Monday, December 7, 2009

Book Review - The Hermes Paradigm

The Hermes Paradigm Book 1: Foundational Principles
By Rubaphilos Salfluere
Salamander and Sons Publishing

I've been puzzling over this review since I finished the book. I've rewritten it several times to no avail. This is the last ditch effort to get it out of my head. I'll be splitting the review into two sections: What I liked, and What I didn't like.

What I liked:

The book itself is a very sturdy glue bound paperback. Good paper, elegant font, and no spelling or typeset errors that I could see. Properly taken care of, the pages will outlast the binding, and be in decent condition for several decades.

Though a small volume, it is very dense, and the author comes right out and says that it should be studied and not merely casually read. The book can be divided into roughly three sections that flow fairly seamlessly into each other: The Paradigm itself, History, and The Emerald Tablet. The book itself does not divide formally so, but goes from a broad focus, to a more refined as we move through.

The Paradigm section examines what is essentially the minimum view for Hermetics historically. It hits four basic principles, is well reasoned, and concise. There is a lot of valuable information in this section, and it reminds me much of what I wanted the Kybalion to be when I first tried to read it. (Side note: I still have not slugged my way through the Kybalion. I am sure there is a lot of lovely information in there, but to me it is a masterful sleep aid, and a test of willpower just to get through a few pages. )

The history lecton flows really smoothly out of the theory section, and traces the mythological orgins of Hermetic thought as best we know it, tracing it into modernity into two initiatory Paths: The Alchemical and The Magical. It's a fascinating read, and there are plenty of practical observations mixed through. It is the largest of the three sections, and really gave me an appreciation that Hermeticism is still around at all, given the collapse of several civilizations, and various pogroms both religious and scientific. Two of the greatest are the repeated burning and outright destruction of the Alexandrian Library, and what he terms as Modern Pop Occultism.

We then move into the figure(s) of Thoth, Hermes, and Hermes Tristmagistos, and of course into the realm of the Emerald Tablet. We first trace the Tablet's mythical history, and are given English translations of the two recorded oldest translations, and then into the author's reinterpretation, and commentary on the tablet from the perspective of the Alchemical Path. It's good stuff, though a bit over my head as I am more a Magician than an Alchemist. One of the coolest things for me was his in depth explanation of the elements and how they relate to each other, which makes Bardon's conception of them make much more sense.

What I didn't like:

You'd think with all of that good stuff, how could this bit be of any length at all? Well, honestly there is not a lot that I didn't like about this book, but the bits I didn't like I REALLY didn't like. The author is Old School, and I respect that. He studied with a student of Frater Alburtus, and I respect that. He has done numerous Alchemical experiments and concocted awesome results, and I respect THAT. But the tone of the book comes off as very haughty.

The author is very adamant about the pure teachings of Hermeticism, and how they come from the "Underground Stream" of Adepts and their students who become Adepts in a quiet and unassuming way. I dig that, but the language it is presented in is what bothers me. It really starts to sound like a dogmatic "One True Way" scenario after a while. I am giving the author the benefit of the doubt here, I don't think he meant it like that, though he may have. As an Alchemist he is very practical: There are techniques that work, and there are techniques that don't. Pure Hermetic Techniques work. Fin.

It is the same tone that leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I talk to reconstructionalists in the Pagan scene. "This is the way the ancients did it. Thus, if they didn't do it that way, it is wrong."

I have a very good friend and mentor who is a Runester. He, like many modern folk in Northern Pagan traditions also reads the Runes for divination. He's been told several times by more staunch reconstructionalists that "Runes were not traditionally used for divination, and as such can not, and should not be used so." Yet when he reads for people, he is accurate and insightful.

It is a lot like saying, "We will not use this useful thing because our ancestors did not use it thus."

He also draws hard lines on what is, and is not Hermeticism, and really seems to look down on most of what he calls Pop-Occultism, being defined thus: "That portion of the pure Hermetic tradition (that is, the undergrounds stream) which as violated the rule of Silence and slipped into the public arena. ... While it contains many fragments of the pure tradition, they are almost irreversibly confused with superstition, falsehoods, politics, and capitalism - rendering its efforts almost completely fruitless."

Going further, I do agree that most modern occultism is not strictly Hermetic, though it may be derived from an interpretation of one or more Hermetics sources. Hermeticism really does focus on initiation, and most modern occult blooms focus on the fact that most people would rather have a new car, or get some action in the sack then achieve Illumination.

Also the division of humanity into Homo Vulgaris, and Homo Illuminatus left a bad taste. Personally I think it sets up a false division, and down plays the value of those vast majority that are unilluminated. I side with Denning and Phillips on this: One should see others not just as they are now, but as they have the potential to be.

Overall I really liked the book. I think it is valuable, and if you are a Hermeticist, and are practicing, or plan on practicing Alchemy, it is well worth the cover price.

In addition, the author also takes on a limited number of students to train in traditional Hermetic Alchemy, both internal and lab. He does this gratis, which, when you consider what a time eating vacuum trying to teach one person can be, trying to teach several is a big dose of charity, and one can even say masochism on his part. The man knows his stuff, and I am sure would make a fantastic teacher. From his writing style, I have little doubt that he would take any one's laxity or obstinacy for very long.

The best analogy for The Hermes Paradigm Book One that I can think of is like sitting down to my favorite meal, at an artfully decorated table, to find that it is spiced incorrectly for my palate.


Rufus Opus said...

Definitely sounds like something I need to read. I agree with you about seeing people as they can become, though I suspect it's all that "compassion" shit seeping in from the Eastern influence. ;)

Suecae Sounds said...

I especially like this statement of yours:

"It is a lot like saying, "We will not use this useful thing because our ancestors did not use it thus." "

My own thought; or let's be honest - outside impression of some traditionalists in the hermetics camp: is that they should do well to not fall into the trap of elitism. It is very tempting to view your own small tradition as an uncorrupted channel of eternal truth. But it becomes nothing short of sectarian if taken to the extreme.

the doubleman said...

i guess for some it is a bit of 'here we go again'. the theories here have been developed over a number of years, from the old days of the 'green lion' publication till now. the 'haughty dismissal' of pop occultism is a hallmark of the space and the sense of awe and seriousness he wants to create. while is kinda interesting at first, then you do the guy's exercises and think 'hang on, i recognize this one' and you check and find whole sequences are lifted from BOTA and FLO lessons , that is, the very 'pop occult' the writer claims to despise. a bit infuriating.

i don't have a doubt hes a good guy, but he needs to get beyond the psycho-babble power trip if he's going to get into the writing racket.

my other beef is his insistence on tradition and the sanctity of the master-student relationship when he freely uses the internet to send material out there that is said to be dangerous outside of the confines of that type of relatonship. which is it?

would a serious practitioner who respected his tradition and who really felt his stuff was 'dangerous' take so many students halfway along his path and then just drop them all? there are questions here.