Category Archives: history

A Cultural History Of Tarot – Helen Farley (2009)

Suddenly I felt the need to look at the symbolism of the Tarot. I wondered if I should just buy different decks or a book with images of different decks. Well, I have found no book of the latter type, but there is an excellent website. Farley’s book seemed to be the closest to what I was looking for, so I got myself a copy.

Farley “is lecturer in Studies in Religion and Esotericism at the University of Queensland, Australia”, so it at least is a serious / academic work. As the title suggests, it is a history.

The author investigates several histories of Tarot, mostly mystical and comes to the conclusion that it developed from common card games in Renaissance Italy, more specifically the Visconti court. The card games of before did not have the trump cards that Tarot decks have, but there are three different sets from roughly the same time that do. The designs Farley traces back to the history of the Visconti family. For example, the card “tower” was called “La Torre”. Also on old decks this tower is destroyed by lightning. The Torre family was a family that the Visconti’s had problems with.

For many years Tarot was in fact but an extended card game. There is symbolism on the cards, but the esoteric interpretation of the cards, and thus, the use for divination, came many, many years later.

In her interesting book Farley not only gives the history of the game, but also puts the symbolism in a context. As the popularity of the game rose, new interpretations followed especially when the cards landed outside Italy. Farley describes the symbolism and the development of Tarot into an esoteric system.

The latter gives some history of esoteric currents that many readers may already be aware of. Eliphas Levi, the Golden Dawn, Westcott, Matters, Crowley and of course Waite are dealt with. Of course there is some highlight to their connections to Tarot, but there was little new here for me.

Farley does not shun treating modern Tarots and names many, many New Age type decks.

Not a book if you want to learn how to lay cards and interpret them. Farley’s book does offer a wonderful and sometimes fascinating history and shows that there are many variations in decks with different names for cards, different cards altogether, different numbering, different order, etc. What I was after myself, I also learned a bit about the development of the symbols of the cards too.

The book is fairly thin (270 pages) and about a third is notes, bibliography and the like, so do not expect a massive reference work. There are images from different decks, but only a handful and only in grey.

2019 Bloomsbury, isn 1788314913

The Last Heresy – Fabio Venzi (2019)

The two previous books of Venzi that I reviewed are great, esoteric Freemasonry, very Traditionalistic. His latest work is mostly historical.

As the subtitle says, the present title investigates: “The Catholic Church and Freemasonry. Three centuries of misconception, Satanism, Gnosticism and Relativism”

Especially in the first part of the book the author quotes publications from the Vatican on Freemasonry. I suppose that this compilation is interesting to some. It does seem a comprehensive overview, so this will be handy for people with an interest in the subject.

I only started to find the book more interesting when Venzi treats the different subjects to show how the Church misunderstands the subjects it accuses Freemasonry of and of course, how it misunderstands Freemasonry.

For defence, Venzi keeps referring to the very Christian Emulation Rite which I am sure he knows is only worked by a very small part of Freemasonry as a whole.

As I said, the book is mostly historical. I think a large part of Freemasonry does not care much what the Church says about them. Perhaps some in “regular” Freemasonry do. After the publication of the book talks between the Vatican and (some?) “regular” organisations has been started and I suppose this book can help in forming a picture and quick access to points from either side.

2019 Lewis Masonic – isbn 0853185662

Perfectibilists – Terry Melanson (2009)

This book was mentioned in Flowers’ book about the Fraternitas Saturni and I wanted to read a descent work about the Illuminati some day anyway. This one is presented somewhat as an ‘ultimate work’, so I got myself a copy. The title refers to the original name of the organisation that was rapidly replaced by a name that sounded better.

The author collected information about the Illuminati on his computer and in the early days of the internet made a website from these notes. Over the years Melanson got the name of Illuminati expert and he got requests to structure his information in a book. Well, the book actually looks like a printed-out website… It has many low-res images posted in the middle of the text. That may be good enough on a website, but it looks awful in a book, especially when also lengthy pieces of text are added to the images, sometimes even needing more than one page.

The book starts with history of the Illuminati, how Adam Weishaupt got the idea, how the organisation grew, split up and came to its end, etc. Several times the book gets this “look here: CONSPIRACY!” tone that I hoped a descent work about the Illuminati would avoid. The historical information is alright, but the book gets better in the parts about the structure and about the philosophy of the organisation.

There appears to be some irony in the book. Sure, the Illuminati conspired to gain influence in order to change society. They recruited well-off and influential people, many of them were also Freemasons. They never got really big though, the estimation has 2000 to 3000 members at its peak. For all the fuss about the New World Order that is so popular today, what the Illuminati actually seemed to try to accomplish are things that many nowadays rave about: global village, equality, freedom of speech, secularism.

That said, half of the book is filled with short biographies of known Illuminati. Some of the other appendices are mildly interesting. The texts of Weishaupt himself give a nice look into the man’s head and the parts about the workings of the organisation give an idea of it. The Illuminati were a secret society but certainly not an esoteric one. Weishaupt had nothing with religion, esotericism and only an interest in mystery traditions to learn how a secret society can influence society. The Illuminati were a political organisation whereas other organisations that they are often lumped together were/are not.

I guess I learned a thing or two about the Illuminati reading Melanson’s book, but to me it more seems like a collection of information, quite like when you look around the world wide web, than a structured book. Neither does it anywhere really seems to go into much depth. How did Weishaupt try to change society and into what direction? Why was there so much opposition when the direction that the Illuminati seemed to aim at was a direction that society was going into anyway? Who opposed the Illuminati and how? There is much more information about individuals involved in the organisation than in the organisation itself.

2009 Trine Day, isbn 0977795381

Arthurian Myths And Alchemy – Jonathan Hughes (2002)

I fell for the title, wondering how a writer would bring these subjects together. When I received the book I saw the rest of the title: “The Kingship of Edward IV” suggesting that this is a historical book. Indeed it is.

Actually the book is very interesting, but my mind has the habit of filtering out historical details and in a book such as this, it is already filtering while I read! Indeed, I am not good with reading detailed historical accounts and that is exactly what Hughes presents in this book.

As the title suggests, the book is about Edward IV (1442-1483). In the lengthy introduction the author sketches what came before (and a little after) him. Edward IV came to the throne at an early age. He was a very tall and handsome man and very social too. He could make anybody like him. That and some early heroics made him a relatively popular king. That is, until he realised that his youth started to escape him and he fell into a less kingly way of living.

Edward IV was not the first king who had alchemists at his court. These alchemists were not trying to make gold for the king, but they looked after his well-being, both physical and mental. What Edward also understood well, was that having an impressive lineage would heighten his esteem. For that reason there were also authors in his court building his mythological past and tracing it back to Troy, Greek heroes, but also King Arthur. In this way the court of Edward IV included famous men like Georges Ripley (1415-1490) (of the famous alchemical Ripley Scrolls) and Thomas Malory (1415-1471) (of Le Morte d’Arthur). That is not something I heard before!

What may be even more interesting is that these subjects indeed do come together. Where the Ripley Scrolls (there are different versions) are mostly alchemical, there are similar scrolls with (mythological) genealogies that also contain alchemical symbolism. What is also new to me, is the author’s way of explaining such alchemical drawings which he gives political meanings.

And so Hughes sketches a (to me) new approach to alchemy which is not just the changing of metals or a spiritual practice, but a method that was used in a wider manner in these days. Very interesting indeed, but the overwhelming amount of historical details gave me problems with attentively reading the book… If you have less problems with history lessens, you might be interested in this one.

2002 Sutton Publishing, isbn 0750919949

Atlantis And The Cycles Of Time – Joscelyn Godwin (2010)

Some ‘light literature’, suggestion of a friend. This is mostly because Guénon is on the cover.

“Atlantis”, you get it. Godwin searched the literature of the ages to find out what was written about Atlantis (and Lemuria). He starts with “Atlantis of the Rationalists” and deals with scholarly investigations of when and where Atlantis would have been found. This part is amusing, but not extremely interesting.
Next up is the “French esoteric Tradition” with the likes of Fabre d’Olivet, Papus and Schuré. These are followed by “H.P. Blavatsky and the Early Theosophists”, “later Theosophists”, “Germanic Anthology” (mostly so-called “Ariosophists” and then we have “Two Traditionalists”, Gueénon and Evola. “The Britons” are followed by “Some Independents” (not influenced by earlier literature). The last group of Atlantic investigators are New Age channelers and spiritualists.
Godwin closes with the second part of his title, the idea that the world develops in cycles. These are the four declining cycles of the Traditionalists, but there are other theories. We learn a bit about how long which cycle lasted or lasts and the (big) differences between the different theories. Of course also the end of the world is written about. A connected subject forms the end of the book “The Precession of the Equinoxes”.

The book makes an alright read. I am not so much interested in the theories about Atlantis, but the author manages to put the writers of these ideas and their theories in the perspective of their thinking and the lineage (or the lack thereof) of that thinking. This biographical information about (relatively) famous and obscure authors is what I mostly enjoyed about the book. Godwin writes with humour and critique in his always accessible style.

Not a must-read, but a nice book as ‘light literature’ among other things to read.

2010 Inner Traditions, isbn 1594772622

Vikingen * Luit van der Tuuk (2015)

My father in law bought this book and figured I might want to read it. “Vikingen, Noormannen in de Lage Landen” (‘Vikings, Normans in the Low Countries’) is a revised and expanded version of the same book that the author published in 2008. Van der Tuuk is conservator in the Dorestad museum (and in that capacity I once had a guided tour from him). Dorestad was the most famous Dutch trading town that was sacked and burned down by Viking raiders several times.

It is exactly the image of ravaging barbarians that the author aims to revise. Most information we have about the period of the Viking raids comes from Christian authors who depicted the situation worse than it actually was. Of course they also benefited from depicting the heathens as barbarians.

The book is an enormous summing up of historical events which Van der Tuuk unraveled. He uses writings from different sources and archaeological findings to weave a detailed story of Norse presence in what are nowadays the Netherlands and Belgium.

Some background information about certain events is about as much history as I can ‘handle’, but 336 pages of historical details such as years, dates, names, lineage and the like is a bit too much for me. I guess this is a book for walking historical encyclopedia such as my father in law, but of course if you want a reference book about the age of the Viking raids, this is the one to get.

2015 Omniboek, isbn 9789401906838

Symposionreeks 16 J.A. Comenius (2007)

I even managed to miss the Comenius “symposion” of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum on 7 October 2006… The booklet is almost sold out as well, but can still be ordered here and there. From the publisher for one.

Since the Lectorium Rosicrucianum is a modern Rosicrucian society, this little book mostly focusses on Comenius’ connections to the original Rosicrucians and the ideas that the two has incommon. Comenius was in his early twenties when the manifestoes were published and apparently they inspired them greatly. So much even, that later in his life Comenius got in contact with the author of the manifestoes, Johann Valentin Andrea, who shared Comenius’ ideas of a worldwide, yet reformed, Church of Christ.

The speakers were Hans Knevel (about Comenius’ spiritual path), Hanneke van Alderwegen (on his educational writings), Peter Huijs (about the Christian group that Comenius came from and of which he would be the last bishop) and Rachel Ritman (about the Rosicrucian connections). Of course the Ritman library brought some original printed books, the texts of the exhibition as -as always- included.

Another nice little book in the continuing “symposion” series of Rozekruis Pers.

2007 Rozekruis Pers, isbn 9789067323321

Comenius Und Die Freimaurer * Wilhelm Begemann (1906)

I know Jan Amos Comenius because of a book of his (Via Lucis that was translated to Dutch and published by In De Pelikaan, the publishing house of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam. Apparently I have had that book for so long that I did not write reviews when I bought it.
A while ago I got a catalogue of the publishing house of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum, a contemporary Rosicrucian society founded in the Netherlands. They have more titles of Comenius available in Dutch, so after reading the biography about the man, it seemed like an idea to read some more of Comenius’ works. Setting out to order a few of these titles, I found this little book in German with the enigmatic title Comenius and the Freemasons. There are two lodges in my country named after Comenius who died in the Netherlands, but he lived before Freemasonry, so what would the book be about then?

Begemann starts with a short investigation of Comenius (1592-1670) and his possible links to Masonic lodges that existed before the foundation of what is nowadays the United Grand Lodge of England in 1717. That investigation was short. However Comenius certainly knew, and had ideas incommon with, the original Rosicrucian manifestoes that were published in 1614 and after, Begemann found no indication that Comenius has ever been in contact with an early lodge.

Apparently in the time that Begemann wrote his book, there were theories linking Comenius to Freemasonry and it took a while before I realised that the author was not trying to prove this link, but he was to debunk it. This he did and it was not even too hard.
For the record, Begemann investigated influences of Comenius’ thought on the early Masonic movement, but his conclusion is Comenius is hardly mentioned by the earliest authors such as Andersson and Desagulier. At some point an interest in Comenius’ writings does appear, but this is only later and in a time that Masonic authors showed a wide interest in thinkers of the past.

Begemann’s conclusion is that there are no links between Comenius, or even his ideas, in early Freemasonry. A conclusion that is perhaps not surprising, but he just wanted to have it stated it seems.

Comenius and the Freemasons makes an alright read to learn a bit about early Freemasonry and about Jan Amos Comenius, but do not expect any big revelations. The book is old enough to be available in cheap reprint and as download on a few places on the world wide web, so should you be interested to read it, just look around a bit.

Hoe God Verscheen In Friesland * Dirk Otten (2014)

The first part of the series about the Christianisation of the Netherlannds (‘How God appeared in Saxonland’) was a very nice read; easy reading, amusing and informative. This second part (‘How God appeared in Frisia’) is so dull that it took me months to get through.

Whereas the previous book was Otten’s text with quotes from sources, this book about Frisia mostly just consists of retellings of hagiographies (‘lives of holy men’) of missionaries who spent time in Frisia. There are a few introductionary pages, but after that you can read about Eligius, Egbert, but of course also Willibrord, Boniface and Gregory (the latter at length in a cricital translation of Ludger). That was not quite what I expected after the first book…

The parts that Otten wrote make alright reads again and his inquisitive approach to the hagiographies is interesting, but a whole book with lives of saints which do not say all that much about the Frisians being Christianised did not exactly make a book coming anywhere near ‘How God appeared in Saxony’.

2014 Deventer Universitaire Pers, isbn 9789079378142

India’s Glory * Raghupati Bhatt (2014)

A history of India from an Indian perspective, that is what the author wanted to present. His little book (218 pages) has short chapters, mostly about noteworthy Indians. From Chandragupta Maurya (around 340 BCE) to Mahatma Gandi (1869-1948).

The author is of the opinion that the West is misinformed about India and its history and wants to correct these flaws. Also he wants to present figures of India’s glorious past. I must say that I do not really have the idea that I read anything radically different from what I already knew. Perhaps this is due to the fact that what I know about India mostly comes from people who were ‘India-friendly’, or perhaps it is simply so that us Westerners are not so badly informed as Bhatt thinks.

Not unexpectedly the book is filled with praise for India and his ‘big names’. Bhatt tells us about Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims alike; a bit about spiritual currents such as Bhakti or Jainism; spiritual leaders and politicians; conquerers and freedom fighters. Quite a few pages are dedicated to the time in which India fought British colonism. Nor does he shy to say -for example- that Gandhi was not favoured by everyone and he has a few things to say about Hindu nationalism, a current which was recently in the news.

“India’s Glory” does not hold any big surprises, but it makes an alright read and it never hurts to see things through the eyes of an insider.

2014 Numen Books, isbn 0987559869