Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Western Mystery Tradition(s): Factions and Fault Lines

This is a subject that has been rattling around in my mind for quite some time. It began to come into focus more clearly a few years ago when I was reading Joscelyn Godwin's The Theosophical Enlightenment. One of the subplots of that book, especially in the concluding four chapters, is that of the the increasing amount of tension over the "East versus West" issue among Esotericists during the 18th and early 19th centuries. In one corner were those wished to drink deeply (and ever more deeply) from the fonts of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. In the other corner were those whose motto was "East is East, and West is West and never the twain shall meet."

Another theme that pops up in Godwin's book is that of "therapeutic blasphemy", a term Godwin borrows from one of Britain's most prominent Buddhists, Sangharakshita. The idea of "therapeutic blasphemy" is, in essence, that Christianity is such a pervasive influence in western culture, that only by a positive and concerted effort can one break free of its pernicious (and largely unconscious) influence. In particular, all those born in a Christian society (even if not raised Christian, even nominally) must go through a period of public denunciation of Christianity, ie, "Therapeutic Blasphemy", otherwise they are doomed to remain perpetually under the thrall of the cult of the creed making fishermen.

Reference to therapeutic blasphemy always reminds me of Jesus' own advice to his disciples to "shake the dust from your feet" upon leaving a place where the people were not receptive to his teachings.

Another book that I read at the same time was Christopher McIntosh's The Roscicrucians, in which McIntosh draws attention to two types of factionalism among Esotericists: (1) that of political conservatives (in particular, monarchists), versus political liberals (in particular, republicans), and (2) that of Hermeticists who are "Christian only in that they include some Christianity but do not stress it", versus Rosicrucians who "are primarily Christian but draw on other non-Christian sources". [Those quotes are actually from Kathleen Raine's Yeats, the Tarot and the Golden Dawn, which McIntosh quotes from on p. 105 of his book.]

A third book that influenced my thinking on these matters is Richard Kaczynski's Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley (of which I am the proud owner of a signed copy, and also of which a revised and expanded version is due out later this year - yay!). In that book Kaczynski portrays Crowley (and to a lesser, or possibly greater extent Allan Bennett) as a Hermetic/Pagan (or in Bennett's case Hermetic/Hindu/Buddhist) presence in the Golden Dawn at odds with the more staid Rosicrucian/Christian mainstream of the Order. The "conservatives", led by William Butler Yeats, won the day in the end, despite (or possibly because of) Crowley's alliance with S.L. McGregor Mathers. Christopher McIntosh, in his book mentioned in the preceding paragraph, concurs with this view, saying that the Golden Dawn became "totally 'Rosicrucianized'" under Yeats, with all rituals rewritten so that they were now "Christian in emphasis" [pp. 104-105].My personal interest in (and attraction to) Traditionalism and my abhorrence for Modernism have also led me to investigate the writings of Julius Evola, Arturo Reghini, and similar characters, despite my own (ever waning) leftist leanings. It has also led me to keep an eye on Mark Sedgwick's Traditionalists blog, where a a fascinating item appeared just yesterday about a new English translation by Joscelyn Godwin of some writings by Marco Baistrocchi (an Italian Traditionalist and next-generation fellow-traveler of Evola and Reghini). These writings by Baistrocchi were critiques of Rene Guenon's The King of the World. From what very little I know, the basis of Baistrocchi's criticism of The King of the World, was that the story presented by Guenon in that book (first published in 1927), according to Baistrocchi, "was a deliberate manipulation, designed to shut off Western seekers from Eastern wisdom and to divert them, first into Catholicism, then into Islam." For more details see this page (where the immediately preceding quote is lifted from), which is part of the Theosophical History website. At that page there is also ordering information for Godwin's translation of Baistrocchi's writings.

Here is a little excerpt mentioning Evola, Reghini, and Baistrocchi (among others), from another book by Godwin: The Golden Thread: The Ageless Wisdom of the Western Mystery Traditions:
In Italy after World War I there was a concerted effort to restore the ancient Roman religion, led by Arturo Reghini and supported, for a time, by the young Julius Evola, whose Imperialismo Pagano (1928) is a forceful defense of Pagan imperialism against its Christian supplanter. Evidence of more recent activities emerges from the journal Politica Romana, which serves as a forum for a number of distinguished scholars and thinkers including the late Marco Baistrocchi (a diplomat by profession), Piero Fenili (a judge), and the expatriate American Dana Lloyd Thomas. Roman religion appears there in a broad context of philosophical polytheism, keeping company with Mahayana Buddhism, Vedanta, and Neoplatonism. The feasts of the Roman calendar are commemorated, the Gods and sacred sites of the city are honored, and the Italian Renaissance and the Masonically-inspired Risorgimento are celebrated as manifestations of the original spirit of Italy. An effort in a similar direction was the journal Antaios, edited by Mircea Eliade and Ernst Junger. Avowedly polytheistic, Antaios aimed at a Europe of mutually respectful homelands rejoicing in their ancestral myths, their Gods and Goddesses, and in the earth from which, in the Greek legend, the giant Antaios derived his strength.
[p. 165]
To tell you the truth, Dear Reader, I am amazed that I have finally organized my thoughts on this subject even this much!! For now I will leave off with this unapologetically schematic list of dichotomies that seem to be ever present, just below the surface (if that much) of the swirling currents of the Western Mystery Tradition(s), for future consideration and investigation:

East vs. West
Pagan vs. Christian
Traditionalist vs. Modernist
Conservative vs. Liberal

Nota Bene: The books mentioned above by Godwin, McIntosh, and Kaczynski are all simply magnificent. Tasty, tasty brain-food for all discriminating occultist bookworm types!
Richard Kaczynski just yesterday announced to the world that he has "sent off the revised and expanded edition of Perdurabo for copy-editing"!! Check out his blog for the details.

Pure Evil Alert: Pat Robertson on Haiti

And you know Christy, something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, uh you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True Story. And so the Devil said OK it's a deal. And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they've been cursed by one thing after the other desperately poor. That island is Hispaniola is one island. It's cut down the middle. On one side is Haiti on the other side is the Dominican republic. Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc.. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island. They need to have, and we need to pray for them, a great turning to God, and out of this tragedy, I'm optimistic something good may come.

Haiti: Recommendations and Background

TransAfrica is an advocacy group that has made Haiti a major focus of its work for many years. I got to know and trust TransAfrica back during my younger days as an activist in the anti-Apartheid movement, in which TransAfrica played an important role.

Following are some excerpts from their website (to read everything in full please click here):
TransAfrica Forum recommends the following:
1. SUSPEND HAITIAN DEPORTATIONS AND GRANT TPS. Since January 2009 U.S. immigration judges have issued deportation orders to over 30,000 undocumented Haitians. The Department of Homeland Security should immediately halt the arrests of these deportees and grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians in the United States and conduct a full review of its policy towards Haiti....
2. COORDINATED INTERNATIONAL RELIEF ASSISTANCE. The U.S. government and international aid agencies are already beginning to mobilize immediate relief. We urge the administration to continue its efforts, in full coordination with international agencies and multilateral agencies in order to ensure efficient relief efforts....
3. FULL RESOURCE MOBILIZATION. Within the context of international efforts, and as requested by the Haitian government, we encourage the Obama Administration to fully mobilize its resources to support urgent needed search and rescue of the wounded and trapped, including, again if requested by the Haitian government, mobilization of the Southern Command structure.
4. CHARITABLE DONATIONS. Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private voluntary organizations (PVOs) have long-established development projects on the ground....
a. Partners in Health. Donate online at: or send your contribution to Partners In Health, P.O. Box 845578, Boston, MA 02284-5578
b. Doctors Without Borders. Donate online at, or toll-free at 1-888-392-0392. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. USA Headquarters 333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10001-5004.


Haiti is the least-developed country in the Americas. The “dumping” of cheap products into its economy has further destabilized the nation and underscored the need to overhaul Haiti’s agriculture policies in tandem with international trade policy. Approximately 80 percent of Haiti’s population lives in poverty and over half struggle to survive on less than $1 a day. Remittances that Haitians outside the country send home account for over a quarter of gross domestic product (GDP), there is chronic unemployment and the informal economy is steadily growing.

Foreign aid continues to dominate Haiti’s budget (30-40 percent) and its debt stands at $1.3 billion — 40 percent of which was incurred by the Duvalier dictatorships by stealing or misspending most of the money between 1957 and 1986. While loss of civilian life and public security due to armed confrontations continue to be problems, people are increasingly dying as a result of starvation and poverty. The prices of products needed to fulfill basic needs have risen by more than 50 percent since 2007 and most families are forced to choose between buying food and sending their children to school. Unfortunately, the current conditions in the country show no signs of notable improvement and disproportionately impact vulnerable groups, such as women and children, human rights defenders and journalists. Through it all, Haitians continue to identify creative ways to survive and to help others along the way. This tradition of “youn ede lòt,” or “one helping the other” remains strong. One example of this is the existence of solidarity lending groups, established by members to cover financial obligations, in which one person receives a rotating pool of money each pay period.

TransAfrica Forum is the leading U.S. advocacy organization for Africa and the African Diaspora in U.S. foreign policy. TransAfrica Forum helped lead the world protest against apartheid in South Africa and today works for human and economic justice for African people on the continent of Africa, in Latin America and in the Caribbean. Contact us: TransAfrica Forum, 1629 K Street, N.W., Suite 1100, Washington, D.C., 2006, 202-223-1960,