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A Dark Muse: A History of the Occult Paperback – December 29, 2004

3.9 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial 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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Thunder's Mouth Press; 2nd edition (December 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560256567
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560256564
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,050,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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