Due out in March 2011, The Book of Secrets is a compendium of selected material from the Western Esoteric Tradition. It is divided into four parts: Key Concepts; Symbolism, the Language of Mystery; Secret Societies and Holy Orders, Gatekeepers of Hidden Wisdom; and Luminaries and Seers, Torchbearers of Secret Knowledge. It is the debut book from Daniel Pineda.
The individual articles are short, averaging a page or less. That makes this book very similar to the Field Guide series in a way, and it should probably be considered in the same vein: as a sampler, mostly useful for people who want to see if the subject matter is appealing. Perhaps, aside from people who are just starting out, it might serve someone who is moving from the New Age shelf to have a peek at the Occult books.
Pineda’s bio does not give any credentials, but he writes from the point of view of an initiate. A few of the articles contain assessments of their subjects which, if they are not quotations, indicate intimacy with the subject matter. Judging from some of the comments on Masonic topics, I’m going to hazard a guess that Mr. Pineda is not unfamiliar with certain windowless rooms with tiled floors.
This is, however, an uneven work, and the reader will have to perform some alchemy on it, “with great subtlety and ingenuity,” of which our hypothetical beginning reader should not be presumed capable. For example, the entry on Hermes Trismegistus is dominated by the famous Polydorus Latin translation of the Emerald Tablet, with a new English translation by the author. Sadly, the English text has some failures of translation. E.g., he renders “ad perpetranda miracula rei unius” as “in reaching the performance of the one miraculous matter,” instead of something like “to perform the miracles of the one thing.” There are perhaps three such examples, of which I have chosen the most egregious; the others might be arguable.
In contrast with this, there are many examples of great felicity throughout. For example, the item on the Chalice contains: “To drink from the same cup is a symbol of being united in purpose and in destiny …” (that may find its way into a ritual in our Temple); and under Salamander, one is advised “When they are ready, philosophers may find instruction from the salamander regarding the fortification and strengthening of the will.” Yessssss.
A reader who is sensitive to faults of usage should be warned that there are too many in this volume. Many look like autocorrect failures or homonym substitutions, like “the dawning of the apron” (instead of donning), “recanted” for “recounted,” several instances of “principle” used where “principal” was required, “then” for “than,” and “phenomenon” in a plural context, plus “Adepti” in the singular (instead of Adept or Adeptus). Also, seeing Glendower’s famous line from Henry IV, “I can call spirits from the vasty deep” used as an epigraph (on p. 40) made me wonder how it was intended, given the context (“But will they come when you do call for them?”)
The last two parts of the book, on esoteric orders and famous practitioners, is quite well done, if a little thin. It leaves out everyone and everything “post-Hermetic,” as if magic ceased to develop when Israel Regardie died. The one exception to this, oddly, is the inclusion of the controversial (but admittedly inspiring) Carlos Castaneda. No IOT, no Chaos Magic (even Spare is not mentioned). The only Neopagan in the book is Gerald Gardner.
The Book of Secrets had potential as a First Book of Esoterica, and it definitely has its charms, but I can only recommend it to a limited audience, or to the most fervent of esoteric book collectors.
The Book of Secrets:
Esoteric Societies and Holy Orders, Luminaries and Seers, Symbols and Rituals, and the Key Concepts of Occult Sciences Through the Ages and Around the World
5 1/2 x 8 1/2
March 1, 2011
Review copyright 2011 by Freeman Presson, all rights reserved.
Complimentary review copy from Weiser Books gratefully acknowledged.