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Lilith: Goddess of Sitra Ahra

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Categories: anticosmic, devotional, mesopotamian, nightside

Serving as the inaugural publication from Black Tower Publishing, Lilith: Goddess of Sitra Ahra is, as one would expect, an anthology of material about Lilith. Its content is principally sourced from unknown authors, with only Edgar Kerval and Matthew Wightman generating any sparks of recognition. It is this roster that presents the most immediate problem with this volume. Yes, the nature of occult literature may mean that content is often provided by authors who are not professional writers, but to paraphrase Groundskeeper Willie: I love amateur occult writing, and your occult writing is the most amateur occult writing I ever saw.

This is not helped by the fact that many of the contributors come from South America and clearly do not have English as their first language. While there is something to be said for giving non-English speaking writers a place to have their works published, if the final product is going to be in English, and only in English, then I would expect the publisher to do a little tidying up to save face for their authors. As it stands, the reader spends half of the book wondering if they’re being spoken to by a Nigerian crown prince ready to transfer a lot of money from a dead relative, such is the jarring, disconcerting quality of the bad English. In one ritual, a sigil that is created as part of the process is said to be able to be ‘used in posterior work with the Goddess,’ leaving me genuinely unsure what they mean, and a little worried as a result.

Unfortunately, the untidiness is not limited to the worse-than-Google-Translate English and extends to all areas of this book. Proofing appears to be non-existent, with the spelling and punctuation errors starting off early in the Foreword and getting worse the further you go. The formatting is inept, with page margins set at an inconceivably tiny half a centimetre, the paragraphs are both separated by a space and indented (with an inadvisably huge indent of course), and the type for pathworkings is inexplicably bolded and centred. A lack of care means that notes to the editor marking where an illustration should go are left in text, while in at least one example, a whole paragraph is repeated immediately after its first appearance. Illustrations range from the mediocre to the risible, with the single exception coming from Kazim with their Shamshan Lilith, an image that has already been published in the second volume of the Qliphoth journal.

SmashanLilith by Kazim

The lack of rigour extends to many of the contributors, and it’s pretty early on that the reader will give up any hope of seeing many academic sources mentioned, let alone cited and referenced. To the various authors of this book, Lilith often seems to exist in a haze of vaguely understood history that intersects with half-remembered mythology and recycled, usually unattributed, teachings of other magickal orders. In one essay, Inanna receives two hits from a wildly flailing Hammer of Inaccuracy within just one sentence, first by being described as a goddess of the moon, and then being located in “ancient Babylon.” In another, it is claimed that you won’t find many mentions of “the Goddess” in the Old Testament and that the word ‘goddess’ doesn’t even exist in Hebrew, something easily disproved by the use of ‘asherah’ as both a specific and generic goddess name in the biblical record; as thoroughly and magnificently documented by Raphael Patai in his The Hebrew Goddess.

Given the number of contributions, their relative brevity, and the focus on one deity, there’s an inevitable duplication in some of the entries here. Both Salomelihecatel and Daemon Barzai address the idea of Lilith as a spider goddess, drawing extensively on material by the Temple of the Black Light, but not offering much more. Both pieces feature rather similar invokations that close, somewhat jarringly, with the familiar Dragon Rouge refrain Ho Drakon Ho Megas. Similarly, too many of the contributions descend into word salad, breathlessly listing Lilith’s attributes in a whirl of glamourously dark language, which, aided and abetted by the poor English and the poor editing, can make it quite an aggravating slog to get through.

There are a variety of contributions here with 25 written pieces in total, divided into the brief salads of words, slightly better longer pieces (still let down by a lack of rigour and poor formatting), poems, rituals and invokations. James L. George has a couple of invokatory poems scattered throughout the book, and these, by their very nature, prove to  be a highlight as they are better composed and show more attention to detail than many of their companions. In the way of rituals, Matthew Wightman’s Rite of the Seduction of the Virgin (also found in his book The Serpent Siddur of the Nachash El Acher) is the most elaborate, and well written, here, with many of others making one wonder whether the instructions were worth writing down. Elsewhere in these reviews I have lamented the tendency for ritual, when lazily formulated, to be basically “cast this sigil, says these words, hope stuff happens” and that’s unfortunately the case here, with several rituals being nothing more than that: an interchangeable sigil is focussed on, an interchangeable invokation is uttered (hopefully without giggling), and the presumably not interchangeable person sits in the dark feeling the dark energies flow through them, and/or just a bit foolish.

Ultimately, Lilith: Goddess of Sitra Ahra feels like a missed opportunity. With some extensive editing, of both contributors and contributions, the content could have been tightened up and the errors wouldn’t feel so glaring. The same is true of the formatting, with the entry level mistakes helping to draw attention to the failings in this volume. It would seem that the perfect devotional for Lilith, containing well-structured and well-written academic essays, alongside equally well-written poetry, well-executed artwork, and interesting rituals, remains to be published.

Lilith: Goddess of Sitra Ahra has been released in two editions. The first was limited to 200 copies and came as a hand-bound and hand-numbered volume with a dust jacket. The second, reviewed here, is a paperback edition capably printed by Amazon’s print-on-demand service.

Published by Black Tower Publishing. ISBN-13: 978-1511792356

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Into the Great Below: A Devotional to Inanna and Ereshkigal – Compiled by Galina Krasskova

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Categories: devotional, mesopotamian, underworld

into_the_great_belowIt’s full disclosure time yet again: I created the cover art for this devotional from Asphodel Press, and also contributed some internal illustrations. So, as ever, proceed with due caution as we venture into the world of potential bias and nepotism. With its eyes turned towards Mesopotamia, Into the Great Below is a change of theme for Asphodel Press and its usual, albeit by no means exclusive, focus on the Northern Tradition; although the names of many of the contributors, including that of editor Galina Krasskova, will be familiar from other Asphodel works. This is addressed in Krasskova’s foreword in which she identifies herself as Heathen but details her early magical history in the Fellowship of Isis where a mentor’s devotion to Inanna had a lasting influence on her ritual and devotional practice. This book, then, is considered by Krasskova to be the beginning of a repayment to Inanna, and to her sister, Ereshkigal.

Into the Great Below is divided into three sections: devotions to Inanna and Ereshkigal, a collection of rituals for both goddesses, and prayers to other Sumerian deities. Rebecca Buchanan provides the lion share of the prayers to Inanna and Ereshkigal, with short little vignettes addressing various aspects of both goddesses. Her work is joined by contributions from Elizabeth Vongvisith, Raven Kaldera, and others. Perhaps the strongest piece from this section is provided by the enigmatically anonymous J.D. with Katabasis, in which they detail an initiatory journey into the underworld, mirroring Inanna’s descent through seven dismembering tiers, before being remade and reborn by Ereshkigal. These themes of initiation and dismemberment naturally feature strongly in much of the material here, with devotees addressing Ereshkigal in particular as an initiatrix and spirit of transformation. Janet Munin, for example, takes the phrase “naked and bowed low” from The Descent of Inanna and slightly tweaks the interpretation of it, making it indicative of an act of humility and grace, rather than the result of being tortured and broken by the process of the underworld descent.   inannaposed

The second selection of prayers addresses deities from across the Sumerian pantheon, with the chance for the attention to shift in several cases to the male of the species. Lee Harrington has a poem to each of Ereshkigal’s husbands: first with a call to Gugulanna, the bull of heaven, and then with a song addressed to Ereshkigal but sung by her second husband, Nergal. A similar approach is taken by Raven Kaldera in Neti, where the poem is directed towards Ereshkigal in the voice of her titular servant and gatekeeper. Amongst the goddesses, Kaldera celebrates the warrior Ninshubur, while Elizabeth Vongvisith and Anya Kless both explore the intersection of Sumerian and Judaism with paeans to Lilith. Tiamat also receives some attention with poems from Dee Bellwether, Kira R. and an anonymous invocation previously published in Asphodel’s Pagan Book of Hours. Bellwether’s For Tiamatu is particular striking with its stark iteration of occasionally alliterative words celebrating Tiamat as an almost anti-cosmic Queen of Unmaking.

The final section of Into the Great Below features a relatively weighty five rituals for Inanna and Ereshkigal. Krasskova’s Dark Moon Rite of Ereshkigal is a lengthy, invocatory-heavy ritual that begins with quaternary calls, a call to the centre, and then an invocation to Ereshkigal herself. This is followed by an oracular portion and sequences involving a construction of a ritual box. Krasskova’s liturgy is well written, picturesque and evocative in its use of language; a quality that occurs in another of her rituals included here, The Sharing of the Me – a Ritual to the Goddess Inanna. Another lengthy rite is Kaldera’s The Descent of Inanna, which is exactly that, a ritual staging of the descent from the Enuma Elish in a mystery play read by two narrators.inannaring

Unlike some devotionals from Asphodel, in which essays are combined with rituals and poetry, the content of Into the Great Below has a focus on the poetic, with nothing in the way of lengthy articles. This is, perhaps, to be expected given the dearth of existing written material on these subjects without wandering into territories of unverified personal gnosis or academic minutiae. Despite the range of contributors, there is a certain similarity of tone and themes, with a feeling that everyone is coming from a similar place in the interpretation of Inanna and Ereshkigal, and the descent narrative in particular. Into the Great Below runs to 125 perfect bound paperback pages, with type set in the usual clean and functional standard of Asphodel publications. Space seems to be the enemy as all empty areas are filled with my illustrations, or an assortment of various, inconsistently rendered, archaeological images.

Published by Asphodel. ISBN 978-0-9825798-3-1

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