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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

The Path Of Cinnabar * Julius Evola (1963/2009)

I was looking what to read and had to think of Evola. After looking around a bit, I opted for the book that the translator has subtitled “an intellectual autobiography”. What a great book! I have read several books of this controversial author and many years ago I even wrote a biography of the man, but like the man says several times in his book: this is the ultimate guide to his ouevre.
Evola lived from 1898 to 1974. He wrote Il Cammino del Cinabro when he thought it was time to look back at his life and work, especially the latter. By the time Evola started to work on this autobiography, his popularity started to rise after a couple of decades of being almost totally ignored. Therefor he thought it high time to put his works in perspective and to create some sort of guidance for his new readership. Now, over 50 years later, The Path of Cinnabar is still very much fitted for that!
The book starts as a relatively normal biography. Evola did not want to write about himself, but about his ideas, but of course he has to add some personal notes here and there. Early in the book he writes about his Catholic upbringing, his break and the way he looked towards Catholicism afterwards. This is pretty much like my own story, but Evola articulates his story a lot better than I could have. From his anarchistic and artistic period, to his encounter with Eastern thought and occultism, Evola is very open about the development of his thinking. What is more, he is also very open about what he wrote at the time and how he looks at his ideas of the time when he wrote The Path of Cinnabar. This is particularly revealing when he comes to his political ideas and how these developped. Those parts also bring perspective to the most common objections agains Evola, but will also confirm some ideas of his enemies.
Regardless Evola the politician, I find the total overview of the development of his philosophy very interesting, particularly when he comes to his agreements and disagreements with René Guénon. Quite surprisingly on a couple of occasions I tend to prefer Evola’s approach to that of Guénon (but not always). Some parts (especially his philosophical phase) are not as interesting as the rest, but the larger part is great reading.
Indeed a work that cannot be missed by Evola’s followers and his enemies and it definately fullfills the function that it was written for: explaining and framing the works of Julius Evola that he produced in more than five decades. What makes the book even better: Evola proves himself a great writer and the translator turned his book into a wonderfull text in English.
1963/2010 Arktos Media, isbn 1907166025

Paths To Transcendence * Reza Shah-Kazemi (2006)

A promising subject for a book, a Traditionalist investigation of three ‘mystics’ from three different religions, the Hindu Shankara, the Muslim Ibn-Arabi and the Christian Eckhart. I thought to know the author of this book from the Luvah journal, but apparently I had ran into him somewhere else. In any case, Shah-Kazemi’s book proves to be one of those typical contemporary Traditionalistic works; overly academic with all kinds of new words and sentences such as: “The dualistic mystic, on the other hand, sees himself in existential subordination to the Lord in all but the unitive state; the ontological distinction between the two entities thus remains insuperable.”

The investigations of the three ‘mystics’ is much more academic or perhaps even philosophical from what I hoped to encounter. Especially in the three chapters entirely dedicated to one of the ‘mystics’ I frequently lose track in all the details and apparent sidesteps. When the three authors are compared lateron, things get more interesting. Ironically, towards the end Kazemi introduces a couple of philosophers (I am no big fan of philosopy) who wrote against mysticism and Kazemi uses the teachings of the three ‘mystics’ to parry the remarks and this part was nice to read. But the book goes on and on and only here and there catches my attention positively.

I guess this book is more interesting to people who are interested in Shankara, Ibn-Arabi and Meister Eckart than to people who are looking for a Traditionalistic approach to the trio.
2006 World Wisdom, isbn 0941532976

Touchstones Of The Spirit * Harry Oldmeadow (2012)

Oldmeadow seems ‘less a Traditionalist’ as I thought, or at least, in this collection of essays he does not come across as an original writer, rather an explainer of other people’s writings. “Touchstones Of The Spirit” is divided in three parts. In the first part, “Echoes Of Tradition”, the author introduces his readers to different traditions from Vedanta to Aboriginal and Amerindian. The second part is called “The Wastelands Of Modernity” of which the title says enough. Nice in this part is that the author tells us a bit about New Age icon Eckhart Tolle and his writings. The last part also has a fitting title: “East And West”.
What is nice about the book is that Oldmeadow also makes references that other Traditionalists seem to prefer to avoid (for example computers) and that he is able to write from the perspective of a traditional society just as easily as from a Muslim of Christian one. The fact that he lists Nietzsche among “the false prophets of humanity” might disgruntle some (would be) Traditionalists.
I found this book of Oldmeadow not really original, but he is well able to explain his varying subjects. Also Oldmeadow seems less ‘hardline Traditionalistic’ as some other authors on World Wisdom.
A note to e-readers. I got my ebook from the Kobo store, but however this book does have the good ebook-features such as footnote-previews, the book itself was quite awfull with fontsize changing every paragraph from normal to very small.
2012 World Wisdom, isbn 1936597039

Aristokratia * K. Deva (editor) (2013)

You probably heard the story before, but in case you do not, once upon a time there was a magazine called Primordial Traditions. The best articles were published in a book with the same name and later Primordial Traditions became a series of journals, intially all with the word “tradition” in the title. The publisher changed names to Numen Books and now publishes both journals and ‘normal’ books. Besides Northern, occult, etc. traditions there was initially the plan to make a really Traditionalistic issue. This idea was later taken into a larger subject so now we have “Aristokratia”. Also it is presented as a journal of its own, not published by Numen books and not under the name of Gwendolyn Toynton/Taunton, however her hand in the project is clear. Aristokratia, that rings Nietzsche does it not? Indeed, the German philosopher is present in virtually every essay in this journal. Taunton opens the journal with ‘the real Nietzsche’ and his “aristocratic radicalism”. The article also clearly shows how aristocracy is looked at in this journal. There is a variety of essays to be found. Articles about philosophers such as Emil Cioran and Azsacra Zarathurstra (of the Shunya revolution), (of course) a text about Evola and some about Guénon, anti-modernists and writing not about someone, but of someone such as the amusing aphorism-style (and therefor very ‘quotable’) “Confrontation with nothingness” by Brett Stevens. Especially towards the end the texts are more Traditionalistic than philosophical or political, like my own “Traditionalism vs Traditionalism”.
All in all the journal became twice the size of earlier journal in these series and it again became a nice collection of texts, some of which are more interesting than others, but like its predecessors, “Aristokratia” is a good buy if you like not too academic, but also not too loose a book about subjects that matter to only a few of us.
2013 Manticore Press, isbn 9780987158185, Aristokratia website

The Underlying Religion * Martin Lings & Clinton Minnaar (editors) (2007)

Actually amazing, but virtually all Traditionalistic books are anthologies of some sort. Books of specific authors are often collections of essays earlier published elsewhere and there are many books such as the present title in which texts of different authors are brought together. Judging the title, this book is intended to be an introduction to Traditionalism. The complete title goes The Underlying Religion: An Introduction to the Perennial Philosophy. The book is divided in a couple of subjects. The first group is titled “Tradition and modernity” and consists of three essays of Lord Northbourne. Then follows “Traditional cosmology and modern science” with texts of Martin Lings, Titus Burckhardt and Philip Sherrard. The next three essays are about “Metaphysics” are are from the hands of René Guénon, Martin Lings and Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Lings, Ghazi bin Muhammad and René Guénon form the trinity about “Symbolism”. Lings, Ananda Coomaraswamy and William Stoddart have texts in the part about “Mysticism”. Frithjof Schuon, Titus Burckhardt and Marco Pallis have texts headed with “Beauty”. The last three texts are about “Virtue and Prayer” and are of Tage Lindbom, Reza Shah-Kazemi (about Schuon) and Titus Burckhardt.
Indeed, a variety of texts and (up to a certain degree) a variety in authors, old and and more recent and well-known and lesser known. The book certainly contains a few classic texts which are also valuable to people who are well acquainted with Traditionalistic thinking. For people to whom all this is new, The Underlying might act as a good, but not too easy, introduction.
2007 World Wisdom, isbn 1933316438

Luvah Journal volume four

The first three volumes suggested that Luvah would be a journal with issues, so year 1, issue 3, etc., but then online. The previous issues where published somewhat as a journal, for example in one PDF with a cover and all. Luvah Journal volume 4 is ‘just’ a page on the website with links to the articles in PDF and html (no longer Epub unfortunately). A bit like I also said about issue 1/3, Luvah does not seem very much Traditionalistic. There is academia, philosophy and poetry. Nonethess there are, like in the previous issues, interesting articles. The article about William Blake was less interesting than it seemed initially, but the article about feminism and “queer theories” in Judaism is something you do not hear a whole lot about. Keith Doubt wonders if ‘reading e’ is the same as reading a book. His article is too psychological for me and he seems to largely miss a big development in digital reading, but he does raise a few interesting questions. For the rest you can read poetry, prose, a book review and another few texts.
Click on the cover to go to the Luvah website.

The Heart Of Islam * Seyyed Hossein Nasr (2002)

Recently I reviewed Frithjof Schuon’s “Understanding Islam“. Actually I find that title more fitting for Nasr’s book, but of course Schuon was 26 years ahead. While after reading Schuon’s book I had the idea that I perhaps learned something about Islam, I did not understand it better. With Nasr’s book this is much different.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr (1933-) is a born Muslim (Persian) and raised in the Middle East. He studied in America where he now also teaches. He is a lifelong student of Schuon, well-respected in the scholarly West and in traditional Islamic circles and a Traditionalist (as was Schuon). Many leading Traditionalists were born as Muslims, or converted to Islam. This is not so strange, because Islam sees itself as a branch of the religio perennis. As the author writes: “Islam sees itself as at once the primordial religion, a return to the original religion of oneness, and the final religion”.

For each [people] We have appointed a Divine Law and a way. Had God willed, He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you. So vie with one another in good works. Unto God ye will all return, and He will then inform you concerning that wherein ye differed. (Qur’an 5:48)

“The Heart Of Islam” is divided in seven parts. The first explains the quote above. In the second you will learn that there is not something as the Islam. Like there are many forms of Christianity, there are many forms of Islam. Nasr describes the big division between Sunnism and Shi’ism and currents and schools within these two. These currents and schools are roughly to be divided in Traditional, modernistic and “so-called Fundamentalistic”. Nasr is glad to conclude that the first group is still by far the biggest, but unfortunately the second is growing and the latter gets most attention in Western media. The other parts speak about more specific subjects. Divine and human laws; peace, love, beauty and compassion; the community; justice and human rights and responsibilities. Nasr discusses at length and at various places what the Shari’ah really is, but also how often the term is misused for non-religious reasons. Very interesting discussions follow about environmental issues, the decline of the world caused by the West, religion, politics, society, etc.

Now Nasr is, like I said, a Muslim by birth. He knows the ‘Islam from the desert’ and is well familiar with the Western world. When describing elements of Islam he often quickly passes over excesses of recent years. I am sure that these elements are much enlarged by our media and governments and it is not that the author is totally uncritical and tries to turn everything into something positive, but I would have liked to read a bit more about certain subjects and I totally miss the question of honour and the honour killings. It is probably true, but Nasr blames the West for all excesses as well. There were no problems before Napoleon went south and currents such as modernism and “fundamentalism” did not exist before the West came to impose the materialistic way of thinking and democracy. Basically Nasr’s book seems to be a plea to the West to leave the “abode of Islam” in peace to solve its own problems in its own way, together with, but not led by, the West and the East. I think this is a fair call.

Read “The Heart Of Islam” to learn about Islam, understand it better, think about what happens in the world since the last centuries and get acquainted with an interesting religion that is much alive and has a big role to play in the world.

When one thinks of Islam, one should go beyond the repetitive scenes on television of wars and battles, which unfortunately abound in today’s world, to behold the peace and harmony of Islamic art seen in the great mosques, traditional urban settings and gardens, and the rhythm and geometry of calligraphy and arabesque designs; read in the poems that sing of the love that permeates all of God’s creation and binds creatures to God; and heard in the strains of melodies that echo what we had experienced in that primordial morn preceding creation and our descent into this lowly world.

2002 HarperOne, isbn 0060730641