Some Praise About Turn Off Your Mind From The Times Literary Supplement

“Billed as an enquiry into those occult undercurrents which flowed beneath the social revolution of the 1960s, this book burgeons over the course of 500 pages, into something approaching a magical history of the twentieth century – a primer in the significance of Madame Blavatsky, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, H.P. Lovecraft, Conan the Barbarian, L. Ron Hubbard, Erich von Daniken, Uri Geller, Anton LaVey, the Rolling Stones, and the demon Choronzon. Colin Wilson and Marianne Faithfull are thanked in the acknowledgements.

Gary Lachman, once the bassist for the pop band Blondie, makes a likeable, unpretentious, knowledgeable guide, lacing his text with hints of autobiography which suggest the glamour of his past. While far from being a sceptic, Lachman is nonetheless capable of bracing cynicism when required. Pleasingly, his book is filled with terrific stories, the veracity of which he neither accepts without question nor dismisses out of hand. The most intriguing tales include Charles Manson auditioning for the Monkees, the 1974 ‘kidnap’ of David Bowie by what the singer claimed were ‘ a warlock and two witches’ who wanted him’ to meet the Devil’ and, somehow most cherishably, a description of a Sicilian holiday embarked  on in 1955 by the sexologist Alfred Kinsey and the experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger, in which they made a pilgrimage to the ruins of the former home of Aleister Crowley, where they set to work at once on a project of restoration, soon discovering obscene murals of ‘ one-eyed demons’ and a ‘ magic circle, covered over by a concrete floor.’ “ Jonathan Barnes in The Times Literary Supplement

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An excerpt from A Concise History of Book Burning, 2nd edition 2013

Estimates of the number of works collected within the library of Alexandria range from 500,000, to more than a million, but as no list or catalogue of the library’s contents has ever come to light, these figures must remain possibilities. The number of scrolls, however, must have been great, as the library was founded by Ptolemy I Soter, and continued to exist in some form until the sack of Alexandria by the Arab leader Amr ibn al’Aas in 639 AD. Asked what should be done with the library, Amr ibn al’Aas is reported to have said that the books ‘either contradict the Koran, in which case they are heresy, or they agree with it, in which case they are superfluous,’ and ordered they be burned to heat the baths for his soldiers. Debate remains over the truth of this, as it does over much that is said about the library, but by this time it had been accidentally burned by Julius Caesar, when he inadvertently set fire to it while trying to prevent Ptolemy III from reaching his ships (48 BC); suffered pillage by the Emperor Aurelian (273 AD); and was destroyed by the Christian Patriarch Theophilus in 391, when the Christian Emperor Theodosius ordered the destruction of all pagan temples. On this occasion, the Serapeum, dedicated to the worship of the syncretic god Serapis, was also destroyed, as were temples to Mithras and other heathen deities.

Alexandria had been a remarkably tolerant city under Greek and pagan Roman rule, but by the time the Christians had control, this liberal attitude had vanished, and Theodosius is credited with inaugurating the practice of burning books on purpose (unlike Julius Caesar, who only did it by accident.) Not long after Theophilus started scouring Alexandria clean of heathens, the pagan philosopher Hypatia, one of the most brilliant women of the ancient world, was attacked by a mob of Christian fanatics, who skinned her alive with oyster shells and burned her remains. They were encouraged in this by Cyril, the Christian patriarch who followed Theophilus, and who was later canonized. Although the Platonic Academy would carry on for another century or so, to all intents and purposes, the pagan world ended with Hypatia’s death.

As the library housed most of the world’s great knowledge it understandably attracted the world’s thinkers and scholars. We can only surmise what other writings could be found in this lost treasure — many, no doubt, that we have never heard of — but known to have been contained in its shelves were the works of Euclid, Archimedes, and the astronomer Ptolemy, whose view of the cosmos would remain dominant until Copernicus pointed out its discrepancies in 1543. Among others whose work could be found in the library were Eratosthenes, who knew the circumference of the Earth, and Aristarchus, who argued that the planets orbit the sun, centuries before Copernicus did. The forty-two books that Clement of Alexandria attributed to Hermes Trismegistus were, he believed, available at the library. These, alas, he also believed had been destroyed by Julius Caesar’s clumsiness.

Welcome to Gary Lachman’s pages, where consciousness and culture meet, or at least get as close together as possible.

Hi, I’m Gary Lachman (also known as Gary Valentine), the writer, journalist, and musician who, at least according to one critic, is “an increasingly prolific engine of literate, well-written, and clearheaded books about esoteric history and ‘occulture’.” (Erik Davis at Techgnosis.com, bless him) Here you can find out about my books and music, discover links to some of my writings, and read comments people have made about my work. You can also find notices for my forthcoming books, and updates on my talks, lectures, interviews, and broadcasts. You can also leave your own comments, ask questions, provide answers, or simply say hello. As the cultural historian Jacques Barzun – currently defying entropy at 102 – remarked “The finest achievement of human society and its rarest pleasure is Conversation.” Who are we to contradict him? So please, join in.