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Gwendolyn Taunton

Sovereign Thought – Gwendolyn Taunton (2022)

I have not followed Primordial Traditions / Numen Books / Manticore Press closely enough. A while ago I noticed that I missed a couple of titles. I got three of them, one of those being this book of the helmslady Taunton.

The subtitle promises: “The Philosopher & the Kingdom: From Ancient Greece to the Arthaśāstra”, but it is more: Ancient Greece and Arthasastra. The book is divided in two parts each with its own conclusion. The first part is about Greece, the other part about the far East. I enjoyed the latter part a lot better.

In the part about Greece you will read about politics before democracy and politics instead of democracy with Socrates and Plato as main thinkers of interest.

The part about the far East has more focus on religion and politics. Here the main thinker is Canakya who formed a massive empire three centuries before our common era and wrote down how he managed to do that. Even though his system fell out of use, it seems to enjoy a growing attention today.

Not entirely my subject, but the second part was a good read.

2022 Manticore Press, isbn 0645670006

Eternal Wisdom – Gwendolyn Taunton (2020)

In Amazon’s Kindle store my eye fell on two titles of Gwendolyn Taunton (formerly Toynton) that I did not know. The Primordial Tradition (2015) and the book presently under review.

That book is presented as an updated version of the publication that acquainted me with Taunton back in the days: Primordial Traditions Compendium (2009) which was a compendium of a periodical that Taunton edited before (2005-2008).

The 230+ page compendium contains texts by various authors. In the new 78 page version, there are only texts of what used to be the editor. New ones too it seems, so the connection between both publications is only the author.

Already in 2009 I concluded that Taunton’s explanation of the term “Primordial Tradition” is not mine. This is still the case. This is emphasized by the opening text about Carl Gustav Jung. What was also apparent over a decade ago is that Taunton appears to be of the opinion that “philosophia perennis” can be reached by study. It is even “an intellectual transmission” (emphasis mine). “Philosophia perennis” is presented as (the result of) the study of comparative myth and religion.

Even though she does refer to Guénon, Schuon and Coomaraswamy, Taunton’s approach is much different.

A prophet, therefor, does not require the bonds of filiation, which René Guénon believed to be the necessary requirement for belonging to tradition.

Guénon has a few things to say about prophets which is in a way similar, but also much different from that statement. Another point Guénon would certainly not agree with is:

Faith in the potency of any specific symbol relies upon the most basic human aspect of belief. Belief in a sentient God is not even required.

As with other publications, Taunton walks a similar mountain as myself, but another path (but closer as many). As usual she does have interesting things to say and diverting opinions force me to question my own. I do wonder about some chapters what the relevancy with the subject is, such as the chapter about the “science of omens”.

There is also a chapter about alchemy in which Taunton suggests that alchemy is a (proto-)Indo-European tradition which has spread with Indo-European culture. This would explain the spread and diversity of alchemy. This is an interesting notion that I do not think I encountered before.

The closing chapter is more political. Apparently some alt-right thinkers have started using the term “Traditionalism” and for that reason Taunton chose to no longer use the term as she wants to prevent being lumped together with such currents. It could be me, but this alt-right is hardly visible (especially possible ‘intellectual’ efforts have all passed by me) and just the fact that they try to hijack a term that has been in use for a century is not immediately a reason for me to start to look for a synonym.

As often with Manticore publications, interesting, somewhat different from my own ideas (which is good). Rather short though.

2020 Manticore Press, isbn 0648766055

The Path Of Shadows – Gwendolyn Taunton (2018)

5 Essays in a little over 170 pages. The subject seems to be one of Taunton’s favourite (but less so mine): Greek mythology. With Taunton writing Nietzsche is never far away either.

The subjects span “chthonic Gods, oneiromancy & necromancy in ancient Greece”. Starting with Hades we continue with Nietzsche’s take on Greek myth. After Persephone there is a chapter about “divination, omens and prophecies [which] can be referred to as belonging to the Mantic Tradition.” The last subjects are a bit darker, dream magic (“oneimancy”) and magic concerning the dead (“necromancy”).

The author mostly collects information from different authors. This time quite some scholarly publications and journals are quoted. The subject not being entirely of my liking, I found the book an alright read. For people who have an interest in the darker side of ancient Greece, this book might be a summery of some not-too-recent, but neither ancient investigations into the subject.

2018 Manticore Press, isbn 0648299643

Fate And The Twilight Of The Gods – Gwendolyn Taunton (2018)

Rather than publishing the texts in one of the journals that Taunton publishes through Manticore Press, this time she bundled two essays into a small book of 116 pages.

The first essay is about fate in Norse religion, mostly about the Norns. The second is “an exegesis of Voluspa”. Both essays look like summaries of books that have long been available, in English even. The first text mostly quotes Bek-Pederson’s The Norns In Old Norse Mythology and Winterbourne’s When The Norns Have Spoken. The second text has a longer bibliography, but often refers to Rydberg and Grimm. More interestingly several issues of a periodical called History Of Religions are used.

There seem to be but a handful of thoughts and conclusions that are Taunton’s own. Some of these conclusions would not have been mine, but Taunton also has a couple of things that I do not think I ever heard of or looked at that way.

What I find strange is that Taunton uses quite a bit of ‘second hand quoting’. She refers to an author who is referred to by another author. Personally I would have looked up the original work and quote from there. In one occasion this leads to the strange situation in which Taunton first refers to Dumézil’s Mitra-Varuna and then claiming that Dumézil left Tyr out of the equation for political reasons and even says that he should have had Tyr on the second function, while in the book that was referred to, Dumézil lengthily explains why Tyr is one of the halves of the double function on the first function.

“Fate And The Twilight Of The Gods” is an alright read that does not bring many new insights, but still has some things to think about. Like I said, it summarizes earlier investigations into fate and Ragnarök, so it easily brings you up to speed about these subjects, as far as the English language goes of course.

2018 Manticore Press, isbn 9780648299660

Tantric Traditions – Gwendolyn Taunton (2018)

Even though the title suggests that this is one of the Primordial Traditions / Numen Books / Manticore Press journals with a collection of different authors and which mostly have the word “traditions” in the title, this is actually a book solely written by the person behind the publishing house.

“Tantric Traditions” is not a large book. It has a little over 200 pages of text and then some addenda. It is a very nice book though. Frequently railing against the popular Western view of Tantra, Taunton sets Tantra as the religion for the Kali Yuga. Also she shows that Tantra is not a separate renegade Eastern religion, but that is actually comes from the Vedic tradition. Last but not least, beside a sinister side, there is also a ‘lighter’ side to Tantra and the sinister side is much more sinister than you would imagine.

In the beginning of the book, the author explains the idea of the four ages and how Tantra is to be placed in the latest of these, the Kali Yuga. For this she draws on Traditionalists and might have benefited from a book of Joscelyn Godwin that I recently reviewed.
After this she continues with Tantra itself, highlighting different aspects, speaking about its mantras, yantras, but also about the darker rituals. In doing so she quotes primary and secondary sources. All this give a colourful of an interesting Eastern current about which much more is to be said that the popular “sacred sex” books. As a matter of fact, you will not read all that much about Tantric sex. There is so much more to say about Tantra.

Here and there the author seems to take it that the reader has sufficient background knowledge and even though this is by and far not first book about an Eastern religion, I would have preferred some extra information here and there. Also on a few occasions I get the feeling that Taunton suddenly jumps to another subject.

In spite of the fact that some extra editing would do the book good, I find this a highly interesting book about an Eastern tradition that we in the West know little about. I even want to pick up the subject of Eastern religion and esotericism again. It has been too long since it was part of my literature.

2018 Manticore Press, isbn 0648299600

Kratos: The Hellenic Tradition * Gwendolyn Taunton (editor) (2013)

This is already the sixth ‘volume’ in the ‘series’ of journals published by Numen Books (formerly Primordial Traditions). As the title says we are looking at Greece this time. “Kratos” comes as a nice sleeve and with 242 pages, it is again quite a book. There are three texts of our productive editor an article of the editor of “Occult Traditions” and some Greek and less Greek sounding names. Some texts are very historical and of course there is a lot of Nietzsche. I must admit that the Hellenic tradition is not entirely my thing and I did not really enjoy all texts, but a very nice article is called “Hellenic Household Worship”. In this text Christos Pandion Panopoulos tells us about household religion in the past and the present. Another essay that hints to our own day and time is “Foreign Gods, Syncretism and Hellenismos” by Kallistos, telling us that many of the major Gods are not originally Greek. What is slightly remarkable is that some authors seem to take it that their readers can read Greek. Some sometimes give a translation or just a transliteration (but at other times nothing at all), but John Pickard manages to give a half-page quote in Greek and just starts to refer to it.
Perhaps for me personally not the most interesting ‘volume’ in the series, but as always this Numen Books release brings together historical investigations and contemporary religion and comes with not the most common approaches, so I suppose that when you enjoyed the other books of Numen Books, you also want to get your hands on this latest publication (click on the “tag” below the title to read all reviews).
2013 Numen Books, isbn 098755980X

Mímir – Journal Of North European Traditions * Gwendolyn Taunton (editor) (2011)

Only a year and a half ago I reviewed “Northern Traditions“. The series of journals edited by Gwendolyn Toynton/Taunton has since seen two other volumes. For the second issue dedicated to the Traditions of Northern Europe, Taunton came up with a better-fitting name. “Mímir” is 230 pages thick and comes as the well-printed A5 booklet that we grew used to. The essays are nicely varried. The editor contributes a nice introduction and two articles, one about “the Nornir and the concept of Fate” and one about “the berserker and the Vratya”. Two articles of myself are also included (I had to come up with a penname quickly and it became “Roy Orlogstru”). The first is an 18 page version of “Traditionalistic Asatru“, a text of a few years back. The other I named “The Primal Law” and I write about Örlogr, Heilagr, fate and a few other concepts and I put this in a Traditionalistic framework. Then I need to mention Maria Kvildhaug’s “Ritual And Initiation In The Poetic Edda” because this text completes an interesting set of articles that complement eachother (I did not know this beforehand, this is either good editing or luck of the editor). All three authors refer to Germanic initiations, Männerbünde, there are references to fate, Örlogr and all the things interesting in Northern mythology. I feel to be closer in content to Taunton than to Kvildhaug, but we all three break a lance for Northern mysteries. Other articles include an investigation of Viking presence in Northern Europe, a new translation of the sage of Gunnlaug the Worm-Tongue, an interesting investigation of the texts of Saxo Grammaticus and its sources and another article about Grammaticus by the same author. There are two articles about runes. A short text saying what runes are not, but more interesting is Juleigh Howard-Hobson’s defence of the Uthark theory. The journal closes with a lengthy review of the first five Heidnische Jahrbücher by myself.
Indeed, “Mímir” became a very nice collection of contemporary heathenry including different views in comparison to what you see more often. It sure makes a welcome addition to similar efforts such as the earlier mentioned Heidnisches Jahrbuch, the Journal For Contemporary Heathen Thought and Tyr, particularly because I found someone who likes what I write and is willing to publish it!
2012 Numen Books, isbn 978098158147

Northern Traditions * Gwendolyn Toynton (2011)

Toynton earlier edited the “Primordial Traditions Compendium”, a similar book consisting of essays, comparible to the Tyr Journal, The Journal For Contemporary Heathen Thought or the Heidnisches Jahrbuch. The Primordial Traditions Compendium is a Traditionalistic work with information about different traditions. When I heard of a new volume with the focus on the Northern Traditions and thought to have a look at the website, I noticed that there are plans for upcoming volumes about Alchemical Traditions, Occult Traditions and Tantric Traditions. Northern Traditions is an expensive buy. I paid 30 euros to get the 175 page booklet in my mailbox. I have cheaper books with more luxery paper (and better covers!), but of course it is the content that matters, right? Toynton opens with her pessimistic ideas based on the Traditionalistic hypothesis of cycles and wonders how one can build a faith for the modern age, built on an old one. This is actually the idea behind the entire publication which is divided in a historical and a contemporary part. The opening article (after a Tyr song) is also by Toynton and in it she speaks about The twilight of the Gods. In her lengthy article Toynton digs deeply into the information we have about Ragnarok and similar events in other mythologies. She manages to see current events, thus glimpsing at the neigh end of a cycle, and in doing so there are some nice thoughts and some too short corners, something that we will see more often in this publication. Matt Hajduk, whom we know from the previous publication, has some things to say about Forseti. His article brings memories of my own short text about honour and feud. Juleigh Howard-Hubson’s writes about sleeping kings who are supposed to reawaken when they are most needed. She compares Celtic versions with that of (Indo-)European folklore. Next up is a short text about honour, followed by a lengthy botanical essay that I lost track in. Hajduk also contributed an article about Tyr and he argues that when people see Tyr as just a myth without any contemporary practical meaning, modern heathenry will never be more than theoretical exercise. Then we have another essay which reminds a lot of something. Alexander Shephard investigates the theme of the Grail, mostly based on Evola’s The Mystery Of The Grail and a few titles of Guénon. Eliade is shortly mentioned. I do not know Evola’s book, but Shephard’s article cuts corners, jumps conclusions and is in many regards unconvincing. If only could he have read Dutch and found the book De Graal by Koenraad Logghe who also uses a Traditionalistic approach for the subject. Shephard and Logghe walk similar paths, but Shephard comes to his theories of solar deities and the cosmic cycles a bit too easily. He bases himself on (the famous) British Arthur legends, while the older are more interesting (and would have fitted his goal better too I think), names are misspelt which might have given him some ideas when they were not and even his history of the Grail legends misses the most important texts. A short text of Vijay Prozak supposedly gives The philosophical essence of the Northern Traditions but besides summing up some ways of looking at things (monism, dualism, etc.) and stating that a mix between them all would be “idealism”, Prozac does not get. There are a few nice thoughts and quotes though. S.R. Hardy made a new and very readable translation of the Thrymskvida. Stephen M. Borthwick also contributed his Hermann Awakened, folkishness v. racism to The Journal Of Contemporary Heathen Thought, the title says enough. Hardy again comes with a contemporary old work, he created a runesong of 3×3 verses for each rune. A very Traditionalistic article is Myth of the golden age by Wulf Ingessunu which is a bit of a mishmash of Northern and other mythologies to argue that Ragnarok is the end of the golden age. Ingessunu manages to place the Fimbul winter immediately after the war between the Aesir and the Vanir; places “Baldaeg” in “Odainsacre” after he gets shot by his brother, supposedly from an Anglo-Saxon version of the Balder myth. Atlantis is derived from “At-al-Ase” and “The hooded man” from some old television series is the “avatar” for the new era. Not the most convincing article… Christopher A. Smith, a modern magician, contribituted a few pages about contemporary Northern magic, making clear that we no longer live in the Middle Ages. The closing article is for Troy Southgate who gives “a Wodenist perspective” on The symbolic & practical significence of the centre. He of course quotes Eliade who extensively investigated the symbolism of the centre of the world, world trees, etc. but Southgate goes on with giving a ritual to make your own centre. I am not really fond of such outwritten rituals and fail to see Southgate’s purpose of the ritual.
Indeed, I am quite critical about the essays in this publication, but that does not mean that I do not applaud yet another serious (“semi-academic”) modern heathen publication. Without different opinions and approaches nothing new will ever surface and the publication surely raises some things worthy to think over and to discuss. Therefor I advice to try to keep up with this kind of publications if you are interested in contemporary heathenry.
Link: Primordial Traditions 2011, isbn 9780473162832

Primordial Traditions Compendium 2009 * Gwendolyn Toynton (ed.) (2009)

Primordial Traditions Compendium 2009Primordial Traditions is a periodical that I did not know. They have collected their best articles from 2005 to 2009, most of which are by the hand of editor Gwendolyn Toynton. As the title suggests, this publication takes a Traditionalistic starting point and since “the term Primordial Tradition is utilized to describe a system of spiritual thought and metaphysical truths that overarches all the other religions and esoteric traditions of humanity” this book covers a wide variety of subjects, going from Hinduism and Buddhism, to Mithraism and Islam to “paganism” and of course Traditionalism. The editor does not seem to have exactly my idea of this “primordial tradition” when she says that: “Both the idea of the Primordial Tradition and the philosophia perennis attempt to establish common factors amongst different traditions, with the goal of producing a superior gnosis or level of wisdom than that which would have been obtained by the study of a single religion.” This sounds like that the primordial tradition can be created/obtained by cross-studying myth and religion while in my idea it stems from the Divine Source and is thus, per se, not ‘obtainable’. Some articles do not really seem Traditionalistic to me, Toynton seems to have a preference for far Eastern religion about which she writes articles about uncommon subjects. This is interesting in itself, but these peculiarities are, in my opinion, not seen in other cultures, so where is the Traditionalism? Also none of the articles is really good, most of them are interesting in subject and sometimes in angle of approach, but besides a few nice hints to think over or look for, I find this book more entertaining than studious. Several articles, moreover, contain ideas and statements that I disagree with and also there is an Evolian (stress on the second function) approach that I do not share. Inspite of all my critique, the Primordial Traditions Compendium is a nice read for people with an interest in comparitive myth and religion and people with an interest in far Eastern (especialy Tantric) traditions.
2009 Twin Serpents ltd. isbn 1905524323