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The Devil’s Dozen: Thirteen Craft Rites of The Old One – Gemma Gary

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Categories: folk, luciferian, sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

Devil's Dozen coverThis beautifully presented and compact little book brings together, as the title suggests, thirteen rites for the Old One. And, as also indicated by this title, the cover image and the abundance of horns throughout the book, this Old One is most unashamedly the Devil of folklore, viewed through the lens of Traditional Witchcraft. Distinct from the church’s concept of Satan, this Devil still presides over evil, but these are the perceived evils of personal freedom, indulgence and ecstasy. He is, as Gemma Gary explains in her introduction, the bearer of forbidden gifts, the opener of the Way Betwixt, and the old spirit of the land.

Gary is at pains to point out that these rituals make no claim to any great antiquity or hereditary descent, but rather draw on extant themes that are well documented in the folk record. There is, naturally, a focus on matters Cornish, with several dealing with the Bucca, and these rites act as a concise adjunct to much of the material found in Gary’s more explicative Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways. This book is not without its own explications, though, and each ritual is preceded by a brief explanation providing its context and attendant folklore. Gary defines these thirteen as rites of vision, dedication, initiation, consecration, empowerment, protection, illumination, union, transformation, devotion and sacred compact.

It is a sacred compact to the Devil as the Man in Black or Dark Man that acts as the first rite in this collection, establishing a relationship and setting the scene for that which is to come later. This is a simple procedure, effectively an elaborated statement of intent that is preceded by a little ritual structure (thrice utterance of the Lord’s Prayer backwards in a remote location), and followed by a period of reflection during which the Man in Black may manifest in some manner. This compact is indicative of Gary’s ritual style: fairly succinct with some nicely written liturgy. There’s not much in the way of obscure ingredients, elaborate correspondences, complicated formula or extended periods of time, with the rites having more of a feel of hedgewitch pragmatism. The only temporal imperatives are fairly standard things like midnight and during a full moon, while the ingredients and tools list tends to speak to things that anyone embracing the aesthetics of Traditional Witchcraft will end up acquiring (if only too look cool in their altar photos on Facebook): iron nails, an iron knife, a scourge, horned skulls, dragon’s blood incense and a stang. Circles abound in these rituals, as does the use of mill treading as a way to generate power and there is a general feeling of getting out amongst it, with hands dirty from soil and the soot of flaming torches.

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It is the written word in which Gary excels, with her incantations having an archaic quality that doesn’t wrap itself up in arcane complexity (or misapplication), and instead flows with a degree of authenticity. This is aided by the occasional use of rhymed couplets and alternate rhymes, which gives some of the words a folky familiarity, as if they’ve been overheard in playgrounds for centuries; obviously those would be rather spooky playgrounds.

At 187 x 114mm, The Devil’s Dozen is a small volume that has a diary-like quality to it, fitting comfortably in a single hand or handbag for easy transportation to ritual locales. Its slight width does lead to rather snug gutters that do require the book to be splayed wide in order to catch everything and having the, one supposes unintentional, side effect of a sense of bibliographic intimacy as one spreads and peers in.

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As with most if not all of Gary’s books, The Devil’s Dozen is illustrated by the author herself in her trademark stippled style of pen and ink. These are usually found as full-page preludes to the various rites, while a veritable study of horned skulls is dotted throughout the work as fillers. In addition to these in-body illustrations, there is a selection of black and white plates by Jane Cox, providing a photographic record of some of the procedures contained herein, along with various apposite images of witchcraft-related accoutrements.

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The Devil’s Dozen is published in four editions, each consisting of 160 pages, along with eight black and white photo plates. In addition to a regular paperback version, there is a hardback incarnation which attains a pretty nice level of quality for what is the affordable standard edition with its 80gsm cream paper stock, black case binding, copper foil blocking on the front image and the spine, hunter green endpapers, and green and black head and tail bands. There are two special editions, the 300 hand-numbered Special Edition bound in dark, grained green recycled leather fibres, with the cover and spine elements in blocked in gold foil, green end papers and green and black head and tail bands. The even more luxurious Special Fine Edition is suitably limited to 13 sold out hand-numbered copies in full black goat leather binding with a gold border and a blind embossed thicket of branches on the bevelled front board, inset with a high quality glass goat’s eye cabochon. This is further housed in a full goat leather solander box, blocked in gold and lined.

Published by Troy Books.

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Craft of the Untamed: An Inspired Vision of Traditional Witchcraft – Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold

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Categories: faery, folk, sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

craftoftheuntamedThere is no shortage of books about Traditional Witchcraft upon the shelves in the Scriptus Recensera library, filled as it is with worthy contributions from Michael Howard, Gemma Gary, Shani Oates, Andrew Chumbley, Nigel Jackson and others. And that’s not to mention the works of the pretenders and imitators that haven’t been granted access to these hallowed halls. The question that arises, then, is whether Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold is able to bring anything new to the table. Frisvold certainly seems to think so, cutting my musings off at the pass and making his case early on for one major point of difference: a focus not just on the British and Scandinavian sources for witches, but on the parallels that are to be found in Italy and even further afield in South American expressions of magic, especially those connected with African diasporic religions. Thus, a consideration of the crossroad in witchcraft inevitably makes a brief detour into the comparable symbolism in Yoruba belief and Vodou, facilitating a full circle of motifs when ‘the kingdom’ from the Cult of Exu finds an analogue in the Witches’ Sabbath.

Frisvold makes another distinction at the outset, noting that similar books are often highly eclectic in their approach, uncritically embracing myths and legends, with an attendant use of etymology and epistemology. However, there is often little to differentiate what is presented in this book with the style of, say, Michael Howard, Nigel Jackson and Shani Oates, three authors who, to my mind, have often written with an encyclopaedic, info-dump approach that embraces folklore, legend, myth and etymology in a rather broad manner. Frisvold’s sources are a little different from those of Howard, Jackson and Oates, though there are certainly some common ones; and titles from Cappall Bann do make a significant contribution to the bibliography. Instead, Frisvold draws heavily on material from Hermeticism and the Western Tradition, with an obvious and fairly frequently fondled touchstone being found in Cornelius Agrippa.

There is a utilitarian approach to the writing here with a conversational tone that precludes much in the way of scene setting or background exposition when information is presented. Frisvold obviously knows his stuff (except perhaps for the bit about Robert Johnson dying at the crossroads, wahhh?), so there’s no feeling of him skimping on the details out of ignorance, and while you don’t need to over explain things to an occult audience (where a certain familiarity with the material is expected), it still feels like more context could be provided before the nuggets of knowledge are dropped. The brevity of Frisvold’s writing is also evident in a lack of transitional phrases tying paragraphs together, with ideas often being abruptly introduced as if they have no immediate relation, to the subjects that have gone before. This leads to a jarring effect when blocks of information appear, if only briefly, as if they are non sequiturs, barren of any relation to the wider discussion.

This slight lack of focus bleeds into the chapters, which, although given clear titles and themes, don’t necessarily reflect an obvious flow throughout the book; suggesting, although I have no evidence to corroborate it, that they started as individual essays. These chapters cover off various areas of witchcraft, with the first one being the aforementioned consideration of the symbolism of the crossroads. Chapter two, Solomonic Magic, is a wide-ranging slightly unfocused discussion that covers more than what its title would suggest, lurching from grimoire magic, to folk concepts of the Devil, to liminal Roman and Etruscan deities and ultimately to inverted crosses. The focus is tightened a little more in a discussion of blood and ancestry in systems of witchcraft and, inevitably, beyond. Arguably the most successful chapter is one in which the gaze lingers on a central theme for longer with a consideration of the Witches’ Sabbath and the traditions surrounding the Mount of Venus. I am rather partial to the emphasis Frisvold gives to Hela, focusing on Her role as an initiatory goddess of witchcraft and the underworld, addressing Her as “Ninefold Mother, Hel, Herodias, Holda. Queen of Elphame, Queen of Venus’ mount.”

Many of the chapters conclude with a practical activity that put into action what has just been discussed. Thus, a chapter that could be broadly said to be concerned with sympathetic magick concludes with a series of brief malefic spells, such as a poppet charm for harm and healing, and a procedure for creating a mojo bag for protection. In the chapter on the Witches’ Sabbath, instructions are given for a rite of transvection using flying ointments, while the consideration of blood ties is concluded with a procedure for feeding the ancestors

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Each chapter in Craft of the Untamed is prefaced with a black and white illustration by Audrey Melo, who also provides the painting that features on the cover. The reproduction of these internal illustration varies widely in quality, with everything from acceptable to quite pixelated, to goodness me, they’ve put pixels in their pixels so they can pixel when they pixel. These images are also wildly inconsistent in style, with Melo having no discernible look of her own and instead riffing on the aesthetics of various familiar esoteric artists. There’s a few atavistic Austin Osman Spare motifs, a fairly convincing Aubrey Beardsley pastiche, and a couple of images that are an obvious tribute to the unknown artists of a thousand wishful metal album covers scrawled across a thousand school exercise books. One image takes Brian Froud as its inspiration and by inspiration I mean that at its centre is one of his rather distinctive characters, economically traced, without credit.

Craft of the Untamed is better formatted than many Mandrake of Oxford titles, with none of the cramped styling that is usually found amongst their books. In place of it, though, and proving I’m never satisfied, is an overly generous leading that almost approaches double line spacing in depth and which, although allowing things to breathe, does result in just 30 lines of text on a page. This count is reduced even more when the style is applied to what ends up being rather spaced out invokations that can’t help but be read in a stilted, broken tone worthy of William Shatner. There’s an unfortunately typical lack of attention to detail in the formatting and proofing: chapter headings can’t decide if they’re meant to be bolded or not, the first page of each chapter flaunts convention and includes the header with the book’s author and title in it (as do all other pages, regardless of the content), and there’s a reckless disregard for punctuation, with a surfeit of missing, redundant or misplaced commas.

With its overgenerous leading, Craft of the Untamed makes for what feels like a slimmer volume than its tally of 180 pages would suggest. When this is twinned with Frisvold’s brisk style of writing, the reader can find themselves skipping quickly through the pages. As an overview of some of witchcraft’s themes, Craft of the Untamed meets its brief, and the point of difference, largely unpromised at the start, is a tendency to relate these to Western Occultism and Hermeticism, with Frisvold’s affiliation as a Traditionalist occasionally coming through via this approach.

Published by Mandrake of Oxford

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Hands of Apostasy – Edited by Michael Howard and Daniel A. Schulke

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Categories: folk, luciferian, sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

Apostasy_lgIn my mind, I always find this book from Three Hands Press occupying the same mental space as Serpent Songs from Scarlet Imprint. 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.

With eighteen authors contributing to this collection, there’s a wealth of viewpoints and writing styles, with both sides of the Atlantic getting some coverage, and styles both academic and anecdotal being featured. By accident or design, North America gets the early focus with Douglas McIlwain talking briefly about his stateside family tradition, while Cory Thomas Hutcheson’s Killing the Moon is a thorough investigation of witchcraft lore from the mid-to-southern Appalachians. The lunacide of the title (and its solar analogue) is an initiatory ritual element found throughout the south, ranging from the Appalachians to the Ozarks. A focus on folk practices is found elsewhere in this volume, with David Rankine considering the influence of witchcraft and natural magic on the grimoire tradition (a reversal of the common narrative of low witchcraft borrowing from high magic), while Gary St. Michael Nottingham covers similar  territory with a survey of conjure-charms from the Welsh Marches. As with Rankine’s essay, Nottingham shows an interaction between the grimoire tradition and folk magic, documenting the source texts from which various charms would have been sourced.

There are several essays that take a more conceptual, rather than practical or documentary, approach, using themes from traditional witchcraft as lenses through which a greater philosophical picture can be explored. Most notable of these is the longest essay here at 45 pages, Martin Duffy’s The Cauldron of Pure Descent, which considers that magical accoutrement most firmly associated with witches, the cauldron. Given the length of his essay, Duffy is able to, if you’ll pardon the obvious, throw many things into the pot, creating a thorough exploration that embraces not just witchcraft but Palo Mayombe, alchemy, and various strands of mythology. In The Man in Black, Gemma Gary considers the devil in witchcraft, although less as the horned master of Sabbaths and more as the enigmatic stranger encountered by witches in times of need and moments of isolation and reflection. Michael Howard’s Waking the Dead almost rivals Duffy’s length with its investigation of necromancy which begins somewhat encyclopaedically, rather than discursively, before finding its feet towards the end when Howard assimilates the assiduously assembled information into a sabbatic craft context.

Andrew Chumbley does rather well contribution-wise for someone who passed on in 2004, providing two pieces, The Magic of History: Some Considerations and Origins and Rationales of Modern Witch Cults. As their titles suggest, both are broad in their concerns, rather than specific, briefly surveying the history of modern witchcraft and the intersection with Chumbley’s own sabbatic craft brand of traditional witchcraft. Also participating from beyond this mortal veil is Cecil Williamson, founder of the Museum of Witchcraft, whose rather short article looks at two little known magical techniques, moon-raking and the ritual of the shroud. This slight essay previously appeared in The Cauldron, and is prefaced with a preamble by that magazine’s editor, Michael Howard, which is only one page shorter than Williamson’s actual words.

As one would expect, the sabbatic craft makes a significant contribution to this volume, with Chumbley’s two pieces being joined by The Blasphemy of Things Unseen by Daniel Schulke. Schulke writes in his usual florid style, embellishing his words with archaic flourishes in a meditation on the role of night, darkness, secrecy and the void in witchcraft and specifically the sabbatic cultus. But the most interesting exploration of Chumbley’s oeuvre comes from Jimmy Elwing with Where the Three Roads Meet. Subtitled Sabbatic Witchcraft and Oneiric Praxis in the Writings of Andrew Chumbley, this is an admirably sanguine and removed biography of Chumbley, providing a meticulous analysis of the themes in his writing; and one of the highlights of this compendium.

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Elsewhere, Radomir Ristic’s Unchain the Devil considers Serbian witchcraft and seems to act as a teaser for their full book Witchcraft and Sorcery of the Balkans now available from Three Hands Press. Levannah Morgan’s Mirror, Moon and Tides is the only purely experiential piece here, clearly and authoritatively explaining their personally grounded techniques of mirror magic with little need to recourse to the authority of either tradition or the academy.

There is a certain rigour to most of the material here, whether it’s deference to academia with a thorough embracing of citing and referencing, or less thoroughly, an explicit identification of experiential knowledge or tradition. The same cannot be said for the rather anomalous contribution from Raven Grimassi, who plays to type and writes with the broad and speculative strokes one would expect of a Llewellyn author. His piece, Pharmakeute, is typical of Llewellyn woolly thinking, full of unreferenced references to unspecified ancient times and unspecified ancient ancestors; a precedent set in the first sentence which boldly and broadly states “ancient writings depict the witch as living among the herb-clad hills” – which writings, which witch, which herb-clad hills? In an amateur attempt at anthropological psychology, Grimassi speculates that a magical worldview may have been influenced by the ancestral experiences of living in forests – these ancestors and their wooded location remain unidentified, adrift in some imagined olden days, distant from all the other unspecified ancients who can’t have had a magical worldview because they lived on hills, plains, mountains, in caves, by river and lakeside and, I don’t know, maybe anywhere that wasn’t a potentially lethal forest. While discussing mandrakes, Grimassi wonders if the idea that mandrake had to be harvested using a dog pulling on the plant (lest the harvester be killed in the process) was created by witches in order to discourage laypeople from effectively raiding their stash. Yeah, cool story bro, except that the technique has a significant pedigree dating back to at least the first century CE where the Romano-Jewish historian Josephus made the first written mention of a presumably well extant belief. I guess some ancient witch from the olden days must have been playing a long game and dropped the skinny to Titus Flavius so he could spread the word on their behalf.

With its diverse collection of writers and subject matter, there’s something in Hands of Apostasy for everyone; well, everyone interested in traditional witchcraft that is – if you’re after something on fly fishing this may be less useful. The highlights are definitely Martin Duffy’s exhaustive consideration of the cauldron and Jimmy Elwing’s analysis of Andrew Chumbley. The low lights go without saying.

Hands of Apostasy comes in standard hardcover edition of 1000 copies, in full pewter book cloth, with a glossy fully colour dust jacket. The internal pages are made of a stark, not entirely attractive white stock and the text is formatted in a capable, functional style. Almost all of the nineteen articles are prefaced with illustrations by Finnish engraver Timo Ketola, whose finely rendered volumetric style provides the book with a cohesive, slightly timeless style that is, given his background, just a tiny bit evocative of metal aesthetics. A limited special edition of 63 copies in quarter goat with corners, hand marbled endpaper, and slipcase, is now, of course, sold out.

Published by Three Hands Press.

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The Leaper Between – Andrew D. Chumbley

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Categories: folk, sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

leaper_coverSubtitled with the suitably archaic and verbose legend “An Historical Study of the Toad-Bone Amulet; its Forms, Functions and Praxis in Popular Magic,” this small volume is an unabridged version of a study by Andrew Chumbley that first appeared in Michael Howard’s The Cauldron magazine in 2001 and has otherwise been long available online. As the subtitle indicates, this study looks at a ritual procedure in which a toad was flensed within an ant nest and then its bones set to float in a stream. When one of the bones separated itself from its companions and floated upstream, this could be caught and then used variously to control animals or as a love charm. The Leaper Between acts as something of a companion to One – The Grimoire of the Golden Toad, Chumbley’s harder to find and considerably more poetic consideration of the same theme. While that grimoire presents poetry, ritual texts and Chumbley’s personal experiences with the toad ritual, this book has a more purely historical grounding, providing an exhaustive survey of its use down through the centuries.

The toad ritual is first reported by the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder in his encyclopaedic Naturalis Historia, although it presumably represents a folk practice that had been extant for some time. Chumbley documents the spread of this ritual within magickal literature, dependant first on Pliny’s pivotal and well regarded work, and then, in turn, influenced by its appearance in the much later but equally pivotal Books of Occult Philosophy by the German occultist Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. As with the account in Pliny’s work, the presence of the toad ritual in the books of Agrippa may have compounded an existing and extant folk practice, rather than introducing it whole cloth to local workers of magick.

In chapter three, Chumbley notes a marked change in the use of the toad ritual some time during the late 18th or early 19th century, where the procedure was increasingly used specifically as a method of magickal initiation. This change is particularly seen in East Anglian cunning-craft, but as Chumbley documents, is found in other accounts of solitary initiation into witchcraft.  In this iteration of the ritual, the finding of the toadbone can cause the Devil to appear, in some cases competing for possession of the charm, and in the process, he confers on the potential witch their powers. The use of the ritual appears to have given rise to a sub-categorisation within the roles of witchcraft, with practitioners being known as Toad Witches or Toad Men. Chumbley concludes with a consideration of the intersection between the toad ritual and equine themed secret societies such as the Horseman’s Word.

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The Leaper Between has been released as a trade paperback version and in two sold out hardcover editions: deluxe hardcover in full Japanese bookcloth with a gilt toad device and art paper endsheets, limited to 231 copies, and the special hardcover in full black goat with gilt toad device and deluxe hand marbled endpapers, limited to 77 copies. In its trade paperback form, The Leaper Between works out as perhaps the cheapest book ever published by Three Hands Press, although even then it’s a little expensive given the slight nature of the content and its mere 66 chapbook size pages. It’s still lovely to have the contents in the formal settings of a proper book, instead of old copies of The Cauldron or a PDF set in Times New Roman. Chumbley’s writing is, of course, very able and devoid of the flowery and esoteric verbiage found in his more mystically-orientated writing.

Published by Three Hands Press.

 

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The Cauldron, No 149 August 2013

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Categories: folk, magick, paganism, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

The Cauldron Issue 149Reading the latest issue of Michael Howard’s magazine The Cauldron is a peculiar personal experience. The last time I read The Cauldron was 1996 and it seems that not a lot has changed. While fancy occult journals like Abraxas and Clavis have emerged in recent times with all their art papers and full colour pages, things have stayed humble at The Cauldron: simply reproduced and stapled, with exactly the same full-page, single-column formatting and font as it was almost twenty years ago. And that’s not such a bad thing. While the glitz and glamour of some occult journals is nice, there’s always the risk of all the polish masking the quality, or lack thereof, of the content. But in the case of The Cauldron, content is queen. There are no full page illustrations, no occult poetry, and no torturous attempts at esoteric obscuration.

Back in 1996, The Cauldron felt rather informed by Robert Cochrane’s Clan of Tubal Cain. It was where I first encountered the writings of Evan John Jones, then magister of the Clan, and read about things like the Rose Beyond the Grave, which was very much analogous to my own practice at the time. In 2013, though, the underlying theme seems to be directed by another strain of traditional witchcraft, that of the Cultus Sabbati; although with a sample pool of one issue, that may be a hasty conclusion. Artwork by Daniel Schulke graces the cover and he also provides the lead article, Anatomies of Shadow, a consideration of atavism within magick in general and traditional witchcraft specifically.

There are, though, a wide range of contributors to The Cauldron, with a variety of topics discussed in several different styles. Highlights include Greg Hill’s consideration of Robin Hood as a devotee of the Virgin Mary in the earliest iterations of the legend (which he argues was a pagan precedent given a Christian gloss) while a wonderfully academic approach is taken by Bob Trubshaw in a piece whose subtitle predicts just how rigorous it is going to be: The Metaphysical Relocation of the Self in Ritual Narrative. In contrast, some ever so slightly entry level articles are provided by Heidi Martinsson and Frances Billinghurst who consider Loki and Rhiannon respectively. These are character studies and myth summaries which won’t provide anything new for people already familiar with those deities. Martinsson’s piece has a glaring error describing Skadi kidnapping and binding Loki, when all she did was place the serpent above his face once he was caught by the Aesir.

In Witchcraft in the West Country, William Wallworth contributes a summary of 19th and early 20th century witchcraft culled from local and national newspapers. This is an interesting collection that shows how witchcraft was viewed, one by the general populous, and two, by the judiciary. Most are court reports of prosecutions brought against people, not for acts of witchcraft, but for assaulting alleged witches (often featuring attempts to draw a witch’s blood, which appears to have been a popular cure against bewitchment). Suffice to say, the zealous witch-accuser did not find much sympathy within the rational court. This form of, how you say, witchcraft anthropology is also the approach of Georgi Mishev and Michael Howard, who both address different forms of apotropaic witchcraft. Mishev considers the underlying symbolism of a Balkan ritual for determining the source of a magickal attack, while Howard summarises a series of Berber procedures for warding against the Evil Eye and djinn.

A change of pace is provided by Voices from the West, an on-going series of interviews by Josephine McCarthy and Stuart Littlejohn with various practitioners of the Western magical tradition. In this issue, they talk with geomancer David Cypher, whose position as a non-publishing magickal practitioner is an interesting one.

In addition to full-length articles, The Cauldron has the occasional short pieces, sometimes credited to Howard and other times left uncredited, addressing various current topics, including in this issue a tribute to Patricia Monaghan. There are also several pages of single paragraph reviews of various magickal books, featuring the output of everyone from Scarlet Imprint to Llewellyn.

The Cauldron is available for a four issue subscription and comes thoroughly recommended. UK annual subscription: UK £15.00, Europe €30, USA US$50, Canada Can$50, Australia Aus$50, New Zealand: NZ$60.

www.the-cauldron.org.uk

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Children of Cain – Michael Howard

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

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

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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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The Living World of Faery – R.J. Stewart

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Categories: faery, folk, underworld

livingworldoffaeryAlthough much of Bob Stewart’s work concerns itself with the faery realm, this book sets out to focus specifically on the faeries themselves, and their appearances in traditional lore. It combines explanatory chapters, with explorations of folk songs and rhymes, as well as guided workings, with many based on the folk songs. Some of the workings included in this book have appeared in other Stewart books such as Earth Light and Power within the Land, and indeed contribute to a general feeling that much of the material is recycled, and the words simply rephrased. Stewart is, as ever, somewhat dogmatic in lamenting the state of modern occultism and the stereotypes about faeries, and after a while, this curmudgeonly approach begins to grate. It’s not that he’s necessarily wrong in his views, it’s just that once would be enough without the need for condescension.

The book is most useful for its considerations of the faery content of traditional songs and tales, with the ballad of Young Tam Lin and the song of Thomas the Rhymer being essential items of study. From a Helish perspective, a chapter on the inverted Underworld Tree, which features a pathworking to the hall of the Fairy Queen, makes for interesting and evocative reading, and can be adapted more specifically for Hela. Other visualisations include a diving through a moon pool and an exploration of the four otherworld cities from Irish mythology: Murias, Falias, Gorias and Findias.

As with some of his other works, Stewart incorporates elements of Qabalah into his discussion, prefacing it with an overview of the way in which the faery folk were often associated with the fallen angels of biblical lore. Stewart argues that, like faeries, angels have undergone a shift in representation that turns them from powerful, slightly terrifying, beings into “sugary, ethereal, white robed beings who pull us out of difficulties or encourage us with religious platitudes.” With this and a subsequent discussion of the role of Lucifer in faery lore, Stewart’s presentation evokes echoes of the dual–faith observance that is found in Andrew Chumbley’s Sabbatic Craft.

The second half of The Living World of Faery is made up of what could be called primary sources, which, when originally published in the days before digital archives of public domain works, would have been an invaluable resource. These include a reprint of an interview on faery matters with the mystical artist and writer AE (George William Russell, 1867–1935), and extracts from the Reverend Robert Kirk’s 1691/1692 work The Secret Commonwealth. With its almost anthropological notes of faeries, Kirk’s work clearly informs, or corroborates, the exercises in the first half of the book.

Overall, this is not an essential Stewart book, since so much of it is covered elsewhere, but for the completest, it is worth getting. It is nicely formatted and illustrated throughout.

Published by Mercury Publishing, North Carolina, USA. ISBN 1-892137-09-7

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Realm of the Ring Lords – Laurence Gardner

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Categories: faery, folk, mesopotamian

This is the third part of Laurence Gardner’s holy bloodline trilogy following on from his Bloodline of the Holy Grail and Genesis of the Grail Kings, in which he picked up the torch left by Baigent, Lincoln, and Leigh’s The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, and ran with it. For this instalment, Gardner turns largely to Western European folklore and legend to see how his supposition of an ancient bloodline stretching back to Mesopotamia was carried through by those in the know.

As the title and inside cover suggests, this third volume seems to be an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the Lord of the Rings by emphasising the apparent link between this royal bloodline and the symbol of the ring; going so far as to clumsily call the members of the bloodline Ring Lords though out the book. This attempt at tapping into what was at the time a red hot Tolkien mania obviously dates this book to the start of the millennium, as Gardner’s more recent book titles and cover art now ape the works of Dan Brown in a rather self-consuming Ouroboros-like circle of meta mania; just as his first two book covers were evocative of Baigent, Lincoln, and Leigh.

As it is, the making of mileage out of Tolkien is quickly abandoned early on, following a brief summary of his work, the equivalent of a listing in, let’s date this, the Encarta multimedia encyclopaedia. Despite the book’s claim to reveal the mythological underpinnings of Tolkien’s oeuvre and the One Ring in particular (a rich field, as the Tolkien legendarium section of the Scriptus Recensera library attests), this does not occur and Gardner swiftly moves on to more familiar areas of legend and folklore, never really touching on Tolkien again.

That is indicative of the problems with this book, you can see the seams. Because he has written two books on his main argument of an ancient royal bloodline that stretches back to antiquity (and stretches credulity with its continuity), Gardner does not feel the need to reargue it here; and if the previous two books didn’t necessarily convince you, this doesn’t help. As a result, everything after the first chapter is interesting only in and of itself, but does nothing to convince you of his main argument.

So why is this book of interest? In much the same way that Gardner’s theory rather grandly over-reaches itself with a vision from the dawn of time to the present, this book tends to look at practically everything from legend and folk lore and sees it as relating to these Royal Ring Lords who had nothing better to do than breed down through history, perpetuating their diluted bloodline. In this broad consideration, we find werewolves, Arthurian legend, elves, witches, Robin Hood, vampires, Santa Claus, Lorna Doone, and more, all somehow tied back to the Annunaki of Mesopotamia. You won’t get the most detailed and comprehensive consideration of these topics but with Gardner’s broad brush strokes there is enough considered to fire your own connections and make you want to look deeper elsewhere.

This broadness is the major flaw in Gardner’s whole argument, as he seems to have little regard for how indigenous belief and folklore operates, instead proposing a blanket lux orientalis, in which every single thing anyone ever imagined was somehow a reference to some ancient land no one had ever heard of, let alone been to. Like any theory which seeks to totally explain myth or legend, it ends up doing those forms a disservice. But putting aside the conclusions he reaches and considering the information he presents, the data itself is valid, especially because much of it can be related to indigenous systems of belief.

The book is thoroughly footnoted and referenced, and written in such a way as to convey a sense of scholarship. The real sense though is one of belief, and an immersion in a theory that has resulted in a little too many trees being seen instead of the forest. Nice colour plates though.

Published by Multi MediaQuest International Ltd, England.

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The Underworld Initiation – R.J. Stewart

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Categories: folk, underworld

The Underworld InitiationMore cohesive than his Living World of Faery book, this is something of a classic Stewart work, originally published in 1983 after several years of limited circulation amongst the murky magickal scene of the late seventies and early eighties. The book is divided into three sections, providing the reader with a complete Underworld Initiation, beginning with the theory, followed by instances from traditional verse, and ending with practical exercises. In many ways, it follows the standard Stewart approach, but is far more coherent; no doubt as a result of the constant re-editing it has undergone over the years. As with all of Stewart’s work, there’s a high level of pedantry, which begins in the opening pages where he feels it necessary to provide a disclaimer that the Underworld Initiation is “not connected to diabolism, spiritualism, and ‘black magic’.”  This attitude continues with a rather curmudgeonly beating of various straw men, such as every strain of western occultism that isn’t his own (and therefore isn’t the authentic western tradition), modern living, and psychology. His issues with psychology are valid, making the point that it is useless to over-think magickal imagery and interpret it using arbitrary psychological methodology, when it is better to accept entities and deities as simply being, rather than as symbols of, for example, how you feel about your mother. It is unfortunate, though, that his tone and his labouring of points tends to undercut the importance of the message.

The theory section of the book provides a good grounding in the ideas of the underworld, considering how one journeys into it, meeting with underworld guardians and guides, and the relationship between the underworld and ancestors. Unfortunately, because so much of this work tends to fall back on a traditional system, there is very little in the way of concrete references to anything other than tradition itself. For example, no real authoritative specifics are given of underworld myths, and there is no option other than to take Stewart’s word as fact. Perhaps this explains his apparent need to use such an authoritative tone. It’s not that what he presents doesn’t ring true on a spiritual level, it’s just that he doesn’t provide any grounding to his arguments, and so may end up sounding, to the uninitiated, as vapid and as fanciful as the new age occultists he delights in dismissing out of hand. This slightly flawed and contradictory aspect of Stewart comes through clearly when he considers the symbol of the World Tree, which he begins by giving a short history of the Qabbalistic Tree of Life. As ever, it is without any facts or references, and is used as a way to make disparaging remarks from on high about the foolishness of western magick, typified by the Golden Dawn, with its overemphasis on the Hebrew language. The point of it all seems to be to argue that the Qabbalistic tree may be all right for Jewish magick, but is unsuitable for authentic western systems. Fair enough you say, Qabbalah for Qabbalists, ok, fine, but then Stewart turns around and uses his own version of the Qabbalistic tree, which differs little from the original, because apparently the tree isn’t really Jewish after all. If you’re going to spend so much time deriding something as alien and unsuitable, then surely it’d be better to come up with something unique, rather than just a bastardised version of it. Truisms involving having cake and eating it too spring to mind.

This, though, is a minor quibble, and the whole section can be ignored as it adds nothing to the system that Stewart presents, and does nothing except to complicate it and tie it down. Using a magickal map, such as the Qabbalistic tree, seems at odds with the more free form approach that Stewart presents in much of his work, and in the second section here, where stories and songs act as a subtle framework to journeys to the underworld. Once again, the two works that Stewart focuses on are the tales of Tam Lin and Thomas Rhymer, providing an in-depth exploration of the symbolism of each work. It is here that Stewart is important as a writer, because these poems provide great insight into the underworld tradition, and actually, for once, give a solid reference to what is presented in these books. In addition to Tam Lin and Thomas Rhymer, a number of other ballads are investigated, including Lord Bateman, The Demon Lover, and the Corpus Christi Carol.

The final section of practical work is relatively slight compared to the rest of the material in the book, and consists mainly of a guided pathworking. In conclusion, this is an important Stewart book to have, specifically for the amount of ballads with underworld imagery it considers. From a magickal perspective, there is less here of specific use, and for that a better source would be the later works Earth Light and Power Within the Land.

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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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