book review: hermes, guide of souls by karl kerenyi

Hermes is connected with the fourth day of the month and the number four, in general. July 4th is a very special day for the West, as it represents the crowning achievement of the Enlightenment and Western thought; the founding of The United States of America. Ideas of democracy have always been connected to the culture of Greece, and the marks of that ancient culture are all over the place in the U.S.A., from the eagle of Zeus atop our flag, the neoclassical architecture of Capitol Hill, and to the murals of Greek and Egyptian ideas in the Library of Congress. 

Chemistry, in the Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, by Walter Shirlaw, 1898

I’ve been searching for second year curriculum books in anticipation of our membership launch this coming August, which will lead into first year material in March of 2018 for the foundational elements leading up to Mutational Alchemy material which will be presented in the third year. (Yes, it is that involved.) So, naturally I went out and acquired every book on Hermes possible. It’s so difficult finding the perfect book for the job, in any branch of the Hermetic arts.
       Few books on Hermes himself have been quite as lovely and thoughtfully written as Karl Kerenyi’s Hermes, Guide of Souls. Even though it goes over common material like the Odyssey, Kerenyi reveals himself as a crack researcher who notices every little detail Homer instilled in his masterpiece, and manages to reveal Hermes in a way that few other books are able to. Many, like The Egyptian Hermes by Garth Fowden, are very insightful, yet they miss the essence of Hermes as he interests Hermetic Alchemists. 

Instead of focusing on the obvious, Kerenyi “hacks away the inessentials” to reveal the true Hermes, even touching on the mysterious and sinister titanesque nature of the Prince of Thieves, in his thirst for flesh and blood and devotes an entire chapter to his connection to the night.
   It’s definitely an interesting, worthwhile read, and while I would like to say it is the *best* book on Hermes (who has been experiencing a spike in popularity on Reddit’s Occult sub) I haven’t yet passed through 50% of the Hermes books I’ve been reviewing.  It is much less dry than Garth Fowden’s “The Egyptian Hermes” which is an incredible window into the ancient world of Graeco-Egyptian life and packed with useful information, but might leave many readers yawning throughout some of the more technical bits.
      That being said, both books are worth a peak if you love Hermes already. I’m not sure it’s for every pagan and occultists out there, but it is at least both represent scholarly, careful work.  
      Kerenyi explores the works of many other writers such as the classical philologist Walter Friedrich Otto, who influenced him deeply:

Danger lurks everywhere. Out of the dark
jaws of the night which gape beside the
traveler, any moment a robber may emerge
without warning, or some eerie terror, or the
uneasy ghost of a dead man–who knows what may 
once have happened at that very spot? Perhaps
mischievous apparitions of the fog seek to 
entice him from the right path into the desert
where horror dwells, where wanton witches dance
their rounds which no man ever leaves alive.
Who can protect him, guide him aright, give
him good counsel? The spirit of Night itself,
the genius of its kindliness, its enchantment,
its resourcefulness, and its profound wisdom.
She is indeed the mother of all mystery. The
weary she wraps in slumber, delivers from care,
and she causes dreams to play about their souls.
Her protection is enjoyed by the unhappy and 
persecuted as well as by the cunning, whom
her ambivalent shadows offer a thousand 
devices and contrivances. With her veil she
also shields lovers, and her darkness keeps
ward over all caresses, all charms hidden and
revealed. Music is the true language of her
mystery–the enchanting voice which sounds for
eyes that are closed and in which heaven and
earth, the near and the far, man and nature,
present and past, appear to make themselves

But the darkness of night which so sweetly
invited to slumber also bestows new vigilance
and illumination upon the spirit. It makes
it more perceptive, more acute, more enter-
prising. Knowledge flares up, or descends like
a shooting star-rare, precious, even magical

And so night, which can terrify the solitary
man and lead him astray, can also be his friend,
his helper, his counselor.

– Otto, The Homeric Gods

Kerenyi himself was a friend of Carl Jung and a famed mythographer and classicist. The book is 149 pages and was first published in Switzerland in 1944 in the German language. 

Featured Image: The Souls on the Banks of the Acheron by Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl, 1898

mutational alchemy essentials 001

  *Author’s Note* *All posts by m1thr0s at this site are amended articles extracted from a much bigger work-in-progress that will be defining Mutational Alchemy in all of its diverse principles and applications.  Since there is a great deal to this topic which is many months away from completion, (Late 2018) certain of its tenets deemed as standalone topics are being allowed to run ahead of the finished book. No responsible theoretician would ever imagine himself to be the only one pioneering important new insights all by himself so that where certain breakthroughs strike me as vital to the overall discussion at hand, these will occasionally find themselves posted as independent articles. This should serve several purposes at once, creating interest in the larger work on the one hand while facilitating a sense of fellowship with other pioneers at the same time.

Mutational Alchemy Essentials 001

In the Beginning…

It has finally dawned on me that a lot of people just don’t have a clue what the hell I am going on about with all this Mutational Alchemy rhetoric or why it might make any difference to anybody else. In part this is due to the fact that I started out posting things I knew would be of some interest to people I have already been in communication with for a number of years and are already themselves familiar with a good many of the essentials. But this doesn’t help anybody else and when I find that even people who have themselves been involved in one or another practices for many years haven’t a clue what I am going on about…this clearly signals a serious communication problem. So I am going to attempt to examine Mutational Alchemy from the very beginning and try to establish both what it is and why it might make any difference to others. This will actually be a little difficult for me since I am myself so steeped in many of these ideas and practices that it can be nearly impossible to remember all the steps that might have led me to the present. Nevertheless, if this is going to do anybody any good, I have to try.

Sorting Out a Few Key Terms

Anyone who has actually attempted to pour over my posts has probably already realized that I bounce around between a lot of terms you may have a very difficult time tracking down via Google. Believe it or not, there really is a powerful thread of continuity running through all of this, but in order to understand what that is, you have to first understand what it is that I do best and where the vast majority of my personal emphasis has been placed throughout my own esoteric practise. Rather than just lay out a “glossary of terms” as was suggested by one member, I am going to try to initiate this ground-up discussion and stop at intervals to clarify those terms I am introducing for the first time. To begin with, everything I discuss at any time revolves around the so-called Body of Light and its mastery. That is my whole focus in this immediate incarnation. Before and After everything else I may ally myself with, I am first and foremost a Body of Light Technician. It is the thing I have been studying since I was a teenager (I am 53 years old at this writing) and it is the backbone of every magickal/alchemical discussion I engage. Whether I am discussing Abrahadabra or the Tetractys or the TwinStar or the Lo Shu Diagram or the Tai Hsuan Ching or even Ningishzidda and perhaps 100 or more other things you have rarely heard of, it all comes back to the Body of Light and its mastery. That is where my passion lies and that is what I am always going on about in one form or another. So forget all these other terms for a moment…we will return to them in due course. For the moment I want to just discuss the Body of Light itself and try to extrapolate the core assumptions underscoring this language. Getting straight on this will determine whether or not any of the rest of this stuff is of any real use to you. If you are not onboard with the Body of Light as a matter of utmost importance, nothing else I can ever say will ever matter much anyway, since, believe it or not, that’s actually all I ever really talk about.

The Body of Light

The *Body of Light*is a generic term pertaining to the notion of an *etheric* body (and bodies) that is thought to exist in tangent to the physical body itself. Similar in concept to the rings of a rainbow, the idea is that the physical body, as we know it, is actually only the lowest rung in a lattice network of bodies descending from the Highest (subtlest) to the Lowest (coursest). Various *models* of this extended anatomical network of bodies have been asserted over time, some asserting as few as 3, others as many as 7 or more grand divisions within this overall Body of Light framework. At the time of this writing, if you run a search on Wikipedia on the Body of Light you will come upon a kind of misinformation that has done enormous damage to the correct understanding (and productive discussion) of the Body of Light as it has been asserted since the dawn of history by many different cultures in many different ways. While it is true that Thelema has its own rendition(s) of this ancient metaphysical thesis, any knowledgable Thelemite will be able to tell you that this is drawn primarily from Golden Dawn teachings, which themselves are largely drawn from traditional and hermetic qabbalah sources. There is in fact no such thing as a uniquely Thelemic Body of Light standard (though there is, in fact, a new model to be weighed, which I will come to presently). A more responsible contemporary treatise on the Body of Light in western magickal tradition can be found in Mark Stavish’s condensed essay The Body of Light in the Western Esoteric Tradition It should be noted that references to Chi Kung (see: Qigong), a traditional Body of Light discipline endemic to Chinese Alchemy, do not strictly apply to the model being presented in Mutational Alchemy. Chi Kung works with Chi energy which would typically be seated within the solar plexus region and is developed and directed at will by the experienced practitioner through a complex system of breathing and visualization excercises. There is nothing inherently wrong or invalid with this practise…it is simply not the same model of light-energy that we are dealing with in Abrahadabra/Mutational Alchemy. The closest historical parallel I have been able to find to the Mutational Alchemy system is the Merkabah , or “Chariot of Soul”, from Qabbalistic literature, of which very little has been written outlining its mastery. While certain similarities do exist between traditional Chi and Kundalini practices and the principles outlined in Mutational Alchemy, the techniques, properties and overall objectives are quite different. In Abrahadabra we are attempting to energize and gradually phase into the *StarBody* itself, as depicted in the Abrahadabra Grid, of which the Tree of Life is viewed as a physiological subdomain, or mathematical subset. We base our proof of this *StarBody* system…first upon the geometry of Abrahadabra itself and finally upon the actual results we obtain through working with elemental energy fields directly. It is thus very important to scrutinize these maps very closely, as this will be our starting point in developing the visualization disciplines necessary to realize any actual physical results. I should also point out that you are going to be operating without much of any *safety net* in the Abrahadabra/Mutational Alchemy system, simply because no *traditional* precedent is known to exist for this immediate model of reality. One’s approach has to be based upon what is internallycoherent and logically and intuitively correct, since there are no other conventional *guides* to lean upon. This is a bold new territory for pioneering spirits who can trust to their own best judgments to lead them.

Historical Overview

It is virtually impossible to determine where and when the whole concept of a Body of Light began. Ethnobotanists would typically argue that it has its origins in Shamanic traditions where the method of accessing this higher anatomical network would have involved injesting psychotropic concoctions of one sort or another and going into deep trance states where the ability to step into these higher body systems might then be directly experienced. Since there are virtually no written records to substantiate this claim, we have only the iconographic evidence of cultural art expressions to guide us here. What we do know is that very specific reference to the Body of Light anatomical structure can be dated as far back as the Vedas of ancient India, where we come to the notion of The Five Koshas. The Five Koshas, or “sheaths”, amount to rings of subtle pranic force (see also: the Vayus, or 5 Winds) surrounding the Atman, or “True Self” which resides at their core. It is vitally important for us to grasp that these “layers” as defined in the Vedas are not separate from each other…these are not separate bodies per se…but rather degrees of subtlety within the body as a whole. To this day, the Five Koshas amount to a central Yogic doctrine around which the Eight Limbs of Yoga have been developed as a means to purifying and fortifying mind & body so as to ultimately be able to access all of these “sheathes” at will. At approximately the same time as the Vedas are being compiled in India, in the far east we see the emergence of a Dynastic China which is ushered in with a comprehensive model of universal reality in the form of the I Ching. The I Ching is typically touted as an *Oracle*, used for the purpose of divining Fate for good or ill, but it is actually a great deal more than this. The I Ching is a complete Cosmogony, defining Earth, Man and Heaven in one Grand Unified logic, or physics. While it would not, on its face, appear to be an actual model of the Body of Light, we know that around this physics the entirety of Yin-Yang Medicine sprang into being along with its doctrine of Chi. We find very ancient mappings of Cosm outlining whole universal continuum and Man’s place in relation to this, so that the sum of all its parts and all of its extensions, does in fact give us a model of *man-made-perfect*, which is, at its heart, what the Body of Light is really all about. The differences between the Indian and the Chinese approaches are very interesting to observe, since what we find is that the Ayurvedic (East-Indian) model is emphasizing Microcosm where the Chinese system is actually more focused on Macrocosm. Nevertheless both systems set immediately about to integrate the physical body itself, so that while the Ayurvedic system evolves into the Chakras, identifying energy along the spine, the Chinese system evolves into the Meridians and is plotting Chi pathways throughout the body…including higher states of energy/consciousness not ordinarily accessable without the advent of disciplined concentration. Exactly where and when Western Civilization joins in with this discussion is a little hard to track with a perfect certainty. We find evidences of Trees of Life dating all the way to Mesopotamia but Body of Light doctrines have almost universally been “hidden” from the profane…these were were secret teachings imparted to the initiated only and so it is difficult to know for certain just how much resides within the ancient Greek or the Persian or Hebrew cultures for instance. What has filtered down to us more-or-less intact has largely come by way of the Qabbalistic Tree of Life and its tenets, yet we know that parallels do exist in the Druidic, the Nordic and other places across the globe. Similar to the Chinese system in many respects, the Qabbalistic Tree of Life is principally focused on Macrocosm. The Tree of Life is not really charting energy along the spine so much as it is attempting to map out the relationship of Universe to Man. Even so, in lieue of the Hermetic Alchemical axiom “As Above – So Below” – “As Within – So Without”, what we discover is that anything which does a good job of charting Macrocosm will inevitably find its reciprocal compliment in Microcosm as well, and vice-versa. While the Tree of Life is not intentionally tracking the “Gunas” for instance, nevertheless the Gunas are clearly represented in the 3 Pillars themselves. Because Man is still the measure by which Universe is being defined, what corresponds to Macrocosm has an immediate relevance to Microcosm also.

Underscoring Assumptions

The careful reader may have already observed that in some respects we can assert that what has come to be called The Body of Light might also be called “The Mind”. And indeed, if we follow Carl Jung’s lead in this respect, then just about anything that attempts to define archetypal relationships of any kind has something to do with this discussion. For the Hermetic Alchemist, Mind & Matter are really all about the same thing…all made from the same “stuff”…just vibrating at different frequencies. Why do we assign “bodies” to archetypes at all? Why is it so important to us that Gods have certain forms and certain powers and so on? The mind classifies things according to “kind” and we are always the measuring rod against which our knowledge is measured. Even if we break parts of this habit, we will almost certainly never be rid of it completely. Form speaks to Function and to understand a things’ Form is to understand its Value. One of the core assumptions surrounding Body of Light literature is the idea that human beings are fundamentally a house divided. It is universally asserted that what has occured is that consciousness has descended from a primal Unity into a condition of Duality and is now confronted with the difficulty of regaining this lost equilibrium. Exactly why this may have occurred is subject to different points of view, some contending that this has to do with a powerful pull towards individuality, others that it is simply the way consciousness acquires new experience, still others that “intelligences”, like stars, are formed in a womb-like condition but must pass through this whole process to become fully matured and so on. I do not speculate on the reasons so much myself but I am reasonably convinced of the Unity/Duality scenario in general. Work that we do on the Body of Light is intended to restore this Unity. When you hear talk of a Supreme Attainment, or the Great Liberation, or the Great Work in Completion etc, we are always talking about the idea of having established…or re-established…this original Unity, with the possible exception that having carved it out in adversity, it should not be so easily lost again. Nearly all mystical and/or magickal doctrines teach that Mind is the key to Matter, so we need to weigh that in as one of the core assumptions around which Body of Light work is defined. If we did not think that deliberately focusing our Minds in certain ways could amount to significant changes in terms of Matter itself, there would be little point left to any kind of meditation practice at all. It is important to periodically revisit this core assumption to reassess everything it implies. The primary tools of all visualization work are Light and Sound, and why is this? Because Light and Sound are the two most powerful tools the Mind has at its immediate disposal. Beyond this, we actually do know that all gradations…all conditions of matter…are Light/Sound waves vibrating at varying rates and frequencies. What is sometimes difficult to wrap our brains around is that the faculty of Thought itself may ultimately be all that is required to shape or reshape any condition of Matter. Concurrent to this theme of Thought being the key to Matter is the notion of Right Thinking itself. This is a very important core assumption I want to drive home from the start, because, again, it is an area that has suffered a great deal of damage over time. From the time of the Vedas it has always been maintained that Right Thinking combined with Right Action points the way to Right Destiny itself. But what is “Right Thinking” when the matter turns to things highly esoteric? Too many times we are spoon-fed explanations and instructions as to how we should proceed that make no natural sense to us, yet we are often told that this is not important…that we can only come to understand these things by doing them without question. While there may be some justification for this in limited doses, the real problem with perpetrating this kind of instruction is that you are not ultimately producing free-thinking individuals who have sorted out their most sensitive personal practices for themselves. In the end you wind up with people who know how to go through the motions but have no real idea what they might mean, since they were never encouraged to ask what they might mean to begin with. You cannot achieve Right Thinking if you do not allow for a full measure of Skepticism and Doubt from the outset. Here in the context of Abrahadabra/Mutational Alchemy, “Right Thinking” means exactly what it should mean…it means asking and answering all the hard questions until you have very clear and compelling reasons to take “Right Action”… This could go on but for the time being my objective is to lay down a few essentials pertaining to the Body of Light itself, the history of it, and its most central core assumptions. For the most part I think I have fairly well done that. I will return in the next segment and begin looking at why Abrahadabra might be anything particularly special… m1thr0s