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Baigent Leigh

The Elixer And The Stone * Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh (isbn 0140247939)

Another great work from Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. This time they investigate the history of the esoteric systems of the West, in particular the Hermetic tradition. The writers also give some background of their own beings as children of the 60’ies ‘occult revival’ and their youthfull interest in the modern forms of Hermeticism in literature, poetry, art, etc.

The story more or less begins in Alexandria, the Greek city that Alexander the Great founded after the take-over of Egypt around 330 BC. Alexandria soon became the meeting place and hotbed for numerous philosophical, religious and occult people, movements and groups. This resulted in a high state of tollerance and interest of the inhabitants in different viewpoints and philosophies and Alexandria became the cultural capital of the world with two libraries of which the largest contained 500.000 book-rolls and the smallest 40.000. These not only had works of Pythogoras and Plato, also translations in different languages, but even much of what would later become the ‘corpus’ of the Hermetic writings and translations of texts that much later were discovered to be part of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
For a long time everything seemed perfect, but of course there were other cultures at hunt for land and power and Alexandria was attacked several times and eventually taken over and torn down. Many of its treasuries were lost.
The Alexandrian culture didn’t die out just like that and later many of its inhabitants found a new home among the upcoming followers of the Islam which was a very tollerant and openminded religion. Hermeticism even became a part of the Islam when the main movement took over elements from the suffists who were very much influenced by the Hermeticists that lived in the area. Hermeticism even became a ‘religion’ when Muslim leaders were travelling through their empire to see if the different movements among their inhabitents were “people of the book” (meaning, having a religion based on a revelation like the Koran, the Bible or the Vedas) and a group of Hermeticists named books like the Corpus Hermeticum, the Picatrix, etc. which were found legitimite by the Muslims.
Under Muslim flag Spain eventually became the most tollerant and diverse part of Europe regarding philosophy, religion and occultism. This was about 715 AD.
Of course in the end also Spain was taken back, the Muslims were stopped in their rise for the rest of Europe and eventually fought back to about the regions where it is still the main religion today.

Then the Middle Ages and the Renaissance are dealt with and a whole range of great names pass the revue. Names like Cosimo, Ficino (who both founded universaties in Italy), Reuchlin, Dürer, Paracelcus, Trithemius, Agrippa, emperor Rudolph II (the ‘hermetic’ emperor who protected many ‘heretics’ in his kingdom), Da Vinci, Shakespeare, John Dee, Bruno and many more. Some more in depth than others.

Also the coming up of the art of printing is written about, because it caused a fast propagation of the Hermetic knowledge and caused the Catholic church to loose a lot of its power over the knowledge of people, which they used to have almost a monopoly over.
Also the coming up of Protestantism (Luther and Calvin) caused the Catholic church to loose a lot of power.

After the Renaissance with its mysticism a new era came up, the era of rationalism, better known as the “alleviation”. Thinkers such as Descartes, Darwin, Huxley and Spenser caused people to accept only the things that they can observe with their five senses or aids. Religion, philosophy and especially occultism became unnecessary and even hostile.

But with Freud a new field of investigation was found, the area of the mind. Freud -though- was a obdurate rationalist who chose to deny many of the things that were actually exactly his field of investigation.
In the beginning Freud’s apprentice and protegé Jung seemed a proper follow-up and ally, but Jung more and more moved towards the fields of the occult and mysticism which eventually caused not only a break between the two former friends, but also between psychology and ‘science’. Still modern psychology and psychotherapy owes a lot to Jung.

The second part of the book is a lot less interesting as the first. It deals with ‘modern magic’ in the form of science, technology, manipulation of the mind, politics, commercial manipulation (commercials), manipulation of information, music and magic (Woodstock vs Altamont, voodoo in blues, jazz and rock), etc. And with modern Hermetic influences in art, poetry, literature, etc.

Overal the first part of the book is extremely interesting and a great reference book for Western esotericism. The philosophical musings of the writers are (however I don’t share many of their ideas) nice to read, but the largest part of the second part isn’t too interesting.
Also the writers put a bit too much stress on their own preferences, for example by complaining that too many people of today reach for the Eastern religions, devour books of people like Blavatsky or Gurdjieff instead of turning to art (in particular poetry, literature and painting), but they forget that many western people will not ‘reach enlightenment’ by looking at a painting of William Blake or Salvator Rosa or by reading poetry by William Shakespears or Robert Musil. As often stressed by ‘esotericists’ there is a path for the sensitive among us and one for the rationalists, usually called the ‘path of the mystic’ and the ‘path of the occultist’.

As always in the books of Baigent and Leigh there are many many quotes, but it seems that they owe a lot of these to Francis Yates.

Still a very good introduction to the traditions of the west.

The Temple And The Lodge * Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh (isbn 1559701269)

I know that this is the third book that I review of Baigent and Leigh, but their books are just very interesting historical works on interesting persons and subjects.
And looking through the cases of more serious bookstores, there are many kindred books about several interesting historical subjects, but actually I find historical information quite unusefull. It is nice to know that Jaques de Molay was the last leader of the Knight Templars and was burned in 1313, but this doesn’t add much to my personal worldview. Therefor I think that I will read only a few more of such books (they are read quickly anyway since it is nothing more than absorbing information) and then return to my ‘usual literature’.

This time a book in which the writers prove that Freemasonry descents from the Knight Templars, which is indeed completely the opposite of my article / book review of “The Children Of Hiram“. Of course you can gather facts to prove your story and leave out other facts, to back up your theory or explain the facts in a different way. Many facts are in fact theories and the stories and history and built together from the information that is found. Personally I prefer the version of Baigent and Leigh over that of Van den Abeele, maybe for ‘romantic’ reasons, but the amount of information and ‘facts’ that are given by Baigent and Leigh appeal more to me than the (seemingly) lack of certain historical facts in Van den Abeele’s account, but most things correspond in both books and “The Children Of Hiram” definately is a very worthwhile book on the history of Freemasonry with only facts and almost no theories drawn from them.

But let us move to the version of Baigent and Leigh.

The book starts with the writers travelling to Scotland during which they quickly wanted to find out if there was any thruth in a legend that they heard from an acquintance. The legend was about ruins of Templar castles, but there had never been proof of Templars living in Scotland. A years-long investigation was the result, in which some pretty stunning discoveries were done. Some of these resulted in the book “The Templar Revelation” (on which my very first article is based) and others eventually led to the book at subject here.

When checking out the legend that they heard, the writers accidentally stumbled upon a range of anonymous graves with no more decoration than a straight sword on the graveyard of a small village called Kilmartin at the Loch Awe in Scotland. They expected to find Templar graves on one of the little islands in the lake, but at least they found something. Theories to try to back up are formed, more evidence are sought (but safe a few exceptions not found) which fills the introduction to this book.

Chapter one of part one gives the history of Scotland between 1290 and 1330 in which the excommunicated tried to form a Celtic kingdom of Scotland. This is also the very periode in which the Templars were made life difficult on the continent. There even seemed Templar activity in Scotland in that periode, expecially with the battle for Bannockburn in 1313. For some reason the winning army of King Edward of England were eventually scared away by a minority of Scotts.

Then the book continues with a quite detailed history of the order of the Knight Templars. Their origin, foundation, history, different leaders, their gathering of land and fortune, their contact with Moslems and Jews, the Templar philosophy and loyalty to the Pope, etc., etc. Then the arrests, tortures, the inquisition and finally the last strike with the friday 13 october 1307 Europe-wide offensive of Philips IV of France that wiped out the entire Templar order.

But -as the writers suggest- many Templars had been warned about the plans of Philips, so they took what they could and fled, for example with their entire fleet and their (supposed) treasure of which nothing has ever been found. Several possible routes to escape are discussed (Portugal, near east, etc.), but Scotland via Ireland is proven most reasenable.

A history of the Templars in Scotland and Ireland is given based on the accounts of (historical) historians, poetry, literature and slowly working towards neo-Templar organisations such as the Scottish guard in France and pre-masonic activity, such as sir William Sinclair with his chapel full of masonic imaginary around 1450. Many families that were later to become familiar names in Freemasonry pass the revue. Sinclair, Montgomery, Roslin, etc.
Passing through similar, but earlier founded movement like the Rosicrucians and the Royal guard, part II is fully dedicated to the history of Freemasonry.

This part has quite some similarities with “The Children Of Hiram”, dealing with the Stuart-minded (Jacobite) and very political early history of the Masonic movement. The foundation of the “Grand Lodge”. The later schismas and internal quarrels, the fast expansion of lodges all through the UK, Europe and the rest of the world and eventually the first Mason that came up with the story that Freemasonry has its past in the Knight Templars: Andrew Michael Ramsey around 1690 and the new form of Masonry based on this past of Karl Gottlieb von Hund around 1750, which was later to become the still existing “Rectified Scottish Rite”.

Part III deals with the formation of the United States Of America.

When Masonry was at its peak in the UK, colonalisation of the ‘new world’ began and many Masons travelled to this new world to build up a new life, preferably a life and community according to the ideals of Masonic and Rosicrucian thinkers.

Especially so called ‘field lodges’ flourished in the early times. These were lodges that were founded in different sections of the British, but also French armies. Often the colonels or generals were not only leaders of the different regiments, but also of the lodges. So many soldiers were member, that every soldier was -if not a member- very much influenced by Masonic thinking. Many high-ranked persons openly practised Freemasonry and later when the English defeated the French all over the east-coast, a large part of the people who formed the United States, wrote the constitution and the first laws, did this with a Masonic conviction. For example, two of the five people who wrote the declaration of independence (?) were Freemasons: Benjamin Franklin and Robert Livinstone and of one other the conjecture is strong, but there is no proof: Roger Sherman. The driving force behind the constitution consisted of five Masons: Washington, Franklin, Randolph, Jefferson and Adams. The first president became George Washington on 7 februari 1789, his vice-president was John Adams and the oath was taken by Robert Livingstone, grandmaster of the New York grand lodge. The burial of Washington was one large Masonic ritual.
Shortly is touched upon the formation of the states and other matters that made the United States to what they are today.
Needless to say that however there were many Masonic influences on the childs-years of the US, the largest part of the people involved in the process were not Masons. But a nice (disturbing?) list of Masonic presidents is a good thing to close this part off: Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Polk, Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Garfield, Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, Harding, FD Roosevelt, Truman and Ford.

All in all a very nice investigation of the case of Freemasonry and it is obvious that there is more to the subject than Ad van den Abeele wants to admit in his book. He doesn’t mention that already in the 14th century gravestones with symbols that were later to be used by Freemasons (the well-known compass and square) were found in Turkey and similar stones were found by the writers of this book in Scotland. These graves were certainly of Knight Templars. This is only one obvious link between the two organisations.

Should I have caught your interest, you are invited to read this book for more information.

The Inquisition * Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh (isbn 0140274669)

Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh have (together and seperately) written an agreeable amount of books about Christianity and its side-issues.
“The Inquisition – bizarre crusade against heretics and people thinking differently” (I don’t know the exact original title, but it should be something like that), seems to be their latest work.

The writers claim to give a full history of the Inquisition, starting with the events leading to the establishment of the Inquisition in 1234 straight to the present day. As it seems to me, they reached their goal.

Most people only know the worst of all inquisitions, being the Spanish version, but actually most countries had their own inquisition, sometimes under authority of the Pope, sometimes of the crown. The book deals with several versions of the inquisition and also with several meriting point, spead over various chapters. These are as follows:
-a fiery zeal for the faith;
-origins of the Inquisition;
-enemies of the Black Friars;
-the Spanish Inquisition;
-saving the New World;
-a crusade against witchcraft;
-fighting the heresy of Protestantism;
-fear of the mystics;
-Freemasonry and the Inquisition;
-the conquest of the papal states;
-the Holy Office;
-the Dead Sea Scrolls;
-the congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith;
-visions of Mary;
-the Pope as the problem.

The best thing of this book is that in totality it is chronological, but the subjects are dealt with seperately. Therefor the chapters overlap in time, but this is really not irritating, but helpfull. For example reading the chapter “Fear of the mystics” spans some time in the 19th century and the Freemasons are mentioned, but these are dealt with fully in the next chapter, repeating a few things, dealing with some of the same periods, but nowhere giving infomation twice, only mentioning a few things from a previous chapter. This makes the book perfect to read chapter by chapter and also as reference when you want to know something about a certain subject. Also there is an index and literature-referral to point you at more in depth information.

Known and less-known information is giving, tracing the inquisition through the Holy Office to the Congragation of the Religious Doctrines (or however the official name in English is) of the present day.

Numerous quotes are taken from a lot of sources. This seems very impressive at first, but most quotes are taken from other works about the subject. Still they make good evidence for historical facts.

About many popes quite a lot of information is given (of course especially about the notorious pope Pius IX) which made me wonder if we would also get some nice details about the recent pope John Paul II and indeed around the end there are quite some pages spent on him and his cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Some things I knew, most I didn’t. Unfortunately nothing about the (political) group Opus Dei of which the recent pope is a supporter. An organisation that has been battling the Jesuits (founded in 1540 by Ignatius of Loyola and pope Paul III) for political religious power. Maybe something for a future book?

The writing style of the writers is witty and more than once I was laughing out loud over dead serious subjects. The inquisitors do their jobs with great enthousiasm; they couldn’t shed blood, so they creatively found other ways of torturing (thumbscrews and the like); the Pope not only had split feet, but also a split head (this was a quote); and more of such expressions making the read even more enjoyable.

Because the writers have written books about many side-issues of Christianity, like the Dead Sea Scolls, Freemasonry, The Knight Templars, etc. and their investigations often overlap, they by now know a lot about the subject in a greater sence which gives a growing value to every new book of them. However I was more impressed by “The Templar Revelation” (probably caused by the subject) I definately plan to read more books of Baigent/Leigh. This is especially made easier, because it only takes me a few nights to read the 250 pages of this book -for example-, because this kind of works are much different from what I usually read. They only require absorbing information and not too much need to think about that or to understand it.

A very interesting and unorthodox history of the basis of our culture.