Friday, August 26, 2011

A Secret Meeting in Rome by Raymond Bernard

Brazen Serpent   108 pages.  Illustrated.  Full color.  Octavo.

Full leather (two colors, two varieties) with ribbon book marker, limited edition of 108 copies.    

A Secret Meeting in Rome was originally published in the early 1960s.  This current edition has been translated from the original French by Timothy W. Hogan, who also provides the introduction.  At its core, A Secret Meeting in Rome is a highly esoteric text falling within the traditions of Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, and even Sufism.  The story is written much like a journal.  A gentleman has a chance meeting with a stranger in Rome who turns out to be a adept of a secret society.  Later, they find themselves in a hidden crypt or grotto beneath a church.  Here they encounter 'The Cardinal in White' who explains their chance meeting wasn't chance at all, but rather had been orchestrated by unseen forces.  While in the subterranean grotto, the gentlemen go through an initiation making them part of an ancient order.  The Cardinal in White is a symbolic figure in Western esotericism symbolizing an elevated or enlightened state of consciousness.  A similar figure is encountered in Gustav Meyrink's surreal and esoteric novel, The White Dominican.

The book is written using a heavy amount of symbolism and allegory.  Much is written in code, and therefore functions on many levels; a meta-fiction, if you will.  One could say the plot is just the carrier for the signal.  Clues to hidden meanings are given in some cases, but by and large one needs to be a student of the Western Mystery Tradition (or even be an initiate) to understand the book's hidden content.  Even the book itself has hidden meaning.  For example, the book has 108 pages.  108 is also the number of copies printed.  The number 108 plays a key part in the story.  According to the book, 108 is the "prophetical number".  The book claims there are 108 years between periods of active and inactive existence of the Rosicrucian Order.  108 can be made into 9 (1+0+8).  9 equals the Hermit card of the tarot which has symbolic meaning linked to the book.  The text explains that 108, "is, above all, 'the periphery' of a triangle based on the number 37 of which the total of the sides is 111, a Christos number, which symbolizes the summit.  It is, thus, the number of accomplishment."

The book itself is very impressive.  It is bound in two different types of leather: medium grained dark blue leather boards and half-bound in a lighter grained, soft, black, leather (calfskin, I think).  The cover is stamped in gold with the Templar cross sporting the alchemical phrase, "Materializing the Spiritual, Spiritualizing the Material".  The title is stamped in gold on the spine between two raised bands and decorated with golden Templar crosses at the tail and head.  Shimmering, black, satin endpapers create a very lavish look.  White/blue head and tail bands.  A black satin ribbon is appreciated but seems a tad thin (only about 1/8th inch wide).  The font is large and an odd choice; 'Arial', I think.  But at least it's easy on the eyes.  Fonts are like coats: better a tad too large than a tad too small.  In addition, the text margins seem a bit narrow.  For example, the text sits only 1/2" from the top and side edges.  3/4" would have been a better choice, making the text block look less confined.  The paper is of heavy weight and has a smooth satin finish which creates occasional glare -- part of the trade off for smooth paper. 

Very minor quibbles aside, it's a striking publication from a relatively new press.  If 108 is the number of 'accomplishment', then Brazen Serpent certainly met their goals.  For those unfamiliar with Brazen Serpent, they are "A Denver-based publishing house specializing in Western Mystery Tradition Masonic Esoterica, Hermetic philosophy, and related material."  Their other two recent releases, Novo Clavis Esoterica and The Secret Psychology of Freemasonry are equally stunning.  Brazen Serpent appears to be part of a burgeoning movement within Freemasonry whose goal is to reemphasize esoteric teachings within the order. 

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