Category Archives: religion

Zingeving In Het Westen * Peter van Abspoel (2016)

I do not often buy books spontaneously, but when my eye fell on a cover with an image of the Berserkr of the Lewis chessboard together with the words “zingeving” (literally: ‘giving meaning’) and “strijdersethos” (‘warrior ethics’) my attention was caught. It quickly became clear that this is not my ‘usual literature’, but it appeared that the author has something to say about the importance of tradition and the loss of it. I decided to take it home.

The author is an anthropologist who spent much time in Africa. The subject of his investigations started to move more towards the West and Van Abspoel is of the opinion that he has such different view on certain developments in Western society, that he needed to write a book about it.

The book is divided in three parts, “tradition”, “warrior ethos” and “Christianity”.
In the first, the author explains what he means with the term “tradition” and what is it in his opinion. This part is interesting. Van Abspoel’s approach is somewhat ‘technical’ which brings another way of looking at the subject. There is a “non-reflexive” way of knowing that has to be transferred to the next generation in order to keep the world in sync with universal harmony. read more

Spiritual Body And Celestial Earth * Henry Corbin (1977)

However in writing style, this book is a much easier read than the recently reviewed Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam, this new title proved to be quite a read. It is not like it is extremely big (372 pages a large part notes and biography) and I thought I knew a thing or two about Mazdeism and Shi’ite Islam, but this book constantly gave me a feeling of information overload with descriptions that I did not (immediately) understand or failed to see the connections aimed at. Still the book makes a nice read and some of the traditional texts that are published are beautiful, but it is not like I have a clear idea of what this book is actually about.

The author starts with about 100 pages with his own introduction, descriptions, etc. The subject at hand seems to be the concept of two cities, Hurqalya and Jabalqa, which are part of what Corbin calls the Mundus Imaginalis or “Imaginal world”. Many speculations have been made about the nature of these cities and its inhabitants. After a few of these speculations, Corbin prints “selections from traditional texts” which make out the next 170 pages. The texts are from authors from the 12th to the 19th centuries. Of most of them I never heard, but a better-known author that seems Corbin’s favorite is Shihabuddin Yahya Suhrawardi.

I cannot tell you a whole lot about this book. Perhaps the audience that Corbin aimed at is better versed in near Eastern religion and philosophy than myself. As a layman I can say that the part that Corbin wrote himself is informative enough (but I do not remember much of it) and the traditional texts vary from very dry to more mystical texts, the latter of which I prefer to read. read more

Swedenborg And Esoteric Islam * Henry Corbin (1995)

I had heard of the French author Henry Corbin (1903-1978) a couple of times and I thought it was time to read something of this author whom some regard as a Traditionalist, others certainly do not. He definately was a scholar in comparitive religion.

I set out for titles that are well available and potentially interesting. The thin (160 pages) “Swedenborg And Esoteric Islam” is one of the two books that I got.

The title of this book suggests that Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) had something to do with esoteric Islam, that the former was influenced by the latter or vice versa, but that is not what this book is about. Corbin taught Islamic studies at the Sorbonne University and he deeply studied Swedenborg. He certainly found resemblances, but that does not mean that there are direct links between the two subjects of this book. read more

The Essential Vedanta * Eliot Deutsch & Rohit Dalvi (editors) (2004)

For a long time I had wanted to read texts of the Advaita Vedanta and a while ago I ran into this title. The title is promising. The subtitle is too: “A New Source Book of Advaita Vedanta”. That sounds like some sort of ultimate collection of Vedantic texts. It is published by a Traditionalistic publishing house which was also a reason to purchase it.

The back cover quotes Richard Brooks saying: “[This book] is overall an excellent collection of Advaita philosophic literature”. Indeed it is “philosophic”. The book proves again that I do not have a whole lot of feeling for philosophy, whether Western or Eastern. I guess I expected more religious type of texts, but the texts are actually very much philosophical.

The best part of the book are the 80 page introduction and the short summery at the end. These texts are written by the editors, nicely to the point and well-structured. The rest of the book is filled with texts of Vedantic thinkers from many upto a few centures ago. The names are well-known and lesser-known (at least, to me), the most famous of course being Samkara. Especially in the first part of the translated texts, they are very long. Towards the end there are some shorter texts. There are translations that have been published before and translations that were not available until this book came out. The editors compiled the translations and did not make them themselves. Inspite of the number of different translators, the translations are nicely consistent in style and choice of words/terms. Perhaps the book costed quite some editing. read more

The Labyrinth Of The World and The Paradise Of The Heart * John Comenius (1663)

This review is based on a Dutch translation from the hand of R. Oosterhuis from 1925 that was slightly revised and republished in 1983. It was published by Rozekruis Pers, the publishing house of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum. Involved in the Lectorium is Joost Ritman, the founder of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, who published Comenenius’ most famous book Via Lucis which was how I came to know Comenius many years ago.

The present book is a very amusing read, much easier than Comenius’ other titles. It is somewhat of a novel and an autobiography, but then put in the form of a pilgrimage, a popular way of writing in Comenius’ days (compare, for example, the Chymical Wedding of Christiaan Rosencreutz by Comenius’ acquaintence Johann Valentin Andreae.

The book starts with a pilgrim who wants to discover the world. He gets company of two guides and from the start it is clear that this is not a pilgrimage through the ‘normal’ world. The pilgrim sees the world from a distance and reports what he sees and what he thinks about it. It appears to be the guides’ task to find a fitting place in the world for the pilgrim. Starting his journey, the pilgrim gets a couple of glasses, apparently to see the world in a certain way, but he can look underneath the glasses to see how things are ‘in reality’. First the pilgrim sees the world from above in the form of a labyrinthic city. On entering the city, everybody is assigned a group. The pilgrim gets the priviledge of looking around. He sees groups such as married people, philosophers, Rosicrucians, judges, knights, the rich and the poor, the lucky and the unlucky.
Every time the pilgrim has something to complain, driving his guides insane. Even when the pilgrim is allowed to visit the tower of Fortuna and the castle of Wisdom, he is not pleased. He proves to be right in his criticism, leaves the world and then the book goes over into “the paradise of the heart” in which the pilgrim meets Christ and even God. read more

The Everlasting Man * Gilbert Chesteron (1925/2012)

I heard of this book because Numen Books published it. Three are many, many different printings though and I got myself a cheaper one (2010 Martino Publishing). A good guess, because I did not really enjoy this book…

The book starts off alright with the author criticising our modern age with his pompous and humorous writing style. It soon becomes clear that this extraordinary and pompous style is his style. Here and there Chesterton is funny, but his style is usually very tiring. When we continue, he not only continuously sabers modernity, but also everything non-Catholic. Actually, the book is a massive apology of Catholicism. Not that he is entirely uncritical towards his own faith or completely negative about other religions, but with continuously returning arguments against -for example- polytheism and the validity of other religions “The Everlasting Man” was a tough book to get through.

To understand the nature of this chapter, it is necessary to recur to the nature of this book. The argument which is meant to be the backbone of the book is of the kind called the reduction ad absurdum. It suggests that the results of assuming the rationalist thesis is more irrational than ours but to prove it we must assume the same thesis.

(p. 122)

Good for a few laughs and on a few occasions to make you think, but I found the book not really enjoying.

2012 Numen Book, isbn 0987158112

Unum Necessarium * Jan Amos Comenius (1668/1983)

That is odd. I cannot find an English translation of this book. Unum Necessarium (‘the only thing necessary’) is the last book that Comenius (1592-1670) wrote. He dedicated it to “earl Ruprecht of the Palts on the Rhein”. The way Comenius wrote, my guess is that this Ruprecht was still alive when the book was published, but which Ruprecht we are talking about, I do not know. But, Comenius’ last book lacks translation to English? This Dutch translation is from 1929; this 1983 printing is a second and revised print. The translation was made by R.A.B. Oosterhuis.

Unum Necessarium is but a little book, 155 pages including introductions and notes. Comenius wrote a massive amount of books about a wide range of subjects. The current title is small and simple; of course, when there is just one thing you really need.

Comenius starts with referring to three Greek myths. Daedalus and his labyrinth, Sisyphus and his stone and Tantalus and his punishment. Comenius keeps talking about labyrinths, Sisyphusstones and Tantalus-disappointments throughout the book. So what is this only thing necessary. Comenius uses several discriptions, but all come to the point of “returning to Christ” (p. 125). Man does not need fancy cloths, lots of money, too much to eat, not even a library full of books (Comenius lost three of his libraries though). Set your mind to Christ and you will have all you need.
Indeed, Unum Necessarium is a very pious and Christian book. Comenius adhered a very specific (and endangered) form of Christianity, the “Unity of the Brethern” (or “Moravian Brethern”), a Moravian Protestant current inspired by the ideas of John Huss (1369-1415).

Comenius travelled around, mostly because he (and his brethern) were forced to leave. He spent many years in the Netherlands. This book was published in the city where he died: Amsterdam.

Unum Necessarium is not really a highly inspirational read (to me). Like I said, it is very piously Christian. Comenius proves himself a realistic and simple religious man who -however he acknowledges other faiths- would like to see ‘his religion’ be the Universal Religion it deserves to be.

‘The only thing necessary’ shows the religious life of a ‘minimalistic believer’.

1983 Rozekruis Pers, isbn 9070196972

Prayer Fashions Man * Frithjof Schuon (2004)

When looking for another title to read of Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998) I ran into this title subtitled “Frithjof Schuon on the spiritual life”.

“Prayer Fashions Man” is about prayer in a wide sense of the word. Schuon was Swiss who chose Sufism as his path, but as he saw a single Source for all religions, he could also use elements of other paths. With this state of mind, Schuon became a teacher for people from many different religions. The book is not really a book that the author wrote, but a compendium of texts. This happens a lot with Traditionalistic literature. The book is compiled by James Cutsinger who made more of such books.

Whereas most of these compendia contain essays, “Prayer Fasions Man” more starts as a collection of quotes, some no more than a few lines long. I find reading just quotes quite annoying so the book worked on my nerves a bit. Fortunately there are also longer quotes of upto a few pages. These quotes are about “the spiritual life” and show a completely different mind from most modern men. Schuon was religious to the core and some quotes give a peak into his hard and disciplined spiritual life while others show the reader how to incorporate spirituality in modern, daily life.

There sure are a few quotes to ponder about long and hard, but also many that I just read over. In totally I cannot say that this is a magnificent book. It is a nice read with a couple of peaks.

The cover is a painting of Schuon, by the way, he had a deep sympathy for American Indians.

2004 World Wisdom, isbn 0941532658

The Crescent And The Compass * Angel Millar (2015)

Subtitled: “Islam, Freemasonry, Esotericism and Revolution in the Modern Age”, the description even promises Traditionalism. A promising combination!

“The Crescent And The Compass” makes a much more interesting read than Millar’s recently reviewed “Freemasonry, a history”. This is not the least because in the current book, the author walks new paths. According to himself, noone so far has investigated the influence of Freemasonry on Near-Eastern cultures and vice versa.

The first half of the book is with quite a distance the most interesting part to me. Millar opens with a chapter about “Gnosis in Shi’ism and Sufism” speaking about initiations and the various kinds of the two named branches of Islam. Chapter two continues with a similar approach to Freemasonry and quickly runs up to the connections between Freemasonry and Islam, how Sufis became Freemasons and how ‘ideologically’ mixed orders were founded. Then Millar says a thing or two on how (Near-)Eastern religion influenced Freemasonry when Freemasons opened their eyes to exotic religions of the East. The strongest influences can be found in what Millar calls “Fringe Freemasonry”, orders that work similarly to Freemasonry, but are not recognised by Masonic bodies. Chapter two is informative and entertaining.

Then we move to a Sufi Freemason that launched a revolution within the Islamic world to get rid of the colonists, but this revolution would eventually backfire and “Freemasonry” became synonymous with Western decadence in the eyes of many Muslims. In the meantime we learn about the first Muslim convert in the UK, about René Guénon and about anti-Freemasonry, a (to me) new look on the Ayatollah Khomeini and we swiftly roll into Jewish/Masonic conspiracies that followed the publication of the Protocolls of the Elders of Sion.
The start of “Prince Hall” (‘black’) Freemasonry followed by black nationalism in the USA is followed by Anders Breivik and Prince Charles in three very different chapters.

In his conclusion, and especially his afterword, Millar calls to us to develop new ways of looking at the world, especially the religion of Islam and its role therein.

I mostly enjoyed the historical parts about Freemasonry in Muslim countries, but in general this little book (some 180 pages to read) touches upon subjects close to my heart. Numen Books has added an interesting title to their roster and seeing how much attention this book gets on Facebook, the publisher might reach quite an audience with this title and the author most likely a different audience from his less innovatory title of a decade earlier.

2015 Numen Books, isbn 0994252501

Bө and Bön * Dmitry Ermakov (2008)

In spring 2014 I revisited the Karma Triyana Dharmacharkra monastery near Woodstock, NY (as a tourist) and of course visited the accomapying Namse Bangdzo Bookstore. The monastery is Tibetan Buddhistic, but my interest was caught by a small number of books about Bön, the pre-Buddhistic religion of Tibet. In two I thought to have found both some history, but also an ‘inside view’ of the religion itself. One of the books had a plus: it is not only about Bön! As you can see in the title of the book that is subject of this review, that is the one I brought home.
The book is massive in size (800+ pages) and content. Much of the information is new to me, so that makes the book extra overwhelming. There is no way I can sumerise the contents of this book, so I am only going to try to give you an idea of the content. A few things to start with. Me, and perhaps you too, thought that Bön is ‘the’ pre-Buddhistic religion of Tibet, but this is way too simply thought. There are many kinds of Bön springing from different periods and gurus. The author roughly divides these sorts of “prehistoric Bön”, “Yungdrung Bön”, “Bön Sarma” (or “new Bön”, a mix between Yungdrung Bön and Buddhism) and “mixed Bön” (which mixes all that came before with even other elements). The other term, Bө or Bө-Murgel, refers to the traditional religion of Siberia.

Ermakov has both studied and lived both traditions and came to the conclusion that they sprang from the same source. A source which he calls: “the prehistoric Bön of Eurasia”. This “prehistic Bön of Eurasia” reminds a lot of what scholars of comparative religion call the Indo-European religion. This makes the book even more interesting than I expected!

Ermakov starts with a little bit of history; or ‘a little bit’… This part is about 120 pages and spans thousands of years. It is interesting to see the author, who is a Russian scholar of comparitive religion, keeps his scientific approach, but does not shy stories of magical warfare, shares his ritualistic experiences and touches on different subjects that the Westerner would have dismissed as nonsense.
After the historical part, things get more structured and a lot dryer. Ermakov will tell you about a whole range of elements of both religions, the worldview, rituals, clothing, instrumentation, etc. and compare them, making cross-references to other religions here and there as well. This goes very much in-depth, with much detail and mixed with personal encounters and quotes from his diaries. This is all interesting enough, but frequently these descriptions of the two shamanistic religions ring major bells with my Germanic background, even some of the very vague Germanic notions as those of certain souls, Heilagr and the like. I am going to try to find some noteworthy quotes for the quotes section.
The book ends with more history, the spread of Bön and Bө.
There is a very handy glossary and the index is nicely detailed. A great book with a very interesting approach to comparitive religion and instructive both about Bön (of which I knew little) and Bө (of which I knew nothing) and even Germanic heathenry and other Indo-European religions. Here and there Ermakov peaks ‘behind’ the Indo-European religion and sees common ground with for example the Mongol religion. That reeks a bit of Witzel, does it not? read more