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The Luminous Stone: Lucifer in Western Esotericism – Edited by Michael Howard and Daniel A. Schulke

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Categories: luciferian, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

This compendium of essays on the role of Lucifer in Western Esotericism represents the last significant contribution to occult publishing by Michael Howard before his passing in 2016. In addition to his role as co-editor, he provides an essay and is joined by Frater U.:.D.:., Robert Fitzgerald, Ethan Doyle White, Fredrik Eytzinger, Richard Gavin, Raven Grimassi, Lee Morgan, and Madeline Ledespencer.

The Luminous Stone is the third entry in Three Hands Press’ Western Esotericism in Context series, following on from previous explorations of Babalon and Traditional Witchcraft. As with any compendium such as this, the most interesting contributions are ones that explore territory less travelled. Any consideration of the usual biblical or folkloric accounts, and the intersection thereof, are going to be pretty uninspiring, without much, if anything, new to offer. Mercifully, there are instead several explorations of completely alien territory. Such territories are ones in which the Luciferian spirit of inventiveness seems to have been fully embraced by its adherents, with each providing something of an idiosyncratic interpretation.

The occult scene of 19th century Paris as described by Madeline Ledespencer is a prime example of this, with Ledespencer showcasing two figures, L’Abbé Boullan and Maria de Naglowska, each with a Luciferian supra or subtext, but each with a unique take on it. After a less than stellar start from this volume’s first two contributors (English as a second language for one, and just a bit stilted for the other), Ledespencer’s piece is refreshingly well written, with an ebullient style that reads easily and conveys a sense of both the love and knowledge she has for her subject matter.

As one would expect from a Three Hands Press book, there’s the occasional nod to the Cultus Sabbati and the work of Andrew Chumbley. Robert Fitzgerald’s The Hidden Stone: Devotion, Lucifer and the High Sabbat uses the Cultus as an example of a modern witchcraft sodality with a particularly Luciferian anatomy, focussing, by way of example, on Chumbley’s rite A Lover’s Call to the Angel of Witchblood. Fitzgerald steps through the rite line by line in order to untangle its cosmology, making a little more sense of Chumbley’ picturesque prose. In a similar area, Ethan Doyle White considers the role of Lucifer in broader contemporary pagan witchcraft, tracing the tantalising mentions from the original witch trial records into the modern era and the various works of Doreen Valiente, Robert Cochrane, and the Farrars et al.

In Teachings of the Light, Michael Howard returns to material covered in his Book of Fallen Angels, a work that seems a significant touchstone for many of the authors included here. He describes his encounters with Madeline Montalban, and gives an overview of the system of Luciferian magic from her Order of the Morning Star. This provides a little more depth than his previous discussions of her system, placing it within the context of the occult milieu in which she existed and noting the connections, for example, with the Atlantean mythos of Dion Fortune and Gareth Knight.

A less recently seen but welcomed faceless face is Frater U.:.D.:., whose piece, the gloriously titled ‘Non Seviam’ as Ontological Paradigm, oh yes, begins dryly enough, discussing Lucifer’s antinomian qualities, before briefly taking a more interesting turn and considering him in relation to the Fraternitas Saturni; of which the frater has been a member for over thirty years. It is an instance like this, where an insight is provided into an organisation’s particular understanding of Lucifer, that provide some of the most satisfying content in this book; as is the case with the essays considering the Cultus Sabbati, or Madeline Montalban’s Order of the Morning Star.

The consistently disappointing Raven Grimassi keeps the disappointment consistent with Lucifer in the Lore of Old Italy, a clumsily written piece, full of sentence fragments, redundancies, spelling mistakes and non sequiturs, always meandering without any clear direction. As highlighted in a previous review, Grimassi’s grasp of history seems casual at best. In one case he refers to the “Middle Ages and Renaissance periods” (as if they were synonymous), but then uses an event from the 17th century as an example of his claim. Another contribution also somewhat disappointing in its lack of thorough proofing is The Latent Radiance, which opens this anthology: a single sentence runs breathlessly to seven lines, there are prochronistic references to inhabitants of Canaan between 1200 and 1000 BCE as ‘Jews,’ rather than the more accurate ‘Israelites,’ and everyone is hyperbolised as ‘renowned.’ It does use the word ‘sodality’ though, which seems to be the new ‘praxis,’ given its popularity in this volume (poor ‘praxis’ only gets a single look in).

The Luminous Stone features cover art by Francisco Divine Mania (with the rather gloriously Symbolist and Decadent-styled Garden), while the interior is punctuated occasionally with the black and white silhouetted images of Hagen von Tulien. It’s not always clear if von Tulien’s images relate to the essays that precede or proceed them, but they are as striking as ever. I’m particularly partial to the one that looks like an airline safety card, in which the hazard appears to be a sorcerous attack; the only option seems to be to panic.Slayer of Ignorance by Hagen von Tulien

Overall, The Luminous Stone is an enjoyable volume, if a little underwhelming. Its 150 pages fly by, and while there are some very good contributions, there’s less of a sense of this being as essential a read as, say, Hands of Apostasy was. There’s a few glaring spelling and formatting errors that are somewhat unexpected due to the usually high standards of Three Hands Press. Raven Grimassi’s piece is particularly prone to this, referring to ‘Gain Mysteries’ when surely ‘Grain’ is intended, and having St. Jerome miraculously turn into St. James between paragraphs. He’s not alone though, and in another essay, an explanatory note is incorporated, italic styling and all, into the Robbie Burns poem it is commenting upon. The best of these errata, due to its surreal qualities, is in Lee Morgan’s piece The Lucifer Moment, where he notes that the ubiquitous image of the Luciferic anti-hero means we are ready to see Lucifer in a new way “very shorty” …which certainly would be a starling new look for the Light Bearer; and indeed, an encounter with a diminutive fallen angel would create that paradigm-shifting moment of Morgan’s title.

The Luminous Stone is available in a total run of 3049 copies: 2000 as a trade paperback, as well as a hardcover edition of 1000 copies bound in green cloth with colour dust jackets, and a deluxe edition of 49 copies quarter-bound in goat leather with hand-marbled endpapers. The paperback version, conveniently available via Amazon, features a stiff, weighty card for the cover and reverse, making for a tight binding that requires a little more effort than usual to keep the book open.

Published by Three Hands Press

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Serpent Songs – Curated by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold

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Categories: folk, robert cochrane, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

Serpent Songs coverIn my mind, I always find this book from Scarlet Imprint occupying the same mental space as Hands of Apostasy from Three Hands Press. Both are compendiums of essays on various witchcraft topics, with a focus on what is referred to as traditional witchcraft. And both take themselves pretty seriously.

One comes to expect much of a muchness when encountering collections such as these, with the usual range of suspects and the usual familiar topics. Like Hands of Apostasy, though, Serpent Songs delivers in regard to both the diversity of matters considered, and the breadth of contributors. While there are some familiar, and by no means unwelcome, faces, there are also writers that may not have had much published before, if at all. That doesn’t mean that the writing is sub-par, in fact, the very opposite. Edited by Peter Grey and sub-edited by Troy Chambers, Serpent Songs hangs together cohesively, despite the disparate contributors. There’s a rigour to the text, evidence of the dedication that Scarlet Imprint pour into their publications, with no sign of those common occult writing pitfalls: poor spelling, poor grammar and poor sentence construction; all of which have been, one assumes, expunged by the very welcomed red pens of Grey and Chambers.

This exploration of witchy paths less travelled results in a broad itinerary that, in addition to sojourns in the usual locales, includes stops in Sweden, the Balkans, and the Basque region. There are actually two contributions that deal with Basque witchcraft, and welcomed contributions they are too, as it remains an area for which precious little of worth has been written. In Lezekoak, Arkaitz Urbeltz provides what is effectively a primer on Basque witchcraft, introducing the goddess Mari, her lover and son, Akerbeltz the Black Goat of the Sabbath, and the adversarial figure of Etsai.  The second contributions, But the House of my Father will Stand, comes from Xabier Bakaikoa Urbeltz, who, like Arkaitz Urbeltz, is described as “a sorgin from one of the few remaining houses of Traditional Craft in Euskalerria;” it’s a small world. Urbeltz the Second’s piece, as its subtitles informs us, explores the concept of etxe or house in Basque witchcraft, both as a metaphorical concept and a tangible symbol of Basque culture. The etxe becomes a living entity, something of an alchemical egregore, comprised of the physical house (etxe, salt), the property (etxeondo, sulphur) and the inhabitants (etxekoak, mercury).  Diablo Basquo by Childerico

Elsewhere on this trotting of witchy globes, Johannes Gårdbäck of Sweden gives a hands-on, introduction to Trolldom. He uses an anecdote of a consultation with a couple troubled by a spirit as a device with which to explain his techniques, and give a solid understanding of the paradigm and terminology with which he works. Gårdbäck’s approach is refreshingly pragmatic, with little sense of pretence or occult smoke and mirrors; unless lack of pretence is one of those smoky mirrors… we’re through the looking glass here, people.

Some of the more familiar names here deliver to their usual high standard, with the trifecta of Gemma Gary, Shani Oates and Sarah Anne Lawless doing what they do best. Gary’s essay and brief ritual, The Witch’s Cross, doesn’t necessarily cover much new ground, being a meditation on some familiar tropes of witchcraft and the lure of sites of liminality, but it’s done with such a beautifully rendered, poetic narrative that you don’t mind. The same is somewhat true for Lawless who in Mysteries of Beast, Blood and Bone, covers exactly that. It’s something of a familiar area for the ever sanguineous Lawless but her writing is always a joy to read and fair reeks of her subject matter, such is the unpretentious delight she obviously takes in it. And Oates writes, true to form, in her part stream of consciousness, part exegesis, part what the hel is this about manner, where you just buckle yourself in and see where it goes. It is, if nothing else, an intelligible journey, so you forgive a little disorientation here and there.Astride the Hedge by Gemma Gary

Elsewhere, Stuart Inman and Janes Sparkes take the reader across the Atlantic for a look at the 1734 Tradition, an always interesting diversion in what is quite an exhaustive piece, documenting influences and confluences, mythos and ways of working. Steve Patterson goes matters Cornish with an exhaustive consideration of the Bucca, while Richard Parkinson considers the intersection between exorcism and the cunning arts in post-reformation England, where the lack of Catholic clergy left a hole in the market and job opportunity for versatile former exorcists. For once in matters of witchcraft traditional, the Andrew Chumbley vault has nothing to directly offer posthumously, but he does make an appearance via Anne Morris’ But to Assist the Soul’s Interior Revolution, an analysis of Chumbley’s art as representative of the idea that art born of magical practice expresses secret iconography. As with Jimmy Elwing’s piece in Hands of Apostasy, it’s always interesting to read takes on Chumbley, sometimes more so than reading Chumbley’s arcane prose itself, and this is the case here, with Morris taking a rather academic approach to frame and understand his artwork.

With sixteen contributions, one could reasonably wager there’s something for everyone here. Not all of it is gold, some a tarnished silver or shameful bronze, but this is largely a matter of personal taste, rather than anything inherently wrong with the quality of the writing or the ideas put forward. The cultural diversity provides interest, preventing that feeling of wallowing forever in issues of Folklore, and listening to the Incredible String Band, in Bocastle; fun though that may be.

Serpent Songs comes in two editions: a Sylvan edition of 750 exemplars, bound in olive cloth, and a Serpentine edition of 64, hand-bound in verdant goatskin. Title, publisher and a dual snake motif are rendered on the spine and cover in gold, but as with most Scarlet Imprint books in my possession, this has started to flake and fade, being perhaps not entirely enamoured with the cloth binding into which it has been imprinted. End papers are black with a serpentine wave pattern rendered in copper or a muted gold, while the internal pages are a creamy, and gloriously heavy, stock; so heavy in fact that you find yourself checking the page numbers each time you turn the page as it feels like you’ve grabbed two. The type is set with initials in Paris Verand and the body fully justified in a small Satyr face that might be too tiny for some readers but which is just right for me. This is all formatted with the generous margins that give that trademark Scarlet Imprint refined and archaic look. Splendid.

Published by Scarlet Imprint.

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The Devil’s Dozen: Thirteen Craft Rites of The Old One – Gemma Gary

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Categories: folk, luciferian, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

Devil's Dozen coverThis beautifully presented and compact little book brings together, as the title suggests, thirteen rites for the Old One. And, as also indicated by this title, the cover image and the abundance of horns throughout the book, this Old One is most unashamedly the Devil of folklore, viewed through the lens of Traditional Witchcraft. Distinct from the church’s concept of Satan, this Devil still presides over evil, but these are the perceived evils of personal freedom, indulgence and ecstasy. He is, as Gemma Gary explains in her introduction, the bearer of forbidden gifts, the opener of the Way Betwixt, and the old spirit of the land.

Gary is at pains to point out that these rituals make no claim to any great antiquity or hereditary descent, but rather draw on extant themes that are well documented in the folk record. There is, naturally, a focus on matters Cornish, with several dealing with the Bucca, and these rites act as a concise adjunct to much of the material found in Gary’s more explicative Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways. This book is not without its own explications, though, and each ritual is preceded by a brief explanation providing its context and attendant folklore. Gary defines these thirteen as rites of vision, dedication, initiation, consecration, empowerment, protection, illumination, union, transformation, devotion and sacred compact.

It is a sacred compact to the Devil as the Man in Black or Dark Man that acts as the first rite in this collection, establishing a relationship and setting the scene for that which is to come later. This is a simple procedure, effectively an elaborated statement of intent that is preceded by a little ritual structure (thrice utterance of the Lord’s Prayer backwards in a remote location), and followed by a period of reflection during which the Man in Black may manifest in some manner. This compact is indicative of Gary’s ritual style: fairly succinct with some nicely written liturgy. There’s not much in the way of obscure ingredients, elaborate correspondences, complicated formula or extended periods of time, with the rites having more of a feel of hedgewitch pragmatism. The only temporal imperatives are fairly standard things like midnight and during a full moon, while the ingredients and tools list tends to speak to things that anyone embracing the aesthetics of Traditional Witchcraft will end up acquiring (if only too look cool in their altar photos on Facebook): iron nails, an iron knife, a scourge, horned skulls, dragon’s blood incense and a stang. Circles abound in these rituals, as does the use of mill treading as a way to generate power and there is a general feeling of getting out amongst it, with hands dirty from soil and the soot of flaming torches.

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It is the written word in which Gary excels, with her incantations having an archaic quality that doesn’t wrap itself up in arcane complexity (or misapplication), and instead flows with a degree of authenticity. This is aided by the occasional use of rhymed couplets and alternate rhymes, which gives some of the words a folky familiarity, as if they’ve been overheard in playgrounds for centuries; obviously those would be rather spooky playgrounds.

At 187 x 114mm, The Devil’s Dozen is a small volume that has a diary-like quality to it, fitting comfortably in a single hand or handbag for easy transportation to ritual locales. Its slight width does lead to rather snug gutters that do require the book to be splayed wide in order to catch everything and having the, one supposes unintentional, side effect of a sense of bibliographic intimacy as one spreads and peers in.

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As with most if not all of Gary’s books, The Devil’s Dozen is illustrated by the author herself in her trademark stippled style of pen and ink. These are usually found as full-page preludes to the various rites, while a veritable study of horned skulls is dotted throughout the work as fillers. In addition to these in-body illustrations, there is a selection of black and white plates by Jane Cox, providing a photographic record of some of the procedures contained herein, along with various apposite images of witchcraft-related accoutrements.

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The Devil’s Dozen is published in four editions, each consisting of 160 pages, along with eight black and white photo plates. In addition to a regular paperback version, there is a hardback incarnation which attains a pretty nice level of quality for what is the affordable standard edition with its 80gsm cream paper stock, black case binding, copper foil blocking on the front image and the spine, hunter green endpapers, and green and black head and tail bands. There are two special editions, the 300 hand-numbered Special Edition bound in dark, grained green recycled leather fibres, with the cover and spine elements in blocked in gold foil, green end papers and green and black head and tail bands. The even more luxurious Special Fine Edition is suitably limited to 13 sold out hand-numbered copies in full black goat leather binding with a gold border and a blind embossed thicket of branches on the bevelled front board, inset with a high quality glass goat’s eye cabochon. This is further housed in a full goat leather solander box, blocked in gold and lined.

Published by Troy Books.

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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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Liber Nox: A Traditional Witch’s Gramarye – Michael Howard

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Categories: sabbatic craft, witchcraft

liber_noxFirst, a eulogy: recently departed Michael Howard (1948–2015) was quite possibly my gateway drug to occultism. His Wisdom of the Runes was the first book I read on runic magic and his magazine, The Cauldron, provided my first tantalising insights into Robert Cochrane’s Clan of Tubal Cain (way back in the pre-internet days when there was a lot less info about and precious little mentions of him and the Clan in books). A survey of Scriptus Recensera entries show that a significant amount of his work has been reviewed here: The Book of Fallen Angels, an issue of The Cauldron, his important tome Children of Cain, and most recently, Hands of Apostasy, which he co-edited with Daniel Schulke. This, needless to say, was not by design but a mark of how prolific he was and how well his oeuvre matched my interests. I always found Michael so thoroughly genuine, something frustratingly rare in these circles where smoke and mirrors dominate and where people spend so much time shoring up their claims to some amazing lineage, or trying desperately to appear privy to some amazing knowledge or in possession of equally amazing skills and power. He had such an obvious passion for the magickal milieu within which he lived. As I remarked in my review of Children of Cain, Michael’s approach to things magickal could be said to have a Mulder-like willingness to believe that was tempered with a Scullyesque critical approach that cautioned him against totally subscribing to anyone’s claim; at least in print. He always seemed willing to entertain someone’s claims, not in a blindly, uncritical manner, but rather in an “it’d be nice if it’s true” kind of way. Witness his patronage of Bill Liddell and the claim that Essex cunning man George Pickingill was actually a grand master of nine covens who had direct influence on everyone from Gerald Gardner to the Golden Dawn. As I noted in my review, it is an appealing theory, and one can’t help feeling that Michael gave it as much space over the years as he did (in both The Cauldron first and later in Children of Cain) because of just how glorious its grand vision is. By no means did he ever state, to my knowledge, his acceptance of Liddell’s claims, but there’s a feeling that he wished they were true. And why not?

Until Xoanon and Three Hands Press publish any of the unpublished texts they have in their archives, Liber Nox is the last major writing from Michael Howard and, in many ways, stands as a fitting testament to him. It consolidates much of what Howard has considered over the years in matters of traditional witchcraft, providing it in a format that prefaces everything with a lot of broad anthropological examples and explanations, and then concludes with a breakdown of the wheel of the year and a series of corresponding rituals. As such, it contains more factual information than your average grimoire, or your bog-standard rituals-and-recipes book for that matter, and is all the more satisfying for it.

In the first section, Preparing for the Rites, Howard explains the symbolism of various ritual tools, elements and procedures. Rather than the usual cursory explanation one would expect in other books, this digression is a significant one that facilitates a wider exploration of the themes of witchcraft. As was sometimes the case in his writing, Howard’s approach here can sometimes be a little info-dumpish, with a wealth of information being presented but relatively little discursive dialogue to provided pacing or highlight, admittedly self-evident, connections or motifs. There is also no referencing, except for the very occasional in-text citing of sources for specific quotes, so while you never doubt the accuracy of Howard’s facts, there is the occasional niggling feeling of needing to fire up the old Google machine to see what his source might have been for a particular nugget of gnosis.

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A similar approach follows in the second section, The Wheel of the Year, where said wheel and its associated festivals provide an opportunity to consider in depth various folklore and witchcraft themes. A discussion of Candlemass, for example, is able to embrace the goddess Brigid and her saintly incarnation as St. Bridget, as well as the Cailleach, goddesses of Sovereignty, and loathly ladies. Similarly, a discussion of May Day gives insight not just into figures such as the May Queen but unicorn symbolism, the underworld journey to the Castle of Roses and Sir Gawain’s encounter with the Green Knight. Often the matters discussed for each festival seem almost tangential to the extent that you lose track of where it all began and which celebration is up for discussion. This is, by no means a bad approach, and in fact I’m rather partial to it. It means that rather than the kind of brief cursory description of a festival you can find in any book on witchcraft, Howard’s style paints a wider, more holistic picture, which places these events within a greater magickal world of interrelating symbolism and themes.

Thus, this second section of folklore and festivals, which is easily half of the book, provides what is effectively a thorough consideration of traditional witchcraft, shot through this anthropological lens. It is only in the book’s third section, the Liber Nox proper (gloriously subtitled The Rites of the Black Book of Shades), that the reader encounters the kind of ritual material one would perhaps expect of the gramarye promised in the subtitle. Howard prefaces his rituals with a consideration of the year which consolidates the mass of material from the previous section into a narrative of changing seasons, rising and falling deities, and elements waxing and waning. He makes it clear that the rituals presented here are not from any particular tradition but have been written entirely for this book, incorporating aspects from various traditional witchcraft sources and obviously the folklore of the wheel of the year. There are certainly elements you can spot, with the imagery of the Clan of Tubal Cain, for example, coming through clearly in the use of dancing mills and castles.

The first of the rituals is an all-purpose casting of the circle of arte, followed by instructions for a concluding houzel and a closing of the circle. Then follows rites for all the previously considered stations of the year: Yule, Twelfth Night, Candlemas, Lady Day, May Day, Midsummer Day, Lammas, Michaelmas and Hallow. Perhaps not surprisingly, there’s a pleasant, expert style to these rituals, indicative of the experience and expertise that Howard had. The liturgy is beautiful but simple and refined with no ornate archaisms and nothing you’d feel too silly saying out loud; a constant ritual concern of mine. There is also a variety of activities, and despite the use of very specific structure, there’s less of the usual rote feeling of intone *variable,* do *variable,* banish, and goodnight everybody! Many of the rites feature variations of circular dancing, often incorporating intertwining ribbons, while in the ritual for Midsummer Day, two additional stang are used to form a gateway to the realm of Fey through which celebrants visualise themselves passing.

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With its carefully considered structure of anthropology followed by, erm, ritualology, Liber Nox, makes for a satisfying read. It incorporates so much of what Howard considered in his life as a writer, but distils it in a finely crafted manner, refined and shorn of the distracting spelling errors and generic formatting that marred his similar material in books published by the reckless Capall Bann. There’s no sense of re-treading areas already well-travelled, even though the referencing of folklore was something he often did. Instead, like the rituals written specifically for this volume, there’s a feeling of Howard setting out to write something self-contained and true to itself.

Liber Nox is available as a paperback of 218 perfect bound pages, printed by Lightning Source. The formatting has a confident, effortless style, with the body set in Adobe Caslon at a nice point size with sensible leading; albeit fully justified. Titles (along with the chapter-leading drop caps) are set in the rather lovely Newcomen face, while the subtitles are rendered in the scratchy scripty 1491 Cancelleresca. Liber Nox is illustrated throughout by the black and white illustrations of Gemma Gary, who also provides the stunning image of the horned god on the cover. Her illustrations are often of familiar folkloric images, masks and masques, rendered anew in her stippled style.

Published by Skylight Press. ISBN 978-1-908011-85-5

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Hands of Apostasy – Edited by Michael Howard and Daniel A. Schulke

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Categories: folk, luciferian, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

Apostasy_lgIn my mind, I always find this book from Three Hands Press occupying the same mental space as Serpent Songs from Scarlet Imprint. Both are compendiums of essays on various witchcraft topics, with a focus on what is referred to as traditional witchcraft. And both take themselves pretty seriously.

With eighteen authors contributing to this collection, there’s a wealth of viewpoints and writing styles, with both sides of the Atlantic getting some coverage, and styles both academic and anecdotal being featured. By accident or design, North America gets the early focus with Douglas McIlwain talking briefly about his stateside family tradition, while Cory Thomas Hutcheson’s Killing the Moon is a thorough investigation of witchcraft lore from the mid-to-southern Appalachians. The lunacide of the title (and its solar analogue) is an initiatory ritual element found throughout the south, ranging from the Appalachians to the Ozarks. A focus on folk practices is found elsewhere in this volume, with David Rankine considering the influence of witchcraft and natural magic on the grimoire tradition (a reversal of the common narrative of low witchcraft borrowing from high magic), while Gary St. Michael Nottingham covers similar  territory with a survey of conjure-charms from the Welsh Marches. As with Rankine’s essay, Nottingham shows an interaction between the grimoire tradition and folk magic, documenting the source texts from which various charms would have been sourced.

There are several essays that take a more conceptual, rather than practical or documentary, approach, using themes from traditional witchcraft as lenses through which a greater philosophical picture can be explored. Most notable of these is the longest essay here at 45 pages, Martin Duffy’s The Cauldron of Pure Descent, which considers that magical accoutrement most firmly associated witches, the cauldron. Given the length of his essay, Duffy is able to, if you’ll pardon the obvious, throw many things into the pot, creating a thorough exploration that embraces not just witchcraft but Palo Mayombe, alchemy, and various strands of mythology. In The Man in Black, Gemma Gary considers the devil in witchcraft, although less as the horned master of Sabbaths and more as the enigmatic stranger encountered by witches in times of need and moments of isolation and reflection. Michael Howard’s Waking the Dead almost rivals Duffy’s length with its consideration of necromancy which begins somewhat encyclopaedically, rather than discursive, before finding its feet towards the end when Howard assimilates the assiduously assembled information into a sabbatic craft context.

Andrew Chumbley does rather well contribution-wise for someone who passed on in 2004, providing two pieces, The Magic of History: Some Considerations and Origins and Rationales of Modern Witch Cults. As their titles suggest, both are broad in their concerns, rather than specific, briefly surveying the history of modern witchcraft and the intersection with Chumbley’s own sabbatic craft brand of traditional witchcraft. Also participating from beyond this mortal veil is Cecil Williamson, founder of the Museum of Witchcraft, whose rather short article looks at two little known magical techniques, moon-raking and the ritual of the shroud. This slight essay previously appeared in The Cauldron, and is prefaced with a preamble by that magazine’s editor, Michael Howard, which is only one page shorter than Williamson’s actual words.

As one would expect, the sabbatic craft makes a significant contribution to this volume, with Chumbley’s two pieces being joined by The Blasphemy of Things Unseen by Daniel Schulke. Schulke writes in his usual florid style, embellishing his words with archaic flourishes in a meditation on the role of night, darkness, secrecy and the void in witchcraft and specifically the sabbatic cultus. But the most interesting exploration of Chumbley’s oeuvre comes from Jimmy Elwing with Where the Three Roads Meet. Subtitled Sabbatic Witchcraft and Oneiric Praxis in the Writings of Andrew Chumbley, this is an admirably sanguine and removed biography of Chumbley, providing a meticulous analysis of the themes in his writing; and one of the highlights of this compendium.

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Elsewhere, Radomir Ristic’s Unchain the Devil considers Serbian witchcraft and seems to act as a teaser for their full book Witchcraft and Sorcery of the Balkans now available from Three Hands Press. Levannah Morgan’s Mirror, Moon and Tides is the only purely experiential piece here, clearly and authoritatively explaining their personally grounded techniques of mirror magic with little need to recourse to the authority of either tradition or the academy.

There is a certain rigour to most of the material here, whether it’s deference to academia with a thorough embracing of citing and referencing, or less thoroughly, an explicit identification of experiential knowledge or tradition. The same cannot be said for the rather anomalous contribution from Raven Grimassi, who plays to type and writes with the broad and speculative strokes one would expect of a Llewellyn author. His piece, Pharmakeute, is typical of Llewellyn woolly thinking, full of unreferenced references to unspecified ancient times and unspecified ancient ancestors; a precedent set in the first sentence which boldly and broadly states “ancient writings depict the witch as living among the herb-clad hills” – which writings, which witch, which herb-clad hills? In an amateur attempt at anthropological psychology, Grimassi speculates that a magical worldview may have been influenced by the ancestral experiences of living in forests – these ancestors and their wooded location remain unidentified, adrift in some imagined olden days, distant from all the other unspecified ancients who can’t have had a magical worldview because they lived on hills, plains, mountains, in caves, by river and lakeside and, I don’t know, maybe anywhere that wasn’t a potentially lethal forest. While discussing mandrakes, Grimassi wonders if the idea that mandrake had to be harvested using a dog pulling on the plant (lest the harvester be killed in the process) was created by witches in order to discourage laypeople from effectively raiding their stash. Yeah, cool story bro, except that the technique has a significant pedigree dating back to at least the first century CE where the Romano-Jewish historian Josephus made the first written mention of a presumably well extant belief. I guess some ancient witch from the olden days must have been playing a long game and dropped the skinny to Titus Flavius so he could spread the word on their behalf.

With its diverse collection of writers and subject matter, there’s something in Hands of Apostasy for everyone; well, everyone interested in traditional witchcraft that is – if you’re after something on fly fishing this may be less useful. The highlights are definitely Martin Duffy’s exhaustive consideration of the cauldron and Jimmy Elwing’s analysis of Andrew Chumbley. The low lights go without saying.

Hands of Apostasy comes in standard hardcover edition of 1000 copies, in full pewter book cloth, with a glossy fully colour dust jacket. The internal pages are made of a stark, not entirely attractive white stock and the text is formatted in a capable, functional style. Almost all of the nineteen articles are prefaced with illustrations by Finnish engraver Timo Ketola, whose finely rendered volumetric style provides the book with a cohesive, slightly timeless style that is, given his background, just a tiny bit evocative of metal aesthetics. A limited special edition of 63 copies in quarter goat with corners, hand marbled endpaper, and slipcase, is now, of course, sold out.

Published by Three Hands Press.

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The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity – Edited by Per Faxneld and Jesper Aa. Petersen

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Categories: luciferian, sabbatic craft, satanism, witchcraft

Satanism in ModernityThis collection of writing about modern Satanism features some of the familiar names from Scandinavian esoteric academia (Kennet Granholm and editors Faxneld and Petersen), along with other contributors: Asbjørn Dyrendal, Eugene V. Gallagher, Fredrik Gregorius, Mikael Häll, Amina Lap, James R. Lewis, Ruben van Luijk, Jacob Senholt and Rafal Smoczynski. The brief sits rather comfortably with the nature of Faxneld and Granholm’s other writing, casting an academic gaze on a subject one assumes they have quite the personal interest in.

This is a four-part party of devils, divided broadly into segments that are pre-LaVey, LaVey, post-LaVey and, I guess, post-post-LaVey. That isn’t to say that entirely everything revolves around the bad doctor, just that in a discussion of modern Satanism, it’s impossible not to frame it without reference to his rather high profile ventures. It is, though, the areas with little or no connection to Anton LaVey that provide the most interest, particularly the three entries that make up the first section of precursors and currents. In these, three distinctive examples of early modern diabolism are considered: Mikael Häll explores ideas around Satanism and devilish sympathies in early modern Sweden, particularly at the verdant intersection between Christianity, folk belief and witchcraft. He highlights confessions in which a rather idiosyncratic belief system had developed in which God was believed to be caught in Hell, making the Devil a better object of devotion. Ruben van Luijk’s attention focuses all too briefly on the retroactively named Romantic Satanists of the nineteenth century, those writers and artists who, taking their cue from Milton, identified Satan as a sympathetic adversarial anti-hero who epitomised the character of the modern age: sex, science and liberty. Also in a literary vein is Per Faxneld’s thorough assessment of Stanislaw Przybyszewski, the Polish Symbolist writer who, Faxneld argues, can be considered the first person to ever formulate a coherent system of Satanic thought.

In the second section of The Devil’s Party, the attention turns to Anton LaVey and several authors take a microscopic approach to the so-called Black Pope, casting a magnifying glass over various sections on his writing and philosophy. Amina Lap’s Categorizing Modern Satanism places LaVey’s brand of Satanism within the milieu of the emerging New Age and positions it as an example of the self-spirituality so in vogue at the time and comparable to the Human Potential Movement. With LaVey’s more misanthropic tendencies predicating Ayn Rand and Ragnar Redbeard over Abraham Maslow, it’s hard not to think of LaVeyan Satanism with all its self-serving human potential given flight as The Secret, With Horns. In Sources, Sects, and Scripture, Eugene Gallagher analyses The Book of Satan from LaVey’s Satanic Bible, in particular the elements one could charitably say were ‘borrowed’ from Ragnar Redbeard’s social Darwinist rant Might is Right. Gallagher diverges in opinion from people such as Michael Aquino and Chris Matthews who have seen LaVey’s borrowing as mere plagiarism, and instead tries to present it as an act of savvy editing, casting LaVey as more remixing trickster than content-starved huckster. Suffice to say, this assessment doesn’t convince and the meticulously documented changes that LaVey made do not come across as the significant acts of redaction criticism the author would have us believe they are. Asbjørn Dyrendal’s concludes this purgatory in the mind of LaVey with Hidden Persuaders and Invisible Wars, a consideration of the strange intersections LaVey had with conspiracy thinking: on the one hand mocking the mindset that abandoned control to the machinations of an imagined Kennedy-killing invisible hand, but at the same time, railing against forces of conformity whether they be church, state or television commercials.

The book’s third section, The Legacy of Dr. LaVey: The Satanic Mileu Today, brings together three disparate pieces, connected only through their rather dry survey/data analysis approach. James R. Lewis turns to statistics from his own Satanism Surveys to look at how Satanists identify themselves in terms of conversion narratives, assessing the ‘coming home’ claim common to both Satanism and Paganism in which practitioners are born, not made. Jesper Petersen takes a different anthropological approach, considering the spirit of transgression (and in turn, sanitisation) in modern Satanism, while Rafal Smoxzynski summarises the discursive strategies of Polish rationalist Satanists associated with the satan.pl website.

Finally, in the fourth section, matters move out of the gravitationally heavy orbit of LaVey with a consideration of Satanism in a post-LaVeyan world. Kennet Granholm initiates this with a discussion of the problematic and limited nature of the term ‘Satanism,’ especially when it comes to dealing with paths that aren’t nominally Satanic, but share a similar ethos or even occupy the same subcultural space. Granholm uses the Temple of Set as a perfect example of this quandary, being similar to the Church of Satan in so many ways, and often referred to as a Satanic organisation, even though their very name is used to differentiate themselves from Aquino’s previous affiliation. This is not a new area of thought for Granholm who expressed his dissatisfaction with the analytical usefulness of the term ‘Satanism’ as early as 2001, and in its place he proffers Left-Hand Path as a more appropriate category; one that is able to embrace various darkly-orientated paths rather than just those who have Satan at their thematic core. While Granholm’s semantic concerns are certainly interesting, his piece is more enjoyable for the condensed history and summary of the Temple of Set. It is by no means exhaustive, but as a potted history of the temple, it is quite delightful. The same can also be said for some of the other essays in this final section, all of which focus on groups or traditions at the periphery of the Church of Satan. Fredrik Gregorius’ Luciferian Witchcraft summarises this particular brand of witchcraft, prefacing it with Charles Leland’s Aradia material before moving on to brief considerations of the usual suspects: Paul Huson, Robert Cochrane and the Clan of Tubal-Cain (including its various descendants in the United Kingdom and the United States), Andrew Chumbley and the Sabbatic Craft, Michael Howard, and less usual, Michael Ford (but not the comparable Robin Artisson). For anyone familiar with the subject of Traditional Witchcraft, there won’t be anything new here, but as a brief primer, it’s fine. Jacob Senholt concludes this section, and the whole book, with Secret Identities in the Sinister Tradition, an overview of the Order of Nine Angles with a particular focus on the identification of the order’s leader Anton Long as David Myatt. Senholt suggests that Myatt’s forays into various fringe areas of politics and activism, in particular his conversion to Islam for several years, are examples of what the ONA call insight roles, with everything he has done being part of an ongoing Satanic imperative (rather than simply vacillations between various extreme causes).

In total, The Devil’s Party succeeds with its variety of voices casting a fairly broad thematic net. Although to continue this slightly mixed metaphor, there are areas where the netting does become tangled and the considerations of LaVey’s thoughts can be a slog to get through; not because of the quality of the writing but because of the way his dated, rationalist approach took all the fun out of Satanism. There are gaps that one would have liked to have seen filled in a look at Satanism in modernity. For example, it would have been interesting to have seen a consideration of Satanism and black metal (particularly because of the way the often theistic Satanism of black metal was positioned in opposition to LaVeyan Satanism). Similarly, a survey of LaVeyan Satanism since the death of LaVey would have been interesting, with total references to Peter Gilmour being, to put it mildly, slight. The quality of writing is high, formatting is clean, clear and functional.

Published by Oxford University Press. ISBN: 978-0-19-977924-6

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The Leaper Between – Andrew D. Chumbley

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Categories: folk, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

leaper_coverSubtitled with the suitably archaic and verbose legend “An Historical Study of the Toad-Bone Amulet; its Forms, Functions and Praxis in Popular Magic,” this small volume is an unabridged version of a study by Andrew Chumbley that first appeared in Michael Howard’s The Cauldron magazine in 2001 and has otherwise been long available online. As the subtitle indicates, this study looks at a ritual procedure in which a toad was flensed within an ant nest and then its bones set to float in a stream. When one of the bones separated itself from its companions and floated upstream, this could be caught and then used variously to control animals or as a love charm. The Leaper Between acts as something of a companion to One – The Grimoire of the Golden Toad, Chumbley’s harder to find and considerably more poetic consideration of the same theme. While that grimoire presents poetry, ritual texts and Chumbley’s personal experiences with the toad ritual, this book has a more purely historical grounding, providing an exhaustive survey of its use down through the centuries.

The toad ritual is first reported by the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder in his encyclopaedic Naturalis Historia, although it presumably represents a folk practice that had been extant for some time. Chumbley documents the spread of this ritual within magickal literature, dependant first on Pliny’s pivotal and well regarded work, and then, in turn, influenced by its appearance in the much later but equally pivotal Books of Occult Philosophy by the German occultist Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. As with the account in Pliny’s work, the presence of the toad ritual in the books of Agrippa may have compounded an existing and extant folk practice, rather than introducing it whole cloth to local workers of magick.

In chapter three, Chumbley notes a marked change in the use of the toad ritual some time during the late 18th or early 19th century, where the procedure was increasingly used specifically as a method of magickal initiation. This change is particularly seen in East Anglian cunning-craft, but as Chumbley documents, is found in other accounts of solitary initiation into witchcraft.  In this iteration of the ritual, the finding of the toadbone can cause the Devil to appear, in some cases competing for possession of the charm, and in the process, he confers on the potential witch their powers. The use of the ritual appears to have given rise to a sub-categorisation within the roles of witchcraft, with practitioners being known as Toad Witches or Toad Men. Chumbley concludes with a consideration of the intersection between the toad ritual and equine themed secret societies such as the Horseman’s Word.

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The Leaper Between has been released as a trade paperback version and in two sold out hardcover editions: deluxe hardcover in full Japanese bookcloth with a gilt toad device and art paper endsheets, limited to 231 copies, and the special hardcover in full black goat with gilt toad device and deluxe hand marbled endpapers, limited to 77 copies. In its trade paperback form, The Leaper Between works out as perhaps the cheapest book ever published by Three Hands Press, although even then it’s a little expensive given the slight nature of the content and its mere 66 chapbook size pages. It’s still lovely to have the contents in the formal settings of a proper book, instead of old copies of The Cauldron or a PDF set in Times New Roman. Chumbley’s writing is, of course, very able and devoid of the flowery and esoteric verbiage found in his more mystically-orientated writing.

Published by Three Hands Press.

 

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Clavicula Nox 5: Magic & Mayhem / Maleficarum Nigra

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Categories: qayin, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

Clavicula Nox coverClavicula Nox is Ixaxaar’s occasional magazine which they have been releasing since 2004. Beginning as an A5 booklet, Clavicula Nox has grown in size and quality to the point that this issue comes in four different editions, and some of them are pretty swish. The regular edition is professionally printed, with thick brown covers and perfect binding; a limited version comes in an edition of 300 copies; while the super deluxe box editions comes with samples of flying ointments from Sarah Lawless, handmade magickal diaries, and various herbs, seeds, and animal parts, all packaged, in the case of the most limited set, in an antique wooden box. Being pretty sure that customs wouldn’t be too happy about assorted animal and plant parts coming into the country, I forwent the deluxe options and ordered just the collector’s edition. This edition still feels pretty special though, with its cover only half-bound, leaving the cardboard raw for a lovely and unique archaic effect.

Previous issues of Clavicula Nox have always had a general theme (Lilith being the focus of the last one) and this one is no exception, with sabbatic witchcraft taking the spotlight this time. The proceedings kick off with a suite of poems exploring the wheel of the year and its festivals before Asenath Mason provides a survey of general sabbatic themes. Mason brushes with broad strokes, over the seven pages, covering various tropes associated with the Via Nocturna: the witches sabbath, the wild hunt, and initiatory encounters along the way of the night.

As the subtitle Maleficarum Nigra suggests, one of the focuses of this volume is on malicious witchcraft, and so we have contributions from Gemma Gary and Frater Ben Nachash that both explore this theme. Gary’s West Country Curse-Magic gives a survey of various folk methods of cursing from the West Country in which the sympathetic principle in magic comes to the fore. These are relatively simple curses, and the ritual procedures are sketched roughly without much in the way of fastidious requirements and formulas. The same cannot be said for Frater Ben Nachash’s piece, which presents a Qayin-focussed ritual of cursing that is indebted to the work of N.A-A 218 in the Liber Falxifer books. The ritual requires nearly forty ingredients and is spread across various locations over three nights: the night of the tiller and the night of the killer, before culminating in the night of the gravedigger. To quote the infinite wisdom of the sage Dulce Brunneis: ain’t nobody got time for that. I can’t imagine disliking someone so much that I’d want to somewhat counter-intuitively invest that amount of time and effort, not to mention energy (in both the esoteric and psychological sense), in them. I think if it came to this, I’d just keep it West Country styles and stick a nail in their footprint, ooh arr, ooh arr.

Another Qayinite ritual is provided by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold with The Commemoration of Lord Qayin, although this has less of a Templum Falcis Cruentis vibe than Ben Nachash’s contribution. The ritual dates from ten or more years ago and emphasises the transgressive aspects of the Qayin mystery, with the use of a skull (wood or bone options available) as a focus of meditation and adoration.

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A change of tack is provided by Sarah Lawless with a consideration of the poison path of intoxication; beautifully aided and abetted by a distinctly Helish illustration of datura by Kristiina Lehto. Lawless details her encounters with various plant spirits, first initiated through the alchemical art of mead brewing, in a journey that then encountered mandrake, henbane, and ultimately the yew tree; a suite of plants that I can understand the passion for. As with her skull-focused contribution to Scarlet Imprint’s anthology, Serpent Songs, Lawless writes with a poetic and enthusiastic style that guides the reader through her own very hands-on practice; a sharp and refreshing contrast with the obfuscatory smoke and mirrors that are thrown up by so many occult writers.

At sixty pages and with contributions provided generous space, Clavicula Nox can feel a little slight and can definitely be a one-sitting read. It is illustrated throughout with a range of full-page, full-bleed images that are truly esoteric in the sense of not giving much in the way of explanation within their dark vistas. These images come from a variety of contributors, but most share a similar painterly aesthetic that, with the matt printing, adds to the whole archaic quality of the journal.

Published by Ixaxxar.

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Liber Falxifer II: The Book of Anamlaqayin – N.A-A.218

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Categories: luciferian, qayin, sabbatic craft

liberfalxiferIIIn the first Liber Falxifer, author N.A-A.218 presented a unique view of Qayin, seen through the lens of the Argentinian cult of Señor De La Muerte, in which the saint of death was revealed as an esoteric guise of Qayin (Cain). This theme is less prominent in this second volume; and that’s probably a good thing as the correlation between the two seemed to be an interpretation unique to the author’s Temple of the Black Light and one that was not entirely persuasive. While Liber Falxifer was divided into two somewhat contrasting halves discussing the exoteric and esoteric interpretations of Señor De La Muerte (and, as a result, felt a little disjointed), its sequel has greater focus, and employs a three part structure that includes a lengthy prose text, a herbal that explores the spirits of 72 different plants, and a series of necrosophic spells, prayers and rituals.

The prose that begins the book is called Apocryphal Revelations of the Qayinite Genesis and provides a retelling of the Genesis narrative from a Qayinite perspective. It opens with a gnostic style discussion of metaphysical principles of creation, all “fullness of emptiness” divided manifestations and other Qabbalistic-style vagaries. At first, this comes across as a little grandiose and wilfully obtuse, but once the narrative moves from the cosmic perspective to a more, how you say, human one in the Garden of Eden, things become more engaging. The centre piece of this narrative, and indeed of the whole book, is the relationship between Qayin and his twin sister Qalmana, who are set in opposition to Abel and his twin Kelimat. Although not in the biblical record, this is an idea not without precedent, specifically in midrashic literature. The Genesis Rabbah, for example, refers to Cain being born with a female twin, and Abel with two twin sisters, while the Chronicles of Jerahmeel explicitly names Cain’s sister as Qalmana but calls Abel’s wife Deborah.

No claims are made as to whether these apocryphal revelations are meant to be an inspired modern transmission, or an ancient text handed down through the temple; or if they were made up on the spot from whole cloth just the other day. It is, however, an effective and engaging narrative. Whilst the Qabbalistic-style abstractions of the first part are a little bewildering and tedious, by the end, the retelling of Qayin and Qalmana’s story becomes a coherent mythology that rings true, on some level, as genuine gnosis. Qalmana herself is an intriguing god form and this is the first time that any consideration of her has been presented by the Temple of the Black Light. She has parts of Lilith, Babalon and Hela about her, being presented as a sickle-wielding decapitated-head-holding dark goddess, who in one appellation is rather gloriously called the Queen of the Rose Gardens of Nightside Venus.

The second and largest section of this book, The Branches of Sin, the Black in Green and Their Sorceries, is analogous to the work of Daniel Schulke as Verdelet for the Cultus Sabbati and explores the role of Qayin as patron of the green art. Qayin is identified as the First Tiller and the Thorned-Crowned Harvester, giving him dominion over herbalism and wortcunning, while Qalmana’s association with roses and gardens likewise makes her a natural matron of plant magick. 72 plants are discussed, each  with a page detailing their characteristics and usage, prefaced by their common and botanical names and a sigil for the daemon of the respective plant. Naturally, this can make for a lot of reading as you make your way from the Alder tree through to Wormwood. Each plant is very much framed within the mythology of Qayin and Qalmana, and they are seen as hosts for the Black Guised in Green, emanations from Sitra Ahra, the Other Side, that were drawn into this world at the crucial moment of the deaths of Abel and Kelimat. These Black in Green give their host plants a dual nature, one mundane and indicative of their creation at the hands of an unimaginative demiurge, and the other that makes them “shards of that holy crystallized Black Azoth from and/or aligned to that Other Side.”

Following this guide to the 72 Black in Green is a lengthy section of ritual and magickal applications for these and related spirits, presenting what amounts to a green grimoire. These include a procedure for bonding with a dryadic famulus, another for making a tincture of Qayin, and for making sorcerous inks empowered by the Black in Green. There are also a selection of prayers and techniques for working with talismans, effigies, and even a homunculus useful for deflecting magical attacks.

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The final section of the book, The Zenith and the Nadir of the Black Cross and the Secrets of Gulgaltha, deals with the spirits of the Mighty Dead, those beings who have passed over to the Other Side and attained immortality in their release from hylic rebirth. The first of these Mighty Dead are Qayin and Qalmana and their eleven direct descendants, whose names come from the biblical record and apocryphal sources. These are only briefly considered and it would seem that a richer understanding of these figures is a work in progress; although, this being the book it is, they all have sigils already assigned to them. Another of the Mighty Dead, and one of particular interest, is Abel, who is seen here as someone who, in passing over to the Other Side and into the world of the dead, has undergone post-mortem Stockholm syndrome and become aligned with Qayin. In death, Abel the Black is seen as the keeper of cemetery gates and, as an analogue of the canine folkloric figure of the Kyrkogrim (believed to protect church yards in Scandinavia), is sometimes said to appear as a three-headed dog, restrained with three leashes of thorns, gold and fire. Liber Falxifer II concludes with an egressus that discusses the dual and combined natures of Qayin and Qalmana; the Anamlaqayin of the title.

Throughout Liber Falxifer II, N.A-A.218 writes with the surety of tradition, presenting the workings and philosophy of his order with an authoritative tone that only occasionally makes recourse to other sources. Liber Falxifer II is beautifully presented with a full colour dust jacket over a gold embossed black cloth exterior (with cloth bookmark!). At over 470 pages, it is a weighty tome and is immaculately formatted and typeset with an occasional full page pencil and ink illustrations by Soror Sagax.218.

Published by Ixaxaar

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