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?

A sidenote for the faint-hearted. However friendly the current Dalai Lama is, the conversion from the various sorts of Bön to Buddhism was not always a very friendly traject and you will learn a thing or two about this part of history too. Also about current forms of Tibetan Buddhism by the way, so if this has your interest, this book might be for you too.

2008 Vajra Publications, isbn 9789937506113
See here for quotes from this book.

The Destruction Of The Christian Tradition * Rama P. Coomaraswamy (2006)

Rama (1929-2006) was the son of Ananda (1877-1949) and however raised in his father’s tradition (Hinduism), Rama converted to Catholicism after his father died because he found that more fitting when living in the West. In the current book, Rama does not appear to be a Traditionalist like his father, but a traditionalist / fundamentalistic Catholic. Where his father sees One Source for all religions, Rama is exclusivistic. Now this is not strange when you think about the purpose of the book, but the author takes his stand so firmly that as I was reading the book I increasingly had the feeling that however much I understand the position, I have growing problems agreeing with it.
Basically the idea is simple, like with the position of the ‘Traditionalist School’ actually. The Catholic Church exists to represent the ideas and Church founded by Christ and his apostles, of course, unaltered since otherwise the Church would say Christ was wrong. Still the Church does alter the teachings and organisation of the original Church, especially during and after the second Vatican council of 1962 to 1965. The new Church thinks that Christianity has to be brought up to date thus incorporating ideas of progress, evolution, humanism, socialism, etc. exclusivisity is dropped and the Pope is not as infallible as he usd to be. I understand the position of the Church. When members leave and the minds of those that stay grow accustomed to Western ways of thinking, how would anyone stop the loosing of members? I also appreciate the author’s position which is completely logical, but often collides with the Western way I think myself. Moreover, the author is uncompromising, also in his language, so I think that his book will not appeal to the average Catholic, just to the (to use the word) fundamentalists. It is very interesting to read Coomaraswamy’s minituous account of changes made in the Doctrines, mass, etc. though and he forces me to continuously consider how much of a Traditionalist I really am. I can assure you that this is no easy or fun book to read. His examples are clear, his conclusions far-reaching. Perhaps you (too) can read the book of a test of ‘your Traditionalism’ and/or to learn about the orthodoxy of the current Church.
2006 World Wisdom, isbn 0941532984

Essential Sacred Writings From Around the World * Mircea Eliade (1967)

Originally published as “From Primitives To Zen”, Eliade presented an anthology of sacred texts for his students.

The instigation for this anthology of religious texts came during my first years of teaching History of Religions at the University of Chicago. In discussing a specific problem, I expected my students to read at least some of the basic original sources; but I soon discovered that I was unable to recommend to them any single work where one might find a number of essential texts regarding, for example, high gods, cosmogonic myths, conceptions of death and the afterlife, etc.

So he made one himself! Eliade goes from Amerindians to the monotheistic religions, far Eastern, small tribes from around the world and all put in different chapters which deal with certain topics (creation of man, origin and destiny of the soul, patterns of initiation, etc. etc.) Eliade recommends reading this book from cover to cover which makes well over 600 pages to cover. The book is actually a compilation. Eliade collected translations from various scholars (some texts are his own). Not all texts are translations of traditional texts, quite a few are descriptions of some scholar about (for example) the view of some Indian tribe on a certain subject. There are highly interesting, but also fairly dull texts and the same goes for the different subjects, but I understand why Eliade recommended to read the book from cover to cover, since you get different religions on different subjects which gives of course some more insight.
A very nice book, but not a very easy read.
1967 / 1992 HarperOne, isbn 0062503049

The Heart Of Islam * Seyyed Hossein Nasr (2002)

Recently I reviewed Frithjof Schuon’s “Understanding Islam“. Actually I find that title more fitting for Nasr’s book, but of course Schuon was 26 years ahead. While after reading Schuon’s book I had the idea that I perhaps learned something about Islam, I did not understand it better. With Nasr’s book this is much different.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr (1933-) is a born Muslim (Persian) and raised in the Middle East. He studied in America where he now also teaches. He is a lifelong student of Schuon, well-respected in the scholarly West and in traditional Islamic circles and a Traditionalist (as was Schuon). Many leading Traditionalists were born as Muslims, or converted to Islam. This is not so strange, because Islam sees itself as a branch of the religio perennis. As the author writes: “Islam sees itself as at once the primordial religion, a return to the original religion of oneness, and the final religion”.

For each [people] We have appointed a Divine Law and a way. Had God willed, He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you. So vie with one another in good works. Unto God ye will all return, and He will then inform you concerning that wherein ye differed. (Qur’an 5:48)

“The Heart Of Islam” is divided in seven parts. The first explains the quote above. In the second you will learn that there is not something as the Islam. Like there are many forms of Christianity, there are many forms of Islam. Nasr describes the big division between Sunnism and Shi’ism and currents and schools within these two. These currents and schools are roughly to be divided in Traditional, modernistic and “so-called Fundamentalistic”. Nasr is glad to conclude that the first group is still by far the biggest, but unfortunately the second is growing and the latter gets most attention in Western media. The other parts speak about more specific subjects. Divine and human laws; peace, love, beauty and compassion; the community; justice and human rights and responsibilities. Nasr discusses at length and at various places what the Shari’ah really is, but also how often the term is misused for non-religious reasons. Very interesting discussions follow about environmental issues, the decline of the world caused by the West, religion, politics, society, etc.

Now Nasr is, like I said, a Muslim by birth. He knows the ‘Islam from the desert’ and is well familiar with the Western world. When describing elements of Islam he often quickly passes over excesses of recent years. I am sure that these elements are much enlarged by our media and governments and it is not that the author is totally uncritical and tries to turn everything into something positive, but I would have liked to read a bit more about certain subjects and I totally miss the question of honour and the honour killings. It is probably true, but Nasr blames the West for all excesses as well. There were no problems before Napoleon went south and currents such as modernism and “fundamentalism” did not exist before the West came to impose the materialistic way of thinking and democracy. Basically Nasr’s book seems to be a plea to the West to leave the “abode of Islam” in peace to solve its own problems in its own way, together with, but not led by, the West and the East. I think this is a fair call.

Read “The Heart Of Islam” to learn about Islam, understand it better, think about what happens in the world since the last centuries and get acquainted with an interesting religion that is much alive and has a big role to play in the world.

When one thinks of Islam, one should go beyond the repetitive scenes on television of wars and battles, which unfortunately abound in today’s world, to behold the peace and harmony of Islamic art seen in the great mosques, traditional urban settings and gardens, and the rhythm and geometry of calligraphy and arabesque designs; read in the poems that sing of the love that permeates all of God’s creation and binds creatures to God; and heard in the strains of melodies that echo what we had experienced in that primordial morn preceding creation and our descent into this lowly world.

2002 HarperOne, isbn 0060730641

The Doctrine Of Awakening * Julius Evola (1943/1996)

I ran into a free ebook version of this book in the webstore of my ereader’s manufacturer. The version that I have is a pretty badly converted PDF to ebook with notes in the middle of the text (below the pages in the PDF no doubt) and badly converted text with replaced characters (“dtmd” for “atma” for example) and messed-up formatting. Oh well, it is free…

Evola speaks about “the ‘Doctrine of Awakening,” that is to say, Buddhism” (p. 18). He bases himself on the oldest texts which are Pali:

The term Buddhism is derived from the Pali designation Buddha (Sanskrit: Buddha) given to its founder; it is, however, not so much a name as a title. Buddha, from the root budh, “to awaken,” means the “Awakened One”: it is thus a designation applied to one who attains the spiritual realization, likened to an “arousing” or to an “awakening,” which Prince Siddhattha announced to the Indo-Aryan world. Buddhism, in its original form-the so-called Pali Buddhism-shows us, as do very few other doctrines, the characteristics we want: (1) it contains a complete ascetic system; (2) it is universally valid and it is realistic; (3) it is purely Aryan in spirit; (4) it is accessible in the general conditions of the historical cycle to which present-day humankind also belongs. (p. 17)

In this way Evola argues that Buddhism is originally a warrior religion:

Only in certain Western misconceptions is Buddhism —considered in later and corrupted forms- presented as a doctrine of universal compassion encouraging humanitarianism and democratic equality. (p. 48)

Fortunately “The Doctrine Of Awaking” does not get any more ‘political’ than this. Actually, it is something of a spiritual handbook with many quotes, references, thoughts of the author and information about Buddhism in its different forms. Especially the closing part about Zen Buddhism is very nice. Actually I found the book more enjoyable than I expected and especially because I ran into it quite by accident, this was a nice surprise.
1943 /1996 Inner Traditions, isbn 0892815531

Understanding Islam * Frithjof Schuon (1976/2011)

This is the first ebook that I bought. I bought an ereader to read all those PDFs that I have on my computer, but when I noticed that there are also ebooks that I want to read and the prices are better than I thought and I was looking for a Traditionalist title anyway, I got myself this famous book by Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998). The book was initially written in French (“Comprendre l’Islam” 1976), has been published in English before, but in 2011 became available in a new English translation and was expanded with letters and other short writings of Schuon. I must say that I am relatively happy ‘reading e’. When there is a note, I can read it in a popup without having to page to the notes and even when a note is too long for the popup, the jumping to the note and back to where I was reading goes with one click. The ereader keeps track of where I am in which book as well, so I can read several books without having to finish each of them first and the dictionary function is great. I was afraid that reviewing an ebook would be a pain, because when reviewing a book, I am constantly flipping through it which is not ‘doable’ on the ereader, but the software that I need to put books on the device, also acts like a reader and on the computer navigation goes well enough. I guess that the choice between buying a physical book and a digital one will be the question if I want to put it in my library for referential purposes.
In any case, in his preface Schuon says that he did not want to write another book about what Muslims believe, but why. Perhaps this is why I am not really sure if I understand Islam better after reading this book. The book reads more like a Traditionalistic work (of course Schuon was a Traditionalist and Muslim) and a deeply religious one, making cross-references to other religions and speaking about Muslim concepts, but it is not like he sets out to explain these concepts. It is more like a long text in which those different concepts are touched upon in the light of the larger story. “Understanding Islam” certainly is a great book if you want to read a religious work of a Traditionalist, but perhaps there are better books to answer your questions about the religion of Islam. The remark: “A masterpiece of comparative religion” (Islamic Quarterly about the book) descries what I mean. Of course, since the book is about Islam afterall, you will learn about it, but just different from what I expected I guess.
2011 World Wisdom, isbn 0941532240

Het Grote Boek Der Apokriefen * Jacob Slavenburg (2009)

I was quite excited when I heard about the publication of this book. Still it took quite a while before I got myself a copy. It is a 1170 page book, printed on thin paper (and thus only 5cm thick) and however Jacob Slavenburg is on the cover as editor, he did not make any of the translations. Slavenburg has published quite extensively about early Christianity and Gnosticism and this monster work completes his publication of translated texts together with his massive Nag Hammadi publication. Most of the early Christian (gnostic) texts are now available in Dutch. I have found no English counterpart to this new “great book of apocryphal texts, secret early Christian texts”. The massive amount of texts are grouped under the headers “saying of Jesus”, “Fragments of gospels”, “Gospels”, “Youth stories”, “Early Christian lectures and letters”, “Acts of apostels”, “Revelations of visions”, “Oracles”, “Early histories of the church”, “Early texts from Edessa” and “Gnostic texts”. The texts are from the first to the fourth centuries and them being apocryphal means that they did not make it into the Holy Scripture. That is not to say that most of them are not very Christian texts, but probably there was something with them when the Bible was put together. The stories of Jesus’ youth, for example, portray Jesus as somewhat of a hothead. Many texts read like you are reading the Bible and I must say, a large part of this book is rather dull, especially when you compare them to the compilation of mostly Gnostic from the Nag Hammadi library. The texts do sometimes give a nice peak in the history of Christianity that the fourth century Church fathers did not want us to see. Sometimes amusing, sometimes slightly surprising, but I must way that I was relieved when I finally came to the short closing part with Gnostic texts which have more of my interest. The book is not cheap, but how could it be with 1170 pages, but Dutch-speaking people who want to expand their view on early Christianity are highly recommended to get this wonderfull publication.
2009 Ankh Hermes, isbn 9789020203578

Hildegard von Bingen 1098 – 1179 * Winfried Wilhelmy & Ines Koring (1998)

Last year somewhere me and my girlfriend spent our holidays in the Rhein/Mosel area in Germany. Of course we visited Bingen and the local museum with its Hildegard von Bingen exposition. We were lucky, there was also a temporary exposition about Hildegard’s visions. Hildegard is one of the most famous Medieval, female mystics and the paintings based on her visions are magnificent. There is much more to say about Hildegard though and there was a book sold in the shop which speaks about all the aspects of Hildegard, but (most importantly) also had the paintings of the visions together with the texts that these visions are based on. The authors start with a biography of Hildegard, her cloisters on the Disibodenberg and the Rupertsberg and her dealings with the official church. The part about Hildegard’s work is lenghty. Hildegard wrote (about) music, (natural) medicines and theological tracts. Her visions appear to be nothing more (or less) than descriptions of what she saw. Amazing figures with two or three heads, multiple sets of wings, lion-paws for feet and eyes all over their bodies. There is nothing as of interpretation or explanation which leaves a lot for the imagination. Of course the other texts and the writings of the authors give leads.
The book is printed luxerously on heavy paper. This makes the book too heavy to read comfortly, but the images look manificent. Another thing is however I read a lot in German, but the way Hildegard tries to describe what she saw, makes it hard to follow sometimes, even in modern German. The book is completed with overviews of items from the museum, items that Hildegard made or used or that were found on the terrains where she lived. All in all a wonderfull overview of an extremly interesting Christian.
1998 Die Deutsche Bibliotheek, isbn 3805323980