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traditionalism

Universal Aspects Of The Kabbalah And Judaism – Leo Schaya (2014)

Of course there have been (and are) more Traditionalists than the handful I have reviewed before. I ran into a reference to Schaya who was a Traditionalist who wrote from a Jewish perspective. This is interesting, because Islamic and Vedantic approaches are much more common.

Schaya (1916-1986) was a Swiss from Polish parents who spent much of his life in France. His parents were non-practising Jews, but as a boy, Schaya was captivated by the mystical aspects of that religion. On encountering Frithjof Schuon, he moved to a Traditionalist perspective.

Schaya wrote mainly in French, also in German, but not many of his writings have been made available in English. The current title contains a collection of essays and talks, some of which had been translated before, some had not.

Schaya indeed proves to have a ‘very Traditionalist’ perspective. Fond themes appear to be the appearance of God to Moses and his people on the mount Sinai and the earlier encounter of Moses with the burning bush. Schaya brilliantly explains these famous Biblical events in quite a ‘Guénonian’ way with constant references to Jewish terminology. He dives into the depths of Jewish theology coupled with Kabbalah. Along his way, he frequently refers to Vedanta, but a lot more to Islam and Sufism, making comparisons and explaining aspects of either system with references to the other and both he exoteric and esoteric sides. Creation, the name of God, large subjects are dealt with with interesting perspectives.

The introduction of Patrick Laude says that many people find Schaya’s writing style difficult. I personally find him more easily to read than some of the books I read recently and even easier than Schuon.

All in all I find Schaya a very interesting author, so I am going to see what other works of his are available in English.

2014 World Wisdom, isbn 1936597330

Contra Mundum: Joseph de Maistre & The Birth Of Tradition – Thomas Isham (2017)

“Before René Guénon, there was Joseph de Maistre”.

I have known the name of De Maistre (1753-1821), probably because of the few references to him by the mentioned Guénon. I ran into this biography and decided to learn a bit more about the country-mate of Guénon.

The author makes many comparisons between the two men who were similar in several regards, but also different. Both were Catholics, went around in the ‘occult scenes’ of their time, joined Freemasonry and both revolted against the modern world of their ages.

De Maistre lived before, during and after the French Revolution (1789) and his Catholic orthodoxy did not like the direction France headed. He took a fierce stance with sharp polemics giving him the name of a gloomy thinker. Isham shows that De Maistre was nothing of that sort.

In spite of being a Catholic in difficult times, De Maistre -as mentioned- also explored other directions of thinking and knowing. Ironically, he was an active Freemason and Freemasonry was accused of being one of the major causes of the anticlerical sides of the French Revolution. In De Maistre’s life we see that things are not that black and white. Like he disapproved of a large part of society’s new worldview, he did of a part of Freemasonry.

Isham mostly focuses on De Maistre’s life. He compares ideas often to those of Guénon, but after finishing the little book (154 pages) I really cannot say much about De Maistre’s thinking. He appears to have been more philosophical (and perhaps theological) than the more esoteric Guénon, but that is about it.

According to Isham De Maistre is hardly known outside France. Some of his works are available in English by now. Isham thinks he remains a relevant political and religious thinker and a precursor to Traditionalism, so this biography may introduce him to more potential readers.

2017 Sophia Perennis, isbn 1621382508

The Essential Seyyed Hossein Nasr (2007)

Seyyed Hossein Nasr is a contemporary Traditionalist and born Muslim. He was born in 1933 and is still around, 87 years of age.

As the title suggests, this is a collection of his writings. The book was compiled by fellow Traditionalist William Chittick and has a foreword by Huston Smith.

Chittick made three divisions in the book. The first part is about religion, the opening texts is called “Living In A Multi-Religious World”. Then we have a larger part specifically about Islam and the last part is about Tradition.

Of course there are similarities between Nasr and other Traditionalists, but this book reads nothing like a book of Guénon or Coomaraswamy. Nasr is more academic on one side, and more traditional religious on the other. Of course he was born a Muslim in a conservative Muslim country (Iraq), so Islam is the basis of his thinking. And an interesting thinker he is! Nasr’s academic career obviously made him very well acquainted with different religions. Also he does not shun authors who were not Muslims from birth, such as Frithjof Shuon. Moreover, the different branches of Sufism are dealt with alongside the various kinds of ‘mainstream’ Islam.

As said, Nasr’s writing is quite academic. He can be somewhat extensive and his style is not really light reading. I liked the texts in which we see a modern Muslim looking at the world better than the Traditionalist texts at the end, but Nasr is good in the comparative approach and that is something I enjoy reading.

The book is undoubtedly meant as an introduction to the author and I guess you indeed will get a good idea of Nasr reading this book.

2007 World Wisdom, isbn 1933316381

The Art and Science of Initiation – Jedediah French & Angel Millar (editors) (2019)

Amazon.co.uk

It is good to see that more and more serious books about Freemasonry and esotericism see the light of day. Here we even have a book with partly a Traditionalistic approach. Very much so in the first essays even. Angel Millar opens with a text about René Guénon and Traditionalism. The most interesting article is Richard Smoley’s text about the Traditionalistic view on initiation. This text may raise a few eyebrows I think. As we go along, the essays become ‘lighter’ in one way, but ‘darker’ in another. From the personal story of Joscelyn Godwin to the ceremonial magic of Donald Tyson. Other authors are Mark Booth, Herbi Brennan, Richard Kaczynski, Chuck Dunning, Greg Kaminsky, Jeffey Kupperman, Adam Kendall, Timothy Scott and my biggest surprise, Susanna Åkerman whom I know for her work on Rosicrucian history, but who here presents an interesting text about women in early Scandinavian Freemasonry.

Not every text is as interesting as the next (to me), but this not too expensive book touches upon a few subjects that deserve more notoriety in Freemasonry, so it is good that this book was actually published by the famed Masonic publishing house Lewis Masonic from the UK, so it will probably be mostly Freemasons buying the book. The book is available from the publisher or Amazon UK (click cover). It would be nice if the other Amazon stores would list it too.

2019 Lewis Masonic, isbn 0853185638

Occultism and Traditionalism – Christian Giudice (2016)

gupea.ub.gu.se

A thesis delivered at the department of humanitarian studies at the university of Göteborg. That bound to be one of these preposterously expensive academic publications, right? Well, not this time. The book is available for free as a PDF from the university’s website. Click on the cover.

The book caught my attention because of the subtitle: “Arturo Reghini and the Antimodern Reaction in Early Twentieth-Century Italy”. Reghini (1878-1946) was a Freemason, Traditionalist and is probably best known in the English speaking world for having been acquainted with Julius Evola. In spite of the relative popularity of Evola and the tremendous influence that Reghini supposedly had on the man, it is strange that close to nothing of or about Reghini has been translated to English. Giudice made a firm first step to change that.

Being a thesis, the book has a lot fairly annoying academic style-forms. Pages filled with text for people who probably will not read the entire work. The first quarter of the book is filled with introductions to the subject, about the methodology, etc. Then every chapter is again summarized before it starts and ends with a conclusion (usually another summery). Of course there is a load of notes, references and a lengthy bibliography.

In his book the author makes a lot of effort to portray Reghini in his day and age. He describes social sentiments and esoteric currents in the period leading up to Mussolini’s fascism. Giudice gives a history of Italian Freemasonry and how Reghini fitted into that history. The same with political developments.

All this lays partly outside my interests, but context is usually interesting or at least useful and it, of course, explains how Reghini came to be himself. From early Theosophical involvements to “fringe” Freemasonry, as Reghini clearly saw the weak side of ‘regular’ Italian Freemasonry which he found too political. What is a bit weird is that the author uses the word “fringe” to refer to ‘irregular’ Freemasonry, while usually the word “fringe” means that an organisation is akin to Freemasonry, but not Freemasonry in itself.

Of course Giudice says a lot about the Traditionalist milieu that Reghini moved in, a Traditionalism that Giudice calls “Roman Traditionalism” and sets against the “Guénonian Traditionalism” of René Guénon et al. Also Evola enters and leaves the picture. With his writings Reghini predated Guénon’s anti-Theosophical writings and Evola’s “Imperialismo Pagano”, so you can say that Reghini influenced both better known Traditionalists.

The book shows an interesting investigation of an interesting man in an interesting period in time. Like I said, this is almost the first information about Reghini available in English, so hopefully this very good introduction will lead to attention to the Italian author and the translation of his works. It would be nice of Giudice’s book would be made available in an affordable printed edition too.

A nice bonus. The author translated “Imperialismo Pagano” at the end of the book, so there we have the first of Reghini’s writings in English.

2016 Göteborg University, isbn 9789188348753
You can find a few quotes here.

Al-Kimia – John Eberly (2004)

Amazon.com

The title and description of the book give an idea that the book does not live up to. The subtitle is: “The Mystical Islamic Essence of the Sacred Art of Alchemy” and the description suggests that the book presents a Traditionalistic approach to shed light on the Islamic history of alchemy. As I said, that is not exactly what the book delivers.

The book is only 136 and already on page 65 the appendices start. Up until then you mostly get biographies of Sufis. All of them undoubtedly had something with alchemy, but Eberly’s book reads more like a book about Sufism (or rather: Sufis) than a book on alchemy. The biographies are mostly just that, they give an idea of the lives of the men, but not too much about their thoughts. This may be interesting in a way, but not what I hoped for.

One appendix is an alchemical recipe, then follows the Emerald Tablet and after that a lengthy glossary of Islamic mystical and alchemical terms. This is actually a nice extra, but I would have preferred it had the book stayed closer to the subject.

2004 Sophia Perennis, isbn 9780900588488

Freemasonry, The Esoteric Tradition – Fabio Venzi (2016)

If I am correct, there are now three books of Fabio Venzi available in English. The first book was a collection of essays called The Influence Of Neoplatonic Thought On Freemasonry, which I can only find for a preposterous price of $ 368,29. Then we have the previously reviewed Studies On Traditional Freemasonry and this one. The last two are available from Lewis Masonic.

In spite of the title, the present book does not have a whole lot of information about Freemasonry. Rather, it is a contemporary Traditionalistic book with some references to Freemasonry. The author starts with an introduction to Traditionalism and speaks about some of its best-known exponents. Interesting in this part is that he comments on some of the ideas of people such as Guénon, Evola and Coomaraswamy.
Later on some ‘less likely Traditionalists’ are spoken about, such as Carl Gustav Jung of whom Venzi seems to be quite fond. Jung gets many pages which do not really interest me.
Just as in the previous book that I reviewed, there are other parts which I fail to see the significance of. Largely, the book is interesting though and Venzi again proves to have some interesting and thought-provoking ideas. He also has a couple of interesting views on Masonic symbolism.

I enjoyed Studies… more, but The Esoteric Tradition again makes a nice read, especially because it is a contemporary Traditionalistic work which also dares to thread other paths than the usual.

2016 Lewis Masonic, isbn 0853185344

Studies On Traditional Freemasonry – Fabio Venzi (2013)

I ran into a Traditionalist Freemason! Fabio Venzi is an Italian Freemason (Grandmaster of the Gran Loggia Regolare d’Italia at the time of writing) who saw a few books being made available in English. The original title of this 2012 book is Introduzione alla Massoneria so the translators were aware of the Traditionalistic content of the book.

Venzi wrote a highly interesting work that is ‘very Traditionalistic’. The author has this authoritarian tone and disdain for ‘lesser’ ways of working that we also find with other Traditionalists. He quotes Guénon and Evola extensively (and hence is not afraid for Evola’s bad name), but he certainly is no slavish follower. Would he have been a slavish follower of Guénon, he probably would not have been a Freemason to start with. He shows himself an independent thinker when he proves not to be afraid of citing an author such as Charles Leadbeater.

What makes the book particularly interesting, though, is that Venzi quotes country mates of his, some of whom I never encountered in English before. I am mostly thinking of Arturo Reghini. But also Evola and even Mircea Eliade are quoted from Italian titles that I do not immediately know an English counterpart of.

Venzi has a take on Freemasonry that was new to me. He is of the opinion that Freemasonry did not directly evolve from “operative” Masonry; that Freemasonry started a a moralistic organisation that only got esoteric later. That esotericism mostly came from the so-called Cambridge Platonists.
As modernity’s destructive course ran on, Freemasonry was effected and fell back to a modernistic and moralistic organisation that has (almost?) lost its initiatic chain.

This story, Venzi tells with though-provoking chapters, but also with chapters that come across fairly superfluous to me. Quite large parts are not (really) about Freemasonry, so I can recommend this book not only to people who are interested in Freemasonry, but also to people who are interested in reading the thoughts of a contemporary Traditionalist. There is enough in this book for book types of reader.

Indeed, an unexpected book to run into. Venzi is a little less dreadful about Freemasonry as Guénon or Evola, but even though postponed, Venzi also sees a downfall for Freemasonry.

2013 Lewis Masonic, isbn 9780853184461
See here for quotes from the book.

The Great Triad – René Guénon (1991)

I was rereading some works of Guénon and there were several reverences to this book that I did not have. I could quickly get a cheap copy of it, so this is a title to add to my Guénon library. Most other books are published by Sophia Perennis, but this time I got a Quinta Essentia book.

As the cover of this version suggests, there is quite some ‘Chinese information’ in this book. The symbol is called Wang and the three horizontal lines Guénon connects to heaven, man and earth, the vertical line connects the three. Hence: a triad. There are many more references to (ancient) Chinese philosophy in this book.

Of course there are even more references to other traditions. Guénon went out for all different kinds of triads, such as the alchemical sulphur, mercury and salt; the Christian spiritus, anima, corpus and of course the Hindu Triratna.

The most interesting part is the beginning. Guénon finds it odd that all trinities are so easily compared, while they are not. He makes a difference between trinities in which the two emanate from the one, like in T’ai Chi -> T’ien and Ti; and trinities in which two bring forth a third, father, mother -> son. Then -of course- there are less clear trinities, such as Father, Son, Holy Ghost.

But there are also ‘ternaries’ in the book, heaven and earth, solve and coagula, etc. and representations of them such as Yin and Yang, the double spiral and more.

Indeed, The Great Triad is another of Guénon’s books about symbolism, a type that I enjoy a lot. Of course you will also run into his Traditionalist ideas with -for example- a chapter about “Distortions on modern philosophy”.

The book is available from both publishing houses I named before. My copy has the following information:

1991 Quinta Essentia, isbn 1870196074

Against The Modern World – Mark Sedgwick (2014)

I have known about this book since it came out, but I do not remember why I never bought it. Perhaps it was first published as an expensive academic publication? The colofon says: copyright 2004, but first issued as a paperback 2009. In that case I still could have bought it 8 years ago.

The subtitle is “Traditionalism and the secret intellectual history of the twentieth century”. That already implies that the book is not just a biography of the most famous Traditionalists. It looks a bit like the author had to stretch the concept a bit to fill the book though.

The book starts with chapters about “Traditionalism” and “Perrenialism”. In these chapters you will find the biography of René Gunénon. His adventures in esotericism and occultism, his pursuit of an academic career and eventually how he started to walk his own path. It shows that Guénon was but a man with his own failures. Sedgewick portrays him as an armchair esotericist who writes about Hinduism without ever having been to a Hindu country or even met a Hindu. Also it took a long time before Guénon actually became a practical Traditionalist. His early initiations into orders that often did not fit his later frames were all abandoned and Guénon did not follow an exoteric religion until he moved to Cairo and that was not even his own idea.
Also in these chapters you will learn about Ananda Coomaraswamy and the way these two persons were in contact with a whole range of people.

The next part of the book is about “Traditionalism in practice” and here we first follow Frithjof Schuon and his Sufi order that at some point started to drift away from ‘Guénonian Traditionalism’.
After this we move to the political dimension of Traditionalism and (of course) focuses of Julius Evola.

In the last part, Sedgewick describes how Traditionalism spread over the world through (neo-)Sufi orders, the academia (Mircea Eliade) and people with Traditionalist leanings, but not Traditionalists per se. Especially in that last part the information gets a bit ‘thin’. Stories about people and organisations who may have never read a single Traditionalist book, but shared elements of the philosophy are described along with currents that fit the book better in my opinion.

Overall the book is fairly interesting. The writings of some Traditionalists get some context. In what phase did Guénon, Schuon, Nasr, etc. write a certain book? It is somewhat interesting to see what became of Traditionalism, but I agree with critics that Sedgewick focuses quite a bit on politics that are only vaguely aligned with Traditionalism, such as certain currents in Russia.

The book is ‘de-mystifying’ in the regard that Sedgewick does not shy to describe the mistakes and flaws of the people involved. Some will call him anti-Traditionalist for that, but to me, Sedgewick does not come across that way; not entirely in favor either, but I think he is a genuinely interested scholar.

“Against The Modern World” makes a descent book to get some context to Traditionalism from a non-Traditionalist author.

2009 Oxford University Press, isbn 0195396014