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Gwenevere and the Round Table – Wendy Berg

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Categories: faery

This book by Wendy Berg addresses a conspicuously little known figure from Arthurian legend, presenting Queen Gwenevere, not as a mere adjunct to more familiar figures, but effectively as a central character around which many of the events involve. In so doing, she becomes an initiatrix and guide in a series of workings that the reader can undertake.

At the outset, Berg addresses what can be described as the problem of Gwenevere, in that despite her fame, there is little extant information about her. This absence of evidence effectively plays into Berg’s core idea: that the reason Gwenevere is mysterious is because she ultimately embodies a mystery. Berg argues that Gwenevere’s minimal but unique roles point to her being, not a human, but a faery, for whom the marriage to Arthur is one of interaction between two realms, re-enacting the rituals of sacred kingship. Her subsequent appearances in legends, in which she is often abducted or goes into exile, fit this role too, with the idea being that in these instances she once again provides an interaction between the faery and human worlds.

This is an idea Berg has explored before in her theory-based book Red Tree, White Tree, but here there is more of a focus on practical application, and on the Round Table, which Berg notes has frequent associations with Gwenevere. It is the dowry she brings from Lyonesse, and its return is demanded by a mysterious knight following her death. For Berg, the table is a symbol of the relationship between the worlds of human and fae, and a template for both the order formed around it, and a mystery school attendant to this order. As a faery queen, and the realm’s ambassador, Gwenevere was the prime interpreter of the table’s wisdom, and initiator of the knights into its mysteries.

Berg’s discussion of her Gwenevere theory takes up but one chapter of the book and the rest is an exploration of a magickal system largely based around the division into four faery kingdoms, at the centre of which is a fifth realm, Listenois, the Grail Kingdom. These kingdoms, some more familiar than others, are Lyonesse in the east, Sorelois is in the south, Gorre in the west, and Oriande in the north. Each realm is attributed different characteristics, and progressed through one at a time, each imparting a new lesson.

Berg’s system is low on ritual or artifice and is instead composed almost entirely of guided pathworkings. These use an initial journey to the table as a device through which the other realms can be explored, effectively providing a hub world that the player seeker logs into, receives missions from Gwenevere, before departing to the other worlds and ultimately returning to the hub.

In addition to these general exploration of the faery kingdoms, Berg presents a couple of other techniques, integrated with these journeys but unique enough to stand out on their own. The first is a meditation on colour as a way of connecting with the faery, in which the participant is taught to appreciate a range of colours and to ‘see’ them through faery eyes. The second is a fairly successful system of astral magic where the constellations are used as an empowered guide to Arthurian cosmology. These constellations provide another take on the idea of the Round Table, a wheel of stellar arrays circling the night sky and representing various scenes or characters from Arthurian legend. In concert with this is the creation of a Book of Stars, documenting the journey through the constellations.

When it comes to a magickal system connected with faery and heavily dependent on guided pathworkings, it is inevitable for one’s mind drifts to the work of RJ Stewart. There is an element of this here, but there are some other noticeable styles that one could uncharitably call new age. There’s a lot of talk of consciousness and vibrations, and while there’s nothing wrong with those concepts, the nomenclature has an undeniable whiff of crystal shops and reiki readings. Another element that occurs periodically, and somewhat expectedly given the associations with grail mysticism, is a faery interpretation, shall we say, of Christianity, with a pathworking featuring a vision of the White Christ. This connects with another obvious touchstone, the writer Gareth Knight, with Berg often using his terminology and referring to an Atlantean Tradition that underlies both the faery and grail mysteries here.

As a largely mystical workbook, there’s not a huge amount of academic discussion here, with often only cursory consideration of Arthurian sources or any discursive analysis. And while this is to be expected given the format, it does lead to jarring moments that cause one to pause and wish a more thorough approach had been taken to make for a more convincing argument. Berg often draws from diverse Arthurian sources to build her core concept, but nowhere does she mention the question, let alone suggest an answer, as to how these disparate authors, divided by both time and geography, could have glommed onto some secret truth about Gwenevere and the fae. These sources are not some holy writ that has, at the very least, a pretence of originating from a singular culture or belief system. Instead, they are the works of a diverse group of authors who, one would pragmatically argue, were only interested in telling stories. One could argue otherwise and handwave with hints at some mystical link that Arthurian writers have that taps into mysterious realms of the fae, or something, but because this isn’t done, quibbles like this are more glaring than they need to be.

Similarly, throughout the book there’s an almost disingenuous presentation of information where the lack of thoroughness effectively becomes lying by omission. In discussing what she describes as the faery kingdom of Oriande, and its ruler Madaglan and his sister Jandree, Berg fails to mention that the two could just as easily be seen as Saracens, given that in the chansons de geste the word Oriandes, so redolent of ‘Orient,’ refers to Saracen women, while Oriande is the name of a Saracen town. This is even more likely given that Madaglan and Jandree are shown as being theologically at odds with Arthur and his court, rejecting his New Law in favour of their Old Law, for which Islam is surely intended. This doesn’t invalidate Berg’s argument, indeed, one could argue that the status of Muslims as the penultimate symbol of The Other in courtly literature made them an effective gloss for the equally Other(worldly) faery. But because such a caveat is not made, and given that the source for the idea of Oriande as a kingdom, faery or not, is just one text, the Perlesvaus, one finds oneself becoming something of a cynical reader (well, moreso, right kids?).

It is this kind of thing that means when Berg relays the story of another adversarial knight, Meleagant, son of the King of Gorre, you find yourself running off to fact check a copy of Lancelot, le Chevalier de la Charrette. Berg has Meleagant refer to a group of nobles he has held hostage as “human prisoners,” thereby highlighting a stark racial distinction between the apparently faery knight and his captives. But Chrétien de Troyes uses no such term, simply referring to them as “knights, ladies, and damsels who belong to thy dominion and household.” While there is a case to be made for Meleagant being more than just a human adversary, given the distinctly otherworldly characteristics of the kingdom of Gorre, it seems deceitful to present this, not as an interpretation, but as something detailed verbatim in Chrétien’s story. This, unfortunately, is a pretty common technique here: mention the source, relay the story as if you’re telling it as it appears in said source, sprinkle liberally with usage of the word ‘faery’ not in said source.

As a workbook there’s a pleasing completeness to the system presented by Berg. It has a coherent structure engendered by both the Round Table and the faery kingdoms, even if I have reservations about the historical and literary rigour given to said realms. The system and its results feel very personal-growth orientated, using that type of nomenclature, rather than the usual veiled occult references to unspecified wisdom. The book is competently laid out in the manner one expects from Skylight Press, with a pleasing typographic hierarchy,

Published by Skylight Press

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Craft of the Untamed: An Inspired Vision of Traditional Witchcraft – Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold

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Categories: faery, folk, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

craftoftheuntamedThere is no shortage of books about Traditional Witchcraft upon the shelves in the Scriptus Recensera library, filled as it is with worthy contributions from Michael Howard, Gemma Gary, Shani Oates, Andrew Chumbley, Nigel Jackson and others. And that’s not to mention the works of the pretenders and imitators that haven’t been granted access to these hallowed halls. The question that arises, then, is whether Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold is able to bring anything new to the table. Frisvold certainly seems to think so, cutting my musings off at the pass and making his case early on for one major point of difference: a focus not just on the British and Scandinavian sources for witches, but on the parallels that are to be found in Italy and even further afield in South American expressions of magic, especially those connected with African diasporic religions. Thus, a consideration of the crossroad in witchcraft inevitably makes a brief detour into the comparable symbolism in Yoruba belief and Vodou, facilitating a full circle of motifs when ‘the kingdom’ from the Cult of Exu finds an analogue in the Witches’ Sabbath.

Frisvold makes another distinction at the outset, noting that similar books are often highly eclectic in their approach, uncritically embracing myths and legends, with an attendant use of etymology and epistemology. However, there is often little to differentiate what is presented in this book with the style of, say, Michael Howard, Nigel Jackson and Shani Oates, three authors who, to my mind, have often written with an encyclopaedic, info-dump approach that embraces folklore, legend, myth and etymology in a rather broad manner. Frisvold’s sources are a little different from those of Howard, Jackson and Oates, though there are certainly some common ones; and titles from Cappall Bann do make a significant contribution to the bibliography. Instead, Frisvold draws heavily on material from Hermeticism and the Western Tradition, with an obvious and fairly frequently fondled touchstone being found in Cornelius Agrippa.

There is a utilitarian approach to the writing here with a conversational tone that precludes much in the way of scene setting or background exposition when information is presented. Frisvold obviously knows his stuff (except perhaps for the bit about Robert Johnson dying at the crossroads, wahhh?), so there’s no feeling of him skimping on the details out of ignorance, and while you don’t need to over explain things to an occult audience (where a certain familiarity with the material is expected), it still feels like more context could be provided before the nuggets of knowledge are dropped. The brevity of Frisvold’s writing is also evident in a lack of transitional phrases tying paragraphs together, with ideas often being abruptly introduced as if they have no immediate relation, to the subjects that have gone before. This leads to a jarring effect when blocks of information appear, if only briefly, as if they are non sequiturs, barren of any relation to the wider discussion.

This slight lack of focus bleeds into the chapters, which, although given clear titles and themes, don’t necessarily reflect an obvious flow throughout the book; suggesting, although I have no evidence to corroborate it, that they started as individual essays. These chapters cover off various areas of witchcraft, with the first one being the aforementioned consideration of the symbolism of the crossroads. Chapter two, Solomonic Magic, is a wide-ranging slightly unfocused discussion that covers more than what its title would suggest, lurching from grimoire magic, to folk concepts of the Devil, to liminal Roman and Etruscan deities and ultimately to inverted crosses. The focus is tightened a little more in a discussion of blood and ancestry in systems of witchcraft and, inevitably, beyond. Arguably the most successful chapter is one in which the gaze lingers on a central theme for longer with a consideration of the Witches’ Sabbath and the traditions surrounding the Mount of Venus. I am rather partial to the emphasis Frisvold gives to Hela, focusing on Her role as an initiatory goddess of witchcraft and the underworld, addressing Her as “Ninefold Mother, Hel, Herodias, Holda. Queen of Elphame, Queen of Venus’ mount.”

Many of the chapters conclude with a practical activity that put into action what has just been discussed. Thus, a chapter that could be broadly said to be concerned with sympathetic magick concludes with a series of brief malefic spells, such as a poppet charm for harm and healing, and a procedure for creating a mojo bag for protection. In the chapter on the Witches’ Sabbath, instructions are given for a rite of transvection using flying ointments, while the consideration of blood ties is concluded with a procedure for feeding the ancestors

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Each chapter in Craft of the Untamed is prefaced with a black and white illustration by Audrey Melo, who also provides the painting that features on the cover. The reproduction of these internal illustration varies widely in quality, with everything from acceptable to quite pixelated, to goodness me, they’ve put pixels in their pixels so they can pixel when they pixel. These images are also wildly inconsistent in style, with Melo having no discernible look of her own and instead riffing on the aesthetics of various familiar esoteric artists. There’s a few atavistic Austin Osman Spare motifs, a fairly convincing Aubrey Beardsley pastiche, and a couple of images that are an obvious tribute to the unknown artists of a thousand wishful metal album covers scrawled across a thousand school exercise books. One image takes Brian Froud as its inspiration and by inspiration I mean that at its centre is one of his rather distinctive characters, economically traced, without credit.

Craft of the Untamed is better formatted than many Mandrake of Oxford titles, with none of the cramped styling that is usually found amongst their books. In place of it, though, and proving I’m never satisfied, is an overly generous leading that almost approaches double line spacing in depth and which, although allowing things to breathe, does result in just 30 lines of text on a page. This count is reduced even more when the style is applied to what ends up being rather spaced out invokations that can’t help but be read in a stilted, broken tone worthy of William Shatner. There’s an unfortunately typical lack of attention to detail in the formatting and proofing: chapter headings can’t decide if they’re meant to be bolded or not, the first page of each chapter flaunts convention and includes the header with the book’s author and title in it (as do all other pages, regardless of the content), and there’s a reckless disregard for punctuation, with a surfeit of missing, redundant or misplaced commas.

With its overgenerous leading, Craft of the Untamed makes for what feels like a slimmer volume than its tally of 180 pages would suggest. When this is twinned with Frisvold’s brisk style of writing, the reader can find themselves skipping quickly through the pages. As an overview of some of witchcraft’s themes, Craft of the Untamed meets its brief, and the point of difference, largely unpromised at the start, is a tendency to relate these to Western Occultism and Hermeticism, with Frisvold’s affiliation as a Traditionalist occasionally coming through via this approach.

Published by Mandrake of Oxford

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Secrets of a Faery Landscape – Coleston Brown

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Categories: faery

Secrets of a Faery Landscape coverSubtitled New Light on the Glastonbury Zodiac, this book has as its focus the series of natural and constructed earthworks surrounding Glastonbury, Somerset, discovered in 1925 by Katherine Maltwood. The first figure she found was a leonine form, which emerged out of the hills and hollows outlined on a surveyor’s map of the area, and other less impressive shapes soon followed. These she identified as representations of different constellations, although some might say that a few of the designs resemble not so much constellations as they do amorphous splats; I, for example, might say that.

In this work, Coleston Brown is less concerned with recapitulating Maltwood’s discovery and instead attempts to use the forms with more of a metaphysical focus. In this investigation, Brown is aided and abetted by Jessie Skillen who provides the cover image and a smattering of internal illustrations rendered in pencil. Her style is very much what you would expect to find in a new age shop in Glastonbury, all wisp and whimsy and it does act as an able companion to Brown’s themes.

While obviously indebted to Maltwood and her discovery of the figures at Glastonbury, Brown stresses early on where the two of them diverge. Maltwood’s identification of the figures with the conventional classical zodiac (something continued by almost everyone that has subsequently considered them) is seen as a somewhat limiting action and the result, Brown says, of her attempts to seek validation from academic authorities of the day. Brown does see the designs at Glastonbury as having a stellar component, but one that reaches beyond the confines of the ecliptic, with the figures having much more of the faery about them than the zodiac. For Brown, then, the figures represent Thirteen Dreamers, great faery figures that lie across the land and are simultaneously represented in the stars. It is within these earthy forms that the stars sleep when night turns to day and the sky’s nocturnal inhabitants pass into the underworld; or UnderRealm as Brown insists on calling it. This theme is something hinted at in Maltwood’s early works when she variously refers to the Glastonbury figures as Nature Gods, Star Giants and Giant Cosmic Deities.

glastonbury_zodiac

So instead of identifying the shapes by their classical zodiac names, Brown list these Thirteen Dreamers as the Quest, the Queen, the King, the Radiant Child, the Faery Boat, the Havens, the Sisterhood, the Faery Cat, the Stone/Sigils, the Horned One, the Swan, the Faery Fish and the Well of Stars. Various patterns of interaction between these Dreamers can be identified, with them being divided into triunes of animals, artefacts, guardians and a royal family comprised of queen, king and child. These Dreamers can be related to various elements of Celtic mythology, the Faery Fish is the Salmon of Knowledge, for example, while the Sisterhood are the nine women whose breath keeps the fire beneath the Cauldron of Inspiration lit.

Brown uses the Glastonbury figures to cast a wider thematic net within which a number of motifs can also be considered. The wild hunt led by Gwynn ap Nudd, for example, is discussed in the way it partakes of the same matrix of liminal imagery as the star enclosure with its themes of seasonal interactions between this world and the other. Similarly, Brown touches on the persistent references to the star enclosure as a cauldron, creating an interesting image in which the historical flooding of the Somerset Levels suggests a filling cauldron with the water rising to different levels around the various Dreamer earthworks. Brown identifies this tidal flooding as a powerful illustration of an interaction between the underworld and the land, with the water rising up through streams and wells, bringing with it the chthonic energy from below the ground.

Jessie_Skillen01

Brown has a final chapter talking about stellar alignments and the concept of the birth of a Radiant Faery Child, whatever that is (and linking it with the somewhat overstated galactic alignment of 2012), and then it’s all over a little too quickly. At 132 pages, including glossary and index, and with text rendered in a rather large point size, Secrets of a Faery Landscape is a brisk read and one that practically ends at page 86 when it gives way to annotated illustrations and diagrams to make or reiterate previous points. This abrupt end is a little disappointing, as most of the preceding writing feels like a preamble to a practical application that never comes. There is an appendix, written several years earlier, on working with sacred places that can be applied to the locations of the Thirteen Dreamers, but it feels strange that this content wasn’t more fully integrated into the main body.

Published by Green Fire Publishing. ISBN 9780986591228

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Both Sides of Heaven – Edited by Sorita d’Este

Categories: faery, luciferian

bothsidesofheavenAvalonia’s Both Sides of Heaven is a collection of essays on angels, fallen angels and demons that suggests that, were the contributors made to choose, it would be the darker side of heaven on which they would sit. There is a preponderance of pieces exploring the fallen angels, whereas their heavenly counterparts are only occasionally present, but such is the dark glamour of the fallen ones that this is, perhaps, inevitable.

With eighteen contributions, there is a wide range of material here, and as one would expect, it is of varying quality and worth. Some of the highlights include Kim Huggens’ Between Gods and Men, a survey of the idea of daimons from a cross section of classical source, while a similar mytho-anthropological approach is taken by Payam Nabarz in a consideration of the angels and demons of Zoroastrian cosmology. Both pieces are well written and thoroughly referenced, making them a joy to read.

There are also strong contributions from Michael Howard and David Rankine. Howard’s The Myth of the Fallen Ones is effectively a summary of the material from his books The Pillars of Tubal Cain and The Book of Fallen Angels, while Rankine gives an overview of the goetic spirits that appear to be fallen angels. In Madeline Montalban, Elemental and Fallen Angels, Julia Philips covers similar material to Howard, although there is substantially less about Montalban than you would have expected based on the title, being limited to a few paragraphs.

On the weak side are pieces like Diana Allam’s Azazel & Shemyaza: Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll, which is a measly two page reflection on how they see Azazel (apparently as “every female’s fantasy in one package;” how wonderfully essentialist) and to a lesser extent, Shemyaza, who they see as a father figure; providing psychological insights I wasn’t really looking for. Adele Nozedar’s Thirteen Unicycles in the Woods is also unsatisfying, using five pages to give a personal account of seeing an angel and a demon in the wild; an anecdote that may be fine as something to tell like a ghost story around a campfire but one that feels lacking in any relevance or insight for a greater audience. Some of the other pieces are distinctly amateurish and entry level, such as Demons and Devils from the peculiarly-named Maestro Nestor. This is a rambling summary of demonology that is punctuated with personal recollections about how they once contemplated summoning a demon to do housework (they thought better of it because it would have been “just too disrespectful”), and how they made a pact with Satan, which they managed to break thanks to a ritual from Arthur Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magic; phew, that was lucky. Equally rambling is Fallen Angels and the Legends of the Fall, subtitled a rather human perspective, in which author Rufus Harrington’s day job as a Consultant Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist appears to have given him the skill to write for several pages without actually saying much.

Less egregious but still irritating is Aaron Leitch’s The “Enochians,” which promises to show you the true identity of the angels of Dr. John Dee. Unfortunately, Leitch bases his piece on a false dilemma, arguing that occultists favour the exotic Enochian angels that Dee and Kelley encountered as they delved deeper into their system and that they have wilfully ignored the more familiar angels with which Dee worked. For Leitch, the true identity of the angels is just the archangels that Dee, as a student of western occultism, summoned and encountered at the beginning of his experiments: Gabriel, Uriel, Michael and Raphael. So that’s no great revelation and the fact that another piece in this volume, On the Wings of Rebirth by Katherine Sutherland, specifically discusses Dee’s work with these angels suggests that Leitch’s idea of some occult cover-up to hide Dee’s conversations with conventional angels  is vastly overstated.

As is obvious, the problem with this volume is the disparity in the quality of  contributions and contributors. Pieces that have an even mildly academic approach outshine the more personal anecdotes that offer nothing but unwelcome insight into the none-too-flattering mindset of some magickal practitioners.  With some quality control, the eighteen contributions could have been whittled down to make a slimmer but more satisfying volume. As with all Avalonia releases, this book is competently formatted and printed, and the reasonable pricing means that despite the chaff, there’s no reason not to buy this for what wheat there is.

Published by Avalonia. ISBN 978-1-905297-26-9

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The Living World of Faery – R.J. Stewart

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Categories: faery, folk, underworld

livingworldoffaeryAlthough much of Bob Stewart’s work concerns itself with the faery realm, this book sets out to focus specifically on the faeries themselves, and their appearances in traditional lore. It combines explanatory chapters, with explorations of folk songs and rhymes, as well as guided workings, with many based on the folk songs. Some of the workings included in this book have appeared in other Stewart books such as Earth Light and Power within the Land, and indeed contribute to a general feeling that much of the material is recycled, and the words simply rephrased. Stewart is, as ever, somewhat dogmatic in lamenting the state of modern occultism and the stereotypes about faeries, and after a while, this curmudgeonly approach begins to grate. It’s not that he’s necessarily wrong in his views, it’s just that once would be enough without the need for condescension.

The book is most useful for its considerations of the faery content of traditional songs and tales, with the ballad of Young Tam Lin and the song of Thomas the Rhymer being essential items of study. From a Helish perspective, a chapter on the inverted Underworld Tree, which features a pathworking to the hall of the Fairy Queen, makes for interesting and evocative reading, and can be adapted more specifically for Hela. Other visualisations include a diving through a moon pool and an exploration of the four otherworld cities from Irish mythology: Murias, Falias, Gorias and Findias.

As with some of his other works, Stewart incorporates elements of Qabalah into his discussion, prefacing it with an overview of the way in which the faery folk were often associated with the fallen angels of biblical lore. Stewart argues that, like faeries, angels have undergone a shift in representation that turns them from powerful, slightly terrifying, beings into “sugary, ethereal, white robed beings who pull us out of difficulties or encourage us with religious platitudes.” With this and a subsequent discussion of the role of Lucifer in faery lore, Stewart’s presentation evokes echoes of the dual–faith observance that is found in Andrew Chumbley’s Sabbatic Craft.

The second half of The Living World of Faery is made up of what could be called primary sources, which, when originally published in the days before digital archives of public domain works, would have been an invaluable resource. These include a reprint of an interview on faery matters with the mystical artist and writer AE (George William Russell, 1867–1935), and extracts from the Reverend Robert Kirk’s 1691/1692 work The Secret Commonwealth. With its almost anthropological notes of faeries, Kirk’s work clearly informs, or corroborates, the exercises in the first half of the book.

Overall, this is not an essential Stewart book, since so much of it is covered elsewhere, but for the completest, it is worth getting. It is nicely formatted and illustrated throughout.

Published by Mercury Publishing, North Carolina, USA. ISBN 1-892137-09-7

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