Occult or Not?

Some recent online discussions, notably this one about Freemasonry, have resonated with a topic I’ve spent a lot of time on: the tides of intellectual fashion in how we think about our place in the Cosmos, and particularly about the traditional “occult” arts.

There’s been a basic disconnect going back to the Classical era, when Plato the Adept and Aristotle the Empiricist ground each other’s gears in Athens.


(Detail from “The School of Athens” by Raphael)

“Philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato,” but of course, there have been many challenging “footnotes,” of which the work of Aristotle was the first. In that challenge, it’s possible to see the outline of many of the later conflicts, which caused shifting tides of opinion which were reflected in major historical events.

Many of the philosophers that modernity knows as Neoplatonists adopted a very sensible compromise with Aristotle: they assigned his work as a qualifying curriculum for those who aspired to learn what the Divine Plato was really teaching. If you could master a certain amount of mathematics, logic, rhetoric, and ethics, then you were ready to engage in dialectic with the professors of Platonism, and maybe have some serious initiations along the way and ultimately have the experience of the Divine for yourself.

If you read the history of the Roman Church, you can see that its tides of dogma and apologetics were also footnotes, with many Church Fathers championing Aristotle, but insistent voices from the wings reminding them that, for all his virtues, Aristotle was, well, earthbound.

The Renaissance came to the West with the rediscovery and translation into Latin of the Platonic dialogues and the Corpus Hermeticum.

This would be about the same time as the first Tarot decks showed up. The popularity of alchemical and mystical emblem books was widespread, as a supplement to more prosaic forms of literature. This in fact explains how the Tarot ended up becoming a book of Hermetic wisdom, when most of the people designing decks were just making artistic follies out of the available material. For more on this fascinating topic, I refer you to Robert M. Place, who I believe has come as close as possible to cracking this particular code.

What this is pointing to is a duality in human thought and experience, between literal and symbolic thinking (what we used to refer to as left-brain vs. right-brain processing, before the brain laterality hypothesis got exploded). This is a dichotomy that produces certain kinds of blindness that tend to poison discourse. There aren’t that many people who are so symbolic-minded that they don’t process literal discourse well, although I have known some. The more common problem is that people get locked into literalism and devalue other modes of thought. This can be seen in religious zealotry, anti-religious zealotry, and scientism.

If you look at the history of the Rosicrucian movement and the subsequent Enlightenment and counter-Enlightenment tendencies1, for example, you can see that the original Rosicrucian literature, influenced by Humanism as well as the likes of Paracelsus, Dee, Kelley, Pico, Fludd, and Ficino, was a corrective to Christian dogmatism that contained a balance of spiritual and empirical elements. This sort of balance apparently isn’t stable, as the spiritual side tends to produce charlatans as prolifically as shaved ram’s horn produces asparagus2, and the empiricist over-correction led by the likes of Comte and Mersenne pushed the Hermetic sciences off the stage for about a century.

The same tendencies are obvious in the history of astrology. For that matter, occultists are still debating whether alchemical literature is just coded spiritual practice, or if there’s value in setting up a lab.

Today, we still need to cultivate our balance, and I see the so-called occult revival as playing an important role in that, at least until we swing too far the other way. We can’t have only Plato or only Aristotle, or only symbolism or only literalism, and remain healthy.

  1. I have not read all the source material on this yet, but I believe my overview is correct.
  2. Yes, that was an occultist in-joke.
Posted in Reviews | 8 Comments

First Impressions are…

So,  I just got Robson’s The Fixed Stars and Constellations in Astrology,  since that seems to be the go-to book.

There are some statements in the Preface that make it abundantly clear that the author was not au courant with the science of his day (1923), so you might want to just skip the Preface on this one.

I see it also leaves out Alkaid, which is odd, since that’s a Behenian star. However, considering that the book covers 110 major stars, it’s not so surprising that something got left out.

Still,  it looks useful,  and will do until someone else writes a more authoritative book.

Just a Delphic selfie

Skeptical Frater is skeptical

Posted in Astrology, Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment


Looks like a cobweb blog,  doesn’t it? I got out of the book reviewing business because I was reading too many books that,  whatever their merits for someone else,  weren’t what I needed to be reading.

In the meantime,  I have been doing my own practice and study,  continuing to lead the monthly study group,  and so on.

This post is a teaser for a new direction coming soon: still magic,  but also lots of astrology content. At least until a comet wipes us out,  and while everyone else is dying of flooding,  cold,  or whatever,  the remaining astrologers die of irony…

Posted in Reviews | 2 Comments

An Execration

Performed in due form by the Namen of Temple Zagduku before the shrines of Lilith, Inanna, Ereshkigal, Utu, Ea, and Ningishzida, on 2015-04-19 in an hour of Venus, appropriate for Inanna destroyer of mountains.

I don’t usually curse, although I have and probably will again, but if these walking turds aren’t worth a curse, then nothing is.

Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous

As I mentioned here (where I offered a “first effort” in this regard), today is World Heritage Day, when several people (including Galina Krasskova) have done formal rituals against the bastards who think their role upon earth is to destroy the history of the devotions of their ancestors. I will not say their name in my preamble statement here, because I think it is more effective to be silent about them whenever possible, and to reserve my saying of their name for the venom it deserves, which will be mustered below.

Execration of the Impious

May the poisonous spit of ten million cobras
be heaped upon the name of Daesh
and upon the heads and eyes and hearts
of everyone who masses under their banner.

May they who destroyed Nimrud and Hatra,
and who have threatened to bring low
the pyramidal jewels of Egypt’s crown
have their name ground…

View original post 494 more words

Posted in Reviews | 3 Comments

How About an Illustrated Hardcover Picatrix?

Review copyright 2015() Freeman Presson, all rights reserved

You can still get the the paperback Picatrix on Amazon, but there is now a hardcover edition of the same thing with a wealth of small (6.5cm x 6.5cm), monochrome talismanic pictures by Nigel Jackson. It’s discounted to $42 for early birds until it goes up on Amazon, at which time it will sell for the $60 it’s easily worth.

Mine arrived earlier today. It’s completely sound and as advertized.

There are other editions, too, including some high-end stuff.

Posted in Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Hamlet’s Mill FINALLY in print again!

(P)review copyright 2015() Freeman Presson, all rights reserved

I had been pestering Godine about the re-release of this book for…I won’t say how long (but I’ll show you the video if you want). You see, I have a very peculiar relationship with this book. I was at MIT (where de Santanilla was teaching)  when it was first out. I walked right by a big display of the book at the Tech Coop. I thought, “Oh, that’s the book Jerry Lettvin told me to read. I’ll do that when I have money.”

Fast-forward forty years after I forgot to go back and get the book, and Poke Runyon is telling me to read it. Only by now, it’s rare and OOP, and I’m short of funds again. I wait. I look up the last known publisher and write them an email; find out they’re planning to reprint. I make a fool of myself announcing the release date. Then it’s deferred. I make a fool of myself announcing the new release date. And again. And again.

Today, I am only a bit into chapter II, and this book is already on my desert-island list.

I’m also glad that I read E. M. W. Tillyard’s classic The Elizabethan World Picture first, for confirmation of just how Hermetic the world-view was until well after the time of Shakespeare.

Amazon has a very low price on the book now. Jump on it: Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge And Its Transmission Through Myth

Posted in Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Covenant of the Goddess — How to NOT support a movement

[This post is based on, and motivated by, some recent conversations on social media.]

On the 10th of December, The Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) released a statement in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Or, I think they thought they were doing that, but they gutted it until what was left said essentially nothing. Our friend Caer Jones took it apart in detail, and so did the Rock of Eye blog,so I won’t flog the corpse.

So far, the main consequence is the resignation of Crystal Blanton’s coven from CoG, but I’m sure that’s not the only fallout coming.

It’s too bad, too, as CoG has sponsored some very good initiatives in the past. I’m not meaning to ignore those or completely bury the organization.

I considered the case of my own organizations and others I’m most familiar with. They’re mystery schools; they have no real warrant for having positions on the issues of the day. We could have a debate about the values embodied in that stance, but not about the fact that they exist.

From my first involvement in public Paganism, about 15 years ago now, I noticed that there were many assumptions made by some Pagans: Paganism makes everyone politically and socially liberal, Green, sexually experimental, and so on, varying by individual tastes. Many thought that since we have some (barely-definable) core to our Pagan spiritual ways, we should be alike in other ways, too.

It was not true then, and it’s less true now. Pagans come from everywhere on the political grid. We don’t have very much in common beyond the sense of building or rebuilding spiritual frameworks that seem more organic and integrated to us.

Many religions have this characteristic. A few, like the Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Unitarian Universalists, have a commitment to social justice built in to their charters, but most don’t even have that.

It’s not something that can be grafted on, either. So, if you are forming a new coven, magical lodge, grove, or whatever now, you should decide whether it should have a political orientation, by intention. If you have a group small enough to agree on a change, but active enough to matter, add it to your charter. If not…you might want to make your own statements and take your own actions, looking to secular committees for support, instead of wrecking a perfectly good oven because it doesn’t work like a car.

Whatever we do about this needs intention and consensus, otherwise, it will just raise friction that impedes progress.

To be clear: I am not saying this is the way all Pagan organizations are or should be. I know there are a number of Pagan groups that DO have social justice as a built-in objective and mechanism; some of them are out in the streets and otherwise doing active support. Good!

If yours doesn’t work that way, it’s still true that what we do individually is up to us. I will continue to speak out against injustice, and I’m planning an appropriate esoteric response (that’s meant as a word to the Wise; I won’t be saying more publicly).

Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment