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Book Reviews



Access to Western Esotericism - Faivre
Comte de St. Germain - Cooper-Oakley
Glamorous Sorcery: Magic and Literacy in the High Middle Ages - Rollo
The Mystery of Manna: Psychedelic Sacraments of the Bible - Merkur
The Thirty Years War - Parker
The Way of Hermes - Salaman, et. all
Wisdom's Children - A Christian Esoteric Tradition - Versluis
Witchcraft and Magic in Europe Series - Ankarloo & Clark

Access to Western Esotericism
By Antoine Faivre
State University of New York (SUNY) Press
Albany, NY
369 p., Bibliography, Index, Paperback

"Access to Western Esotericism" by Antoine Faivre is a dense book, yet it is that very density that makes it a cornerstone for research into Western estotericism. Not for the beginner, "Access" is written by one of the world's leading academic authorities on western mystical and occult movements from the Renaissance to the present. Carrying the information of an encyclopedia and written like a Ph.D. thesis, "Access" contains in 369 pages an entire synopsis of 1,000 years of Western European spiritual development. Beginning with the Alexandrian Period, the reader is taken through the development of the various esoteric currents of Rosicrucianism, Alchemy, Qabala, Hermeticism, and Christian Qabala. Then, in the second half of "Access" the reader is introduced to the key figures, works, and movements in esotericism. A great deal of the book is concerned with defining key terms, such as 'esotericism', 'gnosis', 'theosophy', and 'occultism'. As stated, it is a dense book written by a brilliant man, it is not easy reading, but it is well worth reading if you take your esotericism seriously. Faivre is Professor at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Religious Studies Section, Sorbonne, Paris. He holds the chair of "History of Esoteric and Mystical Currents in Modern and Contemporary Europe."

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Comte de St. Germain
By Isabel Cooper-Oakley
Theosophical Publishing House
Wheaton, Ill.
1985 (First Edition 1912)
249 p., Bibliography, Eight Illustrations, Paperback

Cooper-Oakley's biography on Comte de St. Germain is the first biographical sketch written about this enigmatic character. Called by Frederick the Great "The man who does not die" Saint Germain was said to possess the Elixir of Life, and to be virtually immortal. Germain was the friend, confident, and spy of European rulers for a generation. Two hundred years after his disappearance from the scene of politics, his reputation as an emissary from the Invisible Brotherhood intrigues us even more. While there is a definite Theosophical spin to her work, Cooper-Oakley's "Comte de St. German" remains to this day seminal reading for those interested in this "Unknown Superior" of Western Esotericism - Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism in particular - almost a century after it was written. A very good book and well worth reading by any one interested in the mysterious occult forces behind history. Jean Overton-Fuller's historical biography on Comte de Saint Germain is a fine follow-up to this one.

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Glamorous Sorcery: Magic and Literacy in the High Middle Ages
by David Rollo
Medieval Cultures Series, volume 25
For more information, visit the book's webpage:
This book is available at bookstores and from the University of Minnesota
Press at: (773)568-1550.

Through the analysis of magic as a metaphor for the mysterious workings of writing, Glamorous Sorcery sheds light on the power attributed to language in shaping perceptions of the world and conferring status.

"An intelligent and subtle book, Glamorous Sorcery is deftly and closely argued. Rollo offers a challenging, but entirely persuasive account of the importance of Latinity and literacy to the production and reception of vernacular texts in the twelfth century. His examination of sorcery and magic as metaphors of the power of language and writing in twelfth-century texts is both compelling and original." -Simon Gaunt

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The Mystery of Manna: Psychedelic Sacraments of the Bible
By Dan Merkur
Inner Traditions
Rochester, Vt
Bibliography, Index, Paperback

Merkur's "The Mystery of Manna: The Psychedelic Sacrament of the Bible" poses the thesis that the majority of the major mystical experiences over the last 2000 years are the by-product of the consumption of psychedelic substances administered as part of the secret initiations kept alive outside of the mainstream of Western religious practices. The holy Eucharist, shewbread, Masonic symbolism, and the Grail Quest are the means by which this tradition has been transmitted despite persecution from secular and ecclesiastical authorities. While the topic is definitely hot and very debatable, Merkur has well researched it and presents his material in a highly readable manner. A nice introduction to this controversial subject.

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The Thirty Years War
Edited by Geoffrry Parker
New York
Second Edition, 1997
316 pages, 24 illustrations
Bibliographic essay, index , Paperback

The Thirty Years War from 1618-1648 was a series of conflicts that ravaged Central Europe during the 17th century, deeply dividing religious communities, and setting the tone for the next thee-hundred years on how European nations would view each other. In addition, colonialization of North America would be effected by the events of these years, as later generations carried the memories of savage conflict and carnage with them, and set the tone for much of what would happen in the early United States as it sought to avoid similar conflicts here, and seperate the power of Church and State, and create a secular society. The effects were, and still are far reaching. Esoteric societies such as the early Rosicrucian movement were central at different points to conflict, as Catholic and Protestant forces fought each other for control, and utopian movements sought to influence the course of history. Anyone interested in Rosicrucianism, European history, and the evolution of the modern state and warfare should read this book. For more information on Rosicrucianism and the Thirty Years War, see: Francis Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment Revisited.

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The Way of Hermes - New Translation of The Corpus Hermeticum and The Definitions of Hermes Trismegistius to Asclepius
By Clement Salaman, Dorine van Oyen, William D. Wharton, and Jean-Pierre Mahe'
Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions
Copyright 2000
pp. 124, index, 4 b/w photos, Hardcover

When faced with a book like this, many often ask, "Why another translation?" Often the answer has more to do with the need to publish rather than the need to contribute something new and worthwhile. By all standards, The Way of Hermes is the kind of contribution students of Hermeticism have been waiting for, for a long time. The forward and translators notes alone are enough to convince the potential reader that this slim volume is worth the cover price.

Filled with extensive commentary on not only the 'why' of the translation, but the 'how' of the process. Seeking to create a new translation that is not only useful to modern reader, but also true to the original Greek, Salaman discusses the problems in picking a suitable translation for such critical words as nous, agathon, and even the idea of gnosis itself. While not deriding their predecessors, Salaman et all, show that an undue amount of "prejudice of old-fashioned rationalism" sunk into earlier translation of The Corpus causing it to stray from its true meaning. Without excessive commentary they sought to restore the text to its original mystical meaning and purpose- that of a guidebook to self-knowledge - while letting the text speak for itself.

While the importance of Hermeticism was often thought to have peaked in the Renaissance with a brief revival during the late 19th century, the preface points out that hermetic writings were found among the Nag Hammadi scrolls in 1945, and that they even contained a better version of Asclepius in Coptic than the often referred to Latin editions. The existence of a lodge style fraternity in First Century Alexandria in which these texts were read and meditated upon is also mentioned. Thus, the antiquity of the texts in some fashion is restored in that while they originate from the 1st through 3rd century, their content can be clearly linked to ancient Egyptian thought and practices.

This volume also contains the first English translation of The Definitions of Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius, a collection of aphorisms related to parts of the Corpus, and used for meditation by hermetic students. Through these aphorisms, hermeticists sought to transcend the nature of their rational mind and to enter into a state of pure perception with God, or Nous - "The Great Good" of creation.

The Way of Hermes is a small book that will not be read quickly, and will take a lifetime to understand. If there is only one book you read this year on Hermeticism, let it be this one.

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Wisdom's Children - A Christian Esoteric Tradition
By Arthur Versluis
State University of New York (SUNY) Press
Albany, New York
370p., Bibliography, Index, Paperback

Wisdom's Children is a landmark work in the history of Christian esotericism. Thought mainly to be the domain of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestant mysticism has been marginalized for too long. Arthur Versluis takes us back 300 years and shows us that beneath its stern veneer, there has been, and still is, a vital current of the imagination and mystical understanding in and around mainstream Protestantism. Jane Leade, Johann Gichtel, Boehme, Freher, are all brought to life. The chapters on German theosophy, folk magic, and qabala in colonial Pennsylvania alone are worth the cover price.

Additionally, Wisdom's Book: The Sophia Anthology, edited by Arthur Versluis, has been published by Paragon House, St. Paul, Minnesota. This is the third in the trilogy of books that began with Theosophia (Lindisfarne, 1994) and that includes Wisdom's Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (SUNY: 1999). Wisdom's Children provides the background for and overview of the Christian theosophic tradition of Jacob Boehme and company; Wisdom's Book includes a large number of previously unavailable theosophic texts, including the first English publication of such works as John Pordage's "Letter on the Philosophic Stone" or Anne Bathurst's visionary diary. Wisdom's Book also includes an extensive introduction and suggestions for further reading; the book jacket terms it, with only a smidgen of hyperbole, the "Nag Hammadi Library of modern times."

All of Versluis’s works are highly recommended.

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Witchcraft and Magic in Europe Series
Edited by Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark
University of Pennsylvania Press
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Paperback, Bibliography, Index
Copyright 1999

Here is an interesting series of books on the various areas of magical influence in European history. Designed as six volumes, covering the last 2,000 years of esoteric history, practice, and its impact on our culture, the series is a Herculean undertaking. While no such goal can be perfect, and each reader will find omissions in each volume they read, the overall quality and content of the three volumes we have read is quite good and highly informative. The volumes we have seen are, Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome, The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, and The Twentieth Century. Also listed are, Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Biblical and Pagan Societies, The Middle Ages, The Period of the Witch Trials.

The downside to the texts is that they are an academic publisher and the readability of each chapter/topic varies from author to author. In addition, the bindings are glued and will not hold up to heavy use.

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