Categotry Archives: egyptian

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The Visions of the Pylons – J. Daniel Gunther

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Categories: egyptian, thelema

The Visions of the Pylons coverGloriously subtitled A Magical Record of Exploration in the Starry Abode, J. Daniel Gunther’s Visions of the Pylons is a record of magical workings undertaken in the mid-1970s by the author and his scribe, Richard Gernon. The pylons in questions are twelve underworld gates, delineated in The Book of Pylons (or Book of Gates), an Ancient Egyptian funerary text that describes the nocturnal journey of a soul into the next world. This passage through the Duant mirrors the nightly underworld journey of the sun, with each gate marking an hour in this long night of the soul. Each of these gates is associated with a different goddess (whose characteristics the deceased must recognise), thus making the text and its journey a fitting initiatory narrative.

For Gunther, the pylons are not simply an Egyptian system, but relate to other psychocosms and magickal worldviews employed in Western occultism, in particular the Qabbalah. During his initial exploration of the system Gunther tentatively identified the first four pylons as the final four sephiroth of the Qabbalistic Tree of Life, but following a suggestion by his then A.:.A.:. instructor, Marcelo Ramos Motta, he reimagined them as the quarternal elemental gates of the single sephira of Malkuth. In a continuation of this correspondence, Gunther would subsequently identify the next three pylons as the sephira of Yesod, Hod and Netzach. It is worth noting that this is not simply a case of like-for-like sympathies between the two systems, and instead, Gunther integrates the two, arguing that the pylons contain internal gateways that provide ingress to the higher planes of the Tree of Life (as well as the thirty aethyrs of Enochian magick) without the use of the traditional pathways between spheres.

Visions of the Pylons colour plates

The record here is an incomplete journey through the pylons, as only seven of the twelve are explored (though two are scryed twice), with Gunther at the time not being permitted to enter the final five; save, he says, for a “fleeting glimpse of the Hold Bridal Chamber (Tiphereth).” He does, though, provide the means to enter all of them and this, the practical side of things, forms a substantial series of appendices, the contents of which are otherwise barely touched on in the preceding recounting of the pylon visions. Each of the guardians is given a sigil, derived from a 5×5 grid composed of phonetic renderings of the Egyptian hieroglyphic alphabet, with the design emerging from connecting the consonants of the name; as one would when using planetary magic squares for a similar purpose. This can lead to some pleasing sigils but also, given vagaries of name length and the placement of the letters in the grid, some rather less than pleasing ones; yes, I’m looking at you, Yethy-ma-eiri-fa, go home, you’re drunk. Each sigil, along with the hieroglyphic version of the guardian’s name, is to be inscribed on a wax pantacle, much as one would in following Crowley’s instructions in Liber A, and this object becomes the focus for exploration of that pylon. This exploration follows a fairly standard Thelema-tinged Western magic approach: corners are invoked, signs of the crux asanta, adoration and silence are made, a sacrament of saffron cakes and honey milk is partaken off (recipe included), and visions ensue; with seer and scribe breaking the respective pantacle in half at the conclusion.

Visions of the Pylons sigil construction

The incongruity in the ritual elements is carried over to Gunther’s record of the visions themselves, where the imagery and the language itself feels more European than Egyptian, save for the occasional appearance of familiar Egyptian entities and iconography. Due to the appeal of the archaic tones of the King James translation of the Bible, the language used here is closer to a facsimile of seventeenth century English than anything one can imagine being spoken by an Egyptian deity; something which Gunther does acknowledge. Similarly, in matters of imagery, angels abound as well as a veritable cornucopia of Western esotericism worthy of Uncle Al’s own magpie-like tendencies: Greek mythology, tarot symbolism, bits of Enochian here, a little I Ching there, Hebrew Hebrew everywhere. Despite giving their names in the creation of the sigils used to enter these gates, the traditional guardians of these pylons don’t seem to play a significant or overwhelmingly identifiable role in these visions, giving way to a more general melange of Thelemic motifs.

Like peeking into someone’s dream journal, it often feels slightly intrusive to read the accounts of other people’s magical visions, especially if you subscribe to the psychological model and see it all as the workings of the unconscious and subconscious; and less graciously, perhaps even the conscious. There is an element of that here, but in general, the visions for each pylon are so suffused with portentous statements, complex imagery and the occasional flourish of gematria that if one was to unsympathetically dismiss this as all someone’s active imagination, you’d still have to give them top marks for effort. All of this imagery is fully footnoted, with Gunther providing a constant and thorough commentary on the meaning and symbolism of everything encountered.

Visions of the Pylons chapter title page

The seventeenth century-style English permeating these visions does become tiresome, with both seer and entities constantly employing its forms, and verily, there doth be a multitude of thous all up in this domicile. This reaches its sublimely ridiculous zenith in the vision of the third pylon where an angel sends your mind reeling by asking the tortuous “knowest thou not that thou art verily the word itself.” Um, sure, whatever you say, guy. This is something which highlights another tendency here, where these astral entities often ask rhetorical questions and unanswered hypophora, as if they themselves are not sure about their own esoteric soup, and are constantly looking for affirmation; yet never pause long enough for an answer. “Hath not the Fire of our Father licked up the offerings upon the stone?” Um, yes, I guess so. “Who hath decreed that the waters should be wormwood to poison the bowels of the sea?” Don’t look at me, it was like that when I got here. “Hath not the head of the Bull been taken to appease the thirst of the Lady of the Sea?” Um *looks sideways*, yeah, absolutely it has. “Hath not the 81 been expanded to the Hawk-headed Lord of Strength and Silence?” Hang on, *checks notes* oh yes, that was mentioned at the last stakeholder’s meeting by Tina from Sales.

Visions of the Pylons page with footnotes and tarot image

As a record of a very particular kind of magickal journey and its attendant cosmology, Visions of the Pylons, irrespective of the snark, makes for an interesting read. Those expecting a straightforward Egyptian experience reflecting the journey through the underworld as recorded in the original Book of Gates will be disappointed, as that iconography and narrative is largely absent. There’s no solar barque, no explicit sequences of the traveller assuming the various neter god forms, and no direct encounters with the guardian goddesses of each hour.

Visions of the Pylons page with Hermanubis image

Visions of the Pylons has been released as a hardback bound in blue cloth with the sigil of the A.:.A.:. debossed on the cover. This is wrapped in a dust jacket with cover art by Nancy Wasserman, featuring a depiction of the solar barque in the underworld, based on a scene from the Book of Gates in the tomb of Ramses I, with the sun god standing at the centre of the boat, bull-headed like Khnum, and the serpent Apep in the waters below.

Book design and layout is by James Wasserman’s Studio 31 with body set in a standard roman serif face but with all dialogue rendered in a different, ever-so-slightly condensed, humanist serif. Other than sigils and the like, Visions of the Pylons is peppered with images, used to illustrate the interpretation of vision elements, including a selection of atu from the Thoth deck, and various photos or drawings of god forms. These vary in quality from perfect line drawings of the Egyptian gods, to rather less satisfying illustrations or photographs whose lo-res origins are betrayed by artefacts and jagged or blurry lines. There are also a series of glossy colour plates showing the relationship between the various pylons and the sephiroth, as well as a black and white plate opening the book with a depiction of Gunther as The Magician, created in pen and ink by Australian artist Robert Buratti (secretly commissioned by Giuseppe Zappia).

Published by Ibis Press

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The Seven Faces of Darkness: Practical Typhonian Magic – Don Webb

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Categories: classical, egyptian, magick, typhonian, Tags:

The Seven Faces of Darkness: Practical Typhonian Magic coverAs a sequel to the December review of Set by Judith Page and Don Webb, we get nostalgic with a look back at the first book from Webb to make it into the nascent Scriptus Recensera library. Published in 1996, the year that Webb would become High Priest of the Temple of Set, The Seven Faces of Darkness identifies itself on the title page as the first volume of the proceedings of the Order of Setne Khamuast, a Temple of Set order that Webb was then the grandmaster of. There doesn’t seem to have been any subsequent volumes to these proceedings, but what is presented here speaks to the order’s raison d’être of combining scholarship with magical practice. The blurb on the back of the book suggests a similar motivation, mentioning Webb’s hope that it will be “a partial antidote to the fuzzy thinking of the occult world,” – wonder how that turned out.

The other intention of The Seven Faces of Darkness, mentioned on the back cover of the book, is to reclaim the wisdom of Late Antiquity, and that is very much what we get here with a focus on authentic examples of Typhonian sorcery, principally from the Greek Magical Papyri. Before getting to those examples, though, Webb begins with a personally-voiced introduction and then provides a broad overview of the source material, focusing, by way of an early example, on three representative rituals: two from papyri (one in Greek and the other in both Greek and Demotic) and one from a curse tablet found in a well in the Athenian Agora. For each of these, Webb highlights how they relate to Set, in particular his syncretisation with the Greek figure of Typhon, a natural figure to appeal to when performing maleficia.

In the third chapter, Webb does a slight jump back by regrouping and focussing on Set; almost introducing him anew despite referring to him multiple times in the previous chapters. He gives a brief history of Set, beginning with what traces there are in the predynastic period and culminating with more recent events deemed significant, like the founding of the Church of Satan, Michael Aquino’s reception of The Book of Coming Forth By Night in 1975, and a Temple of Set heb-sed festival, under the guidance of the Order of Setne Khamuast, in Las Vegas in 1995. Webb then discusses attributes and symbols of Set, and considers his role in three locations: in the Duat, on earth, and in the sky; a fairly standard tripartite cosmological division.

Seven Faces of Darkness page spread

The largest section of The Seven Faces of Darkness contains a selection of spells from the Greek Magical Papyri and a few other sources, which are presented, one assumes, verbatim, usually with a note from Webb at the end. These spells, for the most part, cover the kind of things you come across in any compendium of folk magic, with formulae for creating sexual attraction, breaking up relationships, and restraining enemies. While some of these are only tangentially related to Set, others, though, have a particularly interesting Setian emphasis, such as the Spell for Obtaining Luck from Set from PGM IV 154-285. Here, the practitioners both summons and identifies themselves with Set, describing all of Set-Typhon’s activities as their own. In so doing, it provides a rich Setian liturgy, with Set addressed in all manner of evocative terms.

At just over 100 pages, The Seven Faces of Darkness should feel like a brief volume, but it’s surprisingly detailed. There’s the discussion of Set providing a good cosmological base, another chapter dealing more with modern Setian magickal theory and a guide to ritual, and then the exploration of the various spells from the PGM, which gives examples of genuine Typhonian sorcery and provides a toolkit of forms, tools and techniques drawn from Hermeticism and its Egyptian syncretism that can be adapted for personal use. As such, The Seven Faces of Darkness feels a little bit more essential as a guide to both Set and his magick than the recently reviewed Set: The Outsider. The exploration of Set from a mythological perspective while detailed is not that extensive, but it provides enough for anyone not familiar with him as a neter to get a sense of his complexity. Similarly, Webb’s discussion of ritual hits a lot of useful beats when it comes to setting up a system of magical praxis, including a listing of tool, several ways to approach working with Set, and a schema of festivals to celebrate throughout the year. This worth is somewhat hidden by the formatting, which is very utilitarian, so speaking of which…

Seven Faces of Darkness page spread

The Seven Faces of Darkness is formatted in Rûna Raven’s style of the times, which appears to have involved a sole rudimentary word processor. This means everything is messy and cramped with very little room to breathe. Ugly, archaic underlining is used for emphasis and everything (paragraphs, first paragraphs, subtitles, block quotes) have a first line indent. It’s those now atypical underlines that are the worst though, cutting thickly underneath bits of text, but coming across, such is the brutality of their placement, as if they are strikethroughs correcting copy.

The cover design by Timothy Weinmeister (who also contributes some select internal illustrations) features a striking image of Set against a pyramid and temple peppered horizon. The reproduction, though, is soft and regrettably, it’s clear that a high resolution version of the artwork wasn’t used.

Published by Rûna Raven Press.

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Set: The Outsider – Compiled by Judith Page & Don Webb

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Categories: egyptian, satanism, typhonian

Set: The Outsider coverSet and the contemporary temple that bears his name have always had a certain… something. From the outside, the Temple of Set seems to offer a considerably more interesting take on Satanism than the church from which it descended, returning enchantment to the sphere drained of glamour by LaVey’s materialism, carny aesthetics and entry-level libertinism. With that said, though, despite its birth in 1975, there has been disproportionately little publically produced in writing about the temple or their object of devotion in particular, with a few slim volumes from Don Webb being the only relevant contributions on the Scriptus Recensera shelves. Set: The Outsider may change that, with Webb describing it in the introduction as his religious text, standing in contrast to his previous books of straightforward self-empowerment.

Set: The Outsider is divided into sections, rather than chapters (if one considers chapters to be segments in an ongoing, sequential narrative), and most of these are credited to either Judith Page, Don Webb, or both of them. There are also one-off contributions from Magister Xeperi.Tsh.Tsh, from former Temple of Set High Priestess Patricia Hardy, and returning from the grave with his 36 page lecture The Devil of Darkness in the Light of Evolution, that old, slightly disreputable, proto-antivaxer and favourite of Kenneth Grant, Gerald Massey. These sections are grouped into three broader parts that allow one to consider Set through archaeological, philosophical and practical lenses; though not necessarily everything fits into these unofficial categories.

What becomes clear early on is that the contributions here are often self-contained little pockets, feeling in some cases as if they are articles that have been written for other publications and just recompiled for this publication. There’s nothing in the book that directly suggests this, but it explains the lack of an overall sequential narrative, why subjects seem to leap from one to the other, and why others seem piecemeal, unresolved or inconsistent in quality. This is particularly noticeable in the first section where, between various discussions of Set in terms of iconography and archaeology, attention suddenly turns to the 13th Dynasty pharaoh Hor Awibre, with a multiple page profile in which Set is not mentioned at all. Confusingly, this section is subtitled Setian Kings of the Second Intermediate Period, but only Hor is considered, rather than more obviously Set-affiliated pharaohs from that period such as Apepi, Seti I and Setnakht. While an anthology of previously printed work has some value from an archival perspective, when it’s not presented as such, a book like this can feel unsatisfying, when a little editing and more careful ordering of information could have made it more cohesive, and in so doing, more definitive.

Judith Page: Aeon of Set

The contributions in the first part of Set: The Outsider discuss him in terms of parallels, such as the often synonymous god of oases Ash; his relationship with other gods like Horus; and through the iconography associated with him, including scorpions, griffins and of the course the ambiguous sha or Set-animal. Later, Magister Xeperi.Tsh.Tsh returns to this idea of Set as a griffin in far greater depth in an essay that was written as part of their initiation into the Temple of Set’s Order of Setne Khamuast. At thirty pages, Conversation with a Griffin stands in sharp contrast to some of the more fleeting contributions in this book, having all the things many of them lack: context, details, examples, structure and most importantly, references.

Disappointingly, there’s not a lot of consistent citing of references within Set: The Outsider, with a general bibliography included in the back, but no specific listing of references, and very little in-text citations. This is particularly evident in the initial sections of the book where things are presented as indisputable fact and I’m just not sure that’s always the case. For example, in Set: Star~Child of Nut, Page talks of Set being identified with the star Sirius, an idea that seems to be solely the creation of Kenneth Grant (and not even one that has some hazy source in Massey’s otherwise well-thumbed works). This idea flies in the face of the established Egyptian identity of Sirius as the goddess Sopdet (perhaps more familiar by her Hellenised name of Sothis), and finding any evidence to the contrary is quite difficult. Given that this section is clearly drawn from Grant’s Cults of the Shadows, right down to some of the same points being made (including the glib but spurious idea that ‘in the olden days,’ the male role in reproduction wasn’t understood), a caveat saying “Grant claimed…” would have been a face-saving proviso that still allowed one to repeat the obviously appealing theory. While Grant is mentioned at the start of this section, there’s nothing to indicate that what follows is largely his highly unconventional take on Egyptology, rather than common and accepted knowledge.

The other side of Set: The Outsider is a philosophical or theoretical one, and such contributions come predominantly from Webb, who writes very much in the voice of his Uncle Setnakh guise, all very informal, with jokey asides as one would expect given the avuncular designation. There’s a consideration of the word Xeper, while both Webb and Page provide personal histories, outlining how they came to Set, who he is, and lessons learned from working with him.

Set page spread

The third and final part of Set: The Outsider is clearest in its intent, with a solid 140 pages focusing on the practical application of what has gone before it. This takes the form of instructions on Setian magical work from Webb, and some basic ritual techniques, while Page presents several guided pathworkings in which the traveller visits various temples for Nuit, Set and Ptah. Page then concludes this part, and effectively the book, with a series of invocations and their instructions, addressed to Nuit, Set and Ptah, as well as Horus and Set together.

Page provides both the cover design and layout for Set: The Outsider in a confident and competent style that is not without some issues. Body copy is set in Book Antiqua at 11.5 point, but could easily have dropped down a point, let alone that extra .5. As a result, the words fair jump off the page, almost in a shouting manner, and text rivers easily form any time a paragraph shrinks in width when text wraps around images. It’s also why the book reads a lot faster than one would expect of something with a page count of over 300, and a lot of trees could have been saved with a more sensible point size. Another issue with type are the headers, which are set within a black strip with a single uniform height, but here, in order to allow for any long chapter titles, the text has been artificially condensed, stretched vertically rather than using a true condensed face. The result is something that looks like a relic from the wild frontier of desktop publishing, when affordable PCs and ubiquitous software gave everyone the tools, if not the rules, of publishing. But, on the other hand, nowhere in the book is the typeface Papyrus used, nor does a background employ the writing material from which it takes its name, so that immediately gets Page some bonus points.

In the end, Set: The Outsider has promise and it’s easy to see how a better book could have emerged with a little more editing and structure. All the content is there and it could so easily have been massaged into a more conventional structure, removing redundancies and better incorporating some of the more wide-ranging threads, to create an anthropologically and mythologically sound first half (overflowing with cited references, naturally), followed by a thorough practical second half.

Published by Æon of Set Publishing


Review Soundtrack: Tapio Kotkavuori – Terra Hyperborea  (Kotkavuori was a long time member of the Temple of Set, though there isn’t much obviously Setian in theme on this album.

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Tankhem: Seth & Egyptian Magick – Mogg Morgan

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Categories: egyptian, magick, thelema, typhonian, Tags:

Tankhem coverMogg Morgan’s Tankhem is subtitled Seth & Egyptian Magick, and this, and the promotional blurb, gives the prospective reader the impression that they will be getting an exploration of Set, informed by the life of the Nineteenth dynasty pharaoh Seti I; and the use of Seti’s temple complex at Abydos as an astral temple in magick. Morgan begins with a prolegomena to Egyptian magick that sets forth the case for Set(h) as a much neglected but important figure in Egyptian mythology. This is followed by a Kenneth Grant-inspired consideration of the role of Set in Thelema, embracing the slightly darker side of Crowley that sees Aiwass as Set/Shaitan. After this, though, things begin to lose focus and each subsequent chapter seems to be a separate essay unrelated to the last, and sometimes with little connection to the titular subject of the book.

Chapter 3 is a consideration of the temple of Seti I at Abydos, which Morgan believes is crucial to an understanding of Set. This is an interesting premise, but instead of writing about it himself (or giving any evidence that he’s actually been there), Morgan ends up quoting extensively (by which I mean page after page) from the writings of Omn Sety. Known to her parents as Dorothy Louise Eady, Omn Sety was a London-born Egyptologist who also believed that in a past life she had been a priestess in Ancient Egypt called Bentreshyt. As interesting as Omn Sety and her two lives are, it seems odd to quote so extensively from her, especially when any good writer should know how to paraphrase.

While Omn Sety’s chapter (and let’s be fair, most of it is by her) is on topic, Chapter 4’s discussion of sex magick comes out of left field and, if I’m reading the endnotes correctly, is indeed a previously published article. Following that, Chapter 5 turns, quite unexpectedly, to an exploration of the life and magickal system of William Butler Yeats. This is a rather interesting chapter and one comes away feeling that Yeat’s contribution to occultism has been sadly underrepresented, but it certainly seems to have been written for something else, with very little relevance to Seth & Egyptian Magick. While chapter 6 moves back on topic with a consideration of Ursa Major in Egyptian stellar mythology, the way in which themes previously discussed are introduced anew makes you wonder if yet again, this is a previously written piece that has been slotted in.

Morgan has an informal conversational style of writing which could be charming if he stayed focused. But the casual tone gets particularly infuriating in Chapter 2, Setinism, where he gives an overview of the various contemporary strands of Satanism, particularly La Vey’s approach. Sounding like a conversation on an internet forum or email list, this chapter is littered with “it seems to be,” “from what I’m told,” “it is said” and “apparently,” with the most egregious example coming when he says “as far as I can remember – the Satanic Bible works with lots of god forms from the medieval grimoire tradition.” Either it does or it doesn’t; sure, we may not be expecting APA referencing here, but was there really no time to dig out a copy and check?

The layout and design of Tankhem can only be described as appalling. The cover image is pixelated and adorned unsympathetically with de rigueur Egyptian-font-choice Papyrus in all its un-kerned glory. Inside, Papyrus is used extensively for subheadings and the running header (but with a faux bold applied so that the trademark organic distressing of the font disappears anyway), while the endnotes of each chapter are rendered in the same none-too-small serif font used for the body text. Faring even worse are the pages and pages of extracts from Omn Sety, which are jarringly presented in a huge 14 point san serif font which leads to a meagre 27 lines a page.

Like any guilt-tripping parent, I’m not angry, just disappointed. The prospect of a book considering Set, the temple at Abydos and Egyptian magick in general held so much promise. But it is let down by the lack of focus, cruelly enabled by the bad formatting.

Published by Mandrake of Oxford. ISBN 1869928-865.

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