I went after this book like a duck after a June bug, mainly because I have been involved in my own search for Abraxas for several months and I wanted to experience alternative perspectives.
The first praise I want to shower on the book is that the writing is solid and intelligent, and the volume is well edited. There are no run-on sentences, no typos, and although there is some speculation on the part of the authors, there are none of the lunatic ramblings one often finds in occult books.
The volume is in three sections. Section I contains an excellent overview of Gnosticism and Qabalah. For those knowledgeable about neither, this alone is worth the price of admission. Abraxas, the transcendent Gnostic deity who is good and evil in both extremes, is supposed to be the thread that sews the three sections together.
But in Section II, which delves into the work of Austin Osman Spare, witchcraft, and Meso-American mythology, the authors get into the weeds. The thread is lost and the promise of Section I begins to dissipate. Although interesting, this section almost seems to belong in another book.
On the other hand, I must say that the color plates (paintings, drawings, etc.) are outstanding, and feature the works of Austin Osman Spare, Harry Clarke, Hans Voight, Edmund Dulac, Wolfgang Paalan, Max Ernst (“The Robing of the Bride” gives me chill bumps), and Drury himself. These are A+.
Sections III and IV, the final more than the former, get the caravan more or less back on the road. To quote the conclusion,
“There is an animal in man, and there is a God in man. in order to produce a harmonized microcosm these aspects of our nature have to be firstly acknowledged: it is then that the self may be transformed. Perhaps the God which best symbolizes this mystical venture is the one who is both man and a hawk; He who is of the Sun and whose legs are coiling serpents, symbol of Wisdom reaching down to Earth. He who holds the sacred shield…and whose name is Abraxas.”
Nevill Drury sums it up in his introduction to the Second Edition: “As co-authors of this reissued work Stephen and I both hope that new readers will find much that is worthwhile in the pages that follow, despite the fact that in several of its key themes The Search for Abraxas has been overtaken by more recent scholarship and research.”
I wasn’t at all disappointed, but neither was I blown away until I contemplated the fact that was written over forty years ago. It is a remarkable book, a ground-breaking book, and for that reason alone it is recommended. It was ahead of its time.