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The Kybalion – Three Initiates (1908)

I have known about The Kybalion for decades, but I never intended to read it. Just a contemporary book claiming to be Hermetic, right? For some reason the book gets renewed attention and I kept running into references. I decided to see what it is all about.

The “three initiates” are probably just “the New Thought pioneer William Walker Atkinson (1862–1932)” (Wikipedia). This -indeed- is also how the book reads. ‘Modern science’ of a century ago, references to authors of these days, obvious ‘New Thought’ ideas.

Just as I thought, the author(s) refer to the “ancient text” Kybalion, quoting it and explaining the quotes. None of these quotes seem to be ‘genuinely Hermetic’. The book has got the famous and often quoted “Seven Hermetic Principles” which are mostly just variations to the idea of duality. They are the principles of “mentalism”, “correspondence”, “vibration”, “polarity”, “rhythm”, “cause and effect” and “gender”. It is amazing how often these principles are quoted, but I really wonder how these were distilled from Hermetic texts.

It is not like the book is entirely without interesting thoughts, but it has little to do with Hermetism. It is really but a child of its time and from a fairly specific line of thought too. Yet the book remains to be influential. Even the most famous Hermetic saying “As above, so below; as below, so above” comes from the Kybalion. I do not think this wording is used in any traditional Hermetic text.

Nothing more than a ‘page through and move on’ text to me.

De Rozenkruisers Revolutie – various authors (2022)

Currently in the Embassy Of The Free Mind (aka Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica aka Ritman Library) in Amsterdam an exhibition about the Rosicrucians. There is a publication which is a catalogue of the exhibition, but also seven organisations that present themselves. The book is available in print and as PDF. There does not yet seem to be an English version.

The publication opens with an introduction of Lucinda Martin (director of the museum). Then follows a text of Carlos Gilly, the eminent scholar on Rosicrucianity. Joost Ritman himself contributed a text followed by Wendelijn van den Brul.

Then follows a text of the current Grand Master of the Grand Orient of the Netherlands, the oldest and biggest organisation for Freemasonry in the Netherlands. Their archives contain the collection of Georg Kloss (1787-1854) who made the first inventory of Rosicrucian texts and books of which are on display in the exhibition. Gerrit van Eijk makes the link between the early Rosicrucians and early Freemasonry.

Peter Huijs of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum contributed two texts. One about the Lectorium and a more general one.

Reinout Spaink is the current chairman of the Dutch Theosophical Society and he presents his society while -of course- making links to Rosicrucianity. Jaap Sijmons does the same for the Anthroposophical Society and Klaas-Jan Bakker for AMORC.

Corey Andrews has a text about Daniel Möglings Speculum Sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum (1618) and the 175 page books ends with a chronological summery (a time-line) of Nathalie Koch.

“The Rosicrucian Revolution” makes a nice read. Now I have to find the time to visit the exhibition itself (the exhibition only runs until July 31th 2022). Hopefully an English version of the book is forthcoming.

Edit 29 June 2022. There is it.

2022 Embassy Of The Free Mind, isbn 9789071608445

Our Darkness: Gruftis und Waver in der DDR – Sascha Lange & Dennis Burmeister (2022)

  • music

I bought this book while in Leipzig (Germany) during the 29th Wave-Gotik-Treffen. The authors have written more about subcultures and an idea became a book about gothic culture ‘behind the wall’ up until the first Wave Gotik Treffen to be presented at the 30th WGT. Covid-19 had two WGTs cancelled so here we are.

Lange and Burmeister have tracked down people involved in the early gruti and wave scenes in Eastern Germany. During interviews and their own experiences they paint a picture of a subculture under a repressive regime.

The East is of course the part of Europe that fell under Russian/Communist regime after WWII. The border ran right cross Germany. Western Germany was, well, Western. Eastern Germany not so. Of course there was no total isolation. There were people with family on the other side of the wall and especially in the divided city of Berlin, people could listen to Western radio for example. Along different ways a wee bit of the up and coming postpunk and wave music from the UK reached the Eastern German youth.

Particularly The Cure had a big influence, but also a band such as Depeche Mode. Eastern pop magazine and radios did not include these new and decadent forms of Western music, but some people found a way to gather some information and music, started to copy the outfits and hair dress and when such people met, a bit of a scene started to emerge.

Wave and gothic were two very different things and this may explain why the Leipzig festival is called Wave Gotik Treffen. The first WGT was a meeting of both scenes. Both scenes had their own clothing and hair and there could be no overlap. The separation of the youthful mind I suppose.

The book describes the hardships of the youth to be ‘grufti’ (a term that outsiders came up with referring to the liking of the youth for graveyards). Some is recognisable also for Western people who like such music, other things are typically Eastern. How do you get black cloths when the fashion is full of colour? Grandparents cloths and dying were the solution. How do you find music when everything is banned? How do you find similar people?

Over time “cliques” started to emerge and places where gruftis met. Other emerging youth cultures, especially extreme rightwing groups, caused problems for the goths. The police was not exactly helpful. School mates thought they were freaks. Yet people found each other, there rose a black market for posters, dubbed cassette tapes and what not. When the music became bigger in the West, there even started to appear radio shows and later concerts for wave.

Then there was a big show in Western Berlin that Easterners had wanted to attend, but were not allowed to. This led to protests during Whitsun, the very weekend that the WGT is been held for decades. Finally things move towards the removal of the wall, a Cure concert between the time of the fallen wall and the fallen DDR, Eastern and Western gruftis meeting, etc.

The book gives a nice insight into an interesting phenomenon. The authors light the subject from several angles. The youths are a bit presented as teenagers too much with singers being ‘idols’ and kids sleeping room walls with bands of their loved artists. The end is a bit in minor as well. The first WGT was not the first, but at the time the biggest meeting of different undergrounds. About 1000 people attended. The second edition was already much bigger (about 6000), but the ‘original goths’ already complained about things being too commercial, “weekend gruftis” and the like.

Anyway, much of anecdotes, many photos. A fun read.

2022 Ventil, isbn 3955751678

Memory Palaces And Masonic Lodges – Charles B. Jameux (2014/9)

Originally published in French in 2014, Inner Traditions published an English translation in 2019. The author picks up after the suggestion of David Stevenson that second Shaw statute (a Masonic “old charge”) refers to the art of memory and that here we have a strong suggestion of very early Hermetic influences in (pre-)modern Freemasonry.

Another book that Jameux uses heavily is the famous Art of Memory of Frances Yates, first published in 1966. Yates makes a similar notes that Freemasonry may be such an art of memory, but leaves it to later investigators to look into the subject. Since Stevenson only raises the suggestion, Jameux thought it was time to combine both sources of information.

Jameux also uses a text of the French author Claudie Balavoine which is included in the appendices. Also an earlier version of Jameux’ text is added as appendix.

Knowing the two mentioned books, you may have an idea of the theory. Systems for remembering things have existed since the Greeks and have been used remarkably long. All the way up to the dawn of modern Freemasonry. As mentioned, Shaw appears to mention the art is in second set of statutes (around 1600).

The idea is not so much that Freemasonry includes the art of memory, but that Masonic symbolism actually is an art of memory. When you want to remember a speech, you can imagine a building and leave things in rooms that you have to remember for your speech and while speaking, walk through the imaginary building, a tracing board is something similar.

It is not so much that Jameux presents something new or extremely groundbreaking, but the book does make a very strong suggestion by combining the ideas found in two famous works. Definite proof? I doubt such a thing exists for a hypothesis such as this, but Jameux certainly strongly adds to the suggestion with some interesting details.

Unfortunately the book is not too well written. I actually found the initial essay (in the appendix) making the point better than the book. Be that as it may, Jameux certainly worked out a theory that I see a lot in better than I could.

2019 Inner Traditions, isbn 1620557886

Freemasonry And Fraternal Societies – David Harrison & Fred Lomas (2016)

Freemasonry was not the only society that (gentle)men could join in the 18th and 19th century. Actually, this story is not just about gentlemen. The book gives a nice insight in an aspect of history that for some reason is not often spoken about together with Freemasonry.

The authors describe different kinds of societies that arose around the rising of ‘modern Freemasonry’ in 1717. On first glance these societies were very different. On second glance, these differences were a lot smaller than appears.

A type of society that is spoken of in the book are “box societies”. These had nothing to do with the sport, but they were organisations that people could join. They would pay a fee (stored in a box) and the society would financially help out in case of illness or death. Before social security this was an important insurance for many employers. When the state started to regulate social security, many of such societies died out or became insurance companies. There were different kinds of such sickness and death type societies.

Another kind of society was the social club often for the higher-up men. They could be either diner, drinking, games, philosophy or whatever kind of group that people joined for relaxation and networking. Some of such groups aimed at a specific audience, other were more inclusive. Some were very exclusive. Not a few had their own buildings. Quite some people were members of a number of the mentioned groups.
Because alcohol consumption was high, even a society for abstainers was founded. Several such in hindsight odd societies are mentioned in the book.

Either or not inspired by Freemasonry, several of such groups had initiations, grades even, passwords, grips and the like. Some were (almost) Freemasonry mockery groups, others were more akin to Freemasonry. In this entire network of societies and their members, Freemasonry formed a lively part. Its members met in different groups and/or were involved in the foundation of such societies.

Many of the names of the societies have been almost forgotten. Some have survived and even thrive today. Think of Odd Fellows, Foresters, Druids, Buffaloes, Gardeners, and Rechabites. They sometimes had (and have) regalia similar to that of Freemasonry, regulations that are similar, goals that are similar.

The book is a little thin (160 pages) and I would have loved to hear more about the ritual side of such groups, but Harrison and Lomas offer an interesting insight into a larger fraternal world of which Freemasonry is perhaps the best known, but by far not the only part.

2016 Lewis Masonic, isbn 0853184968

A History Of Religious Ideas (3 volumes) – Mircea Eliade (1976-1983)

This massive work appears to be the last work that Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) wrote. It is a three times 500+ page history of religion. Very fitting for a historian of religions. I read in in three Kindle books, so here we have a review of 1500+ pages. This is not entirely accurate though, since each volume is for a fairly large part filled with notes and bibliographies.

I find the work rather odd. It ends as suddenly as is stops. No introduction, no conclusion or summary. Eliade wanted to present religious ideas in chronological order. Volume 1 is “From the Stone Age to the Eleusian Mysteries”. Volume 2 “From Gautama Buddha to the Triumph of Christianity. Volume 3 “From Muhammed to the Age of Reforms”. That looks structed enough. It is not as structured as it looks though.

Eliade for some reason chose not to pick a subject and work it out entirely. Or perhaps stated otherwise, his logic of combining subjects is not the same as mine. For example, chapter 9 of volume one is about religion in India before Gautama the Buddha. Then come the Greek, Iran, Israel and the Greek again. Then in volume 2 it starts in the far East and then the Romans, Celts, again Greeks, Hinduism, Judaism.

Of some subjects Eliade presents a history, sometimes he summarises myths or religious texts and another time he presents persons and currents that were important.

The result is a bewildering amount of information on a bewildering number of subjects. Also in translation (the books were written in French) Eliade has an easy-to-read writing style and he manages to say something about large and often difficult subjects in relatively little space. Even in 1500 pages never can he really plunge into the deep. When you know Eliade, you will know that he would not have been satisfied had he really only scratched the surfaces of the subjects though. So by reading the three books from cover to cover, I basically got some expert information about a massive amount of religious subjects.

The books are not really presented as an encyclopedia, but I suppose the work is meant as a reference work. With the ‘cut-up subjects’ I am not sure it will (easily) work that way. On the other hand, Eliade has been a professor for most of his lengthy life, so I suppose he knew how a reference work should be structured better than I do.

I enjoy reading about religious and religious ideas, yet the reading often went fairly slowly. Not all subject have my interest to the same extend and of course, 1500 pages to read is quite a mountain to look up to. Yet I am glad that I ploughed through. Now I only have to think what I am going to do with all the marking and the notes that I made during the reading.

Volume 1 1981 University of Chicago Press, isbn 9780226204017; volume 2 1985 UoCP isbn 0226204030; volume 3 1988 UoCP isbn 0226204057

Genesis Of Freemasonry – David Harrison (2009)

Indeed another Masonic history book. This is the first book of David Harrison, based on his dissertation of December 2007. “This book launched my career as a Masonic historian, researcher and author”. The book was slightly revised for the 2014 Lewis Masonic edition.

Historians of Freemasonry have, in the past, written work that has been selective. For example Gould who, as a Victorian Freemason, wrote from an official Masonic standpoint, dedicating his History of Freemasonry to the then Grand Master, the Prince of Wales and was harsh in his treatment of rebel Grand Lodges and rebel Masons, such as his discussion of the Grand Lodge of Wigan and his views on Thomas Paine. Others, most notably [Margaret] Jacob, have neglected certain elements of the society’s history, failing to mention the important role of Tory and Jacobite Freemasons in the Craft’s development during the early 18th century.

Harrison is to be applauded for his open view to Masonic history. Many Freemasons today, especially those whom regard themselves “regular” appear to forget or deny the fact that there have been multiple Grand Lodges from the start. Not just the “Premier/Moderns” versus the “Antients” since 1751, but the Irish, Scottish, York and Wigan Grand Lodges. A universally acclaimed Freemason such as William Preston (1742-1818) has been a member of all Grand Lodges that exited in his time. He even founded a ‘rebel’ Grand Lodge (to the “Premier/Modern” Grand Lodge) himself. Things have never been as clear-cut as some want us to believe.

Also Harrison does not deny the existence and involvement of colourful people such as Francis Dashwood (1856-1727) and Philip Wharton (1698–1731) who have not only been Grand Masters of the “Premier/Modern” Grand Lodge but who were also involved in organisations such as the Hell Fire Club. Such men too have -in their own ways- contributed to what Freemasonry became.

As for the history of Freemasonry, Harrison sees “three transitional periods”.

Firstly, the transformation from operative to speculative during the 17th and early 18th centuries. Secondly, the foundation of the London Grand Lodge in 1717 and the subsequent modernisation of the ritual. Thirdly, the schisms and rebellions within Freemasonry, which forced the society to rebuild and reconcile in 1813.

And even after the foundation of the United Grand Lodge of England, there were “rebels”. The “last rebel Grand Lodge survived until 1913”.

Harrison ascribes a big role in the revision of Freemasonry and its rituals to John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683-1744). This ardent follower of Isaac Newton (1642-1726) introduced a lot of ‘Newtonianism’ into Freemasonry. Even though frequently critical to Stevenson, Harrison does make an interesting suggestion in this regard. As Stevenson suggests, pre-1717 Freemasonry was different in England than it was in Scotland. The 1721 visit of Desagulier to a Scottish lodge may well have inspired him to introduce ‘Scottish’ elements into ‘English’ Freemasonry, such as the Masons Word and the three grade system.

Other elements that I do not see often in Masonic histories are remarks that both Desagulier and James Andersson (1679-1739) were also members of other societies (such as the “mysterious society called ‘Solomon’s Temple’) and a patron of Desagulier, James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos (1673-1744), who would send him around the country for ‘scientific reasons’, but also for ‘Masonic reasons’. Chandos had more such men in his entourage.

There are quite a few elements to Harrison’s debut that are worthy of contemplation. A problem that I also have with other books of his that I read is that the author seldom (if ever?) dives into the details. It would have been very interesting if Desagulier would have gotten a more detailed look for example. What were his ideas, where did he get them from, what found its way into ‘his’ rituals and how? The book raises as many questions as it answers.

In any case, Harrison’s debut is indeed a ‘modern classic’ of Masonic history, but would have done better if the author was a pencil licker such as detail loving authors Knoop and Jones or Stevenson.

2014 Lewis Masonic, isbn 0853184992

Reformation, Revolution, Renovation – Lyke de Vries (2021)

The dissertation of De Vries (1990-) on the Rosicrucians for her philosophy study in Nijmegen was turned into an academic publication on the esteemed publisher Brill. This makes this yet another expensive publication, but apparently Brill wanted to make this book better available, since you can download a free version on the book through the publisher’s website.

When I got the book I wondered if it would bring any new information. There have been classic and detailed publications about the subject, also from my own country. Think Carlos Gilly, think Govert Snoek; recently I read Tobias Churton. Actually, De Vries indeed did dive into a hardly explored element of the subject: the Rosicrucian call for a general reformation.

Universal reformation is by definition all-embracing and encompasses a wide range of activities, including plans to reform, amongst others, religion, politics, philosophy, medicine, and education. (p. 22)

Thus De Vries sets out to investigate what reformation(s) the Rosicrucians stood for. Contrary to other authors, De Vries is of the opinion that Rosicrucians were not Lutheran. She compared the manifestos and the people who (presumably) wrote them and compared them to Lutheran (“millennialistic” / “chiliastic”) texts and concludes that there are big differences. The most important being that Rosicrucian texts are actually optimistic as they hint towards a golden time after the end of the world.
This optimism also shows in the political area.
Philosophy, medicine and education are in grave need for reformations. Based on Paracelcus, but mostly followers of Paracelcus, new ways of medicine and theology are supported.

De Vries not only looked at the manifestos and other writings of Johan Valentin Andreae (1586-1654) and Tobias Hess (1568–1614), she also looked at the early responds in detail. This way it becomes obvious that everybody read the manifestos in a different way. One respondent picks elements to support his own agenda, another one does the same. This way the “Rosicrucian furore” becomes somewhat confusing. It certainly was not a homogenous movement.

Lyke de Vries’ book takes you on a journey through 16/7th century thinking. Sometimes radical, sometimes provocative. A world in transition where reformers clash with the establishment, an establishment that some are part of themselves. The book is mostly a ‘history of ideas’ so to speak.

Indeed, a somewhat different angle to the subject. Reformation, Revolution, Renovation The Roots and Reception of the Rosicrucian Call for General Reform makes an interesting read.

2019 Brill, isbn 9004250220

The Origins Of Freemasonry – David Stevenson (1988)

I ran into this title in the books of Tobias Churton. Like Churton, Stevenson is not a Freemason himself. The subtitle of the book makes it clear where Stevenson’s emphasis lays: Scotland’s century 1590-1710.

While many authors see the origin of ‘modern Freemasonry’ in England because it was in London that the first Grand Loge was founded, Stevenson focuses on Scotland. Not only is there much more material about Freemasonry predating 1717, but according to the author, Scottish Freemasonry differed from English Freemasonry and the former heavily influenced the latter in the years around 1717.

Stevenson also comes with a somewhat different version of the transition from so-called “operative” to so-called “speculative” Freemasonry.

Thus the assumption imposed by the terminology […] is that operative lodges, made up of stonemasons, must to operative things; non-operative lodges of gentlemen or speculatives do speculative things. This may make some sense in an English context, where nearly all lodges were ‘artificial’ foundations by gentlemen, but it is totally inappropriate for Scotland where virtually all the pre-1710 lodges were originally, and often long remained, closely tied to the mason trade. (p. 10)

And so we get the story that you may have ran into before with “Old Charges” (Scottish and some English), early lodge minutes, joining “gentry”, etc. Stevenson comes up with slightly different details and lays stress on other details to make his point that many things that we know of Freemasonry today, actually came into existence in Scotland and was only around 1717 introduced in England such as the Mason Word and the two grade system.

William Shaw is the person for Stevenson, whom restyled early Freemasonry into a form that would develop into what Freemasonry is today, including a big part of its esotericism. Also slightly different from several other authors is Stevenson’s ideas that gentry usually only experienced an initiation, but were not active in the lodge afterwards; that lodges consisted not only or masons as workmen, but other professions as well; and that “gentry” not only joined but also left lodges basically making them “operative” again.

It is an interesting history and Stevenson shines his own light on it. I find his ‘Scotland theory’ a credible one. Why would the French, when Freemasonry started to develop there, refer to Scotland (Ecossais) rather than England for their systems of ‘high degrees’? And is it so strange that in Scotland things were somewhat different, but elements found their ways to England right around the time that the first Grand Lodge was founded?

I just started reading another David Harrison book and in the first pages he proved himself critical towards Stevenson. Let us just take the different theories (emphasis) at heart and remember what appeals to us. When you are interested in somewhat dry historical Masonic history (think Knoop and Jones), Stevenson makes a worthwhile read.

The Invisible History Of The Rosicrucians – Tobias Churton (2009)

Another Churton, and I have bought yet more. Obviously, in this book Churton takes a look at the Rosicrucians, a history often told.

As in his other works, Churton used recent (and less recent) scholarly publications, especially those of Carlos Gilly and Susanna Åkerman. He frequently refers to the Ritman Library (aka Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica aka Embassy Of The Free Mind). Churton is connected to the Exeter University where there is a seat for Western Esotericism. Still Churton does not read ‘dry scholarly’, quite the contrary actually. I have just started a very recent academic publication about the Rosicrucians and Churton does not even seem to be a source there. Does he move just outside the usual suspects of Rosicrucian scholars?

It is not like his book is one of those popular ‘alternative history’ books with much spectacle and little substantiation. And even though -more than in his other books- he uses other publications for his information, there is also again his own information and approach.

Churton puts the Rosicrucian furore in a bit of a cadre. astronomy (supernovas), upcoming science, radical individuals and groups, etc. Even though he looks at people and how they relate to each other his conclusion is that there was no Rosicrucian brotherhood. This is somewhat annoyingly repeatedly stressed towards the end.

What there was were people with ideals, certain interests, people who saw that the world was running in the wrong direction. Not even central among them was Johan Valentin Andreae, the author of the Fama, the Chemical Wedding, perhaps also of the Confessio, but also of a load of other writings that are often left aside by authors on Rosicrucian history. Churton does look at Andreae’s other writings and thus paints an interesting picture in which the Rosicrucian craze is a bit of an embarrassment for Andreae. The manifestoes were not published at Andreae’s wish, but because somebody got hold of a copy and took it to a publishing house. What Andreae was really after and what the publication of the manifestoes thwarted rather than helped is something you get an idea of reading Churton’s book.

Of course there was more to the Rusicrucian furore than Andreae and there was much more to Andreae than Rocrucianism. Churton describes how thinkers such as Andreae, but also Jan Amos Comenius and others saw the need of a reformation much wider than the Reformation, a development that just may have influenced the ‘start’ of early Freemasonry.

Towards the end of the book the author starts describing ‘neo-Rosicrucian’ organisations and people. This is a bit of a history of Western esotericism after 1730. “Fringe” Freemasonry (Churton seems to see ‘high grade’ Freemasonry as “fringe”), famous esotericists, Rosicrucian groups, Crowley, all things mildly related and yet very much unrelated as there was no historical Rosicrucian brotherhood, fills the last chapters of the book.

Churton paints a bit of a larger picture than what you are often presented. Especially more of the person of Andreae was an interesting read. All in all, I do not think I learned a whole lot of things new. Churton’s book is a bit of an ‘easy read’ about the subject, a bit of an updated Frances Yates so to say. If you want a not too dry book about the subject with fairly updated information, scholarly in background and easier to get than academic publications, this could be a title to look at.

2009 Inner Traditions, isbn 159477255X