Book review, excerpt & giveaway: Occult Paris: The Lost Magic of the Belle Epoque, by Tobias Churton

occult-paris-coverTobias Churton

on Tour December 15-21 with

Occult Paris:
The Lost Magic of the Belle Époque

(nonfiction – history – occult)
Release date: October 30, 2016
at Inner Traditions • Bear & Company
ISBN: 978-1620555453 – 528 pages

 

SYNOPSIS

Historian Tobias Churton explores the magical, artistic, and intellectual world of the Belle Époque Paris. He brings into full perspective the personalities, and forces that made Paris a global magnet and which allowed later cultural movements, such as the “psychedelic 60s,” to rise from the ashes of post-war Europe.
EXCERPT – Chapter Three
Meetings with Remarkable Men
We can see that symbolic powers, occult powers, and poetic powers emerge from the same source, the same depths.Gaston Bachelard, Preface to Richard Knowles’s Victor-Émile Michelet, Poète ÉsotériqueDuring the 1960s and 70s, British historian Dame Frances Yates astonished and perplexed the community of historical scholarship by her reasoned advocacy of the view that a highly significant factor in promoting the genesis of modern science and its representative the “scientist” was the Renaissance Hermetic movement’s veneration for the Magus. The Magus is concerned with extending his powers over all aspects of creation, even unto immaterial realms. In analyzing the life of Dominican friar Giordano Bruno in particular (Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, 1964), Yates demonstrated how the opposition of the Catholic Inquisition created the idea of Bruno as a “martyr to science”–he was burned at the stake in Rome in 1600 as an impenitent heretic–when his actual views were regarded in the main as superstitious claptrap by many 19th-and 20th-century scientists operating on “Newtonian” lines. Rekindled in Florence after 1460, Yates declared the gnostic “Hermetic Tradition” stimulated the rediscovery of Man as a free-willed Operator in the universe, a co-creator with the divine, to whom no secret need remain hid. [. . .] Thus “occult philosophy” was not in fact “hidden philosophy”–the deliberate cultivation of esoteric obscurity–but revealed what had formerly been hidden to the eyes of the fearful and the ignorant; in another word, science, but science with esoteric and spiritual balls: Gnostic science was the vehicle of revelation.

What is truly fascinating about developments in Paris in the 1880s and ’90s is that at the very time when many scientists had reached an apogee of materialist certainty verging on hubris–feeling themselves and their experimental methods utterly alien to the figure of the Mage who “dreamed but did not get real results”–yet at that very moment we find the Magus’s position as the desirable ideal and archetype being assumed not as the ideation of the scientist, but as the apotheosis of the ARTIST. The aim? That Art trump Science. New men will embrace the new religion, universal, already hidden in spiritual symbols, which, while the traditions and cultures around them might differ superficially, exist as one in essence.

Esotericism insists there is correspondence between all things. One thing opens a door to another: all rooms are connected. The new religion was at home in the Temple, whether of ancient Egypt, the Panthéon in modern Paris, or the contemplative mind in its study, or with like-minded friends. [. . .] In this religion, the Magus and prophet is not the scientist who limits the universe to measure it, but the Artist who seeks the infinite, the one who accepts the “open secret” of the universe as mystery. The Artist becomes one who reveals the hidden truth, not of matter itself, but of Man and the determinative occult world behind nature. Hail the Artist as custodian of spiritual being, of idealization, of beauty, of essential truth!

The dizzy heights of this realization were given verbal form in sweeping style by Bailly bookshop habitué Joséphin Péladan: “There is no reality other than God. There is no Truth other than God. There is no Beauty other than God.”3 Péladan deduced that the greatest art had necessarily been generated for the Catholic Church and the time had come for the Church to realize that the true hierophant of the mysteries was the Artist, the Magus come to the cradle of the Lord with gifts. [. . .] He was sacrificer and bridge-builder between the invisible and the visible, between this world and the world to come: the master of the ikon and of memory. The Artist’s business was with the ideal and the spiritual, not with reproducing the visual plane of nature like an ape. Paraphrasing Hermes Trismegistus, Péladan concluded: “Artist, you are Magus: Art is the great miracle.” The materialist scientist will only take you further into the endless darkness of matter, progressively enslaving the spirit to rational categories and destroying the divine humanity. The Magus, of whom Leonardo was a shining exemplar, combined search into the quantitative visible world with a no less penetrating search into the invisible and symbolic world, the infinite worlds, the boundless worlds of imagination, not to be confused with merely external fantasies as in the vulgar notion of “surrealism” or visual whimsicality. He was a man of imagination and his genius transcended his time, perhaps time itself.

So we see the figure of the Hermetic Magus return, and his gift was to justify the position of the artist, to secure him at the heights. [. . .] Hermetism made exalted sense of the Artist and his peculiar life and vocation. It thus became desirable for the new artist, who, like Redon, found the “ceiling” of the Impressionists too low for comfort to explore occult traditions, to partake more fully in the insights of the condemned gnosis. For this purpose, the L’Art Indépendant shop in the Rue de la Chaussée d’Antin and the Librairie du Merveilleux in the Rue de Trévise became essential calling points. In those oases of the ideal freedom, the movement could take its store of inspiration while sharing thoughts and carrying them out into the artists’ apartments, studios, informal salons, and café meetings. Now joined, Symbolism and Occultism shared mutual waves that would rise into an aesthetic flood, rolling through the streets of Paris in an attempt to sweep away the barricades of materialism, to oppose the Barbarians at home and abroad with unearthly Beauty and the power of the Spirit. After all the historic, failed revolutions that promoted what was perceived to be Paris’s decline into decadence, a spiritual revolution was afoot. Its weapon: ART, perceived as the exercise of the “High Science,” that is to say, Hermetic magic.

“Occult Paris by Tobias Churton © 2016 Inner Traditions. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International. www.InnerTraditions.com
MY REVIEW
I really had no idea what to expect with this book, but what I didn’t expect was to be overwhelmed with names and places and events, basically being plunged headfirst into Symbolism, Decadence, Impressionism, and Hermetic philosophers… among others. I’ll be honest and say that this book took me a long time to read, and I still do not feel entirely certain of my knowledge of its contents. I rather feel like I should have read a Wikipedia (or other) primer of the cultural movements referenced, and especially of the men mentioned.
There were a great many mentioned, but I still do not have any real idea as to why/how the various persons noted became Symbolists, or Martinists, or Theosophists (etc).  What was the underlying motivation? There is a great deal of information in this book, and for someone better versed, I have no doubt that it would be a gold mine and inspiration, compelling and intense. I’m afraid I’m not that person, or at least not yet, not without learning an awful lot more first.
I am somewhat intrigued, however, and I am wondering about the role of women in these movements, aside from being ‘feminine’ inspirations, or symbols of wisdom, like Sophia. The art in the book often shows women, but they appear to be objects or symbols rather than real people. I suppose it would be a question to put to Churton himself, whether or not any women participated in these movements, and if there were any known more generally.
A note on the book itself: the hardback is a handsome edition, high quality, and has very good colour photographs in an insert. Definitely one for display on the shelf, if that’s your thing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

occult-paris-tobias-churton

Tobias Churton
is Britain’s leading scholar
of Western Esotericism,
a world authority on Gnosticism,
Hermeticism, and Rosicrucianism.
An Honorary Fellow of Exeter University,
where he is a faculty lecturer,
he holds a master’s degree in Theology
from Brasenose College, Oxford,
and is the author of many books,
including Gnostic Philosophy and
Aleister Crowley: The Beast in Berlin.
He lives in England.

Visit his website.

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Book review, excerpt & giveaway: Purged By Fire, by Diane Bonavist

purged-by-fireDiane Bonavist

on Tour
December 1-14
with
Purged by Fire:
Heresy of the Cathars

(historical fiction)
Release date: July 29, 2016
at Bagwyn Books
ISBN: 978-0-86698-810-0
274 pages

SYNOPSIS

In the thirteenth-century, a unique civilization flourished in the region that is now Southwestern France. The tolerant rulers of this realm embraced the Cathar faith which kept the simple teachings of the early followers of Christ, and rejected the venality of the Catholic Church.

To destroy the heretical faith, the pope declared a holy war. With the infamous words “Kill them all, God will recognize his own,” the crusade against Christendom began. For two decades, these wars decimated the old regions of the Languedoc and the troubadour culture. But when they still failed to destroy the heretical faith, the papacy gave special powers of inquisition to Dominican monks. Their mission was to root out heretics, compel confessions, and burn the unrepentant at the stake.
Purged by Fire tells the intertwining stories of three people enmeshed in the treachery of the Inquisition. Isarn Benet believes he has survived the wars by accepting the pope’s will and the French rule, until Marsal, the child he once rescued, arrives on his doorstep, forcing him to question every conciliation he has ever made. Marsal has lost everything to the Inquisition. Raised to always turn the other cheek, now she wants back what the Catholic Church has stolen, and she will aid anyone who helps her do so, even outlaws and rebels. Isarn’s son Chrétien can barely remember his life as a soldier and troubadour, the time before he knew and loved Marsal. Condemned and hunted by the Catholic Church, the two escape to the mountain fortress of Montségur.
Here, as the forces of the Inquisition lay siege to their place of refuge, they must make one final choice—between life and love or death and faith!
EXCERPT
“The Inquisitor is close at hand.” Chrétien stopped to catch his breath after ducking inside. “He’s walking the streets preaching as he goes.”
We all got ale and filed upstairs.
“The empty streets and shuttered windows remind me of when I was in Paris,” Martin said, as we crowded around the only window in the gallery. “The city was in the grip of illness— the devil’s influence they call it—and everyone stayed locked indoors.”
“Here he is,” cried Chrétien, peering down at the street.
I would never have recognized William Arnald. He was only five years older than I, yet he walked like he was Methuselah, slowly, slightly bent, as if under the burden of our sins. Behind him an acolyte followed ringing a large bell. About five paces further back were three men with papal heraldry on their armbands, swords at their belts, and long shields held straight up at their sides. When Arnald reached the tavern, he stopped. Almost in unison, the four of us drew back from the window.
“He knows we’re here,” said Chrétien mockingly but in a whisper. “The man must be omniscient.”
There was some snickering among us, but really it was too uncanny for comfort. I looked down at the tonsured head and half-expected it to snap back and his eyes to nail us with his gaze.
William had not inherited the Benet height. He was a small man. My scant memories of him did not include anything imposing in either his manner or his speech. So that day, when he began to preach, I was taken aback by the way his voice filled the street, the voice of a giant, a man made larger than us all by authority and conviction.
He told us that there were many sinners among us and everyone must search his soul. If we so much as broke bread with an enemy of the church, then we became like that heretic. He promised light penance to those who came forward and voluntarily confessed their errors. But woe, woe, woe —he said it three times—to those who did not come forward and were then shown, by the accusation of others, to be heretics or fraternizers with heretics. For those, the punishment would be dire and swift.
MY REVIEW
Reading historical fiction is always such a nice change, being able to be taken back into the past, into a time period that I may or may not know much about. In the case of the Cathars, I knew very little, beyond a vague understanding that they were persecuted for their faith.
I was immediately pulled into the story in the first pages, and it was one I only put down reluctantly (since chores still have to be done). I was intrigued by Isarn Benet’s role in the story, and how he connected to all the others, and then by Marsal, the baby he’d saved. Combined with these interesting characters, the increasing tension (and one might say, doom) with the religious fervour and beliefs encouraging discrimination and cruelty, made for a fantastic read. I wanted to see Marsal succeed and be happy; wanted to see Isarn impart the secrets he needed to; and wanted to find out what happened between Chretien and Marsal.
I felt immersed in the world Ms Bonavist created. I’m hoping that she will write more historical fiction, whether about Cathars or others.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

purged-by-fire-diane-bonavist

Diane Bonavist’s fiction
has appeared in Tiferet Journal,
The Milo Review, Fable Online,
and The RavensPerch.
She is a former Editor in chief of Tiferet Journal.

Her other novels are Daughters of Nyx,
a mystery of ancient Greece and Waters and the Wild,
a multi-generational story set in the Hudson River Valley,
both to be published in 2017.

Visit her website. Follow her on Facebook

Subscribe to her newsletter

Buy the book: on Amazon

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.

Enter here

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[just follow the directions on the entry-form]

Global giveaway – international:
5 winners will receive a kindle/mobi copy of this book

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Midnight at the Orpheus is #3 in Best Bisexual Fiction at the Rainbow Awards!

MidnightAtTheOrpheus

#1 was Tal Bauer’s romantic suspense novel “Enemies of the State”, and #2 was ARcher Kay Leah’s sci-fi/futuristic novel “For the Clan”. My book was #3 :)

Check out Midnight at the Orpheus at Bold Strokes Books, Amazon, BN.com, or your local bookseller!

Chicago, the Roaring Twenties. Cecilia Mills is new to town and struggling to survive. Her world is turned upside down when she falls for gangster Franky Greco’s moll Nell Prescott. Working at The Orpheus dance hall thanks to Nell, Cecilia becomes known as CeeCee and rubs elbows with gangsters and the city’s elite, and she and Nell hide their affair from Greco.

Patrick Sheridan is fresh out of prison and bent on revenge, with Greco in the crosshairs. He gets a job as CeeCee’s bodyguard, and despite her infatuation with Nell, love blossoms between CeeCee and Sheridan. When Sheridan sees his chance, thanks to a disillusioned cop seeking his own revenge, he must choose where his loyalties lie as CeeCee and Nell are caught in the middle.

Menage m/f/f.