A Traditionalist book about Christianity is not too common. I am also reading a book with texts of Frithjof Schuon and Schuon is also featured quite a bit in this book, so that was perhaps a bit Schuon overkill. An amusing text in both books -though- is a text about how some forms of Protestantism -in the eyes of Schuon- are still a valid Tradition.
There are texts of authors that I know, such as James Cutsinger, Titus Burckhardt, Martin Lings Ananda Coomarasway, Rama Coomaraswamy and René Guénon, but also authors unknown to me.
The book is divided in the sections “foundations”, “spirituality”, “sacred art”, “comparative religion”, “the universality of Christian mystics” and “the modern deviation”.
With such a big variety of authors and subjects it is not that strange that not all essays equally appealed to me. A nice surprise was the text of the Hesychast “Bisschop Kallistos Ware” which brings a lot of nuance to the relatively Jesus Prayer (mantra) of the Hesychasm. I also enjoyed “The Christians in Moorish Spain” by Duncan Townson.
A compendium with a wide approach. An enjoyable read.
The author had me on the wrong foot. In the first book of the “Spiritual Freemasonry series”, he spoke about three books, in the second the third and fourth were announced, but from the third I understood that there would be only three. It took me over two years to find out that Freemasonry: Royal Arch actually was published in September 2020 as announced in the second book.
So, we have “Initiation By Light” about the first degree of craft/blue Freemasonry, “Spiritual Alchemy” about the second, the “Quest For Immortality” about the third and now “Royal Arch” about the fourth? Not entirely. The other books are not specifically about a single degree, but rather different approaches to the history of Freemasonry which only roughly correspond to one of the degrees. The fourth book indeed is about the Royal Arch, but not just about the Royal Arch.
So in the by now familiar fashion, the reader is presented with detailed history of “revival” Freemasonry (around 1717), but also less common theories, interpretations about symbolism, etc. a nice mix between history and interpretation of Freemasonry.
Earnshaw comes back to his history of Chinese influences on Freemasonry, even going so far as stating that Freemasonry is Daoism in a Western jacket. Less interesting -to me- are lengthy histories of mysticism, spiritualism and astral travelling, which are taken too far away from the actual subject.
Just as between the earlier volumes there are both repetitions and elaborations to the other books and sometimes a revision. The different approaches are to some extend, but not entirely, worked into a single theory.
Especially when you enjoy combined history and practice and interpretation of Freemasonry, Earnshaws books are certainly worth the read.
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’.
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.
This history of Freemasonry is well received, also among members. It has been translated into several languages and it has different editions. That did not bring the book very high on my reading list, but in the end I was curious enough to give it a try. Well, I am quite unimpressed…
Rather than being a history of Freemasonry, the book is more a social history of Freemasonry. Perhaps the subtitle should have made that more obvious to me: “how Freemasons made the modern world”.
I find the book annoyingly sensationalist. It starts with the memoirs of John Coustos who was taken by the inquisition and confessed to a great many things under torture. After chapters about the art of memory and the days around 1717 London you will mostly read about Freemasonry in connection to large social events. Endless numbers of pages about Freemasonry and the Carbonari, the Maffia, the P2 lodge scandal in Italy; Freemasonry in fascist and National-Socialist regimes, the French Revolution, the US Confederation, colonies, etc. It all says little about Freemasonry as an organisation (or actually many organisations), the history of its symbols and rituals, etc.
You can indeed read about how Freemasons helped create the modern world, but in most cases individual members, not lodges or Grand Lodges. Only here and there you will read something about developments within Freemasonry. The question of the Grand Architect of the Universe or the membership of women are either mentioned in passing or in a context that apparently is regarded more interesting. So no history of Le Droit Humain, but an interview with a man that became a woman within the Grand Orient de France many years after mixed gender Freemasonry was founded for example. The history of Prince Hall (‘black Freemasonry’) and the relation to traditional ‘white’ Grand Lodge is spoken of as well.
The author seems to have traveled the world, visited many places, interviewed many people and concludes that members are usually the good guys that do not deserve the bad press that Freemasonry has often received for its entire existence. To show that there is nothing anywhere near the exiting descriptions that Freemasonry often gets, he opens with way too detailed descriptions of initiations, including passwords, grips and steps. This may show that the Masonic “secrets” are quite boring, but apart from that this really does not help his readers. Perhaps the author does not realize that such details spoil the surprise for prospective members. Besides, that he found passwords, grips, steps and whatnot in one ritual, does not mean that these are the same everywhere. This can only lead to confusion. He had better just mentioned that there are passwords, grips, steps, etc.
In any case, the book is not completely boring, but I really wonder where all the applause about it comes from.
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.
Franz Farwerck joined Inayat Khan’s Sufi order in 1922. Some time ago I was reading Sedgwick’s book about Ivan Agueli who was another Westerner who became Sufi and who even initiated René Guénon. This was another order, so I wondered what Sufism was ‘available’ in the West in the early 20th century. With a little searching I ran into another book by the same Mark Sedwick.
Western Sufism is a term that Sedgwick uses for the ‘Western form’ of Sufism. This can either be brought to the West by Eastern Sufis or a system developed by a Westerner based on or inspired by Sufism.
The book begins with a lengthy investigation into Neoplatonism and “Emationism” and the reception in ‘Muslim minds’. He works towards the first Sufis, how either or not Sufism is connected to Islam and the short-lived Jewish form of Sufism. Sedgwick also looks at the political and radical elements of some Sufi orders and then describes how on the wings of Blavatasky’s Theosophy, Sufism found its way to the West.
The earlier mentioned Agueli was not the first, nor the last, Western to convert to Islam and later become Sufi, He was the first Westerner to initiate another Westerner (Guénon). He joined an existing tariqa and ‘worked from there’. Even though Agueli was not a Traditionalist himself, under influence of Guénon and Frithjof Schuon, a ‘Traditionalistic’ form of Sufism would rise that (mainly in followers of Schuon) still exists today.
Then we had people such as the Indian Inayat Khan (1822-1927) who was initiated into a Sufi order (but also in Hindu orders) and travelled the West as a musician. In the end he would found a Sufi order which had some schisms, some of which still exist today.
As Sufism reached the West, two developments started to emerge. One part of Western Sufism started to move towards Islam, another away from it. The latter is what Sedgwick called the “universalistic” branch. In both ‘camps’ there were moderate and more radical groups. As Islam became better known in the West (often because of members of Sufi orders), the view on Islam developed. Islam itself (outside Sufism) also developed which on its turn changed the attitude towards Sufi orders of Western non-members.
The Netherlands have played a large role in the reception and development of the Sufism that came from Inayat Khan. Sedgwick described how the organisation(s) fared after Khan’s death in 1927, but that did not tell me much about how Farwerck would possibly have developed his view on the order.
You will encounter many more people than the few in this review, giving an idea how big the penetration of Western Sufism into Western society actually was.
The book is interesting as you will learn how an element of Islam had an ever-developing relationship with the West, influencing both Islam itself and the view of the West on it. Western Sufism thrived in the ‘esoteric wave’ that was caused by the Theosophical Society, went down when that wave came to rest, but just like Theosophy, different Western Sufi orders may have gotten smaller, but they survived and still exist.
In order to say a few things about esoteric Islam, the author chose to do that by presenting not Muslim thinkers, but Westerners. These are Louis Massignon (1883-1962), Henry Corbin (1903-1978), René Guénon (1886-1951) and Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998).
Even though the book is ‘very scholarly’ it immediately springs to the eye that the last two names are not those of academics. The first to are not too typical academics either. Corbin I recently encountered in Religion After Religion. Guénon is -of course- no new name for me, neither is Schuon.
Both Massignon and Corbin had encounters with Islam and Sufism firsthand but retained their Christianity. Guénon (as we saw in the Aguéli book) did receive a Sufi initiation and later in his life also became Muslim. Schuon went as far as to start his own tariqa after having been initiated into Sufism in Algeria.
Laude’s book is a tough read. Long sentences, very academic, but also diving deep into the ideas of the four men, comparing and commenting on them. I often had the idea that the book is quite a bit over my head. Also I remember less of it than I prefer.
It is not like Laude presents the four thinkers in separate chapters. Rather there are subjects which not only the four are quoted and commented on, but also their sources and other thinkers. The subjects are The Qur’an, The Prophet, The Feminine, universality and war. Laude also sets the ideas of the four in a contemporary context in which Islam has become quite a different thing than it was in the previous century.
An interesting but difficult book about the Islam and Sufism of four Westerners in which you will also learn a few things about Islam (mostly its history) itself.
Earlier I reviewed two very Traditionalistic books (in the sense of Guénon) by Venzi from 2013 and 2016. In his previous book in English (2019), he mostly investigates the relationship of the Church and Freemasonry and the author presents a somewhat one-sided view on Freemasonry.
However the colophon says nothing of it, Theory Of The Origins was initially published in Italian 2020. The cover reminds a lot of Venzi’s initial history of Freemasonry in Italian.
The book is divided in three parts and the subtitle says mostly what the parts are about. “From ‘Homo Ludens’ to the Invention of a ‘Tradition'”.
In the preface Venzi again writes about anti-Masonic tendencies in the past and the present, the role of the Church, the misunderstandings about Freemasonry. All this takes a bit too many pages for my liking particularly because The Last Heresy was already about this.
Then we come to part I, which is about the playing man ‘homo ludens’. Freemasonry is presented as a serious play that came into being together with theatre. Before he gets that do, Venzi shortly gives a few theories about the origins of Freemasonry most of which he debunks. The ‘religious base theory’, the ‘theory of conspiracy fellowship’ (a political motivation), ‘the age of enlightenment theory’, the self-help / charitable theory (Freemasonry as social security), “the ‘myth’ of a ‘Speculative’ Freemasonry” which is the best known theory such as that of Knoop and Jones that Freemasonry grew out of ‘operative’ guilds. Then we have the Stevenson theory that Freemasonry comes from Scotland rather than England and Venzi also rallies against Stevenson’s idea that there have been Hermetic influences from the start of modern Freemasonry. Next up is the idea that something speculative, philosophical and even esoteric was part of early modern Freemasonry. Also the popular theory that Freemasonry has something to do with cathedral builders is laid aside, even the point that Freemasonry is a revival of what came before is a “blunder”. Lastly there is a theory called “pseudomorphosis”. Freemasonry filled in a gap when other elements ‘washed away’.
Then we come to Venzi’s own theory. He sees that origin in an ‘inner circle’ of the London Masons’ Company who “accepted” people and who met for “social pastime, for the sake of pure entertainment, as a play“. Inspiration for these plays they took from ‘Mystery Plays’ and ‘Morality Plays’.
Then follow some pages about Johan Huizinga’s theories of play, the rise of theatre, Yates is introduced, both for her work on the Art of Memory and on that of the theatre and via architecture we come to Solomon’s Temple. Venzi is a bit too focussed on documentary evidence. Sometimes he dismisses a theory based on the lack of it while apparently forgetting that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. His own theory also has such lacunas. Be that as it may, the morality/mystery play theory is one that is not posed very often, so let us just see this part of Venzi’s book as another interesting theory of one of the origins of Masonic symbolism.
Part II is about the invention of tradition. Of course in Anderson’s Constitutions a ‘mythical’ history of Freemasonry is given. Venzi sees this as the starting point of the transition from ‘ludic’ (convivial) Freemasonry towards a more structured phenomenon. This part is mainly about the parts played by James Anderson, John-Theophile Desagulier, but Thomas Payne has played a bigger part in the transition/invention in Venzi’s theory than other books I read about the subject. This part also deals with the question if the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster was actually founded in 1717 or if this is part of the invented tradition. Venzi’s conclusion is that in 1717 and the following years there indeed have been meetings, elections of Grand Officers, but only after 1721 did this become more than just a social event.
The last part Venzi looks at the union of ‘Moderns’ and the ‘Antients’. Apparently this is to show that only after 1813 the rituals of the Lodge of Reconciliation and Emulation ritual ‘esotericism’ was firmly rooted. The author has said several times that esotericism was no part of Freemasonry from the start. Not in the organisations that inspired the inventors of the traditions (organisations of which we know the “Old Charges”), not in the “Acception” lodges, hardly even on the invention of the third degree.
That men such as Ashmole and Moray had esoteric interests does not make their lodges esoteric. This is true, but does not explain why these men joined in the first place. Some of the “Old Charges” and catechisms are described by Venzi as “Ludic” even “Goliardic”. This is also true, but is a possible explanation for that not just that such texts were written by people who wanted to make fun of the lodges? And so we go from “Ludic” texts to more moralising, philosophical and, all the way at the end, esoteric rituals. The treating of men such as Wellins Calcott, William Preston and William Hutchinson seems to suggest that these men worked towards the deepening of Freemasonry, but were they not just the first people who reflected on what was already there at some length? This part would have been more convincing, had the author shown that these men had elements added to the rituals.
An entire chapter is dedicated to the detailed description proces that led to the United Grand Lodge of England. Interesting in itself, but I find the idea that only in this proces ‘esotericism was introduced’ unconvincing. What is more, Venzi can write at length the “Centre” and the “Throne of God” referring to thinkers such as Guénon, Evola and Eliade, but if Freemasonry only got (or is) initiatic in the Emulation ritual after 1816, can Freemasonry be seen initiatic within the framework of René Guénon? Besides, Freemasonry had spread (and splintered) substantially by the time, would only the change of some of the rituals used suddenly bring esotericism in the Traditionalistic sense?
I enjoy Venzi’s English language books of 2013 and 2016 a lot. The book about the Church was less interesting. The title presently under review gives in some ways nicely detailed information, also details that I need to look into further, but also a lot of information that appears to be a bit out of place or out of context. All in all this alternative view of the origins of Freemasonry gives some food for thought as it presents some new ways of looking at available material, but it is hardly a completely convincing theory to replace all others.
Let me stay with the thought that Freemasonry had many sources and some of those that Venzi tried to do away with, did not really become less probable to me.
An interesting book, but not the next ‘ultimate history of Freemasonry’.
An investigation into three big names in the “history of religion”: Gershom Scholem, Mircea Eliade and Anton Corbin. Wasserstrom himself seems to posit himself in that field as well and closely investigates Scholem, Eliade and Corbin in order to be able to take the next step in the history of religions.
Scholem, Eliade and Corbin knew each other, they influenced each other, they had similar influences, but also they differed from each other. A meeting point of the three Wasserstrom takes as focal point; the annual Eranos meetings where academics met around a certain ‘program’.
The book is both biographical and deeply investigative into the thought of the three scholars. They had similar contacts and influences, some perhaps somewhat unexpected. Each has its own field. Scholem -of course- mostly focussed on Judaism, Corbin on Islam and Eliade was more of an all-rounder.
Wasserstrom tells his readers where the three academics found their inspiration, where they looked for answers and looks into their religions and esoteric (even initiatic) filiations. Also he takes up a few themes that can be found in the work of the three named authors.
Renaissance thought, perennial philosophy, Christian Kabbala, antinomianism, Goethe, (anti-)modernism, nationalism, Wasserstrom does not just scratch the surface and does not shy away from more difficult subjects. Even though he admires all three, some sides of for example Corbin he obviously finds dangerous.
“Religion After Religion” will give you context and background of these three famous authors in the field of the history of religion, partly also elements that are not so clear when you read their books yourself. He works towards the question if the history of religions is or was a child of its time, what the relevance of it could be today and how the approach can develop.