Thursday, July 26, 2012

The enduring nihilistic brilliance of Lou Reed's "Berlin"

"There are certain records that are so patently offensive that one wishes to take some kind of physical vengeance on the artists that perpetrate them."

"My girlfriend threatens to stab me if I ever play it again in her presence."

"And what a narrative it is: unlistenably depressing was the critical consensus at the time of release, even grimmer than the Velvet Underground at their most debauched."

"Reed's only excuse for this kind of performance (which isn't really performed as much as spoken and shouted over Bob Ezrin's limp production) can only be that this was his last shot at a once-promising career. Goodbye, Lou."

"A horribly attritional listen."

"Lazy unfocused worthless shit."

Here is what Stephen Davis, writing for Rolling Stone, thought of Lou Reed's Berlin when it first came out:

"Lou Reed's Berlin is a disaster, taking the listener into a distorted and degenerate demimonde of paranoia, schizophrenia, degradation, pill-induced violence and suicide.
[December 20, 1973]

I don't recall reading the Rolling Stone review of the album at the time, but if I had I would have thought something like, "hey, you say 'a distorted and degenerate demimonde of paranoia, schizophrenia, degradation, pill-induced violence and suicide' like that was a bad thing."

That's just where my 16 going on 17 year old head was at. Not a good place, granted. But it was the perfect psychological vantage point from which to appreciate what Lou Reed had accomplished with his followup to "Transformer". I didn't so much love Berlin as I wallowed in it.

The years have been good to Berlin. In four decades, it has gone from being verbally spat upon to something approaching hushed veneration. One recent (but annoyingly undated) review still shows the kind of visceral hatred that this album is capable of producing by callling it "a horribly attritional listen", while at the same showing that even the naysayers must acknowledge its now exalted status, for the reviewer adds, parenthetically: "(Feels himself about to be sent directly to rock critic hell for slagging off one of rock's sacred cows ...)".

The creative triumph that is Berlin is a result of three factors. First of all, Lou Reed was willing and able to go there in terms of darkness. It really doesn't get any darker than this. The anti-heroine of the story, Caroline, is a narcissistic, penniless drug addict trapped in a viciously abusive (both emotionally and physically) relationship. And it's downhill from there. Her children are taken away "because they said she was not a good mother", and then she kills herself. But it still doesn't stop there, for there are still depths of human misery left to be plumbed. At first the anti-hero Jim, Caroline's penniless, self-loathing, drug-addicted, abusive lover, is emotionally distraught, even maudlin over the suicide of the woman who had, somehow, reminded him of Mary Queen of Scots. At just this moment, and for the first and last time, Jim appears almost human, almost deserving of sympathy. But then he rallies. He comes back to himself, and the full force of his self-destructive, soul-sucking, nihilistic anti-personality rises, phoenix like, in all its glory. Who but Lou Reed could do justice, if that is the right word, to the words with which Jim defiantly renounces any lingering remnant of what once might have been his humanity: "I'm gonna stop wasting my time/Somebody else would have broken both of her arms." It really, truly, doesn't get any darker than this.

This is black hole darkness. A darkness that goes far beyond the mere absence of light. A darkness that actively seeks out the light, hunts it down, clubs it over the head, and then drags it down, stunned, twitching, barely alive, back to its stinking cave, the merciless inertial singularity from which there is no escape.

But, secondly, this darkness is served up as tantalizingly irresistible poison-laced dark chocolate in the form of Rock And Roll Done Right. Thanks to a cast of legendary Rock Gods, including Ainsley Dunbar on drums, Jack Bruce on bass, Steve Hunter on lead guitar, Steve Winwood on keyboards, and Bob Ezrin as producer, arranger, pianist, and head-bottle-washer, accompanied by angel-throated singers and a blazingly virtuosic horn section, this album is musically staggering in the full-body impact it has on the senses. It's the kind of music that seduces you while grabbing you by the throat. It lures you back to listen, over and over, to this repulsive "horribly attritional" story.

And, thirdly Lou Reed was willing to take the money, influence, and freedom that his successes up that point had won him, and to bet it all on this project. One cannot properly do decadence and debauchery on the cheap. Berlin is sybaritic on a DeMilleian "parting-of-the-red-sea" scale. The result is that even its harshest detractors (in fact, especially them) reveal the awe that Berlin elicits. In spite of themselves, they cannot look away.

a jumble of links:

The Rolling Stone review from 1973:

"A horribly attritional listen":

Back to Berlin: Lou Reed's dark masterpiece gets a belated staging:


"Lou Reed's masterpiece of misery is re-released in time for its debut performances.":

"Lou Miserable takes a Sydney walk on the dark side":

Interview with Bob Ezrin (the man behind the curtain):

"Reed’s most perfect smooth glam rock album was by far Berlin ...":

"My girlfriend threatens to stab me if I ever play it again in her presence."

"Now let me be clear that I have never greatly admired Reed ..." (but he loved the 2007 berlin live show in london):

A long very informational blogpost making the "case" for Lou Reed's Berlin:

Decades later, Adrian Denning still can't make up his mind about Berlin:

Artwork from the album:

All about glam rock by Julian Cope (this is where i found the "movie" poster for Berlin at the top of this post):

A very positive review of the movie by Jason Thompson, who still insists he doesn't like the album:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Covered In .... Spikes?!?!

Submitted for your approval:

many of these images were found at the website of Kristina Ask, who has collaborated with Tesnim Sayar and appears in many of the photos with her:

images also found here:

and here:

And here is a portrait of Tesnim Sayar by Nadia Karroue:

And here is an article about Tesnim Sayar written by a "Buddhist Geeky Feminist":

Excerpt from the above:

“I go with it, because I think it’s cool and fits me. I have not designed it to provoke. But my message is also that one should refrain from thinking that Muslim girls are sitting at home and are boring,” says Tesnim in the Youth House on Dortheavej in Copenhagen.

Flag design by Kristina Ask:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa

[Below is a copied and pasted version of an online biography of Agrippa that has been around for quite some time. I am posting it here because I just discovered that it is now only available through the Wayback Machine (link). I think it is a valuable resource, and therefore I am posting here in order to help preserve it.]


Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim
(Henricus Cornelius Agrippa ab Nettesheym)

"Recent historical investigation... assigns him a central place in the history of ideas of the Middle Ages; he is seen as characterizing the main line of intellectual development from Nicholas of Cusa to Sebastian Franck. Modern opinion evaluates him on the basis of his Platonic, Neoplatonic, and Hermetic influences - primarily in the De occulta philosophia..."
Agrippa von Nettesheim. In.: Dictionary of Scientific Biography. American Council of Learned Societies. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York 1970; vol. I, 79-81
"In his influential work De occulta philosophia libri tres (1531), Agrippa combined magic, astrology, Qabbalah, theurgy, medecine, and the occult properties of plants, rocks, and metals. This work was an important factor in the spread of the idea of occult sciences." ; "The magical interpretation of Qabbalah reached its peak in Henri Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim's De occulta philosophia.".
Encyclopedia of Religion, Mircea Eliade ed. in chief, MacMillan Publishing Company, New York 1987, article on Occultism by Antoine Faivre (Director of Studies at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Section des Sciences Religieuses, Sorbonne University; Professor of Germanic Studies at the University of Haute-Normandie. You may have noticed that he used the term occult sciences) XI:38 ; article on Qabbalah by Moshe Idel (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) XII:120

Biography, based on his Epistles:
(with comments from my foreword to the Bulgarian translation of De occulta philosophia,
Aratron Publishers, Sofia 1995, ISBN 954-626-007-X)

In 1462 Cosimo Medici gave a villa to Marsilio Ficino near Florence together with some scrolls, containing the works of Plato. Ficino started translating them when a monk named Leonardo da Pistoia brought from Macedonia a corpus with 15 manuscripts in Greek. Their Latin translation was ready within the next few months. Humanism began its journey beyond human nature - the Great Plato bowing down before the Thrice Greatest Hermes.
Ficino published his Latin translations of the Corpus Hermeticum in 1463, of Plato's Dialogues in 1467, his Commentarium in Convivium Platonis de amore in 1469, and his Theologia Platonica in 1482. Pico de la Mirandola published his Conclusiones in 1486.
16.IX.1486. Agrippa was born in Cologne within the Holy Roman Empire (Colonia Agrippina in the Roman Empire, its inhabitants were called Agrippinenses) where Albertus Magnus professed and died 200 years ago. Cologne was an important academic and publishing center in the Empire and in his youth Agrippa became famous in his native town for refusing to speak anything but Latin. Afterwards he often referred to himself with the Latin part of his name, i. e. Cornelius Agrippa.
1493. Emperor Maximilian I succeeded his father Friedrich III. He was to become the main patron of Agrippa. In the same year Paracelsus was born in Einsiedeln, near Zürich.
1494. Johannes Reuchlin published his De verbo mirifico (On the Word that makes miracles) in Germany.
22.VII.1499. Agrippa enrolled in the Faculty of Arts at Cologne University and received his License in Arts on 14.III.1502. By 1506, as we read in his Epistles, he was a secretary to the Emperor Maximilian I and studied in the University of Paris where he organised a secret society - a brotherhood of students interested in alchemy and magic. Its members were to help and play an important role during his whole life. In the same town, exactly 300 years before the first rosicrucian societies of that kind appeared, Jacques de Molay was burnt alive in 1314 thus proving what Agrippa wrote on the qualities of fire "alterum comprehendens, incomprehensibilis, et lux omnibus vitam tribuens". Landulfus became Professor at the University of Pavia, Germain became historian to Charles V. During the same year Reuchlin published his Hebrew grammar and dictionary.
1508. Agrippa travelled to Spain (Barcelona etc.), the Balearic Islands and Italy (Naples etc.) and then to France (Avignon).
1509. He lectured in the University of Dôle on De verbo mirifico, with the support of the University's chancellor and Archbishop of Besançon Antoine de Vergy. The courses were free of charge. They were attended even by Parliament councillors, which made him quite, maybe too famous (which was very dangerous and still is, even without the Inquisition). Lectures were dedicated to Princess Margaret, daughter of Maximilian I (she was governor of Netherlands etc., incl. Dôle). Agrippa became Professor of theology at the University of Dôle. He wrote De Nobilitate et præcellentia to gain favour of Margaret, but his efforts met a fierce opposition from the Franciscan order of Burgundy and he could not publish it until 1532.
End 1509. Agrippa was 23 years old when he sent the manuscript of De occulta philosophia to his friend and teacher Johannes Trithemius, abbot of Spanheim, near Würzburg (Trithemius was also Paracelsus' teacher of alchemy). Ficino was 23 when he finished translating Plato, Pico was also 23 when he set his Conclusiones and Trithemius was 23 when he became abbot of Spanheim. Inside the walls of his abbey was the furnace where, after Pico, Renaissance humanism melted with Ancient magic to revive hidden Tradition in Europe. The manuscript of Agrippa may now be found in the Würzburg Universitätsbibliothek (ms. M. ch. q. 50). The huge collection of Trithemius, consisting of magical treatises and manuscripts, came into the hands of Agrippa after his teacher's death, not without the care of Trithemius.
1510. In his answer to Agrippa, concerning De occulta philosophia (8.IV.1510), Trithemius wrote: "I wonder... that you, being so young, should penetrate into such secrets as have been hid from most learned men, and not only clearly and truly, but also properly and elegantly set them forth". The words of Paracelsus' teacher are still valid in the XXth century. He knew that the young Agrippa was on a way Tradition reserved to few after Orpheus, he also knew what it meant and warned him: "Unum hoc tamen te monimus custodire præceptum, ut vulgaria vulgaribus, altiora vero et arcana altioribus atque secretis tantum communices amicis: da foenum bovi, saccarum psitaco tantum - intellige mentem, ne boum calcibis (ut plerisque contingit) subiiciaris.". Many scholars knew Trithemius as a prophet, and his words were to become immediate reality - Jean Catilinet, head of the Franciscan order of Burgundy, delivered at Ghent a sermon before Princess Margaret, against Agrippa's lectures at Dôle. Agrippa had to leave the continent, accused of judaicising heresy. Emperor Maximilian I sent him as ambassador to Henry VIII, as Agrippa wrote in his Epistles - on an occultissimum negotium. Shortly after this mission (by the end of 1511) Maximilian I left Louis XII and united with Henry VIII against France. Agrippa stayed in the house of Erasmus' friend John Colet, pupil of Ficino, who by that time lectured at Oxford on the Epistles of Saint Paul. On the basis of the Epistles, Agrippa wrote an Expostulatio to the accusations of the Franciscans.
1511. Agrippa returned to Cologne and resumed lecturing, this time at the Cologne University. By mid 1511 he entered the Army and soon became Captain - a position (much higher than it is today) which showed his influence, as well as his belonging to (at least) middle nobility. In late 1511 he took part in the Council of Pisa, as a German theologist, where he was excommunicated together with other "defiants". Shortly after, the pope died and the new pope Leo X revoked his excommunication in February 1513. The Emperor assigned a new patron for Agrippa - William IX Paleologus, Marquis de Monferrat.
1512. Agrippa lectured in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Pavia on Plato's Convivium. Till 1515 Agrippa stayed in Italy as a soldier and diplomat under the Duke of Milan. He studied Ficino and Pico de la Mirandola. By mid 1515 Agrippa lectured at Pavia University on Pimander (Ficino's Latin translation of the Corpus Hermeticum). Eventually here he made his doctorates on both laws and medecine. By the end of 1515 he dedicated his De triplici ratione cognoscendi Deum to his patron William. But then Francis I, king of France, invaded Pavia. Agrippa lost his fortune and had to leave the town.
1516. He gave lectures of theology at the University of Turin, probably based on the Epistles of Saint Paul.
mid 1517. He became court physician to Charles III, Duc de Savoy who was close to Margaret of Austria and William Paleologus, but the payment was so low that he refused it and the next year left for Metz where he became orator and advocate of the town. By this time he wrote his De originali peccato, On Geomancy and a treatise on the plague. In 1519, while in Metz Agrippa defended Jacques Lefèvre d'Etaples from Claudius Salini, prior of the Celestine monastery and also won a case, defending a woman accused of witchcraft by the Inquisitor of Metz. Agrippa even succeeded in removing the Inquisitor from that case. Of course, he again became too famous and there was no more place left for him in Metz.
1520. He returned to Cologne where he got the magical part of the Trithemius library. By that same year Charles V succeeded Agrippa's patron, the Emperor Maximilian I. In 1521 Agrippa went to Geneva and showed ultimate interest in Martin Luther. In October 1522 he went to Friburg (Switzerland) where he worked as town physician but often helped magistrates and used his diplomatic skills.
May 1524. He went to Lyon as court physician to Louise de Savoy, Queen mother of Francis I. There he wrote his Commentary on Ars brevis of Raymond Lully. During the same year began an impressive conjunction of planets - the Big Parade, which rose dramatically the interest in astrology and it became the celebrity of the day. All authorities and influential people amused themselves in ordering horoscopes even for the most trivial decisions. Astrologers were overwhelmed with work, often did not care about the lengthy calculations and simulated - this golden mine resulted in a total abandoning of the old Chaldean principles in astrology and had its destructive impact on all mantic arts. By mid 1526 Agrippa was still not paid for his court duties and when the Queen mother asked him to make a horoscope for her son the king Francis and his war with Charles V and the Bourbons, he refused with bitter comments on Louise in a letter which she somehow managed to read. Moreover, he predicted a triumph for the Bourbons. Thus Agrippa was forced to stay in Lyon without pension and without the right to leave the town. He did it only in December 1527. This was the perfect background and the right time for Agrippa's attack on the astrologers and magicians of the day in his De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum et artium.
July 1528. After problems with leaving France, Agrippa went to Antwerp where he tried successfully to regain the favour of Margaret of Austria and in January 1529 she appointed him as Archives Councillor and Historiographer to the Emperor Charles V. Agrippa also obtained the print license and copyright to publish his works. In Antwerp Agrippa settled and again became too popular. He had many pupils, including Johann Wierus and as may be seen from his writings, resumed alchemical experiments in his laboratory. But in August 1529 the plague raged in Antwerp and all physicians left the city. Agrippa stayed and treated the sick. After it was over, the physicians returned and accused him of practicing without a proper diploma, trying to keep him away from their rich patients. Eleven years ago he wrote a treatise named Securest antidotes against the plague on a request of Theodoric, Bishop of Cyrene.
IX 1530. Agrippa published his De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum. By the end of the year his patron Margaret of Austria died and Agrippa was again not paid for his duties at the court, Charles V obviously being against the former court physician of Francis I's mother. De incertitudine "helped" much in that direction.
II 1531 Agrippa published the first edition of De occulta philosophia from the press of John Grapheus at Antwerp. As he intended to put the whole work to the press, he included all the index in the first book. It was dedicated to Hermann von Wied, Archbishop of Cologne. Now against him were the Emperor, the monks of Louvain and the scholars of the Sorbonne, as we may read in his last work (1533) Complaint against the Calumny of the Monks and Schoolmen. By mid 1531 Agrippa left Antwerp for Brussels and settled in a little house in Mechlin. The next year, upon the invitation of Hermann, he went to Poppelsdorf, then moved to Bonn. The Dominican Conrad Köllin, Inquisitor of Cologne, delayed the other 2 volumes but with the Archbishop's influence, after some compromise, publication was resumed and the whole book appeared in 1533 without information on place, publisher etc., with fragments from De incertitudine.
July 1533. Agrippa's correspondence suddenly ended and the next events were described according to his pupil Johann Wierus. The Dominicans continued their prosecution and urged Charles V who sentenced Agrippa to death for heresy. He fled to France despite his relations with Francis I, who put him immediately in prison for the old offense with the horoscope. Then Charles V changed the sentence to exile. Agrippa was soon released by friends, made his way towards Lyon but did not appear there. He was last seen in Grenoble, Rue des Clercs, in the house of the Ferrand family, owned by Vachon, governor of Grenoble, son of M. Vachon - Receiver General of the Province of Dauphine. His manuscripts and letters in secure hands, he had nothing else to do in this world. And he departed. In 1545 we read a little note: "Henricus Cornelius Agrippa ab Nettesheym a conciliis et archivis Indiatrii sacrae Caesareae Maiestatis armatae militiae equitis aurati et utriusque iuris doctoris qui intra decennium aut circiter Gratianopoli in Gallia ad summam paupertatem redactus obiit". Where, when, did anyone help (his body resting in a Dominican convent), did the yellow serpent help the Little Prince, does it matter? It does not matter. Because he is part of a Tradition holding the foundation of a whole human civilisation with a Teaching - the mortality of the body, the greatness of the Spirit, the immortality of the Soul and the freedom of human choice - to be conquered by Sin and Punishment or to conquer them attaining the One in the multitude.
... After that, we know nothing of Agrippa's wife and sons. All we know is that his manuscripts and letters made their own way to the publisher in Lyon. And when you ask them who was that man who put life in them, De incertitudine, from its first page, will always assert:

"...Ipse Philosophus, daemon, heros, Deus et omnia".

Some remarks:
(from my Bulgarian translation and foreword)
1. On the first English translator of De occulta philosophia

The current identification of the translator as J[ames] F[reake] is based on the 2 vol. Oxford English Dictionary. In the 9 vol. specialized Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous English Litterature (D.A.P.E.L., Halkett & Laing) there are 29 authors enumerated with those initials and the translation of De occulta philosophia is attributed to John French, M.D. - after due textological analysis Ferguson made the same conclusion in his Bibliotheca Chemica (I, 293). D.A.P.E.L. explicitly notes that the translation is wrongly attributed to J. F[reake] obviously meaning the Oxford English Dictionary. I have read some alchemical treatises, translated around 1650 by the same John French and completely share Ferguson's view.

2. On phrase inequalities in De occulta philosophia

Such utilizations of words are common in Agrippa. He often used techniques to emphasize something, relying on "quod curiosus lector ex ipsius phrasis inaequalitate facile deprehendere poterit" (De occ. ph., Ad lectorem). We should not underestimate a man who was friend of John Colet and Erasmus and as a mere boy became famous by refusing to speak other language than Latin. He wrote but did not mean only posterior insertions - polishing a phrase would be easy for him, unless he aimed much deeper. In my footnotes I commented one of his "phrase inequalities" (De occ. ph. I, Ch.13) "Benedicte Dominum universa..." and immediately after "... maxima Dei sunt miracula" when writing (NB!) about the Sun, referring to Old Testament miracles (Josue 10:12-13; Isaias 38:2-8) - God does not take back the Sun but only the shadow, the Sun returns by itself. If you replace God with Sun, the texts will retain the whole of their original meaning. This is not a "phrase inequality". In the times of Inquisition this is simply a key for reading the Bible, impossible to publish in explicit form.

3. On the relationship between De occulta philosophia
and De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum et artium.

In my opinion, there is no contradiction between these books. As we know, after 1526 Agrippa passed through difficult times and had to manage somehow without financial (and royal) support. Then eventually he could use, but he never used "rejecto" when explaining De occulta philosophia in terms of De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum et artium. Instead, he used "recanto" (Ep.5:28 "... nunc cautior hac palinodia recantatum volo") or "retracto" (De occ. ph., Ad lectorem "... in libro nostro De vanitate... hunc librum magna ex parte retractavi"). There is, of course, a meaning of rejection. But these two terms are quite ambiguous and on a common semantic level they mean "to redo something" - the Latin "retracto" means also "to treat again" and "recanto" means also "to sing again". These positive meanings have completely disappeared in modern languages, which is partly the basis of the actual confusion. Modern languages, as children of the Latin father, seem destituted of his patrimony because of their insolence, I wrote in my foreword to the Bulgarian edition. Agrippa never rejected whatsoever from De occulta philosophia. As we can see, he used Picatrix as a source in the first manuscript (1510) and in posterior insertions up to the final version in1533. He confessed he made mistakes, but when you try to "treat again" or "sing again" something, the mistakes are expected to disappear.
Moreover, in his criticism, Agrippa was not alone. Nicholas of Cusa said in a sermon: "Fatui sunt astrologi cum suis imaginationibus" but in his "De docta ignorantia" (Bk. 2, ch. 12) he explicitely showed his belief in the power of the stars. Leonardo da Vinci wrote in his "Trattato della pittura" on the vanity of astrologers, abusing human stupidity, but in other places he showed ultimate confidence in astrology (Codex Atlanticus v-a: "Ancora si po djre delli influssi de pianeti edjdjo", or in Trivulzi Bequest 36b "Il corpo nostro è sottoposto al cielo, e lo cielo è sottoposto allo spirito"). All three and many others were not against astrology as a science, but against the science of astrologers.

4. On the harmony between De occulta philosophia
and De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum et artium

"In my view, it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are receptive to it.". This is a quote from an article, written for New York Times Magazine (November 9, 1930, pp. 1-4). A couple of lines above, its author described this feeling with the following words: "The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims at the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear at an early stage of development, e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets.". A year before this article, its author sent a letter to Boris Georgiev, a famous Bulgarian painter, with these words: "...Your art made me feel in those orbits where, far from earthly hardship and suffering, the soul finds peace. After concentrating in contemplation on the portrait you made of myself, I felt the need to thank you from my heart. As the weak shadows of a transient reality, we feel home-sickness and unfulfilled love towards a different, intangible world..." The author of this article was widely known as a passionate violinist. He also ranks among the greatest scientists ever born on this Earth. Nine years prior to this article, he won the Nobel Prize in physics. His name is Albert Einstein.
Lynn Thorndike was a Professor of history in the Columbia University. His capital work on the history of Magic consists of thousands of pages and its 8 volumes had been published by his University within more than 30 years (1923-1958). To the curious reader wishing, in his respect for science, to enrich his vocabulary while penetrating in the harmony between De occulta philosophia and De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum, we heartly recommend the works of Thorndike. The chapter dedicated to the founder of the Florentine Academy and author of Theologia Platonica Marcilio Ficino, was called by the above Professor of history (not philosophy) "Ficino - the philosophaster". You can count on your hand the works on Magic which the weapon of the Professor's analysis had not caught up with "syntheses" like "hodge-podge" and others of the same calibre. We may consider the above fact in the light of some other, seemingly isolated facts. Thoutmos IV corrected the Sphinx near Gizeh leaving his name on it and confessed it stood there from time immemorial. More than a thousand years later, during the Roman rule, the right shoulder of the Sphinx went through some restoration. In the XXth century, only a couple of decades ago, with the resources of modern science the Egyptian Department for Ancient Monuments undertook the same by filling the cavities with high quality portland cement. But in the middle of the desert, the cement showed other properties - after the first rain it inflated and the restoration endured only for several months, ending in the break of a fragment from the Sphinx. Only then the authorities tried to restore it, using the Roman method, by inserting stone blocks which they took from (NB!) the stratum, where in the 50-ies was found the vessel of the Pharaoh Cheops. Knowing this, the Pyramid and the Sphinx strangely remind the Coliseum and a military engineer at the office of Lodovico Moro, who in 1506 wrote that he had created a submarine which he would never describe "because of the malign nature of men, who could use it for massacres at the bottom of the sea (Leonardo da Vinci, Codex Leicester, 22v)" and while having a rest from the burden of his projects, immortalized his noble indulgence towards coming centuries in the smile of Mona Lisa...
For in its regardless course, groping its way with trials and errors, science looks too much like a stubborn blind man convinced that he will see through the beauty of the Eagle's flight by improving his walking-stick.
For those who forget the Path, lose their way and return back in the middle of thoughts of sand, reasonings of stone, deductions of rock, and work of wind. But now our plane has broken down in that desert and to come back home we shall soon need a Little Prince who, by the irresistible thoughtlessness of innocence, will remind us that there is not a long way to the Well.
For the Little Prince was taught: "On ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.". And those who look at these two books beyond the eyes of everchanging science, with a heart of everlasting innocence, will see perfect harmony.

Works of Agrippa:

"Three Books of Occult Philosophy" (the first English translation, London, 1651) or its 624 pages - scanned and uploaded, starting at 001.gif through 624.gif
Of Occult Philosophy or Magic, Twilit Grotto
Opera II, Lugduni : per Beringos fratres, [ca 1600]. Download the second volume of Agrippa's Opera from Gallica, Gallica is an excellent web resource, where you can download thousands of precious books, in tiff or pdf format (to download from - click "Recherche" then in the field "Auteur" insert Agrippa, then "Rechercher", then click the book and then "Telecharger".
De incertitudine & vanitate scientiarum & artium, apud Joannem Petrum, 1531
De l'incertitude, vanité, & abus des sciences, trad. en françois par Louys de Mayerne Turquet,... Reprod. de l'éd. de, Genève : impr. P. Chou, 1630
Della nobilta et eccelenza delle donne, dalla lingua francese nella italiana tradotto : con una cratione di M. Alessandro Piccolomini in Iode delle medefume / Reprod. de l'éd. de, Vinegia : G. G. de Ferrari, 1549
Henrici Cornelii Agrippae De nobilitate et praecellentia foeminei sexus, Antverpiae : apud M. Hillenium, 1529 : Expostulatio cum Joanne Catilineti super expositionem libri Joannis Capnionis ″De verbo mirifico″. De sacramento matrimonii declamatio... De triplici ratione cognoscendi Deum liber unus... Dehortatio gentilis theologiae... De originali peccato... declamatio. Regimen adversus pestilentiam
Les oeuvres magiques de Henri-Corneille Agrippa, par Pierre d'Aban, latin et français, avec des secrets occultes : Liége : [s.n.], 1788 "Heptaméron, ou Les éléments magiques de Pierre Aban, philosophe, disciple de Henri-Corneille Agrippa"
Déclamation sur l'incertitude, vanité et abus des sciences, trad. en françois du latin de Henry Corneille Agr. Reprod. de l'éd. de, [Paris] : I. Durand, 1582
De triplici ratione cognoscendi Deum, De nobilitate et praecellentia etc., Antverpiae : apud M. Hillenium, 1529
Opera omnia: Lugduni : per Beringos fratres, [ca 1600]. (the two volumes, coming in the near future)
Female Pre-eminence, Engl. transl. of "De nobilitate et praecellentia" by Henry Care, London 1670
Of Geomancy, Engl. transl. by Robert Turner, London 1655
On Calling Spirits, attributed to Agrippa

Images of Agrippa:

"Henri Corneille Agrippa"
"Cornel. Agrippa à Nettesheim"
From De Occulta Philosophia 1533 ed.
Front cover from the 1567 Paris ed. for the library of the Duke of Brunswick

Images from De occulta philosophia
[1533 ed.] - from the original edition, published in 1533, reviewed by Agrippa
[1600 ed.] - from the Lyon edition of Agrippa's Opera
[1651 ed.]- from the London edition of Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy
[III, 11] - Book III, Chapter 11

Title page of De occulta philosophia [1533 ed.]
Title page of De occulta philosophia [1600 ed.]
Title page of Three books of occult philosophy [1651 ed.]
Seal of Agrippa (against diseases/griefs) [1533 ed.; III, 11]
Seal of Agrippa (against evil spirits/men) [1533 ed.; III, 11]
Seals of Agrippa (Constantine/Antiochus/Judas) [1533 ed.; III, 11]
Seal of Agrippa (against diseases/griefs) [1600 ed.; III, 11]
Seal of Agrippa (against evil spirits/men) [1600 ed.; III, 11]
Seal of Agrippa (against diseases/griefs) [1651 ed.; III, 11] 1, 2
Seal of Agrippa (against evil spirits/men) [1651 ed.; III, 11]
Man in square with signs [1533 ed.; II, 27]
Man in square with numbers [1533 ed.; II, 27]
Man in square with serpent/eye [1533 ed.; II, 27]
Man in circle with pentagram/planets [1533 ed.; II, 27]
Man in circle with two pentagrams [1533 ed.; II, 27]
Man in circle with planets [1533 ed.; II, 27]
Hand in circle with planets [1533 ed.; II, 27]
Man in square with signs [1651 ed.; II, 27]
Man in square with numbers [1651 ed.; II, 27]
Man in square with serpent/eye [1651 ed.; II, 27]
Man in circle with pentagram/planets [1651 ed.; II, 27]
Man in circle with two pentagrams [1651 ed.; II, 27]
Man in circle with planets [1651 ed.; II, 27]
Hand in circle with planets [1651 ed.; II, 27]
Planets, signs, elements/Alphabets [1600 ed.; I, 74]
Planets, signs, elements/Alphabets [1651 ed.; I, 74]
Alphabet of Honorius of Thebes [1533 ed.; III, 29]
Alphabet of Honorius of Thebes [1600 ed.; III, 29]
Notaricon/Rosicrucian alphabet[1600 ed.; III, 30]
Michael's seal in Hebrew/Greek/Latin [1600 ed.; III, 30]
Alphabet of Honorius of Thebes [1651 ed.; III, 29]
Notaricon/Rosicrucian alphabet[1651 ed.; III, 30] 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Michael's seal in Hebrew/Greek/Latin [1651 ed.; III, 30]
Agrippa's astrological/magical Numbers [1533 ed.; II, 19]
Agrippa's astrological/magical Numbers [1651 ed.; II, 19] 1, 2
Scriptures Celestial/Malachim/Pass of the River [1533 ed.; III, 30]
Seals of the Sun, its intelligences and demons [1533 ed.; II, 22]
Seals of the Sun, its intelligences and demons [1651 ed.; II, 22]
Seals of the Moon, its intelligences and demons [1533 ed.; II, 22]
Seals of the Moon, its intelligences and demons [1651 ed.; II, 22] 1, 2
Seals of Saturn, its intelligences and demons [1533 ed.; II, 22]
Seals of Saturn, its intelligences and demons [1651 ed.; II, 22]
Seals of Jupiter, its intelligences and demons [1533 ed.; II, 22]
Seals of Jupiter, its intelligences and demons [1651 ed.; II, 22]
Seals of Mars, its intelligences and demons [1533 ed.; II, 22]
Seals of Mars, its intelligences and demons [1651 ed.; II, 22]
Seals of Venus, its intelligences and demons [1533 ed.; II, 22]
Seals of Venus, its intelligences and demons [1651 ed.; II, 22] 1, 2
Seals of Mercury, its intelligences and demons [1533 ed.; II, 22]
Seals of Mercury, its intelligences and demons [1651 ed.; II, 22] 1, 2
Geomantic Characters of the Moon [1533 ed.; II, 51]
Geomantic Characters of the planets [1533 ed.; II, 51]
Geomantic Characters of the Moon [1651 ed.; II, 51]
Geomantic Characters of the planets [1651 ed.; II, 51] 1, 2
Magical/astrological signatures of planets/signs/stars [1533 ed.; II, 52]
Magical/astrological signatures of planets/signs/stars [1651 ed.; II, 52] 1, 2, 3, 4


For a comprehensive bibliography, see Nauert, Charles G., Jr, (1965): Agrippa and the Crisis of Renaissance Thought, Urbana (Illinois).
For recent publications on De occulta philosophia see the excellent and authoritative work of Dr. ssa Vittoria Perrone Compagni (Department of Philosophy, University of Florence). De occulta philosophia libri tres. Studies in the history of Christian Thought; 48. Leiden [etc.], E. J. Brill, 1992.
For some of his other works see Poel, Marc van der. Cornelius Agrippa, the Humanist Theologian and his Declamations. Leiden ; New York : Brill, May 1997.(Series: Brill's studies in intellectual history ; vol. 77)
see also in: Totok, W. Handbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie, Bd. III, Lfg. 2, S. 397-400
and also my bibliography on Agrippa.
Last, but not least, see Donald Tyson's English edition, based on the first English translation of 1651, together with his excellent commentaries.


Britannica (by the editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica), or in Britannica-Newsweek)
"The Telegraph" (in "Education" and "News")
Philosophers A-H/Agrippa (review of this site @
Philosophers/Agrippa (review of this site @ StudyWeb - the Learning Portal)
Philosophers A-C/Agrippa (review of this site @ & Webcrawler, Education Directory)
Philosophers (review of this site @, site for teachers in humanities etc.)
Agrippa von Nettesheim (review of this site @ Hermetic Net)
Cornelius Agrippa and Cabalistic Language (review of this site @ Danyon Cole Investigative Services, Blair Witch Project)
Agrippa - bio and critique (review of this site @ LookSmart Categories)
Philosophers/Agrippa (review of this site @ Yahoo Categories)
Famous Esoteric Personalities (review of this site @ Netscape Directory & AOL Categories)
Famous Esoteric Personalities (review of this site @ Open Directory Project)
Famous Esoteric Personalities (review of this site @ Lycos Directories)
Philosophers A-C (review of this site @ MSN Categories)
Agrippa (review of this site @, the Occult Internet search engine)
Alchemy & Hermeticism (review of this site @
Esotericism (review of this site @, the Esotericism search engine)
Art/Philosophy (review of this site @ Gyuvetch, in Bulgarian)
Culture/Art/Philosophy (review of this site @ Dir.Bg, in Bulgarian)
Philosophy Resources on the Internet (EpistemeLinks by Thomas Ryan Stone, linking to this site)
Hermeticism (Occultopedia, linking to this site)
Cornelius Agrippa (, redirecting to this site)
Agrippa von Nettesheim (James Joyce Internet Resources, linking to this site)
Altheo, the Greek site of esoteric links(in Greek & English, linking to this site)
Esoterism, historical background (students' resource site, in Swedish, linking to this site)
Dr R. W. Serjeantson's Early Modern links (Cambridge students' resource site, linking to this site)
Agrippa von Nettesheim (a site in Japanese, for studies on the history of alchemy and Renaissance occult philosophy, by Dr. phil. H.HIRAI, linking to this site)
Agrippa and Renaissance astrology (Comprehensive Renaissance astrology site, by Christopher Warnock, Esq., linking to this site)
Philosophy Links [fambof] (Over 200 annotated links about philosophers and philosophy, linking to this site)
Hermetic Kabbalah - the Big Picture (Colin Low's Kabbalah site. Extensive material on Kabbalah and related topics incl. Internet's largest Kabbalah links page, linking to this site)

Links on Agrippa:

Rudolf Steiner's "Mysticism at the Dawn of the Modern Age", Ch. VII. Agrippa and Paracelsus
Agrippa, Heinrich Cornelius von Nettesheim
Agrippa in "The 1911 Edition Encyclopedia"
Agrippa, Heinrich Cornelius [Agrippa von Nettesheim]
Agrippa, Heinrich Cornelius von Nettesheim
Cornelius Agrippa
Agrippa von Nettesheim in the Catholic Encyclopedia ©
Agrippa von Nettesheim in the Encyclopædia Britannica © (The text from E. B. in English, together with his biography in Russian, from
agrippa.htm (in French, with bibliography)
Alchemical Manuscripts in the British Library
Archives of Western Esoterica, Twilit Grotto. Uploading of the Occult philosophy started in September 2000, at, now at
Project Gutenberg's Etext of Extraordinary Popular Delusions
Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Elemental Correspondences of the Pentacle, by Graelan Wintertide
Esoteric Links Page: Villa of the Mysteries
Theosophy article: "Cross and Fire" by Blavatsky
Theosophy article "Stars and Numbers" by Blavatsky
Theosophy article "Posthumous Publication, A" by Blavatsky
Isis Unveiled by H. P. Blavatsky -- Vol. 1, Chapter VIII
Isis Unveiled by H. P. Blavatsky -- Vol. 2, Chapter I
Unpublished letters of H. P. Blavatsky
Chinese Spirits, article by H. P. Blavatsky
Bulwer-Lytton, by John S Moore
The Impact of Freemasonry on Elizabethan Literature, by Ron Heisler
Oxford University Conference on Kabbalah and the English Esoteric Traditions
La Clef des Grands Mysteres
Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim
Agrippa in Prokofiev's "Fiery Angel"
Analysis and summary of Prokofiev's Fiery Angel, by William K. McHenry
History of Magic
Alchemy and Magick at
Geomancy, by Anthony Glenn Agee
The Neoplatonic Revival, Theosophy Magazine, Volume 26
Kabbalah Unveiled, By S.L. McGregor Mathers
Review of Fr. Yates: Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, by Donald Korycansky
Review of Fr. Yates: Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, by Michael Lumish
Frigate's forum on Agrippa searching for moderators
Astrologers_Personalities, in Russian (Zdravstvujte, ruskie kolegi-astrologi. Proshu, chitajte ochen' ostorozhno ruskij perevod Agripy ("Zolotoj vek"). Perevodchiku vse ravno esli rech idet ob "ecliptic" ili "eclipse" (Ok. Fil. t. 1, g. 2)
History of Magic by Borce Gorgievski Ambitious in the right direction, after some corrections.
Bibliotechka Astrologosa In Russian. (Soderzhit teksty mnogih okul'tnyh knig na ruskom jazike. Chto kasaetsja "Okul'tnoi filosofii", chitajte zametku vyshe.)
Alexis Dolgorukii's "Celtic Knot". Highly polemical "Thorndike" style. The author totally ignores such things as Agrippa's defense of magic in De occulta philosophia and the destiny of his manuscripts. After the works of Prof. Lynn Thorndike, it is another excellent ex adverso tribute to magic.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Keeping The Meat Safe: My response to "Covered In Light"

[I am reposting this, from April of last year (link to original), in response to ridiculous attempts being made now by some Pagans to legitimize one of the most obvious and deservedly hated symbols of oppression in the modern world: the "veil". If you have no idea what I am talking about, count yourself very fortunate.]

I shall unloose --
From the small jeweled
Doll he guards like a heart --

The lioness,
The shriek in the bath,
The cloak of holes.
[Purdah, by Sylvia Plath]

The following article by Taslima Nasreen was first published on January 22, 2007 by OutlookIndia.Com. You can download it from her website here (clicking that link will go directly to the pdf).

In February of 2010 a newspaper in the state of Karnataka, India, published a translation of the article in the Kannada language (the article was originally written in English). This was done without Nasreen's participation or even her knowledge.

The publication of the unauthorized translation of the article led to several days of bloody rioting by Muslims in the districts of Shimoga and Hassan. At least two people died in these riots and many more were injured. Rioters also burned vehicles and threw stones at buses and shops (source).

Let's Think Again About The Burqa

The Quran does prescribe purdah. That doesn't mean women should obey it.

My mother used purdah. She wore a burqa with a net cover in front of the face. It reminded me of the meatsafes in my grandmother's house. One had a net door made of cloth, the other of metal. But the objective was the same: keeping the meat safe. My mother was put under a burqa by her conservative family. They told her that wearing a burqa would mean obeying Allah.

Women too have sexual urges. So why didn't Allah start the purdah for men? Clearly, He treated them on unequal terms.

And if you obey Allah, He would be happy with you and not let you burn in hellfire. My mother was afraid of Allah and also of her own father. He would threaten her with grave consequences if she didn't wear the burqa. She was also afraid of the men in the neighbourhood, who could have shamed her. Even her husband was a source of fear, for he could do anything to her if she disobeyed him.

As a young girl, I used to nag her: Ma, don't you suffocate in this veil? Don't you feel all dark inside? Don't you feel breathless? Don't you feel angry? Don't you ever feel like throwing it off? My mother kept mum. She couldn't do anything about it. But I did. When I was sixteen, I was presented a burqa by one of my relatives. I threw it away.

The custom of purdah is not new. It dates back to 300 BC. The women of aristocratic Assyrian families used purdah. Ordinary women and prostitutes were not allowed purdah. In the middle ages, even Anglo-Saxon women used to cover their hair and chin and hide their faces behind a cloth or similar object. This purdah system was obviously not religious. The religious purdah is used by Catholic nuns and Mormons, though for the latter only during religious ceremonies and rituals. For Muslim women, however, such religious purdah is not limited to specific rituals but mandatory for their daily life outside the purview of religion.

A couple of months ago, at the height of the purdah controversy, Shabana Azmi asserted that the Quran doesn't say anything about wearing the burqa. She's mistaken. This is what the Quran says:

"Tell the faithful women that they must keep their gaze focused below/on the ground and cover their sexual organs. They must not put their beauty and their jewellery on display. They must hide their breasts behind a purdah. They must not exhibit their beauty to anybody except their husbands, brothers, nephews, womenfolk, servants, eunuch employees and children. They must not move their legs briskly while walking because then much of their bodies can get exposed." (Sura Al Noor 24:31)

"Oh nabi, please tell your wives and daughters and faithful women to wear a covering dress on their bodies. That would be good. Then nobody can recognise them and harrass them. Allah is merciful and kind." (Sura Al Hijaab 33: 59)

Even the Hadis --a collection of the words of Prophet Mohammed, his opinion on various subjects and also about his work, written by those close to him-- talks extensively of the purdah for women. Women must cover their whole body before going out, they should not go before unknown men, they should not go to the mosque to read the namaaz, they should not go for any funeral.

There are many views on why and how the Islamic purdah started. One view has it that Prophet Mohammed became very poor after spending all the wealth of his first wife. At that time, in Arabia, the poor had to go to the open desert and plains for relieving themselves and even their sexual needs. The Prophet's wives too had to do the same. He had told his wives that "I give you permission to go out and carry out your natural work". (Bukhari Hadis first volume book 4 No. 149). And this is what his wives started doing accordingly. One day, Prophet Mohammed's disciple Uman complained to him that these women were very uncomfortable because they were instantly recognisable while relieving themselves. Umar proposed a cover but Prophet Mohammed ignored it. Then the Prophet asked Allah for advice and he laid down the Ayat (33:59) (Bukhari Hadis Book 026 No. 5397).

This is the history of the purdah, according to the Hadis. But the question is: since Arab men too relieved themselves in the open, why didn't Allah start the purdah for men? Clearly, Allah doesn't treat men and women as equals, else there would be purdah for both! Men are higher than women. So women have to be made walking prisons and men can remain free birds.

Another view is that the purdah was introduced to separate women from servants. This originates from stories in the Hadis. One story in the Bukhari Hadis goes thus: After winning the Khyber War, Prophet Mohammed took over all the properties of the enemy, including their women. One of these women was called Safia. One of the Prophet's disciples sought to know her status. He replied: "If tomorrow you see that Safia is going around covered, under purdah, then she is going to be a wife. If you see her uncovered, that means I've decided to make her my servant."

The third view comes from this story. Prophet Mohammed's wife Ayesha was very beautiful. His friends were often found staring at her with fascination. This clearly upset the Prophet. So the Quran has an Ayat that says, "Oh friends of the prophet or holy men, never go to your friend's house without an invitation. And if you do go, don't go and ask anything of their wives". It is to resist the greedy eyes of friends, disciples or male guests that the purdah system came into being. First it was applicable to only the wives of the holy men, and later it was extended to all Muslim women. Purdah means covering the entire body except for the eyes, wrist and feet. Nowadays, some women practise the purdah by only covering their hair. That is not what is written in the Hadis Quran. Frankly, covering just the hair is not Islamic purdah in the strict sense.

In the early Islamic period, Prophet Mohammed started the practice of covering the feet of women. Within 100 years of his death, purdah spread across the entire Middle East. Women were covered by an extra layer of clothing. They were forbidden to go out of the house, or in front of unknown men. Their lives were hemmed into a tight regime: stay at home, cook, clean the house, bear children and bring them up. In this way, one section of the people was separated by purdah, quarantined and covered.

Why are women covered? Because they are sex objects. Because when men see them, they are roused. Why should women have to be penalised for men's sexual problems? Even women have sexual urges. But men are not covered for that. In no religion formulated by men are women considered to have a separate existence, or as human beings having desires and opinions separate from men's. The purdah rules humiliate not only women but men too. If women walk about without purdah, it's as if men will look at them with lustful eyes, or pounce on them, or rape them. Do they lose all their senses when they see any woman without burqa?

My question to Shabana and her supporters, who argue that the Quran says nothing about purdah is: If the Quran advises women to use purdah, should they do so? My answer is, No. Irrespective of which book says it, which person advises, whoever commands, women should not have purdah. No veil, no chador, no hijab, no burqa, no headscarf. Women should not use any of these things because all these are instruments of disrespect. These are symbols of women's oppression. Through them, women are told that they are but the property of men, objects for their use. These coverings are used to keep women passive and submissive. Women are told to wear them so that they cannot exist with their self-respect, honour, confidence, separate identity, own opinion and ideals intact. So that they cannot stand on their own two feet and live with their head held high and their spine strong and erect.

Some 1,500 years ago, it was decided for an individual's personal reasons that women should have purdah and since then millions of Muslim women all over the world have had to suffer it. So many old customs have died a natural death, but not purdah. Instead, of late, there has been a mad craze to revive it. Covering a woman's head means covering her brain and ensuring that it doesn't work. If women's brains worked properly, they'd have long ago thrown off these veils and burqas imposed on them by a religious and patriarchal regime.

What should women do? They should protest against this discrimination. They should proclaim a war against the wrongs and ill-treatment meted out to them for hundreds of years. They should snatch from the men their freedom and their rights. They should throw away this apparel of discrimination and burn their burqas.