De Paradox van Vrijmetselarij * Jimmy Koppen (2014)

This review might not be for many of my readers. Lateron it will be clear why I think this is the case. I ran into this title quite by accident. The back cover proves the book not to be one of those popular books about Freemasonry with wild theories and exposed secrets, but a book about Freemasonry in the world today. The book is written in Dutch, so there some of you may have to abstain from reading further. Also it deals mostly with Belgian Freemasonry and for comparison a bit about Dutch Freemasonry, French Freemasonry and a tiny bit about Germany. The situation of Belgium is quite unique in the world of Freemasonry and that makes this book much different from what to expect.

As you may, or may not, know, there are two kinds of Freemasonry. The first kind is globally the biggest. It is the kind that is affilated to the United Grand Lodge of England and is hence “regular”. Regular Freemasonry lives up to the so-called “Landmarks” that were determined in 1723 and -for example- state that only men can join, that there is no discussion about religion of politics in the lodge and the Bible has to be opened during the open lodge.
This makes an easy jump to the other kind of Freemasonry: “irregular” Freemasonry. The author of the book seems to prefer the term “adogmatic”. That kind of Freemasonry is irregular because it allows women to join (there are mixed lodges and women-only lodges), allows poltical discussions within the lodge, replaced the Bible by another book, made the “Grand Architect Of The Universe” optional (or skips that notion alltogether), etc. Now in most countries (like my own), the largest part of the Masonic world is regular and a minor part irregular. In Belgium the situation is much different. Two times in history the largest Masonic organisation dropped (one of the) Landmarks, lost recognition of ‘London’ and a small part split off and gained recognition again. Today of 25.000 Belgian Freemasons, only 1.750 are regular. Therefor it is not so strange that this book, being about Belgian Freemasonry, is mostly about “adogmatic” Freemasonry and that makes it much different from ‘the usual’ literature about the subject. (By the way, irregular Freemasonry comes in many forms, men-only, mixed, women-only, theistic, atheistic, etc., etc.)

And so we read Koppen discussing subjects such as people who are not allowed to join because they send their children to a Catholic school, lodges that are very actively progressively political, numerologically dominated by women, the running through eachother of Freemasonry and other freethinking organisations (in Belgium meaning politically progressive), etc. What is more, since adogmatic Freemasonry is much bigger in Belgium, in the book some elements of it form the norm and regular Masonic practices the exception. This could annoy regular Freemasons (for example most of the Dutch Freemasons) and may put other people on the wrong track; since they may think that Freemasonry is political for example. What is more, Koppen is of the opinion that all forms of Freemasonry are Freemasonry, while regular Masons are (usually) of the opinion that irregular Freemasonry falsely use the term “Freemasonry” for something very different.

Let me finally say something about the book itself. It was interesting to read how things came to be in Belgium. The question of women in Freemasonry is treated at length. Koppen also refutes many myths about Freemasonry like that it is one big, worldwide and powerfull organisation; that only the most influential members of society join; that people join to give their carreers a boost; that sort of stories. Even in Belgium Freemasonry is simply too small for these things and membership too varried. Koppen does not leave aside examples where -for example- people got a job because they were a member, politicians who are members, etc., but when compared to other organisations that different kinds of people join, Freemasonry is only an example. The reason that Freemasonry appeals to a larger audience are wild stories and of course the secret. Koppen also says a few things about that secret and wonders how much secrecy (and about what), would help or rather oppose the goals of the different organisations. The author does not understand the witch-hunt of some people ‘exposing’ members of the different orders. Why should a Freemason have to say (s)he is a member while nobody cares about membership of the Rotary, the Round Table, a Trade Union, some philosophy class or a sportsclub?

So, no book about symbols and secrets; no lists of Grand Masters and 33’ers (however Koppen mentions quite a few names); and no legendary history. “De Paradox van Vrijmetselarij” gives a history and an overview of the Belgian Masonic world with stories, anecdotes, sometimes quite detailed information that he gathered from dozens of interviews; discussions, suggestions and what not. Written as an outsider (Koppen keeps repeating he is no member) but a very well informed one.

Now you can see for yourself if this book could be interesting. I must say that I found it a quite refreshing book to read and it is nice to know how things fared in Belgium and especially how much the situation there differs from what I know about Freemasonry in my own country.

2014 Houtekiet, isbn 9089242775
For some reason this recently published book (september 2014) seems hard to get. and have it listed as unavailable. Perhaps it is due for a reprint?

Alchemy * Titus Burckhardt (1960/2006)

This book was originally published in German in 1960 and already in 1967 there was an English translation. In 1997 Fons Vitae republished this English translation which was reprinted only in 2006. The Fons Vitae version is beautiful to see. The book is a bit more yellow than in the picture, has a wonderfull, minimalistic design and a matt cover.

Anyway, Burckhardt (1908-1984) wanted to show that alchemy was actually a “science of the cosmos, science of the soul” (as the subtitle goes) and not the proto-science (or worse: ‘primitive science’) that is so often made of it. In little over 200 pages Burckhardt speaks about alchemical symbolism and the aims and goals of alchemy. His Traditionalistic approach makes the book a wonderfull read in which you will not only learn a lot about alchemy, but you will also be able to see it as a spiritual path. Contrary to some Traditionalistic writers, Burckhardt offers a nice read in a stimulating tone. Lastly, the author reproduces several images that I never saw, mostly from manuscripts that he found in the Basle University library.

A wonderfull book indeed.

1960 Alchemie; 2006 Fons Vitae, isbn 1887752110

Sacred Geometry * Nigel Pennick (1994)

I do not often just buy a book that I see on a shelve, but the cover caught my attention, then the name of the author. It took a while before I read it though.

Sacred Geometry: Symbolism and Purpose in Religious Structures is an alright read. The author starts with two introductionary chapters about the principles and the forms of sacred geometry. These are the most interesting parts of the little book. The next chapters are about the application of sacred geometry in different times and cultures, like ancient Britton, Egypt, Mesopotamia, but also the Middle Ages the Renaissance and our own time. The chapters go from rather technical and mathemetical descriptions of geometry to more general observations about cultures and architects. I really had to think back of my mathemetics lessons of way back. The author even lost me on a few points. Also I fail to find the logical in the elaborate diagrams with triangles, squares and circles that supposedly explain the basis of some designs.

Most of the book is easy enough to follow though and Pennick presents a nice introduction into a nice subject.

1994 Capall Bann Pub, isbn 1898307156

Midwinterse Tradities * Aat van Gilst (2014)

Just before the winter solstice I wondered if I indeed heard that Aat van Gilst had recently published a book about Midwinter traditions. He did indeed and I finished it before the end of the period that this book is about (“From St. Lucia until Epiphany” as the subtitle goes).

Like other books of Van Gilst, this latest work is mostly ‘collective’, as in: tons of information, anecdotes and quotes crammed together in a book. Therefor the book again reads a bit like an encyclopedia. Still, Van Gilst proved himself an antiquarian gathering his information from the weirdest places and putting them together between two covers so that us readers do not have to find everything ourselves. The bibliography is exactly 100 titles.

The author speaks about the traditional ‘twelve nights’ that not everywhere and in every time span the same period. Usually we are talking about the winter solstice until Epiphany, but our Dutch Sinterklaas is in some way a start for the midwinter celebrations and we celebrate it at December 5th. Van Gilst teaches us a thing or two about death and fertility celebrations that have become a range of ‘Christian’ feasts for saints, but in which a lot of prechristian elements survive. Also noteworthy are the history of the ‘Christmas tree’ (which is different from the romantic view of many contemporary heathens), Christmas songs and of course a gigantic number of folkloristic traditions that we see and saw in the darkest period of the year.

Much lacking is an index and the images have too little contrast, but for the rest this is a wonderfull book to draw inspiration from for your traditional solstice information and celebrations.

2014 Uitgeverij Aspekt, isbn 9789461535269

Secret Practices of the Sufi Freemasons * Rudolf von Sebottendorff (1924/2014)

I read about this book on the blog of Mark Sedgwick. Of course the title is enigmatic, but it was mostly because it was mentioned on a Traditionalistic source that it caught my attention. There are two English translations of this weird, little book in German and I just ordered one of them. This proved to be a book translated and introduced by Stephen Flowers! The full title goes: “Secret Practises of the Sufi Freemasons; the Islamic teachings at the heart of alchemy”.

The book is only 138 pages, 63 of them are introductionary and another 8 contain notes. Flowers wrote an interesting introduction about the man who would be one of those behind the infamous Thule Gesellschaft, but this was not after he moved to Turkey and got initiated into the Sufi order of the Bektashi. However Adam Alfred Rudolf Glauer (Sebottendorff’s birthname) was born in Germany, he lived most of his life in Turkey, also before, during and after WWII. According to Sebottendorff the original Freemasons came from Rosicrucian circles (and way before, he has Freemasons in 900 CE) and the original teachings and techniques were kept by Freemasons in Islamic countries, the West has only maintained a shadow. These Eastern Freemasons seem to be Sufis, one order of which Sebottendorff was initated into by the adoptive parents that he also has to thank for his title.

The little book of Sebottendorff contains some history and theory, but mostly practices through which his readers can develop a “spiritual body”. In total it comes to me as a mishmash of Theosophism (indeed, the book was first published by the German Theosophical publishing house and some books that the author recommends also come from this corner), some sort of ‘Arabic Kabbalism’ (I guess he learned this in the Bektashi order) and indeed, the practices include grips and words that reminds of Freemasonry.

A strange little book to read and I still wonder how it ended up on a Traditionalistic blog.

1924 Die Praxis der alten türkischen Freimaurerei, 2014 Inner Traditions, isbn 9781594774683

Symbols and Pictures * Alastair Mack (2007)

When you are going to hunt Pictish stones in Scotland, first be sure to lay your hands on the tiny, but very helpfull Wee Guide to the Picts. This little book gives general information and is most helpfull because it gives clues where to find the stones. These postal codes for the stones also form one of the appendices of Symbols and Pictures: the Pictish Legacy in Stone. That is not so much a stone hunters’ book, but more a book to read when you want to learn more about the Picts and their symbol stones.

Mack wrote the book as if he is thinking out loud. I would have preferred him being more to the point. The biggest merit of the book is that the author compares different theories and puts them to the test. I bought this book in the little Meigle museum, mostly because my eye fell on the chapter about the oghams on some stones and hoped that the book says what the oghams say.

Mack proves himself to be a dry and practical thinker. There are wild theories about the Pictish stones and Mack often quickly shoves some of them aside with sound logic. ‘The oghams have to be added later, since they are from the 8th century’ which makes Mack wonder how it is possible that the other carvings on the some left a perfect spot to the oghams to be added centuries later. Similar approaches Mack offers for the spreading of the stone (where are many “class I” or many “class II” stones, etc.), to guess the (original) purpose of the stones (many where found on or near church-yards or “commemorating places” so they were probably erected to commemorate persons) or to connect certain symbols (for example the mirror-and-comb) to certain people (in this case: women).
This approach works up to a certain level. I am no fond of wild theories backed up with half evidence, but the problem is no theory proves to be unshakable. For example, many stones were not found near church-yards, etc., not every mirror-and-comb can be connected to women.

The author shows different theories to explain the symbols. Some people say that thet are markers of property or at least refer to persons. A symbol could be that person’s name, that person’s first or last name or the name of the commemorated person or the person who had the stone erected. Some of these connections seem likely when combined with the transliterations of ogham texts, but things are not completely convincing.

Yes, them oghams. The funny thing is that oghams seem to be of Celtic origin and the Celtic origin of the Picts is not undisputed. We can read Celtic oghams, but apparently we can not read Pictish oghams! The oghams are transliterated the way we know the Celtic oghams to, but this makes undecipherable strings of letters. This lead some investigators to conclude that the Picts spoke a non-Indo-European language! At least one investigator (amusingly to Mack) is able to find Scandinavian texts in every line of oghams (the Viking have visited Scotland a lot), but the sollution does not seem to be there either, but even Mack does not seem to have thought of the option that the characters that look like ogham, may stand for different letters altogether.

What remains is the suggestion that many symbols come in pairs, are not easy to date (the “class I” and “class II” periods overlap) and some suggestions are raised for explanations, none of them convincing. “The best may again be to wigh the evidence oneself – and then decide for oneself! the book ends. Strange, 257 pages of theories only to conclude that the Pictish stones remain an enigma. On the other hand, I think I prefer this to authors who think they have found the sollution and manipulate the evidence to back up their theories.

Mack’s book ends with a range of appendices that are very helpfull for other investigators. Stones with findspots and current locations; stones arranged by (combinations of) symbols; statistics with symbols; etc.

No answers, but a lot of information!

2007 The Pinkfoot Press, isbn 9781874012481

Tyr 4 (journal) (2014)

In 2002 Tyr was announced to be an annual journal. Obviously the editors have chosen quality over quantity, because the journals have been made available in 2002, 2004, 2008 and 2014. (If this continues, we do not have to expect Tyr 5 before 2022!). Issue 4 was worth the wait.

We already got used to 400+ pages with a variety of essays, usually of quite some length. Also the same as before are a range of book reviews towards the end (some quite lenghty too) and a handfull of music reviews. The approach seems to be more contemporary pagan than “radical traditionalist” this time. That is to say, after the too long “What is religion?” of Alain de Benoist, things get ‘more pagan’. Collin Cleary, for example, wonders “What is Odinism?” and this leads to quite a different story than (probably) of many people calling themselves “Odinists”. Cleary goes more in the left hand path direction of Edred Flowers.
Next up is a very nice article about a subject I might have never read about “Traditional time-telling in old England, and modern” from the hand of Nigel Pennick. The first half of the article is the more interesting to me and lives up to the title better than the last part about heathen calendars.
Then follow two articles of the French author Claude Lecouteux who writes about “Garden dwarves and house spirits” and about “…the furious army”. The texts are alright, but I could suggest better non-English texts should the editors want to.
Again an original subject is Steve Harris’ “On barbaric suffering”. A subject that might sound Christian in basis, but Harris shows that the pre-Christians had ideas about this subject too.
A shorter text is “Germanic art in the first millenium”. Stephen Pollington shows his thoughs on Germanic and Celtic weaving pattern and other symbols that might not immediately appear to be such in ancient art.
Michael Moynihan teaches us a thing or two about the artist Rockwell Kent who had some Germanic interests. Moynihan did not get me overly enthousiastic about Kent, but interests are there to differ, right?
Christian Rätsch investigated “The mead of inspiration”. This text is mostly interesting because it breaks with hip contemporary heathen ideas about mead and what is really was and what it was used for. Rather than just a eerily sweet drink made from fermented honey, Rätsch argues that the real mead was more something between beer and what we call mead today.
Then we go psychedelic with Carl Abrahamsson and Joshua Buckly who took a look at Ralph Metzner and his scientific experimentations with psychedelics.
After this we get two lengthy interviews. The first is with Sequentia foreman Benjamin Bagby who tells us about scholarly approaches to ancient music and his own. The other interviews is with Sean Ragon of Cult of Youth (who has a shop in NYC, so next time I am there…!)
A few music reviews follow, more metal this time, but many a page is dedicated to the musical outlets of the recently deceased Jonas Trinkunas (of the Lithuanian heathen movement Romuva) to whom this volume is dedicated.
Joscelyn Godwin is again present in this volume. He made a lengthy review of Evola’s Path of Cinnabar by comparing it to the lives of René Guénon and Carl Gustav Jung. Godwin makes some interesting observations. In the second part of the review Godwin shows that he does not necessarily follow the appraisal of Evola when he reviews a new Italian biography that shows some things about the man that avid followers probably would have rather seen under the carpet.
Other reviewed books are about John Mitchell, Western esotericism (actually by Godwin, Gnosticism, Germanic folklore in America and the like.

As always Tyr makes a good read on a variety of subjects and I can recommend this title to contemporary heathens and “radical traditionalists” alike.

Summoning The Gods * Collin Cleary (2011)

I know Cleary from the Tyr journal (of which I am actually reading the fourth volume now) and indeed, that is where many texts from this collection of essays are first printed. Other texts are from the Rûna journal, the Counter Currents website or unpublished.

The collection of texts are varried. Cleary gives his very original and thought-provoking views on modern heathenry in the first three texts. Gods for contemporary man and a view on the ideas of Alain de Benoist. Cleary suggests creating an ‘opening’ within ourselves to allow the Gods to reach us, but his Gods are not those of many contemporary pagans. I do not follow Cleary all the way, but he sure makes some points to ponder about, also at reading again after several years.
The next texts are also about “Nordic paganism”, but more… ‘experimental’ so to say.
In the last two texts, Cleary portrays his views on our end-time in reviewing the Prisoner series and the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Cleary’s ideas show elements of Traditionalism, more precisely the “radical” variant that the Tyr journal. Further Cleary is heavily influened by, but at times also critical about, Edred Flowers/Thorsson. Cleary is a member of the Rune-Gild, so this is not really strange. I am not a big Thorsson fan myself, but I have not read all that much of him, but the texts with the thickest Thorsson sauce in Cleary’s book (such as the “Philosophical Notes on the Runes” are the least interesting to me. Also Cleary uses a lot of philosophy and makes many references to philosophers.

The book has a little under 200 pages. Within these you will find an original thinker who is not afraid to step on some toes and to touch unpopular subjects. A good read for contemporary pagans and non-pagans alike.

2011 Counter Currents Publishing, isbn 1935965220

Divine Wisdom Divine Nature * Cis van Heertum & José Bouman (2014)

The Bibliotheca Philsophica Hermetica (or Ritman Library) published a wonderfull book about “The Message of the Rosicrucian Manifestoes in the Visual Language of the Seventeenth Century”. The book has 168 pages, is beautifully put together and nicely informative. The first part is about the Rosicrucian manifestoes and their reception. The second part more lives up to the subtitle and highlights some works of the Renaissance and shows the reader (some of) the details of the images. Detailed information is given about works of Heinrich Khunrath, Daniel Mögling, Stephan Michelspacher, Robert Fludd and Michael Maier. The book is a bit larger than most books and however the images are printed in high quality, sometimes the details are too small to see what the authors write about. Fortunately this is not a problem in most cases. Also often details are taken out of the images and displayed separately.
The texts do not go into any depth I have not encountered yet, but I especially enjoyed the information about details in the images that have escaped my eye so far. Also the authors put details in larger contexts giving explanations that I would not have thought of myself.
A beautiful book to have on the shelf and a nice read if you are interested in the period of the Rosicrucian manifestoes.
2014 In De Pelikaan, isbn 9789071608339

Studies In Freemasonry & The Compagnonnage * René Guenon (1964/2004)

For quite some time I had wanted to read this book, but for some reason I never got to it. Would the book make clear how Guénon looked at Freemasonry in earlier days (as one of the two genuine initiatic organisations (both in the title of the present work) of the West) and in later days (the chain has been broken)? Unfortunately, it does not. The book also does not say much about Guénon’s views on Freemasonry in general, nor explanations of its doctrines by a man who claimed to be a true initiate/esotericist.
As with most books of Guénon, “Studies In…” is a compilation of articles that he wrote in different journals. These publications span a period from 1910 to 1951 and are not presented chronologically. What shows the ambiguous relation of Guénon towards his subject, is that the essays published are from both pro- and anti-Masonic publications.

So what is in the book? The last part consists of book reviews, mostly of French titles. In these reviews Guénon often portrays his superior knowledge of the subject in comparison to the authors of the books. Here and there an interesting peak into the thought of Guénon is given, but I find the book reviews not overtly interesting. The same goes for a range of articles about Martines de Pasqually, his “Ordre de Chevaliers Maçons Élus Coëns de l’Univers” and related topics. Here and there Guénon shows why he thinks De Pasqually was an initiate of a lower order and how he sees the relation to higher initiates, but these essays are mostly about a group that was perhaps Masonically related, but not Freemasonry per se. Actually I can say about the same about most of the other articles. They are about 18/19th century Freemasonry and mostly about experiments on the occultic field and the like.

A few essays make a good read for current Freemasons and people interested in Guénon’s views, such as “Masonic orthodoxy”, “The Masonic high grades” (both written in 1910 when Guénon was 26!!) and “Feminine initiations and craft initiations” (1948) since these shed a completely different light on the questions post than the answers that you usually hear.
Not the ultimate sourcebook about Freemasonry and the Compagnonnage. The book even does not answer all questions about the relation and views of Guénon to and on the subject. Still it is an interesting book to read, since Guénon seems to be a bit ‘lighter’ than what we are used to of him and here and there he is remarkably open.

For Guénon’s real or alledges dealings with Freemasonry, there are a whole lot of theories to be found on the world wide web.
1964 Éditions Traditionelles, 2004 Sophia Perennis; isbn 0900588888

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