history

Kratos: The Hellenic Tradition * Gwendolyn Taunton (editor) (2013)

This is already the sixth ‘volume’ in the ‘series’ of journals published by Numen Books (formerly Primordial Traditions). As the title says we are looking at Greece this time. “Kratos” comes as a nice sleeve and with 242 pages, it is again quite a book. There are three texts of our productive editor an article of the editor of “Occult Traditions” and some Greek and less Greek sounding names. Some texts are very historical and of course there is a lot of Nietzsche. I must admit that the Hellenic tradition is not entirely my thing and I did not really enjoy all texts, but a very nice article is called “Hellenic Household Worship”. In this text Christos Pandion Panopoulos tells us about household religion in the past and the present. Another essay that hints to our own day and time is “Foreign Gods, Syncretism and Hellenismos” by Kallistos, telling us that many of the major Gods are not originally Greek. What is slightly remarkable is that some authors seem to take it that their readers can read Greek. Some sometimes give a translation or just a transliteration (but at other times nothing at all), but John Pickard manages to give a half-page quote in Greek and just starts to refer to it.
Perhaps for me personally not the most interesting ‘volume’ in the series, but as always this Numen Books release brings together historical investigations and contemporary religion and comes with not the most common approaches, so I suppose that when you enjoyed the other books of Numen Books, you also want to get your hands on this latest publication (click on the “tag” below the title to read all reviews).
2013 Numen Books, isbn 098755980X

The Stanzas Of The Old English Rune Poem * Gary Stanfield (2012)

What a monster work! The Old English Rune Poem (OERP) is 28 stanzas long, 84 lines, but Stanfield uses almost 700 pages to teach us something about them! Quite a while ago I got an email from the author asking if I would mind receiving a PDF of his book for review. Not knowing it would be this size, I agreed and decided to try to use my very cheap, Chinese 7″ tablet (used as internet radio) as ereader. Well, the thing is not really fit for being an ereader, so I read the work in small portions to spare my eyes and head. 700 Pages, what on earth would Stanfield tell about a short rune poem? Each poem is given in its original language and in different translations. After a wordly translation with all possibilities for every word, there is a “perfect” translation, sometimes a readable translation and a modernised translation. The “perfect” translation tries to capture the stanza’s alliteration, word-play, rhythm and layers of meaning. After this comes a detailed discussion of translating the stanza which will be interesting for people who want to learn about old English and who want to translate and/or interpret the poem for themselves. What Stanfield writes on in detail are problems with translation different words, tell us how earlier translators tackled those problems, put elements of the poems in perspective, etc. Then follow different interpretations of the stanzas. There are what the author calls “explicit stanza”s and “implicit stanza”s, which roughly equates to exoteric and esoteric interpretations. Of the latter Stanfield usually gives several. Next comes an “advice for living” and a schematic summery of the stanza. After the chapters about the stanzas follow a couple of lengthy addenda for example investigating the Gods Týr and Freyr. One addendum is about Wyrd another explains some of Stanfield’s starting points.
Stanfield is certainly very original in approach and meticulous in method. He does have a writing style that I had to get used to. Terms as “implicit stanza” look a bit odd at first. Also he names his interpretations and later refers to them as if these interpretations are someone else’s, as in: “Esoteric Practice Can Be Fun. This implicit stanza is based on “Religious Advancement and Irrational Needs”.” (p. 280) Perhaps he has been working on this book so long that every time he thinks up a new interpretation, Stanfield treats his own work like a reference book. Certainly there are several hints that the book used to be much larger with much more translations. The version that I got is the second edition.
Another reason why Stanfield is original in his approach is that his basis lays in what he calls “progressive mysticism”, a mystic basis for religion that recognises the same basis in other religions. It is unclear if Stanfield is a practicing heathen, but he is certainly not purely an academic. Maybe his approach is more like that of authors such as Mircea Eliade, Huston Smith or Joseph Campbell in being essentially religious, but seeing that essence in each religion. Certainly Stanfield likes to refer to practicing heathens as his sources are often Edred Thorsson or the brothers Wodening, but the author is certainly not uncritical. A remark that made me smile was: “The Asatrú method is to combine data from various Germanic cultures as if there were no differences, or to ignore non-Norse sources.” In similar ways Stanfield is critical to both contemporary heathens as to scholars in the field of the past and the present. In his own detailed investigations, Stanfield comes to very ‘undumézilian’ conclusions that I do often not endorse, but this massive work certainly deserves the attention of scholars and heathens alike for being not only original and groundbreaking, but mostly for being as detailed as it is. There will be something here for people interested in old English, for people interested in poetry, for people interested in translating old texts, for people interpreting old texts and certainly for contemporary heathens who are not affraid for an original look at “the lore” or the practice in daily life.
As I understand it, the plan of the author is still to publish this as a book, he is currently working on copyright. I have no idea if there is already an interested publisher. I think this should be a book, because this is a reference work and I find jumping through a book trying to find a passage a lot easier than having to try to come up with the correct wordings to find a passage. Besides, 700 pages on an electronic device proved to be (too) much for me. For the time, if you want to get the book, contact the author and he will let you know how things work. Use the Hotmail address grystf.

Discovering The Cathars * Lucien Bély (2006)

In september 2012 my girlfriend and me spent a week in the French provinces Ariège and Aude, known for the wiped out Cathar precence around 1200. In the museum of Montségur village there were a couple of books with general information of which this title by Bély looked the most serious to me. Moreover, it has many beautiful images and the book is well-printed. In the first half, Bély gives a very nice overview of the history of the Cathars, leaving aside the many speculations of today and asking just questions such as if Catharism was actually just one religion and giving different versions of the same story. Also you get the whole story of about a century instead of just the years around Montségur. Some stories that have become legends are given in their historical context. The book is well written, does not really take sides and gives some details that I never heard about. The second half is a list with “places with Cathar connections”. This often gives information that I ran into in the first half, but especially when ‘on location’, that half is very helpfull. The book is only about 120 pages, so I finished it while being in France.
If you are looking for a no-nonsense book about the Cathars with many images and helpfull information, I can recommend this nice little book.
2006 Éditions Sud Quest, isbn 9782879017112

Shahnameh by Ferdowski * Reuben Levy (translator) (1967/2001)

For decades I had wanted to read the “Shahnameh” and quite a while ago I ran into a very nice translation for little money. Happy I brought home the book, but when I started to read it, I was less happy. For some reason I cannot read stories. I do not care about plots, cannot remember who is who and I usually get bored after a few pages. Well, the “Shahnameh” is exactly that: a story. Perhaps not an ongoing one, but the work reads like a book. The complete title of the translation that I found runs: “Shahnameh, The Epic Of The Kings, the national epic of Persia by Ferdowski” it is “translated by Reuben Levy” and “revised by Amin Banani”. The translation was originally published by Routledge, but my printing is of the Iranian publisher Yassavoli. It comes with a large number of colour plates of drawings from some old Shahnameh manuscript. Some time ago I was in a museum (I forgot which) that also had quite a few of these plates. They certainly are beautiful and very nicely reprinted. As the title says, what we get is the story of the rulers of ancient Persia. The “Shahnameh” was written around 1000 CE. It starts with Hushang, but I cannot find in which period he ruled. He was supposedly the second Shah or king of Persia. In short chapters Ferdowski tells about the proceedings of an endless line of characters, quite in detail too sometimes. Happenings of wars, struggles, times of peace, fathers, sons and daughters, envious family members and a little woven through a bit of the old religion, Zoroaster and Christianity. The book is most likely not historically correct in our terms, but mythological upto a certain degree. Like I said, it all comes in a story and however the translation is nice, I have problems keeping my attention to it all. I did not read the book from cover to cover, but started scanning it for interesting passages. I now see that I got my book for a very good price, since Amazon has it listed for almost 10x of what I paid for it. There are other printings of Levy’s translation which I did not see, but the Yassavoli version certainly is a nice one. I also like the idea that I got the national epic from the country itself, especially when we all know how the current religion of Iran acts.
2001 Yassavoli, isbn 9643062082

De Rozenkruisers In Nederland * Govert Snoek (1997)

This impressive book has a complete title which goes (translated) “The Rosicrucians in the Netherlands, particularly in the first half of the 17th century, an inventarisation”. It is written in Dutch, but has a summery in French. The book was initiatlly written as a master’s thesis in 1989 (in the same year Peter Huijs wrote his at another university, both have published books through the publishing house of the contemporary Rosicrucian organisation Lectorium Rosicrucianum) studying history. Later the thesis was expanded for a PHD thesis in theology (1998). Actually, the book is more the work of an archivarist. Snoek ploughed through a gigantic amount of works (his bibliography is 100 pages!), but not just primary and secondary works, he tried to find each and every reference to the Rosicrucians in the Netherlands in the 17th century. Therefor he read a great number of writings of many many religious apostates (and there were many of them), but also he studied auction lists to see who possessed Rosicrucian books. You will read about the Family of Love (actually the House of Love), David Joris, Hiël, chiliasts, (ana)baptists and whatever there was in those days. People who spend time in the Netherlands or had contacts here bring famous names as Tycho Brahe, John Dee, Jacob Böhme, Thomas à Kempis and many more. Within our own country almost anybody who made some name seems to have has some kind of interest in the Rosicrucians, scientists (Cornelis Drebbel), painters (Pieter Paul Rubens), poets (P.C. Hooft) everybody gets a background investigation. Interesting webs are uncovered, unexpected links made and ‘maybe’s of earlier investigators are proved or disproved. Yes, the book is almost purely historical, factual and purely informative, but interesting. Snoek mostly manages to present his dry information well enough and here and there says a few things about the ideas of the people discussed which makes things even more interesting. Yes, finally I found a book that looks into all the links and contacts of this highly interesting. Old acquintances and people I had never heard of, Snoek has it all.
1997 Rozekruis Pers, isbn 9067323241

Athanasius Kircher’s Theatre of the World * Joscelyn Godwin (2009)

Quite a while ago I saw this book laying in the most beautiful bookshop of the Netherlands (Selexys Maastricht, soon bankrupt I am afraid). A massive book about Kircher for a massive price. When I got a load of book-coupons much later, my first idea was to go and get this book and so I did. I know Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680) mostly for his magnificent images as they are often reproduced in books about hermeticism, Renaissance esotericism, alchemy and similar subjects. I knew Kircher was more of a “homo universalis” and that he was the last of the Renaissance men, but I had this romantised idea that Kircher was an esotericist with a broad interest. Godwin’s book first appears as a look-through book. Over 400 images of Kircher have been reproduced. When I had the book home, I noticed that Godwin discusses them all, so this book is a reading book after all. Well, a reading book. With its over 300 heavy pages, 30x30cm size and +2 kg in weight, this is not a book to read all night while laying on your couch. Godwin took the wide interests of Kircher and divided them over the different chapters of the book. Instead of esotericism, you will read about archaeology, geology, science, medicine, wonder-machines (Kircher liked to show off with weird machines that were magic to the unknowing spectator), music, Egyptology (Kircher was the first to translate hieroglyphs), information about the religions of the world (from China and Japan to South America) and much, much more. Indeed, Kircher was a man who wanted to know everything. So how did he come about knowing about all these things? Kircher was a devout Jesuit and his masters realised that he was more valuable at home than in some far country converting people. Thus Kircher became the spider in the web of Jesuit missionaries worldwide who sent him artifacts, stories, drawings, texts to translate, etc. and Kircher investigated them all and wrote about it. He set up a museum with exotics and weird machines and thought he was superiour in knowledge to his fellow man. However this book is a nice read, not all subjects interest me equally. I mostly enjoyed the first chapters with Kircher’s religious and symbolic drawings (Godwin goes nicely into detail) and the last chapter with didactic images. Indeed, do not expect too much alchemy, Kabbalah and hermeticism as suggested on Amazon (Kircher did not want to have too much to do with such subjects), but more a book showing the pursuits of early science.
2009 Thames & Hudson, isbn 0500258600)

Blutleuchte * Gerhard Hallstatt (2010)

Gerhard Hallstatt (or Gerhard Petak or Kadmon) is best-known for his musical outlet Allerseelen, but for a long time he also published magazines under the titles Aorta and Ahnstern.

These “tracts” first appeared in twenty issues of Aorta and nine of Ahnstern. They were homemade bilingual booklets done with typewriter, copying machine, and stapler. The print was cramped, the illustrations blurred or blackened, and the English translations extremely quaint (in contrast to Gerhard’s beautiful German.)

So a few people set up to make new translations of Gerhard’s articles and present them in a beautiful cloth-bound book with two-colour print. What is presented is a cabinet of curiosities that go from the Cathars to crop circles and man-made UFOs. The articles are only those of Gerhard and span about the decade from 1990 to 2000. It is great to find a man with an interest in a wide variety of subjects as myself not trying to hang around in the same allies all the time. Somehow many of the articles circle around the period of the two world wars though. Through interviews and articles you will learn about Kenneth Anger and his films, a woman with stigmata, characters such as Codreanu and Willigut, musicians such as Z’ev and Michael Moynihan, magic, shamanism, the far corners of science, artists, religions and cults. Several articles are very personal accounts of travels to ancient festivals or mystical places. At least one text is a made-up story which makes me wonder about one or two other personal accounts. Gerhard introduces new terms such as panzermaterialismus and heidnat and describes visions caused by eating mushrooms. Satanism, magic, controversial elements of history it is all here in Blutleuchte. The book is a very enjoyable read with nice, short texts about subjects that I was mostly familiar with, but for example the author rekindled my desire to watch the pre-WWII films of Riefenstahl and I do not believe that I ever heard of the subterranean midget worlds called “Erdställe”. The book is not cheap, but worth the money a worthwhile homage to a lifelong traveller. Speaking of homage, the introduction that I quoted is written by noone less than Joscelyn Godwin the famous scholar on music and Western esotericism and who is apparently no longer frightened by a bit of controversy, since he also wrote introductions to English translations of Evola and articles in the Tyr Journal. I admire the man for knitting his name to such publications which will hopefully make them appear less black (and white).
To get your own copy, people from Europe best get in contact with Gerhard himself (aorta(at)gmx(dot)at), in the US with the publisher (linked below).
2010 Ajna, isbn 9780972182034

The Secret Of The Hittites * C.W. Ceram (1956)

This book was first published in 1955 under the vague title “Enge Schlucht und schwarzer Berg” (‘Narrow canyon and black mountain’), but soon translated to English. It is not a book about the Hittites, but a book about ‘Hittitology’, the branch of science that came after the investigations started with a few lucky findings. Ceram (a pseudonym for Kurt Marek) is not a ‘Hittitologist’ either, but a man who started writing for newspapers and later dedicated his skills to books. The book gives the fascinating story of the discovery of an ’empire’ that had long been thought to have been just one of the Palestinean tribes mentioned in the Bible. Different archeologists have made some lucky discoveries in areas far away from eachother in the late 19th century. Later these findings were connected to the same peoples and (falsely) called “Hittites”. As investigations continued, the Hittites proved to have been a power not only living between the Egyptians and the Sumerians, but also of comparable power and eloquence. Ceram fills his book with anecdotes about the people digging for treasures, their adventures in the inhabitable lands of nowadays Turkey, the people trying to decipher the ‘unknown script from an unknown culture in an unknown language’, the problems of dating the findings and all the problems the scholars of a new science run into. The book reads easily and is well-written. There is of course some information about the Hittites, but the Hittites themselves are not the subject of this book. Ceram’s book is an amusing read, but I hoped for other sort of information.
1956 Phoenix Press, isbn 1842122959

The Hittites * O.R. Gurney (1952/1990)

A while ago I read about the Hittites, a people who lived in Asia Minor and held the middle between Indo-European and the Sumerian peoples. After having read a book with myths, here we have a book about the Hittites themselves. Gurney wrote his book in 1952, it has been revised three times by the time the version that I bought was printed. The book is mostly a history lesson. It goes from “the earliest period” to “the old kingdom” (1680-1420), “the empire” (1420-appr. 1200) to “the neo-Hittite kingdoms”. That is the first part of the book. In the next parts Gurney continues with the subjects “Hittite state and society”, “life and economy”, “law and institutions”, “warfare”, “languages and races”, “religion”, “literature” and “art”. The Hittites are known from the Old Testament as an Israelic tribe. The summing up of the Hittites as one of those tribes does not give them the credit they deserve. In fact, the Hittites formed a mighty people, rivaling with the Egyptians and the Sumerians of their time. Actually there was no thing as the Hittites. There were different peoples with different languages and different texts living in different times. Moreover, when the Hittites were at the peak of their power, they had excellent contact with other powerfull peoples and correspondence (often chiseled in stone!) was in a variety of languages, several with cuniform letters, but also one using hieroglyphs that are not unlike the Egyptian. The same goes for the divine pantheon. Inspite of the fact that there was a state religion, which was somewhat of an artificial conglomerate of the rest, the state supported local cults and also the Gods and Goddesses of neighbouring peoples found their places in the hearts of the Hittites. Especially because of the mix of Indo-European with non-Indo-European elements, the Hittites make an interesting, but not easy subject for study. Then there is the fact that scholars have not been able to make sense of every text that was found. Several texts are found in different versions, even in different languages. Since they are found on stone tablets which have been damaged in the course of time, many texts display greater or smaller lancunas. The sort of texts that are found is of a great variety. This varries from letters of one king to another, laws, religious texts with ceremonies, stories, a few myths have been left and there are many magical inscriptions found. The latter the author shoves under the label “primitive”, a term that the author uses now and then for the “lower” elements within the “high” society. All in all this little book (just over 200 pages Penguin format) is a nice introduction to an interesting piece of history. I am personally not immensely interested in the purely historical part of what king followed who and when some tribe moved to another place, but the (short) part about religion and the quotes from the texts that are left are interesting.
1952 (1990 revised reprint) Penguin Books, isbn 0140126015

Koning Artur In De Nederlanden * J.D. Janssens (1985)

Some time ago I was rereading Koenraad Logghe’s “De Graal“, a book about the Arthurian legends that thrives heavily on the texts in the Dutch language and has a lot of references to the “Shah Nameh”, the Persian “Book Of The Kings”. While visiting a local second hand bookshop that I rarely visit these days, my eye fell on a shelf where the Shah Nameh stood right next to a little book with fragments of Dutch Arthurian texts. Coincidence? I have not yet finished the Shah Nameh, but Janssens booklet with fragments is only 200 pages so that went a lot quicker. Janssens wanted to make a book to bring the less known, but of the same age (or even older) as the famous French texts, to a larger, Dutch audience. He choose fragments of Perchevael, Ferguut, Walewein ende Key and Graalqueeste. There is a lengthy interpretative introduction which is very interesting and thought-provoking. The fragments themself are in the original language (Middle Dutch), but have ‘normalised writing’. Notes at the bottom of the pages explain uncommon words and structures. It appears that literary scholars are pleased with the fragments, personally I think it are not the most interesting passages that Janssens choose. Besides, the authors of the texts used many lines to describe the entering of a castle or whatever, the intermediating pieces in which Janssens summerises the events are more enjoyable in my opinion. It was nice to read these Dutch texts in the original language. I find this old Dutch not too hard to read, so it went pretty quickly. A nice little booklet that you will have to find second hand. It is well available from about € 10,-.
1985, uitgeverij HES