Book Review: Arcana Mundi; Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds.

Arcana Mundi; Magic and the Occult in the Greeek and Roman Worlds – A Collection of Ancient Texts Translated, Annotated, and Introduced by Georg Luck.

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This book is contains pieces from 130 ancient text ranging from the eight century BCE to fourth century CE. Georg Luck has arranged these text in to six categories: Magic, Miracles, Daemonology, Divination, Astrology, and Alchemy. He gives introductions to each category and explaining its importance in the ancient world. The texts he uses illuminate the migration and acceptance of ideologies from outside cultures like the Egypt and Persia.  Most of these text give first or secondhand accounts of the various subjects and how the impacted everyday life in Ancient Greece and Rome.

In his selection and presentation of these text Georg Luck tries to show how peoples attitudes toward magic evolved. The epilogue takes the reader in to the lingering legacy of ancient magic in the middle ages, particularly in the church. If he had an agenda in this book it was to illustrate where these church practices originate. He does so in a rather scholarly way that I feel doesn’t  bash pagan or Christians. He includes a very interesting Appendix article titled Psychoactive Substances in Religion and Magic that hypothesis that both the Old Testament and the Early Church used incense with psychoactive substances to enhance their religious experience.  There is also a glossary of Greek and Latin words that are relevant to the subject of ancient magic.

I think this book is a great research tool for anyone wanting to delve deeper in to the subject of magic learning where traditions started and how they were practiced.  This book is also great for anyone studying early Christian history along with ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian cultures. I enjoyed the read, personal I feel the older the source materials are the closer we are to understanding how our ancestors thought. Learning the evolution of  cultures helps us not only understand our past, it helps us see where humanity is possibly heading.

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Book Review: ‘Hellenismos Today’, and ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Hellenismos’

Hellenismos Today by Timothy Jay Alexander is a book about Hellenic Reconstructionism, or in other words a a modern pagan religion based off ancient Greek religion. It is a hard polytheist moment  based that to quote the author ” focuses primarily in the public or popular religion of ancient Greece.” I feel like the author spends a lot of the book trying explain how it is not like Wicca / neo-paganism and poring out watered down Greek history and philosophy.  While an it is an interesting way to consider worshiping the Greek Pantheon it is just one way at looking at Greek reconstructionism.

Chapters

  • Introduction
  • Polythestic Reconstructionism
  • Ancient Greek Religion
  • Gods and Goddess
  • Cosmology
  • Ethics -(these are based off the Maxims of Delphi)
  • Role of Clergy
  • Rituals & Rites of Passage
  • Holidays & Festivals
  • Divination
  • Magick & Mysticism
  • Appendix I: Works and Days of Hesiod
  • Appendeix II: The Theogony of  Hesiod (note: both copies of Hesiod’s work presented in this book were translated by Hugh G. Evelyn White 1914 and edited by Timothy Jay Alexander)
  • Appendix III: The Emperor Julian’s Oration to the Sovereign Sun (translated by Taylor Thomas in 1793 and edited by Timothy Jay Alexander)

 

A Beginner’s Guide to Hellenismos  by Timothy Jay Alexander is the complementary book to the Hellenismos Today. As you can tell from the Chapter list below there is a lot of copy paste from the previous book, although the Appendix offer greater variety and complement the ones provides in Hellenismos Today. This book places an even bigger emphases on orthopraxy than the previous one did but offer little profound insights.

Chapters

  • Preface
  • Intro to Hellenismos
  • Theology
  • Three dimensions of Worship
  • Prayer & Hymns
  • Offerings
  • Rites and Ritual
  • Festival Calendar
  • Mysticism
  • Temples, Shrines, Statues & Images
  • Afterthoughts
  • Appendix I: Sallustius : On the Gods and the Cosmos (translated by Gilbert Murry 1925, edited by Timothy Jay Alexander)
  • Appendix II: The Emperor Julian’s Oration to the Mother of the Gods (translated by Taylor Thomas in 1793 and edited by Timothy Jay Alexander)
  • Appendix III: The Homeric Hymns (translated by Hugh G. Evelyn White 1914 and edited by Timothy Jay Alexander)
  • Appendix IV: Epithets of the Gods
  • Appendix V: A Glossery of Greek Words

Overall I felt Booth books fell a little flat for my taste. If you don’t already have a decent grasp on neo-paganism ideas and language the average reader may get lost. and the historical reverences and examples could really use some more fleshing out. In general I would say if you want to read these books get a copy from the library cause it is not really worth the purchase.