occultism

Occultism In A Global Perspective – Henrik Bogdan & Gordan Djurdjevic (2014)

Academic studies of esotericism (whether people, groups or currents) often focus on “the West”. Bogdan and Djurdjevic wanted to remedy this focussing on esotericism (or actually mostly occultism) in less-investigated areas.

This results in an interesting collection of essays of scholars known and new to me about a variety of subjects.

After an introduction of the editors, follows a somewhat technical text from Kennet Granholm about what this “West” of “Western esotericism” actually it. That is not as clear cut as it may seem at first sight.

Then follows an author that I keep running into recently Hans Thomas Hakl who wrote about the Fraternitas Saturni. After Hakl we have a text about satanism in Denmark around 1900 by Per Faxneld, so a structured form of satanism of well before Anton LaVey.

Interesting is editor Djurdjevic’s text about occultism in former Yugoslavia, which also touches on influences of Theosophy and Traditionalism. Then we turn to Italy for a text about Tommaso Palamidessi. Noone less than Arthur Versluis wrote about esoteric Hitlerism (Savitri Sevi and Miguel Serrano). After this PierLuigi Zoccatelli looks at a man I have run into many years ago: Samuel Aun Weor.

The other editor, Henrik Bogdan, investigates the case of the Holy Order of India, an Eastern order which was influenced by Western occultism rather than the other way around. We move to Japan with Emily Aoife Somers’ essay about the Japanse literary genre “Nô” (ghost/horror) and how W.B. Yeats was influenced by it, but also the other way around had his influence. The last text is about an artist and solitary Australian occultist Rosaleen Norton.

I did not find all subjects equally interesting, but as you can see a variety of subjects in a variety of countries and also texts from known and not yet known authors. The editors made an interesting compilation. It being an academic publication, the book is not cheap, but you can actually rent a Kindle edition for a fair price.

2014 Routledge, isbn 1844657167

Lords Of The Left Hand Path – Stephen Flowers (2012)

This book of Flowers is in some ways similar to the recently reviewed “Satanism A Social History“. Both give an historical overview of people and groups who ‘walk the dark path’. Introvigne also refers to Flowers’ book frequently. Where Introvigne is mostly historical, Flowers also looks at the ideas and systems of the groups and people he writes about.

Flowers’ book begins with interesting chapters about the left hand path in general, the left hand path in the East and especially how things in the past and in the East are not are clear cut as today in the West. The notions of ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ are not as sharp as we like to think of them today.

The introductory chapter “the roots of the Western tradition” is interesting as well, but slowly but surely things started to become less interesting to me. The chapter about World War II is not the best to me and towards the end the book almost starts to seem to be an introduction to the last two chapters about Anton LaVey and his Church of Satan and Michael Aquino and the Temple of Set.

With these last two persons we of course have people who consciously swim against the stream and do/did so visually. LaVey started in the hippy days, but he also lived through (and survived) the days of the “Satanic scare” in the USA. Flowers looks at the writings and ideas of both LaVey and Aquino in detail. A bit too much detail for my liking compared to previous chapters which were more general. Well, there is a descent chapter about the Fraternitas Saturni about which Flowers wrote an entire book.

All in all I found the book a modestly interesting read. I enjoy reading about people going against the current, but it is a path that is entirely not mine. The “Left Hand Path” for Flowers (and undoubtedly others) is one of individualism without loosing it in a ‘mystic end’. You also get a glimpse of how Flowers sees things himself and it is quite a thing for an academic to display that so clearly. Perhaps that is linked to Left Hand Path organisations such as the Temple of Set (and the Dragon Rouge which is for some reason not mentioned) which’ members more and more frequently also pursue an academic career.

2012 Inner Traditions, isbn 1594774676

Introduction To Magic – Julius Evola (2001)

I have known about this book for a long time, bu due to the subject, it was not high on my wish list. Only recently did I realise that this is not a book by Julius Evola, but these are actually texts from the UR and KRUR magazines from the magical group that Evola was involved in early in his life. Actually, there is much more material, so this book is actually volume 1 of 3 and written by “Julius Evola and the Ur group.

Evola himself compiled the texts from the periodicals into a book. He introduced, edited and annotated the texts. This work has been available in Italian since 1971.

I found the introduction by the original editor Renate Del Ponte the most interesting part of the book. The author sketches the occult scene in Italy in Evola’s time and thus introduces the (KR)UR group. The authors wanted to remain anonymous and used pseudonyms, but Del Ponte identified most of them. A varied group. Evola used different pseudonyms.

Among the texts Evola’s are not only recognisable, but also the most interesting to me. They are more esoteric and somewhat Traditionalist than many of the other texts which are often practical magical texts. As interesting as I find people experimenting that way, as little interesting I find it to read about magical operations.

The book goes from -as mentioned- practical magical exercises and rituals, to translations of texts (alchemical, philosophical), initiation, ancient cultures and what not. Very varied indeed. Not all texts are equally interesting to me.

I am not yet sure if I am interested in the other two volumes. Supposedly they contain translations of old texts and other material not necessarily written by the members of the UR group.

So not your typical Evola work!

2001 Inner Traditions, isbn 0892816244

Ancient Magic – Philip Matyszak (2019)

This book would have fitted well within the roster of Manticore Press perhaps even from the hand of helmswoman Gwendolyn Taunton. It focusses on the dark side of ancient Roman and Greece culture. The weird ways of magic. Instead, the book is published on the large art publishing house Thames & Hudson.

Perhaps there is too much humour in Matyszak’s book for Manticore and perhaps it is not scholarly enough either. As a matter of fact, the book makes fairly light literature. Sure, the book is about all kinds of dark magic, necromantia, extreme love spells, summoning demons, but as the book continues, the authors thought to have to pour in more and more silly remarks. Often they are funny, mind you, but the book is an amusing account of ancient magic that reads like a ‘normal book’, not an in depth investigation into the different kinds of magic.

That said, the book makes an amusing read with funny anecdotes and weird accounts from famous literature and art.

2019 Thames & Hudson, isbn 0500052077

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.

Fraternitas Saturni – Stephen E. Flowers (2018)

Just as most of his books, Flowers has revised this book a couple of times and republished it. The book was first published in 1990 as Fire And Ice: The History, Structure And Rituals Of Germany’s Most Influential Modern Magical Order – The Brotherhood Of Saturn. A second edition was published in 1994. For the third edition 2006 (self released on Runa Raven) the title was changed to The Fraternitas Saturni – or Brotherhood Of Saturn: An Introduction To Its History Philosophy And Rituals. This fourth edition is published by Inner Traditions, is again revised and expanded and this title changed again, this time to The Fraternitas Saturni: History, Doctrine, And Rituals Of The Magical Order Of The Brotherhood Of Saturn.

The story behind the book is interesting. When studying in Germany, the author received actual documents of a notorious magical order about which not much had been published, certainly not in another language than German, including history and rituals. There are still people working under the name and Flowers got permission to publish the information. The rituals are not those that are in use nowadays anyway.

The Fraternitas Saturni is (of course) best known for its links with Aleister Crowley and its sex-magical workings. Flowers soon puts things in perspective. In its 33 degree system, sex is only part of one (the 18º). Now the initiation is more sexy than in most esoteric orders and there are private workings involving ritual sex, but it is certainly not so that this was the main focus of the brotherhood.

Flowers sketches the early history of the FS. What started as a joint attempt to start a magical lodge under Aleister Crowley (and the Orde Templi Orientis), immediately broke in pro-Crowley and contra-Crowley factions. Even though the FS was pro and they did use some of Crowley’s ideas, they did not accept his entire philosophy nor his leadership. There has been contact though.

In spite of a stop during WWII, a schism and a reuniting (and two split-offs), the FS has existed for almost a century and is therefor the oldest magical order in Germany. Indeed, in structure aim and partly in philosophy, FS is quite like Freemasonry, but then with an overtly magical tone and much stimulation on its members to explore all kinds of magical systems. Furthermore FS acknowledges the dark side along with the light side. Also scholarly the FS has been active with several periodicals, books, art and what not. FS has never been really big, but they have long been big enough to have lodges and a Grand Lodge just as within Freemasonry.

Flowers’ history and structure part is interesting. His take on the organisation’s philosophy clarifying. The second half of the book is filled with addenda, such as ritual texts and letters. All in all making this fourth edition read-worthy.

I did not have to dig deep to find out that much more can be bought regarding FS (when you read German). There is a publisher called Verlag Geheimes Wissen (‘secret knowing publications’) that has a whole list of well-printed material from the FS, including the periodical “Saturn Gnosis” (which I am reading now). FS also has it’s own publishing house, which mostly sells the other periodical: Blätter für angewandte okkulte Lebenskunst.
Enough to read after Flowers introduction!

2018 Inner Traditions, isbn 1620557215

Icelandic Magic – Stephen Flowers (2018)

Almost three decades after the first edition of his Galdrabók Flowers comes with a follow-up. That book ran out of print rapidly and became wildly expensive. A later reprint (that I reviewed) was pretty expensive as well, but later on the book was again reprinted and it is now well available and affordable. There is also an English and Icelandic edition.

Just as in his Galdrabók, Flowers mostly fills the pages of this new book with introductory information. This again is interesting. Flowers made me feel sorry for not having had the time to visit Strandagaldur, the museum of witchcraft and sorcery when I was in Iceland. The fact that this museum exists proves Flowers’ point that Galdrabekur (‘magic books’) have remained popular in Iceland for a very long time. They were influenced by similar books from the continent, from which many spells were taken, survived the coming of Christianity and (even though less popular) the Reformation. Practitioners copied books, added their own spells and sigils and thus created their own books. Quite a couple of them have found their way to the National Museum of Iceland where Flowers studied them.

In his lengthy introduction the author sketches the history of the books, gives an idea of the lives of some magicians (many Christians!), says a few things about the ‘light’ and ‘dark’ versions and towards the end has a “grey book” part with spells and signs. Flowers wanted to create a practical book of magic, so he explains how the sigils are built up, how you can use them and how you create your own. At the end some pages are left blank so you can add your own workings and create your very own “grey book” just as the Icelandic magicians did in the past (and present).

The introduction is again interesting. The “grey book” part does not contain many interesting or useful things (in my opinion), but in the appendices Flowers has Furtharks with short explanations, but also a couple of magical alphabets with rune-like symbols with their corresponding letters and explanations which could be a handy reference to decipher symbols or writings that are not (obviously) made of runes.

The author says that Icelandic magic is the easiest form of magic. It does not need elaborate preparations and lengthy texts. All spells and sign have been ‘tested’ and he encourages his readers to try them out. Having read the book, I do not really feel to the need to ‘leave the armchair’ though. The proposed workings do not at all appeal to me.

Each to his/her own! Flowers made a nice addition to an old publication shedding light on a curious part of Icelandic history.

2018 Inner Traditions, isbn 1620554054

Amongst Mystics and Magicians in Stockholm * Thomas Karlsson (2015)

On the philosohical outlet of Michael Idehall, Belzebez, I read about this book of Thomas Karlsson. Belzebez has a bit of a ‘Dragon Rouge air’ so it is not strange to find Karlsson’s biographical notes on the early days of the order that he founded. I am not too interested in “Ordo Draconis et Atri Adamantis“, but it is always nice to read about somebody’s path.

“Amonst Mystics and Magicians” turns out to be a very personal account of Karlsson’s early years. It reads like a diary (in the I-form), but very much in a narrative style so that it also reads like a boy’s adventure, an exploration into the occult. Karsson describes how from an early age he read everything about the occult that he could lay his hands on. At the age of 14 he started to run into like-minded people in the occult bookshops of Stockholm that he frequented. He also started to experiment with different visionary techniques. With his new found friends the experiments became two persons or even group events. Where Karlsson was the ‘scholar’ of the group, a person he names “Varg” was even more into the magical experimentations. Also Varg has an American teacher (Thorsson perhaps?). Other friends are more down-to-earth, but interested nonetheless.

Karlsson travels, meets more people, gets in contact with many more people, also people that help him in certain directions. The book describes how he, and other people, conduct ceremonies, have visions and encounter beings from the other side, “the Left side”. Karlsson proves to be openminded in his musical interests (that go from black metal to New Beat, techno and classical music) and philosophical interests. His ‘system’ goes from Crowley to “Vodou”, from Kabbalah to Tantra, Babylonian to Northern mythology; basically anything that could be (partly) interesting.

The author reasons that the Left (Hand) Path is the path for people who think for themselves, contrary to the Right (Hand) Path which is for followers. A similar reasoning he has for his “dark magic”. Where “white magic” is for the purpose of good, “black magic” for the purpose of evil”, “dark magic” is for the curious with no good or bad intentions. Curiosity seems to be the basis for Karlsson’s magical endeavors. The book describes experiments with halucinating techniques, lucid dreams, the raising of ghosts and encounters with Thor and Lucifer. It remains unclear what is the purpose of it all. Knowledge and wisdom are mentioned here and there, but does one get wiser from meeting deceased people from a remote cemetary? In a chapter towards the end, a man named Richard calls up Karlsson to inquire about the Dragon Rouge, Karlsson says:

We don’t stand for anything. It is not a religion or a political party. We do things We are a magical order. There you don’t stand for things. There you do things. And then it’s up to you to interpret what has happened when you’ve done something.

This also the reason anyone can join, where atheist, Christian or Satanist.
But again, why summon spirits if it is only to interpret the events?

A bit furtheron Richard asks about the left hand path, according to Karlsson:

It’s dangerous. The left hand path leads to the farthest, and most foreign regions of existence. Going too fast, or too carelessly, can destroy anyone. It is total darkness and Chaos.
[Richard] Why would you go there?
[Karlsson] You wouldn’t necessarily. it might be better not to. But if you are driven by curiosity, it is like taking a look behind the veils of existence, and seeing what’s there.

This may be an interesting endeavor, but personally I miss the point. Still it was nice to read how Karlsson had a similar start to myself, but took a completely different road. Also when thinking about the fact that Karlsson nowadays teaches at Stockholm University (religious studies), this book is very open and personal. Which makes me wonder. Is this book for Dragon Rouge members so they have a bit of history; but why is this not an internal publication? Is this book for potential Dragon Rouge members? But why then does Karlsson keep referring to his (youthfull?) New Agey interests? Or did the author want to do away with a possible master status and show his students that he got where he got by simply trying things so they have to too?

In any case, the 140 pages are bound nicely and the books looks wonderfull. The book is quite expensive, but makes a nice read. Do not expect profound knowledge, worked out rituals or a detailed description of the order of the red dragon, rather the founder looking back at the early days.

2015 Midian Books, limited to 200 copies.

Occult Traditions * Damon Zacharias Lycourinos (editor) 2012

Once upon a time there was a magazine called “Primordial Traditions”. The best articles were bundled in a book with the same title and then Primordial Traditions became a publisher starting a series with titles such as “Northern Traditions” and “Radical Traditions”. Whereas the initiative started with a (somewhat) Traditionalistic approach, this is less so nowadays and maybe this is one of the reasons that the publisher is now called Numen Books. (Another reason could of course be that Numen Books publishes more than just the “traditions” series.) The latest publication available is “Occult Traditions”. The book has the size and the look of previous book in the series, which is nice. The cover is strangely ‘rubbery’ and the number of pages (over 300 pages) makes a nice addition to the series. With this title you might not be surprised that there is not much Traditionalism to be found here, just a reference to Evola. What is presented is more an interesting collection of scholarly writings about occultism and magic, old and new and writings of or about contemporary occultists, both investigations of rituals and rituals themselves. I do not have a large interest in contemporary occultism, but a publication like this does show the state of magic of our day. The editor has a liking for the very interesting Papyri Graecae Magicae and we go from ancient rituals from that sort of texts to a day in the lives of contemporary Wiccas. Indeed, the variety is large. A prejudice against contemporary heathens is confirmed too by the way, since the pagan scholar Christopher -Heathen Journal- Plaisance contributed two essays. Pagans do practice occultism and not just an old religion. Now Plaisance’ texts are of course scholarly and philosophical and there is nothing to suggest that he practices the ritual magic that he describes, but the link between even the serious heathens of our time and the occultists is proven once more (and me reviewing this book of course doubles that). The large number of texts in “Occult Traditions” include Icelandic magic, much medieval magic, one author claiming that medieval and Renaissance magic are linked, inspite of what the Renaissance man wanted us to believe, Wicca, sex magic, the dark side of Buddhism (main woman Gwendolyn Toynton’s article is certainly the most interesting in this volume), necromancy and much more. Not my favourite literature, but a nice alternation between my usual books. Next up is Northern Traditions II, that will be more in my line.
2012 Numen Books, isbn 0987158139

Galdrabók, an icelandic book of magic * Stephen Edred Flowers (2005 rûna raven press)

GaldrabokFor a very long time I have wanted to have a look at the famous “Galdrabók”. I knew that Stephen Flowers of the Rune Gild and the Woodharrow institute had a translation, but it ran out of print and is impossible to get. Now there is a “second and revised edition”, not released by Weiser, but by Flower’s own Rûna Raven Press. However the first edition has a colour cover and 135 pages, this new edition is more like a photocopied (but well-bound) 100 page A5 booklet. I don’t know what happened in between.

Of the 100 pages there is only 16 pages Galdrabók. Flowers starts with a very interesting introduction into Northern European magic. The writer devides Icelandic magic in three periods: the pagan age, the Christian age and the age of the Reformation. It in in the latter that magic was forcefully suppressed, but most manuscripts written down. The introduction compares systems, points to currents (Christian, Eastern, etc.), gives the history and an idea of the practise of it. After this follow the 16 pages of the Galdrabók and then another few pages with magic from other sources.

I expected a bit of a ‘runic version’ of the famous Medieval grimoires, but this is only partly true. A few symbols my remind of for example the Lesser Key of Solomon, but many do not. Also there aren’t that many drawings involved, more like spells and curses, not quite unlike the short spells from the Papyri Graecae Magicae (see elsewhere on this site). Most spells, etc. are very simple, totally unlike the long and detailed instructions in Medieval sorcerers books. I guess that Flowers is right when he says that these are writings for ‘pros’ and not for ‘beginners’. Also there are not that many runic figures involved or ‘pagan deities’, many texts come straight from the Bible or Judaic or Gnostic spell-books. Interesting nonetheless, especially with the great introduction of Flowers.

Rûna Raven Books are not cheap, especially not when you live outside the USA. I ran into Europa ltd. who sent me this booklet for $ 32,- and a long wait. You may have a search a bit, since that webshop seems to be offline (26/6/2017).
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