Godless Paganism * John Halstead (editor) (2016)

A while ago I was going around the web like I do not do very often and I ran into a ‘blog’ called “Humanistic Paganism“, a board for atheistic pagans. I never really saw such divisions within ‘the pagan sphere’, but here apparently are people who found it needed to team up and give themselves a voice for having ‘uncommon pagan ideas’. The ‘blog’ has a few entries that make a nice read, but I have not really tried to read up. Soon after I started following the ‘blog’ a book was announced and eventually this book was published in April 2016 Godless Paganism, voices on Non-Theistic Pagans.

I got the book to see what this would be about and soon also experienced why there are people giving “non-theistic pagans” a voice. On an Asatru forum mostly occupied by Americans somebody asked about atheism and Asatru so I said: “Did you know about this book?” After that I get torched for recommending a book by somebody who is not accepted by “the community” and who tries to bring rot to paganism from the inside. So what are these ideas that appear to be offensive to some?

The main point seems to be that there are pagans out there who have a very strict idea of what (mostly) Asatru should be like: a certain kind of polytheism in which the Gods are all separate entities. There are people (like myself I may add) who have other views. A simple example, the Gods are part of a ‘larger Divinity’. So came distinctions between “hard” and “soft” polytheism, because the second view does not deny the Gods, but does have another view on them. The book under review shoves a whole lot of views different from what they call “hard polytheism” under their title and the largest part of the authors of the essays in this books are certainly not anti- or even a-theistic; while others are. There are again nuances within the atheistic group. Also within the confines of this book are pantheists, panentheists, etc.

The book comes up with all kinds of paganisms that I never heard of. “Humanistic”, “naturalistic”, “atheopagans”, PaGaians and whatnot. The authors come from all kinds of backgrounds. There are Wiccas, ecclectics, Southern-European pagans, Northern-European pagans, etc. There are very short and rather lengthy texts. Some are quite scholarly, while other are short and very personal. We run into people seeing Gods as projections of their psyches, people seeing Gods as archetypes or forces. There are worhippers of Mother Earth as Nature (not super-natural). Some texts go into practice. Of course there is quite a bit about how and why somebody who does not believe in literal Gods practices ritual for example and is this with ‘theisitic pagans’ or not? How was this in the past?

There is not much that I did not encounter in some form just as a form of paganism, rather than a ‘branch’ of it. Apparently over time some sort of conformity (dogmatism?) has grown within the pagan community and it has become necessary to give people with ‘other views’ a voice and a platform again. I do not find a whole lot of books with personal and practical contemporary paganism, so there is a reason to get this book already. Do not expect an in-depth learned book about contemporary pagan theology. Rather expect a book with texts by contemporary pagans sharing their views on things. Some even admit that they are not sure about everything they come up with so far and there are some who do not care to fill in all the details of their worldview as practice is more important than theory.

The book is good to get a feel of what the minds of a variety of contemporary pagans keep occupied. A thing I always enjoys learning about. Lots of things I read here are pretty far from my own views. The ecclecticism and New Age-approach of some people are things I cannot symphatise with, but it never hurts to learn about other ways of looking at things. What I do find interesting is that there are a few people describing how they try to make ‘including rituals’ which should work for ‘theists’ and ‘non-theists’ alike; which should even work whether the practitioner is interested in Southern, Northern European or ‘Amerindian’ mythology. The message is: of course there are different ideas within the ‘pagan community’, but why would anyone tell somebody else to be wrong? Does everybody going to the same celebration have exactly the same ideas? Fortunately not, otherwise I would probably be a lonely heathen.

And since I always tend to take sides with the underdog: of course I recommend this book! No matter how far some of the ideas posed here stand from my own, everybody has to walk his/her own path, come to his/her own conclusions and if these are different from my own, that is actually a good thing. So, whether you consider yourself ‘theistic’ (like myself) or not and whether you are pagan or not (or of whatever kind) here we have a book to get a bit of a feel of other people’s ideas.

2016 lulu.com, isbn 1329943570

Acta Macionica Volume 25 (6015)

As regular visitors of this website will know, I have an interest in Freemasonry, among other esoteric currents. I had heard of the Belgian study lodge Ars Macionica and I had the idea that they have public lectures, but they also appear to have an annually published book that can also be purchased by the general audience. It is not like you can order these books from Amazon though, you have to get your copy from the Regular Grand Lodge of Belgium, the organisation under which the study lodge Ars Macionica falls.

The latest issue, published in september 2015, is the 25th and it is a massive work of 470 pages. Ars Macionica works in Brussel, a city in the middle of the Belgian ‘language battle’. This shows in the book, since it has essays in Dutch, French and English. I can read French somewhat, but I do have to admit that I mostly skipped through the French texts, not really trying to read them attentively.

At first sight the book appears to be multi-lingual. The cover does say “25e anniversaire”, which is of course “25th anniverary” in French, but it also says: “Grande Loge Reguliere de Belgique, Reguliere Grootloge van België, Regular Grand Lodge of Belgium”. Then follows a “sommaire – inhoud – contents”, starting with a “voorwoord – avant-propos – foreword”. This is about as multi-lingual as it gets, because this foreword is in Dutch. K. Thys tells us about 25 years of Acta Macionica. I would have found it logical if at least this foreword would have been printed in all three languages or at least in English, the language with the biggest chance that all readers are able to read. Of course I am happy that it is presented in my mother tongue.

The foreword tells us how an annual newsletter was transformed into a yearbook in 1991. How it was initially called Ars Masonica and how later, when the study lodge was founded, was renamed to Ars Macionica. How it grew in size and how the Regular Grand Lodge of Belgium (RGLB) tried to reach a wider audience than its own members. Strangely enough there used to be a website where people could order the volume, but it has been taken down a few years ago. Apparently the quest for reaching a bigger audience continues, so I do not think the authors will mind me reviewing that latest publication.

Ars Macionica has conferences, four of which are presented in this book. One is in Dutch, one in English and two in French. After this “other papers” follow, also in the three diffent languages. Some of the essays are relatively short, others are massive. The texts are not about ‘internal’ Masonic subjects. The subjects are actually very varried. Of course there is always a bit of ‘a Masonic twist’. You can read about historical persons and their quests which are sometimes inspired by their membership of a lodge. There is also a large essay about the Belgian colony of Congo and how Freemasons got caught up in strange conspiracy theories. Congo already makes a black page in Belgian history, but this article of Jimmy Koppen also makes clear how Freemasonry got its bad name in Belgium. There is an article about James Anderson, but not about the constitutions of 1723 that he wrote. Also we run into an author that I refer more often to on Gangleri.nl: Koenraad Logghe, who gives an esoteric interpretation of the story of Noah.

Like I said, the subjects are varried and there are 20 of them. I do not think this volume will be interesting if you have no interest in Freemaosonry whatsoever, but on the other hand, do not expect a book about Freemasonry and ‘its mysteries’. Acta Macionica presents results of the studies of Freemasons, not studies of Freemasonry.
Still, this 25th volume of Acta Macionica makes a nice read and it is interesting to see what sort of subject such a study lodge deals with.

So, how to obtain your copy? Unfortunatly the RGLB does not make this too easy. They did put up a table of contents here. There they refer to their own website on which the contact info is not easy to find, but here you go. Just send an email and I am sure that you will learn how to get your copy.

2015 Paul Coseyns, no isbn

Rosicrucian History And Mysteries * Christian Rebisse (2005)

For the next esoteric organisation to read about its history, I thought to have a look at AMORC (or rather: Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis) I looked around a bit and this book seemed to be just that: a history of AMORC. It is and it is not entirely.

The book was originally written in French, but was translated to English. I figure that this was a good idea, since AMORC started as an American organisation and my guess is that it is still biggest in the USA. The author does indeed provide a history of this Rosicrucian organisation, but he decided to place it in the course of Western esotericism.

The book counts 242 pages. The first half is about Western esotericism in general and after a while about the original Rosicrucian movement in particular. This history is certainly not bad, but I did not read much that I did not already know. Egypt, Hermetism, even Guénon is mentioned. Of course when we come closer to our own time the book mentions Medieval and Renaissance magic, alchemy and after a while the Rosicrucian manifestoes. These manifestoes are dealt with a bit too much in detail, retelling the contents, etc. After some information about philosophers with Rosicrucian interests and Rosicrucian elements in (early) Freemasonry, the author quite extensively speaks about magnetism, hypnosis, spiritualism and “Egyptosophy”.
Initially I wondered why these ‘esoterically less appealing’ movements get so much attention, but when Henry Spencer Lewis enters the stage, things become clear. Lewis, the founder of AMORC, was quite active in spiritualistic movements in his younger years. He made quite a name with investigations and articles that he wrote. After describing a few contemporary Rosicrucian movements, Rebisse tells the story of how Lewis sought contact with Masonic Rosicrucians in France and how he eventually was initiated and given the task to wait for a bit before restoring Rosicrucianism in the USA. This chapter certainly is the highlight of the book. The author describes the events relatively objectivally and tried to corroborate events that he describes.

Then -finally- follow chapters about AMORC, how it began, how it spread, how Lewis collected the teachings, how Lewis tried to make contacts to allow his organisation to expand and how these alliances sometimes proved to be a bad idea. Shortly we can read about AMORC after Lewis passed away and his son took over, to pass away in his turn and succeeded with less and more success.

“Rosicrucian History and Mysteries” indeed gives a history of AMORC. Do not expect to learn much about its teachings though, that is not what this book was written for. The massive ‘introduction’ is undoubtely interesting for people who are less familiar with the history of Western esotericism than myself, but still, when you look at it, the actual pages that tell us about the early years of AMORC are but few. That is not to say that the book does not give an idea of the origin and development of this worldwide (neo-)Rosicrucian organisation. I was largely unaware of how things went for AMORC ‘history-wise’ and I now no longer am. The book was written by a member and published by the organisation itself, so it may not be entirely objective, but the positive way to look at this is to say that this is the way the organisation sees its own history and it is not as fancy as the history that some esoteric organisations claim for themselves.

Be warned that this book seems to be sold for pretty steep prices while when you look a bit further, it does not need to be that expensive. Besides, it is available as ebook for various platforms.

2005 Rosicrucian Order, AMORC, isbn 1893971058

Borderline * Lennart Svensson (2015)

“A Traditionalist Outlook for Modern Man” was published just before the end of last year. This Swedish author has written several books in Swedish and recently started to publish in English. He has a BA in Indology, but this book is not an academic one. Actually, “Borderline” contains the musings of an interested layman (it is not about Indian philosophy). It is also the merit of Numen Books to publish titles such as this, because they bring another perspective than what is currently popular in academic circles.

Let me start with some criticism. “Borderline” reads like a collection of separate essays. There is a red thread, but some chapters hardly fit in with the rest. Is, for example, the Edith Södergran chapter just to bring attention to this Swedish poet? The chapter seems to be a bit out of place content-wise. There is also a three page biography of Ernst Jünger which appears to be an advertisement for the authors book about Jünger, but this chapter does not add a whole lot to the content of the present title.
Then there is the fact that Svensson uses terms such as “Perennialism” in a bit of an odd (to me at least) way. However the author knows Guénon and Evola, his “Perennialism” refers to the thought of authors such as Plato, Plotinus, Goethe, Jünger and Swedenborg (and even Jung).
Another point, the acronyms. I fail to see the use. Does the author asume that we are going to throw “RAWALTAFA” at our friends when we want to tell them: “Rather Acting Wrongly And Learning Then Abstaining From Action” or learn them about NAMO as in “Napoleonic Modus Operandi”?

Svensson describes what he sees as the philosophy and mindset for the modern man. He is clear that this is a theistic outlook. He calls his ‘system’ “Holistic” and “integral esotericism”. He does not really care what philosophy his readers adhere, but he is very clear that his own is Christian; not the typical Catholic kind of Christianity, but more of an esoteric one, an esotericism which he bases on Rudolf Steiner and, to a lesser account, on Emanuel Swedenborg. Both not really Perennialists in my definition, but I do not often find a Christian voice in the current ‘neo-Traditionalistic scene’. The anti-materialistic take does make Svensson’s book fit in the Numen Books roster and the different approach makes the book a nice addition to the publisher’s list. Also the fact that “Borderline” is relatively practical makes this a book worth reading.

I do have to say that the book appears to me like the first rendition of a rudimentary philosophy that still needs working. A phase that I have found myself in for too long a time as well, which is the main reason why I do not write as much as I used to. It could be interesting to see how Svensson develops as time passes.

“Borderline” makes an alright read with a somewhat alternative approach to what I am used to which is good, since it forces me to think things over. With that as starting point, I can surely recomnmend this title.

2015 Numen Books, isbn 0994252579

The Labyrinth Of The World and The Paradise Of The Heart * John Comenius (1663)

This review is based on a Dutch translation from the hand of R. Oosterhuis from 1925 that was slightly revised and republished in 1983. It was published by Rozekruis Pers, the publishing house of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum. Involved in the Lectorium is Joost Ritman, the founder of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, who published Comenenius’ most famous book Via Lucis which was how I came to know Comenius many years ago.

The present book is a very amusing read, much easier than Comenius’ other titles. It is somewhat of a novel and an autobiography, but then put in the form of a pilgrimage, a popular way of writing in Comenius’ days (compare, for example, the Chymical Wedding of Christiaan Rosencreutz by Comenius’ acquaintence Johann Valentin Andreae.

The book starts with a pilgrim who wants to discover the world. He gets company of two guides and from the start it is clear that this is not a pilgrimage through the ‘normal’ world. The pilgrim sees the world from a distance and reports what he sees and what he thinks about it. It appears to be the guides’ task to find a fitting place in the world for the pilgrim. Starting his journey, the pilgrim gets a couple of glasses, apparently to see the world in a certain way, but he can look underneath the glasses to see how things are ‘in reality’. First the pilgrim sees the world from above in the form of a labyrinthic city. On entering the city, everybody is assigned a group. The pilgrim gets the priviledge of looking around. He sees groups such as married people, philosophers, Rosicrucians, judges, knights, the rich and the poor, the lucky and the unlucky.
Every time the pilgrim has something to complain, driving his guides insane. Even when the pilgrim is allowed to visit the tower of Fortuna and the castle of Wisdom, he is not pleased. He proves to be right in his criticism, leaves the world and then the book goes over into “the paradise of the heart” in which the pilgrim meets Christ and even God.

The pilgrims observations are recognisable and humorous and Comenius describes events from his own life with similar irony. The book makes a nice outsiders look of the world. The beginning of the ‘paradise of the heart’ part reads like a big vision, but towards the end of the book, Comenius returns to his lengthy and moralistic writing style.

This amusing book is a good start to get acquainted with the writer Jan Amos Komensky and a good read in general.

1663 / 1997 Paulist Press, isbn 0809137399

De Geestelijke Wereld Van De Germanen * Jan de Vries (1943/2016)

In 2004 members of the Dutch heathen group Nederlands Heidendom (‘Dutch heathenry’) started to translate a 1943 work of the famous Dutch ‘Germanist’ Jan de Vries (1890-1964) about ‘the spiritual world of the Germans’ into Dutch. There was a revised edition of De Vries’ book published in 1964 which formed the basis for this translation. Chapters that were finished were published in the “Heidense Jaarboeken” (‘heathen yearbooks’), but now they are bundled together and published with extensive introductions in a well-printed booklet. This booklet is only available for members of the Nederlands Heidendom forum, so if you are one of those and missed it, be quick, the edition is not large. When you are not a member of the forum, you know what to look for on the black market!

The first (unnumbered) 60 pages contain four pieces of introduction from the hand of Boppo Grimmsma. He explains why the translations were started in the first place (even some Dutch find it difficult to read German), he made a biography of Jan de Vries, poses some theories about the lost manuscript of a Dutch version by Jan de Vries himself and then uses De Vries’ own ideas to see how objective the book is. This last part is more or less another biography, because it describes the man’s background and times and how these elements coloured his worldview and consquentally his work. Here you will also learn a thing or two about De Vries’ choices during the Second World War and how these choices polluted his name and fame when the war was over. These 60 pages are informative, well-written and entertaining, but contain some double information.

After these introductionary pages, 176 pages follow with the translation of the book of Jan de Vries. In seven chapters De Vries explains how the early inhabitents of North-Western Europe looked at the world. The subjects include honour; the sib/kindred and man’s place in ancient society; fate, heil, law, the soul; love and relationships; poetry and art (with well printed images); and in the last chapter, religion, cult and magic.

De Vries wrote this in an almost story-like style with many short references to a wide range of texts and sources. He touches upon etymology, comparitive myth, colleague investigators, archeology and what not. Still it remains a fairly easy-to-read book.

What is worth mentioning about this Dutch translation is that however the translation was made by six different people over the periode of about a decade, there are no big differences in writing style between the different chapters. Quite a feat! Even more of a feat is the current project, since members of Nederlands Heidendom started to translate De Vries’ major work of 1000 pages. The current title has “Raven-Reeks deel 1” (‘Raven series part 1’) on the back, so this suggests that more titles will follow. That might take a few more decades then I think.

So, when you have contacts with(in) the group of Nederlands Heidendom, make sure to get your very nicely-priced copy before it is too late.

2016 Nederlands Heidendom

Rondom De Korenschoof * various authors (2006)

A while ago I ran into a small Dutch publisher that I did not yet know. It seems that “De Steensplinter” (‘the stone splinter’) did not start as a Masonic publishing house, but when I looked at the catalogue, many titles are Masonic. I got myself two titles about symbolism, one (reviewed earlier) not specifically Masonic, the present one is. That is to say: is in basis.

“Rondom de korenschoof” means ‘around the sheaf of corn’. The book was published by a Masonic lodge called “De Korenschoof” for their 50th aniversary. It was written by 4 authors and does not only speak about the symbolism of corn in Freemasonry, but the authors widened their subject to “nature and plant-symbolism in Freemasonry”. This resulted in an interesting little book (192 pages).

The book starts with general information about symbolism and rituals. After this short introduction by K. Verhoeff, A.M. van Harten takes over to say a few things about ‘nature religions, ancient myths and plant symbolism’. The author writes about Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, the Romans and ends with Mithras and Attis; of course there is special attention for grain symbolism.
P. Stam follows with an essay about ‘plant symbolism in some world religions’. This is a nice, short text about plants, their fruits and products made of the plants and/or the fruits in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The following text was the main reason to buy this book. ‘Grain in folk-belief in North-Western Europe’ by, again, A.M. van Harten. North-Western Europe and Freemasonry, would that be a modern-day version of Farwerck? Yes and no. No, mainly because the author seems to have forgotten (or ignored) the work of Frans Farwerck who was not only a Freemason, but also wrote extensively about folk-belief in North-Western Europe. Instead, Van Harten uses Melly Uyldert when he gives information about the Germanic peoples (so it cannot have been the choices during WWII to choose his source). With all respect to the late Uyldert, but she was not exactly a scholar. Farwerck would have made a more logical and certainly better source. Having said that, I know not all information in this essay is very accurate. Nonetheless it makes a nice read about sowing, harvesting, grain, straw, sheafs left on the field, corn-spirits, folk-art, festivities, etc. A text about subjects that I read of before, but this time from another kind of source.
The same author then writes about ‘plant symbolism and Freemasonry’. Again he uses sources that I wonder if they were the best choice, but here Van Harten seems to be better in place. This chapter is pretty detailed speaking about well-known Masonic plant symbols, but also about much lesser well-known. The chapter also deals with two very specific Rites, so this essay may be mostly interesting for people with an interest in Freemasonry.

The last chapter is about the “De Korenschoof” lodge itself. The lodge was founded by Freemasons with an agricultural background, so their preference for agricultural symbolism is natural. This also resulted in the fact that this lodge has a fairly unique annual “harvest lodge”, which sounds a lot like a contemporary Masonic continuation of ancient harvest festivals (Farwerck would have been delighted). This chapter contains many and lengthy quotes from the Ritual that the lodge uses and may not be too interesting for non-Masons.

All in all this is a nice little book with an interesting approach to symbolism.

2006 Uitgeverij De Korenschoof, isbn 9057170256

Alchemy And The First Degree Of Craft Freemasonry * Paul Hardacre (2013)

Now this is unfortunate and also a little awkward. I discovered this publishing house because they published a book by Angel Millar. I ordered a few titles, but one item was out of stock. For a while I was inquiring about the last item and when I thought I could just buy a title that I wanted to get anyway and inquire again, this might help. It did! Good. Then I -quite by accident- run into a ‘blog’ saying that the publishing house will seize to exist because of financial problems…

Yep, Salamander and Sons will publish no more books. In fact, they will sell their leftover stock until 31 March 2016 and the remaining items will be destroyed. This is too bad, because Salamander and Sons published some interesting items on alchemy and a few similar subjects. The books look great and are not too expensive.

The present title is a lecture of the publisher that he held before his own Masonic lodge in Thailand. It is only just over 30 pages and Hardacre speaks about (not surprisingly) alchemy and Freemasonry. Only on a few occasions these two subjects seem to come together, but the little book makes a nice read to tell you a little about both subjects from the title.

Get it, before it is gone…

2013 Salamander and Sons

The Everlasting Man * Gilbert Chesteron (1925/2012)

I heard of this book because Numen Books published it. Three are many, many different printings though and I got myself a cheaper one (2010 Martino Publishing). A good guess, because I did not really enjoy this book…

The book starts off alright with the author criticising our modern age with his pompous and humorous writing style. It soon becomes clear that this extraordinary and pompous style is his style. Here and there Chesterton is funny, but his style is usually very tiring. When we continue, he not only continuously sabers modernity, but also everything non-Catholic. Actually, the book is a massive apology of Catholicism. Not that he is entirely uncritical towards his own faith or completely negative about other religions, but with continuously returning arguments against -for example- polytheism and the validity of other religions “The Everlasting Man” was a tough book to get through.

To understand the nature of this chapter, it is necessary to recur to the nature of this book. The argument which is meant to be the backbone of the book is of the kind called the reduction ad absurdum. It suggests that the results of assuming the rationalist thesis is more irrational than ours but to prove it we must assume the same thesis.

(p. 122)

Good for a few laughs and on a few occasions to make you think, but I found the book not really enjoying.

2012 Numen Book, isbn 0987158112

Gekruiste Benen * Henry MacGillavry (2000/2013)

I ran into this book ‘by accident’ and was mostly caught by the subtitle which is (translated) “a study of the functioning of symbols”. However there is indeed information about symbolism in general, the little book (100 pages) is mostly about the symbolism from the title: crossed legs.

The author was born in 1908, this book was first published when he was 92. This slightly revised reprint was printed a year after MacGillavry passed away, at the age of 104! MacGillavry was a Freemason and however he did publish books (at the same publisher) about Masonic subjects, “Gekruiste Benen” is not one of those.
The author starts by mentioning earlier investigations into the subject, but the present title mostly continues with the works of Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781), A. MacLaine Pont (1883-1955), W. Kat and… Frans Farwerck! Initially the author mentions Farwerck only briefly, later he goes into more details about Farwerck’s theories which he posed in an article in the periodical Nehalennia of 1959 about the same subject. A nice surprise.

MacGillavry refers to his named predecesors on the subject and decided to not use a massive amount of images like Farwerck usually does, but to stick to a few good examples. These are printed in not-smashing quality in the book (a few in colour in the reprint). There are many, many examples of people depicted with their legs crossed (while standing, sitting or laying) both from ancient history and more recently on paintings. The author treats different theories such as that these images refer to the God of Sleep (Hypnos) and/or the God of Death (Thanatos), to a border-crossing (Kat) or to a Cosmic cycle (Farwerck), but since none of these theories can be used at all known images, the author comes to the conclusion that they refer more generally to a transition. This idea does not rule out the other theories.

Along the way you can Egyptian, Roman, Mithraic, Christian, etc. symbols surrounding the figures with crossed legs. It makes this little book a nice read.

2000/2013 Uitgeverij De Steensplinter, isbn 9789057170331

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