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The Higher Self in Christopher Brennan's Poems: Esotericism, Romanticism, Symbolism by Katherine Barnes (Aries: Brill Academic) Many critics contend that Christopher Brennan is Australia's most important scholar and poet. Because his poetry was often written in a more obscure fashion, he never received the recognition that scholars of world literature believe he deserved. Poems 1913 is considered his most important work, and it is on the basis of that collection that Brennan's writing is considered some of the finest poetry produced before the start of World War I.

Although he was an admirer of the French poet Mallarmé, Brennan was, according to A. R. Chisholm in Southerly, "a poet in his own right, with a strongly individual style." Contemporary Review critic Richard Pennington, first exposed to the poet's works in 1926, while Brennan was still living, called the writer's XXI Poems "incontestably the finest verse that had appeared anywhere in the outer [British] Empire since that Empire had begun sprawling over a quarter of the globe's surface, to the greater glory of Threatneedle Street but not to the enrichment of art."

After his birth in Sydney on November 1, 1870, Brennan attended Catholic schools, mastering Latin with ease and winning a scholarship to college. Entering Riverview College in 1885 when he was only fifteen, Brennan began to develop a desire to explore the possible perfection of man in the areas of intellect and spirituality. His facility with language allowed Brennan to read texts in Latin and Greek as well as English. Brennan authored poetry in Greek and Latin, while composing dramas in English. Beginning his studies at Sydney University in 1888, he began his research on Aeschylus, studying the dramas and publishing "On the Manuscript of Aeschylus." Ignored at the time, it was later praised by scholars in the classical field.

After studying First Principles, by Herman Spencer, Brennan discarded his faith in Roman Catholicism and turned toward agnosticism. He took a position teaching at a Catholic school for boys after his graduation from Sydney, and it was at this time that he turned his attention to the composition of poetry. When he was not teaching or writing poetry, Brennan worked on the completion of "The Metaphysic of Nescience," his philosophical master's thesis. His work was well received, and in 1892 he was granted a traveling scholarship. Choosing to go to Berlin, the site of one of the world's foremost classical departments, Brennan discovered an intense interest in the literature of modern Europe, especially the writing of the French poet Stephané Mallarmé. 

In 1914 a remarkable poetic work appeared in Sydney, Australia, written in the form of a Symbolist livre compose by one of Stephane Mallarmé's earliest admirers, Christopher Brennan.

The book, simply titled Poems, shows that Brennan was exploring pressing religious issues of his time. He melded Western esoteric currents such as alchemy and Rosicrucianism with Romantic literature and philosophy and French Symbolist theory. This book argues that the focus of Poems is the notion of a higher self. It is the first major study of Brennan's work in this broad religious, philosophical and literary context. Its argument is supported by evidence from Brennan's own library and the holdings of the Sydney library in which he worked.

More than thirty-five years ago, Judith Wright, Australian poet and scholar, described the Australian response to the poetry of Christopher Brennan as "tentative, uncertain". Brennan, she believed, was the primary, indeed virtually the only, Australian contributor to what she called the "long philosophico-poetic argument of the West". The tentative local reception of his work, however, derived from his readers' lack of familiarity with the intellectual and artistic context in which he wrote: "The field he chose for his poetry was conspicu­ously un-Australian; the argument he pursues requires a background that was never provided here".'

In many ways the situation in Australia has worsened since Wright made her comments.' Only a handful of Australian universities now include Brennan in offerings in Australian literature let alone setting him alongside writers from continental Europe and the English-speaking world in the kind of course where his work would make most sense. What Wright described as uncertainty has developed into widespread neglect or, oddly enough, disapproval. Since Modernism accustomed readers of poetry to the language of everyday speech, Brennan's Victorian diction and dense, difficult verse have come to seem unfamiliar, almost embarrassing.

But perhaps Wright had a point. If we were to explore the "background that was never provided here", might we not find Brennan to be different from what we had taken him to be, and better, perhaps, than we had ever imagined? Perhaps we might begin to understand why the French Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé, responding to the gift of Brennan's early collection XXI Poems, had spoken of "une parentée [sic] de songe" between Brennan and him­self.' We might even find that we had been neglecting and disap­proving of a poet who could hold his own on the world stage, who was tackling some of the big ideas of the Romantic-Symbolist era while all the approval was going to his compatriots Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson for their ballads and stories of bush life.

Barnes rote this book to provide the kind of cultural context that we need to grasp if we are to understand and evaluate Brennan's poetry properly. Following the threads of Brennan's own interests, Barnes finds that insights from Western esotericism, Symbolism and Romanticism illuminate his poetic project in especially useful ways. Western esotericism is a complex of interconnected currents including alchemy, Hermeticism, theosophy and Rosicrucianism, arising out of the Gnosticism and Neoplatonism of antiquity. Symbolism is a lit­erary and artistic movement of the latter part of the nineteenth cen­tury that Brennan himself believed was inextricably linked with the earlier (and persisting) movement of Romanticism. Scholar as well as poet, Brennan was caught up in the big religious and philosophical questions of the century in which he was born. He understood how esoteric and mystical thinking had helped to build the movements of Romanticism and Symbolism. He drew on these insights to build his own work of art, a book entitled simply Poems, published in 1914.

Poems grapples with some of the most profound thinking of the Romantic and Symbolist movements, exploring the notion of a higher or transcendent self constituted by the union of the human mind and Nature. Brennan's achievement in producing such a work in colonial Sydney, where literary and intellectual developments in fin-de-siècle Europe were accessible only through reading and limited correspondence, is remarkable. The poetry is, Barnes grants, complex and difficult, but the effort of establishing an appropriately broad intellectual context within which to understand it is fully repaid by the work itself. At a time when the meaning traditionally inhering in systems of religious understanding and myth had been fairly com­prehensively stripped away, for many, by more than a century of scepticism, Brennan gave old (sometimes very old) materials not only a new form, that of the Symbolist livre compose, but a fresh relevance.

Brennan was familiar with a number of currents that are now included in the scholarly field of Western esotericism: alchemy, Rosicrucianism, Kabbalah (although not necessarily the Christian Kabbalah estab­lished in the Renaissance most definitively by Pico della Mirandola) and theosophical movements, especially the doctrines of Jakob Boehme. Wouter J. Hanegraaff describes the field in the following way:

From a strictly historical perspective, western [. . .] esotericism is used as a container concept encompassing a complex of interrelated cur­rents and traditions from the early modern period up to the present day, the historical origin and foundation of which lies in the syncretistic phenomenon of Renaissance "hermeticism" (in the broad and inclu­sive sense of the word). Western esotericism thus understood includes the so-called "occult philosophy" of the Renaissance and its later devel­opments; Alchemy, Paracelsianism and Rosicrucianism; Christian and post-Christian Kabbalah; Theosophical and Illuminist currents; and various occultist and related developments during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Ancient sources of esoteric currents, including Neoplatonism and Gnosticism (Brennan was interested in both), share the notion of an emanated, rather than a created, universe and hence the idea that all Nature, even the inanimate, conceals a living spark of the divine. Among nineteenth-century expressions of esotericism, Brennan knew of the 'esoteric Christianity' of Edward Maitland and Anna Kingsford and various publications by the Theosophist G.R.S. Mead; he also owned a number of works by authors of the Neorosicrucian move­ment in late nineteenth-century France including the self-styled 'Sae ( Joséphin) Péladan and Jules Bois. Evidence of this comes from pub­lished articles and lectures as well as the contents of his library. We have his notes on the early chapters of the first volume of the edi­tion of The Works of William Blake by Edwin John Ellis and William Butler Yeats, in which Yeats interprets Blake's poetry in the light of the doctrines of Boehme and Emanuel Swedenborg; and his copies of Yeats's Rosa Alchemica triptych. According to unpublished research by Robin Marsden, he had access to a number of books by Bulwer Lytton in the library of the Goulburn Mechanics' Institute during the time he spent as a teacher at St Patrick's College, Goulburn (1891), including Zanoni (1842), A Strange Story (1862) and The Coming Race (1871)

The term 'esotericism' itself is never used by Brennan. The group of terms he employs in the Symbolism lectures to describe the provenance of the esoteric doctrine of correspondences is "mystical", "the mystics" and "mysticism". Brennan is not alone in using 'mys­ticism' in this way. In his study The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899), Arthur Symons interprets the movement in terms of mysticism, commenting:

[T]he doctrine of Mysticism, with which all this symbolical literature has so much to do, of which it is all so much the expression, presents us, not with a guide for conduct, not with a plan for our happiness, not with an explanation of any mystery, but with a theory of life which makes us familiar with mystery, and which seems to harmonise those instincts which make for religion, passion, and art, freeing us at once of a great bondage."

Brennan's lecture "Vision, Imagination and Reality" demonstrates his fascination with visionary experiences, including those of Plato and the Neoplatonists, Pascal, Jan van Ruysbroeck, Maitland,

Kingsford, Swedenborg and Yeats, as well as those described in the publications of the Society for Psychical Research. Unlike the presentation of mysticism in Symons' work, however, Brennan's study of the ideas of the mystics in relation to Symbolism employs con­cepts, and draws on writings, that are now included in the scholarly field of esotericism.

In Access to Western Esotericism, Antoine Faivre proposes four essen­tial criteria for 'esotericism': correspondences; living nature; imagination and mediations; and experience of transmutation. Of these, the notion of correspondences is the most important for Brennan. Faivre describes it in this way:
Symbolic and real correspondences [. . .] are said to exist among all parts of the universe, both seen and unseen. ("As above so below.") We find again here the ancient idea of microcosm and macrocosm or, if preferred, the principle of universal interdependence. These corre­spondences, considered more or less veiled at first sight, are, therefore, intended to be read and deciphered. The entire universe is a huge theater of mirrors, an ensemble of hieroglyphs to be decoded.

As we will see, Brennan himself was deeply interested in the historical development of this notion, although neither his scholarly work nor his poetry can be said to fulfil all four of Faivre's criteria."

Brennan's understanding of esoteric and mystical currents put him in a privileged position for understanding the religious affinities of certain aspects of Romantic and Symbolist thought. The article on German Romanticism shows that Brennan gave Novalis the credit for introducing "the (real) mystical element into Romanticism" while subjecting that mysticism to "hard and continuous reflexion". For Friedrich Schlegel, the "ideal synthesis of perfection" was regarded as unattainable, this attitude being the basis of Romantic irony, "at once a bitter acknowledgement of one's own impotence to attain to the absolute, and a proud manifestation of one's freedom from the bonds of the temporal and particular". Unlike Schlegel, Novalis "conceives the ideal synthesis as attainable through art". The sixth Symbolism lecture suggests that historically, Symbolism is "a cross-fertilization of poetry by mysticism" and that the result of this cross-fertilisation has been an elevation of poetry. Brennan proposes that the claim of Symbolism "to possess a religious and moral element" is "justified by the nature of the fundamental concept of art", beauty. This he defines as "the occasion, object and symbol of a thoroughly satisfying total experience, a harmonious mood of our real self, a mood which is a figure of the final harmony and perfection"." These comments give a good indication of what Brennan himself under­stood by the term Symbolism: a kind of poetry which gives expres­sion to a transcendent self by using natural objects as symbols, and which therefore has a religious dimension.

The notion of the higher self is indebted, historically, to mysticism. (This discussion of the higher self is an introduction to arguments presented in much more detail later in the book. For more on Comte and Leroux, see discussion beginning on page 22. A detailed discussion of Boehme's idea of the 'mirror' of God begins on page 53; for more on Boehme, mysticism, Neoplatonism, spiritual alchemy, Pietism, Naturphilosophie and Masonic groups, see pages 80-95. A more detailed discussion of the thought of Kant and Fichte begins on page 63, and Kant's attitudes to art are discussed on pages 97-100. Exponentiation in German Romantic thought is discussed on pages 211-213.) According to mystical and esoteric ways of thinking, human beings possess a faculty within which the divine can come into being. Writers of Naturphilosophie such as Paracelsus identify this faculty with the human imagination, which was thought to be capable of quicken­ing the 'spark' of the divine that has remained within all created beings since they lost their original divine status, so as to bring about a Wiedergeburt or second birth." Somewhat ironically, it was in Enlightenment Germany, particularly, that the mystical bent of Pietism and the esoteric current of 'spiritual' alchemy coalesced in Illuminist and Masonic groups, making mystical and esoteric ways of thinking part of the heritage of German pre-Romantic Idealist philosophers.

The focus of this study is Poems. Barnes argues that the fundamental prin­ciple informing the structure of Poems, regarded as a single unified work or livre compose, is the establishment of a correlation between human experience and the daily and yearly cycles of Nature. Poems is an attempt to bring into being an art work in keeping with the "vrai culte moderne" proposed by Mallarmé in an 1886 letter to Vittorio Pica (which Brennan knew from La Revue indépendante of March 1891), in which the book, "le livre", was to have a critical role." In the lecture he gave on Mallarmé as part of the series of public lectures on Symbolism given in Sydney in 1904, Brennan pre­sents this conception in the following terms, drawing on two pieces from Divagations, "Crayonné au theatre" and "Catholicisme":

What now is the form of that art-work which is to satisfy all our spir­itual needs?

It is a myth. Not a particular legend, but a myth resuming all the others, without date or place, a figuration of our multiple person­ality: the myth written on the page of heaven and earth and imi­tated by man with the gesture of his passions.

It is a drama: for nature is a drama and as Novalis had said, "The true thinker perceives in the world a continued drama"; "In the people all is drama". It is the assimilation of our inmost passion to the tetralogy of the year. But a drama again, as it was a myth. There is no limited fable, no individual hero. We, who assist at it, are, each of us in turn and all of us together, the hero."

Evidence from Brennan's articles on Mallarmé, as well as annota­tions to texts in his library, indicates that the Australian poet con­sidered this enterprise, at once religious and artistic, in the light of the wider pre-Romantic and Romantic concern with the reunion of the human mind and the natural world, and of the esoteric notion of correspondences between the mind, Nature and the divine.

Barnes first chapter draws on materials available to Brennan in the Public Library of NSW to establish an intellectual and religious con­text in which to make sense of his interest in notions of a higher self; it then turns to a number of poems, mainly from "The Forest of Night", that seem to deal directly with such a notion. In the sec­ond and third chapters Barnes focuses on the Lilith sequence. Lilith was the first wife of Adam (according to Hebrew legend rather than the book of Genesis), preceding Eve. In my view, Lilith is Brennan's central symbol of the possibility that a higher self might be constituted by the union of the human mind with Nature. The Lilith sequence is explored in the light of pre-Romantic notions of the transcendental self (Kant) and the absolute ego (Fichte) as well as Romantic interest in the power of art to establish a new mythology and to provide access, however tenuous, to the transcendent. Romantic and mystical ideas of an inner route to the transcendent are linked with Brennan's exploration of an inner abyss. Barnes suggests that the figure of Sophia appearing in the writings of seventeenth-century German mystic Jakob Boehme became an important paradigm for Brennan's Lilith.

In the fourth chapter, Barnes discusses Brennan's notion of moods as an aspect of the union of mind and Nature that could be enacted in art, arguing that Brennan developed the Symbolist interest in moods for himself by weaving together material from German Romanticism, from early prose writing by W.B. Yeats, and from Mallarme's Les Dieux antiques, a translation and adaptation of George Cox's A Manual of Mythology in the Form of Question and Answer. Evidence for the impor­tance of Mallarmé's notion of the 'Tragedy of Nature' for Brennan's conception of his poetic work is drawn from the annotations to Brennan's copy of Les Dieux antiques. In the fifth chapter, Barnes examines Brennan's elegy to Mallarmé, "Red autumn in Valvins around thy bed", drawing evidence for my interpretation from works by Mallarmé that the Australian poet had read. She suggests that Brennan may have linked Mallarmé's notion of transposition to exponentiation metaphors of German Romantic writers such as Novalis, who talks about raising the self to a higher power.

The sixth and seventh chapters consider the fundamental organ­isational principles upon which Poems is based. Chapter Six looks at three poems that function as preludes within the structure of the work as a whole and shows that all three (although in very different ways) link the seasonal cycle with stages of life. Chapter Seven con­siders a number of individual poems and sequences of poems link­ing certain times of the day or year to particular human emotions or experiences, arguing that Brennan has arranged his poetry so as to effect "the assimilation of our inmost passion to the tetralogy of the year".

Wright sees evidence of delusions of grandeur in the possibility that Brennan attempted a task of this magnitude. This is her com­ment on the statement from the Symbolism lecture on Mallarmé that we looked at above:

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that here we have a backstage glimpse into the writing of Poems 1913, its motivation and its plot, and per­haps even into Brennan's secret opinion of its writer too.

This is no denigration of Brennan; if his opinion of himself was high, it was rightly so. His insights into literature, his scholarship and his powers of synthesis were far very far—beyond those of many of his contemporaries. But short-cuts to a great work are treacherous. 'The myth written on the page of heaven and earth and imitated by man with all the gesture of his passions' the grande (more, the absolute poem there can be no short cuts to that, no plotting, no by-passing of the original struggle with sense, perception, emotion, life itself; all must be sacrificed, and first of all, perhaps, the secret conviction that the poem is in one's grasp, or can be."

Brennan, implicating his own enterprise in the phrase "we, who assist at it", is claiming to be a contributor to this project but not to have achieved "the absolute poem" by himself. Possible nuances of the French verb assister a, to be present at or witness, could further qual­ify his claim to participate in the artistic "culte moderne".


Judith Wright's criticism of Christopher Brennan is intelligent and perceptive. She is right about his poetry in many ways. But at one crucial point Barnes parts company with her, and that is when she refers to the "dead, mental parts" of his poetry and expresses her belief that Brennan's scholarly accomplishments held him back as a poet.' Barnes argues that Brennan used his remarkable grasp of Romantic and Symbolist theory to advantage, structuring his work of art around the notion that the higher or transcendent self might be glimpsed through the reunification of the human mind and Nature in the work of art. To create his unifying symbols he spread his net widely in esoteric writings and Gnostic mythology, in contemporary psy­chology and Idealist philosophy, in the literatures of a number of European languages. The result is of immense interest.

The Lilith sequence is at the centre of Brennan's enterprise in Poems. Lilith herself has a complex range of symbolic functions. Evidence from Brennan's notes to the Ellis and Yeats edition of Blake associates her with the original, archetypal self-consciousness or 'mirror' of the godhead, the divine imagination, of Boehme. Like Boehme's Sophia, and like the Sophia of some forms of Gnosticism, Lilith, when fallen (or "declined", as Brennan puts it) from her orig­inal, transcendent state, becomes the world of Nature and thus inherently ambiguous, since Nature can appeal to the human imag­ination—the inner evidence of our divine status in two conflicting ways. It can either entrap the human mind in purely sensuous, phys­ical existence, or it can direct the human imagination towards its own divine origin. Both these functions are evident in Brennan's Lilith and are at the foundation of her ambivalence of function and her ambiguity as symbol. Post-Enlightenment emphases on the split, brought about by rationality, between subject and object, the human mind and the external world, and on the possibility of their reinte­gration, help us understand the ultimately simple demand Lilith makes of humanity: to "find her fair". To do so is to reunite mind and Nature and thereby glimpse or momentarily achieve the higher or transcendent self.

Apart from the Lilith sequence, a significant number of other pieces and groups of pieces in Brennan's Poems deal with the notion of an inner, higher self As the nineteenth century progressed, such a self came to be regarded as a possible substitute for the God of Christianity in a 'religion of humanity'. Turning to the inner "abyss", however, is only part of a process that continues with a turn to the outer world. In Brennan's Liminary, the German Romantic mathe­matical metaphor of exponentiation or potentiation, raising to a higher power, is explored as the self of the poem moves from inner reflection to the transitory achievement of ecstasy in union with Nature.

According to Kant and others, the imagination is the only faculty that is able to intuit the noumenon. The imaginative work of art, by its use of objects in the external world as symbols of the Absolute, is uniquely able to give expression to the noumenon. Brennan uses the term 'moods' to refer to the union of inner and outer worlds that art can accomplish. His reading of Yeats and his understand­ing of the special significance of the words Gemuth and Stimmung among the German Romantics inflect his use of the term. In Mallarmé's Les Dieux antiques, he found a mythical way of interpret­ing the natural daily and seasonal cycles; he also found what he took to be a correspondence between Nature and human emotion. That is the foundation for the correlation between Nature and human experience in Poems.

Regarded as a livre compose, Poems is structured around the notion of moods, expressed as a correlation or correspondence between times of day and year and the cycle of human experiences and emo­tions. These emotions and experiences themselves constitute the 'pas­sion' of humanity, analogous in the religion of humanity to the Passion of Christ. Brennan's symbol of this correlation is the rose, whose function derives from the notion that the rose-coloured skies of sunset and the flaming colours of autumn leaves are natural sym­bols of sacrifice. The symbol of the rose undergoes a metamorphosis during the course of the work, associated as it is with the movement of human emotion from optimism to disillusion and cynicism and with the necessity for a new kind of optimism beyond despair.

Several important poems, such as "Dies Dominica" and "The ban­ners of the king unfold", impart a liturgical cast to the entire work.

Three important pieces that function as preludes associate the com­plete seasonal cycle with human experience. Many other poems deal with a single season or time of day. Spring and dawn or early morn­ing are associated with innocence, optimism, and memories of Eden; noon and summer with sexual consummation or with the transient achievement of ecstatic fulfilment. Sunset and autumn have a range of associations, from bitter disillusion to the hope that the creations of art can escape the inevitable progress of time. Later in the work, the promises of spring and dawn are shown to be themselves ambiguous or deceptive.

The final epilogue, "1908", brings the themes and concerns of the entire work into perspective. The poet considers his personal reli­gious choices in the light of the universal need to "be together in the light/when loneliness and dark incite", confirming the religious aspect of Poems and asserting common ground with the social world in which he belongs. His private exploration of the "guarded ray" of esoteric traditions, assisted by rigorous intellectual scrutiny, has brought useful insights into the inner, higher self But such explo­ration can, of necessity, provide only transient glimpses of the Absolute. The optimism of "1908" is founded in the here and now, in the circumstances and experiences of ordinary life.

Brennan's Poems is an ambitious attempt to give imaginative expres­sion to the great Romantic quest for the reunification of the mind and Nature. It clearly demonstrates the continuity between the move­ments of Romanticism and Symbolism. Its structure is grounded in Symbolist principles, and Brennan has marked his work as a Symbolist artefact with graphic techniques such as expressive typography and careful attention to mise en page. Romantic in conception, Symbolist in form and strategy, the work is a profound response to the reli­gious dilemma of the age.

While Poems is immensely valuable for its historical interest alone, its value goes well beyond that. Brennan's exploration of human yearnings for the numinous one of the great themes of poetry, according to the Romantics remains relevant at a time when those yearnings continue to be felt and those who feel them continue to seek means to express them. Furthermore, the belief that the arts are able to provide access to the numinous has been one of the enduring legacies of Romanticism.

Brennan's exploration of the higher self as a secular focus for such aspirations was intellectually rigorous, supported by strong foundations in philosophy and a more than adequate understanding (for his time) of the contribution of mystical and esoteric tradition to Western thought. Moreover, he was uniquely equipped to add to these insights a profound appreciation of the literatures of three modern European languages: the work of those writers who over the course of the cen­tury before he took up his pen had wrestled their own aspirations into poetic form.

In an article written in 1974, Australian poet and scholar A.D. Hope looked forward to a time when Brennan's Poems could be judged from a properly distanced vantage point, so that his diction would cease to count against a proper evaluation of his work. Speaking of Spenser, Milton and Donne, he commented: "These were true poets and [. . .] they have emerged into a historical position where their idiosyncracies of language or syntax or metre can no longer blind us to the force of their genius. The same, I believe, may very well be said of Brennan within a century of his death". It is time for Brennan's work to become known outside Australia, and it is time also for Australians to rediscover, or at least to re-evaluate, Poems. The result can only be an enrichment of our culture. 

Secret Societies Of The Middle Ages: The Assassins, Templars & the Secret Tribunals of Westphalia by Thomas Keightley, James Wasserman (Weiser Books) explores the foundations of modern secret societies, examining the history and known facts of three very different organizations. More

Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism 2 volumes edited by Antoine Faivre, Roelof Van Den Broek, Jean-Pierre Brach, Wouter J. Hanegraaff (Brill Academic) Now available in reduced one volume edition for about 1/2 the price is the first comprehensive reference work to cover the entire domain of "Gnosis and Western Esotericism" from the period of Late Antiquity to the present. Containing around 400 articles by over 180 international specialists, it provides critical overviews discussing the nature and historical development of all its important currents and manifestations, from Gnosticism and Hermetism to Astrology, Alchemy and Magic, from the Hermetic Tradition of the Renaissance to Rosicrucianism and Christian Theosophy, and from Freemasonry and Illuminism to 19th-century Occultism and the contemporary New Age movement. Furthermore it contains articles about the life and work of all the major personalities in the history of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, discussing their ideas, significance, and historical influence.

There is little doubt that this dictionary fills a lacuna in religious studies and that the caliber of entries, closer to encyclopedic than definitional, makes available concise and sympathetic information, histories, biographies, and bibliographies of use to any student of the subject. Also the set is priced a bit lower than many of Brill Academics usual monographs, probably in recognition that this reference work will attract lively academic interest and notice. Given the importance of the work and the general competence of the articles, I want to review the somewhat artificial parameters set by the editors as what was included and excluded within the domain of the western esoteric.

Hanegraaff writes an historical justification for this work, noting in detail the marginalization of this area of concern since at least the rise Enlightenment rationalism and empiricism. Nineteenth century enquiry into magic and gnosis has often attempted to sanitize the subject by creating philosophical versus superstitious distinctions within the field when such distinctions, (some adopted by esoteric practioners themselves in due course) are not evidenced in the materials themselves. The editors decision to accept the historic terms of self-description and to view ideas and lives within historic context themselves rather than through some invented typology that may obscure the inherent complexities of science, natural philosophy, cosmology and religion as they influence or are influenced by the esoteric from epoch to epoch.  This orientation shows the primary historological bias of the reference with primary resources being literary remnants. On this basis Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism manages to treat with some thoroughness the mainlines of gnostic and esoteric thought in the West. The volume however does not treat adequately either the Jewish or Islamic contributions to this history, though there are a few references and articles. The other great omission, one that is less justifiable because the volume attempts to portray 18th through 20th century occultisms, is the omission of the profound influence of Indian, Buddhist and Sinologist occult ideas on occultists which is incontrovertible after the mid-19th century. The articles themselves on for example H.P. Blavatsky deal with her appropriations of Hindu works but by the mid-20th century such appropriations are so numerous that such exclusion of say, tantra or charkas, distorts the very character record of  20th century occultisms. However I also sympathize with the editors of needing to keep this Dictionary within some identifiable bounds. Another problematic area is not enough attention was paid to the esoteric influences in the religions or philosophy either institutionally and ideologically. More attention could be had for example at looking at the hermetic influences in Schelling and Hegel, or the occult links in religious revivals, and theological basis for magics. The social organization of esoteric movements also needs more close observation and theories that account for greater detail are still wanting in the social sciences. Also the political ideologies for both left and right fantasy and utopian schemes, communalism needed representation. The effect on the arts and surrealism was not represented. The literary reach of practical magics, such as in Coleridge and Carlyle and the romantics, and moderns. The relationship of Mormonism to popular occultism was left mute. Ufos and Scientology are represented but the contactee and walk-in modern explanation for possession is left unreported. There is an article on Yeats but not on Malcolm Lowery.  Generally there needs to be closer studies of the social organization of esoteric groups with more emphasis places on its social and interpersonal functions and rites than on the literary loose ends that is the bread and butter of this dictionary. Still some of this critique is this reviewers wish list rather than an admitted appreciation for what these contributors have achieved. Conceivably Brill Academic might be encouraged to commission an encyclopedia where many of these foreshortenings of inquiry could be more fulsomely explored? For the accomplishment of this Dictionary is no small matter, for now one has ready access to the general outlines of the occult tradition in the west with many of the key players identified and characterized evenhandedly. There is no doubt that this reference is helping to restore to view and evaluation, a vibrant and perpetual strain of human creativity which has too long languished in obscurity.

Excerpt:  Under the general heading "Gnosis and Western Esotericism", this Dictionary brings together a great range of historical currents and personalities that have flourished in Western culture and society over a period of roughly two millennia, from Late Antiquity to the present. By doing so, it intends not only to provide a comprehensive reference work, but also to question certain ingrained assumptions about the history of Western religion and culture, and promote new agendas and analytical frameworks for research in these domains. What is at stake in such a shift of perspective can best be illustrated by taking a short look at the main terminological conventions that have traditionally been dominant.

The term Gnosticism was originally a pejorative term, coined in the 17th century by the Cambridge Platonist Henry More. In adopting it as a purportedly neutral scholarly category, historians also largely took over the assumption that there had actually existed a distinct religious system which could be called Gnosticism, and which could be clearly defined in opposition to the early Christian church. In recent decades it has become increasingly clear, however, that any such reification of "Gnosticism" is untenable and leads to historical simplications; the idea of a clear-cut opposition of Christianity versus Gnosticism in fact reflects heresiological strategies by means of which certain factions and their spokesmen sought (successfully, as it turned out) to cement their own identity as "true" Christians by construing a negative other: the adherents of "the Gnosis falsely so called", demonized as the enemies of the true faith. It is historically more accurate, however, to see the latter, who often adhered to mythological gnostic systems, as representatives of a much broader and variegated movement or type of religiosity 'characterized by a strong emphasis on esoteric knowledge (gnosis) as the only means of salvation, which implied the return to one's divine origin'.

To this much broader movement of Gnosis in Late Antiquity belonged not only "Gnosticism", but also, in their own ways, Christians such as Clement of Alexandria and, notably, the currents that inspired the Hermetic literature. In the domain of Hermetism, too, scholarly research has long been influenced by artificial black-and-white distinctions based upon normative agendas. The great pioneers of this field, Walter Scott and Andr-Jean Festugire, sharply opposed a "learned" or "philosophical" Hermetism against a "popular" hermetism: the worldviews belonging to the former category deserved the respect of serious scholars, but although the "occult" and "superstitious" practices belonging to the latter (nowadays referred to more neutrally as "technical" hermetica) also needed to be studied, they were referred to with contempt as no more than `masses of rubbish'.  A no less important bias concerned the almost exclusive focus of scholars like Festugire on the Greek and philosophical dimensions of the Hermetic literature, at the expense of their Egyptian backgrounds an emphasis that echoes long-standing perceptions of Egypt as the homeland of paganism and idolatry pitted against Greece as the origin of Reason and Enlightenment. Progress in the study of Hermetism in more recent decades has essentially consisted in correcting these biases on the basis of careful philological and source-critical research. The central importance of Egyptian religion for understanding the Hermetic literature is now no longer in any doubt; and it has become clear that the "philosophical" and "technical" Hermetica are in fact products of one and the same pagan intellectual milieu in Graeco-Roman Egypt, and must therefore be seen as closely connected.

In the context of Late Antiquity, and notably in Hellenistic Egypt, we are therefore dealing with a complex type of religiosity based on the pursuit of gnosis or salvific esoteric knowledge. This phenomenon cannot be reduced to either Gnosticism or Hermetism but includes both; and it may manifest itself in pagan, Christian, as well as Jewish contexts. Moreover, with respect neither to Late Antiquity nor to later periods is it possible to study the history of these currents in isolation from that of the so-called occult sciences. This fact adds considerable complexity to the domain covered in this Dictionary, since it implies a large overlap between theories and practices focused on "gnosis" and pertaining primarily to the domain of religion, and others pertaining more obviously to that of science. That much attention is given in the present reference work to astrology, alchemy and magia naturalis does not reflect any wish to recast these disciplines as essentially religious currents focused primarily on gnosis and spiritual pursuits, or to deny their grounding in natural philosophy and science. On the contrary, the intention is to highlight the complexity of the relations between science, natural philosophy, cosmology and religion in the period from Antiquity through the 17th and even 18th centuries, against the tendency of earlier generations to deny this complexity in the interest of simplifying "religion versus science" oppositions. Thus, for example, the attempt (associated with C.G. Jung and his school) to present alchemy as not a scientific but a spiritual pursuit is no less reductionistic than the tendency of positivist historiography to ignore religious dimensions of alchemical literature as irrelevant. This Dictionary seeks to highlight the importance of the natural sciences for the study of "Gnosis and Western Esotericism" as well as the relevance of the latter to the history of science and philosophy; for only by multi- and interdisciplinary research that is attentive to all the various dimensions of these complex domains will it be possible to correctly assess their importance in Western culture.

Processes of acculturation by means of which a variety of originally "pagan" systems of ideas such as e.g. those originating in hermetic, neoplatonic, and even aristotelian contexts became integral parts of Christian culture during the Middle Ages and Renaissance are an obvious focus of interest for the study of "Gnosis and Western Esotericism". Major examples during the Middle Ages are the reception of Hermetic literature by a range of Christian theologians,  the strange phenomenon of ritual magic flourishing in the context of the medieval "clerical underworld", and the revival of the "occult sciences" during the later Middle Ages as a result of a flood of translations from Arabic into Latin. These developments provided the indispensable foundation for what has been referred to as the Hermetic tradition of the Renaissance, starting with Marsilio Ficino's epoch-making translation of the Corpus Hermeticum in 1463 (published in 1471, and with numerous reprints throughout the 16th century), in the context of his life-long project of recovering the supreme religious philosophy of the "divine Plato" and a long chain of prisci theologi who were believed to have preceded him. Since Ficino saw Plato as a religious author and read him through neoplatonic lenses, his new Christian-platonic philosophy was bound to give a new legitimacy to late-antique theurgy and related occult practices, incorrectly but influentially attributed to ancient authorities like Zoroaster and Hermes Trismegistus. The resulting mixture of hermetic, neoplatonic and occult traditions (all, of course, integrated within a Christian framework) was further enriched by a heady infusion of Jewish traditions: the so-called Christian kabbalah, pioneered by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Johannes Reuchlin and many other authors in their wake, left an indelible mark on all later developments of the tradition. Thus the 16th century saw the birth of a new type of syncretic religiosity that could make its appearance in various confessional contexts, and was based on Jewish, Christian and pagan components. Traditional disciplines like astrology, magia and alchemy now came to be understood as integral parts of a comprehensive religious philosophy and cosmology on neoplatonic, hermetic and kabbalistic foundations, sometimes referred to as philosophia occulta. The innovative (al)chemical philosophy based upon the writings (real or spurious) of Paracelsus left a particularly strong mark on subsequent developments, as represented notably by the Rosicrucian current of the early 17th century and its continuations over the next centuries, and the Christian theosophical tradition linked to Jacob Boehme and his followers, that emerged around the same time and found multiple adherents until the early 19th century and beyond.

It is again due to ingrained ideological biases ultimately grounded in the biblical and theological rejection of paganism as idolatry rather than for scholarly reasons that this entire domain was severely neglected by academic research until far into the 20th century. In 1938 Paul Oskar Kristeller first called attention to the importance of the Hermetic literature for Renaissance culture, and Italian scholars began to study some of the sources 8 (although specialists still tended to look at the occult dimensions of Renaissance hermetism as an embarrassment which they preferred to ignore as much as possible); but it was only in 1964 that the "Hermetic Tradition" was definitely put on the agenda of scholarly research particularly in the context of the history of science due to Frances A. Yates's extremely influential Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition.'' In a series of later books, notably The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (1972) and The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (1979), she further explored the development of Hermetic philosophy and related traditions such as the "Christian kabbalah" and the Rosicrucian furor of the early 17th century. While Yates's work has been of the greatest importance in bringing these subjects to the attention of a wide audience, particularly in the anglophone world, her grand narrative of "the Hermetic Tradition" as a coherent and quasi-autonomous counterculture based upon magic and leading to science has been called into question by subsequent research: what is nowadays referred to as hermeticism (an umbrella concept that in fact comprises much more, as we have seen, than the hermetic literature only) was by no means limited to some magical subculture but was abundantly present in "mainstream" religious, philosophical and scientific discourse as well, and its great representatives were complex thinkers whose perspective can by no means be reduced to hermeticism and magic alone. As a result, the simple and dramatic picture of a quasi-autonomous counter-tradition of "hermeticists" or "Renaissance magi" fighting against the establishment (theologians, rationalists, scientists) has given way to a less romantic but more accurate perception of "hermeticism" as a traditionally underestimated dimension of general religious and cultural developments in pre- and early modern Western society.

In a manner very similar to what happened in Late Antiquity, with the reification of "Gnosticism" as a distinct heretical system opposed to Christianity, the concept of a distinct system or tradition of "Hermeticism" (comprising, as we have seen, the entire mixture of hermetic literature, neoplatonic speculation, kabbalah, alchemy, astrology, and magic outlined above) seems to have emerged in the 17th century and to have been taken up especially in Protestant contexts.  It is mainly against this background that the proponents of the Enlightenment came to present it as the epitome of unreason and superstition. Once again, the process was one of cementing one's own identity by construing a negative "other": the very project of Enlightenment required a wholesale rejection of "the occult". But in this case, too, careful historical research reveals a much more complex picture. The more we learn about the relationship between the Enlightenment and phenomena such as Freemasonry and related associations (such as the Bavarian Illluminaten or the Goldund Rosenkreuzer) or the variegated field referred to as 18th century Illuminism, the clearer it becomes that the boundaries between reason and its "other" were in fact blurred and shifting, with many important figures finding them-selves with one foot in each camp. As the historical evidence thus forces us to re-evaluate and problematize traditional concepts of the "Age of Reason", we also need to reconsider the effects of those concepts on subsequent historiography.

The reification mainly by Protestant and Enlightenment authors of "Hermeticism" as a coherent counterculture of superstition and unreason, followed by its exclusion from acceptable discourse, forced its sympathizers to adopt similar strategies. From the 18th century on and throughout the 19th, as a by-product of secularization and the disenchantment of the world, one sees them engaged in attempts at construing their own identity by means of the "invention of tradition": essentially adopting the Protestant and Enlightenment concept of a hermetic or magical counterculture, they sought to defend it as based upon a superior worldview with ancient roots, and opposed to religious dogmatism and narrow-minded rationalism. Here, too, the process was a highly complex and ambivalent one, with hermetically-oriented authors making frequent reference to "reason", "science" or "historical facts" in order to defend the notion of an ancient and superior tradition of "magic and the occult" that had been present since hoary antiquity and had continued through the ages. The term occultism, a neologism first attested in 1842, was quickly picked up in these circles as an appropriate label for their own perspectives. Eventually the term has also come to be adopted by scholars, as a historical label for these same 19th-century circles and their 20th-century continuations.

It is likewise in the first half of the 19th century that the term esotericism (French: "sotrisme") emerged as well, having been coined by the Protestant historian Jacques Matter in his Histoire critique du gnosticisme et de son influence published in 1828. The term therefore did not originate as a self-designation by which certain religious authors or currents identified themselves or their own perspectives, but as a scholarly label applied a posteriori to certain religious developments in the context of early Christianity. To the present day, the term "esotericism" tends to be used by scholars in two different senses, that should be clearly distinguished: in a typological sense it refers to traditions of secrecy or (mainly among authors inspired by "religionist" agendas) to what is seen as the deeper "inner mysteries of religion" as opposed to merely external or "exoteric" religious observance, but in a strictly historical sense it functions, rather, as a general label for a series of specific currents in Western culture that display certain similarities and are historically related.  The term Western Esotericism in the title of this Dictionary refers to this second meaning. Particularly in French scholarship, "l'sotrisme occidental" has long been used by scholars as the preferred umbrella term covering the entirety of currents and traditions that have been sketched above; and since the 1990s this terminological convention has rapidly been gaining ground in international academic discourse. This process has been accompanied by a theoretical and methodological debate about definitions and demarcations, which is still in full development at the time of writing.

Since the eventual outcome of these discussions is as yet far from clear, it would have been unwise to link the present Dictionary too specifically to one particular definition or theoretical approach. Such an attempt would, moreover, have been unnecessary, because as in the study of "religion" generally scholars in this domain often strongly disagree about abstract theoretical definitions although they in fact share a broad consensus about the historical phenomena covered by the term. Specialists may quibble about boundary issues, disagreeing about whether this or that specific current or personality should or should not be included under the broad labels "Gnosis" and "Western Esotericism", but experience shows that by and large they think of the same domain and the same currents when they are using these terms.

The major exception, which therefore needs to be addressed here, concerns the important question of "gnosis" and "esotericism" in the context of Jewish and Islamic culture. As for the Jewish context, it is significant that in his Hebrew publications Gershom Scholem preferred to speak not of Jewish mystics but of ba'aley sod (lit. "masters of the secret", translatable as "esoterics" in the typological sense referred to above); 20 accordingly,

the English translation of his classic introduction as Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1946) might be considered unfortunate. From both a historical and a theoretical perspective, excellent arguments could be adduced for including the entire domain of "Jewish gnosis and esotericism" within the context of the present Dictionary, and along similar lines one might argue in favor of including the domain of Islamic gnosis and esotericism, which likewise tends to be referred to as "mysticism". The editors are aware of the cogency of the arguments that can be adduced in favor of a concept of "Gnosis and Western Esotericism" that fully and systematically includes the three great Religions of the Book; and they are acutely conscious of the fact that doing otherwise might be perceived by some readers as reflecting a Christianity-centered bias that incorrectly seeks to exclude Judaism and Islam from the domain of "European history of religions" or from "Western culture" as such. No such exclusion or marginalization is intended here. The decision to discuss the Jewish and Islamic dimensions as "influences upon" rather than as integral parts of Gnosis and Western Esotericism was made not for theoretical but for entirely pragmatic reasons. It reflects the fact that (partly due to linguistic barriers) the disciplines studying Jewish and Islamic "mysticism" have so far developed relatively independently and have already succeeded in achieving a certain degree of academic recognition, at least in comparison to the field here referred to as "Gnosis and Western Esotericism". With respect to the latter, it is true that many specific currents covered by the present Dictionary (particularly those pertaining to earlier periods) have long been subjects of serious academic study, but only very recently have conditions begun to be created in the form of e.g. multidisciplinary conferences, academic institutions, mono-graph series, or academic journals that allow them to be seen in a larger historical context, so that their numerous historical interconnections are seriously explored and these various currents can be perceived as so many aspects of a much larger domain. Academic research into the later phases of the historical spectrum, from the Renaissance and a fortiori from the 18th century on, has been most seriously neglected by earlier generations (mostly due to the influence of the now discredited "secularization thesis" according to which these domains could not be anything more than marginal "survivals" that would eventually succumb to the pressures of rationalization and secularization); and again it is only quite recently that this situation is beginning to improve. By giving equal attention to these later and quite recent historical developments as to those belonging to earlier periods, and thus establishing a "referential corpus" of primary and secondary texts pertaining to the complete historical spectrum, the present Dictionary hopes to contribute to the current academic emancipation of "Gnosis and Western Esotericism" as a comprehensive domain of research. Furthering collaboration with parallel disciplines focused on Jewish and Islamic "mysticism" is part of that development, and may well end up transforming our perception of all of them. As the hoped-for outcome of such a future development, perhaps one day the time will be ripe for a Dictionary even much larger than the present one, and which will fully include the Jewish and Islamic along with the Christian and secular dimensions of "Gnosis and Western Esotericism".

The above overview is based upon the premise that seemingly innocuous terminological conventions are often the reflection of hidden or implicit ideological agendas. Perhaps no other domain in the study of religion has suffered from such biases as seriously as the one to which this Dictionary is devoted, for it covers more or less all currents and phenomena that have, at one time or another, come to be perceived as problematic (misguided, heretical, irrational, dangerous, evil, or simply ridiculous) from the perspectives of established religion, philosophy, science, and academic research. Often these perceptions have led to serious distortions of the historical evidence, usually in the form of simplified pictures of complex realities and the creation of imaginary "enemies". The label "Gnosis and Western Esotericism" is proposed here as part of a deliberate attempt at overcoming such biases and moving towards a more neutral, accurate and balanced reading of Western history of religion and culture; but obviously it would be extremely naive to think that any terminology can be entirely free from such problems. The editors are acutely aware of the fact that usage of the terms "Gnosis" and "Western esotericism" is not limited to academic contexts, since both are also used in popular literature to promote various "spiritual" agendas and aspirations. Likewise they are painfully aware of the ironical fact that the very attempt at gathering an enormous variety of currents and personalities under one general umbrella might easily be mistaken, against all their intentions, for just another attempt at reification and simplification, suggesting the presence of some "universal gnosis" or abiding "esoteric truth". Fortunately, however, the very contents of this Dictionary provide the best antidote against such misperceptions: rather than a repetitive series of variations on the same essential "truths", the reader will find here a dazzling variety of ideas and practices, reflective of ever-changing historical con-texts and testifying to the remarkable creativity of the religious imagination. We hereby offer this reference work to our readers in the hope that it will inspire them not only (if it is permitted here to quote Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek saga) "to boldly go where no one has gone before", but also to revisit seemingly well-charted territories and discover how much we still have to learn about them. 

'The Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism is a brilliantly conceived and skillfully executed reference tool unlike anything the scholarly world has ever seen. In two massive volumes it covers every aspect of pagan, Jewish, and Christian religious discourses and phenomena traditionally labeled gnosticism, hermeticism, astrology, magic, the "occult sciences," esoteric religion, and much more. The detailed and insightful articles, on nearly every related topic imaginable, are produced by an impressive array of renowned scholars, and usefully include up-to date bibliographies. Six years in the making, this is a work that every student of religion, ancient and modern, will certainly want to own.' --Bart D. Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor and Chair of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Wouter J. Hanegraaff is professor of History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents at the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He has published extensively on modern and contemporary Western esotericism.
Antoine Faivre is Professor emeritus of History of Esoteric and Mystical Currents in Modern and Contemporary Europe at the 5th section of the cole Pratique des Hautes tudes (Sorbonne), Paris, France.
Roelof van den Broek is Professor emeritus of History of Christianity at the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Jean-Pierre Brach is Professor of History of Esoteric Currents in Modern and Contemporary Europe at the 5th section of the cole Pratique des Hautes tudes (Sorbonne), Paris, France.

The review below is from Website by Boudewijn Koole

Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism, edited by Wouter J. Hanegraaff in collaboration with Antoine Faivre, Roelof van den Broek, Jean-Pierre Brach: Volume I / II., [with - in vol. I - Introduction, List of Contributors, List of Entries, - and in vol. II - Index of Groups and Organizations, Index of Persons, ]Leiden / Boston (Brill) 2005, vol. I (A-H) pp. xxix, 1-586 pp., vol. II (I-Z) pp. 587-1228 Now available in reduced one volume edition

This insightful new dictionary is absolutely indispensable for academic research as well as for the spiritual seeker who wants to know more about the ideas - and sometimes also practices - of the traditions of Gnosis & Western Esotericism in general, that is of the history and correlation of those ideas. How it is possible in such a work of many writers, I don't know, but every article is a pleasure to read by style and structure. So before you know you are looking to other entries for more. I went so fast that I stopped in the midst of the P and of the article about Paracelsus, to save at least some for later! Before commenting on some separate articles and topics I would like to make some more general remarks about backgrounds, scope and methodology - rather dull stuff perhaps for some but to me not unimportant. But in general let me say already this: I experience this publication as a great gift, and a welcome tool for study and finding information. I am really feeling glad to have better access now to some fellow humans of the past (sometimes even large groups of them) which I experience as my relatives - if not in all ideas or practices than surely as fellow humans - and with which I sometimes even feel congenial to a certain extent. But never without lessons; this seems human too. (For Dutch readers: a very informative and interesting interview with the main editor appeared in the newspaper NRC Handelsblad 5-6/3/2005 p. 45, also to be found on the website of the newspaper. The interview is especially focused on the neutrality of the descriptions in this dictionary, compared with the derogation which mostly accompanies descriptions or even just mentioning these subjects. Hanegraaff explains at length the advantages and pitfalls accompanying the making of the dictionary in this way.)

Some general remarks.

Let me first note that this work seems to be very well organized and edited. Only one very concrete and practical omission (no index on subjects) I will mention below. It seems to present the fruit of the new studies (after World War II) of these 'alternative' strains of Western discourse - in comparison to the mainstreams of science, philosophy and theology. Thanks to new historical (re)discoveries and thanks particularly to the hard work of the new pioneers in these fields, these studies gained impressive insight in and oversight in these traditions, of course not without using the materials provided by earlier publications from some forerunners in the centuries before.
What has become visible now, is a vast field of academic knowledge - about topics despised of in the mainstream Western religions as heretic and dangerous as well as until recently more often than not neglected by the academic world. Which knowledge now also figures within the boundaries of many generally accepted paradigms or discussions shared by a large number of academic researchers, among which the writers of the articles in this dictionary. It might be noted that the work of Roelof van den Broek - pupil and colleague of the Utrecht church historian Gilles Quispel who pioneered in promoting the importance and the knowledge of Gnosticism as well as of Jewish Christianity in a time when this was not accepted as important - for the pre-Middle Age parts and of Antoine Faivre for the Renaissance and Modern Era stands out here.
I will not go into a discussion of the difference as well as the relation between the contents of this dictionary with the content of the oversight works of the more accepted religious or if you want spiritual history of the West. Most often one will find in this dictionary a good feel for methodology within religious and related studies in which the main editor Wouter J. Hanegraaff - also having excellent knowledge of the esotericism of the last two centuries - is well versed. But I feel that more is at hand than merely the happy circumstance (but a very happy circumstance it really is!) that the four editors - Jean-Pierre Brach, the fourth, is specialized in magic and numerology - had so much complementary knowledge and contacts within their respective fields of study. Indeed it is again possible now to ask questions about the relation between mainstream and alternative discourse in Western religion and / or spirituality, as well as between more or less accepted paradigms in studying them. The first note however might be that this publication indisputably proves the validity of the academic studies of these subjects as well as the value of these subjects within society in general (unless one would restrict the academy to the natural sciences, and see as important for society only the dominant or 'proven' religions or spiritualities). Let me close this part of my comments with the remark that I believe that it is possible to have good methodology in these fields of study without being absolutistic in regard to fundamentals. To me this dictionary shows that in full although the discussions about the mentioned questions still have to be held - to me preferably with an open eye for different points of view, or better regarding one's own biases as well.
But indeed: now that these parts of Western religious (and philosophical and scientific and cultural) history have been presented again as very important and relevant, one theme cannot be negated any more, namely the difference between the paradigms within these fields compared with the paradigms in the other traditions which until yet were the only ones who also pretended to be the true ones, i.e. the only ones with serious validity. For you can discern not only different parts of history (some even speak of gnosis and esotericism as the third tradition in Western history next to faith and reason; a judgement which still has to be vindicated) but also of different paradigms in these different traditions, and you will immediately understand that a huge field of research now unfolds itself. Lots of questions and themes could be put forward here which indeed implicitly are of great importance: how much attention is or should be given to cultural and sociological settings and political roles and influences (in fact in this dictionary rather little attention is given to these topics), to the relation with philosophy and science (in this dictionary a lot, in any case as regards Platonism and Aristotelism, although there could be more oversight regarding the relation to science), to the relation with the official or dominant religions in the West - Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism in several denominations or variants; Judaism; Islam - and their dominant theologies (here and there in this dictionary you will find some remark or even some article about one separate subject, but no continued attention). Of course all these topics bring with them their own problems in relation to the paradigms which are used in this dictionary or in the field of its studies, even in relation to what counts as their objects and borders: do the studies of Gnosis & Western Esotericism have to accept themselves labelled as 'alternative' to the mainstream traditions as one does usually? I do not think so. Although all traditions including the mainstream ones are alternatives to each other from the viewpoint of a client who could choose between them, phenomenologically one could defend that they all have the same value, that is: can and have to be observed neutrally before making those choices. Which conclusion then leads to new questions about the viewpoints from which to study them - a problem well known within the history and 'sciences' of religion but not to be answered with a labelling of choices for viewpoints that differ from one's own as less valid or as only 'alternative' in comparison with your own (absolutely) 'true' or mainstream viewpoint. On the contrary, I would like to emphasize that from the abundance of well organized material in this dictionary it seems possible to ask many questions about mainstream paradigms in the history of religions, of churches, of paradigms in theology and philosophy, and so on to politics, society and culture in their breadth. The then following discussions in the field of academic studies could be very fruitful, in my opinion. Particularly if you know that mainstream Western religions and philosophy have founded many of their ideas and positions on the basis of or in confrontation with the traditions spoken of in this dictionary. But the writers in this dictionary do not spend any attention to these important questions (for example: the origination of Catholic Christianity as well as Rabbinic Judaism in confrontation with and from a background of several Hellenistic religious and esoteric traditions and mystery schools and philosophical schools - which in fact not should have been neglected in a dictionary like this) apart from very implicitly. They restrict themselves to an elucidating and inspiring presentation of the results of their studies, and to some historical questions which still stand open, but they do not speak about the questions I put forward here nor about their historical backgrounds and correlations.
The editors have also restricted themselves to Western traditions, i.e. in fact mostly to European and (North) American, so no traditions from Asia, Africa or South America will be found within this dictionary. So comparison between Western and other traditions will not be found in it, which I regret although I can understand it for practical reasons. For not only are there important Eastern influences upon esoteric Western traditions in the last two centuries (Theosophy, Anthroposophy, and many more) but it is well known that Eastern religions have a great deal of attraction in the West, not the least for adherers of the Western esoteric traditions I am sure. So if practically not yet possible, this theme is missed regrettably by me. It will be an important theme for the future of the subject fields of this dictionary.
Another miss - mentioned by the editors - is the relation with Judaism and Islam. Although an important miss because of the close relation of these three monotheistic religions of the book, there are practical reasons - the state of the art of the study of these relation is not very grown up or stable yet and the number of those with a good knowledge of it is few - why at this moment in time it is difficult to produce qualified articles about these subjects, for example about Jewish non-canonical scriptures, or about Islamic gnosis. One should not forget however that the parallels between these three religions are generally rather close so that they are unmistakably important and elucidating but mostly not too different. Manichaeism although a separate church might be regarded clearly as a part of Christianity, and could be added to the list of topics to be expanded in later editions because of the close correlations and parallels with other traditions among which Judaism, Gnosticism and Islam. The study of Manichaeism is rising thanks to new discoveries and studies. Also relative little attention is paid to non-Jewish and non-Christian mystery religions or secret cults in the Hellenistic Age and classical Greece, as well as to Egyptian and other religions in the Near East in the old times from which the influence is mentioned but not clearly spelled out.
From all mentioned misses together one could perhaps be inclined to ask if the editors perhaps had or have an unmentioned or even unconscious bias to mainstream paradigms of academic (religious and scientific) research, indeed of their fundamental premise - that the Western aspect of their subjects is only a geographical designation or that it implies still something of the old prejudices about Western superiority, well known and practiced in European and North-American Christianity and Judaism as well as in (even secular) academia in these parts of the world, and about the inferiority of other cultures and religions. To be more precise: the fact that Western technology is nowadays the dominant one does not mean that that is also true for Western culture and religion, or only that the last cannot be compared with other cultures and religions because of their different paradigms. The last statement namely depends upon the supposition that it is not possible to compare any culture of religion with another one, or - what leads to the same conclusion - that 'our' fundamental truths or paradigms are by definition better than all 'other' ones.
In summary, 'gnosis' and 'esotericism' have a connotation of rejection within dogmatical theology and reasonable science which more often than not were not neutral to these subjects of study. Or better said, within the course of fighting those phenomena they - or their forerunners - intentionally shaped this terminology with a negative connotation, that is defined those phenomena as to be judged negatively. Now my question is: by using the terminology coming from the enemies, does not the very title of the dictionary give in too much to standard prejudices? Of course a problem with this is that a dictionary like this one is part of the academic discourse and does not want to remove itself to much from this discourse - which itself is not a truth but a chosen method and viewpoint. But within the academic discourse there should be the possibility and in reality often is much discussion and struggle or better fight about paradigms, and it has to be said that the subjects of this dictionary - as do religion and spirituality in general - give much occasion to that.
So the strength of this dictionary is explicit in the well written articles on separate subjects, almost all from a remarkable neutral viewpoint that is without implicit or explicit prejudices. However in those broader and fundamental questions and topics as mentioned above this strength is still implicit only. This dictionary nevertheless stands out for its rich contents on diverse topics, well divided into correlating articles about historical periods and systematically differing orientations, on many persons and organisations and so on. I cannot withstand the inclination to mention some of them because of their importance or because I like to make some more personal comments on them.

Comments on specific topics or articles.

In this part the titles of the articles mentioned will be written in bold. As mentioned above, I assume I already have read about half the dictionary, but not much after the letter P. The articles mentioned below is not my complete list of read articles (and surely not even half the list of entries of the whole dictionary which would be about 400 items, including f.e. Tarot, Pessoa, Reincarnation, Schelling, Secrecy, Theosophical Society, Yeats, Zosimus) but if no negative comment is given, they are all a pleasure to read and very informative. And with these article-names you also have at least one impression of the contents of this dictionary.

Some general articles are really splendid, among them Gnosticism, Hermetism (brilliant), Hermetic Literature (I Antiquity II Latin Middle Ages (extensive too) III Arabic (!) IV Renaissance - Present), Hermes Trismegistos (esp. I Antiquity and III Modernity). Some citations from the article Gnosticism I: Christian Gnostics of the 2nd century could sometimes speak about Jesus with much more warmth and spiritual depth than their non-Gnostic fellow Christians. (411) Moreover, from Hellenistic times onward, philosophy, and later Platonism in particular, had become increasingly religious. Under these circumstances, one understands that it is often difficult to draw a sharp borderline between philosophical and Gnostic writings, especially in the case of non-mythological Gnostic texts. In general, however, one can say that the philosophers sought philosophical solutions to philosophical problems, even in their language was religiously coloured, whereas the Gnostic thinkers sought religious answers to religious problems, even if they made use of philosophical terminology. The philosophers aimed at understanding, the Gnostics sought and proclaimed salvation through revealed knowledge. (413) Jews must have played an important role in the formation of the Gnostic myths. From Philo on we know that there were Jews in Alexandria who rejected the beliefs and practices of their paternal religion. But the deeply pessimistic view of the human condition expressed in the early Gnostic myths, cannot have been limited to some apostate Jews. It apparently reflected a more general experience of alienation from the world and a longing for salvation by spiritual knowledge, which is also evident in those Gnostic writings that do not show any specific Jewish influence. The Christian anti-Gnostic works of the 2nd and 3rd centuries testify to the great attraction of Gnostic views, and of the religious experience upon which they were based, on Christian thinkers or teachers and their followers. The result was a distinct Gnostic current within the variegated world of early Christianity. The most influential Gnostic variant of Christianity seems to have been Valentinianism, which was based on older mythological constructions (). That Valentinus and even his pupil Ptolemy were simply well educated Christian Platonists, who did not yet teach the Valentinian mythological system that was taught by their followers, as has been argued from a church-historical point of view (), is highly unlikely. In the middle of the 2nd century, ecclesiastical leaders in Rome began to define the boundaries of the church and, accordingly, to reject the views that for a time had been acceptable within the Christian communities. The Christian teachers who taught the prevalence of Gnosis over faith or ascribed the creation of the world to a lower Demiurge were expelled from the Church and vehemently fought. (414v.) The Gnostic character of a considerable number of texts can be disputed, since their contents show a position intermediate between a distinct Gnostic and a more philosophical, hermetic, or generally Christian views. The decisive criterion is whether or not esoteric knowledge is held to be indispensable for personal salvation, i.e. the return to one's divine origin. But even this criterion is not always easy to apply, because the indispensability of Gnosis is sometimes merely presupposed rather than explicitly expressed. However, all these ambiguities are no reason to deny the existence of Gnostic religiosity in the Roman world and to declare terms as Gnostic, Gnosticism, Gnostic movement, etc. meaningless. The Gnostic religion, its mythological variants included, was not a degenerated form of Greek philosophy, nor did it arise as a Christian heresy. To some extent it was a religion in its own right, or at least a distinct religious mentality, which expressed itself in an almost inextricable combination of important notions derived from Jewish mysticism, Greek philosophy, and Christian philosophy. Its central belief found a succinct expression in the Christian Gnostic Testimony of Truth, NHC IX, 44,30-45,6: 'When man comes to know himself and God who is over the truth, he will be saved, and he will crown himself with the crown unfading'. (415)
Valentinus and Valentinians: the best introduction I know into the history and the mythology of the Valentinian writings, as well as of the different Valentinian teachers and systems. Namely explanation of the gospels within the framework of (mainly platonicizing) views intended upon salvation, and as such typically religious (confer the role of the child in the manger with Valentine, which seems to have impressed him very much and influenced his views and thinking apparently). Hymns and Prayers: very balanced and informative treatment of many materials; promising object of study for the history of several traditions because of the possibility as well as necessity of perceiving and explaining differences and equalities of texts which played very important roles in their practice.
To name a few further good articles in this context: Archontics; Justin the Gnostic (very interesting and informative); Marcion (interesting); Menander; Nicolatans; Sethians: important hypothesis to be researched further. As well as Elchasai / Elxai; Nassenes; Mandaeans. And of course the important Clemens of Alexandria.
Mani and Manicheism: balanced, much oversight, very informative; still a lot of stuff to be studied from newly discovered sources which are in the process of being published or promised so. From these studies probably a new view can be obtained about the original relations between Judaism, Gnosticism, Christianity including Manicheism, and Islam, which were much closer to or intertwined with each other in old times than we now generally suppose. This will of course influence our view of Islamic Sufism, of Gnosticism etc. very much.
Those who wish to find an entry into the whole field of the dictionary can read the article about Macrohistory (somewhat more difficult because of the required pre-knowledge but in general stimulating and very informative). If I may make a remark: The writer ascribes the origin of Gnosticism to the non-Jewish parts of the Hellenistic cities; I doubt this. His argument is that historical consciousness is well attested in the Jewish tradition and that Gnosticism is not so historically conscious. To me the explanation to this is not so much that the Gnostics could not have been Jews but that in the Age of Hellenism there have been processes of hellenization of Jews (and people of many other traditions) during which they adapted original stories to new situations far from their homeland and as part of a greater city or society (perhaps situations of losing the connection with old roots or interpretations and having to give new answers to new problems for example insecurity, at a practical as well as a cultural level). The interesting thing to me is more the explanation of the strong Jewish influences in Gnosticism (although in early Hellenistic times there also was a general trend to adhere a positive value to aspects of the Jewish religion, for example: not making statues of their God, as well as ethical and other universal aspects which could then be interpreted by Philo of Alexandria and others within a Platonic context) than only of the differences with the traditional Judaism of that time. The circles in which Gnosticism originated probably were not restricted to one part of cities but could attracted members - or adhere to ideas - from more than one part or ethnic background. It then has not to be decided in advance that the basic ethnic background of a Gnostic group could only have been the non-Jewish part of Hellenistic cities. The central question is of course in which aspects the Gnostics stayed Jewish and in which not, like this was also a central question for (other) Christians and Jews within the context of Hellenism or even the process of Hellenization. Probably there were a lot of movements from one circle to another - be it in person or be it in ideas and over a longer period - as is also the case nowadays. But this is only a minor aspect of this lengthy and informative article.
Another interesting general article is that about Tradition, in the sense of adhering to the supposed presence of a general tradition of wisdom and central religious ideas, which can be found always but also is lost often, so that the connection sometimes has to be established anew and historically vindicated. For example one can find in this way the combination of the history of the tradition with a systematic overview of its main ideas in the form of a philosophia perennis, an eternal philosophy. The article expounds in examples of this sort, and is splendid and elucidating.
Correspondences: important and very interesting subject which the article seems to get a good grip at.
Imagination: excellent article with good list of references to literature, though still with omissions, namely Feuerbach & Marx as roots of the Frankfurter Schule (Marcuse) and of the 'imagination au pouvoir' (1968, Paris), as well as modern neurology about the role of imaginations and the memories of them as part of our systems of perception and intellect, emotion and reason (Damasio).
Mnemonics: important, very elucidating, good.
Esotericism: the limitations of this field within the article call in mind the questions mentioned above in the first part of my comment, regarding the fields of study and their paradigms of this dictionary as a whole.
Mysticism: very interesting about the continuities and discontinuities with esotericism; helpful though far from definitive (solution to be found within the direction of discerning 'different objects' as well as the possibility of 'objectless'?).
Astrology / Magic: important but not so much my fields of interest.
Intermediary Beings I-IV: from the sheer unbelievable abundance of them you could conclude that they play important roles, and indeed they seem illustrative for many psychological and cultural developments of their inventors and devotees (among other the interesting contrasting developments of syncretism and divergence). But they also are illustrative for (understandable!) vagueness when a figure is incorporated or give a needed role without much relation to the whole.
Music: rests vague regarding the particular relation to the topics of this dictionary.

The articles on Aristotelianism and Neo-Platonism are very rich and informative in relation to the subjects of this dictionary and as such (the last article can apart from 'good' and 'important' even be said to be still to small relative to the vast range of interesting topics and relations, in my opinion); Dionysius Areopagita: much influence but himself also influenced; Hesychasm: meditation in Eastern-Orthodox Christianity.
Jewish Influences III: splendid article from Joseph Dan about Christian Kabbalah in the Renaissance (Pico and Reuchlin were very positive to Jewish 'oral' 'Tradition' from Mozes on!) [remark: Dan ascribes the invention of the duality of gender within the godhead as a new, revolutionary concept found for the first time in the book Bahir (1185) - which idea, contrary to many other Jewish kabbalistic ideas, however did not make much of an impression on the Christian kabbalists (Dan of course restricts himself to the Renaissance). Apart from later developments in Boehme (and later Christian Kabbalists), one often seems not to know - as here too seems the case with Dan - that the images of the androgyne and their forerunners (f.e. Anthropos and Sophia) have old roots also within Jewish circles (a.o. the tragedy-writer Ezechil 200 BC, Philo of Alexandria and some rabbi's). Let me add, that one too often seems not to know that, like with the Jewish Kabbalah in later times, the general valuation of the Jewish religion in Hellenism was often very or rather positive until the Christians - themselves in the beginning mostly Jews and surely taking ideas and images and more from the Jewish traditions! - became powerful and a process of devaluation and discrimination of the other - rabbinical, not Hellenizing - Jews began as too different, too unmodern i.e. un-Christian!, as well as of those other - Hellenizing - Christians now regarded as heretical, f.e. the Christian Gnostics]; I / II informative but not very original qua historical insights, nevertheless good lists of literature; IV very good about the ways in which the Kabbalah was used within literature, philosophy and esotericism within Enlightenment / Romanticism; V Occultist Kabbalah: insightful.
Witchcraft: about 15th to 17th centuries: important for many very interesting insights which - with the instruments of the authors of these authors - from the study of this subject could be taken for the explanation in a totally new light of many non-esoterical, ecclesiastical and orthodox traditions (f.e. comparison of pietism and Christian theosophy with Gnosticism and Hermetism: liturgically and dogmatically or, in other terms, ritually and mythologically).
From the articles about Alchemy (esp. I-IV) I learned a.o. that this tradition in many cases and periods was not a spiritual one at all.
Eriugena: good, important list of literature.
Hildegard von Bingen: good and very stimulating.
The article about Catharism is, although extensively informative, rather dry and not very inspiring.
In the article about Albertus Magnus you find information to see this man and his work from a different side than usual as a systematic philosopher only. Particularly interesting in this regard are his sources.
Avicenna / Cusanus: important.
Ficino: important article with extensive literature; Lazzarelli: (interesting example of Christian-Hermetic literature, his Crater Hermetis); Lefvre d'taples; Lull; Dorn (Dorneus); Weigel; Arndt: many impulses from him, as well as interesting influences upon him. All these articles interesting.
Paracelsus: from this informative article you can also easily discern that his great name and influence must have something to do with A. his ascription of a very important role of the human / healer / ill person at the occasion and in the process of healing, as well as his valuation of the 'magic' aspect within healing; B. his high regard for and intensive studies of the gospels, his many spiritual (theological) works with Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as radical starting point.
Paracelsism: This article makes clear the strange status of Paracelsus' reception in official (generally accepted) as well as non-official (generally not accepted) circles of knowledge and science (medical science, chemistry, academic theology, philosophy) and spirituality (Christian theosophy, esotericism, alchemy) and their amalgams. Very often one fights against a (self) distorted phantom of Paracelsus and his views or one takes Paracelsism to be representative for some other or older idea or set of ideas and practices. Those who value Paracelsus much, also vary much in their way of representing his ideas, selecting some or changing others, etc. The article about Christian Theosophy is very good (although alas without any comparison with traditional theology and philosophy).
The articles about Johann Valentin Andreae, as well as about Rosicrucianism (I and II) from the hand of Edighoffer (as some other articles from him) are informative and very readable.
Boehme: very good, including good literature list. A.o. about the origin of his main themes (Luthers divine omnipresence! Ptolemy's planet spirits become Boehme's Quellgeister!) and their correlation and development in the context of sources and the spirit of his age. The latter a.o. in his Die Drey Prinzipien, written anti-war - including themes as free will, theodicy etc. etc. - at the beginning of the 30-year War (1618), with a role for the androgyne Adam before the Fall and the corporeal Adam after it, and for the androgyne future of salvation as a goal (perhaps with sources in Paracelsus and Weigel?). For some later writings the Kabbalah and Weigel are mentioned as some sources. I miss the mentioning of Meister Eckhart's view of the Birth of the Trinity within God and the Birth of God in Man as a probable source for Boehme's important theme of the kosmos as a world always in birth, especially for his description of the several Births within God and of Man's spiritual rebirth. Interesting is also that the much guessed intention of Boehme's voyage to Dresden at the end of his life simply boils down to a politically unavoidable interrogation or defence for the worldly powers which for the rest were not very much against Boehme in before, and treated him not badly however without showing much open interest either.
The article about Blake is very good, particularly about the development of his myth.
Khunrath (very much influence through the pictures in his Amfitheatrum; possible Khunraths works are the source for Sophia in Boehme's writings; partly undeveloped areas of study); Arnold: very important; Fludd; Pietism: good, stimulating article about the relation with Hermetism; Illuminism: important movement, very elucidating article (Novalis!); Goethe; Novalis (very interesting, partly undeveloped areas of study); Swedenborg: very influential; Oetinger (very good and informative: great influence on German Romanticism, religion and philosophy; on Mozart too see van den Berk, The Magic Flute, 301-314); Naturphilosophie: elucidating; von Baader: very important, stimulating (a.o. about society according to a reading of Meister Eckhart!); Freemasonry: far from answering questions about sociological settings and roles of this movement (the same seems to be the case for the whole dictionary in regard to the interrelation with social roles of movements, traditions and persons).

You will find very clear articles about Anthroposophy (myths / concepts / thought) and about Rudolf Steiner (sources, development, idiosyncrasies). Also about New Age Movement: very elucidating overview (although relatively few details) and about Blavatsky.
C.G. Jung: very good comprehension of Jung's erudition and new views and insights and his impulses but rarely critical or better explanatory to the internal (non-)consistence of Jung's views (compare the thorough 'philosophical analysis' by Peter van Soest - in Dutch - which offers much insight in some limitations of Jung's psychological and cultural views as well); Jungism.
Occultism; Ariosophy / von List: interesting but their being characterized as 'dualist-manichaean' should of course not be taken as a scientific category; Lorber: informative; Meyrink: very informative; Spiritualism; Ren Gunon; Grail traditions: only about 20th century traditions; Gurdjieff / Gurdjieff tradition: very informative and elucidating articles; Joris K. Huysmans; Evola; Karl Graf von Drckheim; Essenes, Esoteric legends about: only from modern times it seems, but well known book of Hugh Schonfield is not mentioned and given its place; Human Potantial Movement; Mozes: as icon; Neo-sufism: very elucidating about the difference between Islamic Sufism and Non-Islamic as well as partly Islamic Neo-sufism: very elucidating; Neopaganism; New Thought: North American cultural movement of positive thinking, very elucidating about Norman V. Peale, Louise Hay, the Course in Miracles e.a.a.

Concluding remarks.

I summarize my findings as follows. This insightful new dictionary is absolutely indispensable for academic research as well as for the spiritual seeker who wants to know more about the ideas of the traditions of Gnosis & Western Esotericism in general. Every article is a pleasure to read by style and structure. So before you know you are looking to other entries for more! This dictionary stands out for its rich contents on diverse topics, well divided into correlating articles about historical periods and systematically differing orientations, on many persons and organisations and so on.
Most articles seem or are very good; some topics have been treated in a splendid way. There is to be found much stimulus and inspiration for further research as well as for study from more individual points of view. So in one stroke we have now an indispensable goldmine of information about a once dark corner of our culture at our disposal. This is very good quality for sure.
What has become visible now, is a vast field of academic knowledge - about topics despised of in the mainstream Western religions as heretic and dangerous as well as until recently more often than not neglected by the academic world. Which knowledge now also figures within the boundaries of many generally accepted paradigms or discussions shared by a large number of academic researchers, among which the writers of the articles in this dictionary.
The balance between general and special topics seems adequate for the time being, particularly as this is only the first edition. The attention to Judaism and Islam could easily have been more abundant than the rather limited information that is now given. The same applies to the relation with Eastern (and possibly other) religions - and of course their mystical, gnostical and esoterical sides if relevant as such or to the subject in case - which could have been dealt with more systematically. But this requires of course a network of participant researchers and writers which is still larger. To me in any case it is not understandable that not more attention is given to the context of Hellenistic and related surrounding (mystery) religions within which Gnosticism and Hermetism rose; why surely to the philosophical influences of Aristotelism and Neo-Platonism and not to these contextual and also influential religions? One should learn to know that religions grow syncretistically as well as diverging and concentrating. Or do I overestimate those backgrounds? Again there is no systematic treatment of those influences and developments here. The terms 'gnosis' and 'esotericism' have a connotation of rejection within dogmatical theology and reasonable science which often were far from neutral to these subjects of study. Or better said, within the course of fighting those phenomena they - or their forerunners - intentionally shaped this terminology with a negative connotation, that is defined those phenomena as to be judged negatively. Now my question is: by using the terminology coming from the enemies, does not the very title of the dictionary give in too much to standard prejudices? If one as is done here, gives a neutral view of a subject field and sees that it can be treated the same as 'normal' subject fields, why restricting oneself to this field only? Of course a problem with this is that a dictionary like this one is part of the academic discourse (as indeed is also the chair system on which the differentiation of subject fields within a university is based) and does not want to remove itself to much from this discourse - which itself is not a truth but a chosen method and viewpoint. But within the academic discourse there should be the possibility of and in reality there often is much discussion and struggle or better fight about paradigms, and it has to be said that the subjects of this dictionary - as do religion and spirituality in general - give much occasion to that.
This dictionary is very well organized and edited. The design is also very good, a pleasure to see, to hold in your hand and to read (pleasant typography). The indexes are very useful. There is however one great omission: an index on subjects you will not find. I remember having worked with many encyclopaedias, f.e. the RGG (Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart), and - I assume - without its index on subjects I would have had only half of the advantages compared with having this index. For example there are so many concepts of which the history and meaning becomes co much clearer if one can search for and look within the articles or pages of them which contain those concepts, that this omission within this dictionary really is a pity to me. And it is not only concepts but also names of Gods or heavenly beings, or hypostases, for example I so dearly would have had an entry to Sophia or the personified Wisdom, but alas. Could one say that Sophia / Wisdom is less suitable or less important for an entry than is Reincarnation (which has got an entry)? The making of this index is much work of course, because it implies the selection of which entries should be combined although it regards entries which are written differently, for example the names of the devil. But this work is very fruitful and could have been combined with the making of the present indexes on persons and organizations which too require going through the whole text. I urge the publisher to give attention to this omission for a following edition. A following edition of course could also be expanded easily, but then it would be better to make a small and a large edition of this dictionary, one with only the very important entries and another one with 'every relevant subject', ideally. However, one absolutely can say that this dictionary gives a sound basis of information which in itself is indispensable for those who want to be up to date with current research.
So the strength of this well designed and edited dictionary is explicit in the well written articles on separate subjects, almost all from a remarkable neutral viewpoint that is without implicit or explicit prejudices. However in some broader and fundamental questions and topics this strength is still implicit only.
14 June 2005

Masonic Symbolism

THE SECRET TEACHINGS OF ALL AGES: An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic & Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy, by Manly Palmer Hall, illustrated by J. Augustus Knapp ($54.95, paperback, reduced size Color reprint edition, 9" x 13", fifty-four symbolical color plates, foldouts, and an overlay. Includes 200 line art illustrations, extensive bibliography, and complete index. 254 pages, Philosophical Research Society; ISBN: 089314830X.) Now available as inexpensive download edition sans pictures.

Originally sold by subscription and published in a limited edition in 1928, the demand and popularity of this work has never slowed down. Now with over a million copies in print, this volume is simply the most accessible introduction to Western occult tradition ever published. Treasured for its unique illustration this work was the first major study published by the prolific Masonic writer Hall. His unique ability to capture the concrete essence of occult lore is quiet amazing and definitely rare. In the work one can discover the secrets within the symbolic figures, allegories, oral traditions, and rituals of humankind and be connected with the western traditions of mysticism and magic.
This contemporary classic of ancient wisdom concentrates the time-tested jewels of mystical experience into one exemplary source.
Hall explores the inner sanctuaries of diverse religious traditions, revealing unifying themes that lie beneath ancient mythology, philosophy, and religion, bringing to light the arcane teachings held sacred by many ancient cultures. Though dated some in its scholarship the work is so inclusive and full of symbolic hints and important ways to understand the occult tradition that it  is still a faithful guide and introduction to the living tradition of Masonic occultism. The Table of contents shows why the work is so well though of as each chapter provides substantive data on all the areas covered.

Color Plates
Illustrations in the text
Ancient systems of education-Celsus concerning the Christians-Knowledge necessary to right living-The Druidic Mysteries of Britain and Gaul-The Rites of Mithras-The Mithraic and Christian Mysteries contrasted.
The Gnostic Mysteries-Simon Magus and Basilides-Abraxas, the Gnostic concept of Deity-The Mysteries of the Serapis-Labrynth symbolism-The Odinic, or Gothic, Mysteries.
The Eleusinian Mysteries-The Lesser Rites-The Greater Rites-The Orphic Mysteries-The Bacchic Mysteries-The Dionysiac Mysteries. ATALNTIS AND THE GODS OF ANTIQUITY Plato's Atlantis in the light of modern science-The Myth of the Dying
God-The Rite of Tammuz and Ishtar-The Mysteries of Atys and Adonis-The Rites of Sabazius-The Cabiric Mysteries of Samothrace.
Suppositions concerning identity of Hermes-The mutilated Hermetic
fragments-The Book of Thoth-Poimandres, the Vision of Hermes-The
Mystery of Universal Mind-The Seven Governors of the World.
The opening of the Great Pyramid by Caliph al Mamoun-The passageways and chambers of the Great Pyramid-The riddle of the Sphinx-The Pyramid Mysteries-The secret of the Pyramid coffer-The dwelling place of the
Hidden God.
The birthdays of the gods-The murder of Osiris-The Hermetic Isis-The symbols peculiar to Isis-The Troubadours-The mummification of the dead.
The Solar Trinity-Christianity and the Sun-The birthday of the Sun-The three Suns-The celestial inhabitants of the Sun-the midnight Sun.
Primitive astronomical instruments-The equinoxes and solstices-The
astrological ages of the world-The circular zodiac of Tentyra-An
interpretation of the Zodiacal signs-The horoscope of the world.
Plato's initiation in the Great Pyramid-The history of the Bembine
Table-Platonic theory of ideas-The interplay of three philosophical
zodiacs-The Chaldean philosophy of triads-The Orphic Egg.
The ever-burning lamps-The oracle of Delphi-The Dodonean oracle-The oracle of Trophonius-The initiated architects-The Seven Wonders of the world.
Pyhtagoras and the School of Crotona-Pythagoric fundamentals-The
symmetrical solids-The symbolic aphorisms of Pythagoras-Pythagorean astronomy-Kepler's theory of the universe.
The theory of numbers-The numerical value of letters-Method of securing the numerical power of words-An introduction to the Pythagorean theory of numbers-The sieve if Eratosthenes-The meanings of the ten numbers.
The philosophical manikin-The three universal centers-The temples of initiation-The hand in symbolism-The greater and lesser man-The
Anthropos, or Oversoul.
The building of Solomon's Temple-The murder of CHiram Abiff-The
martydom of Jacques de Molay-The spirit fire and the pineal gland-The wanderings of the astronomical Chiram-Cleopatra's Needle and Masons' marks.
Pythagoras and the diatonic scale-Therapeutic music-The music of the spheres-The use of color in symbolism-The colors of the spectrum and the musical scale-Zodiacal and planetary colors.
Jonah and the whale-The fish the symbol of Christ-The Egyptian
scarab-Jupiter's fly-The serpent of wisdom-The sacred crocodile.
The dove, the yonic emblem-The self-renewing phoenix-The Great Seal of the United States of America-Bast, the cat goddess of the Ptolemies-Apis, the sacred bull-The monoceros, or unicorn.
The flower, a phallic symbol-The lotus blossom-The Scandinavian World Tree, Yggdrasil-The sprig of acacia-The juice of the grape-The magical powers of the mandrake.
Prehistoric monuments-The tablets of the Law-The Holy Grail-The ages of the world-Talismanic jewels-Zodiacal and planetary stones and gems.
The black magic of Egypt-Doctor Johannes Faustus-The Mephistopheles of the Grimores-The invocation of spirits-Pacts with demons-The symbolism of the pentagram.
The Paracelsian theory of submundanes-The orders of elemental beings-The Gnomes, Undines, Salamanders, and Sylphs-Demonology-The incubus and the succubus-Vampirism.
The healing methods of Paracelsus-Palingenesis-Hermetic theories
concerning the cause of disease-Medicinal properties of herbs-The use of drugs in the Mysteries-The sect of Assassins.
The written and unwritten laws-The origin of the Qabbalistic
writings-Rabbi Simeon ben Jochai-The great Qabbalistic books-The
divisions of the Qabbalistic system-The Sepher Yetzirah.
AIN SOPH and the Cosmic Egg-The Qabbalistic system of worlds-The
Qabbalistic interpretation of Ezekiel's vision-The great image of
Nabuchadnezzar's dream-The Grand Man of the universe-The fifty gates of life.
The thirty-two paths of wisdom-The Greater and the Lesser Face-Kircher's Sephirothic Tree-The mystery of Daath-The three pillars supporting the Sephirothic Tree-The four letters of the Sacred Name.
Gematria, Notarikon, and Temurah-The Elohim-The four Adams-Arabian traditions concerning Adam-Adam as the archetype of mankind-The early Christian Church on the subject of marriage.

The origin of playing cards-The rota mundi of the Rosicrucians-The
problem of Tarot symbolism-The unnumbered card-The symbolism of the twenty-one major trumps-The suit cards.
Moses, the Egyptian initiate-The building of the Tabernacle-The furnishings of the Tabernacle-The Ark of the Covenant-The Robes of Glory-The Urim and Thummim.
The life of Father C.R.C.-Johann Valentin Andre-The alchemical teachings of the Rosicrucians-Significance of the Rose Cross-The Rosicrucian Temple-The adepts of the Rose Cross.
The Confessio Fraternitatis-The Anatomy of Melancholy-John Heydon on Rosicrucianism-The three mountains of the wise-The philosophical egg-The objects of the Rosicrucian Order.
Schamayim, the Ocean of Spirit-The Seven Days of Creation-The symbolic tomb of Christian Rosencreutz-The regions of the elements-The New Jerusalem-The grand secret of Nature.
The multiplication of metals-The medal of Emperor- Leopold I--Paracelsus of Hohenheim--Raymond Lully--Nicholas Flarnmel--Count Bernard of Treviso.
The origin of alchemical philosophy-Alexander the Great and the talking trees -Nature and art-Alchemical symbolism--The Song of Solomon-The Philosopher's Gold.
The alchemical prayer-The Emerald Tablet of Hermes--A letter from the Brothers of R.C.--The magical Moun. tain of the Moon-An alchemical formula-The dew of the sages.
Christian Rosencreutz is invited to the Chemical Wedding--The Virgo Lucifera--The philosophical InquisitionThe Tower of Olympus-The homunculi--The Knights of the Golden Stone.
The Rosicrucian mask-Life of William Shakspere--Sir Francis Bacon-The acrostic signatures-The significant number thirty-three--The philosophic death.
Secret alphabets-The biliteral cipher-Pictorial ciphers--Acroamatic ciphers-Numerical and musical ciphersCode ciphers.
The pillars raised by the sons' of Seth-Enoch and the Royal Arches-The Dionysiac Architects-The Roman Collegia--Solomon, the personification of Universal Wisdom-Freemasonry's priceless heritage.
St. Iranaeus on the life of Christ-The original name of Jesus-The Christened man-The Essenes--The Arthurian cycle-Merlin the Mage.
The Aurea Legenda--The lost libraries of Alexandria-The cross in pagan symbolism-The crucifixion, a cosmic allegory-The crucifixion of Quetzalcoatl--The nails of the Passion.
The sacred city of Ephesus-The authorship of the Apocalypse-The Alpha and Omega-The Lamb of God-The Four Horsemen-The number of the beast.
The Koran--The valedictory pilgrimage --The tomb of the Prophet- The life of Mohammed-The revelation of the The Caaba at Mecca-The secret doctrine of Islam.
The ceremony of the peace pipe-The historical Hiawatha-The Popol Vuh--American Indian sorcery--The Mysteries of Xibalba--The Midewiwin.
The Golden Chain of Homer--Hypatia, the Alexandrian Neo-Platonist--The "divine" Cagliostro--The Comte de St. -Germain--The designing of the American flag-The Declaration of Independence.

The Secret History of Freemasonry: Its Origins and Connection to the Knights Templar by Paul Naudon (Inner Traditions) Historians often make a sharp distinction between the operative masonry of the Middle Ages--referring to the associations of builders that formed during that time--and the speculative Freemasonry of modern times, emphasizing that there is no direct bridge connecting the two. In addition, they have scoffed at Masonic claims concerning the close relationships between the Lodge and the Temple. Using medieval archives housed throughout Europe, historian Paul Naudon reveals that there was in fact a very intimate connection between the masons and the Knights Templar. Church records of medieval Paris show that most, if not all, of the masons of that time were residents of the Templar censive, which allowed them to work on the Temples large building projects and enjoy exemptions and liberties from both Church and state through the protection of this powerful order.

Naudon shows that the origins of todays Freemasonry can be traced as far back as the collegia--colleges of artisans--of ancient Rome. He traces the evolution of organizations such as the comacine masters, the Arab turuqs, the brotherhoods of builders created under the aegis of the Benedictines and Knights Templar, and the crafts guilds that formed in England--all of which have contributed to the transmission of a sacred tradition from pre-Christian times to the modern era. This tradition is the source of todays Masonic ritual and symbolism, and it provides the missing link in the transformation of the masonry of the medieval cathedral builders to the spiritual principles of the Freemasonry that exists today. Excerpt: Chapter 6--The Templars, the Francs Metiers, and Freemasonry

The Templars and the Master Builders

When the Templars extended their commanderies into Europe with the help of their Christian worker assistants, they brought the traditional rites and secrets of the Byzantine collegia and the Muslim turuq, which had much in common. The forms and ideas of these associations inspired and penetrated the "master associations" that were forming then and which the Templars used or guided for their constructions. These rites and customs combined with the remnants and symbols passed down by the brotherhoods of the early Middle Ages in the regions where memories of Roman and ancient times had never entirely disappeared.

Given the number and importance of their building projects, it is most likely that the Templars played a prominent role in the formation of these European "master associations." The Templars, just like the Benedictines, employed masons and carpenters in addition to their servant brothers. In each commandery these builders were under the direction of an officer of the Temple, the magister carpentarius. This individual, a veritable architect, taught the laborers working for the Order the art of building and geometry. Everyone contributed to the construction of Templar buildings. While remaining under Templar tutelage, however, these associations soon became more independent of the Order. They expanded their field of activity by working not only for the Templars but also for the inhabitants of their domains, which continued to develop in both population and wealth. The bond that tied the operatives to the Temple was now simply one of a manorial order. In this insecure time tradesmen flocked to the commanderies, where, in addition to its powerful protection, the Temple offered considerable advantages, including the right of asylum, the right of franchise, and fiscal privileges.

The Privileges of the Temple: Asylum and Franchise

Like the majority of religious orders, the Templars had the privilege of asylum, meaning that they could protect those individuals who sought refuge in their domains from any legal proceedings against them. One of the oldest legal documents that offers evidence of this is a papal bull from Innocent III dating from 1200 and stating that those who used violence against the colleagues and liegemen of the Temple who had entered into an area under Gods truce as preached by the Church would be excommunicated.
"The Bible of the Lord of Berze," a poem composed during the early years of the thirteenth century, expresses it as follows:

Dare not strike one of its knights
Its Sargents nor its squires
Threaten not to slay them
or to the Hospital he shall flee
Or to the Temple, if he can manage to do so.

The right of franchise was much more exceptional than the right of asylum. It is certain that the Benedictines, Cistercians, and Hospitaliers of Saint John of Jerusalem offered an equal measure, at least originally. This right of franchise allowed any craftsman to exercise any craft or commerce within the domain of the Temple, despite any rules of regulations promulgated by the sovereign authority of the nation or the city. The inhabitants of the Templar commanderies were also exempted from the majority of tariffs and taxes imposed by the king, the lord of the area, or the municipality. In Paris this is how they were able to avoid the corvee (the unpaid labor owed by peasants and bourgeois to their sovereign lord) and a very unpopular kind of servitude, the watch, something in which the bourgeois residents of Paris were compelled to participate. The trades that benefited from such franchises were known as the francs mstiers (free craftsmen).

Franc Mtiers and Freemasonry

It is perhaps within these privileged franc mestiers that we should place the origin of Freemasonry. Apparently, the term freemason was imported from England. In that country there are texts from 1376 and 1396 in which the word ffremasons or ffreemaseons appears for the first time. In reality, however, the English had borrowed the term from the French language, as is evidenced by its etymology. We should not forget that under the Norman monarchs and for three centuries following William the Conquerors victory at Hastings in 1066, the official language of England was French. The oldest statutes of English workers to have come down to us (from 1351 and 1356) were still written in French. Throughout the Middle Ages on into the Renaissance, French was also the international language of crafts and the esoteric language that craftsmen used. Thus it is in France where we actually must look to find the origin of this term.

In the Middle Ages the word franc served not only to qualify what was free in opposition to that which was servile and what bore the mark of purity and high quality, but it also and more specifically designated every individual or property that was exempt from manorial servitudes and laws. Thus a franc-alleu was a land completely owned as property and owing no lord any right, faith, homage, or investiture. Opposite the franc-alleu were the servile status and the fief that made its owner or lord a vassal to a suzerain. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, Boutillier wrote in his Somme rurale (1, 84): "[T]o hold as a franc-alleu is to hold land from God alone and owe neither cens, allowance, debts, service, nor any fee; the tenant holds the land freely from God." In the sixteenth century the legal counselor Guy Coquille proclaimed, "The franc-alleu is called free because it is not in the sphere of any landed lords influence." Among the different kinds of franc-alleu there was the franche-aumone, a land donated to the Church free of any charge. Because this property ceased to be dependent feudally upon a lord, its transfer could not be made with the consent of this lord. 

The Mysteries of Mithras: The Pagan Belief That Shaped the Christian World by Payam Nabarz (Inner Traditions) showers the reader with dense historical information about the origins of Mithras, an ancient Persian protector god whose worship can be traced as far back as the second millennium B.C.E. The Mithras cult is said to pre-date even Zoroastrianism, and made its way west into the pagan traditions of the Roman Empire. Nabarz, a Mithras revivalist, Sufi and practicing dervish, offers a book that is part history-primer, part practical guide "designed to help the spiritual seeker develop a deeper understanding of the Mithraic mysteries," and perform initiation rites and Mirthraic liturgy. Readers unfamiliar with Persian history, Eastern religions, and Roman paganism may find it difficult to wade beyond the background information packed into the first half of the book. Filled with interesting history, solid research and a range of Mithraic myths from around the world, the initial chapters are slow going. For those interested in the contemporary practice of Mithraism, Nabarz's exploration of this tradition picks up when he tells the Mithraic fairytale of Simorgh, which explains the nature of Mithras's partner, the goddess Anahita, and takes the reader step by step through a series of meditations and initiation rites. Luckily, Payam's chapters are organized so that the reader can choose between practical guidance and Mithraic history.

The Mysteries of Mithras presents a revival of the magical practices and initiatory system of Mithraism, the ancient Roman mystery religion that was immensely popular in the Roman Legions from the late second century B.C. until A.D. 400 and was taken to every corner of the Roman Empire. As the last pagan state religion in Europe, it was the most important competitor to early Christianity and heavily influenced Christian doctrine and symbolism. The parallels between Christianity and ancient Mithraism are striking--for example, the god Mithra was born of a virgin in a cave on December 25.

Payam Nabarz reveals the history, origins, and spiritual and philosophical tenets of Mithraism and its connections to Christianity, Islam, and Freemasonry. He also describes the modern neo-pagan practice of Mithraism in evidence today and for readers who wish to adopt the Mithraic path, he includes seven of its initiatory rituals and meditations, as well as orations and teaching tales, that open the door to the seven Mithraic grades of passage.

Excerpt: Meditations and Initiations

The seven meditations in this chapter are designed to help the spiritual seeker develop a deeper understanding of the Mithraic mysteries, an understanding that is based on personal experience, as well as to achieve the seven degrees of initiation. Each meditation can be used as self-initiation or as part of group initiations. It is helpful to orient yourself to the meditations beforehand, so that when you undertake the initiation, you are fully prepared and able to give yourself to the experience.

After every meditation, you need to take a few moments to bring yourself back to the here and now and become grounded. Say your thanks to Mithra and whatever company you find yourself in, and do the meditation in reverse, until you are back to where you started. Then open your eyes slowly, and try to eat and drink something.

I. Corax Meditation and Initiation
In this first stage of Mithraic initiation, the Corax or Raven degree, the initiate falls under the influence of the planet Mercury. The first initiation symbolizes the death of the initiate and his rebirth into the spiritual world. By entering the first stage you leave the cares of the material world and enter upon a spiritual life.

Find a place, indoors or outdoors, where you will not be disturbed. An appropriate time would be just before sunrise. An appropriate day would be a Sunday, or the sixteenth of the month, which is a day dedicated to Mithra. Use any paraphernalia that you find have a helpful effect on your meditation, such as candles, music, and incense. The more your physical conditions resemble the conditions in the meditation, the better. For example, a real bonfire just before sunrise on the top of a hill would enhance the experience.

In preparation for the guided visualization you begin by imaging yourself as the Raven. Simply let yourself go and enjoy the sensations of flight and of seeing the world below you from a birds eye view. In your flight toward the mountain, if you find that you are feeling tired or unable to carry on, return consciousness to your body slowly and concentrate on your breathing. In this meditation you are beginning to explore both the astral and physical worlds in this body.

You are standing at the bottom of a hill. It is very late at night. It is a clear night, and if you look up at the sky you can see the moon having almost completed its night journey into the west.

Say: Nama (hail) to Corax, under the protection of Mercury!

Behind you is a dense pine forest. The grass under your feet is wet, and there are small patches of snow on the ground.

Looking up at the top of the hill, you see there a flicker of light. You start walking up the hill to find the source of this light. It is a long walk, yet you seem not to get tired, and the air becomes even fresher as you ascend. The sounds of the forest begin to fade away. The last sound you hear is the voice of an owl, saying Hoo.

You are halfway up the hill now, yet still you cannot see the source of the light; so you increase your pace. As you near the top you can hear a chant, the words of which you cant make out, but you feel ever stronger, and you reach the top easily.

A great bonfire is burning, its flames reaching several feet into the air, and you can smell a strange yet pleasant incense. A group of people are sitting around the fire and chanting: Ya Doust Mithra.

You join the chant. (Time passes.)

One of the men stands and faces east, toward a mountain range in the far-off distance. He is welcoming Mithra.

[Note: The Avestan Hymn to Mithra can be recited here (see appendix A).]

As the first rays of the sun come over the distant mountain and fall into the vast valley beneath, you see in the distance heading toward you a golden chariot driven by four white horses: MITHRA rides across the sky, heading toward the hill. You look around and see that the snow patches are all melting away and the grass is growing under your feet. The land is waking up. A dried-up tree further along on the hill suddenly begins to grow, leaves budding, and while you are looking at it, the tree blossoms.

The sound of horses brings your attention back to the sky. As you look up, the chariot is almost above the hill now. Mithra looks down and smiles at the gathering. As the chariot passes overhead, all your companions rise into the air, and you too, after vibrating Mithra with all your magical will, rise into the air, following Mithra as he rides across the sky.

The Landscape below turns green and the trees blossom; you pass over a herd of cows, whose udders become full of milk as Mithras company flies over.

Another mountain range lays ahead; before it there is a great lake, and flocks of sheep are drinking from it.

As you fly over the lake you look at your own reflection in the water: you see a Raven.

Say thanks to Mithra and company and go backward through the meditation until you return to your starting place at the bottom of the hill. Ground yourself and bring your attention back to present circumstances. 

Gnostic Secrets of the Naassenes: The Initiatory Teachings of the Last Supper by Mark H. Gaffney (Inner Traditions International) Reveals the hidden meaning of the Grail and a secret Christian doctrine for achieving higher consciousness.

  • Shows that Gnosticism is not a derivative of Christianity but the revelation of the true message of Jesus.
  • Describes the ancient relationship between water and spirit.
  • Explains the doctrine of immanence taught by Jesus at the Last Supper.
  • Features the translated source text from The Refutation of All Heresies by Bishop Hippolytus, the only existing record of the Naassene Sermon.

In the third century C.E., the Catholic Bishop Hippolytus composed a Refutation of All Heresies in which his chief target was the Gnostic sect the Naassenes, whose writings included a recounting of Jesus' actual teachings at the Last Supper. Contrary to Church attacks, the Naassenes were not a heretical derivative of Christianity but the authentic foundation and purveyor of Christ's message. In fact, much of what passes as Christianity has nothing to do with the original teachings of its founder.

The message recorded in the Naassene Sermon was intended for an inner circle of disciples who were prepared for advanced initiation into Jesus' wisdom teachings. The Grail discussed therein was not an actual chalice but a symbol of the indwelling of the divine. The teachings involved the awakening of spirit and included practices aimed at restoring the soul's lost connection with God. Immanence, in the true sense intended by Jesus, thus allows for spiritual attainment in this life by ordinary individuals without the intermediary of Church or priest. This was the real meaning of the Last Supper and why the Naassenes believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of all the Mystery traditions.  

Cathedral of the Black Madonna: The Druids and the Mysteries of Chartres by Jean Markale (Inner Traditions) Explores the connection between ancient druidic worship of a virgin at Chartres and the veneration of the Black Madonna, examines the Virgin Marys origins in the pagan worship of the Mother Goddess, identifies Mary with the dominant solar goddess of matriarchal societies. The great cathedral of Chartres is renowned the world over as a masterpiece of High Gothic architecture and for its remarkable stained glass and mystical labyrinth. But the foundations of this sanctuary go back to a time long before Christianity, when this site was a clearing where Druids worshipped a virgo paritura, a virgin about to give birth. Now at this ancient meeting place, where all the Druids in Gaul gathered once a year, there stands Chartres cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and home to one of the most venerated Black Madonnas in Europe: Our Lady of the Pillar.

Coincidence? Hardly, says Jean Markale, whose exhaustive examination of the site traces the appeal of the Black Madonna back to the ancient, widespread worship of mother goddesses such as Cybele and Isis. In fact, Markale contends that the mother and child depicted by the Black Madonna are not merely descendants of the Druids spiritual image of the virgin forever giving birth, but that the statue seen in Chartres today represents a theological notion of great refinement: The Virgin gives birth ceaselessly to a world, a God, and a humanity in perpetual becoming.

The great cathedral of Chartres is renowned the world over as a masterpiece of High Gothic architecture and for its remarkable stained glass, considered alchemical glass, and its mystical labyrinth. But the sacred foundations of this sanctuary go back to a time long before Christianity when this site was a clearing where druids worshiped a Virgo Paritura: a virgin about to give birth. This ancient meeting place, where all the druids in Gaul gathered once a year, now houses the magnificent Chartres cathedral dedicated both to the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and to one of the most venerated Black Madonnas in Europe: Our Lady of the Pillar. Coincidence? Hardly, says Jean Markale, whose exhaustive examination of the site traces Chartres roots back to prehistoric times and the appeal of the Black Madonna back to the ancient widespread worship of Mother Goddesses such as Cybele and Isis.

Markale contends that the mother and child depicted by the Black Madonna are descended from the image worshipped by the druids of the Virgin forever giving birth. This image is not merely a representation of maternal love--albeit of a spiritual nature. It is a theological notion of great refinement: the Virgin gives birth ceaselessly to a world, a God, and a humanity in perpetual becoming.
Poet, philosopher, historian, and storyteller Jean Markale has spent a lifetime researching pre-Christian and medieval culture and spirituality. He is the author of more than forty books, including The Church of Mary Magdalene, Montsgur and the Mystery of the Cathars, The Templar Treasure at Gisors, The Druids, The Celts, Merlin, and Women of the Celts. A specialist in Celtic studies at the Sorbonne for many years, he lives in the Brittany region of France. Jean Markale's books are an amazing journey of discovery through philosophy, gnosis, and the wonderful world of esoterica. He is a mystic and a scholar, he is a teacher and a guide. Markale will never force his conclusions upon you, rather he leads you to them and makes you think and feel for yourself. There is no dogma in his work, only wisdom. While he researches with the thorough tenacity of the most intrepid academic, he is never pendantic or stodgy in his conclusions. Markale, now in his 70s and retired from teaching Celtic studies at the Sorbonne, has lost none of his boyhood exuberance for the remarkable history and architecture of the great cathedral at Chartres. In this ambitious study, Markale investigates the symbolism of the cathedral, which sits on an ancient druidic sacred site and incorporates both Christian and pagan images, particularly its dedication to the black madonna. However, this book, translated from the French, is not for the neophyte. Readers need more than a cursory understanding of architectural and reliquary terms, not to mention a working knowledge of world religious history and French geography, to fully appreciate it. Despite an eight-page b&w insertion (not seen by PW), this book begs for more graphicsline drawings of architectural elements, historic time lines and photographs of the innumerable madonnas referred to. While fascinating, its academic density may frustrate some readersthere's simply an enormous amount of information to digest. Descriptions of virtually every inch of the cathedral, every moment in its history and every statue found in its vicinity combine with an exhaustive comparison between Celtic and Catholic traditions to make for a comprehensive discussion of not just the Black Madonna, but of one of the most amazing cathedrals ever built. For the prepared reader, this will be a treasure trove.

Excerpt: In all traditions, the color black is synonymous with night, darkness, death, chaos, or even, to use an Eastern term, non-existence, which is not precisely the same thing as death or chaos. The color black is not a color, it is the absence of colors, whereas the color white brings together and synthesizes all colors. This allows us to understand the primordial dichotomy that has passed into the collective unconscious between Black and White, in the zone of white civilization, in other words that of the Indo-Europeans and Semites more or less centered around the Mediterranean.

Under these conditions, the Virgin Mary whose color is black necessarily means something: chaos or non-existence, both terms that are poor translations for something that is unorganized. If we go back to the justification of the entity Mary, Mother of God, and if we accept that she represents the first creature emanated from God before the creation, that is to say the organizing force of the existential universe, this black color attributed to her becomes perfectly logical. The Virgin is potentiality, in other words she is the Materia Prima that has not yet been organized but out of which everything may emerge. It is in this sense that we should understand the dialogue between Jesus on the cross, his mother, and John the Apostle. It is in this sense that we should understand the mission of the angel Gabriel to the young Mary and her acceptance of becoming the receptacle for the embodied God. The Virgin Mary, thus always virgin (the meanings that can be given the word virgin here are irrelevant) is nothing other than the Materia Prima of the Alchemical work, a series of metamorphoses that leads to the creation of the Philosophers Stone, the crystallization not only of all knowledge, but also all energies. This raw and common primal Matter must be fertilized by Fire and separated into its two opposing elements, what the Alchemists called Sulfur and Mercury. It would seem as if primal Matter, thus original Chaos, was an inharmonious combination of these two elements. Therefore nothing is possible. But with the introduction of Fire, in other words the sacred spirit, a return to the original unity is prompted, a return that is not without violence and collision. In Alchemical operations, it was necessary to cook the primal matter under very special conditions that would prompt the introduction of material heat as well as the flame of the spirit. And the result of this cooking is a black shapeless material, the first stage of the regeneration of Chaos. The Alchemists called it the Stone of the Black and happily attributed to it the periphrastic--yet nevertheless metaphysical--phrasing of Ravens Head.

It clearly seems that the concept of the Virgin Mary, the Virgo Paritura of Chartres and other sites, may be this Stone of the Black. In any event this was the thought of all those who unhesitatingly depicted the Mother of Jesus with a black face, therefore recycling the well-known image of the Shulamite burned by the sun. The Song of Solomon takes pains to counsel the Daughters of Jerusalem, and thereby all humanity, to refrain from treating this black color as a punishment of curse. Pay no attention to my black color, I have been burned by the sun. Whether it is the Holy Ghost whose shadow covered Mary, or the secret Fire of the Alchemists, the result of the operation remains the same: the primal Matter turns black. But this is because when impregnated by the Spirit it can give birth to the One who will be the Light, Jesus in the evangelical scriptures, the Philosophers Stone in Alchemical treatises. These same treatises specify that none can discover the material Philosophers Stone unless he has undergone, in his own mind, the same metamorphosis. There is no longer any dichotomy between Mind and Matter, for Jesus (or the Philosophers Stone) is both Body and Spirit, man and God. And if the anonymous sculptors of the Middle Ages wished to give Mary this black color that has caused so much fascination, it is clearly because they had in mind the spreading of this essential message: from this apparent darkness the Light will emerge.

Of course, only certain elite knew this meaning of the black goddesses, then the Black Madonnas of Christianity, but the nature of the elites is to transmit to the highest number a core concept in the form of a very simple concrete image. The Black Virgin is not a Christian creation but an adaptation to the Christian world of this archaic concept that is present in all religious or mythological traditions. In India, in the beginning was depthless night. Then manifested the Most High, who was self-existent; he created the water and sowed his seed upon it; this produced the Golden Egg, from which was born Brahma, creator of worlds. This myth of the original darkness is universal.

WORKING THE ROUGH STONE: Freemasonry and Society in Eighteenth-Century Russia by Douglas Smith ($38.00, hardcover, 246 pages, Northern Illinois University Press; ISBN: 087580246X ) With a wealth of archival sources previously unavailable, this first study of eighteenth-century Russian Freemasonry to appear in English examines the Masonic lodges and their meaning for the men who were drawn to them. As some of the earliest organizations in Russia to open membership beyond social class, the lodges offered the opportunity for social interaction, personal discipline, and a free exchange of ideas. Teaching new standards of civility and politeness, they helped to prepare the way for the birth of a civil society in Russia.

WORKING THE ROUGH STONE reveals the private world of Masonic lodges and the significance of the brothers' rituals and practices. By "working the rough stone" of their inner thoughts and feelings, the social and intellectual leaders who belonged to the lodges sought to distinguish themselves as champions of moral enlightenment. As men of conscience and superior moral worth, many envisioned a future of social action that could bring about change without challenging the social and political precepts on which Russia's stability depended.

In addition to exploring the inner workings of the Masonic lodges, WORKING THE ROUGH STONE shows how Freemasonry became part of a larger social transformation that saw the development of salons, literary circles, and learned societies. As quiet shelters for men of learning and conscience, these institutions offered a social alternative to life at the tsarist court. The lodges thus played an important role in fashioning personal and social identities at a time when questions of identity were widely debated in Russia.

During the reign of Catherine the Great, the lodges were perceived as havens for democratic ideas dangerous to the aristocracy, and many of them were forced to close their doors. Freemasonry would eventually flourish again in Russia, although the lodges' fortunes have fluctuated with history's upheavals.

For Smith, Freemasonry is a prism through which to view changes in Russian society Anyone interested in Russia, Europe during the Enlightenment, and the history of Freemasonry will find WORKING THE ROUGH STONE rich with insight into the hidden social nexuses that created cultural politics in the 18th century.

Douglas Smith received his Ph.D. in Russian history at UCLA. He lives in Seattle.


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