Esoterica: Books in Brief
Ernst Benz, translated by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Emanuel Swedenborg: Visionary Savant in the Age of Reason, (West Chester: Swedenborg Foundation, 2002) cloth, 536 pp.
Ernst Benz (1907-1978) was one of the most prolific scholars in the field of esotericism during the twentieth century, but many of his works remain only in German. Thus Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, himself an important scholar, author of The Occult Roots of Nazism and more recently, Black Sun, does readers a considerable favor in making Benz's seminal work on Swedenborg available today. While this book was originally published in 1948, it remains one of the best studies of this influential author, and for the general reader or scholar who wishes for a good introduction to Swedenborg, this is an excellent place to begin. Benz's book does not deal with the influences of Swedenborg on subsequent authors, and that remains an area for thoughtful investigation: one hopes for a kind of sequel by some contemporary scholar.
Lars Bergquist, translated by Anders Hallengren, Swedenborg's Dream Diary, (West Chester: Swedenborg Foundation, 2001) cloth, 371 pp.
This volume represents Swedenborg's series of notebook entries concerning his dreams from the years 1743-1744, meticulously recorded. The publication of Swedenborg's dream diary is important not least because it helps us understand somewhat more clearly the nature of Swedenborg's visionary understanding in relation to his dreams. Lars Bergquist provides a helpful introduction that situates Swedenborg in his time and among such figures as Zinzendorf, and that sheds light on the ecstatic nature of Swedenborg's visionary experiences and initiatic dreams. This book will be a useful volume for scholars who wish a complement to Benz's introductory volume published by the same organization as this one.
John Chryssavgis, In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, (Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2003) paperback, 163 pp.
Although this book is not, strictly speaking, on the subject of Western esotericism, it concerns a form of esotericism, that of Eastern Orthodox monastic praxis and the spiritual struggles of the early Christian desert recluses. John Chryssavgis is himself a Greek Orthodox priest as well as a professor on the East Coast of the United States, and his earlier book is entitled Soul Mending: The Art of Spiritual Direction (2000). So it is clear that he comes to the themes of this book from a practical and personal rather than totally academic perspective. This quality lends the book a direct quality that makes it particularly compelling. Included in the book is his translation of The Reflections of Abba Zosimos that complements well this valuable book of spiritual advice. Those who wish for a more profound understanding of inner spiritual transformation in early Christianity would be wise to find themselves a copy of this work.
Antoine Faivre, L'Ésotérisme, (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1992, rev. 2002) paperback, 127 pp.
This is a reissue of a brief introduction in French to Western esotericism that was first published in 1992, and is here republished with higher-quality paper and cover in an updated version. The book surveys Western esotericism from antiquity to the twentieth century, and is, of course, written by one of the most important contemporary scholars of esotericism. It was a bit surprising to discover that Esoterica was not listed among contemporary journals, while a defunct and a more or less tangentially related journal are listedbut no doubt this only reveals that Esoterica's prominence goes without saying.
Jan Stryz, ed., The Wisdom of Meister Eckhart, (St. Paul: New Grail Publishing, 2003) paperback, 81 pp.
Arthur Versluis, ed., The Wisdom of Jacob Böhme, (St. Paul: New Grail Publishing, 2003) paperback, 73 pp.
Arthur Versluis, ed., The Wisdom of John Pordage, (St. Paul: New Grail Publishing, 2003) paperback, 84 pp.
These three volumes represent introductions to and selections from the works of three of the greatest among all Christian mystics. The three books inaugurate a new series of books entitled Great Works of Christian Spirituality, and are intended for the general reader who wishes a clear introduction to Christian mysticism and aphoristic selections. These are entirely new selections of these well-known authors' works, and The Wisdom of John Pordage is actually the first publication since 1683 of John Pordage's profound treatises on spiritual awakening and the Trinity. Readers will be hard pressed to find more accessible and profound works of Christian mysticism.
Barry McDonald, ed., Seeing God Everywhere: Essays on Nature and the Sacred, (Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2002) paperback, 307 pp.
Seeing God Everywhere represents a new direction for World Wisdom, a publisher based in Bloomington, Indiana, that originally was devoted exclusively to the publication of Frithjof Schuon's books. Since Schuon's death, the publisher has begun bringing out thematic collections, of which this is the first. It begins, of course, with a title essay by Schuon, and also includes essays by H.H. the Dalai Lama, S.H. Nasr, Philip Sherrard, Kathleen Raine, Arthur Versluis, and others, all with a focus on the sacred in relation to nature. The collection represents both a restatement of various traditional perspectives on the spiritual dimensions of nature, and another source for those who wish to study the phenomenon of traditionalism in relation to modernity.
Joshua Buckley, Collin Cleary, and Michael Moynihan, eds., Tyr: Myth, Culture, Tradition, (Atlanta: Ultra Publishing, 2002) paperback, 286 pp.
For those who want to see a traditionalism of a different sortthat is, a radical traditionalismone need look no further for an introduction than to this beautifully produced collection from Atlanta, Georgia, entitled Tyr. Radical traditionalism bases itself to a considerable degree on the works and perspective of Julius Evola, and in this journal of radical traditionalism, we find a sort of manifesto by Stephen Edred Flowers, an article by esteemed scholar Joscelyn Godwin on Evola, and an interview with Georges Dumézil by Alain de Benoist, in many respects the founding father of the French New Right. This journal, along with the New York journal Telos, is well worth perusing for the intellectual challenges to modernity that it represents.
Peter Schäfer, Mirror of His Beauty: Feminine Images of God From the Bible to the Early Kabbalah, (Princeton; Princeton University Press, 2002) cloth, 306 pp.
In this beautifully produced and well-written book, Peter Schäfer argues that the origins of Kabbalistic mysticism of the divine feminine are to be found more in medieval Christianity and devotion to the Virgin Mary than in the Gnosticism of antiquity. The veritable "explosion" in Marian theology during the medieval period, Schäfer believes, could not but influence Jewish mysticism. But to his credit as a scholar, he carefully examines this question and details both sides of the argument. For those who wish to investigate further the nature and origins of Kabbalism and in particular the mysticism of the divine feminine in Western traditions, this book represents an important contribution that will have to be taken into account in future research in the field.
Mehrdad M. Zarandi, ed., Science and the Myth of Progress, (Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2003) paperback, 317 pp.
This is another collection in the series begun with Seeing God Everywhere, with the requisite initial essay by Schuon, and including essays by such figures as Titus Burckhardt, S.H. Nasr, Huston Smith, and René Guénon. This collection calls into question exactly what the title suggests: what many authors see as the reign of "scientism" and the mythology of progress and evolutionism.
James S. Cutsinger, ed., Not of This World: A Treasury of Christian Mysticism, (Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2003) paperback, 272 pp.
As the title suggests, this is an anthology of Christian mysticism, but it includes a number of authors whose work might not ordinarily be includedfor instance, Jean Borella, Philip Sherrard, and Bernadette Roberts. The anthology is thematically organized around primary topics of "Purification" and "Illumination," and "Union," and the selections work well together. The editor, in his introduction, sets forth his central argument: that Christianity in its various contemporary denominations should recognize the significance of the traditional teaching of deification, and not encourage belief in an unbridgeable abyss between Creator and the created.