Frequently Asked Questions
Why do we use Amazon.com to fulfill our orders?
Glad you asked. We do so because, with a host of wonderful books to prepare, it is just too time-consuming to fill orders ourselves. We spend time doing what we are good at—publishing great books.
Now there are various ways to solve such a problem, but Amazon works best for us, and also (as you shall shortly see) for you. It even makes you a contributor to Sophia Perennis, whether you know it or not!
You see, Amazon can get our books faster than we, the publisher, can! AND, this is cheaper for us in several ways, and for you. For us, because they will accept a ‘short’ discount (less than half what a bookstore would ask), and, when they fill orders directly from our printer, various other charges do not come our way. Best of all (well, nearly best, read on….) they often offer discounts to customers. AND, if you order more than $25 worth of books at a time (one or two Sophia Perennis books, that is), and you are not in a fidgety hurry, you can select Super Saver shipping and not pay a dime for your books’ ride to your home.
But there is an even better reason: We have arranged that when you buy from Amazon starting from our website (a VERY important point, as you will see), they will not only send us what we are owed as publisher, but will also pay us a small referral fee—just because we sent you to them! And the more business we send this way, the higher the percentage of that referral fee. So you see, with no cost to you, you are donating to Sophia Perennis. A painless contribution!
But wait! It gets even better. You see, as far as this referral fee is concerned, it makes absolutely no difference what books you buy (whether SP books or not). In fact, it makes no difference whether you buy books or anything else Amazon sells (which means just about anything else at all…). ANYTHING you buy while you are at Amazon after having been directed there from the Sophia Perennis website qualifies for the referral fee! In fact, if you want to add to Sophia Perennis’ publication fund without actually sending a donation, you could just remember, whenever you shop at Amazon, to do so by going there from our site. And to make that very easy, you will see a small Amazon search window displayed on the site. That’s the way in. Why, we are told that some websites are able to maintain a large portion of their operation by this means alone.
Thanks for reading this far! It took this long to explain all these wonders.
FAQs on the Traditionalist School
What is “Traditionalism?”
Traditionalism is a school of traditional metaphysics, esoterism and “comparative” religion, founded (as we can now say in retrospect) by Rene Guenon and Ananda K. Coomaraswamy in the first half of the 20th Century, and carried on primarily by Frithjof Schuon, who passed away in 1998. The names of the major past members of the School include Titus Burckhardt, Marco Pallis, Martin Lings, Julius Evola and a number of others; the pre-eminent living Traditionalist is undoubtedly Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Their collected writings comprise perhaps the greatest commentaries on the metaphysics of the revealed religions that have appeared for centuries, at least in the western world.
What is this “esoterism”? Is it like occultism?
Esoterism is the inner core of any true religion. Sometimes it appears as a separate “estate”, like Sufism within Islam; sometimes it is simply the ultimate depth of the religion in question, reachable by any believer who, God-willing, can plumb that depth (as in the case of Christianity); sometimes an entire religion becomes, as it were, a kind of esoterism (Buddhism in some ways satisfies this definition). Esoterism is NOT occultism, but when the esoterics desert their parent religion and set up shop on their own, this will sometimes precipitate a fall from the level of esoterism to that of occultism, often resulting in the pollution of an originally healthy and orthodox contemplative spirituality with various heterodox and magical elements.
What is “metaphysics”? Is it a kind of philosophy? Or something that I might learn about at a “metaphysical” bookstore?
Traditional metaphysics has nothing to do with much of what passes for “metaphysics” today—the pursuit of psychic powers and the attraction to the uncanny. It is the study of eternal principles, and of God as the First Principle, both Pure Being—the personal God to Whom we pray, and Who appears as a Person to us, since we ourselves are persons—and the Formless Absolute, beyond even Being itself. The intuition of an Absolute Reality that transcends not only the senses but thought, feeling, and imagination as well—that is eternally beyond them, yet revealed by all of them as their true Essence—is the origin of “the sense of the sacred.” Metaphysics can be elaborated by the thinking mind and expressed through creative imagination, but its true source is Intellection: the faculty of the human spirit by which Truth (God-willing) is seen directly, just as the eye sees light. Metaphysics is the intellectual guardian of true religion, just as religion is the existential proof of true metaphysics: to love God is to know Him, and to know Him is to receive the power to realize Him, down to the marrow of our bones. This is the purpose of human life.
Who was Rene Guenon?
Rene Guenon was a French metaphysician who almost single-handedly reintroduced traditional metaphysics to a 20th century Europe which had not only largely lost an understanding of the metaphysical depths of its own tradition, Christianity, but which saw the religions of the East largely through the distorted lens of the colonializing orientalists, and esoterism mostly in terms of the heterodox fantasies of the occultists. Early in life he investigated, and sometimes joined, nearly every occult group, movement, or secret society that was operating in France before and during the First World War, and emerged in the 1920’s with a clear understanding that such groups were by and large not only deluded but spiritually subversive; this led him to publish telling critiques of Theosophy and spiritualism. He began a study the esoterisms of the traditional, revealed religions under fully empowered exemplars of these traditions, and produced masterful works on Vedanta, Taoism, Dante, and certain aspects of Islamic Sufism, understood not from the outside but in their own terms. While in Europe he was a practicing Catholic, dialoguing with such figures as Jacques Maritain, but he ultimately despaired of a metaphysical revival in the West, was initiated into Sufism, embraced Islam, and emmigrated to Egypt, never to return. He wrote on “pure” metaphysics, ancient civilizations, folklore, sacred symbolism, and on the marks and parameters of true initiatic esoterism. He had hoped that an understanding of the as yet relatively uncorrupted religions of the East might re-awaken the West to the metaphysical depths of its own tradition, but by the end of his life he realized that this cycle of manifestation was rapidly drawing to a close. He therefore produced, in his prophetic masterpiece The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, what might be called “a metaphysical dialectic of the End Times.”. He passed away in 1951.
Who was Ananda Coomaraswamy?
Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy, father of Rama P. Coomaraswamy, was an Anglo-Indian from Sri Lanka, involved in the early struggles for Indian independence, who wrote many important works on traditional Indian art before he began his studies of sacred symbolism and comparative metaphysics, in which he drew profound parallels between various Hindu doctrines and those of Western figures such as Dante, St. Thomas Aquinas, and William Blake. Later in life became a curator at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He influenced not only the Traditionalist School but such 20th century mythographers as Heinrich Zimmer and Joseph Campbell.
Who was Marco Pallis?
Marco Pallis was a musician and mountaineer, and a friend of Coomaraswamy and Guenon; he was one of the few westerners to gain access to Tibet before World War II. He wrote wonderful books on his travels, his experiences in Tibet, and his deeply cultured and sympathetic understanding of Buddhism.
Who was Frithjof Schuon?
Frithjof Schuon was the last true “master” of the Traditionalist School, a Swiss metaphysician and artist who emigrated to the United States in 1980. He was initiated into Sufism by the great Sufi saint of Morocco, Shaykh Ahmad al-Alawi, but the “unofficial” Sufi order he founded (this is how he himself described it), named the Maryamiyya, was based more directly upon certain powerful visions he received of the Virgin Mary. He was also profoundly influenced by Native American spirituality, was initiated into at least two of the Plains tribes, and counted a number of traditional “medicine” men among his friends. He was the author of many books of the highest order of intellectual brilliance on themes of metaphysics, esoterism, and comparative religion. In these works he supplemented doctrines derived from Rene Guenon with insights drawn from the writings of the greatest metaphysical sages of nearly all the traditions, as well as his own rare intellective discernment. He passed away in 1998 at the age of 91.
Who was Titus Burckhardt?
Titus Burckhardt was a long-time friend and colleague of Frithjof Schuon. As a writer on metaphysics and sacred art, he was perhaps second only to Schuon himself among the Traditionalists who succeeded Coomaraswamy and Guenon.
Who was Martin Lings?
Martin Lings, also known as Abu Bakr Siraj al-Din, was a British Traditionalist, a close associate and follower of Schuon. He published important books on Sufism, the Prophet Muhammad, the spiritual meaning of Shakespeare, traditional eschatology, and other topics. Of all the Traditionalists surrounding Schuon, he was perhaps the one (along with Seyyed Hossein Nasr) who kept the best balance between Islam and Perennialism, being truly and sincerely Muslim while accepting the Perennialist doctrine (which can also be found in the Holy Qur’an) that God has sent more than one revelation to humanity, a number of which are still in force.
Who was Julius Evola?
Baron Julius Evola was an Italian Traditionalist, a close associate of Rene Guenon, and a writer of many brilliant books on various aspects of traditional culture, religion, and esoterism, only a few of which have been translated into English. He was a bit more “Nietzschian” than the other Traditionalists, however, and entertained certain “hopes” for Mussolini and Hitler, though he also criticized them, and was never a member of the Fascist Party. (These hopes were ultimately disappointed.) Though he worked and wrote on a much higher level than most “occultists,” his practice of what he termed “magic” and his lack of personal commitment to a single revealed religion are among the things that led Frithjof Schuon, and most of his followers, to largely reject him. He nonetheless retains a large following in Europe, and is one of the philosophical ancestors of the “intellectual Goths.”
Who Was Rama P. Coomaraswamy?
Rama Coomaraswamy was the son of AnandHe was born in the United States, received much of his early education in India, and after graduating from Harvard became a cardiac surgeon and some-time personal physician to Mother Theresa, with whom he served the poor in CalcuttThough early on he was initiated into Hinduism, he adopted Roman Catholicism as the most traditional spiritual path available in the Western world, and when Vatican II all but destroyed the Catholic tradition, he became one of the most outspoken critics of the changes in the Church, embracing sede vaccantism. When he was forced to retire from the practice of medicine due to ill health, he re-trained as a psychiatrist, and was later ordained as a traditional Catholic priest, finally becoming a practicing exorcist and a colleague of Fr. Malachi Martin.
Who were or are some of the other members of the Traditionalist School?
Among the departed: Alvin Moore, Jr. and Philip Sherrard (both Christians); Whitall Perry; Charles LeGai Eaton; Victor Danner; Leo Schaya (a Jewish writer on Kabbalah who converted to Islam); Luc Benoist; Michel Vaslan; Lord Northbourne; Tage Lindbom; Kurt Almqvist; Angus Macnab. (Gai Eaton and Victor Danner could be said to have “left” the Traditionalist School, however; later in life they became more exclusively identified with Islam than with Traditionalism per se.)
Among the living: Seyyed Hossein Nasr; Huston Smith; William Stoddart; Elemire Zolla; Jean Borella (though he is perhaps better described as the greatest and most appreciative critic of
Rene Guenon, by virtue of his book Guénonian Esoterism and Christian Mystery, Sophia Perennis, 2004) ; Wolfgang Smith; James Cutsinger; Reza Shah-kazemi; Mark Perry; Michael Fitzgerald; Charles Upton; Jennifer Doane Upton; Marty Glass; Harry Oldmeadow; Rodney Blackhirst; Roger Sworder; Timothy Scott; Brian Keeble; Patrick Laude; Barry McDonald.
Are there any people not formally associated with the Traditionalist School that the Traditionalists appreciate or are willing to accept?
Among modern scholars and teachers: Henry Corbin; Louis Massignon; Mircea Eliade; Thomas Yellowtail, Black Elk; Joseph Epes Brown; Toshihiko Izutsu; among the sages of the past, Meister Eckhart, Dante Alighieri, Shankaracharya, Lao Tzu, Ibn al’Arabi, Jalaluddin Rumi, the Sufi writer Niffari, and a host of others.
Did the main figures of the Traditionalist School—Guenon, Coomaraswamy, Pallis, Evola, Schuon— agree on everything?
Of course not. The main disagreement between Guenon and Schuon was that Guenon believed Christianity had lost its esoteric dimension, which is why he spent fruitless years trying to “purify” Freemasonry so that it might work as an “esoteric Christianity,” while Schuon defined Christianity as an “exo-esoterism,” an esoteric doctrine preached openly to the masses, so that it finally became, as it were, hidden by its own manifestation. According to Schuon (as well as Dionysius the Areopagite) the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation/Chrismation, and Eucharist are Christian rites of initiation.
Guenon also considered Buddhism a heterodox and invalid tradition until Ananda Coomaraswamy and Marco Pallis set him straight.
As for Evola, though he had close ties with Guenon, the followers of Schuon dismiss him because, according to them at least, he placed the warrior/kshatriya initiation above the priestly/brahmin initiation.
Does “Traditional” mean “conservative”?
Not really. The Traditionalists are essentially a-political, at least as a group, and although many of them tend to be rather conservative politically, they make a clear distinction between the sort of reactionary “conservatism” represented, for example, by the Islamic fundamentalists (who can just as well be called “radical”) and the true traditional exemplars of a given religion. Radical and reactionary “conservatives” such as the Islamicists tend to be influenced by modernist ideas originating in the West without realizing it. They are opposed to the “secularizers” of the religion who have adopted Western liberal ideologies, but both they and the secularizers oppose the traditional core of Islam. The same dynamic can be found today in most of the other religions as well.
However, mention must be made of certain extreme rightist groups, particularly in Europe, who claim to follow Guenon (often having come to him through Evola), but seem to have no interest whatever in metaphysics or traditional religion; they claim Guenon—who was almost entirely a-political—but they do not understand him.
I’ve heard the Traditionalists also referred to as “Perennialists” or even “Integralists.” Are these all the same people?
Yes and no. It may be (but it is not yet clearly established) that those who now like to call themselves “Perennialists” are becoming a bit nervous about the rule that a Traditionalist must remain faithful in his or her personal practice to one and only one of the revealed Traditions; and some people apparently see little difference between “Traditionalist” Perennialism and the Perennial Philosophy as defined by Aldous Huxley in a book of the same name, though any “orthodox” Traditionalist would consider them to be poles apart. As for Integralism, we suspect (but are not sure) that it may have originated in the “integral theory,” “integral psychology,” and/or “integral spirituality” of Ken Wilber—who, though he has described himself as a “Neo-Perennialist,” has little in common with the Traditionalists, and certainly does not satisfy their criteria.
I’ve also heard the Traditionalists described as being “against the modern world.” How true is this? And how can you be against the modern world if you have to live in it?
If civilizations in earlier ages were formed more completely on metaphysical or religious principles—and every civilization we know of was the result of the divine revelation or a metaphysical conception of reality (our own “civilization” being simply the rapidly-dissolving decay-product of Christendom)—it’s not surprising that those who are attempting to base their lives on such principles today would often refer to the past. But that doesn’t mean they want to return to past social forms, or even believe that this is possible. It is a principle of Tradition that historical ages have their own particular qualities; no matter how dark our times may be, the fact that we ourselves live in these times is no accident. Even the darkest of historical moments conceal unique spiritual potentials that can only be realized under the specific conditions they represent. Traditionalism is not so much against the modern world as against This World, the system of collective egotism based on the mass denial of God. It holds this in common with all God-dedicated men and women of all places and times.
Traditionalism, with its doctrine of the Transcendent Unity of Religions, apparently believes that more than one religion is valid. Does this mean it wants to combine them all into one BIG religion?
No; Traditionalism rejects all syncretism. The differences between the religions are as providential as the aspects they have in common. Mixing religions is like trying to walk down two parallel paths at once; it can’t be done, except in fantasy. The true and revealed religions were all sent by, refer back to, and grant access to, the same Absolute Reality, but their paths do not converge in this world; the Unity of Religions exists only in the Transcendent. Thus Traditionalism, as long as it remains true to its first principles, is totally opposed to all attempts to federate the world’s religions under a non-religious authority, or to create a One-World religion.
Traditionalism requires that its followers make a serious commitment to ONE of the revealed religions. Doesn’t this conflict with the idea that more than one religion is valid? How can you make a serious commitment to a religion if you don’t see that religion as the Truth itself?
The only way, ultimately, is to develop so deep and unshakable a sense of God or Absolute Reality that It itself, not your particular religion, becomes the primary focus of your faith—and then to understand your religious path as an incomparable gift given to you by That One, Who has specifically called you to approach Him by means of it. Your religion thus becomes, like your human beloved, your “one and only”; to compare it with other religions is useless, irrelevant, actually an insult to the One who has called you to Him by means of it, since such comparisons require that you turn your attention away from Him and concentrate upon secondary matters. In pursuing the Transcendent Unity of Religions you learn how to leave others to their own destined paths, and discover (God willing) that your sole duty is to follow your own path to its ultimate end.