Henrik Bogdan and Gordan Djurdjevic (editors). Occultism in a Global Perspective. Acumen Publishing, 2013.

Plenty has been written about occultism in modern Britain and America, but less about it in other parts of the world. Here is a collection of essays, mostly by professors of religious studies, looking at particular countries, including Italy, Turkey, and Colombia. There is also the phenomenon of ‘esoteric Hitlerism’, the promoters of which were generally not German. One surprise is the influence, often in far-flung places, of familiar names such as Éliphas Lévi, Madam Blavatsky, and in particular Aleister Crowley. Janez Trobentar has written the first, but probably not the last, biography of Crowley in Slovenian (2006).

In a Danish national census of 1906, a Copenhagen man named Carl William Hansen gave his religion as ‘Luciferian’, whilst his wife and children all answered ‘Lutheran’. Using the name Ben Kadosh (‘son of holiness’) he practiced alchemy and endeavoured to spread the cult of Satan/Lucifer (he used these names interchangeably, although some people have regarded them as quite distinct). Meanwhile, his wife ran a small dairy store from their house, which paid for the family upkeep.

The author of the chapter on Kadosh, Per Faxneld, observes that until now scholars have tended to focus on Anglo-Saxon Satanism, notably the Church of Satan of Anton LaVey. This is understandable, in that there is considerable documentation about that man and his organization, whereas not too much is known about Ben Kadosh. In the same years as the census, he issued a pamphlet whose title translates as The Dawn of a New Morning: The Return of the World’s Master Builder. This was written in the hope that it would lead to “the formation of a closed circle, almost in the shape of a new esoteric Order of Freemasons, which should be fully dedicated to a cult similar to that of the ancients.”

He featured in more than one novel, but there is no way of judging how reliably he was depicted. Hans Schefig, one of Denmark’s most famous authors, wrote that his esoteric rituals were “conducted in a attic room above the family’s dairy store, wildly swinging a little sword made out of cardboard and wearing a hat fashioned from an old margarine container, decorated with pentagrams and magical characters. His loud incantations sometimes disturb the customers who come to buy dairy products, and his wife tries to persuade him to calm himself.”

He maintained contact with esotericists elsewhere in Europe, so that by the time of a 1927 Who’s Who in Occultism, he could lay claim to a variety of titles, including Patriarch and Primas, Naassenic Gnostic Synode (Scandinavia); Grand Master General, Grand Orient of Denmark; General Delegate and Hon. Member, Società Alchemica Italiana; President, Kabbalistic Order (Denmark); Grand Master and General Delegate, Martinist Order; and so on. He also became the leader of the Ordo Templi Orientis in Denmark.. It is impossible to tell from this how many followers, if any, he had.

One problem with writing about secret societies is that, if they were truly secret, then no-one would know about them, or perhaps know little beyond the fact of their existence. Few people had heard of the Fraternitas Saturni of Germany until 1971, when a renegade member had some of their documents printed, including the lodge rules. This aroused public interest in the order, and inevitably provoked attacks from church representatives and tabloid journalists.

The Fraternitas Saturni was founded in Berlin in 1926, partly inspired by the writings of Aleister Crowley, though he had no authority over the organisation Their teachings run to thousands of pages, but it appears to have been a cult of Saturn, whom they identified with Lucifer, though unlike Ben Kadosh they considered the latter to be quite distinct from Satan. Their system was eclectic, incorporating witchcraft, Masonic symbolism, Kabbalah, and much more.

Though the author of the chapter on the Fraternitas Saturni. Hans Thomas Hakl, mentions that due to Crowley’s influence they practised sexual magic, based on the belief that intercourse is not just for pleasure or procreation, but can confer occult powers, he does not mention a document that was issued in English translation by Francis King, which specified appropriate astrological aspects under which to perform it, such as when Mars and the Moon are in square aspect, including the relevant copulatory positions. Of course, they were suppressed by the Nazis, but revived after the war and are still in existence.

In contrast, Samael Aun Weor (born Victor Manuel Gómez Rodríguez in Colombia in 1917), who in previous lives “had been an Egyptian priest, Julius Caesar, a member of a Tibetan order consisting of 201 monks who sustained mankind, and the equivalent of Jesus on the moon”, taught sexual alchemy in which the adept had to avoid emitting sperm, by intercourse or masturbation. Ejaculation, he maintained, was “a vice the Lucifers have taught us”, and leads to “the loss of internal faculties, illness, old age, degeneration of vital functions, loss of memory and even death”.

Rosaleen Norton (1917-1979) was born in New Zealand, and moved with her family to Australia at the age of seven. In later, life, “she maintained that she had been born a witch and was essentially self-taught.” This involved the worship, in particular, of Pan and Hecate. She first became famous, or rather notorious, for her paintings and drawings, which combined the supernatural with erotica, such as “naked women wrestling with reptilian elementals or flying on the backs of winged griffins”. These led to more than one prosecution for obscenity. This has been suggested to be hypocritical (Doreen Valiente remarked that her artwork “shocked the good citizens of Sydney, noted for their refinement and objection to crudity of any kind”), but Nevill Drury points out that, in the 1950s, the Australian prime minister was the “ultra-conservative” Sir Robert Menzies. Drury says little about European influences, but there were some, certainly from Gerald Gardner, with whom she corresponded, and whose term ‘athame’ for a ceremonial dagger she adopted.

Henrik Bogdan has a chapter on ‘The Reception of Occultism in India’, but it is unclear how much the Holy Order of Krishna actually had to do with Hinduism. Some of their writings were issued by the Yogi Publication Society, but this was based in Chicago, and it is possible that the Swami Pareswara Bikshu was actually an American lawyer named William Atkinson. The same publishers have also reprinted some of the works of, again, Aleister Crowley. In certain cases there has been mutual influence between east and west: some of the plays of W. B. Yeats, such as At the Hawk’s Well, were influenced by the dramas of Japan; and the dramas of Izumi Kyôka were influenced by Yeats.

Despite some unnecessary academic verbiage, this is a valuable set of studies of little known movements. -- Gareth J. Medway

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