The Mystery Traditions: Secret Symbols and Sacred Art, by James Wasserman
Destiny Books, 1594770883, 147 pp., 2005
This profusely illustrated volume gathers together a dazzling variety of imagery. These images do far more to illustrate the Western Mystery Traditions than any text could. That is not to say that this book does not contain written descriptions. It does. But the images, including several sets of Major Arcana of Tarot decks, do a much expanded job.
It contains illustrations in a variety of topics – Astrology and Cosmology, Kabbalah and the Tree of Life, Initiation, Magick and the Gods, Secret Societies (a new addition to this revised volume), Sexuality, Alchemy, Tarot, and Symbolist and Visionary Art. These images have almost all been printed before, but this assemblage is, in my experience, unique.
The majority of the images are presented in colour – some of them quite stunning. On top of everything else this book represents a gathering together in one place of images, any one of which can easily serve as a focus for meditation.
Each chapter includes a short introduction (four pages or less) of the material contained within it. And each image is properly placed within its time period, even though these images surely transcend any such limitations.
It is difficult to find words to describe this work. The images are gathered from so many times and locations; the writing of the introductory section of each chapter is so succinct; and the overall impression is so overwhelming that it should be approached, I feel, in small doses. To attempt to comprehend it in one or two sittings does a disservice to the work, and to yourself.
Allow the images in this book to work their magick on you. Permit them to stimulate new thoughts and inspire changes both in how you perceive yourself and the wider world. The benefits you reap will, most likely, be beyond your current comprehension.
This is one of the most visually stunning works I have seen in a very long time. I would have expected a much higher price for the quality, or a much lower quality based on the price. The combination of excellent quality and reasonable price was a very pleasant surprise. If you are interested in symbolic representations of mystical themes, this book belongs in your library. It is a book to be savoured and enjoyed on an on-going basis.
Secret Societies of the Middle Ages: The Assassins, the Templars & the Secret Tribunals of Westphalia, by Thomas Keightley, introduction by James Wasserman
Red Wheel/Weiser, 1578633346, 432 pp., 2005
First published in 1837 by Thomas Keightley (1789-1872) – and anonymously at that – this book represents one of the earliest working in the English language to examine both the Assassins and the Knights Templar; their foundations and missions; as well as their interactions with their larger societies. With a short introduction by James Wasserman, himself an author on the same topic, this book offers insight into a little understood time in the history of relationships between the Muslim and Christian worlds. This seems especially relevant in today’s post-September 11th world.
As a result of the “War on Terrorism” in the U.S. we have been exposed to a great deal of propaganda regarding Islam. One consequence of that exposure may have a detriment to those reading this book. Over the past 168 years spellings of words coming out of that region have changed. Thus the author refers to Musulmans (Muslims) of the Soonee (Sunni) and Sheah (Shi’ite) branches, and makes reference to mosks (mosques) and the Kalif (caliph). It takes some time to get used to these archaic spellings, but if you persist it becomes easier.
His portrayal in the first part of the book, of the Assassins, is one of the earliest in the English language. It is, for the most part, an apparently even-handed (if not particularly sympathetic) exposition of the known and suspected facts regarding this organization over the course of its existence.
The author displays an anti-Catholic bias during the treatment of the Knights Templar. His portrayal of the Knights is reasonably sympathetic, but his disdain for the Roman Catholic Church, its religious orders (which opposed the organization of the Knights Templar), and the Papacy in particular clearly shows his attitude.
Both of these organizations have been explored in far greater detail during the intervening years, but this book broke important ground at the time it was published. The third organization dealt with in this book (the Secret Tribunals of Westphalia) was completely known to me before I read this book. Although the closest to the current era, it is the least well documented, and receives less space.
Considering the title of the book (Secret Societies of the Middle Ages) I can understand the inclusion of all of these groups, although on other grounds (the sheer secular basis) the Secret Tribunals seems a bit out of place. There were no secret doctrines involved in the Tribunals, although their membership and procedures were hidden from the common man.
I’m not sure what I was expecting before actually opening the covers of this book, but I found myself being pleasantly educated. The writing was not entertaining, but it was easy to comprehend. In spite of the frequency of foreign names (especially in the section dealing with the Assassins) every effort has been made to place them in easily understood formats.
If you are interested in any of these three organizations (and interest in the Templars seems to be fairly constant), this is an excellent introductory work. You will undoubtedly want to pursue further researches but, unless you have access to older books in German and French, this book is the earliest available resource. It is definitely a worthwhile addition to your library