Book reviews

Brian P. Copenhaver - Hermetica
Copyright 1992 Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-42543-3

This edition contains Corpus Hermeticum and Asclepius. It also has a history of these texts and an extensive part of notes about translation and possible sources. Hermeticum is a religious text with a creation story and explanation of “The One” aka God. The influences of Hermetica seems to be a debate, but from the surface it appears to have multiple sources condensed into a “more” philosophical and logical system that makes more sense than the mainstream religions had at that time, and later.

The original texts are likely from second to third century CE, when people like gnostics had similar kind of ideas, which then were more or less condemned as heretic by the early Christians. Hermetica is written in dialectic style which is yet another influence added into the mix. However it does have a devout tone giving it surprisingly “modern” Christian quality. It’s preaching about the true religion and demands the reader to believe in it.

Hermetica’s connection to the occult is not that clear to me, because I’m not an expert on that subject, but if they did appropriate it, it was probably of the long and exciting lineage that gives it more credibility. Maybe the funniest thing could be that Hermetica was written by magicians and they invented characters like Hermes Trismegistus and the connection to Egypt which even then was considered to be an ancient civilization of magic.

Notes part deal about translation problems that were known even from greek to latin in the ancient time. It’s likely that texts like Hermetica were created, maintained and updated in parts and in some cases through oral transmission. This makes the exact dating both difficult and needless. Hermetica is extremely boring, but it does point to sources that could be more interesting.

Éliphas Lévi - The History of Magic
Copyright 2020 Aziloth Books, ISBN 978-1-913751-01-2

First published in 1860, this book is a magnum opus of French occultist Alphonse Louis Constant (1810-1875) who wrote under pen name Éliphas Lévi. He was also a devout catholic, a painfully obvious but understandable fact that colors the sparse historical information of this book. The 1913 english translation by Arthur Edward Waite has additional footnotes, which in their dry, almost sarcastic tone could be considered as a work of original art.

It’s ironic that while this book is not a great book of history, it has became a history of Lévi’s thinking and time itself. He and many other occultists lived in an interesting period of time between modern and medieval times. Lévi experienced the industrial revolution and rise of true scientific method that would change the world. You can read between the lines that he shuns the idea of science as a substitution of religious worldview. His answer to the troubles of his time is a return to firm catholic faith, which he calls a universal religion. But, rather confusingly he also throws in magic and occultism as an essential part of the truth hidden from the mainstream culture.

This “strange” relationship with magic and religion is a recurring theme through history. Lévi was imprisoned at least twice for his writings, so a pen name was apparently not an artistic choice. The church still had a lot of power over what you could say or write. However, after the long and oppressing period of christianity the occult trends of the 1800’s were booming and Lévi was an insider of the new age that would reveal a truthful, clear image of the world and us.

It’s almost sad to note that the world had other plans. Lévi didn’t live to see the dark result of industrial revolution in the near apocalyptic form of world wars and the invention of nuclear weapons: the end of a romantic era and the beginning of the modern time with results, consumerism and stock markets.