Introduction to Magic, Volume 3: Realizations of the Absolute Individual

Introduction  to Magic, Volume 3: Realizations of the Absolute Individual

Julius Evola and the UR Group; translated by Joscelyn Godwin
Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2021. 453 pp., paper, $29.99.

Although it is an accurate translation of the Italian original, the title of this book cannot be taken at face value. A genuine beginner in occult magic would find it difficult to swim through this collection.

Introduction to Magic is a three-volume collection of articles by members of the UR group, who were Italian esotericists writing mostly in the late 1920s. Its most famous member is Julius Evola (1898–1974), a leading thinker of the Traditionalist school, who learned many of his most important ideas from this group. Its name has to do with the “power of the Fire—the Ur of the Mediterranean magical tradition,” which “is also called slancio agita-numi (god-stirring impulse).”

Magic, in the sense used here, is far from the occult magic known today. Its goal is not a result but a state. One writer says, “We have . . . justified a magical practice not by its results, but precisely and solely by the internal states beyond ordinary consciousness that one must rise to and actively possess.”

Another writer describes this state: “For the first time I felt my ‘I-ness,’ unique, whole, sufficient unto myself, independent of any person or circumstance, eternal, alone, inhabitant of my own universe, suspended in immense peace, connected to all things by a contact like a ‘diffusion of myself.’”

This path is explicitly aristocratic—for a tiny elite who are willing to undergo the discipline: “The aristocratic way of being is typified by a superiority that is virile, free, and personalized. It corresponds to the demand . . . that what is lived internally as spirituality should manifest outwardly in an equilibrium of body, soul, and will; in a tradition of honor, high bearing, and severity in attitude, even in dress . . . Even though from the outside it may seem like mere formality and stereotypical rules . . . that style can be traced to its original value as the instrument of an inner discipline: to what we might call a ritual value” (emphasis in the original). This true aristocratic type is contrasted to “the state of degeneration in which the remnant of European nobility finds itself today.”

This path espouses ideals that are practically the opposite of those of the present. It is antidemocratic and, as the recurrence of the word virile indicates, explicitly sexist. Furthermore, “the Gospel principle of returning good for evil is not for aristocrats: they may pardon and be generous, but only to a vanquished enemy, not to one still standing in the full force of the injustice.”

Consequently, readers will have to cut their way through a thicket of prejudices to appreciate this work. But whose prejudices have to be cut through—the writers’ or one’s own?

For those who can surpass these obstacles, this collection offers extraordinary insights. Of human purpose, it says, “And what of man? This stellar-planetary being is a guest on earth, where he descends solely to take up the burden of the coarse material body, to isolate himself from the cosmos and to become himself.”

Although politics per se is in the background of this work, the subject has to be considered in light of the fact that Evola was a fellow traveler of the Italian Fascist party (most of this book was written under Mussolini’s rule) and, after World War II, doyen of certain extreme right-wing European movements.

The ideal of the virile, superhuman initiate can easily mutate into that of the jackbooted totalitarian. Nonetheless, I find it possible to find many of the ideas of the UR group powerful and inspiring while wanting to have nothing to do with their supposed political implications.

In the first place, this form of magical initiation is extremely individualistic. It assumes that the values of the collective culture are completely contrary to its own ends. Indeed, the vapidity and emptiness of that culture are seen as obstacles that the aspirant must overcome to achieve superindividuation. Political activism is secondary, if not an actual distraction.

As for the extremism inspired by some of Evola’s ideas, one article here speaks of obscure “collective influences.” Someone examining current cultural and intellectual trends “would find falsifications and one-sided interpretations that cannot be considered as chance . . . The examination of so-called public opinion from this point of view would bring to light things that people today are far from suspecting.”

This passage alludes to what René Guénon, the foremost thinker of Traditionalism, called “counterinitiatic” forces—those that are not merely unconscious or irrational, but actively opposed to tradition and initiation.

Actually, extreme right-wing movements seem to present instances of these very “counterinitiatic” forces. Instead of pursuing the ideals espoused in this work—which are noble ones, whether or not one entirely agrees with their formulation—they have distorted these ideas into the usual dreary fanaticism. That they mouth Traditionalist lingo is likely the result of the very “falsifications and one-sided interpretations” that the UR authors warn against.

In short, a reader can benefit from this work without having to sign on to extremist politics. Of course this requires discernment and discrimination—but these are necessary anyway.

This translation, by esoteric scholar Joscelyn Godwin, is able and deft and provides brief but helpful annotations to obscure points. One would, however, have liked to have at least a one-page introduction to the UR group in this volume, if only for readers who may not have the explanatory material in the first two to hand. The index is, unfortunately, perfunctory.

In any event, the three volumes in this series give the English-speaking world access to a major landmark of twentieth-century European esotericism. This collection will repay any efforts to explore its dense and compendious material.

Richard Smoley