Jean Servier, ed., Dictionnaire critique de L'Ésotérisme, (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1998), 1449 pp., ISBN 2 13 049556 7, 980 FF.

Reviewed by Arthur Versluis

Michigan State University

This book certainly represents a good idea, one that has some competitors in German, but to my knowledge none in English: a one-volume dictionary or, perhaps, encyclopedia of esoteric traditions. Under the direction of Jean Servier, this book's numerous entries were written by a wide range of scholars, and include not only European, but also Asian and Aboriginal or indigenous esoteric traditions. In principle, I think that such global scope can be valuable, and certainly there are some excellent scholars associated with this project, ranging from Antoine Faivre and François Bonardel for some Occidental esoteric traditions to Isabelle Robinet on Taoism. However, it is no easy task to range so widely as this dictionary and still maintain high quality and focus. Thus, in practice it might well be wiser to have such a dictionary be multi-volume, one volume being European or Western esotericism, another being Asian esoteric traditions, and so forth, with sub-editors responsible for each volume, under the general editor.

While the idea of this book is a good one, if a later edition is planned, there are some changes I would suggest. First: the book needs a comprehensive, paginated index. Although I realize that this would be a formidable task in a dense book of nearly fifteen hundred pages, it has to be done, or otherwise one is going to have to wade through half a dozen entries in order to track down a particular author - and one might never find that figure mentioned after all. Second: this Dictionnaire could use a few more entries

on particular authors. I was slightly surprised to find, for instance, that there is no entry for Julius Evola. Admittedly, Evola is not necessarily a figure one might like at all - his book on Buddhism is execrable, and his fascism not exactly admirable - but he is an important twentieth-century figure all the same. On the other hand, of course, one cannot include everyone. Third: there are a couple of illustrations, but in a field this rich with images, one would think that there could be a section of illustrations, or at least a few more interspersed.

Still, these are all things that could be addressed in subsequent editions, or in what I would also like to see: such a dictionary or encyclopedia done in English, with all the resources and wealth of contemporary scholarship in this growing field at its disposal. A book like this is of considerable use for those who are entering the field and would like a general orientation to it and to major topics and figures. This dictionary will be valuable to general readers, for it represents a valiant effort to bring together a vast array of scholars and subjects under one heading, and if it does not include an Evola entry, it does include an entry on, for example, Leopold Ziegler (1881-1958), whose work is not well known now, particularly in North America, but is important. Dictionnaire critique de L'Ésotérisme is testament to how strikingly rich French scholarship is in this field by comparison to, say, the United States, where to my knowledge we do not yet have a single academic position devoted to Western esoteric traditions. On the whole, I would suggest that this is a book best suited for reference libraries and occasional consultation; some individuals may want to purchase it, but for most, a nearby library's reference section is probably the best solution.