A while ago I wanted to read a book that treats alchemy as a spiritual path rather than giving the next history of “proto science”.
Unfortunately my opinion about this book is similar to Ambelain’s Spiritual Alchemy. There are interesting parts, but also large parts that are more like a “spiritual guidebook”.
Contrary to Ambelain, Hauck’s book does not have the best part in the beginning. The book starts a bit as a Dan Brown like book with a story about Hermes Trismegistus and which historical characters (mind the “s”) have been Hermes. A story about a young man who finds the Emerald Tablet, figures out the meaning, reaches enlightenment and becomes the third Hermes. Not quite the type of book I was looking for…
The author sees the Emerald Tablet as the original and major text of esotericism and when its secrets are unraveled, both spiritual and material alchemy belong to your abilities. And so Hauck traces the Emerald Tablet through the ages and regions of the world. Along with that journey Hauck tells about alchemists, Hermetists, old and contemporary. Also he has information about more general spiritual development and comes with meditation practices and the like. He also uses the phases of alchemy to explain phases in spiritual growth and each phase gets an autobiographical story. More interesting (to me) is that he also explains a few alchemical drawings (mostly from Atalanta Fugiens) at length, pointing at details that I never noticed.
Overal I found The Emerald Tablet not a boring book, but there are large parts that I read through quite rapidly and only a few parts that are actually interesting.
A while ago I was going around the web like I do not do very often and I ran into a ‘blog’ called “Humanistic Paganism“, a board for atheistic pagans. I never really saw such divisions within ‘the pagan sphere’, but here apparently are people who found it needed to team up and give themselves a voice for having ‘uncommon pagan ideas’. The ‘blog’ has a few entries that make a nice read, but I have not really tried to read up. Soon after I started following the ‘blog’ a book was announced and eventually this book was published in April 2016 Godless Paganism, voices on Non-Theistic Pagans.
I got the book to see what this would be about and soon also experienced why there are people giving “non-theistic pagans” a voice. On an Asatru forum mostly occupied by Americans somebody asked about atheism and Asatru so I said: “Did you know about this book?” After that I get torched for recommending a book by somebody who is not accepted by “the community” and who tries to bring rot to paganism from the inside. So what are these ideas that appear to be offensive to some?
The main point seems to be that there are pagans out there who have a very strict idea of what (mostly) Asatru should be like: a certain kind of polytheism in which the Gods are all separate entities. There are people (like myself I may add) who have other views. A simple example, the Gods are part of a ‘larger Divinity’. So came distinctions between “hard” and “soft” polytheism, because the second view does not deny the Gods, but does have another view on them. The book under review shoves a whole lot of views different from what they call “hard polytheism” under their title and the largest part of the authors of the essays in this books are certainly not anti- or even a-theistic; while others are. There are again nuances within the atheistic group. Also within the confines of this book are pantheists, panentheists, etc.
The book comes up with all kinds of paganisms that I never heard of. “Humanistic”, “naturalistic”, “atheopagans”, PaGaians and whatnot. The authors come from all kinds of backgrounds. There are Wiccas, ecclectics, Southern-European pagans, Northern-European pagans, etc. There are very short and rather lengthy texts. Some are quite scholarly, while other are short and very personal. We run into people seeing Gods as projections of their psyches, people seeing Gods as archetypes or forces. There are worhippers of Mother Earth as Nature (not super-natural). Some texts go into practice. Of course there is quite a bit about how and why somebody who does not believe in literal Gods practices ritual for example and is this with ‘theisitic pagans’ or not? How was this in the past?
There is not much that I did not encounter in some form just as a form of paganism, rather than a ‘branch’ of it. Apparently over time some sort of conformity (dogmatism?) has grown within the pagan community and it has become necessary to give people with ‘other views’ a voice and a platform again. I do not find a whole lot of books with personal and practical contemporary paganism, so there is a reason to get this book already. Do not expect an in-depth learned book about contemporary pagan theology. Rather expect a book with texts by contemporary pagans sharing their views on things. Some even admit that they are not sure about everything they come up with so far and there are some who do not care to fill in all the details of their worldview as practice is more important than theory.
The book is good to get a feel of what the minds of a variety of contemporary pagans keep occupied. A thing I always enjoys learning about. Lots of things I read here are pretty far from my own views. The ecclecticism and New Age-approach of some people are things I cannot symphatise with, but it never hurts to learn about other ways of looking at things. What I do find interesting is that there are a few people describing how they try to make ‘including rituals’ which should work for ‘theists’ and ‘non-theists’ alike; which should even work whether the practitioner is interested in Southern, Northern European or ‘Amerindian’ mythology. The message is: of course there are different ideas within the ‘pagan community’, but why would anyone tell somebody else to be wrong? Does everybody going to the same celebration have exactly the same ideas? Fortunately not, otherwise I would probably be a lonely heathen.
And since I always tend to take sides with the underdog: of course I recommend this book! No matter how far some of the ideas posed here stand from my own, everybody has to walk his/her own path, come to his/her own conclusions and if these are different from my own, that is actually a good thing. So, whether you consider yourself ‘theistic’ (like myself) or not and whether you are pagan or not (or of whatever kind) here we have a book to get a bit of a feel of other people’s ideas.
The line in the titles that the author sends me to review seems to go from very specific (Sufism) to more general. Perhaps they should be read in reverse order. “The Appleseed Journal” is more ‘generally spiritual’, a story that may make the reader realise that there is more than just our materialistic lifestyle. Then in “Beyond The River’s Gate” the reader may be inspired to live more spiritually may be helped to find a fitting path. In “The Ferryman’s Dream” you will learn more about Bitkoff and his own path. Finally, in “Sufism For Western Seekers” the reader will discover the secret of Bitkoff’s background. But, the books came from the man’s fingers the other way around, so that is the order in which I review them.
Johnny Appleseed is a ‘legendarised’ man who lived under the name John Chapman from 1774 to 1845. Bitkoff places him in the area of the Hudon Valley and to the North, which is funny, since I happen to visit that area every now and then myself. Bitkoff found Appleseeds journal buried in his backyard and decided to publish it. Now the journal obviously is not written 250 years ago and the style if very ‘Bitkoffian’. No worries of course, the author just used an urban legend as the story to hang his message onto.
Appleseed is a very Christian person who, as an early settler, started to grow and sow appleseeds and sell them to new settlers so that they could have their own apple trees. In his diary he gives his Christian ponderings about his restlessness, helping other people and the Word of the Lord. During his journeys through the Hudson Valley, Appleseed becomes friends with ‘Amerindians’ from whom he learns a lot. Bitkoff of course uses the opportunity to give some ‘Amerindian’ spirituality to his audience. At some point, Appleseed received a book of “the Great Swede”, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) and became gripped by what he reads. He got involved in “The New Church” movement and both accidentally and intentionally becomes a missionary for the Swedenborgian way of thinking in his many contacts. We do not learn that much about Swedenborgh or his ideas from this journal though.
Appleseed does not try to convert people to his way of thinking. Rather he holds up a mirror and simply sows seeds in the heart of the people he meets by simple, well-placed advice or a book that he gives away. The simple, spiritual life of a man who works hard, is open and tolerant towards others and who helps other people in whichever way he can. The kind of person we need more of.
I do not know if this title is something for ‘the usual Gangleri.nl reader’, but the books of Bitkoff read easily and they are certainly something different from ‘my usual literature’ (and yours?) which never hurts, does it?
The third book that the author sent me to review seems to be aimed at a different audience than the other two books. “Beyond The River’s Gate” is more a book for the new spiritual seeker, or at least, the seeker that has not yet found his path and can use a little help to find the right direction. The book is very general in the first parts. In a Q-and-A between a traveller and a master you can read about life and death, reincarnation, Karma, the spritual path, etc. Here and there the words used suggest that the book is written from a certain perspective. In easy descriptions and with examples, the author tells his readers about spirituality. The book tends to be somewhat repetitive and the Q-and-A-form is not entirely my thing. Lateron there are anecdotes, short stories, etc. and here the author is clear about the point that the starting point is the Sufi tradition of his master (that we can read about in Sufism For Western Seekers.
I think I am not the audience that Bitkoff aims for with this book, but if you are still searching or just curious about a man’s spiritual journey and how this stands in the life of a Westerner, you might just want to read Bitkoff’s latest book.
2014 Abandoned Ladder, isbn 0991577507
Around the time I started reading Witzel‘s book about the origin of mythology I ran into a book about that original spirituality. According to Witzel all of current humanity stems from the ‘African Eve’ whose descendants left Africa some 64.000 years ago. Of course not all descendants left Africa. In short, a family tree started with the African Eve, much of humanity forms the leaves of this tree, some direct descendants are closer to the trunk. One such direct descendant form the Bushmen of the Kalahari. These Bushmen fear that their way of living will extinct soon after 64.000 years of history (diamonds have been found in their parts) so they were happy to find a Westerner who, on his own, found their original spirituality and the Bushmen themselves. Now this is all tantalizing of course. Bushmen spiritualy is nothing like what we call spirituality. They laugh about books, people sitting still trying to reach God, people who think that knowledge is what we should be after. Quite the contrary. Bushmen spirituality is about fun, games, absurdity and most of all: N|om. That pipe is one of these Bushmen clicking sounds (do you know the film “The Gods Must Be Crazy”? That is the very tribe where the author found his spiritual home.) and supposedly sounds something like “tsk”. N|om is the “non-subtle universal life-force” that connects men to God. N|om makes a person shake to get N|om you have to sing and dance. All this is described abundantly by the author. By climbing “ropes” one can reach “classrooms”. The Bushmen spirituality has no masters and their path is available for anyone and Keeney and the Bushmen like to make fun of other paths, so often actually that the stressing of the one true way becomes weary after a while. Keeney describes pratices and experiences that do make me wonder if the Bushmen do indeed represent a spirituality that goes back to the time of the African Eve. On the other hand, if it is indeed 64.000 years old, would it still ‘work’ (for the whole of humanity).
A book that makes me think for sure and it is interesting to see how the author goes from Louisiana black churches to the Kalahari to Japanese healers. Something different for sure.
2010 Atria Books, isbn 1582702578
This is the second and probably the last book that I read of Weor. Like I wrote in my other review, a remark on the internet made me want to read something of the man. The other book (“Alchemy & Kabbalah”) is extremely annoying. “El Sendero Iniciatico a Traves de los Arcanos de Tarot y Kabala” was the last book that Weor wrote (he died in 1977, the book was published in 1978) and supposedly he meant it to be the crown on his ouevre. The book is divided into four parts. The first is about Weor’s revised Tarot and he explains his 22 Arcana. This is all quite like the other book. Then comes more Tarot. Part 3 about “The Kabbalah” initially seems more interesting and so does the last part “Numerology and Esoteric Mathematics”. The present book is not so much written in the short statement-sentences style. There is more room for theory and explanations. Weor remains not my kind of writer, but he has a handfull of interesting things to say about symbolism. Like in the other book, there is a mishmash of Blavatsky’s Theosophy, quotes from the Bible, references to Eastern religions, chakras and a rather shallow (in my view) Alchemy and Kabbalah. Also we learn a bit more of the man Weor. Supposedly he is some high initiate, ready for Nirvana, but because of a woman, he is forced to keep reincarnating. These statements are quite incredible, especially when he says that he has a physical body in an Egyptian tomb that he can use whenever he thinks fit. In any case, the doctrines remain focussed on sex. Sexual magic is used to create “a solar body”, then sex has to be abandoned and one becomes a Bodhisatva. The Tarot is supposed to be the very core of Kabbalah and each card can be used in different ways. All quite shady right? Seldom interesting as well, but should you be interested in the writings of a (self proclaimed) contemporary high initiate, this last title of his may be the best introduction to his writings. Of course I cannot judge, because I have only read to books from his massive biography.
2010 Glorian, isbn 9781934206379
Late 2011 Bitkoff asked if I was interested in reviewing his book “Sufism For Western Seekers”. Only months after I finished it, I got another email that he had a new book ready. The previous book is about spiritual teaching, this time Bitkoff entwined this with a novel. “The Ferryman’s Dream” has 22 chapters, each consisting of three parts. First come spiritual musings, the middle part is a story and the last part can be either spiritual reflections or poetry. The last parts are set in another font. The book is quite alike the previous book, but this time the book is not about the author’s path, but he describes a similar development for two other persons. The first parts of each chapter reminds most of the previous book. In my opinion, the author would have been well able to bring the same message only using the story-format. Now it comes across somewhat duplicate at times, especially when part three is a repeated move.
The story is about a ferryman. This ferryman is Vesudeva from Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha”. Vesudeva retreated from the world and he fills his days with bringing people across a river both literally and symbolically. A young man with a very Western lifestyle ends up being Vesudeva’s student and later a friend of the young man joins the two. During the story you will learn a thing or two about spiritual living and about real spirituality in a master-student relationship. The story is nice. The book as a whole, again, reads easily. It is not even 150 pages, so it does not take long to read it. Also again the book seems more introductionary and meant for people who are not familiar with esotericism or spiritual teachings than for providing extra depth for people who are. There are many people in the West who should read a book like this, so hopefully the author is able to spread it well enough.
2012 Abandoned Ladder, isbn 9780615613000
A while ago I was looking for a Traditionalistic forum. During that search I stumbled upon the Gnostic Community forum where a user said that Guénon was not a real initiate whereas Samuel Aun Weor (“pronounced “sam-ayel on vay-ohr””) was. The forum seemed quite serious at a glance, so I found out who this Weor was. Ah, the founder of the Gnostic Community. Of course! The man has written quite a few books with interesting titles. I chose two of them to see what this real initiate has to tell us. Of course I picked two titles that seemed interesting to me. Well, from the first page of “Alchemy & Kabbalah, the keys of radical spiritual transformation” it was more than clear that this Weor fellow is not for me. In his book he presents a mishmash of thin esotericism, combining Theosophy (the Blavatsky kind) with Eastern doctrines, a few Christian-sounding terms, flimsy alchemical and Kabbalistic symbolism and he structured his book after the Tarot. Weor uses the word Thelema implying that he read Crowley and probably also from Crowley comes the focus on sexual magic. Using sexual magic in the “Laboratorium Oratorium” (the act itself) “without spilling the cup of Hermes” or without wasting the “Ens Seminis” supposedly awakens your Kundalini that will on its turn awaken the chakras. Sex is the “Philosophical Stone”. There are a few practises that combine meditation and sleep and “the Arcanum A.Z.F.” that every real initiate uses. Weor uses a slightly irritating way of writing with very short sentenses and interesting-sounding words. I found nothing of the depth that his student finds in the writings of Weor. In fact, this little book (200 pages) worked on my nerves quite a bit. And I have got another one… 2009 Glorian Publishing, isbn 97819342063622
Abdel Wahid Yahia died in Cairo in 1951. Most of us will know this man better under his birth- and authors name René Guénon. Guénon was the major Traditionalist thinker hammering on the fact that a genuine initiation can only go through a “filiation”, an unbroken chain. In the West there are only two genuine esoteric orders left, both in decline. Perhaps this is the reason that Guénon opted for the Sufi path, the near Eastern esoteric Tradition. I find myself thinking about this sometimes. When the Western esoteric organisations might still be able to ‘do the trick’, but no longer understand what it is what they actually do, would there be real Sufism in the West to take over the task? Guénon probably did not leave France for nothing, but there are Sufi orders in the West. Would these groups just be mystical Muslims taking the name of Sufism or genuine esoteric orders in which religion is subsidiary?
Then I got an email of Stewart Bitkoff if I was interested in reviewing his new book “Sufism For Western Seekers; Path of the Spiritual Traveler In Everyday Life”. Sure I was! Of course I am preoccupied having read Guénon and other Traditionalists and on receiving this book I immediately noticed it is nothing like the heavy literature from the ‘Traditionalist school’. In fact, would the book be Traditionalist at all? In a ‘Guénonian’ sense it should be, but like I said, I am preoccupied. Bitkoff describes how he met a colleague at a hospital that he worked at and during lunch times Bitkoff and a varying group of colleagues had ‘classes’ of this first “mystical school” from the master/colleague. This goes on for about four years after which the author is directed to his second “mystical school” where he received some 10 years of long distance training, mostly involving reading books of Idries Shah (1924-1996), the Sufi teacher of our time. Like Bitkoff’s first teacher (whom he calls “Sam”) Shah stresses the fact that Sufism predates Islam and that it is the path to become a whole person and thus a better Muslim, Christian or Jew. (This) Sufism does not make the student leave society for study, but requires serious involvement in society, helping others. The book is presented as conversations between Bitkoff and a teacher (alternated with anecdotes). First this teacher seems to be “Sam”, later it becomes more likely that Bitkoff is talking “to self” as he would put it, his ‘higher Self’ in the terms of others. The tone is light and down-to-earth and what is presented is more of a general spiritual nature than information about the Sufi order. The second half becomes a bit more specific on methods and teachings, but overall I think I hoped for something deeper and dryer, while the book seems more focussed on people unacquainted with spiritual teaching in general and esoteric training in particular. But does the book suggest that the author was initiated in a genuine esoteric order (as I understand it from my previous literature)? The fact that his “first mystical school” was in an office rather than a ‘temple’ (or whatever) seems a bit odd, but of course when “Sam” has Guénon’s “sacred fluidium”, he should be able to pass it on in a mental hospital too, right? The students appear to receive “the Light” on several occasions, is that the ‘passing of the fluid’, the ‘initiation’ that ‘opens the third eye’? That can happen only once I take it. The word “initiation” Bitkoff uses not in a Traditionalistic, but more in the profane way of ‘getting acquainted with’ (e.g. on page 32). “Sam” can “direct the Light to each of us and we would experience it” (p. 89/90). This “[…] offered [a] state that would stay with me for 24 hours and was God’s present; it was an initiatory carress to lift me higher and teach me something.” (p. 94) “Sam” “was given the authority to teach” (p. 97) from a person long dead (what about the “filiation”?). He sure had something special: “It was as if Sam had some magical key which he used to unlock the door to my spiritual being.” (p. 102) “Also he was versed in all religions and understood every occult practice that I ever heard about.” (p. 106) About the Light, the teacher says on page 129: “The internal or spiritual essence, which gives life to the external religious form, is a living, vibrant element. This part, termed the Light in our presentation, is the inner core of life to the eternal form.” On page 156 the author says: “This initial caress, felt in the heart, is an initiation by the Master into the mystical school” which sounds more familiar in the context of my earlier literature. Also: “this learning must occur under certain conditions” (p. 157) could have been a quote of Guénon.
Conclusion from this uninitiated interested fellow? Couldbemaybe. I am sure that Bitkoff had a flying start in his spiritual development with his meetings with the colleague. Is this book about a regular, initiatic order? Not unlikely, but neither obviously. So should I go out and look for some Sufi master? I have no idea is this “Sam” is a representative Western Sufi, but he might well be of a modern-day initiate. I can only hope to run into such a person again and continue what I started.
2011 Abandoned Ladder, isbn 0615562809
David Lynch has been constantly smacked around my ears in the last weeks. Just before we took off for a week of New York City, I noticed that INLAND EMPIRE was to be released on DVD in that very week and up for preordering. Of course I did. Then in NYC we went to see the film “Klimt” and the previews before that not only announced Eraserhead back in the cinemas, but also a cinema documentary about the master of film. Two days later we are in some tiny bookshop and my girlfriend came to me with this book written by David Lynch himself. Naturally I got myself a copy! “Catching The Big Fish, meditation, consciousness, and creativity” is a real Lynch book. In his simple English he tries to express how transcendental meditation helps him in his live, in his painting and in his filming. In short and humerous chapters he writes about a great variety of subjects, including several of his films. Some information is old, sometimes what he writes is quite revealing. I may not always agree with the man or see things entirely the same, but Lynch definately does have an approach to film that I value way over most directors. This book may tell you a bit about why the films are as they are. You will learn some of the backgrounds and the way things come to be, but of course this book isn’t about Lynch’s films. In the end it actually turns out to be an ‘advertisement’ for transcendental meditation and the “David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace” to which a part of the price you pay for the book goes. Read his ideas, learn a bit (more) about his art. It’s an easy-to-read book, not thick, well-published and as always with Lynch, not easily tagged.