The Occult Mind * Christopher I. Lehrich (2007 cornell university press * isbn 9780801445385)

The Occult MindI don’t often get books to review, but the publisher of this book contacted me. According to the description this books holds the middle between my ‘old interests’ (magic and Western occultism) and more recent interests (comparative religion) so I decided to have a copy sent and see what this scholarly book on magic is all about. The writer (who earlier wrote a book on Agrippa) wrote an interesting preface in which he explains his new way of approaching the subject; not with one scientific discipline, but using several of them in order to get a wider picture. For this purpose he says a few things about scholars such as Frances Yates and Mircea Eliade who both he slays in a few lines, but still find their ideas “usefully incorrect”. Yates is of course the famous (popular) scholar on Western esotericism, Eliade the most famous scholar in the field of comparative religion and mythology. According to Lehring both have fallen victim to ‘wishfull thinking’ theories on fragile basis and dubious connections and further theories thereon.
The book opens with the idea of ͆gypt (not Egypt) which somehow acts like “Ultima Thule” or the “Philosophia Perennis” as the source of (magical) thinking. Then Lehrich uses great names from the magical past of the West to expose his ideas; Giordano Bruno and his art of memory and John Dee (further dealing with Yates’ theories) and Athanasius Kircher to investigate the idea of encylopedianism (is it about collecting or seeking connections?) and daring theories built on quicksand. Further dealt with (sometimes separately, sometimes as a (lenghty) sidepath) are Ley-lines, Nō (the traditional Japanese puppet play) and Tarot and music. From Yates and Eliade in the beginning, Lehrich shifts towards the famous anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss and later the (also French) philosopher Jacques Derrida, but numerous other writers are referred to and quoted as well.

Having read the book, the promising preface and the nice last part are interesting, because the writer puts different ideas and theories next to eachother and tells something about it. The rest of the book seems to me like lenghty digressions on small parts of the larger picture. I know this is done to underbuild his idea, but in this way the book can hardly be called a book about (Western) magic. As a matter of fact, the book more appears to be a book on the method of investigating the subject, a new methodology for scholars in the field and (as a non-scholar) I totally miss the methodology that Lehrich proposes (other than using approaches from different disciplines). Therefor the obviously well investigated texts about the systems of Bruno or Kircher may be interesting for the little information given, but they are not what the book seems to be about. Long sidepaths with nice interpretations and explanations suddenly end, because they were only meant as an example for the proposed methodology. For these reasons I have the idea that this little book (182 pages of text, the rest is bibliography, index, etc.) aims for students and scholars who (want to) investigate the subject of magic, rather than the average man who is interested in the subject, the person like myself. Therefor it is hard to say if the book is good or not. I certainly enjoyed parts of it, Lehrich’s critical view at ideas that are almost regarded as normal (even though he is harsch towards thinkers that I admire myself) and to the historical characters that he describes. Also I praise him for trying to take the scholarly investigation of magic out of the cellars of science, but overall the book seems not to be written for the reader like myself.

symposion booklet Karl von Eckartshausen: Hoe De Reden Ons God Verklaart (2006 * isbn 9067323276)

I don’t go to every quarterly ‘symposion’ of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum, but when I heard that there was one about the German occultist Karl von Eckartshausen (1752-1803), I again went to one of these pleasent days. After about half a year, you always get a booklet with the texts of the lectures and some extras. Rozekruis Pers, the publishing brand of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum has published a few Dutch translations of Eckartshausen texts. Some of them are reviewed elsewhere. For more information about the man, I want to refer to these reviews. At the symposion there were lectures by Eckartshausen and his time, his teachings and how he fits in the larger picture of Western esotericism. As always the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica took care of a nice display of genuine books by Eckarthausen and contemporaries and information screens. The (accompanying) texts of both can be found in the nice booklet too.
The design of the symposion-series has changed with this publication, but the content remains the same: informative, easy to read and about interesting persons from the past; also many images you will find in the booklet. The price is always nice too: E 11,-. Other symposion booklets are reviewed too.

Giordano Bruno – Italiaanse Dialogen * Boeke/Kronen/Lamoen (isbn 9026316372)

For the first time scriptures of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) are available in Dutch. Bruno was an influential philosopher from Italy. In Italy he lived during the late Renaissance, when he started to travel Europe (Paris, London, Prague, etc.) he was involved in the early renaissance, since the renaissance started in Bruno’s own country. Bruno was fanatically anti-Aristotle and pro Copernicus. He wrote esoteric texts in Latin and more philosophical in Italian. Most of the Italian texts were written during his stay in London and it is these from which an anthology is taken. Unfortunately no mnemonic, Lullian or magical writings, but more easthetical, philosophical ones. Not all texts (that are written as conversations between different people) are translated, but the translaters (Boeke and Krone) took the texts so that all typical ‘Brunian’ standpoints are dealt with. The texts are elucidated by Lamoen who did a fine job. The texts aren’t very easy to read, though well-translated. Bruno uses numerous layers of mythology with seemed to have been relatively normal in his days, but doesn’t make things very easy in our own time. Further the whole book is fairly academical. It is one of the first times that Bruno is available for a wider audience, so I suppose we have to see this book as a transition and hope that even more accessible books will appear in the near future.

Anyway, the publisher Ambo made a very beautiful book with a tastefull minimalistic layout. The texts are (as mentioned) translated very well, are explained, there are notes, an extensive index, all you need for a proper book. Fairly expensive, but worth the money if you are interested in this controvertial Italian thinker who ended at the stake. Hopefully his magical texts will be available in an understandable version sometime soon as well.

De Brieven Van Marsilio Ficino – deel 1 + Geef Vrijelijk Wat Vrijelijk Ontvangen Is – brieven deel 2

Letters of Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) have been available ever since he died. Ficino wrote with a lot of people all across the world and held copies of every single letter he wrote. A few years before he died he even wrote an introduction to his combined letters himself! Soon after his death the first publishing of his letters was a fact. Being such a high amount, the letters were made available in 12 parts!

Also in English many letters of Ficino are available and I discovered translations in Dutch which are actually handwritten and published by a group of philosophers from Amsterdam. This book is no longer available it seems. Anyway, the Dutch Rosicrucian society Lectorium Rosicrucianum has two books with letters of Ficino and a nice introduction, which are the two titles here.

Besides letters Ficino wrote essays and a massive amount of books. Some are available in other languages than latin, others are yet unpublished in any way. A nice thing about the letters is that they are arranged by subject so you can read Ficino’s short explanation on a wide variety of subjects, going from everyday life to highly spiritual subjects.

For some reason these little books are not available from regular booksellers, while other books by “Rozekruis Pers” are, so you will have to contact them. I don’t know other available translations in Dutch, and for English ones you can of course check Amazon.

Friend To Mankind: Marsilio Ficino * Michael Shepherd (editor) (isbn 0856831840)

Marsilio Ficino – Een Universeel Mens * Michael Shepherd (editor) (isbn 9020285610)

The Dutch version of this book was released only a few months ago, but the original edition is already a “special order” at Amazon. A wonderfull book with articles about the philosopher who was one of the major originators of the Renaissance. Ficino was the son of the doctor of Cosimo dei Medici and after showing interest in philosophy he became Dei Medici’s friend. Translating works of Plato, Plotinus and Hermes Trismegistos besides writing tons of material of his own, Ficino was a rapidly rising star in the intellectual circles of Florence in Italy. He became leader of Dei Medici’s “Platonic Academy” also after Dei Medici’s death. Ficino was also good friends with the follow-up mainman of the Dei Medici bank Lorenzo who supported the academy.

Anyway, articles by renowned writers giving a very good and allright insight in the person Marsilio Ficino, his influences and influece in his time and after and also an idea of the man’s writings. Mostly used are his letters which were published in 12 books, introduced by himself. Many letters are available in different languages, most are not. Ficino wrote a lot of material for which goes the same. His mostly republished translation is that of the Corpus Hermeticum (or Pimander as he called it himself) of which he made the first translation.

A great book if you want to learn about the very interesting period of the early Italian Renaissance and of course the person Marsilio Ficino.

Van Anima Tot Zeus * Maarten Timmer (isbn 9056373528 * 2001)

A book only for the Dutch-speaking among you, sorry.

“Van Anima Tot Zeus” is an encyclopedia for anyone interested in the subjects that you can find in these pages and more. 885 Pages, almost countless words and symbols varying from alchemy to psychology, psychiatry, philosophy, mythology, etc., etc. Even short biographies of persons, photos, images, explanations, cross-referances, etc., etc. Paging through the book learned me that is isn’t entirely all embracing, (but I suppose that would take several of such books), but there is a lot to be found here. Sometimes the writer and contributors took several pages to explain something, sometimes a few lines.

However expensive (almost E 66), this is actually a must-buy for anyone interested in the named subjects. <3/12/02>

On Being A Pagan * Alain de Benoist (isbn 0972029222 (1981, translation 2005))

“Comment Peut-On ÍŠtre Paͯen” (1981) is the alledged masterpiece by the French philosopher, politician and pagan Alain de Benoist (1943). The title means literary “how one can be pagan”, so the English translation doesn’t have such a strange title: On Being A Pagan. I read a Dutch translation though of which the title is Heiden Zijn Vandaag De Dag which means “being a pagan today”. The book is pretty old (1981), but it remains De Benoist’s most famous work and an English translation has just been made available by the publisher Ultra in 2005. The Dutch translation that I just bought is of 1986 (leftover copies of the 1997 second printing are still available). This Dutch translation is by the publisher Delta vzw from Belgium and comes in a series with the same title as the magazine of this publisher: TeKoS, being an abbreviation of “teksten, kommentaren, studies” or “texts, commentaries, studies”. So, with the writer and his publishers we have landed in the political corner that is called ‘new right’. This book has little to do with politics though.

I bought it because I was just curious what this famous Frenchman has to say, but mostly because I hoped that the title of the book would cover the content. Well, it does not! The book is not really about ‘being a pagan today’. Actually it is a tiring writing mostly against “Judeo-Christian” culture. De Benoist mixes philosophy (mostly Nietzsche, Heidegger and Evola) with theology practised on Christianity and Judaism (De Benoist often quotes Josy Eisenberg and Armand Abecassis), antropology and a little bit of history. The book is mostly filled with minute investigations of Christian and Jewish doctrines and the writers point are underbuilt with philosophy.

Only here and there the writer refers to the pagan faith, by which he means both Greek paganism and Northern-European paganism. Towards the end there is more attention for this. Actually the writer says what is not good about Judaism and Christianity instead of saying what would be a ‘pagan alternative’.

Given the ‘political background’ De Benoist is very mild towards Jews and Muslims. Judaism, Christianity and Islam as religion do not get much credit though, but the writer shows to be very well informed about them both.

I am pretty disappointed by this book because the title doesn’t really cover the content and the title suggests a more interesting book than it actually is. Also I am not too fond of ‘anti-books’ and this book is a bit too much of that. Some parts are interesting, but the larger part of this book I read only superficially.
Read quotes of De Benoist here.

Discourse On The Method Of Rightly Conducting The Reason, And Seeking Truth In The Sciences (Rene Descartes) (fbn press)

The chapbooks have different series. There are folk stories & fairytales (series “F”), literature of the 19th century (series “19-L”) and this book by the French early scientist and philosopher Descartes (1596-1650) is part of the 17th century science & technology series. This is the discourse in which Descartes came to his famous saying “cogito ergo sum”, “I think, therefor I am”. I am not too well read in philosophy, but I of course knew about Descartes and his famous line. It has always been quite clear to me what it meant, but reading this discourse, I truely can’t follow the man himself. Descartes starts with saying what he studied and learned. Then he goes on saying that he believes that everything you can reason (including ancient texts) about can’t be the thruth, but because one can reason, one excists. I miss something there. The second half of the book is filled with the notion that investigating should be done with the senses and then I’m totally lost. Not because I can’t follow, but the lenghty blabla that soon makes me drop out off by lack of interest. Nope, this very philosophical writing is not my thing. But for those who like this kind of literature better, here is an English translation of Descartes’ most famous text available for only $ 5,- in a nicely printed A5 booklet.

Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil * Rüdiger Safranski (isbn 0674387104)

The original German is called Heidegger und sein Zeit (‘Heidegger and his time’), which is a reference to his main-work Sein und Zeit (‘being and time’), in English this little joke cannot be made, but we can in Dutch.

However Heidegger (1889-1976) was the most recent of the three philosophers that Safranski wrote biographies off, Safraski wrote his second philosophical biography about him. I read it as third, to keep the chronology. Heidegger is a rather controversial philosopher, because for some time he sympatised with the national-socialist revolution in Germany. For this reason Heidegger is still ‘not done’ to some, but philosophers and universities have little problems with the man and regard him as one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century. This is mostly due to his original ideas that made him populair in Germany and abroad even when living. Also he had a descent career as professor until about WWII when he got problems with the regime and later because he used to sympathise with some of its ideas. Safranski managed to write a neutral biography, but still Heidegger does not appear very sympathetic. He used people and situations for his own benefit.

Philosophically we get to know Heidegger as being in the line of the “existentialists” Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and for example in his own time Jaspers and Sartre. Existentialists make the “I” a central point and everything around it. Heideggers favourite subjects were “being”, thinking and metaphysics.
A nice book again and really between the very biographical Schopenhauer book and the philosophical Nietzsche book and therewith the second most interesting of Safranski’s philosophical biographies.

Nietzsche, a philosophical biography * Rüdiger Safranski (isbn 0393323803)

This is the third philosophers-biography from the hand of Safranski, but because Nietzsche lived between Schophauer and Heidegger, I read this book as the second of these three. The subtitle says: “a biography of his thinking” and this is absolutely what this book is. In contradiction to the Schopenhauer biography, Safranski doesn’t give a whole lot of details of the life of Nietzsche, but people who are interested will be delighted with the chronology of Nietzsches life at the end. Reading the book you will get to learn a young pessimistic man who starts to write at an early age. He studies philology (investigator of languages and cultures) and even becomes professor. Rebelling against his colleagues -especially after the discovery of the writings of Schopenhauer-, Nietzsche developes towards being philosopher. Writing different books at the same time, he especially developes his ideas of ‘power through will’. His famous idea of the death of god is only treated shortly when Safrasnki speaks about the “übermensch” (‘overman’). Reading further you will learn about Nietzsches ideas about everyday things and more ‘elevated matters’. The German philosopher is treated more or less chronological, but information comes from all kinds of books, letters, etc. all through eachother and lacking an index (!) this book isn’t much of a reference work.

Safranski writes all through to Nietzsches nervous-breakdown after which follows the long and final chapter about what happened after Nietzsches breakdown and his influence in later times. His sister brought out a strange and negative image of her brother and different people misused the philophy of Nietzsche.

“Nietzsche” is a more interesting book than the Schopenhauer biography. You will learn about what Nietzsche had to say more than about details of his life. Still, lacking an index and a structure of chapters by subject, this book is not one to have on your bookshell to use as Nietzsche reference book. Still Safranski writes understandable and his displays a great understanding of the man, his philosophy and philosophy in general. He doesn’t need about six years per book for nothing!