Categotry Archives: grimoire

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Howlings – Edited by Alkistis Dimech

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Categories: esotericism, goetia, grimoire, magick

Howlings coverBack when Scriptus Recensera launched, the Word document that forms the master copy of the reviews here (and which now runs to 110 pages) had a provisional list of headings, with the names of books to review. It still works like that, new review-worthy titles are added when they arrive and quickly, or eventually, the space beneath them is filled in as they are rapidly, or slowly, read. One title that has been there resolutely from the beginning, seeing its companions reviewed and sent down the pages of the file, is Scarlet Imprint’s Howlings, so let’s for lots of reasons I’m sure, and not just to finally put it to rest, review it exactly ten years after its release.

Howlings was Scarlet Imprint’s first anthology concerning grimoire-related writings, and it was later followed by the previously reviewed Diabolical. It bears the perfect name for such a title, seemingly ambiguous and modern (like some noise-rock duo… *pause for searching* well, what do you know, it’s a witch house producer from California), but referring appropriately to a seemingly contentious translation of goetia as ‘howling.’ The Goetia is just one of the grimoires explored by the multiplicious howling voices in the fourteen essays that make up the singular Howlings, along with The Picatrix, Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Michael Bertiaux’s The Voudon Gnostic Workbook, Aleister Crowley’s Liber 231, and Andrew Chumbley’s Qutub.

Fittingly, it is The Goetia that receives the most attention in Howlings, with a total of six essays addressing various aspects of the 17th century grimoire, featuring contributions from Paul Hughes-Barlow, Aleq Grai, David Rankine (who also later contributes a piece on Agrippa and magical squares), Peter Grey, and two from Thea Faye. In the first of her two pieces, Sex in the Circle, Faye considers aspects of gender in invocation, while in the second, and continuing with her largely practical approach, she addresses the trustworthiness of the various goetic spirits. Considering that in The Goetia there are 72 spirits available to practitioners, it’s interesting that one of them, Andromalius, finder of thieves and treasure, receives somewhat disproportionate attention here, being the focus of Hughes-Barlow’s piece, and also featuring heavily in Aleq Grai’s Tools of the Goetia, which includes a transcript of a ritual conversation with them.

Chimeric image from the internal title page

For those with more caliginous inclinations, Crowley’s qliphothic text Liber 231 receives attention from Krzysztof Azarewicz, Stafford Stone and Donald Tyson. Azarewicz broadly considers the text itself, while Tyson’s 49 page The Gates of Daath, the longest contribution in this anthology, is a wide-ranging consideration of sephiroth, qliphoth and their tarot attributions, particularly in regard, as one would expect, to the nullsphere of Daath. As he would later do in Diabolical, Stafford Stone’s contribution to things nightside are a selection of cards from his Nightside Tarot (Baratchial, Gargophias, Uriens and Niantiel), accompanied by brief battlefield notes, as he calls them, describing each of the featured atu and their perpetually symmetrical spirits.

Spread with plates for Stafford Stone's Gargophias, Uriens cards

One of the things that appeals about Howlings, and it is summed up in the subtitle to David Beth’s Bertiaux-themed Into the Meon essay, Approaching the Voudon Gnostic Workbook, is that feeling of a supremely personal interaction with the writer’s grimoire of choice. Where Howlings succeeds most is in those instances where the idea is one of encountering, exploring and experiencing a tome; something that appeals to the bibliophile in me. While writing should be rigorous without doubt, those qualities are enhanced here by the enthusiasm of the contributors, where the interaction with the grimoire is experiential, visceral and profound. At the same time, though, this approach doesn’t always work, and some of the essays reflecting on the author’s personal journey wither in comparison to those with more of an academic skill set. The latter succeeds is in those instances where the personal is combined with a clear, authoritative voice, and with stellar writing skills; something not always the case with so many contributors.

Scarlet Imprint’s Peter Grey fulfils the promise that a volume such as this offers with his perfectly titled The Stifling Air. Combining the personal with historical antecedents, Grey writes in a beautifully poetic manner that engages with its tone but doesn’t get too purple in its prose. His is a picturesque tribute to the ritual virtues of smoke and incense, beginning with a panegyric overview before considering various incenses individually and extensively. That sense of personal interaction is also evident in Jack Macbeth’s Getting to the Point, which acts as both paean and practicum for Chumbley’s poetic text Qutub. Macbeth writes affectionately of Chumbley’s relatively brief work, describing it as hypnotic, whirling and a “many layered exposition on the sorcerous arte.”

The formatting in Howlings is as lovely as one would expect from Scarlet Imprint, with type set at a small but readable serif face, framed by large margins and a generous footer. Given the multitude of contributors, there’s understandably variance in how images are presented, with sigils rendered differently in weight and style, but otherwise the quality is fine. The one exception is in the reproduction of two engravings by Albrecht Dürer, with Melancholia not as a sharp as it could be, while The Angle with the Key to the Bottomless Pit is unforgivably and surprisingly soft, murky and blurry.

Howlings page spread

Howlings was released in several editions, with the first being a limited and hand-numbered edition of 333 copies. The second edition consists of 666 copies but is confusingly numbered sequentially from 334 to 999, of which this reviewer’s copy (for those keeping score at home) is number 782. It has black endpapers, black and white illustrations, colour plates and is bound in turquoise cloth, with gilt titling to spine and an geometric Islamic design foiled over the entire front. Although, as with other Scarlet Imprint titles, this foiling has, with the passage of time, flaked and faded in places, despite the impeccable archival standards at Scriptus Recensera. Contact with the cover through the mere act of reading means that by the time you finish the book, the cover will have changed, appearing worn in those places  where your hands have rested. Feature or a bug, you decide.

Published by Scarlet Imprint

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Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana – Storm Constantine

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Categories: chaos, grimoire, magick

Grimoire Dehara coverAs an unrepentant bibliophile, it is both a blessing and a curse that there are so many wonderful (and not so wonderful) books out there that must be read. One area that always takes a back seat is fiction, and so despite having a few of her titles in the shelves here at the hallowed halls of Scriptus Recensera, we’ve never had the pleasure of diving into the worlds of Storm Constantine.

Perhaps the work for which she is best known, her Wraeththu series, had its first instalment in 1987 with The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit and has continued into this decade; although Constantine wrote her earliest Wraeththu tales a decade earlier in 1973. The Wraeththu are very much a race for today, a post-apocalyptic, hermaphroditic species that evolved from humanity and are divided into tribes. Androgynous and sensual, they seem to be cut from the same cloth as Anne Rice’s fey and elegant vampires, or Poppy Z. Brite’s queer outsiders.

With Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana, Constantine takes the system of magic used in the Wraeththu universe and fleshes it out for real world application. In a subculture of made-up magical systems, with people desperately trying to claim mysterious provenance for their fictions, what better than a system that is unashamedly fictional? As such, and as Constantine notes, Grimoire Dehara follows a chaos magick template of pop culture sorcery, creating new thought-forms with that slightly scientific, partly Jungian bent of any Chaoate. This is borne out by the resources at the end of the book, with two books by Phil Hine being the only other titles namechecked amongst those from Constantine herself and her collaborator Taylor Ellwood. There are also bonus points for the musical recommendations here, with Constantine suggesting Ephemeral from Synaesthesia and two albums by Steve Roach (The Magnificent Void and with Byron Metcalf, The Serpent’s Lair). Fine tastes and something that makes for a great reviewing accompaniment.

The gods of the Wraeththu are the Dehara of the grimoire’s title, with the principle deities being Aruhani (dehar of sex and procreation, life and death), Agave (warrior dehar of fire), Lunil (dehar of the Moon, love and spirituality) and Miyacala (dehar of inception, magic and wisdom). In addition there are elemental and seasonal deities called dehara vegrandis, and egregore forms created for specific and limited purposes called dehara demitto. Given the grimoire’s title, the dehara not unexpectedly form the focus of much of this book, with Constantine introducing each of them with descriptions and sigils, which she also does for their respective etheric nayati (temple or ritual space with descriptions and their sigils for them). With these are full page illustrations of each dehara, all evocative, beautiful and mysterious. Later in the book, Constantine returns to the dehara once more, providing further information along with extensive invocations and guided visualisations for each; and repeating the full page illustrations, which I’m not too sure about.

The dehara Aruhani

Having not read any of the Wraeththu novels before, one feels one’s self at a slight disadvantage when it comes to the terminology and names. There is an alienness to the language, that makes it hard to remember which term means what. This is due to it not necessarily having any resemblance to touchstones such as the Romance or Germanic languages, those two most common families for European ears. If anything, it bears a superficial resemblance to Eastern Polynesian languages like Hawaiian, with distinctly Polynesian phonemes appearing in words such as kaimana, rehuna and aruhani. At the same time, a preponderance of the letter ‘j’ and a ‘hahn’ sound in other words draws a comparison with Hindi; while in some cases, English portmanteaus occur, incorporating terms such as ‘tides,’ and somewhat breaking the feeling of exotic otherness. Suffice to say, the seven page glossary at the back proves a frequently frequented friend in the early stages of reading as one acclimatises to the new terminology.

At 200 pages, Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana presents an impressively rich and detailed system that builds gradually in complexity. For anyone familiar with contemporary magic, and in particular the techniques associated with its Chaos forms, there won’t be much here that is, at its core, unfamiliar, with the innovation coming from how it’s integrated into the Wraeththu mythos and paradigm. And, as one would expect of a system quite consciously created with all the benefit of several thousand years of precedents, there are certain near universal themes that are given a Wraeththu twist. Agmara, for example, is the name given to breath, both the breath of the divine and the breath of the practitioner, which like prana in Hinduism, or the Force in Star Wars, is an all-permeating, universal energy, that is a powerful ally. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. But I digress.

Page spread with image of Aghama

The system begins with an initiation with a particularly Wraeththu spin, being a visualisation based on what in the novels is called Inception, where a human is transformed into a Wraeththu through the infusion of their blood. In the initiation ceremony, called a Harhune, the practitioner imagines themselves transforming into the androgynous har body, creating an ethereal body that is then used for any subsequent majhahns (rituals). Following on from this initiation, Constantine presents a series of exercises and procedures that could be broadly said to involve ritual breathing, visualisations and pathworkings, and light work. Practitioners add to their ethereal arsenal with the creation of their own hienama (an egregoric teacher), the building of an etheric nayati ritual space, and the development of minor Deharan magical entities for specific purposes.

In addition to this more personal work, Constantine provides evidence of her world building with Arotahar, a harish Wheel of the Year, that incorporates a grand seasonal mythologem redolent of European harvest rites for dying and resurrecting gods, and features eight arojhahns (festivals) across the year. Each arojhahn has invocations, rituals and visualisations associated with it, making this section, along with dedicated sections working with the dehara, the lion’s share of the grimoire. For those willing to embrace the mythos and modality, there’s a lot to do, with a full ritual year to follow, and the pantheon of the main dehara creating a comprehensive set of entities to engage with.

Olga Ulanova: Feybraihatide Arojhahn

Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana is thoroughly illustrated throughout with images of the various dehara and their attributes. Created by Olga Ulanova, they in some ways make the book, providing a very clear visual sense of what the dehara look like and explicating the whole Wraeththu aesthetic. The images often have an icon-like quality to them, something engendered by the use of an Art Noveau style, with Alphonse Mucha being a particularly obvious reference; as is often the case. No slavish imitation, though, these are beautifully rendered in simple clear lines, with the figures sometimes set against clear space, but more often against decorative, esoterically-evocative backgrounds and frames, occasionally suggesting, to my eyes, stellar cartography. As devotional objects, these would work effectively in any Deharan praxis, such is their strength as numinous images.

The first version of Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana was first released in 2005 as a hardback edition, with this second edition from 2011 being a trade paperback. Constantine has since followed up Kaimana with two sequels to this grimoire, both in collaboration with Taylor Ellwood: the second book Ulani 2016, and the third, Nahir Nuri, in 2017. Both sequels are available in hardcover and paperback versions, with a new limited edition hardcover version of Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana also being released to match its scions.

Published by Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press


Review Soundtrack: Steve Roach & Byron Metcalf – The Serpent’s Lair

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Angurgapi: The Witch-hunts in Iceland – Magnús Rafnsson

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Categories: folk, germanic, grimoire, runes, witchcraft

Angurgapi coverIn 2002, Strandagaldur, also known as the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík, Iceland, hosted the Exhibition of Sorcery and Witchcraft, which one assumes evolved into or contributed to the museum’s permanent exhibition. Shortly after the opening it became evident that there was a need for a short book on Icelandic sorcery and witchcraft, one that reflected the questions asked of museum staff by visitors Icelandic and foreign; especially given the dearth of texts on the subject outside of academia. Angurgapi: The Witch-hunts in Iceland is exactly that. It is by no means a survey of the museum’s collection, for which there is now a catalogue, and instead gives a pithy and concise survey of Icelandic witchcraft, using the framing device of witch-hunts to delve a little deeper in places.

It is, though, the witch-hunts in Iceland that the book devotes much of its space to, beginning with a summary of several notable early cases. What immediately becomes clear is that contrary to the continental stereotype, it was men who received the most convictions for sorcery in Iceland, and not just any men but men of the cloth. In many cases, accusations of witchcraft seems to have gone hand in hand with clerical infidelity, with Rafnsson presenting several examples of priests who were accused of witchcraft as well as fathering children or engaging in adultery or sexual assault. Even Gottskálk Nikulásson, the last Catholic Bishop of Hólar from 1496 to 1520 (who had multiple mistresses and sired at least three children), was thought to be a sorcerer, and the author of an infamous grimoire called Rauðskinna.

One exception to this template, indeed its polar opposite, was Jón Guðmundsson the Learned, who, as his name suggests, was something of a 16th-century Icelandic Renaissance man, being a writer, artist, sculptor, and an observer and documenter of nature. He ran afoul of the authorities when he criticised the murder of a group of Basque whalers in the Westfjords, and this ultimately led to accusations of witchcraft when a book he had written was used as evidence of diabolism. Jón admitted to writing the now lost volume and defended it as a book of healing without any evil purpose. While the image of Jón as a polymath with inclinations towards natural philosophy would seemingly make authorship of a grimoire unlikely, a listing of the book’s sections preserved in court documents reveals not herbal cures, but spells of the type found in other black books: charms against elves, madness and fire, or spells for providing victory in war or against storms at sea, amongst others.

Spread including pages from Lbs. 1235, 8vo written by Jón Guðmundsson the Learned

It is these types of grimoires and their attendant spells and charms that figure largely in the Icelandic accounts of witchcraft, rather than the transvection, sabbats and other diabolical congregations of their continental colleagues. As Rafnsson notes, almost a third of the Icelandic witchcraft trials centre on the possession of grimoires and other examples of rendered magical staves, charms or sigils. While many of these have been destroyed (with court records documenting two instances of a punishment in which the guilty party was made to inhale the smoke of the burning pages), what has survived presents various interesting themes: a juxtaposition in references to pagan and Christian deities, the combination of continental influences with entirely indigenous elements such as magical staves, and the role played by copying in transmitting this information down through the years.

Spread with image of the codex Lbs. 143 8vo

What comes through clearly in the various accounts of witch trials is the sense of paranoia and fear prevalent at the time, where accusations of witchcraft often appear to be acts of self-preservation, where the accuser, even sheriffs and priests, could themselves easily become the accused. There is also a sense of disproportionate punishment, where admission of knowing and using a simple non-malicious charm could lead to exile or death. With some relief for the reader, Rafnsson does document the change in beliefs and values as society progressed, past cases were reassessed and found wanting (though small comfort to those who had been executed), and, as happened elsewhere, those who made accusations of witchcraft were increasingly more likely to be convicted for wasting the court’s time, rather than seeing their neighbours pilloried.

After a heart felt memoriam noting the loss of life and humiliation experienced by those accused of witchcraft, Angurgapi concludes with a little travelogue of the Icelandic witch-hunts, devoting four pages to various notable locations, each presented with a photo and a brief explanation. These help provide context to some of the accounts that have preceded it.

Rafnsson writes throughout Angurgapi in a clear, no-nonsense manner that is an effortless joy to read. Without much adornment, the facts are presented in a matter of fact but sympathetic manner that is surprisingly engaging. As such, Angurgapi achieves what it set out to do, providing a brief but by no means superficial survey of a topic for which there is still little thorough documentation of.

Spread including an image of AM 434d, 12mo, a grimoire measuring only 8x8.5cm

Angurgapi runs to a mere 85 pages but feels weightier due to the hardcover binding and wrap-around glossy cover (went a little overboard on the old Photoshop Texture filter there, folks). Inside, the pages are also glossy and colour images abound. These include beautiful scans of original manuscripts, principally spreads from grimoires, sourced from the National Library in Reykjavík. Text is formatted cleanly and confidently, albeit in nothing but humble Times, and there are little nice touches, like the overly large page numbers rendered in an uncial face. There is one reservation with the layout though, with the text alternating between three styling choices: body, block text and image captions. The block text, usually an addendum to something in the main text, are set in a grey box and styled at the same point size as the body, but with less, rather than more, of an indent. In some cases running to several pages long, they often awkwardly interrupt the main body and aren’t successfully identified as secondary in hierarchy. The same is true of image captions, which are rendered in an italicised face only a few point sizes smaller than the body, meaning that despite being centred and placed in relation to their respective image, the eye often reads them as if they are a continuation of the main text.

Since the release of Angurgapi in 2002, Strandagaldur have expanded their publishing, releasing the aforementioned catalogue, as well as various archival publications of grimoires: Tvær galdraskræður, a bilingual bringing together of two manuscripts, Lbs 2413 8vo and Lbs 764 8vo (aka Leyniletursskræðan); Lbs. 143,8vo (aka Galdrakver) as a two book boxset featuring a facsimile in one and translation in multiple languages in the other; and a complete facsimile edition of the galdrabók Rún with translation. All thoroughly recommended.

Published by Strandagaldur

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Liber Coronzom: An Enochian Grimoire – A.D. Mercer

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Categories: enochian, esotericism, grimoire

Liber Coronzom coverReleased by Aeon Sophia Press, A.D. Mercer’s Liber Coronzom represents the first foray into matters Enochian for the Dutch publishing house. Its raison d’être is suggested in its very name, with Mercer intending to provide an authentic system of magic based on Dr John Dee’s records, rather than the adaptations made by the Golden Dawn and subsequently Aleister Crowley. Core to this authenticity is the name Coronzom, as it appears in Dee’s original hand, rather than the more familiar ‘Coronzon’ of Méric Causabon’s A True and Faithful Relation… or Crowley’s h-enhanced ‘Choronzon.’ Mercer spends some time documenting the instances where this name and its variants appear in the original documents, concluding with ‘Coronzom’ as the most accurate form. This is important as Mercer bases much of his system around the idea of Coronzom, calling it the Coronzomic Craft (and presumably not Cozonomic as it is also rendered in at least one instance).

After this preambulatory discussion of Coronzom, in which Mercer identifies him with Samael, the rest of Liber Coronzom follows and is divided into three books: Liber Hermetica, Liber Enochia and Liber Aethyrica. The first of these libers presents basic ritual techniques, variations of which will be familiar to anyone versed in western ceremonial magic: breathing exercises, white light visualisations, and a Golden Dawn pentagram-style ritual including the Kabbalistic Cross; as well as references to two specific, non-Enochian procedures: the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel and the Bornless Ritual. At the same time, Mercer says the link ‘of’ (by which, one assumes, ‘between’ is meant) Enochian and Kabbalistic magic must be severed for the Coronzomic workings to be successful; which makes one wonder, why have any of those elements in the first place.

In Liber Enochia the focus naturally turns to more Enochian matters and Mercer provides a discussion of the Enochian language, and a variety of procedures including the banishing of Enochian entities, the opening of the four watchtowers, and the summoning of the Governors. This largely creates the toolkit for the system presented here, with watchtower openings and brief little intoned Enochian invokations being the order of the day.

Mercer incorporates his own innovations to Dee and Kelley’s template, making ritual use of a three-sided blade (which in his case is the somewhat incongruous Tibetan phurpa), and introducing what is described as a heretofore unknown shortcut through Enochian magic’s system of aethyrs. While on the surface this makes you think of some hidden formula being decoded from amongst the Enochian elemental tablets or one of Kelley’s transmissions, it appears to be simply that, a shortcut, wherein the way to get to the final ten aethyrs is to skip the other twenty. Genius. The vehicle for this shortcut is provided by the angels of the tenth aethyr, Zax: Lexarph, Comanan, and Tabitom. As the names of these angels are found within the Black Cross that quadfurcates the Great Table, the arguments goes, you can open all four of the table’s watchtowers, invoke those angels, go directly to Zax, do not pass Zip, do not collect 200 pennies. As Zax is the aethyr in which Coronzom resides, having done this you now have instant access to the mighty devil of dispersion and with that, the experience of the Abyss. Coronzom himself turns out to be a bit of a pushover and after a brief invocation, he is overcome and it is revealed that… *spoilers*… wait for it… they were you all along – and they would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling ceremonial magicians.

Once you have nimbly bypassed Coronzom, Liber Aethyrica follows and the final ten aethyrs from Zip to Lil are yours to explore… quickly. In fact, ‘explore’ might be too grand a word. Forget Crowley’s description of the aethyrs with all their fantastic landscapes and chimeric entities, these aethyrs are presented as briefly encountered, largely interchangeable zones that are passed through in brief, single-paragraph descriptions, always with a citadel in Lil in sight as a goal.

As suggested by the shock reveal of Coronzom as your bad self (get down with them), there is much in Liber Coronzom that is framed within a psychoanalytical paradigm, particularly the Jungian variant. Other reviews here at Scriptus Recensera attest to how your mileage may vary when it comes to this approach, and it comes off a little dated, recalling the heady days of the 1990s when magic as science was all the attempt-at-credibility rage.

Throughout Liber Coronzom, Mercer writes somewhat informally with a degree of confidence if not fluidity, with, for example, the initial discussion of Choronzon vs. Coronzom having a conversational tone as he explores the issue hand in hand with the reader. There are, though, little things that begin to irritate as the book progresses, making for an ultimately frustrating read. There is a preponderance of filler words, the first use of ‘at the end of the day’ that I’ve seen in a book in a long time, and a considerable number of sentences that begin with ‘And.’ There are also little words and phrases used inappropriately: ‘gambit’ is used where ‘ambit’ must surely be intended, ‘thou’ pops its archaic head up in one sentence, only to be followed by ‘you’ in the very same sentence, and there are repeated conflations of ‘affect’ with ‘effect.’ Commas are used inconsistently: in one instance creating a Shatner-esque staccato with their frequency, but are then almost entirely absent in other places; or in completely the wrong place in still others. Elsewhere, stray words are left in the middle of sentences, while instructions that begin by detailing what an anonymous adherent should do, abruptly get personal and start speaking directly to the ‘you’ that is the reader. This is without mentioning other misspellings, punctuation errors and the use of incorrect homophones that riddle the book, making for a mistake on almost every two pages. This is all symptomatic of a complete lack of proofing, and makes it feel like you’re reading a first draft. It would have been beneficial to have an editor act as a brutal gardener to cut some of the redundancies, solecisms and erratum. Maybe they would have caught things like the titles that in two instances refer to things being ‘Enochain.’

There are multiple editions of Liber Coronzom including one as a high quality hardcover with a full colour cover, wrapped to front and back, featuring Henry Gillard Glidoni’s painting John Dee Performing an Experiment before Elizabeth I. The deluxe edition features black end paper, gold foil lettering to front cover and spine on a full black leather bound hardcover. A further devotee edition is limited to thirteen exemplars and has black end papers, a quarter grey goatskin leather bound over hand-marbled paper, and 23 kr gold decorations to the back and front cover and the spine. It is housed in a solander box, bound in full Italian grey cloth. And then there’s the X-Series edition limited to 50 exemplars and bound in blue cloth but with the cover featuring the same gold foiled title and design as the deluxe edition.

The version reviewed here, though, is none of these and is, it would appear, an iteration of the standard cloth-bound edition, with a blue cloth blinding and a foiled decagram on the cover, limited to 200 exemplars. I add the caveat of ‘it would appear’ as the current standard edition available from the Aeon Sophia Press website, also with only 200 exemplars, is now a black cloth version, with no decagram on the front and just the title rendered in a foiled blackletter Killigrew face.

Published by Aeon Sophia Press

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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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