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A Dark Muse: A History of the Occult
 
 

A Dark Muse: A History of the Occult [Kindle Edition]

Gary Lachman
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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"It's a sure thing that anyone with a taste for literary esoterica and magical history will learn something from "A Dark Muse. It's a cavernous grotto full of dark, glittering jewels."

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The occult was a crucial influence on the Renaissance, and it obsessed the popular thinkers of the day. But with the Age of Reason, occultism was sidelined; only charlatans found any use for it. Occult ideas did not disappear, however, but rather went underground. It developed into a fruitful source of inspiration for many important artists. Works of brilliance, sometimes even of genius, were produced under its influence. In A Dark Muse, Lachman discusses the Enlightenment obsession with occult politics, the Romantic explosion, the futuristic occultism of the fin de siècle, and the deep occult roots of the modernist movement. Some of the writers and thinkers featured in this hidden history of western thought and sensibility are Emanuel Swedenborg, Charles Baudelaire, J. K. Huysmans, August Strindberg, William Blake, Goethe, Madame Blavatsky, H. G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, and Malcolm Lowry.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 608 KB
  • Print Length: 390 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1560256567
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 2nd edition (9 Sep 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00B77AH9O
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #426,520 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Gary Lachman (1955- ) was born in Bayonne, New Jersey, but has lived in London, England since 1996. A founding member of the rock group Blondie, he is now a full time writer with more than a dozen books to his name, on topics ranging from the evolution of consciousness and the western esoteric tradition, to literature and suicide, and the history of popular culture. Lachman writes frequently for many journals in the US and UK, and lectures on his work in the US, UK, and Europe.His work has been translated into several languages. His website is http://garylachman.co.uk/

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent enough introduction ... 26 Sep 2010
By Haggy
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Not as highly recommended as Lachman's "Dedalus Book of the 1960's", this earlier work nevertheless provides an entertaining history of the occult from the Enlightenment to Modernism, covering notable writers, philosophers, colourful characters and the plain barmy. We get introduced to Swedenborg, the mysterious Comte de Saint Germain, the Illuminati, Goethe, Poe, Bulwer-Lytton, Madam Blavatsky, Aleister Crowley and a host of others less well known.

If there is a criticism it is that it fails to flow so well as the Dedalus book. Being, as it is, composed of short introductory passages on several dozen characters over an extremely broad time period, Lachman is able to provide little more than a potted history. He makes up for it by wetting the appetite for further reading and providing a decent bibliography for those who wish to follow up further on specific figures. I have enjoyed dipping into some of his recommendations.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Through a muse, darkly 16 Sep 2013
Format:Paperback
Ha ha. I'm not sure what to say about this crazy tome. Gary Lachman used to be a rock musician, working with Iggy Pop and Blondie, before deciding on a career as an author. Indeed, this particular book comes with a blurb by Kirk Hammett, Metallica's lead guitarist. The book itself is essentially a mini-encyclopaedia of various writers and their connections to the occult. I admit that this ghost train tour through Symbolism, Decadence and fin de siècle Paris is a fun read, but only so far! Drugs, sado-masochism, suicide and Satanism clearly aren't my idea of lighter Friday night entertainment. But yes, I loved reading about August Strindberg's alchemical experiments and paranoia during the "Inferno crisis" in Paris. They pretty much confirmed my impressions of this troubled soul, LOL. If this book really helped Metallica (or anyone else) to find their dark muse, might be another issue entirely...
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Liminal Lives At The Doors Of Perception 22 Mar 2006
By The Wingchair Critic - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Gary Lachman's generally excellent 'A Dark Muse: A History of the Occult' (2003) isn't an actual "history of the occult," as its title claims. Rather, the book is a collection of short essays on both famous and relatively obscure individuals, beginning in 1688 with Emanuel Swedenborg, whose lives were dominated by the metaphysical and the paranormal in some significant manner. Lachman, who excels at contextualizing the broad traditions of Occidental occultism, clearly has a both a great enthusiasm and a sober respect for his subject. The author's insights are often fascinatingly original, such as his belief that [...] is a modern example of "sehnsucht," which Lachman partially translates as "something infinitely desirable just beyond our grasp...horn calls far off in the dark forest, the poignant glow of sunset, which we will never reach, no matter how quickly we race to the horizon, the snow-capped peaks of a distant mountain range."

After the initial chapter on Enlightenment Occultism, which includes Mesmer, Cagliostro, Le Comte de Saint Germain, and Jan Potocki in addition to Swedenborg and others, Lachman hits his stride with penetrating essays on E. T. A. Hoffman, Edger Allen Poe, Charles Baudelaire, and August Strindberg that shed telling light on areas of these writer's lives usually overlooked or ignored by academia.

'A Dark Muse,' which cautiously explores the questionable relationship between 'genius and madness,' also underscores the additional tragedy and suffering that comes to many of those who immerse themselves in the occult, or whose lives are immersed by it.

Depression, nervous collapse, extreme self-consciousness and sensitivity, hallucinations, temporary or permanent insanity, incarceration in mental institutions, syphilis, cancer, and other diseases, poverty, starvation, alcoholism, drug addiction, alienation from friends and family, social ostracism, and suicide or suicide attempts were common elements in the lives of many of those included here, all of whom, with the exception of Madame Blavatsky, are male.

In addition to severe forms of human suffering, early death was also a factor: Novalis died at 28, Rene Daumal at 36, Arthur Rimbaud at 37, Poe at 40, Guy De Maupassant at 42, Gerard de Nerval and Baudelaire at 46, Fernando Pessoa at 47, Malcolm Lowry at 48, and Villiers de l'Isle-Adam at 51. Very few lived long, happy, or successful lives, though Goethe, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Lord Dunsany, H. G. Wells, and Algernon Blackwood, each of whom had problems of their own, were exceptions to the general rule.

Lachman's writing is often persuasive and certainly penetrating. Having quoted De Maupassant's "...I have a softening of the brain...the result of washing out my nasal passages with salt water. A saline fermentation has taken place in my brain, and every night my brain runs out through my nose and mouth in a sticky paste. This is imminent death and I am mad...", Lachman adds, "Remembering the fate of his insane brother, Maupassant tried to kill himself, but botched the job and was saved by his servant. He was driven to s sanatorium in Paris in a straightjacket, and nineteen months later he died, raving, a month short of his forty-third birthday."

Lachman explains why he has chosen those figures who populate "The Modernist Occultist," though it's unfortunate he did not include Hilda Doolittle (1866-1961), since Doolittle not only experienced, wrote about, and avidly studied the occult, but also had a background in Count von Zinzendorf's Moravian Brotherhood, and, in keeping with the potential consequences of occult interaction, suffered several bouts of severe mental instability during her lifetime. It's also difficult to excuse the absence of C. G. Jung, though Lachman presumably left Jung out due to the sheer abundance of material available about him elsewhere. However, Jung fits Lachman's criteria exactly, and of course has had a profound influence on metaphysical thinking and theory.

'A Dark Muse,' which sadly lacks an index, concludes with a brief selection of excepts from the work of Swedenborg, Karl Von Eckarthausen, Madame Blavatsky, Strindberg, P.D. Ouspensky, Poe, Eliphas Levi, and others.
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Nightside Literary Romp 28 Jan 2005
By Mark Newbold - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Mr. Lachman continues to delight and amaze me with a prodigious mind for western esotericism and a disarming writing style so much like his mentor, Colin Wilson, in that one feels he is there with you discussing these fascinating topics. This is a work that explores the literary history of western occultism and the terminal documents that make up that intellectual history. This work stands in the effort to place before the public the historical reality that the esoteric has been a foundation stone upon which many cultural endeavors have been focused upon, but remain "outside" and unrecognized by many academics and scholars.
The chapter on the pre- revolution Russian occult literary scene is excellent and you will find yourself jotting down titles & authors to further explore. Mr. Lachman's work is the first I can recall that provides a brief but welcome overview of the life of Gustav Meyrink. Meyrink, remains sadly neglected by the English speaking esoteric world. Again, I appreciate Lachman's effort to demonstrate that Swedenborg is the progenitor of much of the western esoteric world view. It is not without noting that D.T. Suzuki called Swedenborg, "the Buddha of the North".
Highly recommended, this is one Muse that will continue to inspire, enlighten, and provoke even after repeated readings.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating History of the Occult. 21 Mar 2007
By New Age of Barbarism - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
_A Dark Muse: A History of the Occult_, published by Thunder's Mouth Press, by musician and author Gary Lachman is a fascinating history of the central figures who make up the occult movement beginning from the time of the Enlightenment to the modern day. The book especially focuses on artists, poets, and writers who played a significant part in the development of occult ideas or who were otherwise influenced by the occult and occult notions. However, the book also features figures who could be described as belonging to the occult proper. Gary Lachman was a musician who is perhaps best known as one of the founders of the group Blondie. More recently, Lachman has written extensively on occult and esoteric topics, including Ouspensky, consciousness, and the Sixties from a mystical perspective - the fruit of years of occult research. In many respects, Lachman's writings are similar to those of Colin Wilson, who wrote extensively on existentialism and the occult from an anti-materialist perspective.

In the introduction to this book, Lachman begins by defining the occult as meaning "hidden, secret, esoteric, and unknown". He notes that in the popular mind the occult is frequently associated with such strange things as Satanism, witchcraft, tabloid horoscopes, and UFOs. While it is true that these can all be considered as part of the occult, the occult itself is more elusive. Lachman also relates the occult to various ancient beliefs, mystery cults, the Kabbalah, and the Gnostic heresy. In terms of Satanism, Lachman provides evidence of ritual murder in an event which occurred in England. Lachman also notes how the occult has arisen largely in opposition to various aspects of the Enlightenment, including an excessive emphasis on "Reason", a fundamentalist form of materialism, and the idolatry of science in "scientism". Lachman emphasizes that the occult is today understood largely as "rejected knowledge".

Following this, Lachman turns to the role of the occult during the Enlightenment period. He begins by noting the paradox of defining this period as "The Occult Enlightenment", but maintains the prelevance of occult ideas throughout the Enlightenment. Many of these ideas and movements grew in opposition to both the churches and orthodoxy as well as the kind of rationalist materialism found in other Enlightenment thinkers. Lachman then turns to the occultists themselves. He devotes separate sections to the following individuals: Emanuel Swedenborg (the Swedish seer who maintained that he could communicate with the dead and the angels), Mesmer (a Viennese doctor who devised a theory of "mesmerism" and "animal magnetism" and was influential in the discovery on the unconscious), Cagliostro (an Italian Rasputin who was involved in Masonic movements and largely considered to be a political subversive and revolutionary), Le Comte de Saint-Germain (a mysterious figure who recurs in the history of freemasonry, believed to have lived for centuries, though regarded by his enemies as a huckster), Louis Claude de Saint-Martin ("The Unknown Philosopher"; an influential mystic involved in freemason and Christian mysticism, influenced heavily by the mysticism of Jacob Boehme ("The Teutonic Theosopher") and the Kabbalah), Karl von Eckharthausen (a fellow mystic influenced by Saint-Martin, perhaps most famous for writing _The Cloud Upon the Sanctuary_ in which he maintained the reality of a "hidden church", an idea which influenced both Madame Blavatsky and Crowley), William Beckford (an occultist and writer of the _Vathek_ novels), Jacques Cazotte (a famed occultist influenced by Saint-Martin), Jan Potocki (a Polish occultist and writer of _The Sargasso Manuscript_), The Illuminati (the dreaded Masonic organization bent on overturning throne and altar and believed to still be operating behind the scenes), and William Blake (the famed poet influenced heavily by Swedenborg).

The Enlightenment was followed by the Romantic period, in which Enlightenment belief in the rights of the individual was succeeded by individuality itself. Many Romantics were appalled by the excesses of the French Revolution and thus embraced a reactionary quietism with a frequent hankering for nature and a nostalgia for the medieval. Lachman discusses the following figures who represented the occult during the Romantic period: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (the beloved German writer who wrote on suicide and the Faust legend with an interest in Rosicrucianism), Novalis (the pen-name of German Romantic who praised Europe and Christendom and had an infatuation with a young girl), E. T. A. Hoffmann (a German Romantic who wrote ghost stories and weird tales), Edgar Allan Poe (the famous poet, an alcoholic who sought to understand the unconscious, a writer of ghost stories, and an occultist), Honore de Balzac (the famous writer, an agnostic influenced by the occult, Mesmer, and Swedenborg), Gerard de Nerval (an eccentric Bohemian who among other things walked a lobster down the street tied to a ribbon; an extremely mentally unstable individual who was heavily influenced by the occult), Edward Bulwer-Lytton (the Victorian novelist, most famous for his writings on Pompei, ghosts, Rosicrucianism, and as creator of the "Vril"), Eliphas Levi (the famous occultist, writer on magic, socialism, and the French Revolution who praised Catholicism and the Kabbalah), Charles Baudelaire (the blasphemous Satanic poet who was later to convert to Catholicism), Villiers de l'Isle Adam (the Symbolist writer and aristocrat, most famous for his writing _Axel_, heavily influenced by Catholicism, and who led an otherwise miserable life).

Lachman next turns his attention to Satanic occultism, noting the role of Satan in comparative religion, Gnosticism, and the "Black Mass", as well as the role of various instances of poisonings and murders. Lachman describes the Satanic occult activities of the following individuals: Charles Baudelaire (the poet again, a strong believer in the reality of Satan who dabbled in Satanism for a time but eventually converted to Catholicism), Arthur Rimbaud (a disturbed poet who dabbled in homosexuality with Paul Verlaine and frequently wrote of the Devil), J. K. Huysmans (an occultist writer perhaps best known for his description of the "Black Mass" in his novel _La-Bas_, supposedly based on fact), and Valery Briusov (a Russian decadent who dabbled in Satanism).

Following this, Lachman turns his attention to "fin de siecle occultism", noting the influence of Nietzschean ideas, Bergsonianism and "creative evolution", William James, Proust, and Theosophy and the Order of the Golden Dawn. Lachman mentions the following figures who played some role in the fin de siecle occult: Madame Blavatsky (the Russian medium and occultist, as well as the founder of the Theosophical Society), Villiers de l'Isle Adam (again), H. G. Wells (the famous writer and one of the fathers of science fiction as well as an ardent socialist), Algernon Blackwood (the writer of weird tales), Lord Dunsany (the famous writer of weird tales, Nietzschean, and ardent aristocrat), R. M. Bucke (the alienist who developed the idea of the "cosmic consciousness" and an influence on James and Ouspensky), P. D. Ouspensky (the Russian mathematician, occultist, and philosopher known for his researches into the "fourth dimension" and as a promoter of Gurdjieff), Aleister Crowley ("the Great Beast 666", a drug addled madman who dabbled in Satanism and magic), Arthur Machen (writer of the weird tale, perhaps most famous for his novel _The Great God Pan_), Guy de Maupassant (writer of horror stories who became obsessed with his "doppelganger"), August Strindberg (the schizophrenic Swedish playwright who was also influenced by the occult), Gustav Meyrink (the Jewish occultist influenced by the Kabbalah and the legend of the golem), and Andrei Bely (the pen name of a Russian writer influenced by the Anthroposophy of Steiner, Orthodox Christianity, and the Sophiology of Solovyov).

In his last section, Lachman discusses the occult in the modern era making note of the role of the Symbolist movement, James Joyce, and such poets as Pound and Eliot. Lachman discusses the following individuals: Fernando Pessoa (the Portugese modernist poet who developed an interest in the occult and Rosicrucianism), Rene Daumal (the French poet who combined the thoughts of Rene Guenon, pataphysics, and occultism), O. V. de L. Milosz (uncle of the Noble Prize winning poet Czeslaw Milosz and ardent occultist, influenced by Rosicrucianism and the Book of Revelation), and Malcolm Lowry (the novelist most famous for his novel _Under the Volcano_ and influenced by the occult).

The book ends with a selection of texts from various occultists presented in this book.

This book offers a fascinating picture of some of the individuals who played an important role in the development of the occult from the time of the Enlightenment to the modern era. Such occultists offered alternatives to the reigning paradigms in religion and science at the time, as well as challenged the stale materialism which largely reigns in our world today. Their biographies are certainly fascinating reading material and this book is an excellent source for their ideas.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing and insightful, though not what I expected 1 April 2005
By CreepyT - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Contrary to this book's subtitle, this is not quite a history of the occult. When picking up this book, I was looking forward to reading about the history of the occult as it lies in ancient Greece and hermetic texts, the subsequent secret societies formed based on those texts, the differences between them, and where their varying beliefs stemmed from. Instead, Lachman chooses to focus this text on central literary figures and their occult backgrounds, in other words, their "Dark Muses." Though this book wasn't quite what I had expected, it was still a rather intriguing read that presented a plethora of insightful information.

As Lachman states, "[i]t's not surprising that the poet and the mage should be linked: both use words in order to produce a desired effect" (66), and it seems that this statement serves as his thesis for the remainder of the book. Lachman speaks of Goethe, Blake, Poe, and Baudelaire, among many, many others, and dictates small (2-10 page) vignettes about their lives and their ties to the occult, as well as their contributions to occult-themed literature. Therefore, this book can be read as one unified piece, or one vignette at a time in random order as one's interest piques. Each person covered herein is grouped into the over-arching sub-sections of enlightenment occultism, romantic occultism, satanic occultism, fin de siècle occultism, or the modernist occultist. Furthermore, at the end of the text important selected texts and excerpts are included, which is a nice addition.

I wish Lachman had gone a little bit more in-depth with each literary figure, as a couple of pages hardly does each one justice (whole volumes could be written on each central figure alone), and it would have been nice to find out more about occult history aside from each central literary figures' viewpoint, but nonetheless Lachman does cover quite a bit of interesting ground. I also found the text to be convoluted at times, as many of the lives of these important writers were inter-twined, and many names were mentioned before being properly introduced. Some of the facts presented seemed irrelevant at times as well, and the writing style of Lachman can be extremely dry. Regardless of my minor quibbles, I have found this book to be a decent starting point that has piqued my interest, making me want to read further on this intriguing subject matter. I think this will be a book I turn back to on various occasions, after I have read more of the important literary works mentioned herein.

I would recommend having some knowledge of occult interests, orders, and perhaps even some of the important texts before picking this book up, however, as some of the details might seem lost or otherwise incomprehensible to the casual reader, as I know I felt somewhat lost during a few of the sections.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tour-de-force of occultism's impact on literature 4 Mar 2008
By William Courson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A tour-de-force of occultism's impact on literature

Gary Lachman is the author of several books on the history of consciousness and western culture, including "Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius," "A Secret History of Consciousness" and "A Dark Muse: A History of the Occult." He was a founding member of the rock group Blondie and wrote some of the groups early hits and was also a guitarist with Iggy Pop. In 2006 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is a regular contributor to The Guardian, Independent on Sunday, Fortean Times, Quest, and other journals in the UK and US and frequently lectures on the meeting ground between consciousness, the occult, popular culture and the arts.

In "A Dark Muse: A History of the Occult" Mr. Lachman has written a delightful and fascinating book, and I am very impressed by his encyclopedic knowledge of the Western esoteric tradition. His is an engaging and disarming writing style (much like that of his mentor, Colin Wilson): one senses that the author is there with one discussing these fascinating characters and themes, exploring the literary history of Western occultism, and more particularly the impact that occultism made on some of the leading literary and artistic figures of their respective eras.

Notwithstanding the author's readable, conversational style the subjects of his scrutiny are very dark indeed, tortured souls all, reaching out for a horizon that recedes with their every step toward it. Madness and mayhem, depression, mental collapse, extreme self-consciousness and sensitivity, incarceration, impoverishment, disease and deprivation, addiction, alienation and ostracism are common themes in the lives of most of those included here, as was death at an early age. The only small comfort for some of these tragic geniuses was their belief in the spiritual, redemptive value of their suffering. Works of brilliance were indeed produced under the influence of occultism and it developed into a fertile source of inspiration for many important artists, yet, quite frequently, it also opened the door to a particularly horrific kind of madness.

Chapters include the Enlightenment, the Romantic period, fin de siecle and modernist occultism, as well as a chapter on Satanic occultism. Iconic figures and movements of those periods are discussed, including Franz Mesmer, E.T.A. Hoffman, Huysmans, Nerval, Blavatsky; the Illuminati; the Rosicrucians; Baudelaire, Strindberg, Poe, Goethe, Swedenborg, Malcolm Lowry, Balzac and Aleister Crowley, among others. The book concludes with illustrative extracts from the works of Von Eckharthausen (The Cloud Upon the Sanctuary), Blavatsky (The Secret Doctrine), Saint-Martin (The Counsel of the Exile), Strindberg (The Hand of the Unseen), P.D. Ouspensky (The Symbolism of the Tarot), Poe (Mesmeric Revelation), Crowley (Hymn to Pan) Swedenborg (Heaven and Hell) and Eliphas Levi (Transcendental Magic), among others.

"Dark Muse" is a tour-de-force of the literary history of Western occultism amply documenting the historical reality that the esoteric has served as a foundation upon which many cultural endeavors have been focused, though many remain largely outside of and unrecognized by mainstream academic scholarship.

This is a superb, beautifully written work for anyone interested in occultism generally and its literary impact particularly. The only fault I find with the effort is its lack of an index, which would have benefited its readers greatly.
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