The cooler nights and rainy days of April have left us lots of time to get our teeth into some books. Welcome to the April edition of Committee Reads.
Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage by Dion Fortune
One of my favourite bits of Terry Pratchett’s near-infinite wisdom is his lovely summing up of the differences between wizards’ and witches’ magic. Pratchett genders it, not entirely without good reason (and in keeping with the laws of the Discworld), and it goes thus:
“It’s the wrong kind of magic for women, is wizard magic, it’s all books and stars and jommetry. She’d never grasp it. Whoever heard of a female wizard?… “Witches is a different thing altogether… It’s magic out of the ground, not the sky, and men never could get the hang of it.”
As we all know, here on the round world, sans turtles, gender is less proscribed in terms of practice, but I’ve never been able to shake the beautiful grain of truth in Pratchett’s summation of the differences between what is essentially “witchcraft” ™, and what is essentially Ceremonial Magick. Nobody lynch me; pith is pith, and I’m not trying to pith anyone off here.
Getting to the point, though, reading this constantly reminded me of that Pratchett quote. That is because the book reads like this:
“The esotericist does not use the term ‘sex’ as we do; he speaks of ‘life-force’, which he conceives to be an energy of an electrohydraulic type, a radiating and magnetising vibratory activity, similar to electricity, to which it is very closely related, yet capable of compression and of exercising pressure after the type of water-power.”
Now, I like reading technical manuals. In my last job I used to have to read a lot of them, many of them from the 19thC. I also like reading old books, and the comparative formality and verbosity of older prose is a thing of pleasure to me. And I like reading alchemical and Hermetic texts. You’d think that finding one book that was the stylistic lovechild of all three of these things would thrill me beyond measure, but in actuality it was, to be honest, about as enjoyable as combining sauerkraut and maple syrup (both of which I love, but ew). I feel guilty and slightly ashamed describing the work of the great Dion Fortune in such a way, so go ahead and call me a philistine and I’ll wear that – but honestly, it was an awful lot like what I’d imagine reading “Kent’s Mechanical Engineers’ Handbook” would be like, if Kenneth Salisbury just happened to be tackling the Great Work and the Alchemical Wedding. I’m tempted to deposit this on the shelf next to the two volumes of Kent’s, and at some point attempt to make a diesel-powered version of the Seven Planes of Manifestation of the monad, and see if it makes a decent engine for a Spitfire.
This book was written in 1924, so I was fully prepared for the attitudes towards gender being a product of their time, and utterances such as “One of the principal causes of trouble in unmated women is the stagnation and staleness of their unused life-forces…” came as no huge surprise, but it still jars to read of abortion as “murder”, and that same-sex sexual stimulation leads to “mental breakdown”, and that the practitioner will “give himself over unreservedly to evil”. At least Fortune and I can agree that “contraceptives are better than nervous disease”. Because, well, they are.
I’ve read reasonably widely on gender, sexuality, and the occult, and I can honestly say that so far, while I have no issue with the basic philosophical crux of this book, it’s not saying anything particularly groundbreaking in the greater narrative of Western Mystery Tradition, and the engineering-manual prose and outdated social notions made it so far the least enjoyable book on the subject that I have read. All in all I prefer poetry and metaphor to jommetry. Sorry, Dion.
Spirits of the Sacred Grove by Emma Restall Orr
Part autobiography, part community snapshot and part whimsy, this book gives the reader a look into the author’s world at each of the High Days.
Orr’s writing is intelligent and descriptive, and her portayals of the seasons in England and Wales make me want to pack a suitcase and visit the UK tomorrow. I also drew some easy parallels between the highs and lows of her local Pagan community and some of the things we experience here in Australia.
That said, I did find some parts a little jarring. Discussions of spirit and ancestor guides did at times feel more like someone discussing imaginary friends, and this distracted me from the narrative.
I still really enjoyed Spirits of the Sacred Grove, and would recommend it to anybody interested in Druidry or Paganism and how it fits into this modern world. Ideally, I would recommend it to those who have been around for a while and are able to take it with something of a grain of salt.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
This month I’m doing another re-read, of a series close to my heart.
This the third book in the series follows the adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermoine as they face their third year at the magical school of Hogwarts in the wilderness of Scotland.
The story continues to capture the imagination and put readers into another world filled with wonder.
Prisoner of Azkaban is the last of the shorter books in the series as JK began to write longer and longer books after this which ties in well with the transition from childhood to adolescence that begins in this book.
I cannot recommend the series enough, probably out of a sense of nostalgia, they are a thoroughly enjoyable read nonetheless.