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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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Tubelo’s Green Fire – Shani Oates

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Categories: luciferian, robert cochrane, witchcraft

tubelosgreenfireSubtitled Mythos, Ethos, Female & Priestly Mysteries of the Clan of Tubal Cain, this is a collection of articles by Shani Oates, current Maid of the Clan of Tubal Cain. Anthologies can often be a less than satisfying reading experience, with the piecemeal nature of the presentation never engendering the focus that a singular work can provide. This is certainly the case here and there was just something a little disappointing about discovering that what I thought was a going to be a focussed book on the mysteries of the Clan of Tubal Cain is, by its very nature, broader and not nearly as specific as its retrospectively applied title promises. In saying that, the essays have been grouped into sections, so there is a semblance of order, with divisions devoted, as the subtitle denotes, to female mysteries, male mysteries, priestly mysteries, and Clan ethos.

The essays that form this collection are taken from various pagan magazines, principally Hedgewytch and Michael Howard’s The Cauldron, but also White Dragon, Pendragon and the New Wiccan. The subject matter falls into the broad remit of the Clan of Tubal Cain, having the same polymathic qualities possessed by Robert Cochrane, drawing on folklore, mythology and general witchlore to create a vision of a coherent and very particular form of witchcraft.

Oates writes in a style not too dissimilar to that of her mentor, Evan John Jones, and fellow travellers Nigel Jackson and Michael Howard, in that it is anthropologically broad and encyclopaedic but not overly critical, casting wide thematic nets that are not always necessarily tethered with specific citations. This net sometimes embraces the works of so-called alternative history, a field that could be said to have something of the magical in itself, since its logical leaps and less than rigorous familiarity with the facts is suggestive of metaphysical paradigm building, where peer-review is less important than an internally consistent worldview. Thus, in Mythopoesis, Laurence Gardner’s Genesis of the Grail Kings is referenced, extensively and uncritically, in a discussion of Mesopotamian cosmology, where perhaps recall to more reliable, or even primary, sources would have been advisable; and would have inspired more confidence.

Mythopoesis introduces the opening section of writings on the mythos of the Clan of Tubal Cain, and, despite my misgivings about Gardner as a source, it is an interesting, well written overview of matters witchcraft and Qayinian, beginning in the broad, speculative world of alternative history before ending with a discussion of ritual tools and praxis. This is followed by a welcome discussion about Goda, the pale goddess of fate in the cosmology of the Clan of Tubal Cain, in which Oates brings together various linguistic traces of the name, as well as summarising Cochrane’s thoughts on the goddess, collected from his various correspondences. The third chapter in this section, is missing, suggesting some great esoteric mystery… or mayhaps just a clerical error.

The book’s abruptly promoted fourth chapter is a dissertation on Hekate and opens the section on female mysteries. Each of these pieces is a broad consideration, and its seems to very much be Oates’ modus operandi to take a core subject as an opportunity to explores related tangents, often bringing them ultimately to bare within a witchcraft frame of reference. Thus the female mysteries are explored from the root themes of courtly love, Salome’s seven veils, the hand of Fatima, Sheela na gigs, and the Day of the Dead (which marks a stylistic diversion from most of the other essays with its more travelogue structure and voice).

Under the rubric of male mysteries Oates is able to consider the Wild Hunt (covered in two essays), the Green Knight (of Sir Gawain fame), and solstice traditions, all presenting a fairly consistent theme of the king of the greenwood. There’s a certain continuity of these themes into the section on priestly mysteries, with arboreal kings figuring in the essay The Divine Duellists, but otherwise the topics at hand are new, with considerations of the Fisher King, the symbolism of cranes, and the mythic analogies of entheogens (which provides summaries of all the usual suspects: Wasson, McKenna, Allegro).

Finally, the section on Clan Ethos could be said to follow the lead of its first essay’s title, Musings on the Sacred, with these contributions being considerably less encyclopaedic than their predecessors, with more of a discursive quality. The most interesting of these are ones that deal more specifically with Robert Cochrane and the Clan of Tubal Cain, fulfilling the original promise of the book’s title. The Mystery Tradition considers the difference between paganism and witchcraft, reflecting on Cochrane’s differentiation betwixt the two, while A Man for all Seasons considers magickal inheritance and Cochrane’s ideas of the witchblood. The remaining essays explore various clan-related ritual procedures, including initiation and the division of ritual forms into three rings of divination, spell-casting and communion.

Qayin by Liza Miskievicz

For a Mandrake publication, Tubelo’s Green Fire doesn’t do too badly in the old formatting stakes, with an overall consistent and perfunctory layout that doesn’t overly interfere with reading. That said, the point size of the body is a smidgen too large, and the margins on all four edges are too tight; as is, naturally, the gutter. This leads to a slightly claustrophobic feeling whilst reading, with even the endnote references rendered in the uniform size of the main body, and the titles in nothing more than a functional larger version of the same typeface. A lack of attention to detail means that each essay retains its original referencing style, and these come in all shapes and sizes, appearing as in-text citations in some cases, and as end notes in others (with even the formatting of these differing between usages). There’s also a few idiosyncratic, but inconsistently applied, punctuation quirks, such as randomly presenting some names, and in some cases, words, within single quote marks; a peculiarity that is then inexplicably compounded still further by occasionally presenting some of these quoted words in italics with no rhyme or reason.

The pages of monolithic typographic colour within the book are occasionally (and I mean very occasionally) interspersed with simply rendered illustrations by Liza Miskievicz. The cover bears an image, The Fortunate Isle, by the always wonderful Nigel A. Jackson, made significantly less interesting by being unimaginatively inverted; and the less said about the accompanying title in an unnecessarily distressed typeface, coloured zombie-movie-green, the better.

Published by Mandrake of Oxford. ISBN 978-1906958077

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Children of Cain – Michael Howard

Categories: folk, luciferian, paganism, qayin, robert cochrane, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

childrenofcain-coverWay back in the mists of time, the first book I ever read about “witchcraft” was Laurie Cabot’s Power of the Witch. Even at such a formative stage, there were things about it that didn’t sit right with me; not least the diagram of chakras, laid out on an Egyptian style figure, in a book sprinkled with the dreaded C word (Celtic). Funnily enough, around the same time, I read my first book about runes, Michael Howard’s Wisdom of the Runes, so this consideration of traditional witchcraft makes for an interesting journey full circle.1

Subtitled A Study of Modern Traditional Witches, in many ways, this book resumes where Ronald Hutton left off in Triumph of the Moon, considering in depth some of the figures that he briefly covered, but with the focus here being on those who claim independence from the system of Wicca promoted by Gerald Gardner. With almost fifty years studying and researching witchcraft, Howard is in the unique position of having known or corresponded with most of the key figures of modern witchcraft; many of who are now gone.

There are three main areas of historical modern traditional witchcraft2 that Howard considers before exploring some tangents and more recent expressions: Robert Cochrane’s Clan of Tubal Cain, the related group The Regency and the Pickingill Craft claims of Bill Liddell. Howard’s account of the Clan of Tubal Cain covers familiar ground for anyone that has devoured his previous writings on the subject as well as those of Evan John Jones, Doreen Valiente and more recently, Shani Oates. Howard does not shy away from looking as the personal side of Cochrane’s life, which is perhaps inevitable given how so much of the story of the Clan is tied up with Cochrane’s own personal mythology. Howard tends to highlight his erratic behaviour, which could be seen as a personal attack by those overly invested in Cochrane as a guru figure, but is perhaps better viewed as illustrative of his qualities as a trickster and atavistic archetype who has become as much a figure of myth as Tubal Cain and Goda themselves.

The consideration of George Pickingill is quite exhaustive, which is perhaps to be expected since Howard with his magazine The Cauldron was one of the original publishers of some of the claims by Bill Liddell. Liddell’s theory 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 is an appealing one, and one can’t help feeling that Howard gives it as much space as he does just because of how glorious its grand vision is. By no means does he state his acceptance of Liddell’s claims, but there’s a feeling he wishes they were true. And who wouldn’t? One crazy old village wizard weaves together almost every strand of nineteenth century English occultism. Who needs the Illuminati when you’ve got Old George.

Following these three histories, Howard takes a step back chronologically and looks at the 18-19th century quasi-magickal guilds such as the Horseman’s Word and the Toadsmen. This consideration is perfectly placed as it shows how many of these rural secret society had themes that were synchronous with, or directly informed, the strands of Traditional Witchcraft that would publically emerge in subsequent years. For the Horseman’s Word, Cain was revered as the first horseman and the presiding chief horseman was identified as the Devil, while the rites of the Toadsmen have been thoroughly explored by Cultus Sabbati magister Andrew Chumbley.

Where Children of Cain is at its most potentially invaluable is in the chapter on the Sabbatic Craft. As an empowered initiate of the Cultus Sabbati, Howard is well placed to present what is perhaps the largest consideration of the group in print so far. Ever so slightly hagiographic in tone, Howard’s admiration for Andrew Chumbley is quite evident and he is nowhere as critical of his friend and their claims as he is of the arguably similar figure of Robert Cochrane. Most of the chapter, though, deals not directly with the Cultus Sabbati but takes the praxis of the group as an opportunity to explore various Cultus-relevant aspects of traditional witchcraft: the witches’ sabbat, the wild hunt and witches’ flying ointments.

Casting his net wider to cover areas of occultism that share the same atmosphere of traditional witchcraft, if not a direct link to those already covered, Howard also looks at the work of Austin Spare and New Zealand-born artist Rosaleen Norton, along with various American traditions (Victor Anderson’s Feri tradition, Douglas McIlwain’s Order of the Skull and Bones as well as American folk magick in general).

Title plate design by Liv Rainey-Smith

While not as rampant as Capall Bann titles, Children of Cain has some careless spelling mistakes and misplaced letters; although for some reason, this lessens as the book progresses. This is such a shame given the lengths that Three Hands Press have gone to in the presentation of this book, and it makes it all the more jarring to find them in such a well presented volume; with Capall Bann titles, the reckless spelling almost goes hand in hand with the cheap printing, generic formatting and cumbersome binding. Although it is not as exhaustively referenced as it could have been, many sources, including personal correspondences, are cited within the text, making for a feeling of a satisfying authoritative read.

In all, Howard’s book is an important consideration of the strands of witchcraft history that diverge from the usual Gardner and Alexandrian “mainstream.” It consolidates, arguably for the first time, a wealth of information about groups for which precious little has been written before. Although some may object to how their respective traditions have been represented here (where Howard’s knowledge is perhaps familiar but not intimate), each strand is fairly and, on the whole, dispassionately represented. Given the nature of this subject, where claims of authenticity for one’s tradition are so often a concern, the tone of an author is an important consideration. Howard’s approach could be said to have a (to use a now rather dated reference) Mulder-like willingness to believe that is tempered with a Scullyesque critical approach that cautions him against totally subscribing to anyone’s claim; at least in print.

Published by Three Hands Press

* * *

1. Although, to be fair, Howard’s book did feature a Ralph Blum-style blank Wyrd rune, so time makes fools of us all.

2. Yes, I’m aware that categorisation makes almost no sense.

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Witchcraft: A Tradition Renewed – Doreen Valiente and Evan Jones

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Categories: folk, magick, robert cochrane, witchcraft

Witchcraft - A Tradition RenewedThis is a deceptively bland title for a book that could be any collection of rituals and recipes published by Llewellyn. But it’s not, on either count. Instead of being one of those Wiccan books that seem to do nothing but regurgitate everything from the last Wiccan book, this is more a book about Witchcraft, and more specifically, the traditional witchcraft of Robert Cochrane; which Valiente immediately separates from the Wicca of Gardner and Sanders in her preface. At the time this review was first written, precious little has been published in book form about Cochrane’s system, with one slightly veiled exception being Jones’s ritual-n-recipe book Sacred Mask, Sacred Dance, in which Cochrane’s rituals were presented palatably for a Llewellyn audience. It was a form of witchcraft that did indeed differ from that of Gardner and Sanders (largely drawn from ceremonial magick), and instead had more of a rustic shamanic base, which was carried on through his group, The Clan of Tubal Cain. This book seeks to go some way in making up for the previous lack of published information, with both Doreen Valiente and Evan Jones having been members of Cochrane’s original coven.

Unfortunately, if you want specifics about Cochrane and the history of the Clan of Tubal Cain, this isn’t it, and instead the book presents the Clan’s magickal system through an in-depth exploration of the rituals and coven procedure. It’s not quite a ritual-n-recipe book, but the whole approach is more magickal than historical. As a result, it’s not exactly an easy read, because to find out the information, you have to read the rituals, and reading magickal instructions isn’t exactly thrilling or engaging. When you do get into it, you find a system that features many elements of folklore, specifically the type considered by James Frazer, with the seasonal death of the corn being a key image. In some respects, there are elements common to other forms of witchcraft, but there is also a darker, more visceral element that makes it distinctive. One of the central deities is the Nameless, Faceless One, called the Black Goddess, while another is Goda, mother of gods and mortals, lady of light and darkness. The specifics of names are largely absent from this book (though they are hardly secret outside of Clan confines), and so whilst the work seems intent on presenting Cochrane’s practices, they are done in more of a non-denominational, open way.

For the details of the rituals, this is an essential book, but for a wider view of Cochrane’s system, it is better read in combination with Sacred Mask, Sacred Dance and Michael Howard’s more recent Children of Cain.

Published by Phoenix Publishing Inc, Washington, USA. ISBN 0-919345-61-1

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