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28 Sep 2009

Review: The Golden Thread: The Ageless Wisdom of the Western Mystery Traditions (Joscelyn Godwin)

The Golden Thread: The Ageless Wisdom of the Western Mystery Traditions
Joscelyn Godwin
200 pgs.; 6”x9”; 2007; Perfect bound

Reviewed by Aaron Garland

TAGLINE: Out of Plato’s cave…into the Real World.

My first encounter with Joscelyn Godwin’s work occurred about 10 years ago while leafing through an issue of the journal Rûna. Godwin’s article, “Polar and Solar Symbolism,” profoundly opened me to an esoteric school of thought that captivates my mind to this very day. Since then, I have read a handful of his other works, including the truly astounding Arktos which provided a foundation for further philosophical and spiritual inquiry. Henceforth, it continues with his latest book, The Golden Thread. For those who are unfamiliar with Godwin, this latest offering is as good a place to start as any. In fact, it may be his most accessible work to date.

The Golden Thread opens with an informative and insightful Foreword courtesy of Richard Smoley, followed by Godwin’s Preface which explains the terms ‘esoteric’ and ‘exoteric’. Although this book provides a linear history of numerous prophets, priest-kings, and philosophers, the esoteric current underlying their teachings is the gist of this book. Additionally, Chapter 1, “The Prisca Thelogia” (the primordial theology) crucially lays the foundation upon which the subsequent material rests.

Godwin covers a staggering amount of material in the first part of The Golden Thread that can be a bit overwhelming at times. Even so, his coverage of renowned philosophers Pythagoras and Plato (each of whom an entire chapter is devoted) is quite fascinating and highlights their larger-than-life personalities and landmark work in the fields of music, mathematics, astronomy, and politics. Godwin also discusses contemporary figures such as Carl Jung, including some critical remarks regarding Erich von Dänkien’s enormously popular but mundane pulps on “gods from outer space.”

Subsequent chapters of this book touch upon many facets of the esoteric world including Mithraism, Gnosticism, sacred geometry, and alchemy. Throughout, Godwin never fails to emphasize the timeless essence of these disciplined fields of study, which demand knowledge over devotion or mere worship. The largely secular world we reside in today has relegated these topics to the anachronistic and antiquated dustbins of history. To the contrary, Godwin maintains these are avenues for re-discovery and application in the modern age for the discerning mind.

Overall, The Golden Thread is essential reading for those who are disenchanted with both the religious fundamentalism (in any form) and scientific materialism that hold sway in the modern world. Godwin proposes a “third way” to this unsavory dualism, a transcendent philosophy that ultimately proposes more questions than it provides answers. For those who want easy answers, dogma, for better or worse, is always in vogue and never in short supply. For the former group, Godwin offers the optimistic view of the New Age movement (nebulous as it may be) or the pessimistic doctrine of the Traditionalists. Of the latter, Godwin quotes directly from Julius Evola’s Ride the Tiger, “…in the Kali Yuga there is no tradition left, and that the rare person who aspires to a spiritual path must make his own heroic and lonely way.” In any case, it is indeed a rare person who can muster the ability to face these dire times with, as Godwin so aptly puts it, “mild amusement.”

(Note: In addition to the trade paperback version, a limited clothbound edition of The Golden Thread is available from Dominion Press).

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