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Wicca Magickal Beginnings – Sorita d’Este & David Rankine

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Categories: grimoire, witchcraft

wiccamagickalbeginningsAs they so often do, Sorita d’Este and David Rankine start things off with a title that seems to be lacking punctuation: maybe a colon or hyphen after the Wicca, or a possessive apostrophe and an S, even, mayhaps, a comma after the Wicca; anything to stop that strange running on feeling. We probably shouldn’t dwell on it, but every time I look at the bookcase, there it is, staring at me, along with its similarly punctuation-deficient twin sister Hekate Liminal Rites.

Despite its lack of titular punctuation, this book could be described as the geekiest book about witchcraft ever. If geek is defined as an obsessive interest in a subject and its minutiae, well, then, none so geek as this. d’Este and David Rankine subtitle this book “a study of the possible origins of the rituals and practice found in this modern tradition of pagan witchcraft and magick,” and this rather archaic and academic sounding description sums up their modus operandi of taking a microscopic look at the elements of Gardnerian witchcraft and seeing where old man Gardner got them from.

Gardner’s use of existing material to construct his form of witchcraft is hardly a revelation but this book shows how thoroughly he borrowed, magpie-like, from grimoire tradition in particular for many of the props and procedures of Wicca’s ritual system. The casting of the magick circle in Wicca shares many similarities with the procedure in the Key of Solomon, while the design of the circle itself is broken down by d’Este and Rankine and its parts traced to other grimoires (often with elements transposed or mistranscribed). The same is true of the ritual athame whose roots can be found in the Grimoire of Honorious and the Key of Solomon, with Gardener’s sourcing being revealed by the copying of changes made in specific editions (in this case, the 1989 Mathers edition). This is where d’Este and Rankine’s thoroughness is at its most evident, because they provide a survey of the sigils on the athame in both grimoire and Wiccan sources, including a chart that lists the somewhat dubious Wiccan interpretation of these alchemical and astrological symbols.

d’Este and Rankine also show the debt that Gardner owed to Aleister Crowley, particularly in the creation of Wiccan liturgy. The Lift up the Veil charge draws a little material from the Book of the Law but an even larger amount comes from Crowley’s Law of Liberty. The later Charge of the Goddess is similarly indebted to Crowley, but is shown to also been a potpourri of literary influences, with elements cribbed from classical texts as well as the work of Charles Leland.

In their summing up, d’Este and Rankine present five possible conclusions: that Wicca is a continuation of the grimoire tradition; that it is a continuation of a Victorian ceremonial magick system; that the system was simply created by Gardner and his associates; that it is a genuine survival of a British folk magick system; or that it is the final form of a witchcraft tradition that has its roots in classical Greece and Rome. Given the preceding evidence in the book, it seems overly generous to proffer some of these conclusions, and of course, not all of them are necessarily mutually exclusive, with the answer seeming to be a combination of the first three: bits of grimoire and ceremonial magick cobbled together by Gardner and Co. d’Este and Rankine came down in favour of the first theory, and let Gardner off the hook a little by not playing up any malice or obvious deceit in inventing the system.

d’Este and Rankine’s book is geekily thorough: texts are analysed line by line, and sources are meticulously sourced and compared. This makes for a book that is indispensable for an understanding of the minutiae of Wicca, especially given the influence that it has had on contemporary witchcraft and paganism. In some ways, this book makes you grateful; grateful that d’Este and Rankine have gone into all this depth so you don’t have to.

ISBN 978-1-905297-15-3. Published by Avalonia.

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Diabolical – Edited by Peter Grey & Alkistis Dimech

Categories: goetia, grimoire, magick, nightside

Diabolical coverDiabolical continues on from where Scarlet Imprint’s previous compilation of grimoire-related writings, Howlings, left off, but with the subject matter taking, as the title indicates, a decidedly darker twist. Twice the size of Howlings, this volume features contributions from, amongst others, Jake Stratton-Kent, Stafford Stone, Thomas Karlsson, Donald Tyson, Kyle Fite, and Johnny Jakobsson, and as with most compendiums, there’s a combination here of the good, the bad and the ugly.

In many ways, the study of grimoires is a celebration of books themselves and John J Coughlin’s The Binding of Black Venus is a delightful, albeit regrettably short, read that gives an insight into the process of book binding as a talismanic process. Coughlin’s paean to the printed word, of that thrill that arises when coming across a new arcane volume, will resonate with any bibliophile and a similar theme is mined in greater depth by Kyle Fite. In Orisons of the Oblique, Fite surveys and celebrates the modern creation of grimoires, highlighting the problem that is inherent in the genre, where pretenders to the throne of Philosopher Kings, as he calls them, create less than satisfying tomes, while others will actually grasp something numinous. With occult publications, the reader needs to differentiate between authentic works that reflect a genuine inspired praxis and those that with all their sigils, obfuscation for the sake of obfuscation, and purple prose are the result of self-deception at best. The pull of having some sigil-embossed tome with your name on it, shot through with breathless claims of ancient traditions and veiled mysteries, seems a strong one. Despite the quality of Scarlet Imprint, this same distinction can be made with the contributors to this volume. There are academic considerations that are well written and thoroughly referenced, and then there are laughable ones that seem one step removed from the scrawlings of teenage diabolists. Maybe it’s just me, but an elaborate procedure for making a pact with “The Devil” and one for a ritual of self-sacrifice comes across as silly, all the more so when you realise that despite all the authoritative and turgid tenebrous talk, it’s ultimately theoretical because you know the author has never done it.

Lengthy essays dominate Diabolical, with varying degrees of success. In Hidden Treasure: Taufer Books of Old Europe, Erik de Pauw looks at the various magickal books that straddle the line between grimoire and folk magic, but he lacks focus in his writing and infuriates with his casual turns of phrase. It’s quite jarring to be told “yes, you read that right” or asked “you’re not a witch, are you?” The longest piece in Diabolical is provided by Johnny Jakobsson with Le Grand Grimoire: Pacta Conventa Daemoniorum, in which he thoroughly analyses the Grand Grimoire/ Le Veritable Dragon Rogue and its invokations and spirits, including notes on textual variants between different editions. Unlike his contribution to Clavis One, Jakobsson hasn’t borrowed Kenneth Grant’s dictionary and instead writes clearly and eruditely, although at 44 pages, the obsessive attention to detail begins to tire. Donald Tyson’s lengthy Dimensional Gateways is a far reaching discussion of otherworlds (everything from the sephira to the realms of faery) and more specifically to the gateways between them. Tyson’s writing is a joy to read and he brings together various cultural and literary threads with a deft, knowledgeable hand.

Several of Diabolical’s contributions consider encounters with specific demons. Jake Stratton-Kent gives a personal account of dealing with the Grimorium Verum spirit Nebiros, giving enough detail to provide fairly thorough Thelema-infused ritual instructions. Mark Smith’s demon of choice is Belial, Humberto Maggi’s is Phenex, while Krzystof Azarewicz considers Bartzabel from a personal as well as historical context (famously invoked by Crowley in 1910 and then later by Jack Parsons, who sent him off in pursuit of Ron Hubbard). While these pieces deal with the potentially ludicrous invoking of supernatural entities, the material is refreshingly presented in a rather matter-of-fact way, with none of the fanciful boasting or hyperbole that lesser writers might succumb to. For whatever reason, this contrasts strongly, to the ultimate benefit of this volume, with the previously mentioned guide to chatting with The Devil.

Most of the grimoires that are referenced in Diabolical are the classics of goetic magick, but one contemporary volume is Andrew Chumbley’s Qutub. Already considered by Jack Macbeth in Howlings, this time it’s the turn of Mark Smith. As with Macbeth’s review, this is very much a personal reflection, describing the power that Chumbley’s slight work has and detailing how Smith uses the text in an annual ritual. Another parallel with Howlings is provided by Stafford Stone who once again contributes some full colour plates of his Nightside Tarot (Shalicu and Characith, for those keeping count, as well as Ace of Serpents and Two of Stones). Other art plates come from Johnny Jakobsson, Thomas Karlsson, and Kyle Fite; all acting as visual accompaniment to their written contributions.

Lucifuge

Diabolical is not short on practical advice, and in addition to the procedures that can be gleaned from some of the previously discussed accounts, there is Aaron Leitch’s quite invaluable consideration of Abramelin magic and in particular the use of magic squares from that system. Thomas Karlsson’s contribution is a brief guide to creating a Saturnian ritual, with a comprehensive list of correspondences.

In all, Diabolical is a valuable work. There are some less than successful pieces but these are overshadowed by a stable of competent and in some cases, dazzling, writers. Bound in red cloth, and beautifully formatted with wide margins and a lovely serif typeface, this edition is limited to 999 exemplars. A fine bound edition of quarter black goat, marbled boards, consecrated host, gilded edges, and slipcase is, of course, long sold out.

Published by Scarlet Imprint.

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