Categotry Archives: qabalah

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The Blazing Dew of Stars – David Chaim Smith

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Categories: alchemy, art, esotericism, hermeticism, qabalah

The Blazing Dew of Stars coverDavid Chaim Smith, as his bio runs, is an author and artist based on Long Island, New York. He gained a BFA in drawing from Rhode Island School of Design and graduated from Columbia University with a Masters in 1989. His principle medium is finely rendered and intensely detailed pencil, and that’s what you get here in this large-format book from Fulgur; his second with that press, following on from 2012’s The Sacrificial Universe.

The Blazing Dew of Stars presents David Chaim Smith’s take on qabalah, otherwise seen in titles such as 2015’s The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis and 2016’s The Awakening Ground: A Guide to Contemplative Mysticism (both from Inner Traditions). Where those books differ from The Blazing Dew of Stars is the focus on Chaim Smith’s artwork, often appearing here as full page plates, with adjunct smaller illustrations in the margins of facing pages. That doesn’t mean this book is without writing, in fact, it is quite text heavy, with Chaim Smith’s images appearing as adjuncts to his dense, periphrastic text. It’s just such text that forms the first, and image-free, chapter, Reaching Beyond God, 24 pages of circumlocutory writing with phrases like “systems that cultivate compassion mitigate the primitive reflexes of animal power that produce the psycho-emotive toxins of the human realm” or “Conceptuality can slowly learn to be able to abide within it, such that subtle abstract impressions can slowly take over, subsuming the momentum of perceptual formation into visionary registers.” As your eyes glaze over after page after page of this, you find yourself skipping forward, hoping to hit the pretty pictures sometime soon; the ligatures on the serif typeface are nice, though, if a little showy.

David Chaim Smith: Secret Gestation of the Gnosime

Chaim Smith presents what he refers to as kabbalistic contemplative alchemy, a system he calls Iy’yun; a Hebrew word, sans the glottal stop, meaning ‘contemplation.’ Iy’yun is pursued, in this case in particular, through linguistic and graphic constructions, with its inner life creating resonating layers, revealed within the illustrations here, and it is this that distils the dew of the title; a gnostic realisation which accumulates with wonder, beauty and astonishment. Or so the blurb goes. This takes the form in a manner of ways: exegetical sections, more practical exercises in which Chaim Smith’s images are a meditative focus, and other exercises in which the illustrations are but representations of the concept in hand.

The dense and theoretical first chapter opening The Blazing Dew of Stars is followed by one that reprises the title of the book as its own and is subtitled A Kavanah Meditation in Three Parts. This three part meditation is based on three chambers, each focussed on a divine name: AHYH, ALP LMD HY YVD MM, and YHVH/MTzPTz. Chaim Smith provides a thorough exegesis on the metaphysics behind the procedure, in which the dew of contemplation is brought forth, the blaze is set alight, and the practitioner becomes a primordial mirror, a “liquid display of transelemental morphosis,” no less. This is then followed by the exercise itself, in which the various letters are visualised doing their thing, and which is, in turn, depicted graphically in Chaim Smith’s accompanying pencil illustration.

David Chaim Smith: The Blazing Dew

The third chapter, Unfurling the Dream Fire, is the book’s largest and most visually impressive section, in which Chaim Smith conveys ideas through four different methods: two textual and two graphical. Each spread begins with a usually brief verse, set in a large italic face, and this is then expanded upon below it in the smaller text of technical notes, featuring definitions, correspondences, and numerological values. The ideas contained within the initial quote are distilled into small, relatively simple, seals that sit in the right margin of the right hand page of a spread, while the left page is taken up entirely by considerably more elaborate elucidations of the ideas as full page illustrations. The idea, says Chaim Smith, is that the contemplator is able to overlap and interpenetrate meaning using a variety of mental tools.

The full page formatting of the images in Unfurling the Dream Fire allows them to be seen in all their glory, and execution. They are densely rendered almost entirely in just pencil; something that you don’t necessarily notice until you are viewing them at this size, where the smudged layers of graphite used for shading or as background can look murky and less impressive than at first glance. With his images featuring an abundance of alembics and other glass vessels, as well as the roots, trunks and branches of mystical trees, the most obvious comparison of Chaim Smith’s work are alchemical illustrations; notably those that accompany the work of fifteenth century alchemist George Ripley, such as the scroll that bears his name. There’s a persistent sense of growth and fluidity, of amrita dripping from receptacles and homunculi growing in cucurbits. All of the elements are contained within often circular borders, as well as boundaries created by text, often repeating the lines of the initial verse, or evoking key words. The same four-fold format is also followed in a later section, The Enthroning of the Blaze.

David Chaim Smith: Unfurling the Dreamfire

Several other sections follow Unfurling the Dream Fire, largely text based but accompanied with the occasional full-page image, including some instances where the illustrations are inverted, giving the impression of scratchboard or chalk on a black board. One of these, Dead Dreams Awaken the Sleeping Bride, is effectively a guided visualisation, heavy on exegesis within the journey text, accompanied by a single full-page illustration. Meanwhile, The Intoxicating Nectar of Vision, a received text of ten numbered verses that runs parallel to the creation narrative of the opening of Genesis, and which, naturally, follows the style and nomenclature of the rest of The Blazing Dew of Stars. This is an argot full of words such as transcendence, perceptual matrices, resonances and magical continuums; all lexemes that in their disorientating concatenation are often teetering on the edge of a word salad abyss.

David Chaim Smith: The Metacartograph

The regular edition of The Blazing Dew of Stars consists of 913 copies, measuring 27cm square with 138 pages in total, and 14 full page drawings, 29 seals and vignettes and a two-page folding plate of The Metacartograph, a large format, colour inverted illustration that acts as an “overview map of creativity in the manifestation of phenomena,” if you will. This edition is bound in black cloth, with a matte finish black dustjacket. The deluxe edition of 88 author-signed copies was bound by hand in full black morocco with special tooling in silver gilt, blind pressed and silver filled front panel embellishment. It included the dust jacket of the standard edition but was housed in a special lined slipcase of premium black cloth.

Published by Fulgur

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Qliphoth Esoteric Publication Opus 1: The Awakening (Atavistic Path) – Edited by Edgar Kerval

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Categories: nightside, qabalah, typhonian

Qliphoth coverReleased in 2012, Qliphoth Esoteric Publication Opus 1 is arguably one of the first journals in the current glut of darkly-hued occult publishing. Edited by Edgar Kerval and here published by Aeon Sophia Press, Qliphoth would have something of an itinerant life, moving betwixt publishing houses. A second volume would be released in a more conventional occult-book format by Aeon Sophia Press, before Nephilim Press took up the mantle for a time, with still later volumes being released by Kerval’s own publishing imprint.

There is a wide range of both contributors and topics in this first volume, embracing themes of the nightside, voudon, hoodoo, general sorcery and even a little bit of syncretisation of Loki with Azatoth (by which is meant HP Lovecraft’s Azathoth, not the similarly h-deficient Swedish black/death metal band from Uddevalla, or, for that matter, the death metal band from Stockholm – Satan bless you, Encyclopaedia Metallum). From the contributors, there’s a few new names as well as some familiar ones, such as Sean Woodward, Kyle Fite, Aion 131 (whose poem Tua-Set is an excerpt from his Liber Phoenix), Orryelle Defenestrate Bascule (with their nightside notes, some of which also appeared in Anathema’s Pillars journal), and Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold (in a lengthy piece on antinomian sorcery).

Amongst many of the contributions there’s a palpable sense of a giddy delight in darkness and shadow, of a youthful enthusiasm for what the authors hope is transgressive and original, but which old timers might find either sweet or irritating. This is particularly exacerbated by the perhaps unwise inclusion of author photos in some pieces. Formatted into their respective essay as if they’re an integral illustration, fingers contorted into significant gestures, their fresh faces glare out at the reader as if to say “Occultism, it’z serious bidness.” Bless.

The earnestness may account for the roughness in some of the writing, all pleonastic phrasing and reckless disregard for proofing. The consistently spellcheck-averse Daemon Barzai opens a piece on Gamaliel (presumably the qlipha and not the first century leader of the Sanhedrin, but he doesn’t say) by referring to it as the dark side of the moon and redundantly describing it as having an intimate relationship with, wait for it, “the dark side of the moon,” – that is very intimate, onanistically so. What follows are a series of guided meditations in which naked beautiful ladies are only outnumbered by the comedic triumphs of muddled and cruelly unedited English: “Opposite you appeared Lilith. Her body is naked but it is difficult to see her face. Her hairs are red as fire.” So, how many hairs? I’m thinking just two or three for pure comedy gold. “Come a dark mist and go out three black dogs that to be with a woman that wearing a black dress, she has a crown with jewels. His presence commands respect.” Yes, I imagine it does.

There’s other questionable writing, such as The Science of Magic by S. Ben Qayin, although saying that it’s written by him is a bit of stretch. Incapable of paraphrasing, he quotes extensively from a few sources, with some of the quotes running to as much as half a page. As these are not formatted any differently from the main body, the reader will assume that Qayin has written a lengthy, erudite piece, but his own writing only occurs as smatterings between these verbatim quotes, poorly tying completely unrelated themes together with logical fallacies. This approach reaches its surreally ridiculous zenith when he quotes himself in order to promote his Volubilis ex Chaosium book; one wonders how many pages of quotes that must contain.

But these failures are not necessarily the rule and there are a few diamonds amongst the rough, mainly coming from the more grizzled of the contributors. Sean Woodward uses a, one assumes, fictional narrative in a meditation on the Hoo Queen,  with the narrator exploring the coastal town of Blackmouth in search of this Shadow Queen of Sirius. Though it lacks much in the way of cosmic horror (though there is a sense of the cosmos), there’s an unavoidable sense of Lovecraft here, with the lone narrator, a stranger in a strange town, visiting a place whose name alone is redolent of Lovecraft’s Innsmouth. There’s a similar focus of hoodoo  from a name as familiar as that of Sean Woodward, Kyle Fite, who in the past has pursued the fictional narrative as occult lesson, but here has a more straight forward essay. Like Woodward’s contribution, Becoming Hoodoo is very much in the shadow of Michael Bertiaux, discussing the first section of The Voudon Gnostic Workbook, and its guide to becoming a hoodoo, which Fite argues is not the exemplar of low magic that it seems, but is instead a guide to a profound and deep theosis.

Kyle Fite - Gran Bois

Given the title of the journal, the qliphoth does loom rather large throughout this first volume. In addition to Barzai’s error-ridden piece on Gamaliel and Orryelle’s nightside notes (in which they briefly detail their exploration of the tunnels of Set, accompanied by darkly-reproduced paintings of the same), there’s a working with the tunnel of Malkunofat from Andi Moon and Sarah Price.

Of personal interest to me is Ljossal Lodursson’s Loki and Azatoth – Lords of Fire and Chaos, in which he compares Loki’s disruptive, maddening and ultimately transformative quality with Lovecraft’s madness-inducing Outer God. He calls this composite figure Azaloke (presumably a play on references to Loki as Asa-Loki), and defines him in fairly anticosmic terms as an alchemical-chaotic symbiote that destroys the kingdom of all creation. The potentially alchemical etymology of Azathoth’s name, with its echoes of the universal solvent Azoth, provides Lodursson with a way of categorising Loki, via his progeny and his relationship with Gulveig, into red, black, purple and green azoths. Lodursson describes his long experiences working with Loki and presents a series of runes received from him: a bindrune called Lokekvisa, and then a set of eleven Hjärta Rúnar, divided into three aetts of creation, destruction and chaos; though those of a mathematical bent will quickly note that these aetts don’t have the traditional eight characters each, and instead group the runes into sets of five, four and three. These Hjärta Rúnar each have a name and properties assigned to them, and resemble traditional runes in some cases, but not all, so there’s a certain inconsistency to their style.

Azaloke

As one of the first, if not the first, publications from Aeon Sophia Press, the design and formatting of Qliphoth leaves a lot to be desired and is nowhere near the consistently high standards that the publishing house now has. The book has an oversized magazine size, which despite its light weight and soft cover makes for a cumbersome read. Text is formatted into dual columns for the most part, but in some cases, this inexplicably becomes a single, full-page column in the middle of an essay, which, given the width of the page, makes the line length intolerable for reading. In an inescapable feeling of layout-by-Microsoft-Word, the body copy is rendered in a point size too large, and the same face and size is used for captions, biographies, references and even adverts, all of which bleed into one. Distorted images abound, whether they be vertically stretched, as seems to happen more often than not with photographs, or pixelated or soft in several instances of graphic elements. This is particularly egregious when it comes to some striking images by Hagen von Tulien, where the impact of his crisp, presumably vector lines, is rendered null due to pixelated reproduction. The image quality encapsulates the problems with this first issue of Qliphoth, indicative of a lack of refinement and attention to detail that is mirrored in the minimal layout, the non-existent proofing and a certain dearth of quality control when it comes to contributors. All of which tends to overshadow the elements that are good.

Hagen von Tulien: Elemental Emergence (looking significantly less pixelated than it does in print)

As is Kerval’s style, this issue of Qliphoth was accompanied by a CD of ritual music, mainly consisting of tracks by his musical guise Emma Ya, but with also a piece from Sean Woodward as his project Gothick, and the track Orpheus’ Lament from the combined talents of Orryelle, Kestral Knox and Amordios Gobblyn-Smyth. My second-hand version of the journal didn’t include the CD, but you can imagine what it sounds like, and many of the Emme Ya tracks are available online, scattered across a variety of other releases.

Published by Aeon Sophia Press


Review Soundtrack: Emme Ya – Erotognosis (Voices From The Void)

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The Serpent Tongue: Liber 187 – Jake Stratton-Kent

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Categories: esotericism, qabalah

The Serpent Tongue coverAs its subtitle A Workbook of English Qaballa suggests, this compact tome from Jake Stratton-Kent is a work detailing a system of English qabalah, both as a type of gematria and as a hands-on system of magic. By English Qaballa we mean a variation of conventional qabalah but one in which the English letters of the alphabet, rather than Hebrew, are assigned numeric values. Though he is enigmatically low on details, Stratton-Kent describes this system as having been discovered by a here-unnamed magical group in November 1976. The group had previously ritualised their intention to do so and details of theirs discovery were published in five issues of The New Equinox / British Journal of Magick. It provided a fulfilment to the promise made in Liber AL vel legis, verse 2:55: “Thou shalt obtain the order & value of the English Alphabet, thou shalt find new symbols to attribute them unto.”

In this English Qaballa (an idiosyncratic spelling variant chosen at the time because it was otherwise not in use), the gematria doesn’t make use of a direct monoalphabetic substitution cipher, as occurs with the Mispar Hechrachi system in Hebrew. Stratton-Kent notes that this entry-level attempt proved unsatisfactory, and it, along with other dead-ends, were ritually immolated. The successful solution instead used the number 11 as a key, counting on along the alphabet at intervals of eleven and assigning the monoalphabetic substitution to this new order of letters. Thus the value 1 was associated with the letter A, 2 with L, 3 with W and then, cycling through the alphabet again, 4 with H, and so forth until all 24 values were assigned to a unique letter.

For those familiar with Stratton-Kent’s social media presence, it may be of interest to know that he writes with the same, recognisable voice. It is a voice whose tone and manner is somewhat arch and acerbic, not suffering fools gladly, and throwing in words like ‘absurd’ multiple times to refer to opinions he does not share. Conversely, though, there is a certain informality to Stratton-Kent’s tone, a pragmatism that allows him to be upfront about the vagaries and vicissitude of qabalah in particular and occultism in general.

The air of a polemic bordering on the vituperative suffuses the first section of The Serpent Tongue, a lengthy introduction in which Stratton-Kent argues against the pre-eminence given in contemporary occultism to Hebrew, especially as it pertains to qabalah. He contends that qabalah as a system is indebted to the cosmopolitan milieu that preceded its development, in particular the strain of Jewish Gnosticism seen in Merkabah mysticism, within which Greek Neoplatonism was the wielder of the greatest influence. This invective is used to argue against the primacy given to Hebrew in the Western Tradition, and to make the case that, in the words of Umberto Eco, the idea of Hebrew as the primal language from which all others descended is a ‘crusty old myth;’ – a quote that Stratton-Kent appears so enamoured with that he repeats it later.

With the introductory case made for the validity of an English qabalah, part one follows with chapters on various qabalistic qualities of Liber AL, most notably the famous cipher found at II.76: 4 6 3 8 ABK 2 4 ALGMOR 3 Y X 24 89 RPSTOVAL. This underlines Stratton-Kent’s approach here, which is very much grounded in Thelema, with the gematria often being used to proffer evidence of the veracity of Crowley’s transmission, or to at least provide greater insight into its cosmology and symbolism.  Crowley’s oeuvre returns the favour in kind, being used to add the mythos and liturgy from which the English Qaballa can draw its proofs.

A page spread from The Serpent Tongue

Stratton-Kent provides plenty of ways to work with English Qaballa, not just for gematrial investigations of esoteric themes and motifs, but in practical ritual and sorcery. There’s a consideration of magick squares, but perhaps of the most interest are the various systems he presents for creating barbarous names, magickally encoded language devised with increasing degrees of complexity.

Qabalah and gematria often feel like coding and programming: if you don’t have a particular aptitude for it, it’s all a bit impenetrable, or at the very least intimidating. There’s nothing too byzantine here, but the various permutations of numbers and equations can make your eyes glaze over after a while. Ever the skeptic, I’m never sure what to think of gematria and there’s always that suggestion of confirmation bias. I mean, sure the value of the five vowels in English Qaballa is 73, which is the value of MANTRA, POWER, RUNES, GIANT, all great stuff to be sure, especially the rune power of giants, am I right? But, then, it’s presumably also the value of NURSE and RATMAN and a variety of other less numinous words… so all hail Nurse Ratman, lord of the vowels, I guess?

Despite its small size, and in saying that, it does run to over 200 pages, The Serpent Tongue is a dense work with a rigorous internal consistency and a lot for readers to employ in their practice. Stratton-Kent’s writing is to be commended, keeping it erudite but still frequently informal and irreverent, with occasional splash of snark.

Published by Hadean Press

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