: (1) it contains a complete ascetic system; (2) it is universally valid and it is realistic; (3) it is purely Aryan in spirit; (4) it is accessible in the general conditions of the historical cycle to which present-day humankind also belongs. (p. 17)

In this way Evola argues that Buddhism is originally a warrior religion:

Only in certain Western misconceptions is Buddhism —considered in later and corrupted forms- presented as a doctrine of universal compassion encouraging humanitarianism and democratic equality. (p. 48)

Fortunately “The Doctrine Of Awaking” does not get any more ‘political’ than this. Actually, it is something of a spiritual handbook with many quotes, references, thoughts of the author and information about Buddhism in its different forms. Especially the closing part about Zen Buddhism is very nice. Actually I found the book more enjoyable than I expected and especially because I ran into it quite by accident, this was a nice surprise.
1943 /1996 Inner Traditions, isbn 0892815531

The Secret Doctrine Of The Rosicrucians * Magus Incognito

This is the second book that I bought thinking that it contained the secret symbols of the Rosicrucians and I failed again… I know these secret symbols are available online, I just want a book with the drawings properly printed. The Parchment Books printing that I got of the unknown master’s text does not say when the book was written. The credits refer to the British Library which suggests it to be an old book. When reading it, the book gets younger and younger! The books opens with the author giving some history of the Rosicrucians and claiming that he is finally allowed to publish some of the secret doctrines of the Rosicrucians. He presents seven aphorisms that are explained in different chapters. The book starts with interesting metaphysics about “the eternal parent”, “the soul of the world”, “the universal androgyne”, etc. and this first part is actually quite interesting. Then I started to notice how the author uses the terms “occultism” and “occultist” in a way that certainly would not place the book in, or shortly after, the time of the original Rosicrucians. Then he starts to make references to philosophers, authors and then scientists. Halfway the book the author starts to laud modern science and the way it proves ancient esotericism. This already puts the book in the nineteenth century and makes it a lot less interesting. The worst is yet to come though. Towards the end things get very Theosophical, in the Blavatsky-way. A chain of planets, rounds, root-races and races, metempsychosis, “the soul’s progress” and a Leadbeaterian story about the aura makes “Magus Incognito” very likely a member of some frinch-group of the early days of Theosophism, somewhere around 1900. The second half of the book is downright annoying.
2010 Aziloth Books, isbn 9781907523755

Tarot & Kabbalah * Samuel Aun Weor (1978/2010)

This is the second and probably the last book that I read of Weor. Like I wrote in my other review, a remark on the internet made me want to read something of the man. The other book (“Alchemy & Kabbalah”) is extremely annoying. “El Sendero Iniciatico a Traves de los Arcanos de Tarot y Kabala” was the last book that Weor wrote (he died in 1977, the book was published in 1978) and supposedly he meant it to be the crown on his ouevre. The book is divided into four parts. The first is about Weor’s revised Tarot and he explains his 22 Arcana. This is all quite like the other book. Then comes more Tarot. Part 3 about “The Kabbalah” initially seems more interesting and so does the last part “Numerology and Esoteric Mathematics”. The present book is not so much written in the short statement-sentences style. There is more room for theory and explanations. Weor remains not my kind of writer, but he has a handfull of interesting things to say about symbolism. Like in the other book, there is a mishmash of Blavatsky’s Theosophy, quotes from the Bible, references to Eastern religions, chakras and a rather shallow (in my view) Alchemy and Kabbalah. Also we learn a bit more of the man Weor. Supposedly he is some high initiate, ready for Nirvana, but because of a woman, he is forced to keep reincarnating. These statements are quite incredible, especially when he says that he has a physical body in an Egyptian tomb that he can use whenever he thinks fit. In any case, the doctrines remain focussed on sex. Sexual magic is used to create “a solar body”, then sex has to be abandoned and one becomes a Bodhisatva. The Tarot is supposed to be the very core of Kabbalah and each card can be used in different ways. All quite shady right? Seldom interesting as well, but should you be interested in the writings of a (self proclaimed) contemporary high initiate, this last title of his may be the best introduction to his writings. Of course I cannot judge, because I have only read to books from his massive biography.
2010 Glorian, isbn 9781934206379

The Secret Teachings Of All Ages * Manly Palmer Hall (1928)

When this 700-page book was published, the author (1901-1990) was only 28 years old. He decided to write this book in his early 20’ies and began to read the required literature. The bibliography is staggering, but Hall certainly had a few favourite sources. The book is presented as “A masterfull summation of the esoteric teachings of all ages” and “a classic in the world’s literature”. To be frank: however the work is impressive in size, it is not very much so in depth. Hall soon proves himself to lean heavily towards Theosophism and come across somewhat gullible. Also it is quite obvious that he was scholar and not an esotericist. What Hall mainly does is study a subject and pour all the information into a synopsis. He does that well, but in most cases things remain quite on the surface giving more information about the history of cults and religions than insight in their esotericisms. This is not to say that Hall does not present some thought-provoking interpretations of symbols and teachings. I especially like his chapters abour Rosicrucianity (in fact, when I bought this book I expected it to be about the secret symbols…). What bugs me is that the author makes some eyecatching mistakes, sometimes (I think) because of ignorance, sometimes of sloppiness and that makes me wonder about the parts that I do not know everything of by heart. In any case, the book is an alright read, but do not believe the raving reviews or expect a compendium of esoteric knowledge. Mind too, there are different versions, apparently not all as good as the other. Some have bad images reviewers on Amazon say. The version that I bought does not have very good images I can say.
1928 / 2003 Tarcher/Penguin, isbm 9781585422500

Sufism For Western Seekers * Stewart Bitkoff (2011)

Abdel Wahid Yahia died in Cairo in 1951. Most of us will know this man better under his birth- and authors name René Guénon. Guénon was the major Traditionalist thinker hammering on the fact that a genuine initiation can only go through a “filiation”, an unbroken chain. In the West there are only two genuine esoteric orders left, both in decline. Perhaps this is the reason that Guénon opted for the Sufi path, the near Eastern esoteric Tradition. I find myself thinking about this sometimes. When the Western esoteric organisations might still be able to ‘do the trick’, but no longer understand what it is what they actually do, would there be real Sufism in the West to take over the task? Guénon probably did not leave France for nothing, but there are Sufi orders in the West. Would these groups just be mystical Muslims taking the name of Sufism or genuine esoteric orders in which religion is subsidiary?
Then I got an email of Stewart Bitkoff if I was interested in reviewing his new book “Sufism For Western Seekers; Path of the Spiritual Traveler In Everyday Life”. Sure I was! Of course I am preoccupied having read Guénon and other Traditionalists and on receiving this book I immediately noticed it is nothing like the heavy literature from the ‘Traditionalist school’. In fact, would the book be Traditionalist at all? In a ‘Guénonian’ sense it should be, but like I said, I am preoccupied. Bitkoff describes how he met a colleague at a hospital that he worked at and during lunch times Bitkoff and a varying group of colleagues had ‘classes’ of this first “mystical school” from the master/colleague. This goes on for about four years after which the author is directed to his second “mystical school” where he received some 10 years of long distance training, mostly involving reading books of Idries Shah (1924-1996), the Sufi teacher of our time. Like Bitkoff’s first teacher (whom he calls “Sam”) Shah stresses the fact that Sufism predates Islam and that it is the path to become a whole person and thus a better Muslim, Christian or Jew. (This) Sufism does not make the student leave society for study, but requires serious involvement in society, helping others. The book is presented as conversations between Bitkoff and a teacher (alternated with anecdotes). First this teacher seems to be “Sam”, later it becomes more likely that Bitkoff is talking “to self” as he would put it, his ‘higher Self’ in the terms of others. The tone is light and down-to-earth and what is presented is more of a general spiritual nature than information about the Sufi order. The second half becomes a bit more specific on methods and teachings, but overall I think I hoped for something deeper and dryer, while the book seems more focussed on people unacquainted with spiritual teaching in general and esoteric training in particular. But does the book suggest that the author was initiated in a genuine esoteric order (as I understand it from my previous literature)? The fact that his “first mystical school” was in an office rather than a ‘temple’ (or whatever) seems a bit odd, but of course when “Sam” has Guénon’s “sacred fluidium”, he should be able to pass it on in a mental hospital too, right? The students appear to receive “the Light” on several occasions, is that the ‘passing of the fluid’, the ‘initiation’ that ‘opens the third eye’? That can happen only once I take it. The word “initiation” Bitkoff uses not in a Traditionalistic, but more in the profane way of ‘getting acquainted with’ (e.g. on page 32). “Sam” can “direct the Light to each of us and we would experience it” (p. 89/90). This “[…] offered [a] state that would stay with me for 24 hours and was God’s present; it was an initiatory carress to lift me higher and teach me something.” (p. 94) “Sam” “was given the authority to teach” (p. 97) from a person long dead (what about the “filiation”?). He sure had something special: “It was as if Sam had some magical key which he used to unlock the door to my spiritual being.” (p. 102) “Also he was versed in all religions and understood every occult practice that I ever heard about.” (p. 106) About the Light, the teacher says on page 129: “The internal or spiritual essence, which gives life to the external religious form, is a living, vibrant element. This part, termed the Light in our presentation, is the inner core of life to the eternal form.” On page 156 the author says: “This initial caress, felt in the heart, is an initiation by the Master into the mystical school” which sounds more familiar in the context of my earlier literature. Also: “this learning must occur under certain conditions” (p. 157) could have been a quote of Guénon.
Conclusion from this uninitiated interested fellow? Couldbemaybe. I am sure that Bitkoff had a flying start in his spiritual development with his meetings with the colleague. Is this book about a regular, initiatic order? Not unlikely, but neither obviously. So should I go out and look for some Sufi master? I have no idea is this “Sam” is a representative Western Sufi, but he might well be of a modern-day initiate. I can only hope to run into such a person again and continue what I started.
2011 Abandoned Ladder, isbn 0615562809