Category Archives: traditionalism

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. read more

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 Sedgewick (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

Spiritual Body And Celestial Earth * Henry Corbin (1977)

However in writing style, this book is a much easier read than the recently reviewed Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam, this new title proved to be quite a read. It is not like it is extremely big (372 pages a large part notes and biography) and I thought I knew a thing or two about Mazdeism and Shi’ite Islam, but this book constantly gave me a feeling of information overload with descriptions that I did not (immediately) understand or failed to see the connections aimed at. Still the book makes a nice read and some of the traditional texts that are published are beautiful, but it is not like I have a clear idea of what this book is actually about.

The author starts with about 100 pages with his own introduction, descriptions, etc. The subject at hand seems to be the concept of two cities, Hurqalya and Jabalqa, which are part of what Corbin calls the Mundus Imaginalis or “Imaginal world”. Many speculations have been made about the nature of these cities and its inhabitants. After a few of these speculations, Corbin prints “selections from traditional texts” which make out the next 170 pages. The texts are from authors from the 12th to the 19th centuries. Of most of them I never heard, but a better-known author that seems Corbin’s favorite is Shihabuddin Yahya Suhrawardi.

I cannot tell you a whole lot about this book. Perhaps the audience that Corbin aimed at is better versed in near Eastern religion and philosophy than myself. As a layman I can say that the part that Corbin wrote himself is informative enough (but I do not remember much of it) and the traditional texts vary from very dry to more mystical texts, the latter of which I prefer to read.

1977/1989 Bollingen Series, isbn 0691018839

Prayer Fashions Man * Frithjof Schuon (2004)

When looking for another title to read of Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998) I ran into this title subtitled “Frithjof Schuon on the spiritual life”.

“Prayer Fashions Man” is about prayer in a wide sense of the word. Schuon was Swiss who chose Sufism as his path, but as he saw a single Source for all religions, he could also use elements of other paths. With this state of mind, Schuon became a teacher for people from many different religions. The book is not really a book that the author wrote, but a compendium of texts. This happens a lot with Traditionalistic literature. The book is compiled by James Cutsinger who made more of such books.

Whereas most of these compendia contain essays, “Prayer Fasions Man” more starts as a collection of quotes, some no more than a few lines long. I find reading just quotes quite annoying so the book worked on my nerves a bit. Fortunately there are also longer quotes of upto a few pages. These quotes are about “the spiritual life” and show a completely different mind from most modern men. Schuon was religious to the core and some quotes give a peak into his hard and disciplined spiritual life while others show the reader how to incorporate spirituality in modern, daily life.

There sure are a few quotes to ponder about long and hard, but also many that I just read over. In totally I cannot say that this is a magnificent book. It is a nice read with a couple of peaks.

The cover is a painting of Schuon, by the way, he had a deep sympathy for American Indians.

2004 World Wisdom, isbn 0941532658

An Introduction To Sufi Doctrine * Titus Burckhardt (1951/1976)

I recently read and reviewed Burckhardt’s “Alchemy” (click on the author’s name above). That book is a much easier read. Now I noticed that there are two translations of this introduction to Sufism. I got a translation of D.M. Matheson from 1976, but there is also a translation by William C. Chittick from 2008. I do not know who is the translator of the title that I linked the cover to. I could not even find the cover of the version that I have on the web, let alone a link to that particular publication. In any case, I do not know if this book was written in a more difficult style of translated in such a manner.

This little book (126 pages) is divided in three parts with 5, 6 or 7 chapters. The sections are called “The nature of Sufism”, “The doctrinal foundations” and “Spiritual realization”. The first part makes a nice introduction speaking of different kinds of Sufism. In the second we learn about what Sufism has to say. The first part is the most interesting since it describes how Sufis reach for the above. Not very much in depth though, but enough to get an idea.

Burckhardt was, of course, a Traditionalist. You may know that the Sufi doctrine is quite close to the Traditionalistic way of thinking in several aspects. This is undoubtely the reason that more than one Traditionalist became Muslim or Sufi. The Traditionalistic approach may have coloured Burckhardt’s account written down in this book, but I am not versed in Sufi doctrine enough to be able to say anything about this.

Like the title says, this is an introduction to Sufi doctrine. I guess I will try to find a more in depth book, because this path is certainly interesting.

1951 Du Soufisme, 1976 The Aquarian Press, isbn 0850302927

Alchemy * Titus Burckhardt (1960/2006)

This book was originally published in German in 1960 and already in 1967 there was an English translation. In 1997 Fons Vitae republished this English translation which was reprinted only in 2006. The Fons Vitae version is beautiful to see. The book is a bit more yellow than in the picture, has a wonderfull, minimalistic design and a matt cover.

Anyway, Burckhardt (1908-1984) wanted to show that alchemy was actually a “science of the cosmos, science of the soul” (as the subtitle goes) and not the proto-science (or worse: ‘primitive science’) that is so often made of it. In little over 200 pages Burckhardt speaks about alchemical symbolism and the aims and goals of alchemy. His Traditionalistic approach makes the book a wonderfull read in which you will not only learn a lot about alchemy, but you will also be able to see it as a spiritual path. Contrary to some Traditionalistic writers, Burckhardt offers a nice read in a stimulating tone. Lastly, the author reproduces several images that I never saw, mostly from manuscripts that he found in the Basle University library.

A wonderfull book indeed.

1960 Alchemie; 2006 Fons Vitae, isbn 1887752110

The Symbolism Of The Cross * René Guénon (1931/1962)

Again a compilation of lectures and articles by René Guénon compiled in a book. Originally this book was published under the title Le Symbolisme De La Croix in 1931. The first English translation was published in 1962, but I have the fourth revised edition of 2001. I actually bought this thin book (150 pages) waiting for another book of Guénon that took longer to get. I liked the idea of a book by Guénon about symbolism rather than his more ‘philosophical’ works and that also makes this book a step up the other one that by now is in my possession as well.
It is quite amazing how deep the author went into the symbolism of the cross. The book is not just about the symbol, but Guénon writes about directions of space, opposites, states of being, the serpent and what not. You get the idea, this book is not about a sign made up of two stripes, but about a symbol. Especially in the first half of the book this is very intesting and in general Guénon sheds light on sides of the symbol that I would have never thought of. This is not a book to learn about Guénon, his ideas and Traditionalism, but it does form an aspect of the matter the man dealt with of course.
2001 Sophia Perennis, isbn 0900588659