by

Under the Bramble Arch – Corinne Boyer

No comments yet

Categories: folk, witchcraft, Tags:

Under the Bramble Arch coverUnder the Bramble Arch is the second volume in Corinne Boyer’s ongoing witchcraft trilogy and picks up where its predecessor, Under the Witch Tree, left off: still in a witchy garden near said witching tree, but moving past those arboreal inhabitants to the garden’s herbs and flowers. Bearing the subtitle “A Folk Grimoire of Wayside Plant Lore and Practicum,” the work provides a guide to 24 plants and herbs, designated by Boyer as belonging to the wayside, a locus that combines wildness with a human element, sitting on the intersection between worlds, lining byways and lanes. As such, the plants here are ones that have been with humans for some time, although many of them have occupied this space almost incidentally, as their habit is invasive or parasitic, meaning that they and their relevance are often overlooked.

Being a review of a sequel that follows its predecessor closely in structure and theme, there will probably be a constant refrain here of “as with Under the Bramble Witching Tree,” so forewarned and forearmed, and with shot glasses at the ready, let’s begin. As with Under the Witch Tree, each of the plants is presented here as its own exhaustive entry, mini chapters as it were, containing a veritable bounty of information. As with its predecessor, each section begins with a paragraph describing the plant, using picturesque language to place its properties and persona within its own mythic landscape. Sometimes this can be a description of the plant anthropomorphised into a tangible spirit (blackberry as the lady of wild edges and shadows, bittersweet nightshade as younger sister to her more famous sibling), in others, this opening takes the form of a small paean addressed to the plant in question, whilst in others, inspiration doesn’t appear to have struck so keenly and the paragraph simply acts as a fact-based overview or introduction.

As with Under the Witch Tree, these introductions are each followed by several pages of folklore, before concluding with sections on the plant’s practical use. These practical sections begin with medical examples drawn from history, followed by Boyer’s own general application, and then usually conclude with instructions for specific tools or usages (for example, a love powder from ivy, a mugwort cauldron for scrying, or a broom from, well, broom).

Under the Bramble Arch spread

The initial sections for each plant are dense and heavy with information, running to as much as six or seven pages, but usually around three. As with Under the Witch Tree, this content is presented largely unreferenced, coming thick and fast as little bites of information that apparently don’t have time to be coherently massaged into place beside their companions, the niceties of paragraph structure giving way to a need for a cascade of staccato sentences of folklore. The review of Under the Witch Tree makes much hay from the lack of referencing and whilst not wishing to re-litigate that to the same extent here, it is worth restating the issues that arise from this. The primary one is that nothing can be trusted, as so many of the anecdotal facts are shorn of their context, particularly geographical or temporal, with a belief that may have been extant in only one area often becoming seemingly universal because its point of origin is not mentioned. Any time something doesn’t ring true, the reader can find themselves hurrying off in search of the unnamed original source or some other form of corroboration, not in an attempt at playing ‘got-cha’ but just to verify that it’s true, or to find either a broader context or actual specifics. In the end, this all comes across like herbalist notes that have been scribbled down over the years, perhaps with their original sources long forgotten, but then transposed to the final manuscript without much in the way of finessing, resulting in the frequent sentence fragments, awkward phrasing, and disorientating shifts in tense.

As with Under the Witch Tree, one can, with a bit of work, reverse engineer the content here, tracking down the source of information (for example, much of the content about blackberry comes directly from Maida Silverman’s A City Herbal; listed in the bibliography but not cited in-body). But this is often an equally fruitless (eh hem) task, as these sources can be as citation-deficient as the book drawing from them. This makes much of the information here all but useless, vulnerable to such a degree of cumulative error and generation loss that it can be no better than gossip or urban legend.

This all works if you want the book to provide an overall vibe of these plants, where a witch could potentially pick any vaguely mentioned property or procedure and deem it fit for purpose based on general associations and history. Indeed, one could generously suggest that this is simply in line with the book’s precedents, with herbals and florilegia of old hardly being hotbeds of exhaustive referencing. However, if you incline towards the scientific method, documented provenance and things empirical, from either a botanical or anthropological perspective, then you are going to be severely disappointed. Hammering this home may seem unduly cruel, and one could argue that the book was never intended to be as rigorous as one might like, but the sentiment is borne simply from the experience of reading, where constant encounters with either the abrupt, note-taking nature of the writing, or the insufficiently detailed content of what could otherwise be interesting facts, can make for a frustrating experience. Then there are moments that are not just ambiguous in their origin but flat out wrong, such as a claim in the section on mistletoe that Baldur was the son of Freyja and that after he was restored to life, she placed the parasitic plant under her protection and it thenceforth only ever brought good fortune. With a bit of digging, this monumental howler seems to have come unchecked from a 2006 issue of Homeopathy Today Online, which tells you everything you need to know right there.

Under the Bramble Arch spread

In contrast to this torrent of not always accurate botanical information, the practical exercises that Boyer includes have the benefit of a far more immediate provenance, all coming from her. There are a variety of exercises presented here, with the various plants being used not just for medicinal products like tonics and ointments, but for charms and amulets, and for magical tools such as a witch’s rope, hag tapers, brooms and various aides to scrying. In some ways, this is where the book excels, with a diverse selection of exercises, well thought out and equally well presented.

As with Under the Witch Tree, Under the Bramble Arch concludes with a set of appendices with emphasis on the practical, as Boyer presents instructions for being a home apothecary, with guides to making poultices, tinctures, infusions and teas; all techniques that can be applied to different plants. As noted in the review for the previous volume, this is a good way to do it, rather than cluttering up each individual section with repetitive instructions.

As with Under the Witch Tree (*hic*), the entries for each plant are formatted to begin on the recto side of the page spread, and are usually preceded by the plant’s botanical illustration, printed at full size, on the verso page; save for a few times where the image is instead included text-wrapped in the main copy. As with Under the Witch Tree, these images come from a variety of, one assumes, public domain sources, and so they are not consistent in weight or style, with some appearing particularly heavy in line compared to others. But, unlike similar situations in lesser books, there’s a level of care that has gone into the presentation here and each image is of acceptable quality, with no pixilation or artefacts from compression or low resolution.

Under the Bramble Arch photo plates

In addition to these illustrations, Under the Bramble Arch includes a section of gloss photograph plates in the centre of the book. These feature images of Boyer herself (in her garden and with broom), along with both examples of some of the plants discussed and a variety of their uses. Richly black and white, these are beautifully shot and add a realism and hands-on quality to what is presented here, contrasting with the more idealised nature of the botanical illustrations.

Under the Bramble Arch is presented in Royal format with 258 pages and the 24 pages of the black and white photo plates. It was released in four editions: paperback, standard hardback, special edition and fine edition. The paperback edition comes with a gloss laminated cover while the standard hardback edition is bound in a blackberry cloth with gold foil blocking to the front and spine, green endpapers and green head and tail bands. The 250 copies of the hand-numbered special edition are bound in dark green cloth, with gold foil blocking to the front and spine, blackberry endpapers, and green head and tail bands. Finally, the sixteen copies of the fine edition are hand-bound in dark green goat leather with gold foil blocking to the front and spine, and the image of goat from the other editions replaced by the blackberry engraving used within. Housed in a fully lined black library buckram slip-case with blind embossing on the front, the fine edition also includes a hand-written protection charm by the author, using ink made from roses.

Published by Troy Books


Thank you to our supporters on Patreon especially Serifs tier patron Michael Craft.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

Gender, Violence, and the Past in Edda and Saga – David Clark

No comments yet

Categories: germanic

Gender, Violence, and the Past in Edda and Saga coverDavid Clark is a lecturer in Old English at the University of Leicester and this book considers the intersection between gender and violence in both the Poetic Edda and heroic sagas. Gender, Violence, and the Past in Edda and Saga is not a book made from whole cloth, and brings together writings that have previously appeared, in earlier versions, as articles in a variety of publications familiar to the field, including the Viking Society for Northern Research’s Saga-Book, the Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Leeds Studies in English, Scandinavian Studies, and Viking and Medieval Scandinavia. That isn’t to say that the work as a whole feels piece meal, and each piece does build upon the other, beginning first with considerations of revenge in the stories of Guðrún and Helgi Hundingsbani. Clark prefaces these explorations in his introduction with a broad summary of Eddaic literature in general, and the areas to be discussed in particular, providing something of a necessary primer for the uninitiated.

Clark uses several theoretical models throughout his book, calling upon Pamela Robertson in the first chapter’s discussion of violence in the Guðrún poems Atlakviða, Atlamál, Guðrúnarhvöt and Hamðismál. Robertson’s consideration of camp, drag and gender parody, as it particularly applies to women who performatively portray other women, is applied to the depiction of Guðrún as someone who is atypically female in her actions. This has led to questions as to whether Guðrún is viewed sympathetically and heroically, or as an anti-feminist scapegoat, but Clark’s use of Robertson’s model allows her to be autonomous, possessed of her own destiny as someone who plays with perceptions of her sex in a female act of female impersonation.

Gender, Violence, and the Past in Edda and Saga spread

Clark employs a different theoretical model in the second chapter, invoking Eve Sedgwick’s concept of homosocial desire in its consideration of flyting in the Helgi poems: the first and second lays of Helgi Hundingsbani as well as the second lay of the other Helgi, Mr Hjörvarðsson. Sedgwick’s model of homosocial desire, in which a society is structured around male relationships that must then be normalised by intense homophobic discourse acting as a form of validation, finds an easy parallel in the Helgi poems. Most notable of these is the flyting exchanges between Guðmundr and Sinfj?tli in Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, with each man belittling the other with ribald accusations of ergi behaviour, though notably casting themselves as the dominant partner in these zoomorphosised sexual interactions with each other: Sinfj?tli says that he and Guðmundr were the parents of wolves, though he alone was the father, while Guðmundr says that he had ridden Sinfj?tli hard for many miles, whilst the latter was a gold-bitted mare. The one element of Sedgwick’s theory missing in its purest application here is the triangular model, in which this homosocial desire occurs in situations involving two men and a woman, the two usually fighting over the latter. As Clark notes, this model requires some adjustment to fit the cases outlined here, in which the desire for the sexual object is not always the primary motivation, such as Dagr in Helgakviða Hundingsbana II whose concern is revenge and the reappropriation of his sister Sigrún. Similarly, the conflict between Guðmundr and Sinfj?tli expands the geometry of the model here, thereby changing the dynamic, with their flyting being in service of their respective brothers, Höðbrodd and Helgi.

The fourth chapter moves away from direct theoretical models with a consideration of the way in which the themes of many of the heroic poems and in particular Hamðismál mirrors descriptions of Ragnarök, with the works providing a near constant invocation of the end of the world and its portents. Clark draws attention to the way in which kin-slaying and revenge is depicted in Völuspá, not just as one of the qualities of the end times but as something seen in the prelude to Ragnarök, where Loki causes the death of Baldr at the hands of his brother Höðr, whose own death at the hands of his newly-born brother, Vali, continues this cycle of fratricidal violence. Literary allusions to the themes of Ragnarök within the heroic poems, thus, convey a similar sense of an all-pervading and inevitable doom, creating a simulacrum of the divine end of the world that the mortal heroes then inhabit.

Gender, Violence, and the Past in Edda and Saga spread The themes of nid and ergi found in earlier chapters recur in a consideration of sexual themes and conceptions of the heroic past in Gisla saga, which asks once again a constant question found throughout this book with regard to the intent and judgement of the various authors in their depiction of revenge: is it admirable, or something barbaric, perhaps embarrassing, belonging to the past? Arguably the starkest positioning of this question is found in the fifth chapter’s discussion of the uneasy balance between, shall we say, the inherent tendency towards vengeance and bloodshed of pre-conversion Scandinavia and the slightly less heavy on the old revenge message of Christ. Clark documents several instances of the bind priests were in when trying to advocate for the latter over the former, noting that as celibate men adverse to pugnacity and proffering peace, they were vulnerable to charges of ergi, so contrary were they to Germanic ideas of masculinity.

The book concludes with a discussion of the role of women in revenge scenarios in the sagas, specifically as inciters of vengeance and offerors of cold council, as Njals saga terms it. This is principally a rebuttal of Jenny Jochen’s Old Norse Images of Women, in which it is argued that the literary stereotype of the vengeful women reflected a historical reality. Clark suggests otherwise, preferring ambiguity where others might be categorical, noting several contrary examples from the historical sagas, such as Sturlu saga, in which women also appear as anti-inciters.

Gender, Violence, and the Past in Edda and Saga runs to about 180 pages and is bound in a glossy black cloth, titled foiled in gold on the spine, and wrapped in a full colour dust jacket, featuring a detail from Arthur Rackham’s The Rhinegold & the Valkyrie. With its page count and octavo size, this feels deceptively like a slight volume, but Clark’s writing is dense and thorough, providing an intense and welcomed look at his subject matter.

Published by Oxford University Press


Thank you to our supporters on Patreon especially Serifs tier patron Michael Craft.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

Root, Stone and Bone – Edited by Fuensanta Arismendi and Galina Krasskova

No comments yet

Categories: devotional, germanic, Tags:

Root, Stone, and Bone coverPart of the glut of devotionals released by Asphodel Press in the latter half of the 2010s, this slim volume turns a specialised focus towards Andvari, one of the dvergar or dwarves of Germanic cosmology. He’s not the most immediately obvious recipient for devotion, being diminutive in not only size but presence, figuring more in heroic poetry than high myth, albeit with a crucial role in the Volsunga saga, as it was he who owned the ring whose curse resonated throughout that epic. It is Andvari’s association with wealth and its generation that features largely within these pages, as revealed by the subtitle Honoring Andvari and the Vaettir of Money, and editor Galina Krasskova outlines this in her introduction, linking him with frugality, integrity, mindful consumption and exchange.

This book feels very much like co-editor Fuensanta Arismendi’s wheelhouse, and it is her affiliation with Andvari that guides the content here; just as, as mentioned within these pages, she provided Krasskova with her introduction to the dvergr. Arismendi details a very personal history with Andvari, a familial link traced back to her great-grandfather who, she claims, appears to have been possessed by Andvari some point, providing her with what amounts to a dvergar bloodline. Whether she inherited a diminutive stature and a love for gold is not explicitly mentioned; sorry, that was low, even small of me.

Root, Stone and Bone spread

Without a lot of lore or primary sources to explore and dissect, there isn’t much in the way of anthropological deep dives here. Instead, Arismendi and Krasskova write a variety of brief essays, trying to extract as much meaning from Andvari as possible. Given this title’s emphasis on money, most of these have a pecuniary focus, which doesn’t make for the most thrilling of reads, conveying more of a sense of a financial self-help book, something so peculiarly American rather than anything overtly numinous or spiritual. There is an attempt to pre-empt the distaste some might have for a discussion of money, an argument for rehabilitating it as something, in Andvari’s own words, that is as sacred as dignity and self-worth, but one that has been desecrated. Money is, Arismendi argues, a sentient being with a will of its own, the equivalent of a landvaett or land spirit, with different vaettir inhabiting different denominations and currencies. Your mileage may vary, but this frugal and pragmatic reviewer, if she may give her two cents (ba-dum ching), thinks money might just, you know, be money.

Each piece of writing here tends towards the brief side of things, often taking the form of meditations or advice on concepts such as greed, gifting, frugality and mindfulness. In one instance, the Gebo rune is used as the means through which this discussion is made, though here it provides but an initial entry into a discussion of luck. In all, nothing here feels particularly revelatory, and it’s all sensible and nice ways to live your life that hopefully one is already doing without needing inspiration from the careful one. Embodying all these concepts, this Andvari, then, comes across as a stern but ultimately kindly figure, tough but fair as it were, and certainly a million miles from his evolution into the grasping antagonist that is Wagner’s Alberich in Das Rheingold, stealing gold and renouncing love.

Root, Stone and Bone spread

In addition to the essay content of Root, Stone and Bone, there is not a lot of the kind of practical ritual exercises that are usually sprinkled around devotionals such as these. There’s a general purpose prayer to Andvari from Arismendi and a guide to using money conscious prayer beads, but that’s it.

While Arismendi and Krasskova provide most of the content here, there are also a few contributions from ‘Other Voices,’ as their section is called. These are names fairly familiar, such as Raven Kaldera, Elizabeth Vongvisith and Wintersong Tashlin. Vongvisith’s contribution is a reprint of her saucy Andvari’s Bride from The Jotunbok, a short, slightly farcical story told to her by Loki (said bride), and which Krasskova references elsewhere in the book as a lesson on exchanging what is truly yours. Kaldera provides his own tale of interacting with Andvari, though this is a personal one, and tells of the lessons learnt in an encounter at the dvergr’s altar at Cauldron Farm. Tashlin has a piece about buying a gun, while two poems round out this section: one from Ayla Wolff with a delightful retelling of the story of Andvari’s encounter with Loki and the Æsir, and the other, a brief prayer addressed to Andvari from MM, an anonymous six year old.

Root, Stone and Bone runs to just over sixty pages. It is formatted in Asphodel’s standard and imminently readable house style, but is completely devoid of interior illustrations. Cover art, meanwhile, is by your humble reviewer.

Published by Asphodel Press


Thank you to our supporters on Patreon especially Serifs tier patron Michael Craft.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World – Philip A. Shaw

No comments yet

Categories: germanic, goddesses

Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World coverSubtitled Eostre, Hreda and the Cult of the Matrons, Philip Shaw’s book is an entry in Bristol Classical Press’ Studies in Early Medieval History, a collection of concise books on current areas of debate in antique and early medieval studies. Concise is indeed the word here, and this volume runs to just 100 pages, with a few more for references and index. This economy is fitting as the evidence for each of these goddesses is slight and anything more than this centurial content would arise suspicions about speculation and flights of the fanciful kind.

As it is, Shaw initially spends a fair amount of these hundred pages laying out his context and methodology, providing first a thorough presentation of his linguistic models, followed by an overview of the Romano-Germanic religious landscape of the Early Middle Ages. Given Shaw’s status as a Lecturer of English Language and Old English, it is the linguistic considerations that take the lion’s share here, with a section that he welcomes anyone with an understanding of the basics of word foundation, phonology and comparative reconstruction to skip; though you can’t help thinking that others without such expertise might take up that offer. If you’re not intimidated by the nomenclature, this chapter does act as an effective primer, presenting core phonological strategies, although without much reference to examples specific to the book’s concerns.

Things stay relatively broad in the next chapter’s discussion of the Romano-Germanic religious landscape of the Early Middle Ages, although Shaw uses it principally to outline the cult of the matronae, giving them the largest consideration here, alongside passing mentions of names for some of these Romano-German goddesses, often assumed to be associated with battle, such as Baudihillie and Friagabi. Shaw emphasises the local nature of the matronae cults, declining to attribute their presence and characteristic as part of any consistent and widespread Pan-Germanic belief system that would be comparable to the Scandinavian idea of the disir.

Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World spread

The two named goddesses discussed in this book have a common origin, appearing in the works of the Venerable Bede, whose De Temporum Ratione makes passing references to both goddesses in a discussion of Anglo-Saxon feast days and the names of the months. Hredmonath (March), he says, took its name from the goddess Hretha, to whom they sacrificed at this time of the year, while Eosturmonath (April), was named after a goddess called Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated that month. These enigmatic references are unique to Bede, with the names unattested elsewhere, though over the centuries, much cloth has been woven from these tiny strands.

The first of the named goddesses to receive attention here is Eostre, whose scant evidence hasn’t prevented an impressive accretion of ideas, as a multitude of glib, well-meaning, but ultimately erroneous Facebook posts about the true origins of Easter are testament. Shaw begins with an overview of Eostre as she has been perceived through the last two centuries of Germanic anthropology and philology, with Grimm being the most obvious figure, leading up to the present where caution has won out over speculation and a consensus has largely formed in which Bede’s linking of the festival’s name to this pre-Christian goddess is assumed to be discredited. Shaw appears unconvinced, and seeks to explore more, asking, as the chapter’s title does, whether Eostre is a Pan-Germanic goddess or simply an etymological fantasy. He has one trump in this study, compared to his historic counterparts, as their conclusions whether affirmative or negative were formed prior to the discovery in Germany’s Cologne region of votive images dedicated to what are referred to as the matronae Austriahenae. The presence of such figures incorporating a comparable German version of the Eostre name suggests that the venerable one was not simply making stuff up.

Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World spread

Without the benefit of archaeological adjuncts like the matronae Austriahenae, Shaw’s consideration of Bede’s other goddess, Hreda, is almost entirely etymological; and as such, feels a lot more unresolved. He explores various uses of similar words in Anglo-Saxon (hreod, hreda, hreðe, hreðan, hreð), seeing if any provide anything in the way of characteristics or function for Hreda as a goddess. But, other than associations with the concept of quickness (hræð), Shaw appears to find none that are particularly satisfying. Of more relevance for Shaw is the use of hreð as a personal name element, with variants appearing in the name lists of several libri vitae, and also in the word Hreðgotan, which is used as a name for the Goths in two Old English poems, all indicating a certain connection with specific unspecified places or peoples.

Shaw concludes with a chapter called Roles of the Northern Goddess? which casts as much shade as its enquiring title would suggest, referencing Hilda Ellis Davidson’s book of the same name and standing in contradistinction to her implicit idea of a single northern goddess whose facets are distributed amongst so many other goddesses. For those who find comfort in the idea of a consistent set of beliefs spread across pagan Europe and Scandinavia, with all the respect and surety that such a grand mythology offers, then the appeal here to the local, familial and even personal will be a disappointment. Shaw’s pragmatism is not soulless though, and rather than despairing at the lack of evidence for these goddesses, or our inevitably meagre understanding of what Anglo-Saxon paganism in general actually involved, he sees Eostre and Hreda as part of an intriguing, vast and diverse mythic landscape, one that is possibly more than half-submerged but still offers areas of further exploration.

Published by Bristol Classical Press.


Thank you to our supporters on Patreon especially Serifs tier patron Michael Craft.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

The Book of Merlin: Insights from the Merlin Conference – Edited by R.J. Stewart

No comments yet

Categories: faery, folk, middle ages

First published in 1987 and then reprinted each year from 1989 to 1991, this book primarily compiles papers from the First Merlin Conference, held in London in 1986. It’s not clear, given the use of the ‘primarily’ qualifier, whether everything included here was presented as a paper, but if it is, the rather slight line-up is quite a remarkable one, with Geoffrey Ashe, Gareth Knight, John Matthews and Bob Stewart himself providing something of a Who’s Who of mid to late 80s esoteric Arthuriana. This is part of the charm of reviewing a title like this, harking back to a simpler time where re-encountering these authors is like slipping on some old familiar shoes. This nostalgia is compounded by the delicious, oh so occult 80s/90s cover art from Miranda Gray, whose delicately-stippled and hand-coloured image of a hooded Merlin is still stunning and evocative today despite being so of its time.

Things begin with an uncredited introduction that provides a brief overview of Merlin where, perhaps betraying Stewart’s authorship, there’s some typically salty invective about misconceptions surrounding him. You better not entertain the idea that Merlin is a vapid New Age pseudo-master or some doddering wizard with a star-spangled hat, otherwise, golly gosh, Stewart will hunt you down and severely castigate you.

But never fear, any vapid and New Age illusions are quickly put to rest with Geoffrey Ashe’s contribution, one of the most exhaustive here, providing a survey of Merlin’s earliest appearances, beginning with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The Prophecies of Merlin and The History of the Kings of Britain and then working backwards to the primary sources he drew from. This is a strictly factual survey of the literature, expertly corralled by Ashe, but even he can’t help adding a little mystical resonance, almost attributing sentience to the coalescence of the various proto versions of Merlin into a singular figure, identifying an “indwelling godhead” re-emerging as a powerful tutelary entity that had been there all along. I can dig it.

The Book of Merlin page spread with artwork by Miranda Gray

The content within this book is divided into five parts and the second of these takes its name from its first contribution, Gareth Knight’s The Archetype of Merlin. After an introduction by Stewart, Knight takes a not entirely focussed journey, deriving greater meaning from some of the more admittedly superficial impressions of Merlin, before exploring Gandalf as an example of the continuation of the archetype. This is just as scattershot, with Knight careening all over the place in an unendearing manner, reaching its apex when a whole page is used to quote from an editorial in The Guardian about, would you believe, the Challenger space shuttle disaster. Knight concludes this section with two other contributions, one about the blue stones Merlin is said to have brought from afar when constructing Stonehenge, and the other about the mage’s relationship with Nimuë. These are both briefer and more focused than the piece that precedes them, ending almost too abruptly where the former lingers.

The book’s third section considers Merlin’s place in modern fiction, and other than an introduction from Stewart, this is entirely John Matthews’ time to shine, with two pieces: one that gives its name to this section, followed by a two-page poem called Merlin’s Song of the Stones. As someone who has read a fair bit of contemporary Arthurian fiction all her life, this is an interesting overview, touching on some familiar notable titles such as Marian Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy, T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone and Parke Godwin’s Firelord, as well as other less familiar ones. Matthews doesn’t spend too long on each, grouping them together into similar themes, such as Merlin being associated with Atlantis (a surprisingly popular motif), or his roles as variously prophet, trickster and teacher.

The Book of Merlin page spread

Stewart provides the final paper here, and the book’s longest, with a consideration of Merlin and the wheel of life, drawing primarily from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini in which he appears as a shamanic and prophetic wild man of the woods, passing through a seasonal round. As an adjunct to this discussion, and in an intersection with an abiding interest in the legends and mysticism surrounding Bath in south west England, Stewart also relates Merlin to a similar figure mentioned by Geoffrey in his The History of the Kings of Britain, King Bladud. Bladud is described as a worker of necromancy, a devotee of Minerva who built the therapeutic baths of Aquae Sulis, but other than appearing in Vita Merlini, there’s little connecting him with Merlin other than broad motifs, and Stewart’s attempt at a comparison seems strained if thorough.

The Book of Merlin concludes with an appendix of two primary sources, as well as a reprint of an essay from 1901 by Arthur Charles Lewis Brown concerning the figure of Barintus, the helmsman who steers Arthur to the Fortunate Isles. The first of the primary texts, introduced once again by Stewart, are extracts from Thomas Heywood’s, wait for it, The Life of Merlin, surnamed Ambrosius; his Prophecies and Predictions Interpreted, and their Truth Made Good by our English Annals: Being a Chronographical History of all the Kings and Memorable Passages of this Kingdom, from Brute to the reign of King Charles, phew. The excerpts show how Heywood can almost be described as a proto-novelist, taking the core provided by Geoffrey of Monmouth, and fleshing it out with his own take, with a particular emphasis on Merlin’s prophesies and their interpretation. The second text consists of extracts from The Birth of Merlin, a bawdy comedy probably written in whole or part by William Rowley but which in its first printing was attributed to Rowley and no less than William Shakespeare.

The Book of Merlin page spread with artwork by Miranda Gray

In all, The Book of Merlin makes an interesting if brief introduction to some ideas associated with Merlin. Given its status as documentation of a single conference, there are understandably not a lot of contributors here and the fruits that are range in appeal, with those by Ashe and Matthews being the highlights; and Stewart’s editorial voice permeating throughout. Formatting is understated but competent and in addition to her lovely cover image, Miranda Gray provides illustrations for many of the contributions, all in her trademark style of crisp, fine lines offset with a restrained use of stippled detail and shading. These are usually set against white space, with little background, all adding to their ephemeral and mystical quality.

Published by Blandford


Thank you to our supporters on Patreon especially Serifs tier patron Michael Craft.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

The Pillars of Tubal Cain – Nigel Jackson and Michael Howard

No comments yet

Categories: luciferian, qayin, sabbatic craft, Tags:

The Pillars of Tubal Cain coverOver the years here at Scriptus Recensera we have retro-reviewed a number of traditional witchcraft and occult titles produced by Capall Bann. With the exception of a few outliers, this is the final piece in a body of related works produced variously, sometimes individually and sometimes in collaboration, by Michael Howard and Nigel Jackson. While other titles from these two authors have dealt specifically with what could be called witchcraft, The Pillars of Tubal Cain takes a slightly more divergent track, considering angelic magick, but pursuing it in a way that is resolutely conscious of how it relates to witchcraft, and in particular those variants of said craft that are described as dual observance, in which Christian cosmology provides a mythological framework.

According to information posted by Howard, the book was begun by Jackson, with a few draft chapters then sent by the publisher to Howard who completed the majority of the book when Jackson discontinued his involvement. In an Amazon review, Jackson has repudiated this book and his role in it, apparently finding the sulphurous whiff of diabolism a little too embarrassing in his advancing years. Twice he speaks of it as something of a youthful folly, referring dismissively to his “occultist period” and describing the book’s core ideas as a result of the “entertainingly sensationalistic, but intrinsically illusory and misleading, vagaries of the 1960s-70s occultism” which he had imbibed in his wayward youth. While it’s easy to be a little embarrassed by what one may have written in the past (this writer certain has been), one feels a little suspicious of the complete 180 degree pivot here, especially when what was once apparently believed is now to be so contemptuously spoken of. The tone carries with it all the enthusiastic vitriol tinged with regret that one would expect of a new convert or a remorseful addict, and sees a struggle to replace the embracing of dark glamour with its inverse, a self-righteous and sanctimonious dismissal.

Tubal Qayin by Nigel Jackson

Amusingly, some other Amazon reviews suggest that this is a book that has often quite inexplicably found its way into the hands of people of a certain sensitive and easily spooked disposition, with one person describing it as a “sick and vile book” and another, rather grandly, as “a book of pure evil.” I do wish it lived up to that promise, but it’s not even close; evil perhaps, but pure evil, really? Let’s not overdo it. Oh to be the easily empathic type who finds demonic energies dripping from books and irrevocably impacting their lives, when I see only mere paper and ink; it must make life so exciting, if a little tiring. Indeed, while there is a fair bit of the demonic here, it’s of the type that would only be shocking to the kind of person who thinks a company playing with cutely devilish imagery in its branding is practically opening the gates of hell and welcoming damnation for all. Not only that, but in comparison to more specifically sabbatic-style titles, the focus here is on a slightly more palatable Lucifer, with his angelic siblings, fallen or otherwise, giving the Lightbearer an air of respectability.

The Pillars of Tubal-Cain spread with tarot image by Nigel Jackson

The Pillars of Tubal Cain follows the formula found in its companion titles with a deep dive into a lot of information, all collected together in an exhaustive but not necessarily rigorous or overly discerning manner. References to particular named sources can sit alongside speculation or an anonymous appeal to authority where a generalised and unnamed ‘some’ or ‘tradition’ is seemingly given as much credence as their named equivalent. Howard and/or Jackson begin with a survey of various forms of belief in the Middle East that show certain atypical interpretations of the Abrahamic religions, suggesting, more often than  not, a certain commonality with or continuity between Sabeans, Zoroastrians, Nestorian Christians, Yezidis, various Gnostic or Hermetic strains of thought, and others that have a sprinkling of Luciferian themes. The cascade of information can feel a little overwhelming, pulling as it does from a multiple of reference-less sources, and what emerges is a valuable overview of some roads less travelled, but one which you wouldn’t necessarily trust without checking in depth, if you can work them out, some of the primary sources.

This polymathic approach continues throughout the rest of the book, with the two Howard and Jackson meandering through various streams of esotericism, from Gnosticism and Qabbalah, to the Templars and Freemasonry, and to Arthurian lore and traditional witchcraft, highlighting particular gems that build a fairly convincing if sometimes circumstantial and insubstantial picture. Some of these stops along the way will prove familiar, to greater and lesser extents, to anyone acquainted with this particular oeuvre, specifically those strands of witchcraft that focus on Qayin, and obviously Tubal Cain, such as Robert Cochrane’s Clan of Tubal Cain, and Andrew Chumbley’s Cultus Sabbati. Interestingly, despite being a student of hers in the 1960s, Howard makes only brief mentions of Madeline Montalban, whose idiosyncratic and Luciferian magickal system aligns with much presented here.

Baphomet by Jane Estelle Trombley

The Pillars of Tubal Cain concludes with a series of appendices, all from Jackson, save the first one in which Howard gives correspondences for eleven angels (Mikael, Gabriel, Raphael, Anael, Samael, Sachiel, Cassiel, Uriel, Asariel, Azrael and Lumiel) with instructions on how to contact them. Jackson’s contributions are a hymn to Hermes; a ritual invocation of Herodiana-Sophia-Epinoia deliciously called the Ceremony of the Peacock Moon; another ritual, this time a prose-heavy fire rite for Tubal Cain; a brief two page Gospel of Cain telling a more favourable and numinous version of Qayin’s story; and finally, an invocatory poem addressed to Lord Lumiel called The Baptism of Wisdom – making for what is a considerable liturgical body of youthful indiscretions.

The Pillars of Tubal-Cain spread with tarot image by Nigel Jackson

There’s a multitude of images throughout The Pillars of Tubal Cain, some with credits and some without, with some custom illustration and other, one assumes, public domain images of relevance; leading to a somewhat uneven quality in source and replication. Of the most interest are Jackson’s always stunning pen and ink illustrations which are scattered throughout, including the colourised image of a winged Chnoubis on the cover. Featured most consistently is a selection of trumps from the Nigel Jackson Tarot, conveniently dotted throughout the book, usually in remarkably apropos locations. These are lovely, with Dame Venus as the Empress particularly evocative, but the replication quality is unfortunately inconsistent, with crisp and clear trumps sitting alongside soft or muddied ones.

As with all such titles published by Capall Bann, and as is always gleefully mentioned in these here reviews, there’s an appalling lack of proofing throughout this book, with an abundance of spelling mistakes, errant words and other typographic artefacts. Competing for the prize of best in show is the claim that there are about 10,000 Nestorian Christians were “incarnated” in Syrian refugee camps, putting a whole eschatological twist on religious persecution, displacement and incarceration.

Published by Capall Bann

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

Rún Galdrabok – Magnús Rafnsson

No comments yet

Categories: folk, germanic, grimoire

Rún coverStrandagaldur, the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík, Iceland, is not just a museum and home to the necropants, but also runs a small publishing house releasing works relevant to the museum’s theme. This grimoire facsimile is of the type mentioned frequently in Icelandic trials for magic and sorcery, of which a few survive. Though such trials date as far back as the seventh century, Rún is a considerably more recent grimoire, written in the early 20th century, but with material based on earlier antecedents.

Rún was one of two books commissioned in 1928 by Magnús Steingrímsson, a farmer at Hóla in Steingrímsfjörður’s Staðardalur valley. In addition to his farming, Magnús was an active community member as a district officer, a member of the county council and one of the founders of the local library. Revealing a persistent interest in matters magical, the second book he had copied that year was a collection of healing recipes, both herbal and verse-based, the original of which was borrowed from one Sighvatur Grímsson Borgfirðingur and then transcribed by Magnús’ seventeen year old daughter Petrina. It is not Petrina’s hand that is seen in the pages of Rún, though, and editor Magnús Rafnsson suggests the task may have been passed on to her fourteen year old sister Borghildur, who both wrote the text and replicated the accompanying images. Although they don’t share the title, the material in Rún also appears with some slight variations in at least two other manuscripts from the same period: one written by a fisherman, Finnbogi Bernódusson, and helpfully called Magical Signs Copied from a Manuscript from 1676, and another one, a “very old manuscript, yellowed and torn,” documented by the scholar Þorsteinn Konraðsson.

Rún spread

Strandagaldur presents Rún as a full facsimile, with the plates followed by an English translation of the grimoire’s text, along with a brief essay outlining the history of the manuscript, written in Icelandic and translated into a slightly abridged English version. The pages of Rún are presented as high quality, full colour scans on the same glossy stock used throughout the rest of the book, each with full bleed so that they run to the edge of the page, with the necessary evil of modern page number overlaid somewhat obtrusively at the bottom of each page. Unfortunately as the images aren’t replicated within the text of the English translation, this can make for something of a lifeless reading, with the content of multiple pages listed as purely utilitarian entries down the pages (with formatting of titles undifferentiated from body copy), and often requiring a lot of flicking back and forth to understand what the transcription, rendered cryptic from lack of context, even refers to.  Rún spread

Rún itself runs to 97 pages and begins with a listing of various magical scripts, a staggering 36 in all. This exhaustive collection ranges from some that are obviously based on runes (though with some deviations from the standards and with the characters ordered in a Latin manner, rather than that of a futhark), to entirely unique ones that look more like cyphers, such as the Chest script with its rectangles surrounded by dashes, or the mysterious titled Ramvilla comprised of iterations of the same triangle differentiated with variously placed dots and dashes. These scripts are presented without comment and provenance, with only their names to hint intriguingly at function, such as the evocatively named demons’ script, völur runes, mound-dweller’s script, and various malrunar or speech runes. As a collection of scripts that can be used in magic for a little bit of variety from the usual runes or other magical alphabets, this alone makes the purchase of Rún worthwhile.

The scripts collection is followed naturally by a series of staves and sigils with instructions for their use. These are for a variety of common folk and farming concerns that are familiar from other galdrbok, as well as the magical books from further afield, with staves for fishing, catching thieves, dealing with various agricultural concerns and the typically morally problematic controlling of unwilling objects of affection. In addition, there are some spells and staves that are distinctly darker in hue, with dreamstaves, a stave to wake the dead, invocations against ghosts, and spells for using shadow sight, going witch riding or wearing a concealing helm. As one would expect, many of these spells make supplication to the godforms of Christianity, with Jesus figuring prominently as well as mentions being made of a variety of figures from Hebrew mythology. However, there are some pagan references too, mainly in the names given to various staves, such as an illusionary stave named Óðinn (for which no properties or instruction are given), or another called a Þórshamar, made using copper stolen from a church bell, and which, like a similarly-named but different looking stave in Geir Vigfússon’s earlier Huld manuscript, is used for catching thieves.

Rún spread

A series of spells follows the collection of staves, covering similar thematic ground but without the visual component, as well as a few riddles. Then, if the exhaustive collection of scripts at the start wasn’t enough, Rún ends with even more, twenty in all. These are presented differently from those at the beginning of the book, with each preceded by a large title, rendered beautifully in various blackletter and kurrentschrift faces. The letters of the scripts themselves also stand out, being executed with considerably more care than their earlier counterparts, with the Klapprúnir stóru being particularly lovely in its heavily weighted strokes and delicately rendered serifs.

Rún spread

It is the visual component of Rún that makes it stand out as the whole, not just in the exquisitely rendered scripts at the end but with some of the staves as well. Often these appear as full page illustrations, a little scrappy in their execution but with an undeniable charm and with the added bonus that they don’t seem to be documented elsewhere. In all, this makes this edition of Rún a valuable addition to any magician or magical scholar’s library, offering something more than the familiar Stephen Flowers-published Galdrabók or the Huld manuscript.

Published by Strandagaldur

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

Entering the Desert – Craig Williams

No comments yet

Categories: alchemy, hermeticism, magick, Tags:

Entering the Desert cover, standard hardback editionAnathema Publishing has released several works by Craig Williams, but this was the first, a relatively slight text based on the idea of the working with the theme of the desert and the solitude of monasticism. As with some other reviews of Anathema titles, this one requires a slight caveat as your humble reviewer has an editing credit here, though in my defence, time marches so inexorably forward that I often don’t immediately recall the text ‘pon reading it.

What becomes immediately apparent in reading Entering the Desert is a decisive placement of its contents in opposition, setting it, as the saying goes, against the modern world. Williams lets little time pass between moments of decrying something wrong with modernity, be it the world in general or occultism in particular. This degree of vituperative invective gets a little tiresome rather quickly, and its earnestness grates in its self-congratulatory repetition, getting in the way of good narrative as there’s almost an unspoken expectation that the reader will be hooting and hollering at each sick burn. It’s like when someone first discovers that Christianity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, or that popular culture isn’t as cool as Hot Topic culture, or when Krusty the Clown became a tell-it-like-it-is stand-up comedian, except here the shibboleth is that nasty nasty modernity, boo, hiss.

Spread with a painting by David S. Herrerias

It is, though, this opposition to the modern that acts as the primary motivation for what is presented here, with the entering of the desert being a chance to literally get away from it all. The desert is idealised as a place of isolation from the modern world, the journey to which is, as the book’s subtitle renders it, a pilgrimage into the hinterlands of the soul. Conversely, though, this is but one of what Williams identifies as two deserts, with the individual’s internal Desert of the Soul contrasting with an outer desert of the collective environment and dreaded modernity. Williams is at pains to point out that using this iconography is not an escapist fantasy or just a simple visualisation (which would, no doubt, be oh so modern), but rather a less tangible mode of being, more of a telling-it-like-it-is in which “one ruthlessly examines and accepts all the ‘aspects of life.’”

Spread with graphics by David S. Herrerias

There is a practical side to all this detached examination, and in chapter two, The Cell, Williams expounds on the use of another location within this eremophilous topography. This cell is treated less as a theoretical locus than the wilderness itself, and Williams provides a broad guide to what you’re going to get up to on your lonesome.

Inevitably, what emerges here is clearly indebted to the desert fathers and mothers of the early church, at least in an aesthetic and general approach, even if the overlay is an antinomian, anti-modern, hyper-individualist one. Like those hermetic forebears, the practitioner seeks isolation from the greater world, but Williams hastens to add that there is none of the asceticism of the latter, in which the body and flesh is abhorred and mortified. Despite the preponderance of the world ‘gnostic’ there’s also none of classic Gnosticism’s distain for matter, incarnation and existence. Instead, the cell acts as a space within which to alchemically sacralise the flesh, awakening daemonic voices from within both the mind and the body. To do this, the gnostic hermit enters a unique time stream within the cell, and performs simple exercises of breathing, mediation, reading and dreamless sleep. This awakened Sacramental Vision then allows the devotee to view the desert of the world as a source of nourishment and empowerment, a reflection of the inner landscape of the Soul, and not as an existential threat.

Image that appears blind debossed on the cover of the standard hardback edition

The broad outline of the preceding chapters gets more specific in a section called The Desert Grimoire, which provides exactly that, a grimoire of rituals and verse that is described as a transmission from the deeper regions of the wilderness of the soul. The first item of note is an introduction to a heretofore unmentioned aspect of Williams’ system, a group of primordial and supra-spacetime intelligences called the Priests of Night, whose egress within the cell can be initiated through the cultivation of its atmosphere. Other rituals follow, including a multi-day vigil, an invocation, and a lovely desert liturgy. The Desert Grimoire concludes with a section of verses, two to a page, each accompanied by a sigil and all wrapped within an ornate border. These provide a reification of what has been presented elsewhere in the book, but simplified into, or veiled by, poetic language.

Sigils and texts from the Desert Grimoire

The typography in Entering the Desert is expertly executed in typical Anathema style by Gabriel McCaughry: the body set in a relatively large, fully justified serif face, with headings and quotes in a copper tint for an understated touch of visual interest. David S. Herrerias provides extensive illustrations throughout, with both paintings and pen and ink illustrations, including one painted image of the desert that acts as both the front and rear endpapers, spreading across verso and recto. The internal paintings largely follow the style of this endpapers landscape, with a sedate tableaux of muted yellow and brown tones, including a Sparesian portrait of Williams himself. The pen and ink images follow the style seen previously from Herrerias, including his previously-reviewed Book of Q’Ab-Itz, with amalgams of Andrew Chumbley-like facetted plains and jagged geometry, and spindly things breaking into space. His desolate aesthetic makes for a fitting companion to Williams’ theme, conveying the sense of an eremitic and uncanny touching of the beyond.

In all, Entering the Desert is a pleasing little tome that brings its theme together rather well in terms of written and graphic elements. At its core, it contains some rather simple or fundamental concepts, as one would expect when the matter is one of sitting alone in the desert with nothing but wraiths and strays for company, But Williams presents these in a considered, perhaps too considered, manner that patiently reiterates each theme or technique in what becomes almost its own devotional or meditative act.

Spread with a painting by David S. Herrerias

Entering the Desert was released in four editions: a paperback, along with hardback editions of standard, collector and artisanal; all three of which are now sold out. The paperback runs to 176 pages of Rolland Opaque Natural 140M quality paper, bound in a scuff-free velvet matte with a selective spot varnish on the cover. The standard hardback edition of 400 copies featured 160 pages on Royal Sundance paper, hardbound in Sierra Tan bookcloth, with the title foiled in metallic black foil stamp on the spine and slightly hard to parse phantasmagorical figures blind-debossed to both the front and rear covers.

The collector’s edition of 150 copies binds the pages in a Fiscagomma Agenda dark brown faux leather, with a different symbol to the standard edition stamped in bronze foil on the cover, and metallic bronze foiling to the spine, It comes with a hand-numbered book plate signed by the author. Finally, the artisanal Midnight Sun edition of twelve copies was hand bound in genuine buffalo leather, dyed midnight blue, with a symbol blind debossed and gold foil stamped on the front cover. With custom-made artisanal endpapers and raised nerves and gold foiling on the spine, the Midnight Sun edition was presented in a slipcase bearing handmade custom-dyed marbled paper so that each box looked slightly different to the other.

Each hardcover edition of Entering the Desert also came with a download code for a copy of a musico-mystical contribution from ritual/dark ambient projects Shibalba, Alone in the Hollow Garden and Nam-Khar. These five tracks (or vibrational rituals, as they’re called here), three from Shibalba and two from the collaboration of Alone in the Hollow Garden and Nam-Khar, were channelled specifically as a meditative sound support for Entering the Desert and do have a certain eremophilous quality, casting detailed percussive sounds, throat singing and the occasionally languid Orientalist figure against linear landscapes.

Published by Anathema Publishing


The soundtrack for this release is naturally the pieces created by Shibalba, Alone in the Hollow Garden and Nam-Kar for Entering the Desert. The tracks by  Alone in the Hollow Garden and Nam-Kar can be heard on the Alone in the Garden Bandcamp page.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

The Order of the Solar Temple: The Temple of Death – Edited by James R. Lewis

No comments yet

Categories: alchemy, esotericism, hermeticism

The Order of the Solar Temple: The Temple of Death coverPart of Routledge’s New Religions series, this James R. Lewis-edited anthology brings together a variety of academic writers in discussion of the Switzerland and Quebec-based Order of the Solar Temple; along with a selection of Solar Temple documents, and some previously published articles edited anew here. As with the similarly named Solar Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis, there’s always something intriguing about the idea of magickal orders gone wrong, and things certainly went wrong for members of the Order of the Solar Temple. Formed in 1984, the Order of the Solar Temple came to the attention of the world ten years later when many of its members in both Europe and North America committed suicide or were murdered, while various order properties were set on fire.

Following an introduction by Lewis, things open with an archival piece by Jean-François Mayer from 1993, detailing the history of the various organisational guises, such as the exoteric Lausanne Club, that were associated with the more esoteric order, thereby placing it within a conventional new age milieu of healthy eating, homeopathy and Age of Aquarius earth changes; rather than the more hermetic and Templar-inspired incarnation the inner temple would later become. Naturally, there’s not much in what Mayer presents that foreshadows what would later occur with the Order of the Solar Temple (save for an unwittingly prescient note that the order, then so unknown, might prove of interest to later researchers), though when he describes members of the Lausanne Club innocently lighting a bonfire and dancing around it for St. John’s Day, one can’t help but think of the deadly role that fire would later play.

Considering its varied cast of contributors, The Order of the Solar Temple reads rather coherently, with each piece flowing into the next, building upon its predecessors by adding further details, but with very little in the way of redundancy; at least at the start. Mayer’s pre-1994 consideration of the order and its satellite clubs and groups is followed by Massimo Introvigne’s Ordeal by Fire: The Tragedy of the Solar Temple, which brings the narrative up to the events of 1994 with the first full recapping of what occurred. But Introvigne also prefaces this with a thorough history of the various Templar-inspired groups that preceded the Order of the Solar Temple, placing this side of the organisation within a stream of neo-Templarism and Freemasonry. With that said, though, the Order of the Solar Temple’s beliefs that do emerge throughout the book feel less like those of Templar-obsessed groups, with the usual combination of hermeticism, alchemy and Rosicrucianism, and rather a much more modern beast. Ascended masters, reincarnation and most dramatically of all, the transit to Sirius with members leaving behind their human bodies to assume new astral ‘solar bodies,’ speaks more to the post-Theosophy milieu of late-twentieth century New Age; just dressed up in white capes with red crosses, aided and abetted by a lot of sword waving.

Susan J. Palmer provides another fleshing out of the order’s inner intrigues by way of her Purity and Danger in the Solar Temple, which offers insights into some of the motivations and internal psychology of group members, all viewed through a sociological lens provided by the theories of the British anthropologist Mary Douglas. Douglas, whose work is alluded to in Palmer’s title, argued that the human body mirrors the collective body of a society and that in small and persecuted groups, any actual or perceived threat tends to be dealt with in purity rituals that govern the exits and entrances of the human body, enhancing the collective’s social control over the individual. This is a model that works rather well when applied to the insular and increasingly paranoid order, where control over bodies can be seen in the process of ‘defamilialisation,’ in which members were periodically endowed with new spiritual identities, previous incarnations whose past relationships or antipathies could have an effect on existing partnerships. The order’s affinity for a Gnostic-like asceticism and detachment from the body found its ultimate expression in the events of 1994, when the bodies of members were sloughed off in the final response to perceived external threats, and this attempt at purifying the body of the organisation was then compounded by the repeated use of fire to burn, to varying degrees of success, the corpses and order’s buildings.

John R. Hall and Philip Schuyler add to the discussion of the machinations within the order in The Mystical Apocalypse of the Solar Temple, a reprint of the fifth chapter of Hall’s Apocalypse Observed: Religious Movements and Violence in North America, Europe and Japan from 2000. As in that book, Hall and Schuyler show how the destructive end of a group like the Order of the Solar Temple cannot be simply attributed to the cliché of cult leaders with ulterior motives brainwashing the vulnerable; nor entirely to something inherently violent or destructive in a group’s beliefs. Rather, how society at large responds to this smaller microcosmic society plays a significant role, with the anti-cult hysteria generated by both the media and government departments exacerbating or even initiating conflict. Besides this premise, Hall and Schuyler’s contribution provides perhaps the most thorough recounting yet of the events leading up to 1994, whilst still managing to feel that it doesn’t excessively regurgitate or labour over details covered in previous chapters.

Jean-François Mayer provides another piece, The Dangers of Enlightenment: Apocalyptic Hopes and Anxieties in the Order of the Solar Temple, picking up from where his earlier pre-1994 essay left off, and now, with the benefit of hindsight, offers just that, hindsight, looking at some of the apocalyptic beliefs of the group and asking what signs there were of what later occurred. There’s a certain inevitable overlap of themes in the following Crises of Charismatic Authority and Millenarian Violence: The Case of the Order of the Solar Temple by John Walliss, where unlike Hall and Schuyler, he downplays the validity of any sense of persecution the order may have felt (relatively slight as it was), suggesting instead that the decision to perform the lethal transits was the result of crises of charismatic authority which, after defections and other waverings of order confidence, leaders Luc Jouret and Joseph Di Mambro sought to restore with an act of performative violence. As such, the transits can be seen as a final spectacular ritualistic gesture to the world, through which the order’s leaders tried to “reassert their authority over their followers and create some kind of legend for the order.”

Order of the Solar Temple ritual chamber

Henrik Bogdan, perhaps the only familiar name here from esoteric academia, explores a suitably occult theme in Death as Initiation: The Order of the Solar Temple and Rituals of Initiation, where he turns specifically to the initiatory rituals of Freemasonry. Bogdan gives a relatively thorough account of Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism, including basic rituals of the former, before ultimately bringing the discussion back to what he’s here for: how death is perceived in an initiatory manner within these types of groups, with specific reference to the Masonic legend of the murder of the master mason Hiram. This, in turn, leads to a consideration of some of the masonic-style rituals of the Order of the Solar Temple, each documented meticulously, with particular note being made of one in which the initiate is ominously taught that death is an illusion, a part of life, and one must be able to die in the profane world to be born into the cosmic world. While such language is by no means uncommon amongst metaphysical groups, Bogdan notes that the Order of the Solar Temple took it beyond the metaphorical with the transit becoming the ultimate ritual of initiation as members transformed into disincarnated Masters, creating a link between the worlds of men and the divine.

There’s the same sense of delving into occult roots in Sources of Doctrine in the Solar Temple by George D. Chryssides, though for someone with his credentials there’s a lot of minor and sloppy errors. There’s a belittling reference to Hatshepsut as an ‘Egyptian princess’ rather than as one of Egypt’s most successful pharaohs. Similarly, there’s a misrepresentation of Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled as a book that combines ancient Egyptian ideas with eastern spirituality, when the Egyptian section is but one small part of a wider consideration of various strands of Western occult traditions, alongside a history and critique of Christianity; a rookie mistake, perhaps, given the title, but really? Then there’s a strange reference to the Templar’s suppressing Catharism as their last crusade, which seems unlikely, given that it runs counter to their whole raison d’être as bankers and protectors of pilgrims to the Holy Land; and considering that what one could consider as one of their final campaigns was an unsuccessful one fighting off a Mamluk invasion on the other side of the continent in Armenia; followed by further losses of bases in the eastern Mediterranean. The most head scratching statement of all comes when Chryssides, or his editor, so poorly summarises one conspiracy theory about the Order of the Solar Temple that it inelegantly depicts extra-terrestrials building unexplained subterranean chambers (giving the reader the impression that he’s talking about ritual chambers used by the order in Switzerland, not in Nevada as the original theory has it; sigh, it’s a long story better summarised elsewhere in the book), with Jimmy Carter seemingly described at the time of the transits as the “then president”, who, with the CIA at his command, was responsible for the deaths as part of a cover-up.

At this point, things feel like they’ve reached Maximum Templar Saturation (a killer band name if ever there was one) and there can’t be much more to say. This certainly turns out to be the case with the final two essays not contributing much that hasn’t already been said. Marc Labelle’s The Ordre du Temple Solaire and the Quest for the Absolute is a muddled read with tense shifting relentlessly in a space riddled with non sequiturs and anacoluthon, reading as if it was translated from another language and not thoroughly proofed. Meanwhile, Sects, Media and the End of the World by Roland J. Campiche has little to say other than ‘media bad,’ an original sentiment to be sure.

The Order of the Solar Temple concludes with its appendix of order documents, beginning with a letter sent to 60 journalists, scholars, and government officials the morning after the fires in 1994. One part esoteric exegesis, one part paranoid invective against the order’s enemies, there’s a certainty in the words, but also a baffled desperation at the tribulations inflicted upon them by various external ne’er-do-wells. The second document here is for the Ritual for the Donning of the Talar and the Cross, referenced extensively in Bogdan’s essay, which provides an interesting insight into the order’s approach to ritual, part masonic fancy dress, part Catholic pomp and liturgy.

Published by Routledge.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

The Well of Light: From Faery Healing to Earth Healing – R.J. Stewart

No comments yet

Categories: faery, underworld, Tags:

The Well of Light coverSome of the first reviews featured on Scriptus Recensera predated the creation of this website and provided ready-made content when we first launched. Two of these were reviews of works by R.J. Stewart, reflecting a long-standing personal affection for his brand of earth, faery and underworld-focused mysticism. This title is another entry in what Stewart defines as his UnderWorld and Faery series, which also includes the two previously reviewed titles, The Underworld Initiation and The Living World of Faery, as well as the seminal works, Earth Light and its sequel Power Within the Land. While those titles all considered their themes in a broad manner, this one, as its title indicates, has what promises to be a particular focus on healing, presenting a variety of practical exercises for faery healing and the idea that in the modern era this can lead to a broader healing of the earth itself, mending the relationship between humanity and the planet.

Stewart further delineates this process into three steps, defining the faery healing of the first as a transformation through interaction with the faery as well as other orders of life, rather than conventional modern healing, be it, one assumes medicinal or metaphysical. The second stage marks a meditation, in alliance with these other orders of being, on the subtle forces of life and death, while the earth healing of the third and final stage is itself defined as three further stages: cleansing and healing ecological areas adversely affected by humanity; healing rifts and imbalances both metaphysical and literal in the underworld; and finally an iatrical interaction with the living consciousness of the earth itself, taking place at its very core, a locus of power from which what Stewart terms the Earth Light and the Shining Ones originate.

Out of the gate, the practical side of The Well of Light meets a snag, with Stewart explaining how to use the book, the first stage of which is to listen to the CD all the way through. OK, I’ll get right on it… oh, wait, what CD? As miffed reviews on Amazon attest, this CD of empowered visions accompanied by flute and 80 stringed psaltery did not come with the book and had to be purchased separately. Should you feel it necessary, both book and CD appear to still be available for purchase from Stewart’s own website some seventeen years later.

Spread from The Well of Light

Foregoing the requirements of the compacted disc variety, the reader can dive into a few introductory essays that offer an overview of the nomenclature and entities of Stewart’s tradition. Written over a period of time to answer questions that arose in Stewart-led workshop, they provide a broad outline of some of the themes and practices considered in more depth later and begin by discussing several orders of beings: elementals, nature spirits, faeries, and deepest still, titans or giants. The consideration of the giants is, perhaps obviously, the most personally interesting here, with Stewart comparing Germanic, Classical and Celtic variations of the motif to sympathetically define these beings as primordial powers embodying the land and other natural forces, manifesting as energies of creation, growth and ultimately destruction. He provides several suggestions of ways for connecting with these titanic powers: using an altered perspective, meditating on the weather, visiting mountains in body or in spirit, and through the intercession of faery cousin and allies.

As a collection of separately written essays, some of this initial content can feel a little unfocused or hesitant, but still carries Stewart’s distinctive voice. He writes in a largely informal, conversational manner, occasionally dropping analogies and also, a little too often, making curmudgeonly jibes at various things in modernity that annoy him; take that, Sony Walkmans, and for an only slightly more current reference “trying to get our computers to download so-called time-saving free music.” I do love the mental image of Bob Stewart shaking his fist at a yellowing Compaq Presario going “Damn you Napster, why won’t you work?”

Once The Well of Light gets going, going it gets, with an initial deeper introduction to the faery races and inner contacts, as viewed from the perspective of what Stewart calls the Faery and UnderWorld tradition. The idiosyncratic formatting of UnderWorld is chosen to differentiate it from any ideas of organised crime that might be evoked by the term; not something that really occurred to me, but obviously of some concern to Stewart. Indeed, this concern with definitions is one that arises frequently, and Stewart is at pains to point out when something from his lexicon should not be seen in the way it might normally be. Faeries are the most obvious one here, with repeated insistences that they should not be viewed as they are in popular culture (or in, as Stewart scathingly notes, the “many superficial books currently on the market”) as whimsical and diaphanous.

Spread from The Well of Light

With definitions out of the way, Stewart introduces the first experiential part of the books with the concept of the aptitudes, faery healing’s seven areas of expertise. These seven aptitudes are inherent abilities or potentials, albeit perhaps unrealised, that everyone has at least one or more of, allowing the person to heal by working with stones, water, plants, living creatures, faery allies, touch and signatures. Stewart provides ways of discovering one’s particular aptitude, as well as broad ways of working with them, usually offering general guidelines, rather than exercises to be performed by rote. More depth is provided in the following chapter, where Stewart gives specific techniques, but only for working with the stone and water aptitudes, the practices acting as general models, with the onus on the possessors of other aptitudes to apply in kind.

If one expects a book with a title such as this to have pages of information about dubious energy healing and laying on of hands, then disappointment ahoy. There’s very little of such specifics, and not much in the way of any explicit definition of what ‘healing’ might mean in this situation, be it physical, psychic or mental. Instead, the concept of healing seems almost secondary, a side effect of what is presented here, which more often than not is a primer of working with the faery in general. This is particularly evident in the sixth chapter, Forms and Visions of Faery Healing, which, despite the title, contains a series of guided visualisations for encounters with various locations and characters in faery land; rather than a visit to a faery doctor. Effectively, the idea seems to be one of diplomacy, where the ongoing interaction between the practitioner and the denizens of the underworld creates a healing of the wounds betwixt the two worlds and its races.

This book contains a second part called The Mystery of the Double Rose, which is somewhat confusingly and ambiguously referenced in the cover art, and seemingly distinct from the main Well of Light section, but obviously thematically related. Counterintuitively, this section contains a considerably more explicit explanation of what is meant by faery healing than is found in the first half of the book. Along with some repetition of some similar information from the book’s first half, this affirms the status of The Mystery of the Double Rose as separate content that could have been better integrated into a single book; much like the introductory essays.

Diagrams from the The Mystery of the Double Rose section

In all, then, The Well of Light feels like a welcome but by no means required addition to Stewart’s oeuvre of underworld and faery, with his other books in this canon providing more focus and a more essential explication of its tradition and imagery. As always, the curmudgeonly side of Stewart’s writing can begin to grate after a while, especially with the way he imbues his objections with such passion and indignation; yeah, I’m looking at you, those who sexually mutilate flowers by cutting them.

Formatting in The Well of Light by Jenny Stracke (who also provided copy editing) is unspectacular but supremely functional, set in a large serif face with subheading, section headings and chapter headings in bold and small cap variations of the same. This capable hand is less obvious on the cover with its mess of typefaces and gradient background against which cover art by Martin Bridge is unflatteringly placed. Bridge also provides the book’s few internal illustrations, with various heavy-lined vector diagrams in the Mystery of the Double Rose section.

Published by R.J. Stewart Books

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
1 2 3 4 5 14 15