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Foundations of Post-Traditionalism and The Mystery and Its Philosophy of Life – Michell MacLaughlin (2017)

I ran into this book in the Kindle store and read it out of curiosity. It is presented as two books in one, while it is only 44 pages. In the book the author says he writes too much. Seven volume tomes, three part books. He does have quite a few titles available on Amazon, but none large. Perhaps he started with his massive works and then started to present his ideas in smaller editions, while the former are not available easily?

There have been so many avenues and attempts to unify the world’s religions, but thus far all have failed Now, however, I have founded this school of Post-Traditionalism, and I have succeeded in unifying our religious pursuits and understandings.

Quite a statement! However the author does say a bit more how and why he came to his “post-Traditionalism”, none of the ‘traditional’ Traditionalist authors are mentioned and I find little agreements to their writings. Perhaps there is a bit of the Schuon/Smith ‘transcendent unity of religions’, but outside Christianity, there are but few references to religion. Therefor I have not tagged this book as “Traditionalist”.

MacLaughlin has the odd term “Religion without religion” (written like that) which appears to be something ‘deeper’ than religion as such. “It is exactly what it says, getting rid of all dogma and superstition and all false notice of God, the universe and man, and keeping only the metphysic and the ethic that we have seen elsewhere in my work.” The author is usually negative about metaphysics (and thus strays from Guénon). He does not really get any clearer than this. He likes to speak of “virtue ethics, remaking ourselves as examples that others will follow.” Nothing very ‘practical’ though. I guess you do have to read his larger works for that, but where do you get them?

MacLaughlin tries to speak with some authority because “I have experienced this revelation and am now giving it to you throughout the whole of my work.” All in all I found this little book uninspiring, not too interesting, not too well written even. It certainly does not make me want to try other writings of MacLaughlin, which -I suppose- was the reason for publishing this little summary.

So I still do not know in what way MacLaughlin thinks to connect to Traditionalism and exactly how he thinks to save the world.


Practical Alchemy – Konstantin Serebrov (2006)

By some accident I ran into the name of Serebrov. He was (is?) said to be a Russian esotericist working with Alchemical symbolism. Out of curiosity I looked to see what books he has available and found a Dutch publisher that has a lot of his books. As a matter of fact, it seems that this Dutch publisher also takes care of (the) other languages. At first glance it seems that there are more books in Dutch than there are in English. I happen to have picked one that is available both in Dutch and English. Originally they were written in Russian.

The books are divided over series. Practical Alchemy is the third of a series of three, so perhaps not the best introduction. The book is written as a story around a gathering of spiritual seekers who meet up frequently and the book is a report of one such camp. As teachers we have the I-character (Serebrov?) and “Master G.” who is presented as Serebrov’s teacher. In the book there are a host of students, ‘green’, ‘doubting Thomasses’, more experienced, etc.

Right from the start the reader is presented with all kind of jargon. “Horizontal karma”, letting “the wheel of karma rotate in opposite direction”, “energetic cocoon”, “kundabuffer”, “Schooltemperature” and most of all: “reconsideration” (word in English, but with Dutch conjugations, suggesting that the word is in English in the original texts), “deleting personal history” and “cutting ethereal lines”. Some of these phrases are explained along the way, some are not.

Serebrov appears to have been active in the Russian ‘esoteric underground’ of the 1980’ies, where he was acquainted with the systems of Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and Castenada and with some Eastern systems. He is a not uncritical follower, but the students in the book do speak about “tensegrity” and “magical passes”. There are all kinds of exercises that are recommended to students, some daily. These exercises are oddly specific. Think of a person, breath in, pull in energy a few inches below your belly button, turn your head from left to right and back five times, breath out half of the air in your lungs, etc. And there are many such exercises, sometimes explained, sometimes only mentioned. (“Do daily Tao exercises.”)

There is quite some attention to all kinds of spiritual paths. Serebrov wrote about Yoga, Tao, Alchemy, etc., but the Orthodox Church is half of the path to God. The book gives a wee bit of an idea of the ‘Russian spiritual underground’, but stresses that real progress can only be made in a school lead by a real master, hence: “Master G.” and his followers, such as Serebrov. Yet it is remarkably hard to find information about the school, when and where they meet, etc. G. seems to be a man named Iurii or Vladimir Stefanov who introduced Guénon in Russia. Interesting.

For a large part, Practical Alchemy is yet again book for spiritual seekers with some exercises and the suggestion that the only true path is presented. This is poured into a story with characters many people can relate to. Amusing are the ‘Russian elements’ such as Wodka which flows abundantly.

What about the reason I bought this book in the first place? Yes, there is ‘spiritual Alchemy’ here. There are 21 beautiful pen drawings, with fairly simple Alchemical symbology, but still recognizable. Several of the major symbols are used to explain the spiritual path, the phases of Alchemy, the king and queen, etc. Serebrov does have an odd explanation of the ouroborous as the lower self, though. The Alchemical element actually is interesting, but the whole ‘packing’ is a bit too fluffy to my liking. On the other hand, much of what I read is dry and academic, so a few notes on the spiritual path are good reminders.

I am not immediately planning on getting other Serebrov books, but I am just going to see what is available and decide then.

2006 Serebrov Boeken, isbn 9077820043

Traditionalism: The Radical Project For Restoring Sacred Order – Mark Sedgwick (2023)

Almost 20 years after Against The Modern World, Sedgwick thought it was time for an updated history of Traditionalism. Both books are histories of Traditionalism. Both books deal with ‘Traditionalism in practice’. Still, the books differ.

The reader gets a history of Traditionalism, of course starting with René Guénon. Well, first Sedgwick is going to tell you in what tradition Guénon can be placed, thus describing Neoplatonism, Renaissance Perennialism, etc. Then the author moves to the most eye catching element of Traditionalism: the critique on modernity.

In part II Sedgwick starts to describe what he calls “core projects” of Traditionalism. Personally I never had the idea that there ever was such a thing as “projects”. Of course some of the Traditionalist authors (or perhaps all of them) had their centres of gravity, but Sedgwick also describes projects which he had to distill from various writings.

Guénon’s “project” was “self-realization”. Schuon’s “project”, “religion” and Evola’s “project”, “politics”. Roughly spoken, perhaps indeed. Then we get other “projects” such as “art” (Coomaraswamy, still agreed), “gender” (here things become fuzzy), “nature” (mostly Nasr) and “dialogue” (Schuon, Smith). There is also a “post-Traditionalism” “project” “the radical right”.

Guénon certainly was the intellectual, critical of religion. Evola was more interested in political action. Schuon “rehabilitated religion”. In Seyyed Hosein Nasr, Schuon’s “project” was stretched and extended. Nasr was the first Traditionalist indicating environmental awareness. Schuon also had ‘followers’ in authors, scholars and religious leaders who took his “transcendent unity of religions’ to heart and who investigated different religions, comparing them, not on the abstract level of Guénon, and who brought religions together in dialogue. This is a logical outcome of Traditionalist thought, but a “project” of Traditionalism or rather the projects of individuals and groups, some of whom had an interest in Traditionalist thinking?

Like in the other book, I have the idea that Sedgwick stretches the subject to describe the influence of Traditionalism on elements of our own time and age, however indirect. Then again, Traditionalism isn’t a philosophy of the past and Traditionalist thinkers did and do influence (academic) thinking, so I guess we are just talking about a “project” of Sedgwick himself.

Shortly the ‘traditional’ Traditionalists, their lives and thought (but not as much about their lives as in the previous book) and then rapidly on to more contemporary thinkers. There is a bit too much stress on the political side of the story, but I guess also there we see a preference of the author. So you can read about Alain de Benoist, Alexandr Dugin, “alt-right”, etc. Also, more interesting to me personally, yet shorter, Nader Ardalan, a Traditionalist architect; Keith Critchlow who wrote about geometry and John Tavener, a composer; and even a little about “music scene Traditionalism“.

The book is not a crash course in Traditionalist thought, but -as mentioned- a history of that thought. It is a readable book, fairly interesting and it does touch open some new related subjects.

2023 Oxford University Press, isbn 0197683762

De Weg Terug – Jan de Meyer (2022)

Jan de Meyer (1961-) is a Flemish sinologist (scholar of Chinese studies) who wrote several books and translated traditional texts. Some of his work is in English, most is in Dutch. This is one such Dutch title. Earlier I read Wat Kan Ik Leren Van De Taoïsten? (‘What can I learn of the Taoists?’) (2020). This is also a Dutch title, perhaps that was the reason I did not review it.

The title of the present book translates to ‘The way back’. It is about “Chinese hermits and Daoism”. Where the other title (‘what can I learn’) presents translations of classic, Chinese texts (with elucidations) about a list of subjects, ‘the way back’ is an in depth study into the subject of Chinese hermitage.

Early in the book De Meyer explains that Chinese hermitage is not quite the same as people retreating into a cloister. The book is mostly about people who have retreated to inhabitable areas, often mountains, to stay away from normal life. Some of these hermits also studied Confucianism, Taoism, or both. Some made a name of being wise. Then the irony occurs that some of these people fled the dangers of society (China has a violent past), when at the same time they are approached for public functions. The book seems to say that in ancient China you either worked for the government or you retreated from public life.

Spanning centuries upon centuries, De Meyer presents a long list of hermits, some (relatively) famous, some translated into a Western language for the first time. You encounter Taoism, some Confucianism, Chinese culture and politics and of course the life of the (un)common man and woman.

Just as in the other book, De Meyer has a very easy-to-read writing style with humour and obviously a massive knowledge about his subject. A book about people living in mountains may seem a bit dull, but ‘the way back’ is a very nice book about old and not-so-old Chinese culture.

2022 Athenaeum, isbn 9789025313029

al-‘Ilm al-Huduri: knowledge by Presence – Sayyed Hejazi (2012)

“This book is a comparative study of the epistemology of Suhrawardî and Mullâ Sadrâ Shîrâzî, two Muslim thinkers of the 6th/12th and 11th/17th century.” This sounded interesting. Suhrawardi and Mulla Sadra are two Muslim thinkers I liked to read more of/about, so both of them in one book sounded like a good idea. Perhaps the word “epistemology” in the description should have sounded an alarm.

The book is very academic. Can I even say “philosophical” in the modern, Western explanation of the word? How many times on each page can you use words such as “epistemological” and “ontological”?

Hejazi focuses on two phrases: “knowledge by presence (al-‘ilm al-hudûrî)” and “formal, empirical, or conceptual knowledge (al-‘ilm husuli)”. Judging the title mostly the former. It takes about a book to explain the concepts and the different interpretations of the two mentioned, but also a few other authors.

The book is somewhat interesting, but too ‘philosophical’ and academic to my liking and too limited in scope. I would have liked to learn more about Suhrawardi’s and Mulla Sadra’s thinking. I guess I do not belong to the intended audience of this book.

As a closing remark. The Kindle version is quite flawed with disappearing sentences.

2012 ISRA Academy Press, isbn 1453779043

Extreme Music – Michael Tau (2022)

An impulse purchase, but not a bad one. The author dove into different kinds of extremities within music and presents his findings in a 480 page book! Obviously, there is a lot of music that I do not know and there are also scenes that I never heard of.

The book starts with music with extreme sound, such as noise, goregrind, gorenoise, medicore, later going to ‘techno’ with things such as speedcore. In the beginning the sound and thematics run through each other a bit. You can read about people trying to make an extreme as possible sound (the epitome of which the author seems to see “harsh noise wall”, unchanging walls of distorted sounds). Also there are mentions of and interviews with artists with extreme visuals, band- and track titles (from medical encyclopedia for example). It is not all but shock value. Interesting in this part is techno in which the beats got so fast that they are no longer beats but tones which are then worked into music.

From loud sounds we go to silent music. There are artists who record nothing but the occasional plop or tick of amplifying equipment. In different parts of the world, bigger and unknown artists have experimented with silence.

Next up is lengthy music. There have been attempts to cram as much music on a medium (say: a 7″) as possible even if that means loss of sound quality. Boxes have been released with 500+ cds. Also pieces have been written to (ingeniously) last for 1.000 years and much, much longer. Some of these long pieces are actually performed.
Needless to say that short music is up next. From one-minute-tracks to numerous ‘tracks’ within one second. Also here there is a lot of variety in approach.

Leaving the music itself, Tau goes to carriers. All kinds of exotic carriers have been used. Debunked systems such as floppy disc labels, microcassettes, “lathe-cut” (cut your groves in a placemat or an x-ray photo), weird sizes (18″ or 2″ vinyl), even releases that you can only play if you also buy the equipment that allows you to listen to it, even wax cilinders are reused and made again.
Also there have been experiments such as putting liquid blood into a space within a vinyl record, miniature landscapes built on vinyl records, records made from chocolate or ice. Filed under “nontraditional” we encounter experiments with electric toothbrushes and “singing dolls”. The things people come up with.

Then we have the musicians who are not so much interested in using out-of-date formats, but making music with out-of-date means. “Chiptune” actually making music with hacked Commodore 64 computers or an ancient Gameboy. Taking this a step further you come to “Lobit”, music with a bitrate as low as possible, which of course limits the sound you can make. There is even “Lowrate” scene which produces music in as small files as possible.

Towards the end subjects such as “disgusting”, “body fluids”, damaged records, unplayable releases, elaborate packing, “anti-records” and “black midi” (a computer can play things a human cannot) are written about. A short chapter is about “outsiders”.

All in all a lengthy walk through the humongous world of non-traditional music. You can read about artists, labels, types of ‘music’ and what not, that you may have never heard about. There is -indeed- a lot to discover. There are only a handful of references to artists or releases that I know. Much is written about things that do not immediately appeal to me, but since Tau did a lot of interviews and has a nice, objective writing style, the book makes a book source of information if you want to find something out of the ordinary.

2022 Feral House, isbn 1627311246

Reden An Die Europäische Nation / Weapons Of Mass Instruction – Alexander Nym (2023)

  • music

During the 2023 WGT the author/compiler of this book gave a lecture which was also a book presentation. The lecture was announced being about the NSK, the Neue Slowenische Kunst, an art collective that was co-founded by the band Laibach (the following lecture was strictly about Laibach). That much I knew. Much of what Alexander told was new to me though. I have never really followed Laibach and NSK even less so. NSK had an exhibition in the museum of modern art in my hometown in 2016, which I attended (but which is not mentioned in the book), which I attended, but apparently I did not pick up much of the idea behind it all.

In short. Laibach is the German name of the city of Ljubljana and the band was founded in 1980. The band name proved to be typical for Laiback from the start. Ljubljana is nowadays the capital of Slovenia but at the time this country did not exist as the region was part of Yugoslavia. So is the band name a form of ‘regionalism’? Provokingly the band chose the German version of the name of the city, a version that only the Nazis used during the WWII occupation of the region. The band also used a distinctive style for visuals. picking strong images from many different sources, but those that came from ‘contaminated’ sources caught the attention and it did not take long before authorities sought a way to forbid the Nazi band. The city dug up an old law and used it to forbid Laibach from using the German name of the city as a name.

With two like-minded groups of artists the project got the name “Neue Slowenische Kunst” which -again- ironically referred to a non-existing country. NSK had all kinds of provocative performances bringing them a rapidly raising star in the region and later also elsewhere in Europe.

Then in 1990, following the demise of Yugoslavia, there suddenly was a real state called Slovenia and NSK decided to rebrand themselves into “NSK State” or “NSK State In Time”. This still is a virtual state which in the course of time made their own passports, printed their own money, etc., but all as provocative works of art.

Nym describes a “toolbox” for the way NSK State has operated for several decades. This includes methods found in the global art scene, but in a broader context. So when Duchamps takes a toilet into a museum and calls it art, NSK uses such “ready makes” in the art and music, but taken from any field available, from art to politics and back. These “ready mades” are presented without comment and without context. You can understand that Laibach’s use of WWII (type) elements is frequently mistaken.
Another part of the toolkit is: take something and take it to the extreme. So when Laibach decides to use Das Kapital, the result will be an extremely developped form of Communism with the idea to get people thinking. This NSK members do with any type of politics, art, social current or whatever.

Now the part that I mostly missed before is that NSK has many art performances, exhibitions, etc. by (who are left of) the founders, but also of “citizens”. These events usually have some provocative theme and/or imaginary. The book under review is a massive collection (350 pages) with a wee bit of history, but mostly manifestoes, declarations, speeches, visuals and what not. Often this is quite political, but not in a ‘this is how things should be’, but more as in ‘did you ever notice that?’ approach. The virtual NSK State is meant to hold up a mirror mostly to Western society.

I understand the approach. I now also see how this might just have been the inspiration of provocative music and art expressions such as martial industrial, but many of the texts (the author had quite a few speeches) I only quickly scanned. Still, it is interesting to have more context.

Oh, I must say that the book is bilingual. Pages on the left are in German, pages on the right are in English, so you only have half of the 350 pages to read. Unless you want to read both versions of course. Also, the first 99 copies are hand stamped and numbered, so if you are quick…

2023 Edition Outbird, isbn 3948887489

Western Esotericism – Kocku von Stuckrad (2004)

Looking for a Kindle publication from the Western esotericism academia, I ran into the Dutch translation of Von Stuckrad’s Was Ist Esoterik? Kleine Geschichte des geheimen Wissens (‘What is esotericism. Small history of secret knowledge’) from 2004. The Dutch translation by André Haack and Ruud van der Helm got the title Esoterie. De zoektocht naar absolute kennis (‘Esotericism. The quest for absolute knowledge). The English translation of Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke kept the subtitle in tact (“A brief history of secret knowledge”) but apparently wanted to place more focus on the fact that the book is about Western esotericism. In any case, this review is based on the Dutch translation, but know that there are different translation of the book out there.

Von Stuckrad (1966-) is a Ghanese scholar who lived in Germany for a large part of his life, but who lectures at the universities of Groningen and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. His focus within his field of religious studies: Western esotericism.

His writings are often fairly dry and academic while his colleagues such as Wouter Hanegraaff more often manage to strike a tone more fit for a general audience. Yet, this general audience is exactly what the present title aims at. The book presents a quite general, and more often told, story of Western esotericism, dealing with Greek philosophy, Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Kabbalah, Medieval and Renaissance esotericism, the period of the Enlightenment, ‘secret societies’ and using modern Theosophy as a bridge to the modern era ending with ‘New Age’.

There is not really anything here that I did not already know. It is quite obvious that the author is well informed about most of his subjects and here and there he manages to compress a complex worldview into a short description. There are also subjects which seem to be (somewhat) outside his personal interests.

Like I said, the book brings a general history of Western esotericism and will certainly form a descent starting point if the subject is (relatively) new to you. When you have kept yourself occupied with the subjects in this book for some time and/or are looking for the latest findings in the academic investigations of them, this is not the book you should buy.

2004 Beck, 2014 Routledge (isbn 1844657477), 2014 Amsterdam University Press

Freimaurer – Snoek & Heussinger & Görner & Wilk (2020)

Looking in the Kindle store for Jan Snoek, I ran into this book of which Snoek proved to be one of four authors (the others being Heike Görner, Ralph-Dieter Wilk, Werner H. Heussinger. The full title of the book is: “Freimaurer: Wie Sie die Prinzipien des erfolgreichsten Netzwerks der Weltgeschichte für Ihre Persönlichkeitsentwicklung nutzen” (‘Freemasons: What are the principles of the most successful network in world history for your personal development’). Indeed, this is a book in the German language. The title also shows that this is not an in depth book for Freemasons such as other titles of Snoek, but more a general introduction for the general audience.

The book covers the width and breadth of German Freemasonry, which had a development quite unlike Freemasonry in other countries. Different Grand Lodges worked together under an umbrella that changed its name. There were also other Grand Lodges that did not cooperate and this development led to roughly two types of Freemasonry in Germany: Christian (old-Prussian) and Humanistic. Especially the latter is again a varied current with men-only, mixed gender and women-only Grand Lodges for example.

First a few steps back. The book begins with a general history of Freemasonry cultural sources for the symbolism and system, etc. The authors also describe Masonic view of mankind, conspiracy theories, ritualism, community spirit, personal development, young people in Freemasonry, women in Freemasonry, humanism, etc. You will find no Masonic histories, details of the rituals but in support of the general picture. Only the appendices are more specific (early history, women’s Freemasonry and Illuminati).

The authors put quite some stress on “Aufklärung” (‘enlightenment’) and the social (rather than the initiatic / esoteric) side of Freemasonry. The book gives a good impression of Freemasonry in Germany, but because of the language of the book, only for the German speaking audience. I think the unique paths that Freemasonry has walked in Germany, some information would benefit non-German-speaking readers too.

It is a good book for people who are looking for general information. Personally I am more interested ‘Masonically scholarly’ books.

2020 Finanzbuch Verlag, isbn 3959723032

Ontluikend Christendom – Daniël de Waele (2021)

The title would translate to something like “budding Christianity” or “nascent Christianity”. Probably “emerging Christianity” would be a clearer title, but doing away with the ‘feel’ of the original title.

In any case, here we have a book of almost 500 pages about “the cultural history of a new religion in a Greek-Roman world”. De Waele presents an extraordinarily detailed description of the time and area in which Christianity started and developed.

In the first chapters, the author describes daily life in the first centuries A.D. Marriage and the position of women among the Jews, marriage and the position of women among the ‘heathens’ and with the Christians. The same for the position of slaves and more particular subjects such as education, death and burial, religious life, etc. The author compiles his story from a staggering amount of sources and presents it in an easy-to-read narrative. It may sound a bit dull, but these early chapters already are quite interesting.

After about 200 pages De Waele goes to different kinds of Jews, compares their ideas and relations, etc. After that follow the Romans. De Waele effortlessly goes from describing laws and justice to explaining religious and mystic concepts. As far as I was already familiar with them, he does that very well too. The ideas of different Jewish, Jewish-Christian and Christian groups, their sources, etc.

For the development of Christian theology, De Waele also writes about different philosophical schools from Greece, Gnostic groups, all the way up to famous early Christian thinkers such as Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Saint Augustine (of Hippo).

Detailed yet easy to read, very well written and highly interesting. But… so far only available in Dutch.

2021 KokBoekencentrum, isbn 904353661X