It’s annoyingly how often he comes up in the circles I run in, but let’s just cut to the chase: by Julius Evola‘s own admission in his introduction to La tradizione ermetica (The Hermetic Tradition), the book has nothing to do with Hermeticism as it actually is. When he uses the term “Hermetic tradition”, he refers to his own take on medieval and Renaissance alchemical symbolism informed by Theosophically-influenced Vedic and Hindu spirituality. From his own preface (in English translation):
In the present work we shall use the expression “hermetic tradition” in a special sense that the Middle Ages and the Renaissance gave it. It will not refer to the ancient Greco-Egyptian cult of Hermes, nor will it refer solely to the teachings comprising the Alexandrian texts of the Corpus Hermeticum. In the particular sense that we shall use it, hermetism is directly concerned with the alchemical tradition, and it is the hermetico-alchemical tradition that will be the object of our study.
If you want to learn about Hermeticism proper, Evola ain’t it. To be sure, the term “Hermeticism” has a very twisted, twisting, twisty history, but Evola does the equivalent of appropriating it and detaching it from any sense beyond a strictly post-classical alchemical tradition.
But, to be fair, Evola is someone to completely avoid regardless. On top of his fascism—he literally described himself as superfascista and thought the Nazis didn’t go far enough because they only focused on physical race and neglected spiritual race as well—the practical thing about Evola that modern occultists really need to know is that he founded a magic society (the UR Group) based on a series of solar rituals that were grossly unbalanced, turning all its members into egotistical megalomaniacs who couldn’t get along or organize for a common purpose. They all became convinced that they were, each of them, the Only True Source of Light, and so the organization exploded. Naturally, having completely failed at designing effective magic, they turned to politics that gave them permission to murder anyone who disagreed with them.
As a result, there is nothing (nothing!) that meaningful or worthwhile that you can learn from Evola’s (or the Ur Group’s) texts that you can’t learn from some other, less obnoxious, less odious, less overweening, and overall better source in the century since or the many centuries before. I mean, heck, even John Michael Greer talked once upon a time about how bad Evola was, not just politically but also magically, especially in “Introduction to Magic” but also touching on how short-lived and paltry Evola’s magical career was:
The fact of the matter is that Evola’s UR Group was a wretched flop, and the inadequacy of its system of training is a very large part of the reason why. The Group was founded in early 1927 and blew itself apart in late 1929, having achieved none of the goals Evola so confidently set out for it; the cause of death was a series of internal crises that will be wearily familiar to those who know their way around the more dysfunctional ends of today’s Neopagan scene. Furthermore, according to the useful preface contributed to the book by Renato del Ponte, two later groups of occultists who attempted to revive the UR Group’s teachings crashed and burned in exactly the same way. Part of that is a phenomenon occultists call the “tainted sphere,” which we’ll discuss in a later post, but there’s another factor at work: the practical instructions for training given in Introduction to Magic are mediocre at their best moments and seriously problematic at their worst.
[…] Turn the pages of Introduction to Magic and it’s not hard to see why. Setting aside the philosophical and symbolic essays—which again are generally of high quality—and the turgid rhetoric that seems to have been de rigueur for occult authors in that era, what you get, in terms of practical work, consists of: (a) standard advice on developing consciousness and will in everyday life, mostly cribbed from Eliphas Lévi; (b) an assortment of exercises in meditation and visualization, not well integrated with one another; (c) a few exercises with a magical mirror, for one or two persons; and (d) a simple ritual centering on Pietro d’Abano’s invocation of the archangel of the Sun, without any of the preliminary training needed to make rituals work. As a set of basic practices, that has serious problems: it leaves out a number of things essential to the novice in operative magic, and it’s imbalanced in ways that will produce (and in fact did produce) predictable problems.
[…] Evola, for his part, responded to the parallel failure of the UR Group by turning from magic to politics. His entire involvement with magic began and ended in the three years the UR Group functioned, and these were very early in his life—when the UR Group was founded, he was only twenty-six years old. His decision to turn to political action, and from there to cultural politics, was a sensible one. Since he was not the sort of person who could submit to another’s guidance and instruction, he was never going to get the kind of systematic education in magic he needed to accomplish his goals—and the lack of a systematic education in magic lay at the heart of his failure as a teacher of that art.
As noted above, JMG’s article also points out something really neat: Evola was literally just involved in magic for, like, three years. That’s it. In those few years, magic failed him because he failed at magic. Sure, he kept writing about it from time to time, as in La tradizione ermetica or Maschera e volto dello spiritualismo contemporaneo, but (as Gianfranco de Turris’ Julius Evola: The Philosopher and Magician in War: 1943—1945 notes) he did so only to continue further his repulsive views without actually doing anything more than writing what amounts to bad fanfiction of esotericism:
The issue of esotericism was also relevant in the context of Evola’s collaboration with the German Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service) and Abwehr (Military Intelligence Service) because his relationship with the German military secret services took place in view of the preparation of a model of man and society that was not intended for everyone but rather only for the “initiates” who were capable of demonstrating an inner equilibrium and knowledge superior to others. Evola’s logic in this regard was also clearly antimodern, since all the principles and values that were born of the French Revolution concerning equality and the rights of man were totally alien to him and his thinking. Esotericism represented a way to stress an inequality of men and, consequently, a different valuation of rights. Moreover, the historicist notion that the modern “surpasses” the ancient and thereby constitutes an advancement of progress was foreign to the philosopher.
[…] In reality, all of Evola’s projects during this time period—which ranged from those conceived in the final years of the war to those intended for the young militants of the Italian postwar radical Right—were not so much political as they were cultural and existential projects to develop aspects of resistance, especially on a personal level, against that modernity, which for Evola represented the source for all the evils of contemporary society.
And against modernity, sure, Evola has plenty to say, notably in his Rivolta contro il mondo moderno (Revolt Against the Modern World). Wouter J. Hanegraaff put out an excellent article about this text with his own sharp critique noting that what Evola has to say about modernity and about tradition is worth less than used single-ply toilet paper:
Let me begin on the positive side. Impressive about Evola’s book is the remarkable degree of internal logic and consistency of vision with which he deconstructs every imaginable belief or assumption that modern people tend to take for granted, exposing the whole of it as one long series of errors and perversions of the universal metaphysical truth on which all Traditional societies were based. He manages to strike a tone of “academic” authority that gives the impression that he knows what he is talking about, and it is not so hard to understand that a book like this can make a deep impression on readers who feel alienated from contemporary global consumer culture and would like to see it destroyed. With a radicalism reminiscent of contemporary Islamic Jihadists, Evola tells his readers that modernity is the very negation of everything valid and true.
So what is his alternative? This is where it quickly gets problematic. First of all, while Evola’s modern Right-wing admirers like to claim “historical consciousness” for themselves while blaming their “Liberal” enemies for having no sense of history, Evola himself makes perfectly clear that any attempt to find evidence for his historical narrative will be an utter waste of time. He claims that “Traditional man” had a “supratemporal” sense of time, and therefore the reality in which he lived cannot be grasped by modern historical methods at all. […] any critical objection, any disagreement, any reference to historical evidence that might possible undermine Evola’s narrative, and indeed any reference to historical sources at all, will have no impact whatsoever. And this fits perfectly with the extreme authoritarianism that is typical of Evola’s attitude: the reader is given to understand that it is not really Julius Evola who is speaking to us in these pages – no, he is speaking on behalf of the supreme source of superhuman metaphysical truth itself (the nature of which, by the way, remains very vague). Disagreement is therefore synonymous with spiritual ignorance: one is not supposed to ask questions but to listen and accept.
[…] So are we simply dealing here with the typical naïvety of an amateur historian? I don’t think so. I am convinced that Evola’s highhanded statements about the total irrelevance of historical scholarship reflect an acute awareness on his part that these methods and technical tools had the power to undermine and destroy everything he wanted to say. If he dismisses textual criticism or philological analysis ex cathedra, describing them as the feeble props of deluded ignorants, this is because he knows that in reality they are deadly weapons against which his claims would be utterly helpless. Better discredit your critics in advance so that your readers will not even bother taking their arguments seriously. Better make use of the popular and populist resentment of “academics” in their ivory tower, of all those “specialists” who are making everything so difficult instead of telling a clear and simple story that normal people can understand. We find a similar strategy in the current conservative and rightwing campaigns of denying climate change (Trump: “just look out the window!”), undermining the credibility of science and academic research, attempting to defund Humanities programs, and spreading the trope of “alternative facts”. Science and scholarship are inconvenient to these antimodernists because they hinder them in saying what they want to say and doing what they want to do. Never let evidence stand in the way of a good story. We find the same approach in Evola. In sum, I do not think he doesn’t take historians seriously, on the contrary: he is afraid of them. He knows that his weapons are no match for theirs, and so he seeks to avoid a direct confrontation.
Also, I note as a historical point of interest, he apparently had a habit of walking around Vienna during bombing raids during World War II to “ponder his destiny”, and during one such raid in 1945, was hit by shrapnel that damaged his spinal cord, paralyzing him from the waist down for the rest of his life. He was, to put it plainly, an astounding idiot with little sense of self-preservation on top of his horrific and banal “philosophy”.
Why, then, do people consider this rubbish to be some sort of grand luminary? I mean, I can guess: the man was an egotistical, hyperfascist, woman-hating, violent abuser of not just other human beings but of human dignity itself. He was barely even an armchair magician (who literally failed at becoming anything more) and was more interested in romanticizing his own ahistorical, easily-wrecked notion of “tradition” that acclaimed the superiority of white men more than anything and anyone else, and such a view is replete throughout all his writings. As a result of that and his sick self-aggrandizing desire to get people riled up in the usual ways bigotry likes to do, his influence continues to dominate in neo-fascist occult circles and in modern far-right political circles as well. The sooner everyone drops his shit and leaves him to be swallowed by the sands of time in favor of literally anyone better (and it’s genuinely easy to find anyone better, and I do mean anyone), the better off we’ll all be.
To impress how severe my stance on him is: Evola and his ilk is one of the extremely few blights I take upon Hermetic studies/spirituality (and humanity in general) more seriously and more vitriolically than the Kybalion. Remember that the only thing fascists deserve is immolation and drowning, not any sort of space or platform within our communities. (This is not a call to violence, I should note, but merely a call to defense against those whose ideologies promise nothing but violence already. The cure for this is simple: don’t be fascist.)
The above was posted in a shorter form on the /r/Hermeticism subreddit, which itself was a comment in reply to a now-deleted thread, which itself was an adaptation from an earlier Twitter thread of mine, which was yet earlier a series of comments from an older discussion in the Hermetic House of Life Discord server. Still, given how often it crops up in any number Hermetic communities, I wanted to share this more widely and publicly for other people to see as well. In my own Hermetic community on Discord, I’ve noticed a strong correlation between those who stan or otherwise unflaggingly support Evola and those who show their whole ass with rancidly fascist takes in short order. It’s not a good look, and such people tend to not last long in the communities I run in. To that end, I am powerfully disinterested in debating the merit of Evola’s writings at any length.
EDIT: I couldn’t not share this on my blog from a good friend: