Categotry Archives: mesopotamian


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


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


Lilith: Goddess of Sitra Ahra

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Categories: anticosmic, devotional, mesopotamian, nightside

Serving as the inaugural publication from Black Tower Publishing, Lilith: Goddess of Sitra Ahra is, as one would expect, an anthology of material about Lilith. Its content is principally sourced from unknown authors, with only Edgar Kerval and Matthew Wightman generating any sparks of recognition. It is this roster that presents the most immediate problem with this volume. Yes, the nature of occult literature may mean that content is often provided by authors who are not professional writers, but to paraphrase Groundskeeper Willie: I love amateur occult writing, and your occult writing is the most amateur occult writing I ever saw.

This is not helped by the fact that many of the contributors come from South America and clearly do not have English as their first language. While there is something to be said for giving non-English speaking writers a place to have their works published, if the final product is going to be in English, and only in English, then I would expect the publisher to do a little tidying up to save face for their authors. As it stands, the reader spends half of the book wondering if they’re being spoken to by a Nigerian crown prince ready to transfer a lot of money from a dead relative, such is the jarring, disconcerting quality of the bad English. In one ritual, a sigil that is created as part of the process is said to be able to be ‘used in posterior work with the Goddess,’ leaving me genuinely unsure what they mean, and a little worried as a result.

Unfortunately, the untidiness is not limited to the worse-than-Google-Translate English and extends to all areas of this book. Proofing appears to be non-existent, with the spelling and punctuation errors starting off early in the Foreword and getting worse the further you go. The formatting is inept, with page margins set at an inconceivably tiny half a centimetre, the paragraphs are both separated by a space and indented (with an inadvisably huge indent of course), and the type for pathworkings is inexplicably bolded and centred. A lack of care means that notes to the editor marking where an illustration should go are left in text, while in at least one example, a whole paragraph is repeated immediately after its first appearance. Illustrations range from the mediocre to the risible, with the single exception coming from Kazim with their Shamshan Lilith, an image that has already been published in the second volume of the Qliphoth journal.

SmashanLilith by Kazim

The lack of rigour extends to many of the contributors, and it’s pretty early on that the reader will give up any hope of seeing many academic sources mentioned, let alone cited and referenced. To the various authors of this book, Lilith often seems to exist in a haze of vaguely understood history that intersects with half-remembered mythology and recycled, usually unattributed, teachings of other magickal orders. In one essay, Inanna receives two hits from a wildly flailing Hammer of Inaccuracy within just one sentence, first by being described as a goddess of the moon, and then being located in “ancient Babylon.” In another, it is claimed that you won’t find many mentions of “the Goddess” in the Old Testament and that the word ‘goddess’ doesn’t even exist in Hebrew, something easily disproved by the use of ‘asherah’ as both a specific and generic goddess name in the biblical record; as thoroughly and magnificently documented by Raphael Patai in his The Hebrew Goddess.

Given the number of contributions, their relative brevity, and the focus on one deity, there’s an inevitable duplication in some of the entries here. Both Salomelihecatel and Daemon Barzai address the idea of Lilith as a spider goddess, drawing extensively on material by the Temple of the Black Light, but not offering much more. Both pieces feature rather similar invokations that close, somewhat jarringly, with the familiar Dragon Rouge refrain Ho Drakon Ho Megas. Similarly, too many of the contributions descend into word salad, breathlessly listing Lilith’s attributes in a whirl of glamourously dark language, which, aided and abetted by the poor English and the poor editing, can make it quite an aggravating slog to get through.

There are a variety of contributions here with 25 written pieces in total, divided into the brief salads of words, slightly better longer pieces (still let down by a lack of rigour and poor formatting), poems, rituals and invokations. James L. George has a couple of invokatory poems scattered throughout the book, and these, by their very nature, prove to  be a highlight as they are better composed and show more attention to detail than many of their companions. In the way of rituals, Matthew Wightman’s Rite of the Seduction of the Virgin (also found in his book The Serpent Siddur of the Nachash El Acher) is the most elaborate, and well written, here, with many of others making one wonder whether the instructions were worth writing down. Elsewhere in these reviews I have lamented the tendency for ritual, when lazily formulated, to be basically “cast this sigil, says these words, hope stuff happens” and that’s unfortunately the case here, with several rituals being nothing more than that: an interchangeable sigil is focussed on, an interchangeable invokation is uttered (hopefully without giggling), and the presumably not interchangeable person sits in the dark feeling the dark energies flow through them, and/or just a bit foolish.

Ultimately, Lilith: Goddess of Sitra Ahra feels like a missed opportunity. With some extensive editing, of both contributors and contributions, the content could have been tightened up and the errors wouldn’t feel so glaring. The same is true of the formatting, with the entry level mistakes helping to draw attention to the failings in this volume. It would seem that the perfect devotional for Lilith, containing well-structured and well-written academic essays, alongside equally well-written poetry, well-executed artwork, and interesting rituals, remains to be published.

Lilith: Goddess of Sitra Ahra has been released in two editions. The first was limited to 200 copies and came as a hand-bound and hand-numbered volume with a dust jacket. The second, reviewed here, is a paperback edition capably printed by Amazon’s print-on-demand service.

Published by Black Tower Publishing. ISBN-13: 978-1511792356


Into the Great Below: A Devotional to Inanna and Ereshkigal – Compiled by Galina Krasskova

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Categories: devotional, mesopotamian, underworld, Tags:

into_the_great_belowIt’s full disclosure time yet again: I created the cover art for this devotional from Asphodel Press, and also contributed some internal illustrations. So, as ever, proceed with due caution as we venture into the world of potential bias and nepotism. With its eyes turned towards Mesopotamia, Into the Great Below is a change of theme for Asphodel Press and its usual, albeit by no means exclusive, focus on the Northern Tradition; although the names of many of the contributors, including that of editor Galina Krasskova, will be familiar from other Asphodel works. This is addressed in Krasskova’s foreword in which she identifies herself as Heathen but details her early magical history in the Fellowship of Isis where a mentor’s devotion to Inanna had a lasting influence on her ritual and devotional practice. This book, then, is considered by Krasskova to be the beginning of a repayment to Inanna, and to her sister, Ereshkigal.

Into the Great Below is divided into three sections: devotions to Inanna and Ereshkigal, a collection of rituals for both goddesses, and prayers to other Sumerian deities. Rebecca Buchanan provides the lion share of the prayers to Inanna and Ereshkigal, with short little vignettes addressing various aspects of both goddesses. Her work is joined by contributions from Elizabeth Vongvisith, Raven Kaldera, and others. Perhaps the strongest piece from this section is provided by the enigmatically anonymous J.D. with Katabasis, in which they detail an initiatory journey into the underworld, mirroring Inanna’s descent through seven dismembering tiers, before being remade and reborn by Ereshkigal. These themes of initiation and dismemberment naturally feature strongly in much of the material here, with devotees addressing Ereshkigal in particular as an initiatrix and spirit of transformation. Janet Munin, for example, takes the phrase “naked and bowed low” from The Descent of Inanna and slightly tweaks the interpretation of it, making it indicative of an act of humility and grace, rather than the result of being tortured and broken by the process of the underworld descent.   inannaposed

The second selection of prayers addresses deities from across the Sumerian pantheon, with the chance for the attention to shift in several cases to the male of the species. Lee Harrington has a poem to each of Ereshkigal’s husbands: first with a call to Gugulanna, the bull of heaven, and then with a song addressed to Ereshkigal but sung by her second husband, Nergal. A similar approach is taken by Raven Kaldera in Neti, where the poem is directed towards Ereshkigal in the voice of her titular servant and gatekeeper. Amongst the goddesses, Kaldera celebrates the warrior Ninshubur, while Elizabeth Vongvisith and Anya Kless both explore the intersection of Sumerian and Judaism with paeans to Lilith. Tiamat also receives some attention with poems from Dee Bellwether, Kira R. and an anonymous invocation previously published in Asphodel’s Pagan Book of Hours. Bellwether’s For Tiamatu is particular striking with its stark iteration of occasionally alliterative words celebrating Tiamat as an almost anti-cosmic Queen of Unmaking.

The final section of Into the Great Below features a relatively weighty five rituals for Inanna and Ereshkigal. Krasskova’s Dark Moon Rite of Ereshkigal is a lengthy, invocatory-heavy ritual that begins with quaternary calls, a call to the centre, and then an invocation to Ereshkigal herself. This is followed by an oracular portion and sequences involving a construction of a ritual box. Krasskova’s liturgy is well written, picturesque and evocative in its use of language; a quality that occurs in another of her rituals included here, The Sharing of the Me – a Ritual to the Goddess Inanna. Another lengthy rite is Kaldera’s The Descent of Inanna, which is exactly that, a ritual staging of the descent from the Enuma Elish in a mystery play read by two narrators.inannaring

Unlike some devotionals from Asphodel, in which essays are combined with rituals and poetry, the content of Into the Great Below has a focus on the poetic, with nothing in the way of lengthy articles. This is, perhaps, to be expected given the dearth of existing written material on these subjects without wandering into territories of unverified personal gnosis or academic minutiae. Despite the range of contributors, there is a certain similarity of tone and themes, with a feeling that everyone is coming from a similar place in the interpretation of Inanna and Ereshkigal, and the descent narrative in particular. Into the Great Below runs to 125 perfect bound paperback pages, with type set in the usual clean and functional standard of Asphodel publications. Space seems to be the enemy as all empty areas are filled with my illustrations, or an assortment of various, inconsistently rendered, archaeological images.

Published by Asphodel. ISBN 978-0-9825798-3-1


The Grimoire of Tiamat – Asenath Mason

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Categories: chaos, mesopotamian, nightside, typhonian, underworld, Tags:

Grimoire of Tiamat coverAsenath Mason’s Grimoire of Tiamat presents a complete system of magick based around the Mesopotamian primordial goddess Tiamat and the eleven monsters she created to aid her in her fight against the new order of gods lead by Marduk. While the wider focus of the book is, obviously, Tiamat, much of the practical part of this grimoire deals with these eleven demon-gods: Bašmu (Venomous Snake), Ušumgallu (Great Dragon), Mušmahhu (Exalted Serpent), Mušhuššu (Furious Snake), Lahamu (the Hairy One), Ugallu (the Big Weather-Beast), Uridimmu (Mad Lion), Girtablullû (Scorpion-Man), Umu Dabrutu (Violent Storms), Kulullû (Fish-Man) and Kusarikku (Bull-Man).

Mason is at pains to point out that what she is presenting here is not an authentic reconstruction of any Mesopotamian magickal tradition, acknowledging that there is no archaeological evidence of the direct worship of Tiamat and her creations; and the only ritual sources relating to them are exorcisms and banishing formulae. Instead, she defines the work as a book for occult practitioners of the present century and to this end, testifies that all the rituals within the book have been tested by magickal associates and verified as to their efficacy. Not exactly a double blind, peer-reviewed trial, but certainly more testimony than most books provide for their rituals which, for all intents and purposes, may have never moved off the page into actual practice.

The Grimoire of Tiamat is divided into three sections: first, a lengthy introduction of the theme and cosmology, followed by individual workings for each of the eleven demon-gods, and then a concluding appendix of thematically related workings focussing directly on Tiamat and Kingu. The first section, Primal Draconian Gods, is rather well written, especially for someone with, one assumes, English as a second language. Mason outlines the legend of Tiamat as contained in the Enuma Elish and while her approach is not purely academic, there’s a rigorous quality to her writing, with references cited as footnotes. Refreshingly, there’s very little, if any, of the kind of boy’s own anthropology that usually attaches itself to Mesopotamian mythology in modern occultism, where writers since Simon in his Necronomicon have treated Sumerian, Babylonian and Akkadian culture as interchangeable blank canvases onto which they can paint their own usually derivative Lovecraftian cosmology. Mason gives a survey of how Tiamat has been interpreted and viewed throughout Mesopotamia, and expands on this to include other motifs from the region in which a primordial dragon is killed. Tiamat is identified as the first mother, the creator of all life, as well as the embodiment of watery Chaos similar to the Hebrew concept of Tehom, the deep mentioned in the first lines of Genesis.

Sigil of Tiamat

The second section, The Children of Tiamat, presents ways of working with each of the eleven demon-gods, prefaced with an explanation of the techniques that follow and the use of the Key of Night, a master sigil that is employed throughout the workings as a way to access the nightside. Each entry for the eleven deities uses a standard format, with an introductory discussion followed by an evocation, an invocation, a brief guided meditation (sometimes two), and instructions on doing dreamwork with that entity. Each section begins with a sigil for the respective deity and concludes with what is referred to as their draconian sigil (usually a more elaborate, more illustrative and pictorial design). The discussions that introduce each entity combine information from primary Mesopotamian and academic sources with impressions gathered from magickal experiences. Because there can be rather slight information about some of the eleven in original sources, other than their rather descriptive names, some of these discussions can stretch the available information a little thin, or weigh more heavily on the received knowledge than on others. What is presented shows the eleven as not the most pleasant of creatures, all of them being spirits of transformation that often involve spitting venom and ripping out hearts. The eleven are presented as spirits capable of both transforming the initiate and being employed for malefica against a practitioner’s enemies. Perhaps it’s my lack of familiarity with Mesopotamian languages, but the eleven demon-gods with their sometimes similar names seem somewhat interchangeable and are not entirely memorable. Serpentine, draconian and generally bestial imagery abounds, and the vicious initiatory techniques they use seem to be shared across some of the eleven; with being bitten in the third eye by a venomous demon-god being the motif du jour.

Given Mason’s past involvement with the Dragon Rouge’s Polish Magan Lodge, it’s inevitable that this work has something of a Dragon Rouge vibe about it. It’s not just the draconian themes, but some of the general tone, philosophy and ritual structure; with, for example, the very un-Mesopotamian, but very Dragon Rouge, ritual refrain of Ho Drakon Ho Megas cropping up here and there. Also indicative of this lineage, Mason occasionally draws comparisons between the eleven demon-gods and the nightside of the qabbalistic tree of life, noting characteristics shared between a particular being and one of the qliphothic spheres. But this is only done in passing, as if the possibility of setting them out in precise correspondences would be too much of a stretch.

The final section of The Grimoire of Tiamat is an appendix that returns the focus to Tiamat. This takes the form of a guided meditation within the waters of Tiamat, a ritual for two participants invoking Tiamat and Kingu, a rite of malefica, and a discussion of the underworld in Mesopotamian belief, followed by a chthonic guided pathworking.

At just under 200 pages, the Grimoire of Tiamat provides a concise, internally coherent system for someone who finds themselves resonating with that cosmology; and is better equipped than I to tell their Mušmahhus from their Mušhuššus. It is limited to 500 hand numbered copies, with another 15 in a hand-numbered leather bound deluxe edition. Bound in red faux leather, with black end papers, it is smyth-sewn and has a red ribbon bookmark. The title is rendered in gilt on the spine and there is a gilt eleven-pointed star sigil on the cover; although it bugs me that the depth of the spine wasn’t taken into account when aligning the sigil, so it appears a little to the right and not fully centred (occult world problems, I know).

Published by Nephilim Press.


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.