Jan Amos Comenius * Henk Woldring (2014)

However available since november 2014 this book was officially presented a couple of weeks ago during a seminar in the Vrije Universiteit (University Amsterdam) where the author used to lecture. Woldring is professor in political philosophy and invited colleagues of various breed to say something about Comenius’ message in our own day and age. I was positively surprised that also scholars on ‘materialistic’ fields seem to have ears for a spiritual thinker as Comenius.

Jan Komenský lived from 1592 to 1670, born in Nivnice, Moravia, died in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The “Amos” part of his name he added himself when he was a student and also by himself, his name is usually written Latinised as Comenius. I have a few translated books of the author, but before this biography I was mostly unaware of the vast amount of literature on the vast amount of diffent subjects that he wrote about. Comenius was adherrant to what in English is called the “Moravian Church”, but in Dutch they are called “brotherly community”, a Protestant church founded by Jan Hus (John Huss). During the Reformation, but mostly during the Counter-Reformation the situation was very difficult for (other kinds of) Protestants and Comenius continually had to flee. Being an original thinker who was well-respected by many, but maligned by others, Comenius had friends all over Europe and travelled a great deal. A few times Comenius lived in my country and since he died here and is burried in Naarden (Amsterdam was too expensive), we have a Comenius mausoleum and a museum (which I have not yet visited). It was mostly on demand of the museum that this biography of Comenius was written, simply because there was no descent overview of the man’s life and ideas.

The book is not large, only 215 pages, but there is too much to summarise in a short review. Comenius was groundbreaking in the fields of pedagoy and didactics. He wrote books that are still praised today. Also he wrote a lot about religious tolerance, strove for peace whereever he came, had friends in various religious, political and industrial circes. Surviving several wives and children, continuously having to flee, but trying to help his brothers and sisters in whatever way he can, Comenius had a stressfull life. Yet he managed to write over 250 books, many of which were published in his own day (often by himself), others after his death.

Woldring interweaves biographical notes that he drew from many different sources with Comenius’ ideas on different subjects. This sometimes runs strangely through eachother like the part in which the author describes a visit between Comenius and Descartes which starts by describing how the meeting came about, goes over in a comparison of the ideas of both men and ends again biographically. Nonethess, the parts in which the ideas of Comenius are described are the most interesting to me. For the rest, the man seems to have been an interesting character with an eventfull life.

The many different subjects Comenius wrote about, everything was part of a ‘grand scheme’ which he called “Pansophia”. Comenius strove to bring together all ways of knowing things, find out the connections between seemingly unrelated things and thus come to overarching knowledge. He was much aware of the rise of rationalism in his time, religious strive and conflict and political and economic wars, but his ideas are certainly still worth thinking over and this well-written book makes a very nice introduction into this versatile person. As of now, it is only available in Dutch though.

2014 Damon, isbn 9460361994

The Appleseed Journal * Stewart Bitkoff (2015)

The line in the titles that the author sends me to review seems to go from very specific (Sufism) to more general. Perhaps they should be read in reverse order. “The Appleseed Journal” is more ‘generally spiritual’, a story that may make the reader realise that there is more than just our materialistic lifestyle. Then in “Beyond The River’s Gate” the reader may be inspired to live more spiritually may be helped to find a fitting path. In “The Ferryman’s Dream” you will learn more about Bitkoff and his own path. Finally, in “Sufism For Western Seekers” the reader will discover the secret of Bitkoff’s background. But, the books came from the man’s fingers the other way around, so that is the order in which I review them.

Johnny Appleseed is a ‘legendarised’ man who lived under the name John Chapman from 1774 to 1845. Bitkoff places him in the area of the Hudon Valley and to the North, which is funny, since I happen to visit that area every now and then myself. Bitkoff found Appleseeds journal buried in his backyard and decided to publish it. Now the journal obviously is not written 250 years ago and the style if very ‘Bitkoffian’. No worries of course, the author just used an urban legend as the story to hang his message onto.

Appleseed is a very Christian person who, as an early settler, started to grow and sow appleseeds and sell them to new settlers so that they could have their own apple trees. In his diary he gives his Christian ponderings about his restlessness, helping other people and the Word of the Lord. During his journeys through the Hudson Valley, Appleseed becomes friends with ‘Amerindians’ from whom he learns a lot. Bitkoff of course uses the opportunity to give some ‘Amerindian’ spirituality to his audience. At some point, Appleseed received a book of “the Great Swede”, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) and became gripped by what he reads. He got involved in “The New Church” movement and both accidentally and intentionally becomes a missionary for the Swedenborgian way of thinking in his many contacts. We do not learn that much about Swedenborgh or his ideas from this journal though.

Appleseed does not try to convert people to his way of thinking. Rather he holds up a mirror and simply sows seeds in the heart of the people he meets by simple, well-placed advice or a book that he gives away. The simple, spiritual life of a man who works hard, is open and tolerant towards others and who helps other people in whichever way he can. The kind of person we need more of.

I do not know if this title is something for ‘the usual Gangleri.nl reader’, but the books of Bitkoff read easily and they are certainly something different from ‘my usual literature’ (and yours?) which never hurts, does it?

2015 Abandoned Ladder, isbn 0991577515

Hoe God Verscheen In Saksenland * Dirk Otten (2015)

“How God Appeared In Saxonland” is the first part in what is to be a series about Christianisation in the Netherlands (and abroad). The second part, “How God Appeared In Frisia” is also available by now. The subtitle of the current book is “Widukinds knieval voor Karel de Grote”; which is a bit hard to translate, but it says how the Saxon leader Widukind was defeated by Charlemagne.

This is exactly the story of the book. Charlemagne christianised “Saxonland” with brute force. “Saxonland” is an area that covers a part of the east of the current Netherlands and the adjacent piece of Germany. These Saxons were not exactly keen to turning over to the new religion. They killed missionaries, fought against invading armies and even when Charlemagne raised to power, they remained resistant. When Charlemagne thought his job was done, some Saxon tribe started to attack his troups, throw out Frankish priests and burn their churches, etc. The whole process took a century and a half.

Otten needs only 175 pages for his story and these pages include a chronology in the beginning, a translation of the Frankish empirical annals, a bibliography, an index and several pages with images (b/w and colour, many images I had never seen). Still the book is nicely detailed. Also the book is nicely written and (apparently) scientifically solid which makes this a title both for historian scholars and people who are simply interested in the subject.

Otten obviously was annoyed by the brutality of the Christianisation of the Saxon tribes which he keeps stressing. The Saxons were not exactly sweethearts either and this become clear as well. The author starts with a summery of the upcoming of the religion of Christianity. Then he says something about the Saxon lands and its peoples. He also spends some pages on the prechristian religion of the Saxons (which he keeps calling a religion in which nature is worshipped, quite an outdated view) based on texts of Roman historians, but also writings from the Church in which heathen habbits were forbidden. Of course there is the Old Saxon Baptismal Vow of the late 8th century and the ‘Saxon Bible’ the Heliand (on which Otten has some interesting notions).
There is attention for the most famous missionaries Boniface, Willibrord, Alcuin and Lebuinus about whom Otten wrote a book earlier.

The book is purely historical, but there is not a whole lot of literature about his part of Dutch history and it makes a nice read. I guess I will also get the Frisia book as well.

2012 Deventer Univeritaire Pers, isbn 9789079378081

Amongst Mystics and Magicians in Stockholm * Thomas Karlsson (2015)

On the philosohical outlet of Michael Idehall, Belzebez, I read about this book of Thomas Karlsson. Belzebez has a bit of a ‘Dragon Rouge air’ so it is not strange to find Karlsson’s biographical notes on the early days of the order that he founded. I am not too interested in “Ordo Draconis et Atri Adamantis“, but it is always nice to read about somebody’s path.

“Amonst Mystics and Magicians” turns out to be a very personal account of Karlsson’s early years. It reads like a diary (in the I-form), but very much in a narrative style so that it also reads like a boy’s adventure, an exploration into the occult. Karsson describes how from an early age he read everything about the occult that he could lay his hands on. At the age of 14 he started to run into like-minded people in the occult bookshops of Stockholm that he frequented. He also started to experiment with different visionary techniques. With his new found friends the experiments became two persons or even group events. Where Karlsson was the ‘scholar’ of the group, a person he names “Varg” was even more into the magical experimentations. Also Varg has an American teacher (Thorsson perhaps?). Other friends are more down-to-earth, but interested nonetheless.

Karlsson travels, meets more people, gets in contact with many more people, also people that help him in certain directions. The book describes how he, and other people, conduct ceremonies, have visions and encounter beings from the other side, “the Left side”. Karlsson proves to be openminded in his musical interests (that go from black metal to New Beat, techno and classical music) and philosophical interests. His ‘system’ goes from Crowley to “Vodou”, from Kabbalah to Tantra, Babylonian to Northern mythology; basically anything that could be (partly) interesting.

The author reasons that the Left (Hand) Path is the path for people who think for themselves, contrary to the Right (Hand) Path which is for followers. A similar reasoning he has for his “dark magic”. Where “white magic” is for the purpose of good, “black magic” for the purpose of evil”, “dark magic” is for the curious with no good or bad intentions. Curiosity seems to be the basis for Karlsson’s magical endeavors. The book describes experiments with halucinating techniques, lucid dreams, the raising of ghosts and encounters with Thor and Lucifer. It remains unclear what is the purpose of it all. Knowledge and wisdom are mentioned here and there, but does one get wiser from meeting deceased people from a remote cemetary? In a chapter towards the end, a man named Richard calls up Karlsson to inquire about the Dragon Rouge, Karlsson says:

We don’t stand for anything. It is not a religion or a political party. We do things We are a magical order. There you don’t stand for things. There you do things. And then it’s up to you to interpret what has happened when you’ve done something.

This also the reason anyone can join, where atheist, Christian or Satanist.
But again, why summon spirits if it is only to interpret the events?

A bit furtheron Richard asks about the left hand path, according to Karlsson:

It’s dangerous. The left hand path leads to the farthest, and most foreign regions of existence. Going too fast, or too carelessly, can destroy anyone. It is total darkness and Chaos.
[Richard] Why would you go there?
[Karlsson] You wouldn’t necessarily. it might be better not to. But if you are driven by curiosity, it is like taking a look behind the veils of existence, and seeing what’s there.

This may be an interesting endeavor, but personally I miss the point. Still it was nice to read how Karlsson had a similar start to myself, but took a completely different road. Also when thinking about the fact that Karlsson nowadays teaches at Stockholm University (religious studies), this book is very open and personal. Which makes me wonder. Is this book for Dragon Rouge members so they have a bit of history; but why is this not an internal publication? Is this book for potential Dragon Rouge members? But why then does Karlsson keep referring to his (youthfull?) New Agey interests? Or did the author want to do away with a possible master status and show his students that he got where he got by simply trying things so they have to too?

In any case, the 140 pages are bound nicely and the books looks wonderfull. The book is quite expensive, but makes a nice read. Do not expect profound knowledge, worked out rituals or a detailed description of the order of the red dragon, rather the founder looking back at the early days.

2015 Midian Books, limited to 200 copies.

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. Bol.com and Amazon.co.uk 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

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