Jesus the Magician, by Morton Smith
Hampton Roads Press, 97815747150, 309 pp., 1978, 2014
The historical existence of Jesus has long been debated with varying degrees of bias on any side of the argument. The problem in the quest for the existence of Jesus is not so much if he existed, but who and what he was if he did live: sorcerer, fraud, divinity in flesh, healer, prophet? Unfortunately the sources we have detailing his life are almost exclusively Christian, making harder to sort out the real man due to the fact that Christian sources would want to push a certain image of Jesus, so things might be shifted, added, or deleted from his life.
This is where Morton Smith comes in with this classic book reprinted after more than 35 years, for he attempts to analyze the Biblical and Christian sources, as well as the few non-Christian sources in order to parse out who Jesus was, and how he was understood at the time. Continue reading
I have had some interesting conversations with some insightful magicians, discussing the phenomenon of the dark night of the soul, and the feelings of desolation, despair and deep depression which can occur to anyone who is following the initiatory path of magick. There seems to be consensus that all magicians at some point retire from the world (and, in a sense, renounce it) to undergo the mystical rigors of the dark night of the soul while seeking union with the One.
Strangely, I seem to be one of the few who takes issue with this. I think that it has more to do with a mystical approach to the godhead than a magical approach, and there are also the issues of chronic or situational depression, isolation and despair that have really nothing to do with spiritual ascension. In clinical depression, removing oneself from the world is a common symptom, and strong feelings are often replaced with a feeling of numbness, stasis or apathy.
The real question then, is whether or not mystics and magicians experience the iconic dark night of the soul in the same way. Continue reading
William Blake’s Sexual Path to Spiritual Vision, by Marsha Keith Schuchard
Inner Traditions, 9781594772115, 398 pp., 2008
Reading William Blake one cannot help but realize this is a man who is both religious and spiritually active, especially his poems known as the prophecies. The question is what was the nature of his spiritual life? What inspired Blake to create works that are both heavily Christian and at the same time antagonistic to many Christian ideals? The surprising answer is laid out as Schuchard leads us back into the complex religious web of mystical Christianity of the 17th and 18th century.
No clear, singular document exists that explains Blake’s religious life and upbringing, so Schuchard researched and wrote this text as a “reconstruction of the lost religious history of the family of William Blake.” This area is rarely investigated, and considering how bizarre and complicated a picture Schuchard paints it’s not surprising that “sensible academic critics have cautiously refrained from taking the plunge” into this counter-religious culture. Continue reading
It’s an interesting time for popular culture and the occult. Although the weird and the supernatural have always played a part in pop fiction from as far back as the first novels, the wide dissemination of mass media in the last century or so has grown and mutated such tales drastically. Magically-tinged fantasies of all kinds have been enjoyed by literally billions of people. Occulture is now part of the mainstream, and this has had a feedback effect. Continue reading
Pagan Christmas: The Plants, Spirits, and Rituals at the Origins of Yuletide, by Christian Rätsch and Claudia Muller-Ebeling
Inner Traditions, 9781594770920, 213 pp, 2006
The subtitle of this book, “The Plants, Spirits, and Rituals at the Origins of Yuletide,” helps to explain why I wanted to review it. Far too often people focus of the most visible of Yuletide symbols (the tree, the presents, the mistletoe and the decorations) and ignore the myriad of other details which surround this time of year. So I felt drawn to investigate these background items.
The authors focus on the ethnobotany (the study of plants) associated with the season. I had read and reviewed an earlier book by them and knew that the research and writing of this book would be first rate as well. I was not disappointed in that respect, nor in any other. The book is profusely illustrated with beautiful drawings and photographs. Continue reading