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Among the other big names in our Cathedral Classics list – Christopher Marlowe, Friedrich Nietzsche and Lenin – is one that is less well known, Gustave Le Bon. Le Bon’s The Crowd is a startlingly perceptive work on crowd psychology that is just as relevant today as it was back in 1896 when it was written. If the reader accepts the sober truths of the ‘crowd organism’ he or she is likely to view pragmatism over ideology as the way forward for society.
Helen Keller’s name is one associated with success in overcoming the many challenges faced by the deaf and blind and many films have been made about her childhood struggles to overcome her loss of sight and hearing in 1882 when she was but a toddler. However, it is to her own inspiring memoir of her early life – The Story of My Life – that we should turn to in order to truly grasp what it was like to live in her restricted world. Aziloth Books’ edition comes with a unique album of 18 archive photographs of Helen and some of the key people in her life.
Our five new Parchment Books’ offerings encompass Christian mysticism, eastern spirituality and alchemy – so plenty of choice for those of a more contemplative bent. Full listing below.
Archibald Cockren was a practising physician who became disenchanted with the reductionist medical interventions of his day and sought a method of treating the whole person. This led him to alchemy, and to experiments in the spagyric art that produced substances of astonishing therapeutic value.
Alchemy Rediscovered and Restored is Cockren’s attempt to make the physical benefits of the art accessible to everyone, stripped of its tortuous and mystifying symbolism. Cockren gives the reader a brief and accurate history of alchemy, along with biographical accounts of some of the major adepts who have figured in its story. The process of extraction of the alchemical ‘seeds’ or vital essences of various metals is revealed, and Cockren describes the medical elixirs that can be obtained, climaxing with the final step in the great arcanum – the discovery of the alkahest or universal solvent of the philosophers, also known as the philosophers’ stone.
This is a book for all those interested in the alchemical process, one that can be read with profit by adept and newcomer alike.
Emma Goldman’s strident critique of capitalism and equally passionate defence of anarchy raised her from a penniless Jewish immigrant to ‘Red Emma’ - one of the most notorious ‘agitators’ and revolutionary feminists of her generation.
Contrary to the popular conception of anarchists as violent, bomb-throwing purveyors of chaos, Goldman’s Anarchism and Other Essays shows the movement to be both egalitarian and cooperative, calling for voluntary association of free individuals, without the dead hand of central government and its repressive bureaucracy. Goldman’s penetrating essays cover a wide range of topics, from the failure of the prison system and politics, through stinging critiques of religion, capitalism and the legal system, to damning tracts on the evils of gender inequality and militarism.
The early twentieth century was a time not unlike our own, a period of rampant greed, stunning wealth disparity and narrow patriotism. Goldman’s trenchant comments remain deeply relevant to the many shortcomings of western capitalist society.
Errico Malatesta was an Italian anarchist and writer (1853-1932), who lived much of his life in exile and was expelled or forced to flee from many of the countries he visited. He teamed up with other well known anarchists, like Peter Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin, to promote anarchist ideas and advocate revolution – activities that resulted in more than ten years in prison.
Anarchy was originally published in 1891 as a pamphlet. From the start, Malatesta is at pains to clarify the true meaning of the term. It should on no account, he says, be associated with disorder and chaos. Instead, it should be construed in its original Greek sense to mean ‘without a ruler’ or “… without any constituted authority … or government.”
This short treatise outlines Anarchy’s tenets, among which are the abolition of private property, privilege and class and the formation of decentralized self-governing communities. In Malatesta’s view, people have too long been conditioned into believing they need authoritarian government which, time and again, ends up serving a privileged few rather than the many. He urges us to reassert our natural inclination for voluntary cooperation and the sharing of skills and resources. Only then will we know true personal freedom.
For Lebanese-American writer and artist, Khalil Gibran, Jesus the Son of Man was the most challenging and cherished of all his works. "My art can find no better resting place than the personality of Jesus. …He shall always be the supreme figure of all ages and in Him we shall always find mystery, passion, love, imagination, tragedy, beauty, romance and truth."
It was always Gibran’s ambition to re-tell the story of Jesus in an unconventional way, to paint a more rounded picture of a spiritual leader he deeply revered and this he did through the eyes of Jesus’ contemporaries. He selects some familiar biblical characters, such as Mary Magdalene, Pontius Pilate and John the Baptist and adds a number of fictional ones, among them a cobbler, an astronomer and a philosopher. The seventy-seven voices, presented as short chapters, explore facets of Jesus, Gibran-style, and from these testaments we get a glimpse of how Christ might have been perceived at the time by those around Him.
Jesus the Son of Man is rated by many critics as Gibran’s most inspirational work, more so even than The Prophet.
Mutual Aid, Peter Kropotkin’s most famous work, is both an Anarchist Classic and an important Biological treatise. It was written as a direct rebuttal of T.H. Huxley’s ‘Hobbesian’ assertion that human society was a constant battle of “all against all”, and that civilisation only existed by imposition of order from above (an argument that was used by the ruling class to validate unjust societal norms).
Kropotkin does not deny the existence of competition between individuals and groups, but amasses an overwhelming body of evidence that reveals mutual aid as an important factor in evolution. Individuals of sociable species prosper, develop and reproduce successfully because of their cooperation. And Humanity is no exception – in a comprehensive review of human society, both historical and contemporary, Kropotkin shows the vital importance of mutual support in the evolution of everything from tribal life to the development of cities, science and art. Anthropologist Ashley Montagu considered "no book in the whole realm of evolutionary theories more readable or more important…”
Siddhartha is Hermann Hesse’s much acclaimed allegory about Humanity’s quest for enlightenment, telling the tale of an Indian youth, born a privileged Brahmin, who rejects ritual and doctrine in order to truly experience the ultimate reality – Brahman – for himself. Siddhartha’s spiritual journey is one of experimentation, followed each time by dissatisfaction. From the asceticism of the Samanas to the hedonism of Saṃsāra with all its sexual delights and worldly indulgences, Siddhartha’s goal continues to elude him.
When Siddhartha meets Gautama Buddha himself, he sees at once that here, at last, is an enlightened soul. But true to his rejection of all “teachings”, he declines to join Gautama and his entourage of monks and, instead, continues to follow his heart – to find his own path. And this he ultimately does with the patient guidance of a simple, uneducated ferryman, who introduces Siddhartha to his inspiration, the river – the river with its many voices….
Not for nothing is Siddhartha regarded as Hermann Hesse’s masterpiece.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, all of which appeared in The Strand magazine following the success of two earlier Holmes novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four. With the Adventures, Holmes’ persona of infallible detective slips somewhat, and Conan-Doyle occasionally allows the villain to escape or fail to get his just desserts. In the first encounter, A Scandal in Bohemia, the arch-sleuth is even bested by a woman - a shocking put-down for any self-respecting Victorian male, and doubly so for Holmes! With 13 of Sidney Paget’s original illustrations, and written by a master of his art, these are tales you will come back to again and again.
One of the founding classics of Anarchist literature, Peter Kropotkin’s book is a thoughtful, humane and detailed critique of capitalism, a system which allows a small, rich elite to hold the majority of the population in poverty and servitude, despite there being enough globally to satisfy the needs (and even the luxuries) of everyone.
The Conquest of Bread gives a spirited rejoinder to all who believe Anarchism ‘sounds good’ but cannot succeed in practice. Using data from his own time, the former Russian Prince (whose family owned more than 1000 serfs) lays out a detailed account of Anarchist Society - a fair and equitable social system based upon the concept that, as all things are the common inheritance of Mankind, they should, and can be, held in common.
Many of Kropotkin’s concepts are surprisingly contemporary, including a ‘needs’ as opposed to ‘contributory’ scheme of social care, and food security via a system that sounds suspiciously like present-day Permaculture! A book for all those interested in changing society for the better.
Gustave Le Bon’s seminal work on crowd psychology has made a huge impact on society since it was first written in 1896. Le Bon shows how a mass of people resembles a simple multi-celled organism, and how rationality and reasoning rapidly decline to the lowest common multiple. In many ways, a crowd’s consciousness resembles the Unconscious mind of psychoanalysis. Crowds ‘think’ in images, each ‘cell’ is freed from personal responsibility and all things appear possible. This is the origin of the multitude’s often irrational beliefs and their ability to perform acts of unbelievable heroism or disgusting brutality.
Successful leaders, such as Alexander, Joan of Arc, Napoleon and Hitler, have an instinctive but sure knowledge of crowd psychology; they coin phrases and conjure images that resonate, pushing the masses forward with an unstoppable momentum that can change world history.
To read this book is to realise its deep relevance to our own time. The pattern repeats itself again and again. Societies age, their certainties and traditions falter, and new thoughts, new visions - many impossibly utopian - are avidly seized upon by the ‘single-brained crowd’ who drive the dream via sublime bravery and degrading bestiality towards a new, but always temporary, equilibrium.
Since its first publication in 1908, The Kybalion - a secret initiatic text – has brought many a seeker within the portals of the Hermetic Temple. Spare and concise in style, the anonymous author reveals the Mental origin of reality, sets out the seven universal principles underlying all existence, and gives ‘keys’ to the disciplines required to achieve mastery of the Hermetic Art.
The second text, The Emerald Tablet of Hermes, derives from an 8th century Arabic work, the Kitab sirr al-haliqi. According to legend, the stone tablet with its ancient knowledge was found in a hidden vault beneath a statue of Hermes in the city of Tyana. Short but stunningly profound, the text quickly became one of the pillars of Alchemy and other occult pursuits. Many translations are included in the present work, including those of such esoteric luminaries as Fulcanelli, Blavatsky, Idres Shah and Isaac Newton. Readers are encouraged to compare the versions and seek the hidden truths themselves.
Written at the time of the Russian February 1917 Revolution, before the Bolshevik take-over in October, this is Lenin’s tour de force, a rebuttal of the views of Krautsky and other ‘opportunists’ who had fudged Marx’s core teachings for their own political ends.
Using quotes from Marx and Engels, Lenin shows that the state arises directly out of class antagonisms, that it is violent (police/army/repressive laws) and has the ultimate purpose of suppressing the ‘wage-slave’ proletariat in favour of the ‘bourgeoisie’ i.e. the class who own, and profit from, the means of production. The state bureaucracy inevitably becomes unaccountable and able, at will, to subvert any movement towards mass democracy.
For Lenin, such a system leads inevitably to revolution. But to prevent the usual reversion to a similarly corrupt system, Lenin calls for the ‘dictatorship of the armed proletariat’, by which the majority forcibly dispossess the minority (bourgeois former-owners) and bring the means of production into common ownership. This proletarian state is temporary. If the state arises directly out of class antagonisms, then as class concerns are obliterated the state itself, that machine of privilege and oppression, will gradually wither away.
The State and Revolution is an important work, an indispensable read for all those interested in the ideas underpinning a Socialist Society.
Helen Keller is a name associated with success in overcoming the many challenges faced by the deaf and blind. Born in 1880 in Alabama, USA, it was Keller who first made people realise that a disability should not be a barrier to achievement and fullness of life.
When an illness at the age of 19 months left Helen bereft of sight and hearing and with communication all but lost to her, she struggled in fear and frustration to connect with the world around her. Anne Sullivan, a teacher from the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, was engaged by Helen’s parents to teach their seven-year old daughter at home and it proved the beginning of an impressive and lasting transformation. The famous eureka moment in Helen’s awareness is poignantly featured in the many films made about her, when Anne fingerspelt the word ‘water’ into Helen’s palm while holding the other under the spout. At that moment, Helen realised that words were labels for ‘things’. With the bit between her teeth, Helen was determined to achieve what seeing and hearing people took for granted and she went on to learn to speak, to read braille and to write – and even discovered she could enjoy music by feeling the vibrations of the beat.
The Story of My Life is Helen Keller’s heart-warming and inspiring memoir of her early life.
Born in Canterbury in 1564, the same year as his friend and literary colleague, William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe shunned a life as a clergyman which university wits like himself were expected to follow, and moved to London to pursue the insecure craft of a playwright. Among his early plays were Tamburlaine the Great and The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta, all well-received by Elizabethan audiences and displaying an impressive poetic talent that was bold enough to use high-quality blank verse for the first time in English theatre.
The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus was written around 1588/89. A fusion of a tragedy and morality play, the storyline draws its inspiration from fanciful accounts of a real sixteenth century German alchemist, called Faust who supposedly sold his soul to the devil using magic. Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus vacillates between the desire for power and knowledge and the fear of damnation in masterful soliloquys that showcase Marlowe’s outstanding skill as a poet.
Christopher Marlowe was poised to give a great deal more to Elizabethan drama but that future was sadly foreshortened by a violent and sudden death at twenty-nine.
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was one of the most influential thinkers of the late 1800s, penning critiques on philosophy, religion and social norms. Nietzsche’s controversial thoughts on what he saw as religious and political repression emerged early on in his life – as a schoolboy he wrote “Very often submission to the will of God and humility are but a covering mantle for cowardly hesitation to face our destiny with determination.”
Thus Spake Zarathustra is Nietzsche’s magnum opus on the subject of God, morality and political idealism. The legendary Persian philosopher and moralist, Zarathustra (Zoroaster), is his choice for the central character because, he says, “Zarathustra created the most portentous error, morality, consequently he should also be the first to perceive that error.” So it falls on Zarathustra to turn his own original doctrine on its head. He takes on the task of seeking the truth – “to aim straight”, as Nietzsche puts it – and finds his answer after much soul-searching.
The book takes the form of a story in four parts, styled with a biblical cadence. Zarathustra the radical thinker comes down from his mountain cave and attempts to persuade the people to throw off their stifling preconceptions of God and other-worldly hopes. He entreats them to dispense with life-denying concepts such as pity, humility, guilt, and to seek instead the superman, or übermensch, in themselves. This ‘beyond man’ would move past the human condition and would create his own life-affirming values and purpose.
Thus Spake Zarathustra remains a provocative work – and is all the more valuable for it.
This selection of inspirational works by two highly respected Jesuits from the late renaissance is a guide for those who seek “the peace which passeth all understanding.”
While Saint-Jure preceded de la Colombiere by some fifty years their messages are perfectly aligned. Addressing thorny questions such as ‘why does God allow evil?’ and ‘should we pray for money and material well-being?’, the authors give clear answers and conclude with what they believe to be a universal truth: namely that, man’s sins apart, God is responsible for all that happens to us and as God loves us and has our interests at heart, everything – joyous or painful – is for our own good. Trusting acceptance of this belief will allow us to perceive the trials and tribulations of our lives in a positive way and will thus bring great serenity.
Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence is a little gem of a book whose message accords with many other non-Christian mystical disciplines and, as such, is a valuable lodestar for all who wish to progress on the path no matter what their religious provenance.