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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
A Dark Muse: a history of the occult by Gary Lachman is not an actual history of the occult. This book is comprised of a series of brief biographical sketches (about 3-5 pages each) on various noveslists and poets who were inspired by occult ideas. Some were members (or founders) of secret societies, dabbled in arcane subjects such as alchemy, and/or believed (or tried to convince others) that they had supernatural abilities. Others were just interested in occult ideas as the basis for their art or stories, or thought that supernatural phenomena was interesting but must have a scientific explanation behind it. Lachman begins during the Enlightenment with Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) a scientist who was also a Christian mystic. He saw visions and believed he had visited other worlds and wrote about it in Heaven and Hell. His work inspired several of the later mystics and occultists, which makes it all the more frustrating that Lachman only gives us three pages worth of information on him and his work. The Enlightenment section also includes essays on Mesmer (the scientist/charlaton from which we get the word 'mesmerize),' Le Comte de Saint Germaine (who liked to pretend he was an immortal who had been around for centuries), and Karl von Eckharthausen. Eckharthausen was the author of the Cloud upon the Sanctuary another work that inspired many future occultists (including Aleistor Crowley) interestingly it seems to have been about a secret group of Christian elite and in his own lifetime Eckharthausen was more famous for writing a handbook of Catholic prayers called God is Purest Love. William Beckford was a novelist and hedonist and apparently a really interesting guy. Lachman writes: "One succesful venture was a pagan coming of age party ... [Beckford and] a handful of other young and willing participants , locked themselves away for three days and three nights in the millionaire's estate ... along with rare foods, rich wines, incense-clouded rooms, forbidden sex and the occasional magical ritual, part of Beckford's weekend pleasure dome included the 'Eidophysikon' of Philip James de Loutherbourg, an Enlightenment version of a multi-media display or light show." (p. 39) after this awesome party, Beckford wrote the novel Vathek, which I now plan on reading. Also included in the Enlightenment chapter are brief bios of Cagliostro, the Unknown Philosopher (Louis Claude de Saint-Martin...who wasn't all that unknown), Jacques Cazotte and Jan Potocki (author of The Saragossa Manuscript). Lachman also includes an essay on the Illuminati. The Romantics are next, with sections on Goethe, Novalis, E.T.A. Hoffman, Edgar Allan Poe, Balzac and Gerard de Nerval (who "walked a lobster on a blue ribbon along the Palais-Royal in Paris, and when questioned why, replied: 'It does not bark and it knows the secrets of the deep.'" - p.94). Also included are: Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Eliphas Levi, Villiers de I'Isle-Adam and the French symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire (the last two are features in other sections as well). "Satanic" occultism Lachman divides into its own section, and under this subject heading he includes Chares Baudelaire for a second time as well as Arthur Rimbaud (one of the most important French poets), J.K. Huysmans and Valery Briusov. This is followed by fin de siecle Occultism, from 1890 to the begining of World War I - a blend of science, pseudoscience and mysticism that included such beliefs as reincarnation, wise ancients and the evolution of humanity into supermen (Ubermensch ). This section is where we find Madame Blavatsy (founder of the Theosophical Society and author of Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine). Others in the fin de siecle Occultism section include: Villiers de l'Isle-Adam (again), H.G. Wells (who was not an occultist), Algernon Blackwood, Lord Dunsany, R.M. Bucke, P.D. Ouspensky, Aleistor Crowley, Arthur Machen (author of a controversial-for-its-time novel, The Great God Pan), Guy de Maupassant (a wierd fiction author plagued by visions of his own doppleganger!), August Stringberg, Gustav...
LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
In theory, this book tracks the influence of "the occult" oon literature, art, science… Needless to say, that's a slightly difficult task – by nature, and by definition, "the occult" is hidden. Having said that, I enjoyed this book, and found it useful. There are times when the writer is more credulous than I am (I'm not at all sure I believe as much about some of the historical figures as he does), but not overly so – this is still within the realms of "read with some confidence". For those who are new to the area, this book might assume more knowledge than is comfortable – for those who know the area well, the book will be vaguely interesting but will tell them little new. For those who have some background, but not much – it might just be a gold mine. It has a serious lack, however, in not having an index – one must trawl through to find entries. Admittedly, these are fairly well marked but the lack of an index reduces the usefulness of the book greatly.
A Dark Muse
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