religion

Sleutel Tot Licht * Anne Korteweg & Helen Wüstefeld (2009)

The troubled Bibliotheca Philosophia Hermetica has a publishing house called “In de Pelikaan” (‘in the pelican’) through which a nice collection of books saw the light of day. The library contains (or by now perhaps contained) some of the earliest books of hours, 25 of which are the subject of this book. The book is magnificently printed on heavy paper with beautiful images of and from the colourfull books. Both authors are experienced investigators of books of hours and what they describe here is mostly the connection with the originally Dutch movement called “Modern Devotion” of Geert Grote (Geert Great) who died in 1384. Two major aspects of this movement were the fact that they wanted the old devotion to God back which had been lost in the church. This could for example be done by the imitatio Christi that was known from the Geman mystics. The other aspect is that Grote wanted religion closer to the common folk so he preached and wrote not in Latin, but in his native language. Korteweg and Wüstefeld made a fascinating introduction into books of hours which were originally books for laymen guiding them through religions daily life (hense: books of hours). Followers of Grote became fanatic copiers of books, making it a part of their daily duties. Therefor many books of hours came from modern devotic groups and with prayers written by Geert Grote. In short chapters the authors describe different religious movements that followed the footsteps of Grote, different kinds of spirituality and the very personal side of the books of hours with references to family, personal or regional saints, etc. as if the books were written on demand with the possibility for requests. The book reads easily, looks splendid and is highly informative.
2009 In de Pelikaan, isbn 978907608285

Man And His Becoming According To The Vedanta * René Guénon (1925)

l'Homme et son devenir selon la VedÍ nta

I ran into an old English translation (1958) of l’Homme et son devenir selon la Vêdânta. Books of Guénon are never easy literature, but this fifth book is all about Metaphysics, not the way of thinking of the Western man. The first part of the book is mostly about the most ancient traditions of Hinduism and its conceptions. The last part of the book is the second part of the title. Even though this is a small book (185 pages), it took me a while to get through. At some points I can easily follow Guénon, but at other times my thinking is obviously too Western for easy understanding what the man tries to say. Therefor this little book is not only “probably the best account of the Vedanta in any European language” (according to Ananda Coomaraswamy), but also a nice way to train that other way of thinking.
1925 les éditions traditionelles; 1958 noonday; 2001 sophia perennis (isbn 0900588616)

The Mysteries Of Mithra * G.R.S. Mead (1907)

The Mysteries Of MithraI ran into an old Dutch translation of this little book. I have known about it for a long time, did not buy it when I was studying Mithraism, but I was still curious enough to read it years later. Mead opens with ‘an alternative’ history of Mithraism. Alternative to the scholarly version of Cumont. Mead has not only used archeological sources, but also early written sources and this sheds a nice light on the subject. The booklet is actually a translation of what Dieterich has called the “Mithraic lithurgy”, a short text from the “Papyri Graecae Magicae” (see here and here. Mead’s translation is alright, his explanation is also alright, but not too interesting. He sees the text as Yogo and comes with a too Theosophical explanation of initiation and mysteries. Not a boring read, some interpretations give something to think about, but not a booklet that I would advice if you want to learn something about Mithraism (save for the first part to offer an alternative history).
More about Mithraism on Gangleri.nl you can find by “browsing” for book reviews and I have some articles on the subject in the articles section.

Introduction To The Study Of The Hindu Doctrines * René Guénon (2004)

Guenon Hindu Doctrines

introduction générale Í  l’étude des doctrines hindoues (1921)

This is the first book that Guénon wrote, he was 35 years at the time, yet, it already has Guénon’s scornful writing style. The larger part of the book hardly lives up to the title. It is more an exposition of metaphysics with many references to other-than-Hindu Eastern religions including Chinese and near-Eastern. This is interesting in itself, but it takes to the short part three that you will learn something about Hindu doctrines and here Guénon actually only writes about the Darshanas. The book is closed with harsh attacks on Western scholars on oriental religions, Western mentality in general and “pseudo esotericists” dealing with Eastern doctrines such as the Theosophical Society. Introduction To The Study Of The Hindu Doctrines is even for a Guénon book not an easy read. He writes very lengthy, indirect and in the for him typical tone. This book does indeed makes much of a basis for his later “Traditionalist” writings and learns you a bit on Hinduism and how it is portrayed in the West and I always enjoy the writer’s criticism on the West, so it is not really a bad buy.
-2-
Read quotes of Guénon here.

Initiation & Spiritual Realization * René Guénon (2004)

initiation et réalisation spirituelle 1952

On his deathbed, Guénon gave instructions for a compilation of articles that together would form a good supplement to the book Aperçus sur l’Initiation (Perspective on Initiation). That book was the first that I read of Guénon and is it one of the most difficult and most difficult to read. Now none of Guénon’s book are easy to read and I have also often said that Guénon is very good at saying what is not ‘it’, the preface of Initiation & Spiritual Realization promises a more practical and in depth book. Very promising indeed! I can tell you, this book still is no guideline or manual for those wanting to walk the path of “initiation and spiritual realization”, Guénon remained Guénon. On the other hand, it is also true that of all his books (that I have read so far), this is the most practical book and is also the one book in which the writer vaguely hints towards what ‘it’ is. You will read about gurus and upagurus, tue and false spiritual teachers, iniatic affiliation, the sacred and the profane, the initiatic degrees, the necessity of traditional exotericism and much, much more. There are 32 chapters/essays (in 208 pages). In most texts Guénon (further) explains very specific concepts that are misunderstood. Still, you really have to read between the lines to make the information of practical use. In this book Guénon does dive into the deep and the reader that is ready for it, will probably find this his most ‘workable’ book. I would advice to no start with this book if you never read Guénon though. The Crisis of the Modern World is a better starter, maybe The King of the World and then perhaps a book such as this one.
(28/4/07 -4-)
Read quotes of Guénon here.

Jesus – one hundred years before christ * Alvar Ellegård (isbn 1585672521)

The idea behind this book is very nice. Ellegård had the hypthesis that the historical Jesus was not born in the beginning of the counting of years, but a hundred years earlier. Jesus would have been the “teacher of righteousness” of the Jewish sect of the Essenes and Christianity came forth of the same sect. By the time the apostles started to write their gospels and letters, the actual Jesus was a vague memory and Ellegård shows that they did not claim to write about facts but visions about a risen Christ and definately not a RErisen one. His hypothesis is underbuilt quite conclusively and I like the idea.
Still I didn’t think this was a too great book. I had problems keeping my attention and I think it could have easily been half the amount of pages. Ellegård’s writing style is really not boring or bad, but I think there is not enough new information or something to keep my attention. So, in basis a nice book, but it would probably have been nicer in the form of an article.

Heliand * Jaap van Vredendaal (transl.) (2006 sun * isbn 9085062969)

In October I also reviewed a “Hêliand”, but then I didn’t have a complete translation, which I found pretty frustrating. It seems that I (silly enough) picked the wrong title at Amazon.com and I should have had this one. Then the news came to me that “the Saxon Gospel” has been published in Dutch too, so I was excited. The book is just out, comes with hardcover, images and is printed on thick paper, has a long introduction by the translator and has a translation of the Genesis fragments (but these translations are made by Redbad Veenbaas), so in a way this is a Dutch version of the famous “Heliand und Genesis” by Behaghel.
A little bit of background information, but you will be able to find enough on the internet, so not too long. The “Hêliand” is the story of the four gospels in one story. It was written around 825 CE and scholars think that this happened in the monastery of Fulda or the one in Corvey. It is written as a poem and is obviously meant for a not-yet-Christian, or just-Christian audience of Germanic descent. There are a few damaged manuscripts left and a few excerpts here and there, like in the Vatican, which library also has the Genesis fragments in old Saxon that have been included in this translation. The “Hêliand” begins wonderfully with the writers of the gospel, the birth of John the Baptist, the announcement of the birth of the saviour (what “Hêliand” means) and the birth of Jesus. Jesus is a king, a leader, the greatest of men, Mary is the most beautiful of women, the “Hêliand” reads like an old Germanic adventure story. The most funny thing is that (with regards to the audience), accents differ from the versions of this story that we know. At length is explained why it is a problem that Mary gets pregnant without having lost virginity, but the birth of Jesus is told in just a few lines. The stable is a hall and the three wisemen sleep in the sleeping hall. Things are put differently. The Lord’s Prayer, for example, differs. I like ‘the pagan touch’ to this gospel. When Jesus has become Christ and starts to preach, there is a bit too much of moralistic talking involved and again, with different accents. There is a large part against the swearing of oaths for example. The story continues, it is told beautifully and the Dutch translation is great. The end is quite sudden, but of course we all know the story.
The Genesis fragments are funny too. First Adam and Eve are told to stay away from the dark tree, then the story of Satan and his falling angels follows, Satan sends someone else to persuade Adam to eat from the dark tree as revenge for his fall. The messenger uses an entire page to persuade Adam, but when he fails, he turns to Eve. This story ends quite abruptly and then we come to Cain and Abel, which is also obviously a fragment. Nice to read, but the “Hêliand” itself is a better read.
So… Christian and non-Christian readers are advised to read this original version of the famous story of Christ with its older (and more authentic?) twist to some things. This Dutch translation is great, unfornately I can’t commend on the English translation that I linked to, but the Hêliand – text and commentary book by Cathey is reviewed elsewhere within these pages.
(4/1/07 -4-)
The Lord’s Prayer from this text in the original language and English translation here.

Valentinus de gnosticus en zijn evangelie der waarheid * Gilles Quispel (isbn 9071608131)

A strange idea. I suppose that you all know about the finding of the ancient scrolls near the Egyptian village of Nag Hammadi in 1945? Well, these ‘codices’ (plural of ‘codex’) spread around and ended up on different places. In 1952 the Dutch professor Gilles Quispel, at that time specialising himself in Valentinus, saw the change of buying one of these codices which supposedly contained a text by Valentinus: the “Gospel Of Thruth”. This Codex was named after Quispel’s friend Carl Gustav Jung and has since been known as the “Jung Codex”. Quispel learned Coptic (most Nag Hammadi texts are in Coptic) and started to translate and study the text. Ever since this time, Quispel had to write a book about “Valentinus the gnostic and his gospel of thruth”, but for 52 years there was always something else to do, like the publishing of the complete Nag Hammadi library in several countries. Afterall, Quispel finished what in fact is his true life-work. Not that this is an enormous publication and that he -in the end- spent years and years in writing it. As a matter of fact, the book is only 150 pages and Quispel wrote in a relatively short time, but like I said: this is the work that he always had to write, but never did. Hopefully this won’t make the almost-90-years-old scholar feel that there is nothing more to do!

About the book then. Quispel describes the life and time of Valentinus (ca. 150 BC) in length and also the history of the text is given. Of course also a translation. In Dutch of course, the whole book is in Dutch. Sometimes I am so happy to be a Dutchman! We have a range of brilliant scholars writing great books… in Dutch! Anyway, a gnostic, gnosticism in general and the latest findings by the Dutch scholar on the subject, here displaying his specialism in his great and playfull writing style. It really shows that this man has thaught students for many years, he knows how to write attractively and also his lectures are great to attend.

Yep, you really may need to learn Dutch.

De Geheime Woorden * Jacob Slavenburg (isbn 9020281119)

It is a bloody shame! I have searched for English translations of this book and I had to come to the woeful conclusion that there are hardly English translations of the books of Jacob Slavenburg. Slavenburg is one best Dutch writers about subjects such as gnosticism, esotericism, early christianity, etc. He cooperated in the translation of the complete Nag-Hammadi writings (resulting in a work in two volumes of about 600 pages each), he is translator of serveral new found and apocryphal gospels (Thomas, Mary Magdalene, etc.), writer of a gigantic work on the Dead Sea scrolls, writer of biographies of occultists such as HP Blavatsky and Rudolf Steiner and my praise could continue for a few lines more.
So why then, isn’t this vast knowledge obtainable for the non Dutch-speaking part of the world? It is about time that some large publisher has some translations done of these wonderfull works. The largest Dutch publisher in the ‘esoteric’ field makes Slavenburg available in the Netherlands. I asume Jacob could even do the translations himself, since he gives quite a lot of lectures, which are probably also abroad and in English.

Anyway, to the book. “De Geheime Woorden” means “The Secret Words” and the book is subtitled: “a discovery of twentyfive centuries of gnosis”, which immediately describes the book perfectly.

Also some non-gnostic subjects are dealt with to put things in perspective. The book opens with Zarathustra, Greek philosophy, Plato, Stoicins, Alexander the Great and Hellenism, Philo of Alexandria, Judaism, Romans, Orphic and Eleusian mysteries, oracles and then Jesus of Nazareth and Faricians, Sadducians and Essens (?, I hope I translated that right!).

The book is full of lengthy quotes from apocryphal gospels, the Dead Sea and Nag-Hammadi texts, the bible and other religious books and more. Overall Slavenburg not only deals with the history of gnosticism, but reveals a lot about what the gnostic worldview actually has to say. Several gnostic doctrines pass the revue and you will find many variations on biblical themes with slightly different explanations of certain myths and doctrines. Around the end some ‘gnostic movements’ are attended, being Hermes Trismegistus (who is actually more the forerunner of Hermeticism ‘the other’ western esoteric streaming), alchemy, Jacob Böhme, Rosicrucianity, Freemasonry, Theosophy, Anthroposophy and new age.

Also some very nice chapters about early Christianity and about the Cathars.

All in all a great book and a very good introduction into the subject of gnosticism. Slavenburg wrote more books about this subject, which I haven’t read all so far, but his books devinately deserve an English translation!

De Nag Hammadi Geschriften (dundrukeditie) * Jacob Slavenburg & Willem Glaudemans (isbn 9020219642)

I already reviewed the earlier pressing of this translation, but here we have a completely new edition. The earlier pressings came in two 6cm thick books, this one is printed on super thin paper which resulted in one book of about 3,5 cm thick. This looks pretty strange indeed! Besides a new kind of printing the general intro, introductions to the texts, the translations and the notes are completely revised. Some intros and translations came out quite different, others remained more or less the same. There is again more information which is of course updated with the newest finding and there is now a massive index made by Henk Spierenburg. Therefor the order of the texts could now be the original order the texts were found in the codices and no longer sorted by subject. So the conclusion: even if you have the previous version, this new transation is worth the money too!