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Pagan Anarchism – Christopher Scott Thompson

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Categories: paganism, witchcraft

Pagan Anarchism coverPublished by Gods and Radicals, this brief 100 page, nine chapter volume from Christopher Scott Thompson does what it says on the can: talks about paganism and anarchism. There has been of late a certain, if not wealth, then at least a healthy crop of titles addressing occultism, paganism and witchcraft in particular as expressions of political resistance and rebellion. There is, as Thompson acknowledges, Peter Grey’s Apocalyptic Witchcraft from 2013, and only a couple of months ago, David Salisbury’s Weiser-published Witchcraft Activism; not to mention elements of paganism and occultism touched on in Stockholm University Press’s Anarchism and Religion series. Thompson’s unique selling point here is its concern with, shall we say, classic anarchism, and with that, pretty classic witchcraft too. Indeed, despite the paganism in the title, and references to some broadly pagan society, it is more witchcraft that is considered here; which as dual faith observers are so wont to mention, may be pagan or not.

For Thompson, the one thing that brings paganism and anarchism together is another ‘ism,’ animism, arguing that it is this that provides the fundamental contradiction between pagan and capitalist world views. With that said, I’m sure some contrarian could argue that you can define oneself as a pagan without necessarily being an animist. One can, to use Thompson’s example, object to dumping poison in a river because you believe, as a pagan, that it is a sacred river, without necessarily believing that that sacrosanctity is a result of, or is imbued by, the river having agency and consciousness.

By way of introduction to this synthesis, Thompson provides succinct histories of both paganism and anarchism. For paganism, he begins with definitions per Ronald Hutton, touches on the feudal systems and power relationships of mediaeval Europe, before finally summarising the modern pagan revival with a fairly standard trajectory: Romanticism, Leland, Murray, Gardner, et al. On the anarchism side of things, Thompson again returns to Romanticism as a significant cultural alembic, noting an intersection between that most pagan of poets and author of The Masque of Anarchy, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the politically progressive family of his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Clearly familiar with his subject, Thompson then proceeds through the history of largely secular anarchism (Godwin, Proudhon, Stirnin, Bakunin, etc), but is also able to find those occasional instances of a pagan presence, such as founder of the Ancient Druid Order, militant labour organiser and anarchist communist George Watson MacGregor-Reid.

Pagan Anarchism spread

The way in which MacGregor-Reid was “ill at ease with the values and the limitations of contemporary civilization” (as historian Adam Stout put it), sums up the considerations here, and the precarious dance that Thompson must perform in advocating for what is essentially a future of the past, a step backwards to go forwards. He addresses such concerns, summarising various contemporary expressions of these theories and noting the problematic nature of the most extreme and anti-civilisation versions of environmental anarchism such as Deep Green Resistance; who, it must be said, end up sounding similar to the most fervent adherents of anti-cosmic ideas.

In one of the concluding chapters, Thompson presents his own theoretical, high idealised, vision of a future anarchist city, potentially hundreds of years following the fall of capitalisation. Everything is very nice, people presumably sing Kumbaya (Pagan Version) a lot, and there’s apparently no room for misanthropes, curmudgeons, loners, the social inept, or snarky reviewers of occult books, because “people aren’t alienated from each other, they live and work together in close proximity.” Sounds hideous.

Thompson uses the Rojava autonomous region in northeastern Syria as the closest extant analogy to this shining anarchist city on the hill, with the zone’s pluralistic democratic federalism, environmental sustainability and decentralisation sounding like the most progressive brand of anarchism.

The chapters of Pagan Anarchism are interspersed with single-page poems and prayers. These are part of a sliver of practical application that Thompson inserts within all the theory. There’s a little guide to bringing the magic back, as it’s described, with incense lighting, walking with intent, etc, while the appendix includes a basic pagan ritual, venerating the gods and the ancestors, and intended to be repeated at least once a month.

Pagan Anarchism spread

Printed by print-on-demand company Lightning Source, Pagan Anarchism runs to just under 100 pages and is perfect bound in a soft matte cover. It bears a striking collage by Ex Voto Fecit on the cover depicting Our Lady of Anarchy, and this is laid out by Li Pallas who has worked on other Gods and Radical titles. It is not clear who did the interior layout here, though, and it differs from that of other Gods and Radicals publications, which have a clear, functional look that doesn’t wow but is perfectly acceptable. Pagan Anarchism, though, seems a bit clunky.

Rather than the elegant Didot serif of the cover, the interior is all sans serif all the time. Copy is rendered in a larger-than-it-should-be serif more suited for display than body (high stroke contrast, a slanted bar in the ‘e’), with smaller-than-it-should-be leading that makes everything feel cramped and shouty; as are the pull quotes which are even bigger and even shoutier. Everything is indented, including, atypically, first paragraphs, while the first paragraphs of each chapter add drop words to this indent, each rendered in a large, all-caps, distressed stencil typeface, because, y’know, anarchy. This same Crass-esque face is used for chapter titles, sub headings and somewhat inexplicably and incongruously, for a full page excerpt from Charles Leland’s Aradia. In all, everything feels very crammed, and not even anarchic, despite the on-the-nose stencil face, while the tightly-spaced sans serif face of the body is only seditious and iconoclastic by not being conducive to reading.

Published by Gods and Radicals Press

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Hekate Liminal Rites – Sorita d’Este & David Rankine

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Categories: classical, goddesses, paganism, underworld, witchcraft, Tags:

Hekate Liminal Rites coverThe goddess Hekate looms large over at Avalonia, and in addition to this colon-deficient title, the Glastonbury-based publishers have released The Temple of Hekate by Tara Sanchez, two anthologies both edited by Avalonia owner Sorita d’Este (the equally colon-wanting Hekate Her Sacred Fires and Hekate Key to the Crossroads), as well as d’Este’s own more recent work Circle for Hekate – Volume I: History & Mythology, yay, colons. If that wasn’t enough, d’Este also founded the Covenant of Hekate and runs the semi-regular Hekate Symposium. Suffice to say, if indeed faith without works is dead, d’Este should be pretty assured of some eschatological rewards from her matron when the time comes.

d’Este and collaborator David Rankine give a hint of their intent with the book’s verbose subtitle: A study of the rituals, magic and symbols of the torch-bearing Triple Goddess of the Crossroads. This is expanded upon in the introduction where they talk of coming across various items relating to Hekate whilst researching other projects, describing this book as part of a long term project that brings together such nuggets as they relate to ritual practices. As such, the book details information on historic charms, blessings, herb and root magic, dreams and divination, effectively providing a toolkit of authentic, referenced magickal items and procedures that can be incorporated into one’s own Hekate-themed modalities; and not just some handheld modern rituals to slavishly follow, as some disappointed reviewers on Amazon were obviously looking for.

Because of this, Hekate Liminal Rites can be a little dry. In places it sometimes feels like an info dump, where research notes have been entered into chapters, without much from d’Este and Rankine to glue them together. That contextual glue can also be absent between chapters, simply because a chapter’s focus on a particular area in which Hekate is documented can be brief and standalone, sharing little with the chapters that precede or proceed it. This is, obviously, inevitable given the style of the book, and as a criticism has little solution, but is mentioned to provide a sense of the content’s style and its resulting reading experience.

Hekate Liminal Rites page spread

One of the most interesting things that d’Este and Rankine draw attention to is the syncretic nature of Hekate, where her associations in the ancient world weren’t monolithically Greek, but instead often placed her in concert with deities from Egypt, Mesopotamia and later even Christianity. In spells for love and protection from the Greek Magical Papyri, Hekate appears alongside Ereshkigal, the Sumerian goddess of the underworld and an obvious cross-cultural equivalent. The same association is found in defixiones, simple binding spells made on lead tablets, with Hekate being joined by Ereshkigal and other names in a string of voces magicae. In other instances, Hekate appears in the company of angels, with a spell from the Greek Magical Papyri addressing her alongside the archangel Michael (as well as Hermes, Mene, Osiris and Persephone), while in others, angels are identified as the minions of Hekate, who is entreated to send them forth to aid the supplicant.

Given their theurgic emphasis, the Greek Magical Papyri plays a large role within Hekate Liminal Rites as a source, as do the Chaldean Oracles. But d’Este and Rankine also draw from the entire classical canon, beginning with Homer, the Greek dramatists, and up to Roman historians and the Early Church Fathers, as well as extending well beyond this to a smattering of occult sources like Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. As such, there’s a wealth of material to draw from and Hekate’s ritual correspondences, types of ceremonies and procedures, are all covered off magnificently. This ritual framework also allows other areas of Hekate to be touched on, with spells from various sources providing opportunities to consider her animal forms, herbs and potions, associations with the underworld, and even her relevance to Solomonic magic. These are all presented in a brief, utilitarian manner, making for a brisk but pleasant read; with extensive and blessed citing of sources throughout.

Hekate Liminal Rites is available as a 193 page paperback, printed like most, if not all, Avalonia titles by print-on-demand company Lightning Source. There’s not much of the way of internal illustration, with only a handful of statue photographs and reproduced prints. With that said, the cover image of a triform Hekate from Joanna Barnum is pretty great and more of that on the inside would have been neat.

Published by Avalonia

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Panparadox – Vexior

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Categories: anticosmic, paganism, Tags:

panparadox-coverThis book published by Ixaxaar represents some of the oldest written material from Vexior whose more recent work includes Thursakyngi and before that, the Gullveigarbók released by Fall of Man. Panparadox was originally published in July 2009 and as such, it stands as a documentation of Vexior’s intellectual and metaphysical development, revealing a focus on the god Pan that within the very pages ventures into the darker Germanic territory the author is now better known for.

Given his other writing, it should come as no surprise that Vexior approaches Pan from an anti-cosmic perspective. Pan is seen through a prism that splinters him into various aspects. He is a spirit of Chaos, an infernal and manifold Luciferian force, and an adversarial spirit of pestilence. Vexior also identifies Pan with the folkloric figure of Grimalkin, seeing in this witchcat an image of Pan as unbound nature spirit. This section also contains a somewhat diverting section on Baphomet combining what seems to be the traditional depiction of this godform along with the idiosyncratic interpretation of the Order of Nine Angles (the Agios O Baphomet refrain is used here in an invocatory poem, for example). This appears as a diversion because it is only used as a relatively long preface to the final explanation that Pan and Baphomet share no relationship, other than a generic connection with knowledge; and, one presumes, their mutual corneolus appendages.

Arguably the core theme of this book is what Vexior sees as a relationship between Pan and Loki. Although he does not identify them as the same being, he does write of a vague connection between the two, with the idea of one cloaked within the other. It is this writing that seems to mark Vexior’s turn to the Lokean side as it were, because with it he provides some of most concentrated sections of this book, with the references to Pan left momentarily behind as he focuses almost entirely on Loki. This motif is resumed at the end of Panparadox with a concluding and previously unpublished chapter called The Flaming Nexus, in which Vexior provides an updated summary of some of the book’s content, specifically the intersection he sees between Pan and Loki. This initially takes the form of invocatory prose which then, unexpectedly, changes tone and voice and becomes more discursive.

Nopis sigil

The practical side of this book is presented in a section called Irissimum, which contains some basic ritual instructions with all the familiar magickal accoutrements along with invocations and the ceremonial calling of elemental quarters. Other than the addition of a pan flute as a ritual tool, there’s not too much here that differs from the usual Western magickal repertoire. Given the repeated use of the word ‘panic,’ it’s a shame more wasn’t given over to potential methods of using that sensation as a magickal technique. As one would expect with this kind of book, there’s a wealth of sigils, most notably the Nopis sigil of Pan that graces the cover, but also a variety of others representing Pan’s various attributes. There’s also a brief grimoire-like section listing the names of Pan’s various sons, each with their attendant sigil.

The credit for the formatting of Panparadox is attributed to both Vexior and Ixaxaar, and as a result, it has a distinctive look that differs from some of the more refined layout expected from this publisher. There is a certain heaviness to the typesetting, with the serif face of the body set with generous leading at a relatively large point size, and then with occasional words highlighted in a thick blackletter face. Adding to this dense typographic colour, is a lack of paragraph formatting on the larger sequences of text, with neither indents or returns used to provide any space. Panparadox is illustrated throughout with a range of images that add to the density on the page. The most successful of these are the full page, densely rendered, pen and ink illustrations of the various aspects of Pan by Chadwick Saint John. His distinctive style (and, indeed some of these images) will be familiar as album artwork to listeners of Vexior’s black metal band Arckanum.

Luciferian Pan in vex and scorn by Chadwick St. John

Given the dimensions of both the book and its typeface, as well as the wealth of images, Panparadox makes for a quick read. The writing is for the most part broken into brief sub chapters that are never very long and never dwell too long on the subject. As evidenced by the strange little Baphomet chapter, there’s a lack of focus in some of this writing, with the book flitting briefly from one topic to another. When compared to his more recent works, it is clear that Vexior’s writing has improved since this first foray, with some of the familiar pitfalls encountered by speakers of English as a second language raising their clumsy head from time to time.

The regular edition of Panparadox comes in run of 430 hand-numbered copies, with a page count of 208 pages. It is a clothbound, small octavo sized hardcover, with the Nopis sigil foiled in silver on the cover, and silver text on the spine. For an Ixaxaar publication, this is a modest presentation but one perhaps befitting the slightness and more archival nature of this work. A leatherbound edition was also available, but as one would expect, that sold out in advance.

Published by Ixaxaar.

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Abraxas: International Journal of Esoteric Studies, Issue Five

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Categories: magick, paganism, thelema, Tags:

Abraxas FivePublished by the incomparable Fulgur, Abraxas is perhaps the glossiest and grandest of all the current esoteric journals. It has a super large format, 180 glossy pages, many full colour and full page plates and a sturdy binding. It’s a weighty, slightly cumbersome read that requires retiring to a good reading nook; no in-transit snatching of moments with this one. Abraxas also has a noticeably quick turnaround as far as occult journals go: after writing the above start to what I thought was the review of the latest issue, another issue has since been released, as well as a simultaneously issued volume in their special issue series.

Maybe it suggests that I spend too much time reading the kind of publications that delight in the glamorous dark but there is something of a dry quality to the Abraxas style. The white space, the glossy stock, and the overall tone gives a sense of art gallery austerity. You can see why Abraxas bears the grand subtitle of the international journal of esoteric studies, rather than, say, something less restrained. This is by no means a value judgement, just an interesting point of differentiation.

The content of Abraxas runs the gamut of matters esoteric, but there is a noticeable emphasis on artistic endeavours. Even an interview with Michael Bertiaux is framed within the context of his art, rather than as just an author and occultist. There is often a balance throughout this issue between historical and modern artists, with the symbolist and surrealist art movements of the first part of the twentieth century acting as obvious touchstones for both the contributors to Abraxas and the contemporary artists that are profiled. The surrealist Victor Brauner is considered by Jon Graham, while Randall Morris interviews Bea Kwan Lim, whose delicate combination of ephemeral washes and lines occasionally recalls Marjorie Cameron’s occult artwork. Ken Henson presents a survey of the life and work of John Augustus Knapp, perhaps best known for his illustrations to Manly P. Hall’s Secret Teachings of All Ages, while Pam Grossman interviews contemporary Greek-born, New York-based esoteric artist Panos Tsagaris. This emphasis on art is underlined by the many full page and full colour plates that feature throughout, some as accompaniments to interviews and articles, and some as standalone pieces. The largest of these are a twelve page suite of full colour images, La Villa dei Misteri, by Arrington de Dionyso in a naïve style reminiscent of Matisse or the wide-eyed stares of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Perhaps the most intriguing feature on art is Sasha Chaitow’s essay on the life and work of Joséphin Péladan, founder of the Salon de la Rose + Croix, a subject for which it seems precious little information is available. Chaitow is well equipped to write this piece, having considered Péladan in her PhD thesis and written extensively about him elsewhere, and she presents the sâr and his work with a certain pronounced affection. Chaitow concludes her essay with her own artwork, Bené-Satan, a pencil on paper illustration of Lucifer as he is described in Péladan’s 1888 novel Istar.

Elsewhere, further away from the fields of art, Olivia Robertson is memorialised by Caroline Wise in a rather touching tribute to the founder of the Fellowship of Isis, accompanied by some lovely photographs by both Wise and Celia Thomas. In The (Not Entirely) Lost ‘Art of the Apothecary,’ Ioannis Marathakis exhaustively explores the process and constituents of Abramelin Oil, tracing it back to similar anointing oils detailed in biblical texts, while Stephanie Spoto gives a brief history of the use of spirits in European occultism, from Neoplatonism through to John Dee.

To go with its high production values, Abraxas features a consistently high standard of writing, with most pieces featuring extensive and comprehensive citing of references. The reader’s interest in the various subjects may vary and it’s certainly not a cover to cover or a single-sitting read. Rather, one feels inclined to jump from the more appealing contributions, making a promise to return to the others later. Abraxas comes as a regular edition sewn paperback of 180 full colour 290 x 232mm pages for £15.00. There is also a hardback edition of 300 copies for £50.00, with a gold-stamped design by Panos Tsagaris and a custom-fitted dust jacket; not to mention, an original, signed and hand-numbered print by Bea Kwan Lim.

Published by Fulgur.

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The Cauldron, No 149 August 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.the-cauldron.org.uk

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Children of Cain – Michael Howard

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

childrenofcain-coverWay back in the mists of time, the first book I ever read about “witchcraft” was Laurie Cabot’s Power of the Witch. Even at such a formative stage, there were things about it that didn’t sit right with me; not least the diagram of chakras, laid out on an Egyptian style figure, in a book sprinkled with the dreaded C word (Celtic). Funnily enough, around the same time, I read my first book about runes, Michael Howard’s Wisdom of the Runes, so this consideration of traditional witchcraft makes for an interesting journey full circle.1

Subtitled A Study of Modern Traditional Witches, in many ways, this book resumes where Ronald Hutton left off in Triumph of the Moon, considering in depth some of the figures that he briefly covered, but with the focus here being on those who claim independence from the system of Wicca promoted by Gerald Gardner. With almost fifty years studying and researching witchcraft, Howard is in the unique position of having known or corresponded with most of the key figures of modern witchcraft; many of who are now gone.

There are three main areas of historical modern traditional witchcraft2 that Howard considers before exploring some tangents and more recent expressions: Robert Cochrane’s Clan of Tubal Cain, the related group The Regency and the Pickingill Craft claims of Bill Liddell. Howard’s account of the Clan of Tubal Cain covers familiar ground for anyone that has devoured his previous writings on the subject as well as those of Evan John Jones, Doreen Valiente and more recently, Shani Oates. Howard does not shy away from looking as the personal side of Cochrane’s life, which is perhaps inevitable given how so much of the story of the Clan is tied up with Cochrane’s own personal mythology. Howard tends to highlight his erratic behaviour, which could be seen as a personal attack by those overly invested in Cochrane as a guru figure, but is perhaps better viewed as illustrative of his qualities as a trickster and atavistic archetype who has become as much a figure of myth as Tubal Cain and Goda themselves.

The consideration of George Pickingill is quite exhaustive, which is perhaps to be expected since Howard with his magazine The Cauldron was one of the original publishers of some of the claims by Bill Liddell. Liddell’s theory that Essex cunning man George Pickingill was actually a grand master of nine covens who had direct influence on everyone from Gerald Gardner to the Golden Dawn is an appealing one, and one can’t help feeling that Howard gives it as much space as he does just because of how glorious its grand vision is. By no means does he state his acceptance of Liddell’s claims, but there’s a feeling he wishes they were true. And who wouldn’t? One crazy old village wizard weaves together almost every strand of nineteenth century English occultism. Who needs the Illuminati when you’ve got Old George.

Following these three histories, Howard takes a step back chronologically and looks at the 18-19th century quasi-magickal guilds such as the Horseman’s Word and the Toadsmen. This consideration is perfectly placed as it shows how many of these rural secret society had themes that were synchronous with, or directly informed, the strands of Traditional Witchcraft that would publically emerge in subsequent years. For the Horseman’s Word, Cain was revered as the first horseman and the presiding chief horseman was identified as the Devil, while the rites of the Toadsmen have been thoroughly explored by Cultus Sabbati magister Andrew Chumbley.

Where Children of Cain is at its most potentially invaluable is in the chapter on the Sabbatic Craft. As an empowered initiate of the Cultus Sabbati, Howard is well placed to present what is perhaps the largest consideration of the group in print so far. Ever so slightly hagiographic in tone, Howard’s admiration for Andrew Chumbley is quite evident and he is nowhere as critical of his friend and their claims as he is of the arguably similar figure of Robert Cochrane. Most of the chapter, though, deals not directly with the Cultus Sabbati but takes the praxis of the group as an opportunity to explore various Cultus-relevant aspects of traditional witchcraft: the witches’ sabbat, the wild hunt and witches’ flying ointments.

Casting his net wider to cover areas of occultism that share the same atmosphere of traditional witchcraft, if not a direct link to those already covered, Howard also looks at the work of Austin Spare and New Zealand-born artist Rosaleen Norton, along with various American traditions (Victor Anderson’s Feri tradition, Douglas McIlwain’s Order of the Skull and Bones as well as American folk magick in general).

Title plate design by Liv Rainey-Smith

While not as rampant as Capall Bann titles, Children of Cain has some careless spelling mistakes and misplaced letters; although for some reason, this lessens as the book progresses. This is such a shame given the lengths that Three Hands Press have gone to in the presentation of this book, and it makes it all the more jarring to find them in such a well presented volume; with Capall Bann titles, the reckless spelling almost goes hand in hand with the cheap printing, generic formatting and cumbersome binding. Although it is not as exhaustively referenced as it could have been, many sources, including personal correspondences, are cited within the text, making for a feeling of a satisfying authoritative read.

In all, Howard’s book is an important consideration of the strands of witchcraft history that diverge from the usual Gardner and Alexandrian “mainstream.” It consolidates, arguably for the first time, a wealth of information about groups for which precious little has been written before. Although some may object to how their respective traditions have been represented here (where Howard’s knowledge is perhaps familiar but not intimate), each strand is fairly and, on the whole, dispassionately represented. Given the nature of this subject, where claims of authenticity for one’s tradition are so often a concern, the tone of an author is an important consideration. Howard’s approach could be said to have a (to use a now rather dated reference) Mulder-like willingness to believe that is tempered with a Scullyesque critical approach that cautions him against totally subscribing to anyone’s claim; at least in print.

Published by Three Hands Press

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1. Although, to be fair, Howard’s book did feature a Ralph Blum-style blank Wyrd rune, so time makes fools of us all.

2. Yes, I’m aware that categorisation makes almost no sense.

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