Review: Orthodoxy and Esotericism (Kelley)

My friend James Kelley gave me a complimentary copy.kelley

It is common parlance to say, “We should apply our faith to culture.”  In such slogans the words “faith” and “culture” are never defined and always used in the most abstract categories.   Kelley does us a service by bringing an advanced level of Patristic theology to such wide-ranging topics as history and esoterism.  One can go a step further: Kelley’s insights regarding (Joseph Farrell’s usage) of Sts Maximus the Confessor and Athanasius can provide us a useful compass in witnessing to those trapped in the occult.  I don’t know if Kelley himself holds that view, but it is something that came to my mind.

Ordo Theologiae

The first part deals with rather esoteric thinkers like Paul Virilio, Joseph P. Farrell, and Phillip Sherrard.  Special interest goes to Farrell.  

Here is the problem: In order for the Plotinian one to account for creation, it must already contain within himself all plurality.  Therefore, epistemology and ontology had to proceed by dialectics.  We know something by defining it by its opposite.

How was the Church to respond to this?  The best way was by simply breaking its back.  Kelley shows this by examining Athanasius’s response to Arius and Maximus’s response to monotheletism.  

For Athanasius there are three primary categories that should not be confused: nature, will, and person (Kelley 35).  The person of the Father generates the Son according to essence (since the hypostasis of the Father is the font of essence).  Creation, by contrast, is according to the will.  This leads later fathers (such as Basil) to identify three categories:

(1) Who is doing it?

(2) What is it they are doing? (energies)

(3) What are they? (essence)

The key point, however, is that Person, Nature, and Energy are not to be identified, or we have something like Plotinianism or Arianism.  

Maximus is even more interesting:  the human will cannot be passive nor defined by its contrary, the divine will.  That would mean because the divine nature/will is good, then the human nature must be evil (41). If we define something by its opposite, then we are also saying that said something (God) needs its opposite.  

I must stop the analysis at this point.  But know that the section on Joseph Farrell is a crash course in advanced theology.

Esoteric Studies

Kelley places the Nation of Islam’s cosmogony within the earlier Gnostic myths (89).  He has a fascinating section on Jim Jones.  It almost reads like a novel or a news article.  His larger point is that in these cults (NOI, Scientology, etc) there is a dialectic of a “life-force creating (or self-creating) within a primordial darkness.”

His chapter on Anaximander’s apeiron is worth the price of the book.  But what makes it interesting is Kelley’s tying Anaximander’s apeiron with Tillich’s Ungrund and Barth’s unknowable God.  The problem:  How can this “god” have any contact with creation?  Anaximander gives us a dialectically unstable answer:  this apeiron already contains within it the coincidence of opposites.

Conclusions and Analysis

Like all of Kelley’s works, this cannot help but be interesting.  How often do you read a theology book and you ask yourself, “I can’t wait to turn the page to see what happens next”?  But normally that level of excitement is for fluff.  This it most certainly is not.  Some chapters are very advanced theology, while others, like the one on Paul Virilio, are probably out of my league.

My only quibble is he set up a great dismantling of Karl Barth’s theology and then didn’t do it.  I understand that could be for space reasons.  Is Barth’s Unknowable God the same as Anaximander’s apeiron?  Maybe.  If they are, then one has at his fingertips a very destructive critique.

Aside from that, this book is most highly recommended.

Note: I received this as a complimentary copy and was under no obligation to post a positive review.


Review: Meet the Puritans

Beeke, Joel. Reformation Heritage Publishing.

Most people never realized encyclopedias could be fun to read. In many ways, if the reader knows how to approach it, this book has the danger and thrill associated with the English Civil War.

I think it is safe to say that Beeke leaves no Puritan behind–even the ones you’ve never heard of and whose writings will never be published. But some chapters are truly good, and there are some Puritans who get center stage: Thomas Goodwin, Richard Baxter, Jonathan Edwards, Solomon Stoddard, the Mather Clan, and more.

Each entry is usually between 4 to 8 pages long. The first 60% of each entry is a short biography with a one to two paragraph analysis of the teachings. Then–and this is the good part–a list of the major works, when they were published and sometimes which ones to start first.

*Thomas Goodwin was deep in with Cromwell, as was John Owen.
*Cotton Mather broke with his father’s eschatological method to something approaching millennarianism (430). While Mather’s suggestions on dealing with witches today might bother modern readers, those who’ve been on the mission field (or some urban areas in America) can probably attest to what he is saying. But more importantly, Mather denied the legitimacy of spectral evidence in court, pace the idiocy of Arthur Miller.

The sections on Scottish Puritans and the Dutch Nadere repeats most of Beeke’s works found elsewhere, namely *Puritan Reformed Spirituality.*

Ride the Tiger notes, part 1

Part 1: Orientations

tradition: ruled by principles which transcend what is merely human.  Ordered from above.

Image result for ride the tiger evola

Evola’s approach is a negation of the bourgeois world (Evola 4).  The modern world itself is a negation of a negation.  What will be the result?  Chaos?  Nothingness?  Or perhaps a new space for flourishing?

The end of a cycle: Ride the Tiger

Doctrine of the four ages:

Golden Age –> Iron Age –> Kali Yuga.

Kali Yuga is a dark age where the forces lead to dissolution.  Kali herself symbolizes “cthonic” forces.  This is why Evola says we must “Ride the tiger.”

When a cycle οί civilization is reaching its end, it is difficult to achieve anything by resisting it and by directly opposing the forces ίη motion. The current is too strong; one would be overwhelmed. The essential thing is not to let oneself be impressed by the omnipotence and apparent triumph οί the forces οί the epoch…. Thus the principle to follow could be that οί letting the forces and processes οί this epoch take their own course, while keeping oneself firm and ready to intervene when “the tiger, which cannot leap οη the person riding it, is tired οί running” (10)


They shall expel demons (Prince)

Prince, Derek. They Shall Expel Demons.  Chosen Publishers.

Derek Prince gives an overview of demonology roughly in the same vein as John Wimber and Charles Kraft. This book is level-headed, practical, and filled with sane advice.  Only in a few places does Prince advance strange ideas and even then he is hesitant.  Very accessible and thorough.

Sin and Demons

Prince notes that sometimes our problems are due to our sinful nature and not to demons.  In which case we just need to apply the cross and crucify the flesh.  In other areas it is demonic oppression.

What is a Demon?

This part is tough.  Prince backs up everything he says with Scripture and a lot of it seems to “jive” with observation, yet some of his conclusions run against conventional wisdom.  He notes that the scriptures use several different terms for supernatural entities.  Paul notes that those entities that live in the heavenly places, principalities and powers (Eph. 6:12) are more august, if evil.  I could be mistaken but Paul never (or Daniel for that matter) calls these entities “demons.”  

On the other hand, when Jesus deals with demonic activity it seems to be with earth-bound entities.  Why would angelic beings who rule territories in the heavenly places reduce and limit themselves, for example, to pigs and graveyards?  

Prince notes we “wrestle” with principalities and powers; we “command” demons (95).  If Prince simply wants to make the claim that what we call “demons” is not in the same category as “principalities/powers/dark angels,” then he is probably correct.

Being demonized

A constant variable in demonization is the occult.  Parents who are into the occult, while not necessarily passing a demon on to their kids, bring their kids into a demonic environment.  Another “trigger” is sexual assault, social shock, etc.

Interestingly enough, he warns against the facile laying on of hands. No, we can’t “get a demon” that way, but we can receive negative effects from the one who had the demon (albeit these effects are easily dealt with).

Chemical activities in the brain aren’t demonic manifestations (e.g., smoking, alcoholism) but they can function as a gateway.

The Occult

Two main branches:

(a) Divinization (fortune telling, psychics, ESP; Acts 16:16-22).

(b) Sorcery.  (Drugs, potions, charms, magic, spells, incantations, various forms of music).


“Witchcraft is the universal, primeval religion of fallen humanity” (129).  Prince shows four levels of modern witchcraft:

(1) Open, public, “respectable.”  This is the Church of Satan and the CIA-handler Anton La Vey.

(2) Underground –Covens. This is the classic idea of “witchery.”

(3) Fifth Column, Disguised.  Rock music.  The danger is anything that breaks down one’s moral reasoning faculties (drugs, certain beats, etc).  Another 5th column is New Age.

(4) Work of the Flesh.  Desire for domination.

Do Christians Need Deliverance?

He notes that the new birth is real and shouldn’t be doubted.  But he also points out that when Christians receive the new birth, they might not have had all forces exorcised from them (especially true in more occult cases). Philip’s ministry in Samaria is instructive:  if demons automatically leave a person upon conversion, then why did Philip even bother to cast them out?

Key Points

(1) Demons operate in gangs (180).

(2) If we have opened the door to a demon by saying the wrong thing, we need to cancel it by saying the right thing (183).

(3) The authority to bind or loose. If there is a gang of demons, then bind the strongman first.


(1) Exposes Freemasonry (105, 134).

(2) Breaks new ground in our understanding of demonic activity.

People of the Black Circle

Probably one of Howard’s better short stories.  Admittedly, he has his own stock plot but he makes new developments.  He goes into greater detail in “how” the bad guy magic works.  Here is where it gets unnerving. The story is set in the “Humelians” just north of “Vendhya.”  In other words, the Himalayas just north of India. This is where Tibetan Buddhism is.  Tibetan Buddhism is more occultic than other variants of Buddhism.


Howard is writing in 1920s West Texas.  How did he describe the magical arts of Tibetan Buddhism so accurately?

But on to the story.  It is more of a novella than a short story. While Howard never writes openly about sex, much is implied.  But not so much in this story.

The bad guys are on different levels and some still have human qualities.

The Hermetic Tradition: Review and Principles

Evola, Julius. The Hermetic Tradition.

Short of it: the first half was quite good, but the second half was either incoherent or just plain wrong. Julius Evola correctly notes that the ancient teaching of alchemy wasn’t simply about transmuting metals. It was about developing the soul (or ascending to higher realms). Using alchemical language, he offers a manual for purifying the soul.

In the first half of the book he decodes numerous symbols. These discussions are often exhilarating and always exciting. They reveal a robust metaphysics which has strong affinities with Christianity and Torah/Prophets. For example, “chaos” simply means the realm of undifferentiated potentiality–prime matter. Saturn is heaviness, inertia. “The Tomb,” infamous in Plato, notes the body By itself and apart from the animating spirit, it is dead matter, the flux of chaos. The hermeticist does not want to escape the body because it is bad, but to temporarily separate to reestablish a dominating and causal solar principle.

All well and good. And then comes the second half. To be honest, I am not sure what he was getting at. And it’s probably best I didn’t.

Theses of Hermeticism (and many of these are quite insightful to a classical metaphysic)

En kai pan and Orobouros

  1. Unity: it is not a doctrine but an actual state.  It is represented by a circle 🌕, a line that encloses upon itself.  It is the realm of transcendence.  
  2. Chaos:  the realm of undifferentiated potentiality; prime matter.  
  3. Solar principle:  when the One takes on a center we get the solar principle, ⊙. This is the realm of form and the power of individuation. It is the power of differentiation, of coagula as opposed to solve (37).
  4. The lunar principle:  that upon which the Solar operates.  This is the world of changing and becoming, opposed to the uranian realm of being (35).  
  5. Arsenikon: an alchemical element similar to sun.  Its ideogram is 🕕, A cutting through of prime matter.  
  6. Water principle:  ∇, represents desire, pointing downward to the earth.
  7. Flame: △, oriented to the sun, to the world of forms.
  8. Earth: , the flat line represents the stoppage downward. It stops the fall of the waters.
  9. “Like is known by like.”  To know the four elements man must have in himself the four elements.
  10. Air: breaks the ascending direction of fire.  
  11. Saturn: principle of “heaviness” preceding man. Primordial individuation; Demiourgos.  It is inverted gold, or lead. The Golden Age of yore symbolizes the eternal kingdom of being.
    1. Saturn carries the sickle, which is dissolution and the compass is the power to measure and set limits.
  12. Tomb of Osiris.  This might explain what Plato meant by calling the body a tomb.  By itself and apart from the animating spirit, it is dead matter, the flux of chaos. The hermeticist does not want to escape the body because it is bad, but to temporarily separate to reestablish a dominating and causal solar principle.
  13. Wheels:  Chakras, in Hindu thought.  Resembles a lotus, a key of life and regeneration.

Primordial Man: The original Form being reflected.  The myth of Narcissus; cf. also Plotinus, Enneads, 6.4.14.

The Art of Memory

Yates, Frances. The Art of Memory.

Dame France Yates’ treatise starts off innocently enough: “Orderly arrangement is essential for good memory” (Yates 17). So the ancients thought. The ars memoria by itself is neutral. Yates advances the thesis that Renaissance thinkers used it as a vehicle for the Hermetic tradition. While the medieval tradition did little to develop the art of memory, it did set the stage for Renaissance Neoplatonism, which transformed the art of memory into a hermetic and occultic doctrine (134).

The memory system is a system of memory places and those images “are those of the planetary gods” (148). Renaissance thinkers were quick to say that “memory is organically geared to the universe” (149). As the old hermetic dictum said, “As above, so below.” Renaissance man saw man as quasi-divine and “having the powers of the star rulers” (151). Indeed, he is part “demon,” in fact a “star-demon” (Camillo, Asclepius). In short, thinkers like Camillo and Ficino turned classical memory “into an occult art” (155).

How does Renaissance man “tap into this power?” We have already noted a connection between man and the stars, but what is the “middle man,” so to speak? Yates suggests a “talisman” of sorts. A talisman is any imprinted with perceived powers. Yates suggests that the talismans in this case were planetary images, perhaps the new instantiation of the imagines agentes (159).

The goal of the Hermetic art of memory was the formation of the Magus (161).

Raymond Lull is pivotal because he represents a medium in which Renaissance Neo-Platonists chose a medieval figure for their occultic research. Lull based his structure off of Augustinie’s trinitarian analogies. Lull also introduces the movement of ascending and descending in the Memory Art (181).

Lull is a Christian form of Cabbalism, in which letters stand for divine names which (per some doctrines of simplicity), were the same thing as God (189).

Giordano Bruno and the Shadows

At this point in the narrative the earlier Art of Memory has become a definitive occultic art (200). For some reason Bruno was obsessed with the number 30. In many ways Bruno fine-tunes earlier mnemonic images along a more Neo-Platonic and ontological framework. The stars are now intermediaries (or rather, the spirits behind the stars). The magus will manipulate these images to unlock higher realities. As Yates notes, “the star-images are the ‘shadows of ideas,’ shadows of reality which are nearer in reality than the physical shadows of the lower world” (Yates 213).

Several Hermetic Assumptions in Bruno:
(1) Man’s mind is in some sense divine and connected to the “star governors” of the world (221).
(2) A golden chain connects higher and lower things.

Sub-conclusion: the classical art of memory has been transformed to a “vehicle for the formation of the psyche of a Hermetic mystic and magus” (225). He moves back to a “darker magic,” seeking not a Trinity but a One.


Yates’ work is both exciting and scholarly. She does assume some familiarity, if not with her earlier works, then at least with Renaissance occultism (in the academic sense). Some of the sections towards the end of the work do not always tie in neatly with her thesis, but they are informative nonetheless.