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goetia

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Queen of Hell – Mark Alan Smith

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Categories: classical, goetia, grimoire, nightside, witchcraft, Tags:

Queen of Hell coverOriginally published in 2010 by Ixaxaar, Mark Alan Smith’s Queen of Hell is here released as a Nightside edition via his own Primal Craft imprint, acting as the first instalment in a reissue of his Trident of Witchcraft trilogy. On the most immediate level, Queen of Hell looks like everything you want in an occult publication: bound in a luxurious green velvet cloth, sigils on the front and reverse covers foiled in gold, blackletter title on the spine (also in gold, naturally), and said spine with a substantial, tome-worthy width of three centimetres. Plus, a matching green cloth bookmark, huzzah!

The queen of hell of the title is Hekate (henceforth Hecate, in deference to Smith’s spelling) but the Hecate within these pages bears only a passing resemblance to the goddess of classical Greek and Roman sources, and appears, instead, as the figure of the book’s title, a diabolical queen of hell and witchcraft of the most glamorously demonic kind. Largely unmoored from her classical origins, Hecate here instead exists within a more qliphothic cosmology and goetic pantheon; something that is made clear from the first page of the first chapter where her throne is said to be beyond Kether and its corresponding qliphah Thaumiel, and with her envisioned as a primordial first goddess, the highest tip of the initiating power or trident of witchcraft, and the queen not only of hell but of heaven and earth. While this has little parallel with the traditional image of Hecate, it must be said that divorced from the specific nomenclature of the qliphoth, it does recall her appearance in the Chaldean Oracles in which she is a grand cosmic force, the lightning-receiving womb and formless fire of the aneidon pur, visible throughout the cosmos.

Queen of Hell spread with sigils of Lucifer

Despite the qliphothic decoration, it is fundamentally a form of witchcraft that is presented here, made none more clearer than in the next chapter and its listing of some familiar ritual implements: athame, wand, chalice, pentacle, sword, salt, etc. Smith gives his own dark veneer of interpretation to these, though, with the wand as the staff of the Dark Lord, the chalice as the grail that is the emerald of Lucifer fallen from on high, and multiple references to Atlantis, which in Smith’s cosmology acts as an ur-culture for his pantheon and its tradition.

This demonic side comes to the fore fairly on when Smith provides an overview of his core pantheon, headed, naturally, by Hecate and followed by the two other points of this Trident of Witchcraft: Lucifer and Belial (subjects of their own books in this trilogy as the titular Red King and Crown Prince of the Sabbat respectively). Somewhat reminiscent of the legend of Diana and Aradia as recorded by Charles Leland, Lucifer is defined as the son and brother of Hecate, a dark solar form of the horned god of witchcraft. Belial, meanwhile, is conflated with Beelzebub and identified as the ruler of the qliphah Ghagiel and as a darker twin of Lucifer, thereby being described by Hecate as “the spawn of my spawn.” Rather than create new sigils for Lucifer and Belial in an already crowded sigil market, Smith relies on the classics and draws from grimoires. And instead of picking just one sigil, he presents the various variations from the Grand Grimoire, the Grimorium Verum, and the Lemegeton. Each is said to be a separate junction belonging to its spirit, though some are given more significance than others, such as, for example, the familiar and more aesthetically-pleasing Grimoirium Verum sigil for Lucifer, which, as its form suggests, is said to be the gateway to the City of Pyramids.

Queen of Hell spread

Beyond this primary trinity of powers, Smith list a range of lesser spirits, once again mixing demonology with the occasional nod to Greek mythology. Thus, sitting quite happily alongside goetic spirits like Surgat and Lucifuge Rofocal are the fate-spinning trio of the Moirai, the Hadean daimon Eurynomos, and the hound Cerberus. Like Hecate (their sister in this telling), the three Moirai, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, are contextualised within a qliphothic framework, and given an abode in the qliphah of Sathariel from which they also access Gamaliel for works of dark moon magick. Similarly, Eurynomos dwells in Belial’s qliphah of Ghagiel, while Cerberus is associated with Daath and the initiatory great Abyss.

As the cast of characters and their areas of influence attest, there is, unsurprisingly, a distinctively dark hue to the content of Queen of Hell, with everything cast within a grimly glamorous aesthetic of moons and serpents, horns and blood, stars and fire. The language of the rites and evocations echoes this, employing a rich, descriptive lexicon in service of a suitably gothic liturgy. It’s not entirely tenebrous, though, and Smith embraces Hecate’s role as queen of heaven as much of hell by having one invocation of a force from the Empyrean realm, with the Archangel Michael called upon as an initiatory force, ultimately merging with Lucifer within the practitioner, the two acting effectively as classic shoulder angels and devils.

Smith writes with a style that is no-nonsense with little room for handholding, deferring to no authority other than that of his own tradition. In some cases, it seems to be assumed that you have gleamed all that needs to be gleamed in the discussion of a particular technique, often presented in its core theory rather than step-by-step instructions, and then you’re on your own if you weren’t paying attention. There’s nothing wrong with such an approach, as it ensures focus and emphasises the experiential, with each incremental step building one ‘pon t’other.

Queen of Hell spread with Evocation of the Witch Gods

Summoning in a broadly goetic style plays a large part in the magical arsenal here (with some major tweaks, as one would expect, with less of the cajoling and threatening), with all of the previously mentioned cast, as well as a broad range of other beings, having invocations. But there are also little things that bring this primal craft back to its witchy underpinnings. There’s a discussion of core techniques of malefica, the use of familiars, a brief diversion into the now almost de rigueur toad rite, as well as the employment of totemic witch bottles (here called spirit pots) to house egregores, and in a continuation of the theme but on a larger scale, the use of cauldrons as a gateway between worlds.

Queen of Hell concludes with a second part, defined as its own self-contained Book of the Inner Sanctum (though the first part of the book is not given a comparable heading), in which the focus moves away from the practical sorcery of the first half and into the astral. The Inner Sanctum of the title encompasses the highest powers and gnosis in the Primal Craft system, and these are accessed with a series of considerably and increasingly more complex and involved rituals, incorporating a variation of the aforementioned toad bone rite, as well as a series of other workings that have less of a familiar witchy pedigree. It is this section which underpins the general impression generated by Queen of Hell, in that what is presented here is a complex, thorough system that, should it and its aesthetics appeal to you, has a lot to work with.

Queen of Hell is illustrated in a style similar to all Primal Craft titles, with sigils rendered as chunky, somewhat-angular, heavy-weighted vector forms, while illustrations are full page glossy plates that have some hand-drawn elements but are also heavy on post-processing, with blurred Photoshop-rendered flames, smoke and clouds. The most striking of these is a portrait of Hecate in which she eerily resembles Carice van Houten as the Lady Melisandre from Game of Thrones, with the ruins of some building ablaze in the background.

Queen of Hell spread with full page image of Hecate

Typesetting in Queen of Hell is rather utilitarian, with the body in a slightly too large serif face, with subtitles in a bold variation of the same, and chapter titles all-caps in another serif face, Garamond. This is set as fully-justified paragraphs, within conservative left, right and top margins, creating a somewhat cramped feeling. Paper stock is heavier than usual, sitting between 130 and 140 gsm, and having an almost card-like quality, which may account for a few places where the binding seems to have suffered.

This Nightside edition of Queen of Hell was released in a now sold-out edition of 500, featuring double thickness endpapers, and handbound in an emerald Lynel Fur that retains the green of the Ixaxaar edition, but with a new sigil foiled in gold on the cover. Sigils within and other artwork have been recreated and enhanced, the promotional blurb tells us, by the D’via Roja Group (though both context and even the powers of Google make it hard to tell who or what this group are).

Published by Primal Craft

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Howlings – Edited by Alkistis Dimech

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Categories: esotericism, goetia, grimoire, magick, Tags:

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

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

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

Chimeric image from the internal title page

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

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

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

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

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

Howlings page spread

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

Published by Scarlet Imprint

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Diabolical – Edited by Peter Grey & Alkistis Dimech

Categories: goetia, grimoire, magick, nightside, Tags:

Diabolical coverDiabolical continues on from where Scarlet Imprint’s previous compilation of grimoire-related writings, Howlings, left off, but with the subject matter taking, as the title indicates, a decidedly darker twist. Twice the size of Howlings, this volume features contributions from, amongst others, Jake Stratton-Kent, Stafford Stone, Thomas Karlsson, Donald Tyson, Kyle Fite, and Johnny Jakobsson, and as with most compendiums, there’s a combination here of the good, the bad and the ugly.

In many ways, the study of grimoires is a celebration of books themselves and John J Coughlin’s The Binding of Black Venus is a delightful, albeit regrettably short, read that gives an insight into the process of book binding as a talismanic process. Coughlin’s paean to the printed word, of that thrill that arises when coming across a new arcane volume, will resonate with any bibliophile and a similar theme is mined in greater depth by Kyle Fite. In Orisons of the Oblique, Fite surveys and celebrates the modern creation of grimoires, highlighting the problem that is inherent in the genre, where pretenders to the throne of Philosopher Kings, as he calls them, create less than satisfying tomes, while others will actually grasp something numinous. With occult publications, the reader needs to differentiate between authentic works that reflect a genuine inspired praxis and those that with all their sigils, obfuscation for the sake of obfuscation, and purple prose are the result of self-deception at best. The pull of having some sigil-embossed tome with your name on it, shot through with breathless claims of ancient traditions and veiled mysteries, seems a strong one. Despite the quality of Scarlet Imprint, this same distinction can be made with the contributors to this volume. There are academic considerations that are well written and thoroughly referenced, and then there are laughable ones that seem one step removed from the scrawlings of teenage diabolists. Maybe it’s just me, but an elaborate procedure for making a pact with “The Devil” and one for a ritual of self-sacrifice comes across as silly, all the more so when you realise that despite all the authoritative and turgid tenebrous talk, it’s ultimately theoretical because you know the author has never done it.

Lengthy essays dominate Diabolical, with varying degrees of success. In Hidden Treasure: Taufer Books of Old Europe, Erik de Pauw looks at the various magickal books that straddle the line between grimoire and folk magic, but he lacks focus in his writing and infuriates with his casual turns of phrase. It’s quite jarring to be told “yes, you read that right” or asked “you’re not a witch, are you?” The longest piece in Diabolical is provided by Johnny Jakobsson with Le Grand Grimoire: Pacta Conventa Daemoniorum, in which he thoroughly analyses the Grand Grimoire/ Le Veritable Dragon Rogue and its invokations and spirits, including notes on textual variants between different editions. Unlike his contribution to Clavis One, Jakobsson hasn’t borrowed Kenneth Grant’s dictionary and instead writes clearly and eruditely, although at 44 pages, the obsessive attention to detail begins to tire. Donald Tyson’s lengthy Dimensional Gateways is a far reaching discussion of otherworlds (everything from the sephira to the realms of faery) and more specifically to the gateways between them. Tyson’s writing is a joy to read and he brings together various cultural and literary threads with a deft, knowledgeable hand.

Several of Diabolical’s contributions consider encounters with specific demons. Jake Stratton-Kent gives a personal account of dealing with the Grimorium Verum spirit Nebiros, giving enough detail to provide fairly thorough Thelema-infused ritual instructions. Mark Smith’s demon of choice is Belial, Humberto Maggi’s is Phenex, while Krzystof Azarewicz considers Bartzabel from a personal as well as historical context (famously invoked by Crowley in 1910 and then later by Jack Parsons, who sent him off in pursuit of Ron Hubbard). While these pieces deal with the potentially ludicrous invoking of supernatural entities, the material is refreshingly presented in a rather matter-of-fact way, with none of the fanciful boasting or hyperbole that lesser writers might succumb to. For whatever reason, this contrasts strongly, to the ultimate benefit of this volume, with the previously mentioned guide to chatting with The Devil.

Most of the grimoires that are referenced in Diabolical are the classics of goetic magick, but one contemporary volume is Andrew Chumbley’s Qutub. Already considered by Jack Macbeth in Howlings, this time it’s the turn of Mark Smith. As with Macbeth’s review, this is very much a personal reflection, describing the power that Chumbley’s slight work has and detailing how Smith uses the text in an annual ritual. Another parallel with Howlings is provided by Stafford Stone who once again contributes some full colour plates of his Nightside Tarot (Shalicu and Characith, for those keeping count, as well as Ace of Serpents and Two of Stones). Other art plates come from Johnny Jakobsson, Thomas Karlsson, and Kyle Fite; all acting as visual accompaniment to their written contributions.

Lucifuge

Diabolical is not short on practical advice, and in addition to the procedures that can be gleaned from some of the previously discussed accounts, there is Aaron Leitch’s quite invaluable consideration of Abramelin magic and in particular the use of magic squares from that system. Thomas Karlsson’s contribution is a brief guide to creating a Saturnian ritual, with a comprehensive list of correspondences.

In all, Diabolical is a valuable work. There are some less than successful pieces but these are overshadowed by a stable of competent and in some cases, dazzling, writers. Bound in red cloth, and beautifully formatted with wide margins and a lovely serif typeface, this edition is limited to 999 exemplars. A fine bound edition of quarter black goat, marbled boards, consecrated host, gilded edges, and slipcase is, of course, long sold out.

Published by Scarlet Imprint.

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