New Books of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 14, 2007 — 2 Comments

There are some new books of interest to Pagans, Heathens, and occultists of many stripes that I would like to spotlight today. The first is “Fire Child”, the long-awaited autobiography of English “Witch Queen” Maxine Sanders. Sanders is well-known in Witchcraft circles as a co-founder of Alexandrian Wicca, and for the many striking photographs taken of her performing rituals with Alex Sanders and their coven in the 1960s.

According to Sanders, the book is a way of answering the many questions she encountered from Witches about the history and development of the Craft.

“Last year I met American witches from different traditions of modern Craft who asked good questions and were not afraid to ask the sensitive ones. They made me see the impact Alex and I have had on the Craft. They had the right to ask and I felt obliged to answer. Writing ‘Fire Child’ was the perfect opportunity.”

This release should be a unique treasure, autobiographies from Pagan elders are rare, especially from figures who had as large a role to play as Sanders. The book will be released on November 23rd from Mandrake of Oxford Press.

On a similar Witchcraft-related note, a new book takes a deeper look at the history of initiation rituals within the Western esoteric traditions. “Western Esotericism and Rituals of Initiation” by Henrik Bogdan, a Religious Studies and Theology professor at Goteborg University in Sweden, explores the ties and similarities between Freemasonry, and later esoteric initiatory paths, including modern Witchcraft.

“For more than three hundred years the practice of Masonic rituals of initiation has been part of Western culture, spreading far beyond the boundaries of traditional Freemasonry. Henrik Bogdan explores the historical development of these rituals and their relationship with Western esotericism. Beginning with the Craft degrees of Freemasonry – the blueprints, as it were, of all later Masonic rituals of initiation – Bogdan examines the development of the Masonic High Degrees, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn – the most influential of all nineteenth-century occultist initiatory societies – and Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft movement of the 1950s, one of the first large-scale Western esoteric New Religions Movements.”

The book seems like a must-read for anyone wanting a deeper understanding of where some ritual elements found within religious Witchcraft, and in turn many modern Pagan traditions, originated. You can preview the first chapter at the SUNY Press site.

Finally, we come to a book that has made it onto my Yule list, “Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes” by Chris Knowles (with illustrations by Joseph Michael Linsner). Knowles delves deep into comic-book history to explore the mythic, occult, and religious backgrounds for many of the crime-fighting icons we know and love.

“Was Superman’s arch nemesis Lex Luthor based on Aleister Crowley? Can Captain Marvel be linked to the Sun gods on antiquity? In Our Gods Wear Spandex, Christopher Knowles answers these questions and brings to light many other intriguing links between superheroes and the enchanted world of estoerica. Occult students and comic-book fans alike will discover countless fascinating connections, from little known facts such as that DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz started his career as H.P. Lovecraft’s agent, to the tantalizingly extensive influence of Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophy on the birth of comics, to the mystic roots of Superman. The book also traces the rise of the comic superheroes and how they relate to several cultural trends in the late 19th century, specifically the occult explosion in Western Europe and America. Knowles reveals the four basic superhero archetypes–the Messiah, the Golem, the Amazon, and the Brotherhood–and shows how the occult Bohemian underground of the early 20th century provided the inspiration for the modern comic book hero.”

Anyone who has spent time dissecting “The Invisibles” or “Promethea” should definitely give this a look. As a longtime comic-book fan with an interest in the esoteric, this looks like a treasure-trove of information. You can listen to a podcast interview with the author, here.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Al

    I have the earlier edition of Bogdan’s book, the one published by his university, and read it in preparation for my own thesis work. I found it interesting but a bit week. It felt like he kind of ran out of steam halfway through it. So, for example, the examination of Wiccan ritual is rather cursory compared to the Masonic one. I wasn’t overwhelmed.

  • Constance Parker

    Oh my goodness, this is a must have book for me — thanks for posting about it!