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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

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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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Chthonic Revelations – Alexander Corvus

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Categories: classical, hellenic, underworld, Tags:

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

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

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

trophonios-staff

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

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

Trophonios

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

Published by Fall of Man.

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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

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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.

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The Living World of Faery – R.J. Stewart

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Categories: faery, folk, underworld

livingworldoffaeryAlthough much of Bob Stewart’s work concerns itself with the faery realm, this book sets out to focus specifically on the faeries themselves, and their appearances in traditional lore. It combines explanatory chapters, with explorations of folk songs and rhymes, as well as guided workings, with many based on the folk songs. Some of the workings included in this book have appeared in other Stewart books such as Earth Light and Power within the Land, and indeed contribute to a general feeling that much of the material is recycled, and the words simply rephrased. Stewart is, as ever, somewhat dogmatic in lamenting the state of modern occultism and the stereotypes about faeries, and after a while, this curmudgeonly approach begins to grate. It’s not that he’s necessarily wrong in his views, it’s just that once would be enough without the need for condescension.

The book is most useful for its considerations of the faery content of traditional songs and tales, with the ballad of Young Tam Lin and the song of Thomas the Rhymer being essential items of study. From a Helish perspective, a chapter on the inverted Underworld Tree, which features a pathworking to the hall of the Fairy Queen, makes for interesting and evocative reading, and can be adapted more specifically for Hela. Other visualisations include a diving through a moon pool and an exploration of the four otherworld cities from Irish mythology: Murias, Falias, Gorias and Findias.

As with some of his other works, Stewart incorporates elements of Qabalah into his discussion, prefacing it with an overview of the way in which the faery folk were often associated with the fallen angels of biblical lore. Stewart argues that, like faeries, angels have undergone a shift in representation that turns them from powerful, slightly terrifying, beings into “sugary, ethereal, white robed beings who pull us out of difficulties or encourage us with religious platitudes.” With this and a subsequent discussion of the role of Lucifer in faery lore, Stewart’s presentation evokes echoes of the dual–faith observance that is found in Andrew Chumbley’s Sabbatic Craft.

The second half of The Living World of Faery is made up of what could be called primary sources, which, when originally published in the days before digital archives of public domain works, would have been an invaluable resource. These include a reprint of an interview on faery matters with the mystical artist and writer AE (George William Russell, 1867–1935), and extracts from the Reverend Robert Kirk’s 1691/1692 work The Secret Commonwealth. With its almost anthropological notes of faeries, Kirk’s work clearly informs, or corroborates, the exercises in the first half of the book.

Overall, this is not an essential Stewart book, since so much of it is covered elsewhere, but for the completest, it is worth getting. It is nicely formatted and illustrated throughout.

Published by Mercury Publishing, North Carolina, USA. ISBN 1-892137-09-7

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The Underworld Initiation – R.J. Stewart

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Categories: folk, underworld

The Underworld InitiationMore cohesive than his Living World of Faery book, this is something of a classic Stewart work, originally published in 1983 after several years of limited circulation amongst the murky magickal scene of the late seventies and early eighties. The book is divided into three sections, providing the reader with a complete Underworld Initiation, beginning with the theory, followed by instances from traditional verse, and ending with practical exercises. In many ways, it follows the standard Stewart approach, but is far more coherent; no doubt as a result of the constant re-editing it has undergone over the years. As with all of Stewart’s work, there’s a high level of pedantry, which begins in the opening pages where he feels it necessary to provide a disclaimer that the Underworld Initiation is “not connected to diabolism, spiritualism, and ‘black magic’.”  This attitude continues with a rather curmudgeonly beating of various straw men, such as every strain of western occultism that isn’t his own (and therefore isn’t the authentic western tradition), modern living, and psychology. His issues with psychology are valid, making the point that it is useless to over-think magickal imagery and interpret it using arbitrary psychological methodology, when it is better to accept entities and deities as simply being, rather than as symbols of, for example, how you feel about your mother. It is unfortunate, though, that his tone and his labouring of points tends to undercut the importance of the message.

The theory section of the book provides a good grounding in the ideas of the underworld, considering how one journeys into it, meeting with underworld guardians and guides, and the relationship between the underworld and ancestors. Unfortunately, because so much of this work tends to fall back on a traditional system, there is very little in the way of concrete references to anything other than tradition itself. For example, no real authoritative specifics are given of underworld myths, and there is no option other than to take Stewart’s word as fact. Perhaps this explains his apparent need to use such an authoritative tone. It’s not that what he presents doesn’t ring true on a spiritual level, it’s just that he doesn’t provide any grounding to his arguments, and so may end up sounding, to the uninitiated, as vapid and as fanciful as the new age occultists he delights in dismissing out of hand. This slightly flawed and contradictory aspect of Stewart comes through clearly when he considers the symbol of the World Tree, which he begins by giving a short history of the Qabbalistic Tree of Life. As ever, it is without any facts or references, and is used as a way to make disparaging remarks from on high about the foolishness of western magick, typified by the Golden Dawn, with its overemphasis on the Hebrew language. The point of it all seems to be to argue that the Qabbalistic tree may be all right for Jewish magick, but is unsuitable for authentic western systems. Fair enough you say, Qabbalah for Qabbalists, ok, fine, but then Stewart turns around and uses his own version of the Qabbalistic tree, which differs little from the original, because apparently the tree isn’t really Jewish after all. If you’re going to spend so much time deriding something as alien and unsuitable, then surely it’d be better to come up with something unique, rather than just a bastardised version of it. Truisms involving having cake and eating it too spring to mind.

This, though, is a minor quibble, and the whole section can be ignored as it adds nothing to the system that Stewart presents, and does nothing except to complicate it and tie it down. Using a magickal map, such as the Qabbalistic tree, seems at odds with the more free form approach that Stewart presents in much of his work, and in the second section here, where stories and songs act as a subtle framework to journeys to the underworld. Once again, the two works that Stewart focuses on are the tales of Tam Lin and Thomas Rhymer, providing an in-depth exploration of the symbolism of each work. It is here that Stewart is important as a writer, because these poems provide great insight into the underworld tradition, and actually, for once, give a solid reference to what is presented in these books. In addition to Tam Lin and Thomas Rhymer, a number of other ballads are investigated, including Lord Bateman, The Demon Lover, and the Corpus Christi Carol.

The final section of practical work is relatively slight compared to the rest of the material in the book, and consists mainly of a guided pathworking. In conclusion, this is an important Stewart book to have, specifically for the amount of ballads with underworld imagery it considers. From a magickal perspective, there is less here of specific use, and for that a better source would be the later works Earth Light and Power Within the Land.

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