Five Good Books

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Transfigured Light: Philosophy, Science and the Hermetic Imaginary by Leon Marvell

Like some Gnostic demiurge blind to its birth and hostile to those who would know its origin, scientific history has for the most part dismissed the Hermetic philosophy as superstition.  Professor Marvell shows how artificial intelligence, light theory, and chaos and complexity theory evolved from the central issues of the Hermetic tradition.  Marvell understands that Wikipedia is merely the latest result of the urge that drove Robert Fludd to create his encylopedic masterpieces of blended reason and imagination. Finding common ground between historians Frances Yates and Thomas Kuhn is only one of many surprising connections Marvell makes as he illuminates the history (and future) of science alongside the history and philosophy of the Hermetic tradition.


Keats, Hermeticism and the Secret Societies by Jennifer N. Wunder

Paracelsus and Rosicrucianism show up not only in the library of the great poet Keats, but also throughout his work. Professor Wunder’s book brings to mind Kathleen Raine’s monumental study of William Blake Blake and Tradition, which provided a Neoplatonic and Hermetic key to the great poet’s work.  Keats poems that have mystified critics resolve into clear focus when the lens of Hermeticism is applied.  For example, in the epic poem Lamia, Lamia’s transformation occurs in traditional alchemical sequence.  A rare opportunity to enjoy the poetry of Keats while perusing the latest research on the influence of Hermeticism on the Romantic poets. More evidence that the Hermetic philosophy has informed much of western art.


The Theosphical Enlightenment by Joscelyn Godwin

While the scholarship of polyglots such as Godfrey Higgins, author of Anacalypsis, Bryant of Mythology fame, Blavatsky and many other industrious authors is as highly suspect as the conclusions drawn, it would be a mistake to dismiss them as outdated amateurs or outright charlatans.  In such works as Anacalypsis, Furlong’s Rivers of Life, and Isis Unveiled the reader finds epic achievements of the imagination.  Aside from being invaluable collections of fragments from earlier authors, these books present a world view that attempts to include all knowledge in one logical system. Such works are the origin of the classic Borges tale “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” about how a single volume of a lost encyclopedia eventually evolves a new world in its own image.  Professor Godwin is a detective and an entertaining guide as he recovers threads of truth behind the rumors and exaggerations, the sworn secrecies of generations of seekers after light including not only rogue scholars but also practitioners of arcane arts such as the founders of the Order of the Golden Dawn.


Hidden History of the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Bryan J. Cuevas

This book is required reading for anyone studying the Tibetan Bardo tradition. Professor Cuevas exposes the prejudices of some revered authors on the subject, including pioneer Evans Wentz, who Cuevas points out gave the work its misleading name.  As other highly personalized interpretations followed from Tim Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience to E.J. Gold’s The American Book of the Dead, little attention was given to the actual historical context of these ideas.  Cuevas digs deeply into the available records finding links between Bon and Buddhist traditions that produced not one but many works on the bardo.  Many of the key ideas westerners associate with the bardo writings are traced back to their source in Hindu tradition.  Cuevas takes time to acquaint the reader with neglected facets of these teachings from their earliest form to nearly forgotten elaborations revealing an until now lost world of rich and varied contributions and variations.


The Egyptian Hermes by Garth Fowden

Where did the Hermetic tradition originate?  Was it merely a reflection of Neoplatonism?  Does it represent genuine influence from the Egyptian mysteries?  Professor Fowden provides historical context and clear doctrinal comparison.  He focuses on Zosimus and Iamblichus, examining theurgy, a magical method of purification intended to raise the practitioner into a state of purifying divine union.  Fowden examines the impact of scholars such as Festugiere, whose assumptions effectively smothered opposing interpretations until recently. An indispensable companion for students of the Hermetica.