symbolism

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.

Tussen Hamer en Staf * Koenraad Logghe (1992)

This book was published in 1992 and has been long sold out. The writer doesn’t want it republished in this form, but hopes that some day a reworked version will be available. I was lucky enough to run into a second hand copy at antiqbook.com and I think I paid more for this second hand copy than it has costed new in 1992. The book is in Dutch (eh, Flemish) and the title means “Between hammer and staff”. The subtitle of the book is “pre-Christian symbolism in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe”. (“The Netherlands is pluriel in Dutch, so the writer means Belgium and the Netherlands.) Koenraad Logghe has investigated the pagan origins of various forms of ‘folkish art’ such as on houses, rooftops, fenses, doors, gravestones, etc., etc. You will read about the dividing of the year (summer side and winter side), the world-tree or Irminsul, mother earth symbols, acre-symbols, etc. The 187 page book is stuffed with images which serve as examples for the text. This way you will get an idea of some symbolism and possibly recognise it yourself when you run into it. Reading the book you will not only get an idea of the worldview or our ancestors, but also how elements of this worldview have survived until the present day. Often people know that certain things were used by the parents or grandparents, but they forgot the meaning of such ornamentations. Logghe gives you back the key to understand this kind of expressions. A wonderfull and very handy book if you have interests in this field. Just keep checking a site such as Antiqbook.com if you want to get a copy too. Maybe you can get a copy from a libarary and photocopy it (there are 13 Dutch libraries which have it). And even more maybe, a new version will be made available some day.
ISBN 9072100425 / 9030406666