10 Best Books on Perennialism and Traditionalism

The Perennial philosophy (Latin: philosophia perennis) is a perspective in spirituality that views all of the world’s religions as sharing a single, metaphysical truth. From this single origin all esoteric and exoteric knowledge and doctrine has grown in different places.

At the esoteric core of every religious tradition we can access this ultimate metaphysical truth. Since it is based on experiential knowledge or direct insight, it’s impossible to describe it in words. Therefore symbolism plays a large part in perennialism. For example, the esoteric meaning of the cross, sword, swastika, sun and the moon, geometrical objects and so on.

Perennialism is sometimes called Traditionalism, because most perennialists wish to preserve great civilizations of the past. They believe in a devolutionary process in history by which the world moves away from God’s light. This movement repeats in cycles. This view of history runs contrary to the linear and optimistic historical model of Theosophists.

There are many books on  Perennialism, but in this article I will share the 10 best and most influential works that are an indispensable read for anyone interested in learning more about this fascinating school of thought:

1. The Crisis of the Modern World

I recommend everyone interested in Perennialism to read this book first. It’s only a hundred or so pages long.

Guenon is the most influential Perennialist writer along with Frithjof Schuon and Julius Evola. But he is really the one who started this school of thought by investing a ton of time in researching the traditional symbols. In this book he shares his view of history, the decline of civilization.

He has a highly aristocratic demeanor, praising the hierarchical societies of the past. He berates democracy and materialism of the modern world because they separate humanity from becoming enlightened and practicing their faith.

This is a really penetrating book that will make you understand the anti-modern message of almost every Perennialist and how it plays into their overall philosophy.

2. The Transcendent Unity of Religions

Frithjof Schuon was a famous painter, poet and writer of many books on Perennialism. This one is an excellent read because he tackles the idea of unity between religions.

People often say that religions separate us into groups that then fight to prove that their God is the one true God and all others are false. But Schuon considers this as a false argument, because all significant religions share the same esoteric truth.

While the outer layer is conditioned by environmental conditions and people’s temperament, they all share in on the same Truth. This is why it’s vital to preserve them in their totality, because the esoteric truth cannot survive without the religious society as a whole standing united against materialistic pretensions of modernity.

This is a philosophical work, but Schuon has a wonderful style of writing that makes it easy to digest.

3. Revolt Against the Modern World

Julius Evola is the black sheep among the Perennialists but he has to be mentioned. Evola explored many different Traditions. He wrote books on Paganism, Holy Grail, Yoga, Zen, Taoism, Magic and many other esoteric topics.

He mostly used Guenon’s approach by finding similarities between different Traditions to point to a single Truth that they share in. But unlike other Perennialists he was also very much interested in politics, culture and warrior ethos. Evola was associated with Mussolini and other high ranking fascists, which diminished his reputation in the post-war years.

Nevertheless, he’s a prolific writer and this is his most influential work. In it he explains why a traditional society is essentially the best society because it is ordained from a Higher Source. Everything moves from the Center, which is occupied by the Emperor or Monarch.

The hierarchy then spreads to a warrior and priestly caste, then further down to merchants, crafstman, peasants and in some societies servants or slaves. These societies were properly ordained and every man had a chance to experience life to the fullest in his right place. Sounds a bit cruel at first, but Evola provides highly interesting arguments to support his claims, citing hundreds of different sources from various traditional civilizations.

In the second part of the book he provides a meta-historical account of the descent of humanity, which opposes the modern theory of evolution. According to Evola, humanity has fallen from a higher spiritual state to the grosser material state. He bases this downfall on various religious myths, from Ancient Greece to India and elsewhere. Very interesting, even to a layman.

4. The Hermetic Tradition: Symbols and Teachings of the Royal Art

In this book Evola delves deeply into Hermeticism and Alchemy, two famous esoteric movements in the Western world.

We often hear about Eastern spirituality and neglect the fact that the West has its own equally valid esoteric tradition. It’s just that it had to go underground due to prosecution by the Church during the Middle Ages, but it was well and thriving during most of antiquity. It can be traced even further, to Ancient Egypt and Middle Eastern Empires, most notably Babylon.

In this difficult but fascinating book Evola shows us the spiritual meaning behind the alchemy and its metallurgical operations. He claims that alchemy was about spiritual enlightenment, but in such a way that one’s Self remained intact, thus becoming one of the Gods. This path is different to Eastern concept of enlightenment in which the Self dissolves into a Higher Self.

Evola often mentions that Easterners have a more contemplative tradition, whereas Westerners a more active approach to spirituality, and the contents of this book are a good example of that.

5. The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times

Once you’ve read the Crisis of the Modern World by Guenon, I highly recommend reading his most interesting book. This is a real masterpiece that tackles the decline of the world through the lens of quality and quantity. In other words, Guenon believes that the modern world is a world where quantity reigns supreme.

To put it in layman terms: We have more stuff, but it’s not as good. There are more people, more products, more safety and leisure time, but the world is missing the quality of experience that it once had.

The craftsmen are replaced by mindless labor in factories that lacks any deeper investment on the part of the individual. Wars are not an expression of heroic personas but are instigated by shadowy figures and feature nameless masses of soldiers or “keepers of peace”. Money is no longer golden coins but valueless numbers on a screen.

These and many other symptoms point to the rise of quantity, the fall from Spirit to Matter, which might eventually cause the replacement of humans with a form of existence that contains pure productivity, as some fear will be the case with the rise of artificial intelligence. Overall, a must read!

6. Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century

I’m aware that many Traditionalists dislike this book because it describes their superheroes in a somewhat nefarious way. But I think that Mark Sedgwick did us a favor by writing on Traditionalist/Perennialist authors and other influential figure.

This is more of a biography than an intellectual history. He mentions many people in the movement who’d otherwise remain anonymous to most of us. Many of them are Muslims or those who’ve converted to Islam.

They did this following Guenon’s example, since Guenon moved to Cairo and converted to Islam, considering it the only true Tradition left in the Western world at the time. He had high respect for Hinduism as well, but didn’t believe that Westerners were suited to Hindu ways.

Sedgwick is a historian, and this book is a bit dry. But if your superheroes are the likes of Schuon, Evola, Lings and Dugin, you’ll enjoy learning about the existence of many others belonging to this group of neglected spiritual thinkers.

7. Metaphysics of War

Another controversial masterpiece from the pen of Julius Evola, this book explores the spiritual value of war. This goes contrary to any pacifist message we’ve been shoved down our throats in the modern world. “War is bad, everything about war is absolutely bad and it has no redeeming qualities.”

But in this book Evola argues that war is the only space in which true heroism can manifest itself. It can be the perfect venue for spiritual enlightenment, as men let go of everyday worries and focus on a task greater than themselves. He cites traditional sources, explores the Crusades and the notion of Greater and Lesser Jihad.

He also mentions the Hindu tradition that respected war to a great degree, as can be seen in Bhagavadgita, when Krishna urges Arjuna to fight even against his wishes, because it is his duty and death comes for everyone either way.

8. The Hero With a Thousand Faces

Joseph Campbell is not necessarily a Perennialist thinker. He was more influenced by C.G. Jung than he was by Rene Guenon. He was more of a “collective consciousness” guy rather than delving into high metaphysics as before mentioned authors. But he shares a very similar style, comparing hundreds of myths from various cultures and finding the same vein of Truth in all of them.

In this case, he explores the archetype of the hero. He shows how every heroes journey has some definitive stages, and each hero has to pass through these tests to save the princess from the dragon, to find the treasure, to save his father and so on.

These themes appear time and time again, showing to us that humanity shares the same experience, and this experience when properly utilized can be immensely valuable for self-growth and becoming the greatest version of ourselves.

9. The Underlying Religion: An Introduction to the Perennial Philosophy

Martin Lings made it his job to explain the Perennial Philosophy in as simple way as possible. Almost all of his works are very beginner- friendly.

This book contains 25 essays that can be an excellent introduction to the more complex works of the likes of Guenon and Coomaraswamy.

Lings converted to Sufism just like Guneon, and they were friends for a number of years until Guenon’s passing. Lings is one of the few old-school Perennialists who didn’t stray from Guenon’s message and delivered it in a much easier-to read manner, since Guneon’s works can be very dry and dense.

10. The Essential Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Nasr is a highly respected philosoper and academic. He’s the leading philosopher in Iran and a staunch Traditionalist, although he lectured in the US for some time as well. He’s written extensively on Islam, Sufism and Perennialism as such.

Since he’s one of the few greats that are still alive in this movement, his last works are even more relevant for our situation today. This book contains arguably the best essays written by Nasr on the condition of modern culture, environmentalist crisis, religion, esotericism and more.

Final Thoughts: Best Books on Perennialism

These are some of my favorite books from proponents of Perennialism. But these authors have many other great books that I failed to mention here.

For example, Evola’s Mystery of the Holy Grail, Pagan Imperialism and Ride the Tiger. Guenon has many books on different symbols and initiation such as The King of the World and The Great Triad. Schuon has countless books. I didn’t mention any books from Ananda Coomaraswamy who was also a very influential writer.

So there is much more, but I think these 10 books are a great start and will prepare you for more difficult works from these authors. Hope this helps!

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