A review of Secret Symbols of the Hell Fire Club or the Mystic Society of Thelema Considered from an Occult Perspective (2017) by Eamonn Loughran and edited by Shaun Johnson
As Thelemic Adepts, we collect three types of books: those that illuminate esoteric symbols, those that describe history, and those that amuse us. We can honestly say that this book represents a rarity: it does all three, well.
Loughran makes a detailed case that Sir Francis Dashwood’s 18th-century Hell Fire Club was an esoteric secret society, and that the Club’s caves at West Wycombe were its initiatory chambers. With nuance and clarity, the author systematically unfolds the symbolism of the Club’s membership structure, rituals, and sacred items. Clearly, he has invested many decades of research and personal occult work in developing his views.
Loughran impressed us with his understanding that successful initiation happens only inside the candidate, who consciously or unconsciously absorbs the drama as projections of his or her own inner world. No magic exists that can force a spiritual transformation. All that can be done is to set up the proper atmosphere and conditions and hope for the best. For example, of one Club officer, Loughran writes, “The Stewards are best seen as manifestations of a Truth: that within us all is a guide or teacher that may lead us into places yet unknown.”
Throughout the book, Loughran maintains the Thelemic stance that every individual has his or her own, unique guidance, and the most a School can hope to do is to energize certain Universal structures within the soul. He affirms, “[W]e should beware of any who suggest that their truth is to be held higher in our esteem than our own.” The symbolism of the Hell Fire Club, as outlined in this book, is both distinctive and strongly fed by Western occult traditions in alchemy, astrology, Qabalah, and more. As such, any sufficiently advanced Western occultist is bound to find inspiration in this book for their own current spiritual work, regardless of the particulars of their path. Beginners might be confused by the richness and depth of the symbolism presented, but at least they will be exposed to a genuine development of it.
Resources for further research are also provided. The historical work in this book is balanced and honest. It represents a real grappling with the available evidence without fostering false myths or generating self-serving conclusions that elevate the author to guru status. How refreshing. The 140 beautiful illustrations make the book a sheer pleasure to read or even browse, and many of the illustrations themselves arouse the insight. The images by occultist painter Maxwell Armfield particularly fascinated us.
The Hell Fire Club draws its inspiration and basic symbols from the masterpiece of the 16th-century French writer François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, with its famed Abbey of Thélème, whose one rule of conduct is ‘Fay ce que vouldras’—Do what thou wilt! The Club, of course, shares this influence with the later occultist and Thelemic prophet Aleister Crowley. Its allies and champions will be all those who embrace the total, divine freedom of the human being.
In an era when most so-called occult writing is derivative, sloppy, shallow, and self-serving, Secret Symbols of the Hell Fire Club lights up the sky like a comet. We strongly recommend you add this beautiful, well-crafted, well-written spiritual treasure to your library.
J. Edward and Erica M Cornelius City of Berkeley, California, U.S.A
Sun in 14° Capricorn, Moon in 18° Leo
January 4th, 2018 e.v.