- Series: Suny Series, Western Esoteric Traditions
- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: State University of New York Press; 1st edition (October 5, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0791416208
- ISBN-13: 978-0791416204
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #842,818 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Gnosis: An Esoteric Tradition of Mystical Visions and Unions (Suny Series in Western Esoteric Traditions) (Suny Series, Western Esoteric Traditions) 1st Edition
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"I like the passion and enthusiasm of an author in touch with something real who pursues it with an open mind. Implicit here is the author's seriousness and commitment. He believes his subject makes a difference and he communicates this to the reader. The author's perspective gives some startling and important insights into a tradition that is for the most part unknown and ignored." -- Christopher Bamford, Lindisfarne Press
About the Author
Dan Merkur is a Lecturer in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto.
Top customer reviews
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The author shows some insight into ancient Jewish practice, but is woefully ignorant of and -- in some cases -- inexplicably hostile to, the Islamic mystical tradition. On many issues the author speaks with an air of authority that is entirely unjustified by his evidence (or lack of evidence in many cases).
Merkur speaks as though he has solved the alchemical riddle: The process of creating the elixer results in a self-contained microcosm that may be used to create a yellow, brass alloy that the alchemists confused with gold. Yes, the alchemical Work does aim to create a "self-contained microcosm" or, more properly, a philosophicosm that mirrors both the microcosm (the human being) and the macrocosm (the cosmos at large). But Merkur seems completely oblivious of the distinction the Islamic alchemists made between superficial (barraaniyy) alchemy and actual (jawwaaniyy) alchemy. The coloring of alloys to resemble gold and silver was well-known and acknowledged; the alchemists were well aware of the difference between real gold and a "yellow...brass alloy"!
Merkur also completely misses the connection between Islamic alchemy and mysticism. Although it is correct that Burckhardt's (Alchemy: Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul) analysis of the alchemical tradition strays into anachronism, Merkur is incorrect in his assertion that there was no spiritual alchemical tradition. His claim that Abu al-Qasim Iraqi's passage on materia prima has no mystical subcontext is asserted without proof. Furthermore, he also does not prove that the subcontext is actually sulphuric acid. In this case Merkur is engaging in his own anachronism: imposing an analysis of Fulcanelli's alchemy on Iraqi. Furthermore, Merkur thinks that the elixer IS sulphuric acid, whereas Iraqi is talking about the materia prima at the beginning of the Work, not the elixir at the end. So Merkur is confused here.
As for spiritual alchemy, Merkur misses the intimate connection between mysticism and aurifaction (chemistry of gold-making). He also misses the holistic cosmological framework of alchemy. Islamic authors have quite explicitly pointed out the necessary connection between the inner work and the exterior work (making the elixer), including the correspondences between philosophicosm and microcosm. Merkur's claim that "Where an alchemical document pertains to metallic alchemy, we have no necessary evidence that it pertains to anything more" reflects a profound ignorance of the sources, particularly as far as Islamic alchemy is concerned, as well as a segmented categorical mindset not shared by many of the alchemical authors. Although Burckhardt and Eliade do overgeneralize things to the point of anachronism, the "necessay evidence" or "subcontext" of spiritual alchemy is both implicitly and explicitly there in many -- though by no means all -- sources.
In Part II, Merkur gives an account of the mysticism of the Prophet of Islam that ranks in absurdity with the racist biological theories of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Indeed, Merkur almost exclusively depends on the discredited and ridiculous theories of Richard Bell, then pretends to speak authoritatively on the nature of the Prophet's mystical exeriences. He even claims, with no evidence whatsoever, that the Prophet's mystical practice derives from merkabah Jewish mysticism and Syrian pneumatics. Space does not permit a catalog of Merkur's virtually innumerable errors of fact and judgement in this chapter alone. Indeed, the entire chapter on the Prophet of Islam is a scholarly disgrace and should be an embarrassment to SUNY Press.
The book is full of factual errors. The Islamic "Heaven" is not "high in the sky". The Quran does not even use the word 'heaven' for Paradise. Another example: Jafar al-Sadiq is the sixth, not the fifth, Imam of the Shii school. Merkur admits "Jafar's reputation as a teacher of esoteric mysticism". Then he pontificates: "We are ignorant, however, of the content of his practices". This latter statement alone serves as a summary indictment of the entire book. In the Islamic sources there is hardly anything more well known than the mystical practices of al-Sadiq! Volumes and volumes of detail in Arabic have been transmitted and written on it! Yet Merkur is content to make an authoritative pronouncement on something he knows nothing about. This is the pattern of the entire book.
Merkur's "thesis that a paired use of visionary and unitive experience" constitutes the core of gnosis in the Western tradition may very well have merit. However, despite a wealth of references and sources he makes a very poor case overall, and seems to have bitten off much more than he could chew. The book contains no account of Hermetism (or Hermeticism) and its relation to Gnosticism. In my opinion Merkur's extrapolation of a general category of "gnosticism" (small 'g') from "Gnosticism" (capital 'G') is respectable but dubious. Although some of Merkur's criticisms are not without merit, the author amateurishly denigrates Corbin and other authors, while at the same time he uncritically accepts the bigoted speculations of Richard Bell. The one area where he does exhibit some competence is his knowledge of Jewish mysticism, and it would have been better for him to stick to that.