Skip to content

spirituality

Mystic Underground – Konstantin Serebrov (2001)

Books of Konstantin Serebrov have been translated into different languages, mostly Dutch and English. These translations are published by the Dutch publishing house Serebrov Boeken (‘Serebrov Books’). They are divided in series and one such series is ‘Lessons of Master G.’ which consists of three books: Follow Me, Live Three Incarnations In One and On The Path of Alchemical Fusion. (And the ‘psychedelic’ appendix Adventures of Master G and his faithful Disciples Morose and Bitumen in the Nigredo Valley, or Modern Alchemy. Phantasmagoria).

It took a little searching, but there were originally two Russian books and the three translations have different editions with different titles. The first book was originally called Один шаг в Зазеркалье (2001) which Deepl translates to ‘One step into the looking glass’. This became The Mystical Labyrinth In Russia translated by Robin Winckel-Mellish (a South African who lived in the Netherlands) in 2006. In 2015 a new edition (a new translation?) was published as Follow Me by Gouri Gozalov (the Gouri in the book I guess) and Maria Toonen (a Dutch woman).

The there was the book Мистический Андеграунд (‘Mystic Underground’) also published in 2001. This book is translated into two parts. The first edition of the first part was published in 2006 as The Mystical Underground Of Moscow and in 2016 as Live Three Incarnations In One. The second half was first published in 2006 as On The Path Of Alchemical Fusion and kept its title in the second edition of 2017. The physical copies have quite high prices at Amazon.

The current review is about the two part translation of Мистический Андеграунд (‘Mystic Underground’) to be obtained -as mentioned- as the titles Live Three Incarnations In One and On The Path Of Alchemical Fusion.

Just as Follow Me we basically have diary entries of Serebrov (“Kasyan”) and sometimes Gouri. How they give up their jobs to follow “Master G.” (Vladimir Stepanov) around Russian territory, constantly meeting familiar and new people, talking about ‘the Path’ and stumbling into ‘situations of high temperature’. A bit more than in the first part of the trilogy, we hear G. explaining things, mostly the bad elements of the characters of Serebrov and Gouri (which are very alike in many ways). Even though even in the last two decades of the previous century interest in the esoteric was dangerous in Russia, in every city where they go, new recruits (“sea cadets”) for the “Ship Argo” which is “in search for the mystical Golden Fleece” are found. These recruits are often lovely young ladies, but can also be male brutes. For two books I had the impression that even though G. is able to change the atmosphere in a group, give his recruits mystical experiences, etc. the “School” was mostly a teaching environment. Rudolf Steiner “who was his [G.’s] favourite author”, a bit of Blavatsky, but mostly Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Berdyaev and to some extend “Mamley”  (Yury Mamleyev (1931-2015) the ‘founder’ of the “Iuzhinskii Cirle”?) are authors that are referred to. In what way does that explain G.’s abilities? As I wrote elsewhere, G./Stepanov came from the “Iuzhinskii Kruzhok” (‘Iuzhinskii Circle’, sometimes spelled ‘Yuzhinsky’). Several of the people in the book can also be linked to this circle. At one point G. remarks that he “had become completely disillusioned about the circles of Moscow philosophers”, but he obviously remained in touch with some of its members.

Even though Serebrov and Gouri are constantly scoffed by G. about three quarters into the second book (the first part of the ‘Mystic Underground’ translations) Serebrov starts to teach himself and Gouri is made “mayor” or the hometown of the two, meaning that his is supposed to lead the local ‘circle’. As the book continues, “Kasyan” becomes more and more of a teacher and Gouri at the same time his helper and a disciple, but Gouri’s spiritual path rises slower than that of Kasyan.

Towards the end of the book Kasyan and Gouri go into a three week drinking frenzy at the “Admiral” (another Iuzhinskii member) after which they are initiated into the mysteries of alchemy in somebody’s kitchen by means of a short ceremony.

The appendix plays six years later. It also bears Serebrov’s name, but the writing style is completely different and (contrary to the first three books), “Morose” (a new nickname for Serebrov who became depressed because of his lack of progress) is written about in the third person. It is a psychedelic book which reads like the report of the lucid dreams that become more and more frequent in Kasyan’s and Gouri’s lives.

All in all the books make alright reads. They are mostly reports of spiritual seekers and especially the look into the remains of the Iuzhinskii Circle are interesting. As mentioned before, there are no ‘clear cut lessons’, no practices that you can copy, nor even an indication how to get in contact with the “School” should you be interested in that. The books give much to think about, suggestions for spiritual development, but then in a very alcoholic, Russian way, but all as parts of a narritive.

2001 Serebrov Boeken

Follow Me – Konstantin Serebrov (2018)

After reading Practical Alchemy I noticed that English Serebrov books are available in the Amazon Kindle store which lowered the barrier to try some more of his writings. I bought the first two of the series “Lessons From Master G.”, Follow Me being the first one.

The book was originally published in 2001 in Russian and was first made available in English in 2006. Where after the first book I had to look around a bit who “Master G.” would be, the current title begins with a photo saying: “This book is in memory of Vladimir Stepanov a.k.a. Master G”. So no secrets about his identity.

Where in Practical Alchemy Serebrov is the master and G is only in the background, Follow Me tells the story of how the author met his master. Just as the other book, it is written as a story with people talking and thinking; the observations of the author.

I am not entirely sure when everything in the book took place, but the second book starts in 1982, so I suppose we are here talking late 1970’ies. Serebrov presents himself as a searcher for enlightenment who is acquainted with other people who have the same goal. At some point he dreams he has to visit a friend and there he meets a mysterious person “just call me G”. This is the beginning of a lengthy apprenticeship.

We follow Serebrov as he is taken onboard the metaphorical ship of Master G and in spite of having a job, he is constantly called to accompany G to cities all over Russia. He has to choose between “the path” and normal life. On their travels the author meets a wide range of different people, many of whom appear to be other disciples of G, often charming young ladies, some male brutes. Everywhere the author comes, he is mocked by the other people present. Apparently this is a method of G to “raise the Alchemical temperature” in order smelt the author’s gold and to burn vices. The author describes talks between himself and G and between G and other people giving a bit of an idea of what is going on, but do not expect some sort of coherent philosophy or initiatic path.

In my review of The New Age Of Russia I wrote of Stepanov (G): “He was quite the character in the more intellectual type of esoteric groups.” Serebrov does not present him as just an intellectual. G’s eyes show infinity, his touch gives Serebrov a mystic moment, G controls the spiritual atmosphere in his presence, etc. In other words, G is the initiate who has a very personal approach of recruiting and teaching his students. Towards the end he says:

I’m busy creating a mystical group that will continue building on the School in the worlds behind the curtains.

As the story goes on, the reader gets an idea of the esoteric undercurrent in Russia, what kind of people are involved, different cities are encountered, some of the (drinking) habits of these often upper class people, the risks of esoteric interest in Russian society etc. A humble author who mercilessly describes his own doubts and failings. I suppose in later books he develops the confidence who portrays in Practical Alchemy.

Practical Alchemy – Konstantin Serebrov (2006)

By some accident I ran into the name of Serebrov. He was (is?) said to be a Russian esotericist working with Alchemical symbolism. Out of curiosity I looked to see what books he has available and found a Dutch publisher that has a lot of his books. As a matter of fact, it seems that this Dutch publisher also takes care of (the) other languages. At first glance it seems that there are more books in Dutch than there are in English. I happen to have picked one that is available both in Dutch and English. Originally they were written in Russian.

The books are divided over series. Practical Alchemy is the third of a series of three, so perhaps not the best introduction. The book is written as a story around a gathering of spiritual seekers who meet up frequently and the book is a report of one such camp. As teachers we have the I-character (Serebrov?) and “Master G.” who is presented as Serebrov’s teacher. In the book there are a host of students, ‘green’, ‘doubting Thomasses’, more experienced, etc.

Right from the start the reader is presented with all kind of jargon. “Horizontal karma”, letting “the wheel of karma rotate in opposite direction”, “energetic cocoon”, “kundabuffer”, “Schooltemperature” and most of all: “reconsideration” (word in English, but with Dutch conjugations, suggesting that the word is in English in the original texts), “deleting personal history” and “cutting ethereal lines”. Some of these phrases are explained along the way, some are not.

Serebrov appears to have been active in the Russian ‘esoteric underground’ of the 1980’ies, where he was acquainted with the systems of Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and Castenada and with some Eastern systems. He is a not uncritical follower, but the students in the book do speak about “tensegrity” and “magical passes”. There are all kinds of exercises that are recommended to students, some daily. These exercises are oddly specific. Think of a person, breath in, pull in energy a few inches below your belly button, turn your head from left to right and back five times, breath out half of the air in your lungs, etc. And there are many such exercises, sometimes explained, sometimes only mentioned. (“Do daily Tao exercises.”)

There is quite some attention to all kinds of spiritual paths. Serebrov wrote about Yoga, Tao, Alchemy, etc., but the Orthodox Church is half of the path to God. The book gives a wee bit of an idea of the ‘Russian spiritual underground’, but stresses that real progress can only be made in a school lead by a real master, hence: “Master G.” and his followers, such as Serebrov. Yet it is remarkably hard to find information about the school, when and where they meet, etc. G. seems to be a man named Iurii or Vladimir Stefanov who introduced Guénon in Russia. Interesting.

For a large part, Practical Alchemy is yet again book for spiritual seekers with some exercises and the suggestion that the only true path is presented. This is poured into a story with characters many people can relate to. Amusing are the ‘Russian elements’ such as Wodka which flows abundantly.

What about the reason I bought this book in the first place? Yes, there is ‘spiritual Alchemy’ here. There are 21 beautiful pen drawings, with fairly simple Alchemical symbology, but still recognizable. Several of the major symbols are used to explain the spiritual path, the phases of Alchemy, the king and queen, etc. Serebrov does have an odd explanation of the ouroborous as the lower self, though. The Alchemical element actually is interesting, but the whole ‘packing’ is a bit too fluffy to my liking. On the other hand, much of what I read is dry and academic, so a few notes on the spiritual path are good reminders.

I am not immediately planning on getting other Serebrov books, but I am just going to see what is available and decide then.

2006 Serebrov Boeken, isbn 9077820043

A Guide to Hindu Spirituality – Arvind Sharma (2006)

Finding this book in the “Perennial Philosophy” series of World Wisdom, I think I expected something different. Perhaps I got exactly what was to be expected.

The author has been to several Western universities and the book reads quite academically and philosophically, a bit annoyingly so actually. The author has picked a few subjects and dissects them minutiously. This leads to interesting thoughts and explanations, but Sharma sounds perhaps a bit too much like a Guénon or Schuon.

The “Hindu spirituality” also proves not to be used in a general way, but (mostly) refers to Advaita Vedanta.

The book is an alright read, but I think I expected something ‘less Western’.

2006 World Wisdom, isbn 1933316179

De Zwerver – Thorvald Ross (2022)

I have had the book for a while, but I first missed that it was published on 11/11/22 and then forgot to review it… In any case, the second short novel under the moniker of Thorvald Ross.

Just like in the previous De Laatste Heiden, the author is the I-person and narrator of the book. The new book is less ‘Northern heathen’ than the first one. The main character is a restless soul who keeps wandering (hence the title ‘wanderer’) in search for something. He finds himself in an idyllic little town where he receives a warm welcome. After a long philosophical talk with the major, Ross is taken around the town by the beautiful daughter of the major. All kinds of social and philosophical observations and metaphors are presented to the reader. This reminds me of Jan Amos Comemius’ Labyrinth of the World.

Just outside the town there is a famous school for philosophy, of course in the classical way. Ross attends the school, but things are not all that easy.

We encounter more imaginary that reminds me of classical works, such as the Metamorphoses of Apuleius and stories of Dante Alighieri. Ross’ adventure thus meanders through different story lines. Along the way the reader is repeatedly presented with contemplations on art, philosophy, esotericism, etc.

An enjoyable book, but only for Dutch speaking readers I am afraid.

2022 Boekscout, isbn 9789464682311

The Path Of The Warrior-Mystic – Angel Millar (2021)

Millar is a UK born American who is an esotericist, martial artist, Freemason and prolific writer. He wrote a couple of interesting book and had a bunch of websites (alone or in cooperation). Online Millar had some ‘masculinity’ topics, but these website(s) seem to be gone.

A while ago a new book was announced and I could pre-purchase a Kindle edition. Earlier than I expected, it appeared on my Kindle so I curiously started to read Millar’s latest.

“The Path” is a much different book from earlier titles. Also online Millar seems to be moving from esotericism to self-help with more focus on his hypnosis practice.

The book is mostly a self-help book focussed on the male. You will run into “positive thinking, visualization, and self-talk” and quite a bit of Karl Jung.

Millar proves to be a thinker and reader with a ‘hands on’ approach to self-development. In painting his subjects he goes from old and recent literature to art to Masonic symbolism and Eastern mysticism, Muslim thinkers and critics of the modern world. The latter sentiment is fairly strong throughout the work, but not very ‘Traditionalistic’.

Millar’s latest book is not a boring read, but I highly prefer his previous works. I especially do not feel much for the meditation, auto-suggestion exercises, etc. I do support his aim to call for self-improvement and not shun masculinity, but it seems that Millar develops in directions away from my personal preferences.

Autobiography Of A Sadhu – Rampuri (2010)

De Western guru of Aki Cederberg published his autobiography through the same publisher a decade earlier.

Baba Rampuri was born William A. Gans in 1950. Like Cederberg, his longing for genuine spirituality brought Gans to India around his 20th. Contrary to Cederberg, Gans nevermore left.

Rampuri’s autobiography is an interesting read. On his way to India he meets a Frenchman who has spent more time in India already. The Frenchman gives the young Gans some suggestions. The American starts to crisscross India and in no time the three months that his visum is valid have expired. He manages to prolong his stay.

Gans visits several gurus, gets immerged in the spiritual life of India and at some point decides to look for a guru that the Frenchman suggested. He was expected and is almost immediately pressured into being initiated. A unique event as Westerners usually are not allowed to join.

Now called Ram Puri, Gans describes the hard life of an Indian mystic, how he is taught and what he is taught. This makes vivid descriptions of a life completely alien to a Westerner and beautiful stories about Hindu Gods, Goddesses and Baba’s.

After a while Rampuri is sent on the road to meet other gurus, but he is supposed to be present at the Kumph Mela for another initiation into the tradition that his guru connected him to. Meeting both friendliness and severe resistance Rampuri gets his initiation.

Life is not all fun and joy and we follow Rampuri’s travels, but also the ‘travels of his mind’. His Western upbringing keeps bringing up doubts and whatever he does, he remains an outsider.

Towards the end there is a major turn of events which almost makes me wonder if this is actually an autobiography or rather a novel!

Rampuri’s autobiography is a very nice read, interesting and entertaining. It has both a Western and an Eastern attitude, being initiated into a tradition of storytelling, Rampuri is a storyteller.

2010 Destiny Books, isbn 1594773300

Journeys In The Kali Yuga – Aki Cederberg (2017)

The author is a spiritually restless Fin who here presents his spiritual autobiography.

His wanderings bring Cederberg to India and Nepal and the first part of the book describes his many journeys there. His vivid descriptions of the (religious) madness in these countries are quite ‘disenchanting’ at times.

On his trips, Cederberg meets kindred souls and after long searches he finds a teacher in the Naga Baba tradition who has Western roots. Baba Rampuri was to be his guru and initiator into the Indian esoteric tradition. This took place in Sweden!

Cederberg went back to India several times, the peak of his visits is the gigantic Kumph Mela ‘festival’ which houses 40 million people on a single day! That experience, as impressive as it was, was a turning point and the author slowly starts to drift back to ancient European spirituality.

He journies remained many but closer to home. Every once in a while Cederberg runs into some Western friends that he knows from his ‘Indian period’, but also these (and also as suggested by Rampuri), connect to ancient European religion. Not as much as Cederberg though.

Thus you can read the spiritual quest of a man living in the desacralized West. A quest with ups and downs. “Journeys In The Kali Yuga” makes a nice read.

2017 Destiny Books, isbn 9781620556795

The Emerald Tablet: Alchemy For Personal Transformation – Dennis William Hauck (1999)

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.

1999 Penguin Books, isbn 0140195718

Godless Paganism * John Halstead (editor) (2016)

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.

2016 lulu.com, isbn 1329943570