Review copyright 2012 () Freeman Presson, all rights reserved
This Ibis title is a hefty paperback with a distinctive RED cover, decorated with one of the classic engravings of Hermes Trismegistus. I like this because it shortens most of the “where did I leave that book?” episodes. It is full of lovely old alchemical/Hermetic engravings, and has four rich full-color plates.
Nederlander Jacob Slavenburg has a Ph. D. in cultural history and has written very extensively on Hermetic and Gnostic history and philosophy. There has been much interest in Hermetic matters in the Netherlands lately.
This is in that strange category of scholarly books for a lay audience. At about 320 pages of main text and 1124 footnotes, it’s a significant investment of time to read. The most appreciative audience will be students and practitioners of the Western Esoteric Tradition who, like this reviewer, like to have as much background as possible, and those with a deep interest in the history of ideas.
There is an appreciative Preface by fellow Nederlander Tjeu van den Berk (author of Het oude Egypte, bakermat van het vroege christendom [Ancient Egypt, cradle of early Christianity] and of Jung on Art); a brief Introduction by the author, in which he states his aim ” … to present a clear and recognizable line of thought that illustrates the uninterrupted progress of the hermetic tradition up to the present.” A Prolog, relating a visit to the site of ancient Hermopolis, sets a delightful precedent for many chapter and part beginnings throughout the book, where reminiscences of particular conferences or meetings lead into the matter at hand, joyfully personalizing the story.
The main text is divided into Part I: The Secret of Hermes; Interlog: The Fame of Hermes; Part II: Hermes Unveiled (yes, that’s a nod to HPB’s Isis Unveiled); and an Epilog. There is a 24.5 page Bibliography, a list of abbreviations, Chronology, List of Illustrations, and the magnificent expanse of 1124 serially-numbered endnotes with chapters identified passim.
I feel strongly that a book like this was needed. A number of historians have apparently decided that the Hermetic Tradition in Europe needs to be treated as a back-formation, because the specific texts of the Corpus Hermeticum were not available in Latin or vernacular between the destruction of the libraries of Alexandria and the publication of Ficino’s Poimandres in 1462. There is also a nice rhetorical destruction throughout, but peaking on p. 233, of attempts by materialist scholars to say anything meaningful about Hermes.
The Hermetic Link is unabashedly partisan, as mentioned, in favor of the existence and value of a continuing catena aurea of initiatory and philosophical Hermetics, which are “Egyptian in content, but Grecian by form.” For example, on p. 133, we find a citation of Kingsley, showing that the name Poimandres, rather than deriving from the Greek for “herdsman,” as often thought, may be a transliteration of P-eime-nte-Re, or “Knowledge of Re.”
Unfortunately, the present volume suffers from weak copy editing. Spelling errors are rife, and there are two or three paragraphs which caused this reader to retrograde over them more than once to be sure of the meaning. There are a few simple goofs like “Sun … in Mars, sign of Aries” (p. 174), and a couple of instances of dates confusingly written as BC instead of AD. Also, the references are generally given without dates, which would sometimes cause problems, especially in references to obscure books and journals. On the other hand, Slavenburg has taught me to write “decennia” instead of “decades,” for I, too, am a word nerd, and love the sound and Latinate feel of it.
On the whole this is a very valuable book for anyone involved in the Western Esoteric Tradition, philosophy, or the history of ideas. I’m going to find an honored place on my bookshelves for it, as soon as I can find it again … oh, right! RED!
The Hermetic Link
From Secret Tradition to Modern Thought
6 x 9
Color & BW Photographs
April 1, 2012
[Complimentary review copy from Red Wheel/Weiser gratefully acknowledged. Opinions my own, YMMV, etc.]