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Symbols Of Sacred Science * René Guénon (2004)

symboles fondamentaux de la science sacrée 1961

This is a book that was published post-mortem, containing 75 articles in four different periodicals between the years 1926 and 1950. I ran into this book on the internet when I was writing an article and because yet another ‘Traditionalist clue’ came to me, an interest to deep into this current deeper was awoken within me. This book by Guénon is no easy read. To start with this is the first book of Guénon that I read. Maybe a Crisis Of The Modern World may have been a better starter, but things just didn’t go that way. The book opens with a magnificent article The Reform Of The Modern Mentality from which I quote opening my article about Traditionalism. Then follow a great many chapters explaining symbols, but this sounds a bit different from what you may expect. A few chapter-titles to illustrate what I mean: “The Sacred Heart and the Legend of the Holy Grail”, “The Language of the Birds”, “The Guardians of the Holy Land”, “Some Aspects of the Symbolism of the Fish”, “The Solstitial Gates” and “The Roots of Plants”. A ‘symbol’ can be a theme from mythology, a character in a story, a ‘visual symbol’ such as the Swastika, etc. Guénon really pierces through the surface of superficial explanations giving information of a whole lot of traditions, comparing, cross-referring and putting them against the other. The writer seems to suppose that the writers of the periodicals are well-informed in different traditions, giving Islamic or Hindu terms without (much) explanation. Fortunately I didn’t run into anything that I really never heard about, but I can imagine that people who haven’t different religions and traditions much, may need some kind of reference. Two points of comment about the book is that there could have been more images. Guénon often describes a symbol, but I would have been easier to just show it. Further there are many and lenghty notes which really do not help the well-readedness. Other than that, the English is clear, but Guénon had a very peculiar way of putting things, which undoubtely broke the minds of the translations often. Symbols Of Sacred Science is a book that keeps being of use. Many symbolisms come back in different chapters. This reduces the value of the book for reference purposes a bit maybe, but on the other hand, it becomes a bit of a learning book to get in ‘the Traditionalist way of thinking’. The publisher Fons Vitae has many more translations of Guénon (and also of other Traditionalist writers). This title is supposedly Guenon’s most important symbolism book, while Symbols Of Sacred Science is his most important metaphysical book.
(18/3/06 -4-)
Read quotes of Guénon here.

sophia perennis 2004 * isbn 0900588772

Perspectives On Initiation * René Guénon (2004)

aperçus sur l’initiation 1946

In 48 short chapters, Guénon writes about (almost) every imaginable aspect of initiation. This book is very ‘Traditionalistic’ and Guénon keeps stressing the ‘authenticity’ or ‘regularity’ of initiatic movements. In the West he recognises only two: Freemasonry and the Compagnonnage (articles about both can be found in the articles-section). He is extremely strict about the ‘unbroken link’ since time immemorial and the fact that initiation is the transmission of ‘something spiritual’ (not ‘knowledge’ or ‘secret symbols’ or anything like that) that has been transmitted since the dawn of men by and to people worthy. All the rest are pseudo-esoteric groups, reversed- or counter-initiators, frauds and swindlers. Guénon is very harsch particularly to movements that were popular in his time, such as the Theosophical and Antroposophical Societies, neo-Rosicrucian movements, etc. Also he is quite critical about Freemasonry, but he thinks that Traditionalism and the elimination of ‘extras’ that were added during the course of time can save it. One thing about Guénon is that he keeps saying what is not ‘it’, what is wrong, who (however he seldom gives names or booktitles) are frauds, etc., but that (besides references to some currents, such as Freemasonry, the Compagnonnage, vague references to Islamic esoteric groups) you will not really learn what he really finds genuine and worthy. Aperçus reads in this regard a bit like Words To The Wise of Manly P. Hall (reviewed elsewhere) who wants to teach his readers how to recognise the frauds. Still chapter 5 is called “conditions for initiation”, chapter 10 “initiatic centers”, but do not expect a nice list with demands. I liked (and understood) the book better than when I first read it, and I can recommend it to anyone seriously interested in the subject or member of or looking for a so-called ‘initiatic organisation’. Aperçus is certainly no light literature and Guénon will definitely offend some people. Also he seemed to jump to conclusions a bit too rapidly, still have been very strict (not changing his conclusions easily) and not always too accurate. But of course Guénon was the primal Traditionalist, a man of massive knowledge and most of all experience so his works (and also this one) are of extremely high value.
(3/5/06 -3-)
Read quotes of Guénon here.
2004 sophia perennis * isbn 0900588322

The Reign Of Quantity & The Sign Of Times * René Guénon (2004)

la règne de la quantité et les signe des temps 1945

Guénon wrote a lot of books about a lot of subjects. The recently reviewed Symbols Of Sacred Science is regarded Guénon’s primary book about symbolism, The Reign Of Quantity is regarded his primary metaphysical book. Indeed, the first part of the book is very and very literary meta-physical, but the title of the book has two parts. The book speaks about how the modern man came to regard quantity more valuable than quality (the is ‘the sign of our time’) and during the course of the book, Guénon speaks about this and the results of it. The book is quite a difficult read. Not only the English is pretty ‘high-flying’ (I suppose the original France was too), but the subjects often are too. Just a few of the 40 chapter titles: “Spatial Quantity and Qualified Space”, “The Qualitative Determinations of Time”, “The Illusion of ‘Ordinary Life'”, “The Degeneration of Coinage”, “The Successive Stages in Anti-Traditional Action” and then Guénon goes on with a few subjects that still appeal to many: “Neo-Spiritualism”, “The Misdeeds of Psychoanalysis”, “The Confusion of the Psychic and the Spiritual”, concluding with chapters about “Pseudo-Initiation” (and ‘counter-initiation’), “From Anti-Tradition to Counter-Tradition” and “The Great Parody: or Spirituality Inverted”. Like with Perspectives On Initiation, I get the feeling that Guénon keeps telling what is not ‘it’, but he doesn’t really say what ‘it’ is. Also I don’t always understand what he means or where he is going to. He does have a point on most cases, but I sometimes get lost. This is due to the language, long sentences and paragraphs. Not the best book to start with if you never read Guénon I think, maybe it was even a bit too soon for me to read. There are many things to think about, but not really answers or ‘solutions’, just many many questions. (9/4/06 -3-)
Read quotes of Guénon here.
sophia perennis 2004 * isbn 0900588675

The Essential Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (2003 world wisdom * isbn 094153246)

Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy (1877-1947) (not to be mistaken with his almost equally famous son Rama Poonambalam Coomaraswamy (1929-) was a contemporary of René Guénon and ‘fellow-Traditionalist’. He was the son of a Sri Lankan father and a British mother, born in Sri Lanka, but raise in the United Kingdom and was in person and ‘philosophically’ a bridge between the East and the West. Like I said, he was a Traditionalist like Guénon, meaning that he thinks that there is one primordial Tradition from which all religions sprung. His starting-point is not (as you might expect) Hinduism, but art. As the title of this book shows, this is an anthology of the man. The book was compiled by his son Rama. The lengthy introduction by Arvind Sharma contains nice information about the time of Guénon and Coomaraswamy and some critical notes on the first.
There are 20 chapters, which are mostly articles and essays published in other books. Some of his more well-known writings can be found. Most of the texts are about art. This should be taken in a broad sense of the word. Coomaraswamy’s idea is that a work of art is made by a person who is ‘in contact’ with the ‘overworld’ and makes something usefull after a divine model. This gives a totally different conception of the term than we use today. A tea-cup is (when it is made ‘Traditionally’) a work of art and a bomb is a work of art if it does what it is made for well. Coomaraswamy does not have a very positive view of modern art and museums (also not when they collect ancient items). Nowadays art seems to be something elitaristic, only made for the artist himself and others may or may not like it, but most of all, there is no use for the ‘works of art’ of today save for putting them in a museum for the sole sake of being advertisement for the ‘artist’.
During the course of this book you will read about literacy, “Eastern Wisdom And Western Knowledge”, folklore, “The Interpretation Of Symbols” (not a practical guide btw), “What Is Civilization?”, all which chapters mostly speak about art, but you will also learn about Traditionalism; the last two chapters are “The Hindu Tradition: The Myth” and “The Hindu Tradition: Theology and Autology”.
Coomaraswamy reads easier than Guénon. He is sometimes more outspoken too. It is nice to see a similar (Traditionalism), but different (art versus esotericism) starting point. Coomaraswamy has written a few famous titles, but like Guénon his bibliography is enormous, so a “the essential” is a very good introduction.
(22/5/06 -4-)
Read quotes of Coomaraswamy here.

The Myth of the Eternal Return (isbn 0691017778) + Images and Symbols (isbn 069102068X * 1952) * Mircea Eliade * Mircea Eliade

I bought the Dutch translations of these books from the 1960’ies from one bookshop. The books appear to go together. Maybe I had too high hopes about these two books. I expected to get books with comparisons and explanations of symbols and symbology. In a way both books speak about these subjects, but not entirely the way I hoped. “The Myth…” speaks about archetypes in the Jungian sence and how these archetypes shaped mythology, religion and folklore. Eliade speaks about the repetition and periodicity of time and nature and how this led to anual feasts. Also a part is devoted to fate/karma. Is is an interesting little book, but there is a bit too much written about “primitive” African, South-American and far Eastern tribes while I hoped more Indo-European comparisons of myths and symbolism.
“Images And Symbols” partly covers the same ground as the other book, but is more focused on images and symbols. Again more in the sense of mythology, archetypes, the symbol of the centre (also in the other book), repetative time, etc. Nice is the part about the “god who binds” and the symbols of knots in different cultures. A long part is about shells for fertility and the last part is about water (floods, baptism, etc.). Again a nice book, but not exactly what I hoped for.
Read quotes of Eliade here.

Rites And Symbols Of Initiation * Mircea Eliade (1975)

birth and rebirth 1958

My 1975 copy doesn’t have an ISBN code, but since the book is still in print, I used the new cover and ISBN. This is another little book by Eliade, this time exploring the subject of initation. Eliade first speaks about puberty rites and later about “specialized initiations, which certain individuals undergo in order to trancend their human condition and become protégés of Supernatural Beings or even their equals.” (p. 129). As third sort of initiation, Eliade recognises the admittance to secret and/or esoteric groups and the becoming of shamans. As “historian of religion” Eliade gives many examples, comparisons, etc., but these are mostly from indiginous Australian groups. Here and there Eliade speaks of African tribes and even more seldomly about other groups, such as the Celtic and Germanic tribes. However the book is only 170 pages thick, Eliade is quite detailed (even though it is only “a bird’s eye view”) and informative. It is nice to hear of similar structures and symbols of initiations all over the world. I would have liked more focus on Northern European tribes, but you can’t have everything. Not as interesting as the other Eliade booklets that I reviewed earlier, but this writer remains one of my (current) favorites. Noticable are the first lines of the epilogue: “As we saw, modern man no longer has any initiations of the traditional type. Certain initiatory themes survive in Christianity, but the various Christian denominations no longer regard them as possessing the values of initiation.” (p. 132) But also here: “The only secret movement that exhibits a certain ideological consistency that already has a history, and that enjoys social and political prestige is Freemasonry. The other self-styled initiatory organizations are for the most part recent and hybrid improvisations.” (p. 133)
1975 Harper, isbn 0882143581 (26/7/06 -3-)
Read quotes of Eliade here.

Dictionnaire Des Religions * Mircea Eliade & Ioan P. Couliano (isbn 0060621516)

The HarperCollins Concise Guide to World Religion: The A-to-Z Encyclopedia of All the Major Religious Traditions

I found a nicely priced second hand version of the Dutch translation of Dictionnaire Des Religions book (1990) which became Wereldreligies In Kaart Gebracht. I believe it is the first book of the Romenian scholar Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) that I read. It is -so to say- a summery of the massive result of Eliades lifelong investigation of all the worlds religions. A book of not even 400 pages speaking of (almost?) every religion that you can think of, old or new, big or small. African religions to gnostic religions, mystery-religions, Eastern religions, name it, and this duo has a chapter or at least a paragraph about it. The book is divided in 33 groups which are each split up in paragraphs. There is a massive index referring to the paragraphs. Everything is -as Eliade wanted- put to readable (Eliade wanted something for the general public) that it really became “a novel of the worlds religions” as the preface puts it. So just try to lay your hands on this standard-work as well.
Read quotes of Eliade here.

The Sacred And The Profane * Mircea Eliade (isbn 015679201X)

Another Eliade that I found second hand. This little book speaks about the religiosity of mankind. He compares known and less-known traditions and religious expressions, symbolism and mythology. Fairly interesting, especially on a few parts where he comes with new information (for me). Quite some stress on African religion, but also Germanic mythology and initiation ceremonies in different cultures.
Read quotes of Eliade here.

Mitra-Varuna * Georges Dumézil (1940/48 * 1996)

It is a shame to see how few books by Georges Dumézil (1898-1986) have been translated into English and how even fewer books are actually available. Dumézil is famous for being at the cradle of the Indo-European hypothesis, being an imminent scholar in the field of comparative religions and mythology and (later) for recognising the tripartite divsion which comes back in all kinds of Indo-European fields. He may not really have been a ‘Traditionalist’ in the meaning of Guénon’s ‘school’, but he certainly has inspired many Traditionalists. Of the few books that are available through Amazon in English, I chose this one, because Dumézil more or less has an Indian starting point, but here also dedicated a few chapters to the Northern mythology. The book is only 190 pages, well translated by Derek Coltman and reads easily. In a few chapters Dumézil does get a bit scholarly though. The first version of this book was published in 1940. Dumézil has in particular been looking for pairs in Indo-European myths. Oppositional pairs, but just as well supplementary. The brothers Mitra and Varuna were used as example. For the 1948 second edition, the writer has rewritten parts of the book, because in the meantime he built his trifunctional hypothesis, so ‘things do not come in twos, but in threes (as well)’. Not too much information about this in the book though, but in the conclusion Dumézil explains that the pairs remained the starting point, but the trifunctional division is compatible with the other hypothesis, because the pairs come back on each of the three levels or classes.
The book starts with the Roman pair of Romulus and Remus, the Luperci and mythical founders of Rome, takes a few other characters from Roman mythology, continues with Greek mythology (Jupiter and Fides) and then passes Iranian (Ahura and Mithra) mythology to go to the Northern double function of *Wʹdhanaz and *Tͮwaz. All this comes to a conclusion in which the writer summarizes his findings and adds some extra information.
I loved to read the comparisons and cross-references, but I have the idea that this book shows only a tip of what Dumézil has to offer. Maybe his later books give a more complete view of his ideas. Unfortunatetly -like I said- there are not too many titles available in English, so I am afraid that I will have to get (or download!) myself some of the books in French.
(13/6/06 -4-)
Read quotes of Dumézil here.)
1940/48 * 1996 urzone * isbn 0942299132

Hêliand – text and commentary * James E. Cathey (2002 west virginia univesity press * isbn 0937058645)

All I wanted was to read the Heliand. I couldn’t find the text here and eventually notice that Amazon has it. Did I accidentally order the wrong book? Another book does seem to be just a translation of the text, yet I got myself a scholarly “text and commentary”. Maybe it was the first part of this subtitle that tricked me, since “text” means, half of the text in the original language (which is nice nonetheless, but why half?). “Commentary” means scholarly comments on the text itself, not on the content, but on the literary style, the use of words, historical setting, etc. all very nice for students of ancient languages, but this was not what I was looking for…
(10/10/06 -2-)
The Lord’s Prayer from this text in the original language and translation here.