Filmmaker Seeking Esoteric Texts For Vast Collection on the Occult

E. Elias Merhige, a filmaker in Beverly Hills, boasts an extensive collection of rare texts related to the occult in his extensive personal library

When filmmaker E. Elias Merhige made his first movie, “Begotten,” 1989’s black-and-white allegory about death and transformation, he hoped, like any recent film school grad, it would change his life. It did in ways he could not imagine. It launched his career, highlights of which include 2000’s “Shadow of the Vampire,” starring John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe, and the serial killer thriller, “Suspect Zero,” starring Ben Kingsley. But beyond that, “Begotten” introduced him to the works of Hermes Trismegistus, the purported author of the pre-Christian volume “Corpus Hermeticum,” a series of texts that espouse an understanding of the universe based on principles of astrology, alchemy and magic.

Merhige has a translation of that ancient text, four volumes published between 1926-1936, in his rare book collection tucked away at his home in Beverly Hills. Numbering 2,400 titles acquired at auction and through private dealers, the focus of his library is early mysticism and Freemasonry, including volumes by authors like W.B. Yeats and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Central to the collection is a first edition set of the works of German philosopher Jakob Böhme whose first book, “Aurora,” appeared in 1612, reintroducing ideas derived from “Corpus Hermeticum” to a post-Enlightenment Europe open to novel concepts. The library also includes rare 17th century English translations of Böhme’s work, as well as former Church of England Priest William Law’s translations from the 18th century. That four-volume collection formerly belonged to the Earl of Cromer, who served as Consul General of Egypt from 1883-1907.

“It’s alive and you feel an authenticity when you read his (Böhme’s) texts, and a sense of urgency,” Merhige says of the author, whose works were foundational to the Romanticists, and could be found in the personal libraries of poets like Goethe and William Blake. “Böhme has a huge effect on Isaac Newton’s thinking and Friedrich Hölderlin, the great poet. Friedrich Schelling, the nature philosopher, was deeply moved by Böhme, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, even Wagner.”

The expansive collection contains not just books, but esoterica like an 1888 hand-painted tarot deck bearing the stamp of Madame Blavatsky, who co-founded the Theosophical Society of New York. In London, where the deck is from, she established the Blavatsky Lodge in 1887, which inspired a like-minded organization, The Golden Dawn, the following year.

Adherents included occultist Aleister Crowley, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker and W.B. Yeats. Also among them was actor Florence Farr who, along with playwright Olivia Shakespeare, wrote two plays in the Hermetic tradition, “The Beloved of Hathor” and “The Shrine of the Golden Hawk,” both part of the library. “What I’m after is what animates the human being, the kind of things the Romantics were after. Like when Mary Shelley wrote ‘Frankenstein,’ what is that spark that animates life?” Merhige wonders. “Maybe that’s my attraction to analog film, the physicality, the emulsion that reacts to light and to chemicals and then creates the image with which you tell your story. It’s a living organism like a human being. With certain films stocks and certain lenses, I can create color and images.”

For Merhige, the collection is not merely a compulsion, but a source of inspiration for works, like his recently completed cinematic cosmic opera, “Polia and Blastema,” an allegory told through the blending of two souls to achieve a transcendent new form.

An 1888 hand-painted tarot deck bearing the stamp of Madame Blavatsky, co-founder of the Theosophical Society of New York, is among the items in E. Elias Merhige’s rare collection.

Nearing completion, his epic novel titled “Verilion” grapples with similar ideas grounded in the Hermetic tradition.

“I’m referencing through the last five or six thousand years of civilization, from Asia to Egypt to ancient Greece to Rome to the Renaissance to today. Everything you see here represents a small part of a larger atlas of the essential nature of the human soul, how it is constituted and how it manifests through images, feelings and words,” Merhige says of the collection, which remains a work in progress.

Still on his list are the first 14 tracts of the first Latin translation of “Corpus Hermeticum” by Marsilio Ficino in 1471, as well as various magical tracts from the first appearance of Giordano Bruno’s 16th-century works based on the same volume.

“This is really what I’m after with the library, which is to create this kind of working mind that I can walk through,” Merhige explains. “When I read their thoughts, they mingle with my thoughts, they become alive again. I think the library is the closest thing to immortality. It’s where the dead speak to us and become alive through us.”

Original Post: Los Angeles Daily News – By Jordan Riefe | jordan.riefe@gmail.com | Orange County Register

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