Categotry Archives: hellenic


The Magian Tarok: The Origins of the Tarot in the Mithraic and Hermetic Traditions – Stephen E. Flowers

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Categories: hellenic, hermeticism, mesopotamian, tarot, Tags:

The Magian Tarok coverInner Traditions and Stephen Flowers seem to have a lucrative and fulfilling relationship, reissuing many of his works from over the years, usually in revised, expanded and more substantial versions than their humble first pressings on Flowers’ own Rûna Raven Press. This is one such title, originally released in a preliminary edition following its effective completion in 1992, then more widely by Rûna Raven Press in 2006 and finally again in 2015 by Lodestar Books. Suffice to say, with a cover design by Aaron Davis and layout by Debbie Glogover, this incarnation has all the effortless class one would expect from an Inner Traditions title.

The Magian Tarok follows a slightly atypical trajectory, placing, as its subtitle makes clear, the origins of the tarot in Mithraic and Hermetic traditions, rather than any of the more usual suspects, credible or not; an idea touched on briefly by Flowers in his book Hermetic Magic. In his introduction, Flowers details how the inspiration for this book long preceded its 1992 completion, having its inception in 1981 whilst he was researching in Germany. Here, the idea had an unlikely source, being found in the academic works of the Swedish poet and philologist, and promoter of the Uthark theory of the runes, Sigurd Agrell.

Flowers begins by talking tangentially, and in somewhat surprisingly glowing terms, about postmodern theory, but, of course, one as perpetually gruff and traditionalist as he isn’t referring to *that* postmodernism, oh no, heaven for fend. Instead, he is talking about, you know, the real one; the one that probably chops wood with an axe, smokes cigars, drinks whiskey, and has a moustache, rahhhh. Needless to say, Flowers can’t resist shaking his fist at those “Marxists and crypto-Marxists” on his lawn, hijacking postmodernism and storming poor, defenceless academia, saints preserve us. This is a peculiar little spittle of invective that once again highlights the incongruity of the relationship betwixt Flowers and Inner Traditions; a company one can’t imagine spends a lot of time railing against the modern world, not when there are books to be sold about vibrational nutrition, healing crystals and tuning the human biofield. This is particularly so as Inner Traditions are the kind of publisher that comes to mind in Flower’s preface when, in the very first paragraph, he laments that the modernisation and desacralisation of the tarot “has gone so far that one can even now buy “Teen Tarot” packages;” as if this apparently inconceivable proposition was one of the veritable signs of the apocalypse, right up there with human sacrifice and cats and dogs living together. Lawks, save us all from the twin evils of teenage girls and post-structuralist academics, they assail us from all sides.

The Magian Tarok spread

To ground the book’s central hypothesis, Flowers spends a considerable time, 52 pages in all, summarising Mithraism, along with its antecedents and contemporaries: Zoroastrianism, Magianism and briefly, Stoicism. This immediately provides a perfect encapsulation of some of the problems with the writing found in The Magian Tarok; something that comes as a surprise given Flowers’ experience and mileage as an author. Despite its 52 pages, this one chapter contains only five cited references, all from Franz Cumont’s seminal if not unassailable The Mysteries of Mithras, with all other secondary sources uncited, thereby leaving the reader to entirely trust Flowers’ description of these religious systems or to guess the source from amongst the three page bibliography at the back. Two of these citations relate awkwardly to a summary of Cumont’s highly speculative recreation of the story behind the tauroctony (the familiar if enigmatic slaying of the bull by the Roman form of Mithras), which, given the text’s block quote formatting makes it appear to be a direct quote from The Mysteries of Mithras, which it isn’t. This lack of sources other than Cumont is problematic given that so much of the writing is riddled with weasel words and false appeals to authority. There’s an abundant use of qualifiers like ‘maybe’ and ‘perhaps,’ but even more egregious are those appeals to false authority with phrases such as “it has been said,” “some say” and “some believe,” as well as references to some unspecified “most early scholars” and their descendants, the equally anonymous “some recent scholars.”

In addition to issues with referencing are some sloppy editing moments where whole sections of information are repeated redundantly, almost as if a few notes have been fleshed out one way and incorporated into the text, only for the author to rewrite the same information and insert it into the body a few pages later, appearing to forget doing it the first time. On page 15, for example, Flowers introduces Zarathustra and relates how this Iranian priest identified the embodiment of absolute divinity as Ahura Mazda (Lord-Wisdom), with all other gods and goddesses as abstract principles created by them. A brief five pages later, with the details still fresh in the memory of the reader, if not his own, Flowers disorientatingly introduces Zarathustra again and tells how he identified the embodiment of absolute divinity as Ahura Mazda (Lord-Wisdom) with all other gods and goddesses as abstract principles created by him. In other instances, concepts are discussed before they are defined, with, for example, Zurvanism being mentioned several times, albeit only by name, before a full explanation comes pages later, finally introducing Zurvan as if they hadn’t been mentioned in passing prior.

The Magian Tarok spread

After this lengthy grounding, Flowers moves on to a consideration of stoiechia, by which is meant the letters of the Greek alphabet, thus providing the book’s first hint of a pathway between Mithraism and the tarot. Flowers presents an esoteric, Mithraic interpretation of each letter, seemingly based entirely on the work of Agrell as no other sources, ancient or modern, are mentioned. Thus, the bull symbolism of alpha (or at least its Phoenician antecedent aleph) relates to the tauroctony; beta, as the second letter, is the lesser god and second principle of life in Zoroastrianism, the malevolent Ahriman; whereas the third letter, gamma, refers to Mithras who in Greek texts, according to Flowers, was “often called” triplasios (‘three-times-as-much’) and which he takes to imply the idea of a Mithraic trinity. It is worth noting that the names of these many Greek texts are not cited and the primary, if not only, use in Greek of the triplasios term for Mithras is by the 5th-6th century Christian theologian Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, where he employs it in the sense of thrice-great, rather than a trinitarian threefold.

This is all very speculative and it often feels like an association is made using the barest of symbolic simulacra, which is fine when one is doing an esoteric investigation for oneself, but less so when these correspondences are ostensibly being presented as an ancient belief system with a lineage that also stretches forward at least two millennia into the modern age. As the Greek letters do not have the rich symbolic associations of Hebrew or the runes, a meaning often has to be drawn, with some effort, from their numeric value using a simple Mispar Hechrachi-style number-for-letter formula. As a result, things get reachier the further into the alphabet one goes, with one of the reachiest being the eleventh letter, lambda, which is said to be associated with growth and vegetative virility. To get to this, Agrell noted that an excerpt from the Zoroastrian scripture Bundahishn tells how from five parts of the slain cosmic bull sprung 55 types of grain and twelve kinds of healing herbs. Discounting the twelve herbs, Agrell introduced the number 11 and tortuously argued that since 5 times 11 equals 55, then 11 must be the number that signifies growth and vegetative virility; not the referenced 5, nor 55, and certainly not 12. Like we said, so reachy, and that’s not even taking into account that the Bundahishn excerpt in question has Ahriman and his evil forces as the killers of the bull, not Mithra, who in his Iranian form is never associated with that act.

Undaunted with the sketchiness of this assignment to the Greek alphabet of myriad Zoroastrian and prochronistic Roman Mithraist elements, the next chapter moves forward in time with an assumption that said esoteric attributes were transferred from the Greek letters to their Latin equivalent. Little time is spent on this evolution and instead Flowers takes it as read and moves swiftly on to Agrell’s interpretation of the tarot, admitting for the first time that it would be untenable to suggest that the tarot trumps existed at this period in their later card form, but rather that their symbolism was then extant and conveyed in the esoteric import given to symbols, such as the Greek and Roman letters. Only later, the theory goes, were these arbitrary (and seemingly reverse-engineered) associations given pictorial form in the cards of the tarot; assuming an uninterrupted lineage of centuries.

The Magian Tarok spread

Flowers goes through each of the trumps, giving Agrell’s interpretation and fleshing out the information with additional details. There’s a lot of wrangling of imagery drawn from not just from Mithraism limited symbolism but also ancient Egypt, Greece and more broadly, Hermeticism, all of which has to then be inelegantly tied back to Mithraism to fit the brief; although sometimes the stretch was apparently too great to bother with. Thus, the wand-wielding Magician is linked to a was-sceptre-holding Set, but then Flowers has to make this relevant to Agrell’s hypothesis with a hand-waving claim that “it is also likely” that during the Persian rule of Egypt, their Mithra was identified with the native Set. Similarly, The High Priestess is just, well, any queen-like goddess figure, so yeah, let’s say Isis, and well, maybe Cybele, and then let’s see if we can tie this in to Mithras based merely on the proximity of their respective cults, Yeah, that’ll do. Next! What, another goddess figure for The Empress? Ahh, that must have been Diana for, um, reasons. These Mithraists weren’t exactly bothered about encoding many figures unique to their ill-defined cosmology into these cards, any old god will do, almost as if these magi had the benefit of four millennia of mythological hindsight at their disposal.

Throughout this analysis, any coincidence is looked upon as proof and any inconsistency is acknowledged as something that must have changed, albeit for unspecified, mysterious reasons. Thus, The Fool is an image of the tauroctony, but the bull has been turned, naturally, I guess, into the jester figure, with his cap and bells read, for the first time by anyone ever, as bull’s ears. Mithras himself is completely absent, but lo, a dog seen in the tauroctony is there in trump; although let’s ignore the fact that the dog is parasitically licking the bull’s blood in the former, while trying to warn the Fool of imminent danger in the latter. Not to mention that the dog first appears in the Marseilles deck, and not in any of its 15th century predecessors.

Ultimately, none of the interpretations of the cards are very convincing and the entire premise fails to move beyond confusing correlation for causation. Rather than showing that there was some ancient template for the 15th century tarot deck, inconceivably carried through time for over 1500 years by a secret magian brotherhood straight out of Dan Brown’s tawdry fiction, the swish of Occam’s Razor would argue that the 15th century designs, like any other creative output, drew their imagery from a vast array of extant sources and influences, both esoteric and mundane. Once again, if it was simply a matter of retroactively applying a Greek, Hermetic and tiny sliver of Mithraism to the symbolism of the tarot, in a manner done, for example, by anyone designing a new tarot with a specific cultural variation, then that would be fine; even if the links are, as mentioned, often tenuous. The issue though is with the implausible central hypothesis that all this happened the other way round, all managed by magian adepts with a knowledge of Hermeticism, two versions of Mithras (both Persian and Roman), who were also cognisant of a future where mere playing cards could become a system of divination (and then desacralized by those damn teenagers). This sloppy scholarship is exacerbated by the attempts to give names to these non-existent Roman trumps, as if that’s what they would really have been called, claiming for example that the original Roman name for Strength “was probably Magnitudo,” that for The Hanged Man “the evocative interpretation was probably Noxa,” that the Roman name for Temperance “was likely Pluvia, “rain (water),”” and that The Devil “would have carried the name Quirinus.” Even with those weasel word caveats, these are pretty bold claims to pull out of the aether and I could just as easily say, with comparable certainty, that The Tower was originally almost certainly most definitely called Geminae Turris (and one of the other towers was removed at some point because reasons).

The Magian Tarok spread

As an argument for a theory best left in the 1930s, the content of The Magian Tarok has little to recommend it, stretching symbolism, time, logic and the reader’s credulity. At best, one could say the book is merely a prima facie presentation of Agrell’s theory and is not intended as either critique or advocacy, But beyond the tarot theory itself, as a history of Mithraism it is also lacking, rife as it is with its lack of reference to both primary and secondary sources, and with its preponderance of weasel words, setting the discerning reader adrift in a sea of uncertain provenances and fruitless speculation. Given the relative obscurity of Mithraism, a clearer, more referenced consideration of the topic would be recommended, with less reliance solely on Cumont, some of whose popular theories have attracted criticism over the years, beginning in 1971 with John Hinnells and R.L. Gordon at the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies.

The layout of The Magian Tarok comes, as ever, by way of the expert hand of the aforementioned Debbie Glogover, who sets the body in Garamond, with Brioso, Goudy Oldstyle and Gill Sans as display faces. Images are dotted throughout the book and the tarot trumps are represented four-fold in each example, with a row of three cards drawn variously from the Visconti-Sforza, Marseilles, Grigonneur, Rosenwald and Mantegna decks, topped each time by a larger featured image from the photographic tarot of Amber Rae Broderick.

Published by Inner Traditions


Hekate Her Sacred Fires – Compiled and edited by Sorita d’Este

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Categories: classical, devotional, goddesses, hekate, hellenic, Tags:

Hekate Her Sacred Fires coverApparently some unwritten goal here at Scriptus Recensera is to review all recently published titles related to Hekate, so much so that she’s the only deity here with her own subject tag. This might be a somewhat insurmountable task, given her popularity at Avalonia alone, with this being but one of two anthologies released by that press in honour of her; the other being the equally colon-deficient Hekate Key to the Crossroads from 2006. Published in 2010, this massive work takes a more global view than its predecessor and brings together contributions from more than fifty people, with some familiar names but considerably more who just appear to be practitioners who are not otherwise writers. This vast cast is somewhat intimated in the cover which has not a single image but many, featuring the work of Emily Carding, Brian Andrews, Shay Skepevski, Georgi Mishev, and in the centre, Magin Rose.

Hekate Her Sacred Fires is presented as a large format A4 book, which doesn’t make for the most pleasant reading experience. Reading on-the-go is pretty much out of the question, and reading not-on-the-go isn’t all that easy either, with the ungainly format requiring a solid reading surface lest hand fatigue and RSI kick in. In addition to the physical aspects, the large dimensions don’t allow for the most sympathetic of layouts. Text is formatted in a single, page-wide column, meaning that the enervation of hands and limbs is joined by a similar weariness of eyes and concentration, with the excessive line-length being detrimental to sustained comprehension. The formatting of the text doesn’t help in this manner either, providing little in the way of visual interest. Paragraphs are fully-justified, and separated with a line-space between, but they also have redundant and far-too-large first line idents, including the first paragraph and in one infuriating instance, subtitles; meaning that the body text can appear insubstantial and untethered. Titles and subtitles are presented as larger and bolded versions of the body typeface, set in the almost-a-slab-serif face that Avalonia have stuck with over the years. There are images preceding almost every contribution on the verso side of the page spreads but these, like the various other illustrations and photographs that fill spaces throughout the book, are of varying quality and are not treated that well by Lightning Source’s print-on-demand press.

Hekate Her Sacred Fires spread

This all means that it can be hard to get into Hekate Her Sacred Fires, and it is a testament to this difficulty that this review has sat here half-written for some time. Once one does make it past the monstrously large pages and the walls of long-line-length text, a sense of the variety in contributions begins to emerge, though the majority are first-hand accounts of working with Hekate. But first off, in her own introductory section, is d’Este, who gives an overview of Hekate, providing a thorough historical grounding that allows for the more speculative or specialised considerations that come later. This is then followed by an exhaustive illustrated timeline that is spread across nineteen pages, and stretches from 6000 BCE, with the beginning of the Neolithic period, right up to 2000 CE where it concludes with the publication of d’Este’s book Hekate Key to the Crossroads.

Hekate Her Sacred Fires spread

With over fifty contributors there is a demonstrable diversity in what is presented here, all of varying approaches, styles and quality, in both matters magical and literary. It is the personal that dominates throughout, beginning with Georgi Mishev who gives a personal biography and testimonial of his Bulgarian approach to goddess spirituality in general and Hekate in particular, as does compatriot Ekaterina Ilieva in the following piece. Similarly, Shani Oates provides a record of a ritual for Hekate from several years prior with results of great profundity; prefaced with an introduction of equally great and characteristic verbosity. Some of these contributions include a practical element with the personal, such as John Canard who talks about using meteor showers for spell work, or Amelia Ounsted who maps out the whole Wiccan year of festivities with ways in which they can be related back to Hekate.

Hekate Her Sacred Fires spread

Some of the more interesting contributions here move beyond the respectable and reputable classical world of Hekate, as necessary and worthy as that grounding may be, and into the more darkly glamorous realms of sabbatic and Luciferian witchcraft. This comes most notably from the pen of Mark Alan Smith whose appearance amongst these other authors seems a little incongruous, but it is a theme also discussed first by Trystn M. Branwynn in the gloriously-titled The Hekatine Strain. Here, Branwynn discusses Hekate as but one of the names of the pale Queen of the Castle of Roses in Cochrane-style Traditional Witchcraft, drawing together a tapestry of threads from myth and folklore to unpack the symbols of Hekate, in particular the crossroads, and linking it ultimately back to this particular vision of witchcraft. Smith, in turn, writes, as one would expect, from the perspective of his Primal Craft tradition, telling of how Hekate introduced him to Lucifer who appears here as her consort. This is a thorough ritual account, documenting the long, distressing after effects of The Rite of the Phoenix, culminating in a crossing of the Abyss and a journey through the City of Pyramids.

The type of personal turmoil mentioned by Smith is not something unique to his contribution here, with several authors describing trauma and dark nights of the soul that either came through interacting with Hekate or were eventually soothed by her cathartic arrival. As always, there’s a variety of feelings and impressions that can be stirred up when reading such accounts, especially when it concerns mystical goings on and messages from the divine world; incredulity being one of them. But that is the nature of the brief here, so the reader needs to buckle in and enjoy the ride on this train of personal testimonies or get off at the next dour stop. For devotees of Hekate, though, one can imagine that a collection of so many allied voices would be well received and a valuable addition to one’s library.

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In the end, it’s hard to get past the large formatting of Hekate Her Sacred Fires and it can be genuinely exhausting just to read a page, with your head and eyes having to travel right across each A4 width just to get one sentence in. It is obvious why this has been done, as with an existing page count of over 300, a volume with more conventional dimensions would have doubled the amount of pages to make for one hefty tome. One option might have been to reduce the number of submissions or to have at least pared down some of them in the edit, but there would probably have been some reluctance to do this, given that in her introduction, d’Este talks of how necessary it was to preserve the voice of so many writers; meaning that editing for proofing alone has been minimal, limited to what are designated essential changes.

Published by Avalonia


Underworld – The Sepulcher Society

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Categories: classical, hellenic, magick, mesopotamian, underworld, Tags:

Underworld coverAdorned with a gold-foiled version of a symbol representing Mictlantecutli, the Aztec god of death, Underworld resembles in length and dimensions another recently reviewed title from Theion Publishing,  The Cult of the Black Cube. And, just as that book was credited to the pseudonymous Dr Arthur Moros, this volume is presented somewhat anonymously as the work of the infuriatingly-spelt Sepulcher Society, an organisation for which precious little information can be found; and, after fruitless Googling, I’m almost certain they’re not the Sepulchre Society of Sussex in M.J. Trow’s novel Maxwell’s Grave… or are they? Dun dun dunnn.

Where The Cult of the Black Cube dealt with various incarnations of the Saturnine deity, Underworld, as its title suggests, considers the subterranean world of the dead, following a similar approach to Moros’ book by exploring examples of the theme from a variety of cultures, consolidating the wisdom so gleaned, and then throwing in a few bits of practical work. Like Moros, the pseudonymous author (who uses a singular first person ‘I’ despite the credit to the presumably multiple-membered society) provides something of a personal touch, opening with a brief biography that stretches back to their childhood and encounters there with death and general spookiness.

Underworld spread with Lamashtu images

Underworld is divided into just three chapters, but these would be more fittingly described as parts, each being lengthy and consisting of smaller chapter-like sections, rather than a straight forward narrative, all divided up with the appropriate formatting. In the first, the author, as we must pseudonymously call them lest we henceforth laboriously refer to them as the Sepulcher Society, gives a survey of various examples of the underworld, with summaries running to up to five or six pages of the Babylonian, Greek and Roman, Celtic, Germanic, Aztec, and Hindu conceptions of the underworld. These are all as thorough as one can be with the amount of space afforded, although, as with the rest of the book, there’s very little in the way of referencing, be it in-body citations or footnoted sources. Given the specialised nature of the discussion here, in particular Aztec and Babylonian conceptions of the underworld, it is frustrating having no sense of the source of the information, and no indication as to whether it’s from primary texts or secondary academic discussions or synopsises. There are occasionally footnoted references to suggested further reading on particular areas of consideration, as well as a bibliography at the rear of the book, but there is never any indication that these titles are necessarily the source, and there’s certainly no direct referencing to specific pages within them.

Underworld spread

Having described the mythological precedents of the underworld, the author concludes the first chapter with a synthesis of common chthonian elements, highlighting those geographical features found in many accounts, irrespective of distances in space or time: a twilight realm between the living and the dead, a barrier of dark water be it river or sea, the black gates that guard the underworld, and finally, the underworld itself, its city and its inhabitants, ruled by a dark queen and a black king.

The second chapter turns to the gods of the underworld themselves and begins with the author establishing several working hypotheses, principally that the gods are real beings with agency of their own, not simply aspects of one’s unconscious, or even archetypes or thought-forms made manifest by the collective members of a society. The author does provide something of a syncretistic angle, though, suggesting that one’s cultural context may create the lens through which the same deity may be viewed differently, adopting a name, characteristics and appearances that draw from the prevailing cosmology. This belief in the very literal existence of the gods, indeed all gods, does go down some rather specious rabbit holes, such as suggesting that Jews, Muslims and Christians must all worship different deities since clearly tension betwixt the three religions is the result of three different deities battling each other for control. An intriguing proposal, but an alternate hypothesis might be: people are dicks. Similarly, the author suggests that the growth and subsequent power of a religion is indicative of the respective deity’s standing in ye olde god stakes, but once again, let’s proffer the more circumspect suggestion that, yes, as previously mentioned, people are dicks, and the growth of a religion is often demonstrably due to said people being said dicks and making that happen because it is in their best dickish interests to do so.

Underworld spread with Santa Muerte plate

With the theory out of the way, the author returns with a greater focus to the gods whose realms were discussed in the first chapter. Referring to these gods as chthonians, the author begins in Mexico, initially exploring the godforms of Mictecacihuatl and her partner Mictlantecutli, the Aztec goddess and god of death and the underworld. This gives way to two figures that, it could be argued, are their contemporary embodiments or descendants, the Mexican saint of death Santa Muerte, and her male equivalent from further south in the Americas, San La Muerte. Given the well-documented nature of Santa Muerte’s cult and praxis, the author is well equipped to provide an extensive, multi-paged section on practical devotion towards her, both summarising her place in Mexican folk magic, and ending with a few ritual suggestions and a little liturgy. The same cannot be said for San La Muerte whose relative obscurity in comparison to his popular Mexican sister is reflected in the paucity of information presented here.

The other mythological systems covered here don’t provide the same luxury in terms of contemporary usage as Santa Muerte, but the author does try their damnedest to fill those gaps. They turn to Babylon next, discussing Erishkigal and then Nergal, with descriptions of each godform and suggestions for contemporary ritual or devotional techniques, before a similar exploration of the natal demoness Lamashtu. The same then follows for cultures Germanic (Hela), Greco-Roman (Nyx, Pluto, Persephone), Celtic (the Morrighan), and Indian (Yama, Varahi). Each deity is given a brief description or background, a summary of how they are or can be worshipped now, followed by descriptions of shrines, offerings and images, and an example of a ritual. These are not techniques cut and pasted with the respective gods swapped out, but there are certain recurrent themes of practice here, principally the development of devotional altar space or effigies, a pretty fail-safe approach to dealing with deities.

Underworld spread

Underworld concludes with its third chapter, Necromancy, where the author puts the dead to work, defining necromancy not just as the raising of the dead for mantic purposes, but any magic that deals with death and the underworld’s entities and energies. This builds on the syncretism and basic ritualism touched on in earlier pages, incorporating from a practical perspective the use of ritual and devotional space, and then providing techniques for travelling in trance and dream, and communicating with the dead. These are presented as broad guidelines that can be built upon by the practitioner, and while they don’t cover much in the way of new occult ground (what does?), the instructions are clear and consistent.

Underworld comes in two editions, a standard cloth hardcover, and the Auric Edition. The standard edition of 720 copies is bound in black fine cloth, with a design debossed and foiled in gold on the cover, with the same for lettering on spine. The sold out Auric Edition of 52 copies is fully hand-bound in chthonic dark-brown fine leather, with raised bands, embossing on spine, and a ribbon. The cover of each Auric copy carries an embedded specially manufactured brass obol coin as used by members of the Sepulcher Society to traffic with Hades. Each Auric copy also includes an exclusive additional page of fine paper, containing a ritual to awaken the Shadow Self for necromantic contact.

Published by Theion Publishing


The Cult of the Black Cube – Arthur Moros

Categories: classical, esotericism, hellenic, Tags:

The Cult of the Black Cube coverA quick survey of Scriptus Recensera’s hallowed halls shows that Saturn has a certain degree of popularity within this here occult milieu, with our shelves bearing several books both by, and about, the Fraternitas Saturni, along with two Saturnian titles from Aeon Sophia Press, Moshe Idel’s Saturn’s Jews: On the Witches’ Sabbat and Sabbateanism and now this volume from Theion Publishing. In some ways, The Cult of the Black Cube takes things back to basics with a general overview of matters Saturnine, with an overview of various incarnations of what Dr. Arthur Moros broadly refers to as the Saturnine deity, followed by theory and a little practicum.

But first, after an introduction from Frater U.:.D.:., Moros begins with a personal anecdote, giving his life story, from being crippled and having his spine damaged in high school, to nascent explorations of academia, to a dramatic Roman-style necromantic invocation, and finally a dream encounter with a black creature of pulsing energy that led to a miraculous curing of all ills and the beginning of a journey along the path this book reveals. Given that the name of the good doctor is a pseudonym, and the biography is without significant markers of time or space (save for a reference to an unspecified Ivy League school), this account feels like it is caught in a slip of myth. This is then compounded with Theion Publishing reporting that Moros died soon after delivering this manuscript to them, his body found exotically “in the land of Kush” where he, like some Lovecraftian or Rider Haggard hero, “never afraid of adventure and risk, investigated ancient traces of the Saturnian Cultus. Contact had been lost for days until his body was found. The cause of death remains unknown.” Thrilling Boy’s Own stuff.

Full-page colour painting of the black cube by Erica Frevel

Moros begins his consideration of the various iterations of the Saturnine deity not, as one might expect, in ancient Greece, but in the later world of Medieval Islam, where the form is that of the spirit Zuhal; perhaps familiar as the planetary spirit Zazel from grimoires like Clavicula Salomonis; or an award-winning American erotic film from 1996, apparently – the more you know. For his depiction of Zuhal, Moros draws largely from the third to fourth century text Nabatean Agriculture (Kitab al-falaha al-nabatiya), credited to a writer named Qûtâmä, and translated into Arabic at the beginning of the tenth century by the polymath Ibn Wahshiyya. It’s worth noting that, for whatever reason, Moros presents Wahshiyya as the text’s author throughout, never once giving credence to, or mentioning, his longstanding identification as only its translator. Zuhal shares many of the characteristics common to classical depictions of Saturn: death, decay, the persistence of time, and most importantly from an aesthetic perspective, a range of appealing stygian symbols: black stone, black sand, black man. The content of Nabatean Agriculture flows neatly into that of The Picatrix and considerably lesser known texts like Kitab al-Ustuwwatas, which provide still further details to the Arab world’s vision of the Saturnine deity.

The Cult of the Black Cube spread

Following a fairly thorough sojourn in the Greek and Latin climes of Cronos and Saturn, Moros takes an easterly turn and heads to India, which he identifies as the only place that the Saturnine cult has “survived since ancient times.” Here, ?ani shares many of the characteristics of his classical and Arab counterparts, something that likely developed alongside the other elements of Jyotisha or Hindu astrology in the centuries after the arrival of Greek astrology in India with Alexander the Great. He is slow like the passage of the planet, and associated with the colour black, the metal iron and suitably piceous animals such as crows.

With this anthropological exploration out of the way, Moros turns theoretical with the book’s second section, Saturnine Gnosis, which includes an analysis and interpretation of the Saturnine deity and an outline of what constitutes the Saturnine Path. Moros begins this with a broad discussion of spiritual paths, in which he throws shade at occult teachers who claim to be able to teach you how to become a deity whilst physically incarnate (a living god, if you will), yet are strangely unable to direct their own lives… *zing.* Dismissive of attempts to reframe spirits and gods as archetypes or aspects of the self, Moros argues that the consistent appearance of the Saturnine deity within a variety of cultures is because they are real, an “actual deity (or planetary intelligence, or power) with which various cultures have made contact.” As for the reason for pursuing the Saturnine Path, Moros lightly touches on the ebony elephant in the room that is asking why anyone would want to interact with such a malign and negative deity, highlighting the antinomian element behind this act, acknowledging that in siding with the exiled, wounded and marginalised, one is backing a dark horse, “but that dark horse is definitely in the race.” Initiation into this Saturnine current has, according to Moros, two main rewards: access to the gnosis that flows from the Saturnine deity, and the ability to draw on the power and emanations of Saturn’s Black Cube to work magic.

The Cult of the Black Cube spread with images of Saturn

The practical side of this path is then laid out in the book’s third and final section, and follows some fairly familiar guidelines. The ritual space is what one would expect without even looking: it’s black, the ritual accoutrements include any of the symbols associated with the various iterations of the Saturnine deity, and the shrine is treated as a living thing that grows in power. Daily devotions play a role here, and the space, once established, should begin to aid the flow of Saturnian gnosis. Along with the devotional aspect, the example of ritual work includes a self-initiation, a rite for aide in oracular matters, rites using a black cube and chains respectively, and several rites to summon Saturn, based on the templates from The Picatrix and Nabatean Agriculture.

At 175 pages, The Cult of the Black Cube succeeds at what it is: a concise introduction to working with the Saturnine deity, providing enough mythology to give you a grounding in their character, and enough basic ritual elements to start devotional practice. Moros writes capably and confidently, free of error, and while there’s little in the way of in-text citing, it is clear where most information comes from, and these, both source texts and scholarly reflections, are referenced in an annotated bibliography at the rear.

The Cult of the Black Cube spread

Layout and typesetting in The Cult of the Black Cube is by Jessica Grote in a functional style, with body text in paragraphs of a fully-justified serif, subtitles in Fredrick Nader’s Amerika face, and titles (and the whole contents page, for some reason) in Casady & Greene’s middling script face CalligraphyFLF. Illustrations are largely limited to in-body images depicting the various incarnations of the Saturnine deity, with the exception of an evocative full-page colour painting of the black cube by Erica Frevel that acts as something of a prelude to what follows.

The Cult of the Black Cube comes in two editions, standard and auric, both printed on 115gsm wood-free high quality Lessebo Design paper, and several black and white illustrations throughout. The standard cloth hardcover edition is limited to 720 copies and is bound in blue-grey fine cloth, with a silver Saturn sigil debossed on the front, lettering in silver on the spine, and Surbalin moiré endpapers. The 52 hand-numbered copies of the sold out Auric Edition were fully hand-bound in Saturnine black leather, with a sigilised and embossed lead plate, individually consecrated to the deity, embedded on the front.

Published by Theion Publishing


Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism – Algis Uždavinys

Categories: classical, esotericism, hellenic, hermeticism

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism coverIn the preface to Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism, Juan Acevedo, director of the publisher Matheson Trust, provides an initial outline of the work, being one in which, he says, Dr. Uždavinys’ intoxicated enthusiasm for his topic is tempered with a need to carry out exposition in a discursive and academic manner. It is a work which, would you believe, moves uneasily between the apophatic and the cataphatic, and we all know what kind of shenanigans that leads to. No? Alrighty then.

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism runs as a single, 99-page monograph, divided into 24 chapters or sections that are given titles in the contents page, but infuriatingly, not in the actual body. Without these appearing within the body, the journey that Uždavinys takes the reader on can feel a little unstructured, as he jumps from one topic to the other without preamble. Laborious though it is, it becomes helpful to flip back to the contents page when encountering a new chapter, just to give you a sense of what is coming; and even then, that sometimes helps little.

Its sub-100 pages belie this volume’s density, with Uždavinys employing a multi-layered, polymathical style of writing that crams the pages with as much information as possible and often seems to divert into detail. Conversely, though, Uždavinys avoids using any theoretical framework or providing definitions of terms, so his highly specialised lexicon can be intimidating for those not familiar with it. Contrary to the title, there’s not always a lot of Orpheus involved, and this is no clearer than in the first chapter which begins, sans Orpheus, with a discussion of madness as a melancholy-like gift of the gods that can be poetic, telestic or prophetic (poietike mania, telestike mania and mantike mania).

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism contents

Indeed, the roots that Uždavinys speaks of are more likely to be found in Egypt and more broadly, Mesopotamian, most notably Babylonia and Assyria. Even here, though, Platonism itself begins to lose its status as the focus of the text with Uždavinys spending an inordinate, though enjoyable, time considering the nature of prophecy and divine utterances in ancient Mesopotamia. These mantic experiences are explored exhaustively and range from the kind of channelled material generated by priests and priestesses standing within temples and embodying the gods, to local prophets who received messages from the gods involuntarily. This thorough exploration is divorced from what one would assume, given the title, is the focus of the book, and when Uždavinys does make reference to parallels in Greece he uses the rather less than satisfying, and possibly euphemistic, example of Pythagoras teaching from behind a curtain.

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism spread

That isn’t to say there isn’t any mention of Orpheus or Orphism here, and the following four sections explicitly bear his name in their titles. Given the scarcity of extant information about a mythic figure like Orpheus though, and the lack of definition Uždavinys gives in turn to Orphism, these sections are brief, considerably more so than those that precede and proceed them, before yet another tangent is enthusiastically and abruptly pursued.

To return to the introductory words of Juan Acevedo, whether Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism does indeed move uneasily between the apophatic and the cataphatic this reviewer cannot say for sure, but it does succeed in its inability to sit still, ensuring that little gems spark interest amongst the turmoil of Uždavinys’ generously-described “discursive manner.”

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism spread

With the expectation generated by the title ignored, what Uždavinys provides is an interesting consideration of a variety of matters of interest to the esotericist, whether it be prophecy, initiation, divine inspiration, cosmology and eschatological conceptions of the soul. That these are hidden away within Uždavinys’ somewhat desultory text may make the journey all the more satisfying.

Published by the Matheson Trust


Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess – Idlu Lili Regulus

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Categories: devotional, goddesses, hekate, hellenic, Tags:

Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess coverHekate is a goddess with no shortage of books about her, and the shelves here at Scriptus Recensera do not want for her tomes, whether it’s Robert von Rudloff’s Hekate in Ancient Greek Religion, Sarah Iles Johnston’s Hekate Soteira or a veritable hoard of titles from Sorita d’Este and Avalonia Press. This isn’t even Ixaxaar’s first foray into Hekate’s world, stretching back to at least 2010 and Mark Alan Smith’s Queen of Hell. This surfeit of material is understandable given the wealth of classical source texts available concerning Hekate (clearly the deepest repository of data for any of the darker-hued goddesses), and also her aesthetics which have an almost innate appeal for those with, how you say, more cimmerian proclivities.

Now, after their recent release of Jack Grayle’s The Hekatæon, described by Ixaxaar as the first turning of a key to the kingdom of Hekate, a second key is turned with this book by the enigmatically named Idlu Lili Regulus. Originally released in Swedish in 2017 by Avgrund Förlag, Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess is a smaller volume than The Hekatæon, but has certain similarities due to its combination of theory and ritual.

Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess begins with little ceremony or preamble, diving straight into a discussion of Hekate’s ancestry and status as monogen?s, before expanding into a consideration of various mythical beings associated with her via birth or proximity. What one notices immediately is the surfeit of footnotes and citations, with primary sources and academic texts diligently cited at every utterance. Footnotes, meanwhile, are extensive, running to a paragraph normally, but occasionally stretching to half a page and in a few instances, almost an entire page.

Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess spread

This rigour makes for a satisfyingly academic feel, though it is one that provides moments of incongruity. While Regulus writes, for the most part, with a formal style befitting the citations and footnotes, they occasionally break into the more informal voice of a devotee. Thus, amid quotes from authorities ancient and modern, they will suddenly address you “the dear accursed reader” or wax effusively over a quote from Hesiod that causes their heart and being to “reverberate with its ancient, sacred and literally awe-inspiring tone.”

As this fervent tone suggests, Regulus does identify this book as a devotional, rather than an exhaustive or definitive treatment of Hekate, despite the thoroughness of the writing, citing and footnoting. What they choose to focus on, then, following the first chapter, are her associations with the moon and the underworld, and then things relevant to practical work with her: the plants associated with her, her many titles and names (predominantly drawn from the Greek Magical Papyri), and various documented classical examples of working with her.

Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess inner page with Hekate image by David Herrerias

Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess concludes with an appendix of rituals that build upon the historical evidence that precedes them. These begin with a basic crossroads initiation (part meditation, part visualisation) and a heavily footnoted invocation of several pages, drawing on text from PGM IV. The rest includes brief instructions for circle casting (in which, interestingly enough, Cayn/Cain as the witch father is invoked alongside Hekate), a love spell of attraction, a graveyard communion and a crossroads supper, as well as a devotional Hymn to Hekate. In keeping with the tone of the rest of the book, these aren’t simply instructions with a ritual recipe to follow, but include pages of supplementary information documenting historical precedents, and even more within the footnotes.

Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess spread with Magdalena Karlsson's Hekate Portal Icon

As one might expect given the publisher, there’s an element of anti-cosmic philosophy that occasionally rears its serpentine head, with Regulus, for example, regarding the famous Gigantomachy frieze from the Pergamon altar as a depiction of a factual attack by the anti-cosmic Titans against balanced cosmic order’s temporary reign. This is by no means pervasive, and Hekate herself isn’t gratuitously presented in anti-cosmic terms, but it is something that subtly informs what is presented here.

Regulus writes in a confident, sometimes strident, manner, weaving together the slightly academic with the demonstrably devotional, and using turns of phrase that belie the text’s non-English origins. There is no credit for the translation from the original Swedish but it is satisfactory in its execution. There are the occasional awkward sentences where, for example, the tense can slip, but not to a detrimental degree, and by no means as bad as some occult works from native English speakers.

Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess spread

Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess is laid out capably, with body in a clear and classic serif, sitting within generous but not excessive margins. Headers, both main and sub, are rendered in the all caps of a different, slightly irregular, serif face, while chapters begin with a fetching drop cap from the same blackletter face used for the cover and title page. There are, though, a few too many widows and orphans, and shorter quotes are too often separated into their own paragraphs, looking bitsy when buttressed above and below by paragraph spaces, even when they’re only a single or even partial sentence; whereas convention would have them incorporated into their preceding paragraph.

Illustrations in Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess are sparse with no in-body images of any kind and only a few full page illustrations, including glossy plates with an image of Hekate by the always reliable David Herrerias at the start, and a painting by Magdalena Karlsson, Hekate Portal Icon, leading the ritual appendix.

The regular edition of Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess runs to 480 copies and is bound in green cloth with title and an image of Hekate (a familiar Hekataia with her depicted three-headed and multi-armed, holding a variety of implements) debossed in a hard-to-read-in-low-light purple. The book was also made available in a special edition of 70, housed in an amethyst-coloured slipcase with an image of Hekate-Zônodrakontis foiled in silver on the front and back. Also included in this edition is a medium-size art card with the image of Hekate by David Herrerias, measuring 26.6 by 20.7 cm and printed on high quality glossy cardboard.

Published by Ixaxaar


Chthonic Revelations – Alexander Corvus

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Categories: classical, hellenic, underworld, Tags:

Chthonic RevelationsThis slim volume is part of Fall of Man’s Nox Sine Occasu series, in which considerations are given to works too short to be considered full books, but too long to sit as essays in a journal. The focus in this instance is on the Greek oracular demigod Tropohonios, a relatively obscure entity that author Alexander Corvus should be pretty confident in being the sole devotee for, at least for now. Trophonios is presented within this work as an oracular deity of the underworld, a being that when encountered could produce a terrifying but ultimately cathartic and transformative experience.

This is the first published work by Corvus who otherwise runs the occult blog De Occulta Philosophia, and who, his biography informs us, has been actively practicing magic for over two decades. Other than that, there’s precious little available about the author, though one assumes that he is not a native English speaker as the writing suffers from many of those characteristic pitfalls. Though Corvus’ writing remains legible throughout, never losing his intentions in a mess of misapplied words, a little proofing to iron out some of the problematic phrasing would have been beneficial. The same is also true of proofing for spelling which has been rather lax, if not non-existent. This, at least, gifts us with a few wonderfully evocative howlers, such as the one that refers to “those wanting to descend to the groove of Trophonios,” bringing to mind some rather funky underworld endeavours.

Chthonic Revelations is principally divided into twin sections of mythos and the all-important praxis. In Mythos, Corvus surveys Greek literature to provide a comprehensive image of Trophonios that is thoroughly grounded in extant material. There are three authors who contribute to this corpus: the Greek geographer Pausanias, the 2nd to 3rd century sophist Philostratus, and Plutarch with his De genio Socratis. This information is ably compiled by Corvus who paraphrases where necessary and effectively bridges the direct quotes so that they are not left doing all the work. In the chapter that follows, Corvus then takes this surfeit of information and analyses it to isolate the various ritual elements associated with Trophonios.


The first-hand account given by Pausanias in his Description of Greece gifts Corvus with a ready-made ritual structure; providing him with the kind of explicit ancient antecedent that many an occult writer would kill for. Pausanias’ structure is fleshed out to create the main ritual operation here, but this is preceded with a less historically dependent and fairly typical draconian themed visualisation, the Ophidic Meditation, which is all very black snakes and surging powers. The Initiation Ritual proper is a five-step, seven-day working of both initiation and visions that mirrors its historical antecedent’s journey from purification, to katabasis, to revelation, to anabasis and ultimately to the interpretation and analysis of the entire process. This is followed by instructions for minor rituals that build upon the initiation: the setting up of a pholeos as a ritual space, and brief instructions for petitioning Trophonios with offerings, spells and curses.

Alen Grijakovic at Opposition Artworks provides the scattering of full page, full bleed illustrations that divide this book into its constituent parts. As one comes to expect with titles from publishers such as Fall of Man, where an intersection between occultism and metal is palpable, these images employ a style of pen and ink drawing that is otherwise almost the exclusive reserve of metal album covers, particularly its most blackest of varieties. Cross-hatching abounds in these densely rendered pictures, with one image being a fairly traditional image of Trophonios bee-hive in hand, while another is considerably more metal, all hooded figures, demonic gateways and a snaked-wreathed being with glowing eyes.


Chthonic Revelations is presented in the same style as other entries in Fall of Man’s Nox Sine Occasu series, such as the previously reviewed Ophidic Essence: Seeking A Return to the Origin. Its 85 pages on 135gsm coated paper are soft cover bound in a faux crushed leather that is hot-stamped in grey with the Chthonic Revelations logo. The hand-sewn spine is a little tight, with noticeable instances in which, at least on my copy, the thread is visible and threatens to tear a hole in the gutter of the pages. Of the 300 hand-numbered copies, the first 70 copies are presented in a black rugged folder bearing the staff of Trophonios sigilised in silver and the Nox Sine Occasu logo as a wax seal. These 70 copies also have a digital version of the book included in the price.

Published by Fall of Man.