Some souls learn nothing except from human masters; others have learned everything from invisible guides known only to themselves. ~ Shihaboddin Yahya Sohravardi
Fr. Frank Gelli, a Roman by birth, now an Anglican priest living in a predominantly Muslim section of London, recently made available on Amazon an e-book, Julius Evola: The Sufi of Rome. This book tries to work on two levels. Ostensibly, it is a record of the author’s many encounters with Julius Evola. In the 1960s, the young Fr. Gelli was a member of a rightwing movement loosely affiliated with Julius Evola. The members, including Gelli, had occasional audiences with Evola. From there, Gelli was apparently singled out for special attention and became a regular visitor to Evola’s flat.
He was strangely asked to keep their relationship private, presumably not to make the others envious. Not very convincing. But why after 40 years, has Fr. Gelli broken his silence to reveal what had been sealed? We’ll take a guess at that in the end.
For the second level, Gelli seems convinced that Evola is a closeted Sufi, but of a special type. A malamatiya appears outwardly to bring blame on himself, but inwardly he is quite blameless and pious. Here Gelli is less convincing. Gelli assumes Guenon initiated Evola, but the two never met in person. He points out that Evola is rejected because of his associations with racism, anti-Semitism, and fascism. However, at the time Evola was writing on those topics, he didn’t do it to bring blame on himself, rather he was trying to curry favour. Only after his side lost the war, did his positions on those issues put him on the wrong side of polite society.
It is true, nevertheless, that Evola attracts enemies and even worse friends for whatever reasons. I myself was publicly upbraided by a Sicilian professoressa from a local university when she found out I did translations of Evola. I found out later her specialty is Michel Foucault, who is a much more loathsome man. Albert Schweitzer was more explicitly racist, but is regarded as a great humanitarian; T S Eliot was a cruder anti-Semite, but that never affected his career; Martin Heidegger was publicly part of the Nazi regime, but is still considered the best philosopher of last century. The reason why Evola is such a polarizing figure is not so easy to discern.
The Way of Blame
Although claims to be praising Evola, his portrayal is so pedestrian, it has the totally opposite effect. And it cannot be due to that Sufi path. There is a story of a Zen monk who was accused by a single woman of being the father of her bastard child. He said, “I see.” Then he took the young boy into his home and raised him. A few years later, the real father returned and the woman at last revealed the truth. When the real father came to claim his son, the monk handed him over.
Compare that to Evola’s behavior in a similar situation. Evola showed Gelli a letter from an Argentine woman who claimed she gave birth to his son. Evola protested to Gelli, doubting the proof of his paternity (that’s what happens with promiscuity), and wishing she had “done away with him”. Compare this story to the monk; unlike the monk, Evola actually was not blameless, and his character barely rises above ghetto life in the USA; certainly not what we would expect from a well-bred man.
We learn little of the “right wing” group Gelli belonged to, other than they would meet in a specific café to chat, occasionally formulating a plan (usually instigated by a police informant). They were mostly thuggish types, and Gelli tells us nothing of their goals and platforms. He does reveal that it was riddled with homosexuals. Since all the loose women were on the left, Gelli often attended their rallies. He even became a Maoist in 1969, so it seems several years of conversation with Evola did not leave a lasting impression on him. Evola himself never seemed to what the right wing should be like. He did suggest that perhaps the remnants of European aristocracy may work something out.
It is likewise difficult to discern what was particularly “Traditional” in their chats. Evola participated in neither rites nor prayers. He never mentioned “God”, preferring, instead, allusions to a rather vague “transcendence”. But there was no discussion of initiation, how to reach higher states of consciousness, and so on.
Curiously, Evola told Gelli that the Roman Senate could not proceed in any course of action, until the Augurs approved it, based on their readings. But this illustrates the superiority of the spiritual authority, or sacerdotal caste, pace his own point of view. I suppose readers can take this as Sufi wisdom; I take it as an intellectual contradiction.
Omar Amin von Leers
On a trip to Egypt, Evola asked Gelli to visit Omar Amin von Leers, a Nazi refugee and convert to Islam. Omar mysteriously claimed Evola was “one of us”. Gelli assumes that means Evola was a Muslim, but he could just as well mean he was a Nazi.
Evola discussed the Turkish threat to Europe on one occasion, incorporating both historical details and the philosophy of Nicholas Cusanus. Despite lack of support from the kings of Northern Europe, the Pope was able to rally enough military support to stop the Turks at Lepanto. Interestingly enough, Evola did not praise this. He, along with Cusanus, preferred an ecumenical, or worldwide, unity. Left unsaid, we are left to assume that Evola expects that under a Caliphate.
That will shock the European new right, who for the most part oppose Muslims in Europe. They will never give Pope Pius II for his efforts, not will they consider their present plight the result of divine retribution.
Gelli makes much of an alleged prediction by Evola that Islam would someday dominate Europe. If so, he is merely parroting Guenon, which we pointed out already. A spiritual vacuum in the West will make that likely, if not inevitable. Paganism has no chance of filling that vacuum, and the traditional spiritual authority of Europe is rejected by Evola; we can see Gelli’s point.
Evola revealed a dream he had of becoming pope. He replaced the statues of the saints in the Vatican with those of the Roman deities. However, the saints rebelled and restored their statues. In frustration, Pope Julius conquered Moscow, where his troops slaughtered the populace indiscriminately. The Pope approved since he does not love his enemies. Perhaps out of boredom, he asked them to stop. When they refused he returned to Rome, he found it full of Turks who worshipped him as the Mahdi. The new pope balked when they asked him to be circumcised. Evola then woke up.
Readers may take that as a hidden message that paganism is a dead end path. Gelli never took Evola’s paganism seriously, regarding it as a means to shock the complacent. Nevertheless, many today take Evola’s paganism, racism, and anti-semitism quite seriously, so if that was not his intent, he should have been more clear.
Pagans don’t shock anyone anymore. Perhaps had he converted to Traditional Catholicism (as did many of his followers in the 1980s), he would have shocked more people. At least, he would have kept his precious foreskin.
Love and Sex
Evola curiously asserted that initiates cannot marry and have families. This is contrary to the entire Roman Tradition, which was dominated by fathers, who were the priests of their own household hearths. Instead, he proposes the life of a single man, but not without sexual relations. However, this is possible only in the modern and decadent world, not in the world of Tradition where women were more protected; certainly not in the world of Islam
In talking of Eros, he points out that lovers are not thinking of children in the heat of passion. Too bad Fr. Gelli did not point out Dante’s part of Hell for lovers. Keep reminding me, as I will do that soon.
It is a sign of intelligence to see the connection between sex and reproduction. Obviously, we now have superior technology, in contraception and safe abortions, to block that link. Evola fully supports that. He did not live to see the effects of population depletion now afflicting Europe, the effects of which won’t be clear for another generation. However, the Montini pope did see that, but Evola never forgave him for a negative comment made 40 years before.
Despite the talk of loyalty and keepings one’s word, Evola seems loyal to no one or anything. He blames the Italian people for losing the War, calling them shit, and unworthy of their great Fascist state. However, a popular army is not composed of the warrior caste, and modern war is not won by valour alone, but rather by amassing superior and overwhelming resources. The Fascist conception is that the leader creates the people. So, it was the state that was shit, sending Italy into a war is was not materially prepared for.
He was not at all loyal to the spiritual authority of Italy. An anti-nationalist, he at one point praised the spiritual unity of Europe in the Middle Ages. Yet, simultaneously, he rejected that very spirit. That is not the kind of spiritual contradiction the Nicholas Cusanus was describing, but comes closer to incoherence.
Shortly before Evola’s death, Gelli emigrated to the UK, a nation and people that Evola had little respect for. That is where the story end.
Gelli’s recollections are of this nature. There are many interesting tidbits, but nothing in much depth. Gelli assumes Evola took a special liking to him as a “son”; that makes little sense for reasons I’ll explain another time. What seems more likely is that Gelli stood out from the rest of the rightwing pack, so Evola enjoyed him as a conversation partner. Gelli has the intelligence to keep up with Evola’s many interests and he writes in an engaging fashion and is a good teller of tales. For those interested in the man behind the ideas, The Sufi of Rome is a satisfactory way to spend a summer afternoon in the mountains with your Kindle.
But, it seems Fr. Gelli has a further purpose in mind based on his rejection of Evola’s alleged racism and paganism. These, from his perspective, are merely Evola’s way of blame, hiding his true spiritual perspective from the world. Evola would then be the second Rumi (which means “Roman” in Arabic), working, perhaps on the supernatural plane, to bring Islam to the world. Or else he may just be a “beautiful loser”, destined to be misunderstood and ignored. I don’t think Fr. Gelli has cleared up any misunderstandings.
Readers will have to decide about Evola, but perhaps that is really Fr. Gelli’s projection. He told me he owes much to the spiritual perspective of Henri Corbin. Corbin was exoterically a Protestant, with a degree in Catholic Thomist philosophy. However, Corbin rejects the Incarnation. Corbin devoted much of his life to the study of Shi’ite and Sufi spirituality, of the sort explicitly preferred by Evola.
Corbin created a complex system relating the traditions of pre-Islamic Iran, Shi’ism, Hermetism, and Christianity. He also described a spiritual geography, where the East is not where you think, and the North, what we call Hyperborea, where the Midnight Sun (the Black Sun?) is the true light. Corbin also relates the Iranian cosmology to that of Nordic paganism. The Walkyries are equivalent to the Fravartis. This is just the surface of much deeper correspondences, which are too complex to discuss here.
Is this something known by the Sufi of Rome? Fr. Gelli would have us think so.