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Both Sides of Heaven – Edited by Sorita d’Este

Categories: faery, luciferian, Tags:

bothsidesofheavenAvalonia’s Both Sides of Heaven is a collection of essays on angels, fallen angels and demons that suggests that, were the contributors made to choose, it would be the darker side of heaven on which they would sit. There is a preponderance of pieces exploring the fallen angels, whereas their heavenly counterparts are only occasionally present, but such is the dark glamour of the fallen ones that this is, perhaps, inevitable.

With eighteen contributions, there is a wide range of material here, and as one would expect, it is of varying quality and worth. Some of the highlights include Kim Huggens’ Between Gods and Men, a survey of the idea of daimons from a cross section of classical source, while a similar mytho-anthropological approach is taken by Payam Nabarz in a consideration of the angels and demons of Zoroastrian cosmology. Both pieces are well written and thoroughly referenced, making them a joy to read.

There are also strong contributions from Michael Howard and David Rankine. Howard’s The Myth of the Fallen Ones is effectively a summary of the material from his books The Pillars of Tubal Cain and The Book of Fallen Angels, while Rankine gives an overview of the goetic spirits that appear to be fallen angels. In Madeline Montalban, Elemental and Fallen Angels, Julia Philips covers similar material to Howard, although there is substantially less about Montalban than you would have expected based on the title, being limited to a few paragraphs.

On the weak side are pieces like Diana Allam’s Azazel & Shemyaza: Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll, which is a measly two page reflection on how they see Azazel (apparently as “every female’s fantasy in one package;” how wonderfully essentialist) and to a lesser extent, Shemyaza, who they see as a father figure; providing psychological insights I wasn’t really looking for. Adele Nozedar’s Thirteen Unicycles in the Woods is also unsatisfying, using five pages to give a personal account of seeing an angel and a demon in the wild; an anecdote that may be fine as something to tell like a ghost story around a campfire but one that feels lacking in any relevance or insight for a greater audience. Some of the other pieces are distinctly amateurish and entry level, such as Demons and Devils from the peculiarly-named Maestro Nestor. This is a rambling summary of demonology that is punctuated with personal recollections about how they once contemplated summoning a demon to do housework (they thought better of it because it would have been “just too disrespectful”), and how they made a pact with Satan, which they managed to break thanks to a ritual from Arthur Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magic; phew, that was lucky. Equally rambling is Fallen Angels and the Legends of the Fall, subtitled a rather human perspective, in which author Rufus Harrington’s day job as a Consultant Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist appears to have given him the skill to write for several pages without actually saying much.

Less egregious but still irritating is Aaron Leitch’s The “Enochians,” which promises to show you the true identity of the angels of Dr. John Dee. Unfortunately, Leitch bases his piece on a false dilemma, arguing that occultists favour the exotic Enochian angels that Dee and Kelley encountered as they delved deeper into their system and that they have wilfully ignored the more familiar angels with which Dee worked. For Leitch, the true identity of the angels is just the archangels that Dee, as a student of western occultism, summoned and encountered at the beginning of his experiments: Gabriel, Uriel, Michael and Raphael. So that’s no great revelation and the fact that another piece in this volume, On the Wings of Rebirth by Katherine Sutherland, specifically discusses Dee’s work with these angels suggests that Leitch’s idea of some occult cover-up to hide Dee’s conversations with conventional angels  is vastly overstated.

As is obvious, the problem with this volume is the disparity in the quality of  contributions and contributors. Pieces that have an even mildly academic approach outshine the more personal anecdotes that offer nothing but unwelcome insight into the none-too-flattering mindset of some magickal practitioners.  With some quality control, the eighteen contributions could have been whittled down to make a slimmer but more satisfying volume. As with all Avalonia releases, this book is competently formatted and printed, and the reasonable pricing means that despite the chaff, there’s no reason not to buy this for what wheat there is.

Published by Avalonia. ISBN 978-1-905297-26-9

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Nightshades: A Tourist Guide to the Nightside – Jan Fries

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Categories: magick, nightside, typhonian, Tags:

nightshadesMy first encounter with Jan Fries was his Helrunar, which I first saw sitting tantalisingly in Wellington’s Pathfinder bookshop (now long departed home of all matters occult, but mainly self-help books and cassettes of whale song). The text in Helrunar was accompanied by black and white illustrations (including a lovely one of a piebald Hela and Níðhöggr) and it is similarly styled images that are the focus of this book.

Before getting to his pictorial guide to the Nightside, Fries gives a fifty or so page introduction to the themes therein. As ever, Fries takes a conversational style in his writing, not being one for occult obfuscation, and he positively bubbles with enthusiasm for his subject. Covering everything from the neurochemical components of love to the use of the Sephirothic tree and the nature of the Nightside in general, Fries comes across as a polymathical guru (or Joseph Campbell), sparking little realisations of truth as he leaps from one subject to the other. There is something a little mid-90s chaos magick in his approach, where magick is seen as being grounded in psychological and physiological experiences and frameworks, and your mileage may vary when it comes to your enjoyment of that method.

Wrapping up his introductory essay, Fries gives a biographical note explaining the origin of the images that follow, revolving around an intense series of encounters with his Holy Guardian Angel and journeys into the Nightside that began in 1982. Created between 1981 and 1983, the images were usually sketched directly upon exiting trance and then inked later, and Fries describes them as expression of “an experience and a state of intense emotionality.” Some of these images have been published before as a picture book, Visions of Medusa, others are part of an unnamed book of journeys to the Ancient Ones, while the third section, Nightshades proper, concludes the book with images of the 22 Qliphothic entities.

The images that Fries presents here are indicative of his style which is unique amongst occult art. While his closest comparison would be Austin Spare, it is only due to both artists having the same atavistic quality in their work, and Fries mines a more cosmic, ever so slightly science fiction oeuvre that feels indebted to the wide and vaguely organic vistas of Moebius. Never one for shading or thick lines, Fries renders the tone and mass of his figures as unfilled spaces, giving them an otherworldly quality of translucent bubbles. With 71 pictures in total, not all of them can be stunning, but those that are, truly are. In some ways, the most successful images are the Qliphothic Nightshades, which for the most part, have a consistent look and feel. For anyone familiar with these entities from direct experience or from the works of Kenneth Grant and others, there’s a definite moment of recognition that occurs when turning these pages.

In the introduction to this book, Mogg Morgan describes how, in 2008, he and other Oxford occultists worked with some of these images, making copies that they then coloured as an act of focus. Unfortunately, that feeling of photocopied transmission pervades the book, with some images looking a little worse for wear: greys, on those rare occasions they occur, losing any subtlety and becoming splotchy; and blacks that can be speckled and inconsistent. This is compounded by the choice of paper. Given Fries’ use of fine line, his art requires a weighty paper that can sympathetically ground his ethereal images, however, Mandrake have gone with a cheap, thin, and clinically white stock that has all the personality (and quality) of a ream of photocopy paper. It is actually physically unpleasant to touch (possibly from all the bleach used to whiten the paper) and leaves the images often looking scratchy and poorly reproduced. To its credit, the book is large format and hard bound, but even here, the cover image is blurry and pixelated in places, suggesting that it is a low resolution picture that has been recklessly enlarged for print. While it may not have been necessary to go to the extent of the straight-to-eBay section of occult publishing, a little more quality control and attention to materials would have made this an essential volume.

Published by Mandrake of Oxford. ISBN 978-1-906958-45-9

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The Book of Fallen Angels – Michael Howard

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Categories: luciferian, witchcraft, Tags:

bookoffallenangelsMichael Howard describes this book as both a sequel and a prequel to The Pillars of Tubal Cain, which he wrote with Nigel Jackson. While that book was a broad consideration of Luciferian themes that ranged from Gnosticism to Freemasonry, from Arthurian lore to traditional witchcraft, amongst others, this volume takes a more concise and specific look at the fallen angels of that tradition. In the 1960s, Howard was the student of Madeline Montalban, whose idiosyncratic and Luciferian magickal system differed from that offered at the time by both ceremonial magic and Gardnerian witchcraft. While this book is by no means a strict guide to Montalban’s system, it is clearly informed by her work, and by the course material of her Order of the Morning Star. Howard is also at pains to point out that although he is an empowered initiate of the Cultus Sabbati, and despite some of the similar themes, the material in this book does not necessarily reflect the teachings of that group.

Montalban saw Lucifer as a benevolent being who, like the other fallen angels, had aided the development of humanity, and she referred to him with the inspired alternative name of Lumiel (Latin-Hebrew) or Lumial (Latin-Arabic), meaning ‘Light of God’. Interestingly, Andrew Chumbley received this same name independent of Montalban or Howard, and his Lovers Call to the Angel of Witchblood, addressed to Az’ra Lumial, is included in this book as an appendix.

Howard says that the key to Montalban’s success as a magician was her ability to synthesise Chaldean stellar lore, Egyptian mythology, medieval sorcery, Renaissance magic and Luciferian gnosis. And that is essentially Howard’s approach here too, covering the Fallen Angel and Cainanite mythos from a biblical and apocryphal perspective and then widening the scope by considering these sources in relation to Mesopotamian and other mythological systems, as well as European and Arabic folklore. Howard rarely reaches conclusions or states anything as definitive fact, simply presenting various bits of lore to create an overall picture. This includes the alternative archaeology of Graham Hancock and Andrew Collins, which again, is presented as contributing to the theme but is never entirely embraced; and probably a good thing too given the lack of scholarly rigour to be found in that field.

While not as bad as some of their other releases, this book features Capall Bann’s usual aversion to spell checking and proof reading. On page 47, Samael is, mayhaps, the victim of an unchecked autocorrect when the Cupertino effect turns him into a time-travelling Samuel, making a quote from the Zohar describe how “when Samuel mounted Eve he injected his filth into her.” Later, the angel Metatron is rendered as the somewhat weightier Metraton, and a reference is made to St Jreome. With mistakes like these, and others, being so glaring, it’s baffling that they were never picked up during even a cursory glance. And as is common with other Capall Bann titles, the book has gutters that are too shallow and a tight perfect binding, making it necessary to hold pages wide open to comfortably read them, forever at the risk of having the pages slam shut like some cheaply bound tome from the Unseen University.

Howard’s writing style is amiable and occasionally conversational, as he pulls together the threads of the fallen angel tapestry with a largely credible tone of voice. While these threads are far reaching and wide-ranging, there’s none of that Grantian-style of Boy’s Own anthropology, and his statements are usually reasonably sourced (though by no means exhaustively referenced); there are only a few moments that you go “hang on, that’s news to me, where does that come from?” (and because of that aforementioned tight binding, it’s hard to thumb back through and find the most egregious example). Thoroughly recommended for an overview of matters Luciferian and fallen angelical.

Published by Capall Bann. ISBN 186163236-3

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Tankhem: Seth & Egyptian Magick – Mogg Morgan

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Categories: egyptian, magick, thelema, typhonian, Tags:

Tankhem coverMogg Morgan’s Tankhem is subtitled Seth & Egyptian Magick, and this, and the promotional blurb, gives the prospective reader the impression that they will be getting an exploration of Set, informed by the life of the Nineteenth dynasty pharaoh Seti I; and the use of Seti’s temple complex at Abydos as an astral temple in magick. Morgan begins with a prolegomena to Egyptian magick that sets forth the case for Set(h) as a much neglected but important figure in Egyptian mythology. This is followed by a Kenneth Grant-inspired consideration of the role of Set in Thelema, embracing the slightly darker side of Crowley that sees Aiwass as Set/Shaitan. After this, though, things begin to lose focus and each subsequent chapter seems to be a separate essay unrelated to the last, and sometimes with little connection to the titular subject of the book.

Chapter 3 is a consideration of the temple of Seti I at Abydos, which Morgan believes is crucial to an understanding of Set. This is an interesting premise, but instead of writing about it himself (or giving any evidence that he’s actually been there), Morgan ends up quoting extensively (by which I mean page after page) from the writings of Omn Sety. Known to her parents as Dorothy Louise Eady, Omn Sety was a London-born Egyptologist who also believed that in a past life she had been a priestess in Ancient Egypt called Bentreshyt. As interesting as Omn Sety and her two lives are, it seems odd to quote so extensively from her, especially when any good writer should know how to paraphrase.

While Omn Sety’s chapter (and let’s be fair, most of it is by her) is on topic, Chapter 4’s discussion of sex magick comes out of left field and, if I’m reading the endnotes correctly, is indeed a previously published article. Following that, Chapter 5 turns, quite unexpectedly, to an exploration of the life and magickal system of William Butler Yeats. This is a rather interesting chapter and one comes away feeling that Yeat’s contribution to occultism has been sadly underrepresented, but it certainly seems to have been written for something else, with very little relevance to Seth & Egyptian Magick. While chapter 6 moves back on topic with a consideration of Ursa Major in Egyptian stellar mythology, the way in which themes previously discussed are introduced anew makes you wonder if yet again, this is a previously written piece that has been slotted in.

Morgan has an informal conversational style of writing which could be charming if he stayed focused. But the casual tone gets particularly infuriating in Chapter 2, Setinism, where he gives an overview of the various contemporary strands of Satanism, particularly La Vey’s approach. Sounding like a conversation on an internet forum or email list, this chapter is littered with “it seems to be,” “from what I’m told,” “it is said” and “apparently,” with the most egregious example coming when he says “as far as I can remember – the Satanic Bible works with lots of god forms from the medieval grimoire tradition.” Either it does or it doesn’t; sure, we may not be expecting APA referencing here, but was there really no time to dig out a copy and check?

The layout and design of Tankhem can only be described as appalling. The cover image is pixelated and adorned unsympathetically with de rigueur Egyptian-font-choice Papyrus in all its un-kerned glory. Inside, Papyrus is used extensively for subheadings and the running header (but with a faux bold applied so that the trademark organic distressing of the font disappears anyway), while the endnotes of each chapter are rendered in the same none-too-small serif font used for the body text. Faring even worse are the pages and pages of extracts from Omn Sety, which are jarringly presented in a huge 14 point san serif font which leads to a meagre 27 lines a page.

Like any guilt-tripping parent, I’m not angry, just disappointed. The prospect of a book considering Set, the temple at Abydos and Egyptian magick in general held so much promise. But it is let down by the lack of focus, cruelly enabled by the bad formatting.

Published by Mandrake of Oxford. ISBN 1869928-865.

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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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Shadow Gods and Black Fire – Andrew Gyll

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Categories: germanic, rökkr, Tags:

shadowgodsFirst the disclaimer and a qualifier: I was commissioned to design the cover art for this book and I am credited as the illustrator for the internal imagery too. So, while this could suggest that this may not be the most unbiased of reviews, I choose to use it as a, well, illustration of the virtues of this book. I wasn’t commissioned to make the internal illustrations, but upon receiving the manuscript for review, it was impossible to resist being inspired by the author’s words.

Shadow Gods and Black Fire is a collection of poems by Dorset-based poet, storyteller (and postman), Andrew Gyll, divided into two parts. As Gyll explains, the first half, Shadow Gods and Black Fire¸ is a personal exploration of Norse cosmology and of the Rökkr in particular, while the second part, The Dis, are a series of recollections of a female ancestor of the author.

Gyll’s style of writing is a simple, evocative one that has a remarkable ability, for me at least, to evoke something so familiar and known, as if he’s tapping into my own well of experience. In Magpie Woman, he sees Hela with the colours of the titular bird: She is transition; one black wing, one white, warm flesh, cold bone, describing Her as “life that has withered, the promise of beauty yet to come.” In Helheim, the subject is again Hela, with a meditation on Her as a spirit of compassion, as She who makes whole, because She, as the poem says, “knows the pain of separation and loves you for it.”

At the close of day
A lady waits,
wide are her lands,
fine are her halls.

It was the resonance that Gyll’s poems about Hela had for me that led me to create so many of the accompanying illustration. Like the best devotional literature, Gyll’s poetry provokes a physical as well as emotional response and that he achieves this with such brevity of words adds to the impact of the pieces. There is also a wonderful spirit of pragmatism infusing the work, so rare in the oft-times turgid and earnest realm of devotional and spiritual poetry. In Mordgud, an underworld explorer seems to be on his way into the depths of Hel when, having passed the usual liminal challenges, he encounters the guardian Mordgud and finds he cannot answer her question as to why he is actually venturing into the world of the dead. Pausing and nodding she matter-of-factly ends the poem by telling the explorer “Why don’t you go away and think about it.”

Elsewhere in the Shadow Gods and Black Fire section, Gyll explores both Rökkr and Aesir figures, including Odin, Frigga, Baldur, Surt, Angrboda, Loki and the World Serpent. Some are poetic retellings of contemporary UPG accounts of pivotal moments, such as The Old Queen and The New, which recounts the idea that, as a young girl, Hela replaced an older queen of Hel. Whether one accepts this UPG or not is another matter, but even if you don’t (as I find myself doing), it’s impossible to not be moved by the image of a small limping goddess child slowly moving through the underworld towards Her destiny as queen of the dead:

Every broken step
will I tread
every pain endure

For me, and me alone
the Gates will open

The poems of the second Dis section are much shorter than those in the first, being meditations of small parts of tribal life. As Gyll explains, these seem to be fragments from the life of an ancestor whose people were shamanic, nomadic and herders of reindeer. The voice of these poems is noticeably different from the one that appears in the first half of the book, though once again, Gyll’s sparse use of words (if they are his own) is able to create vivid images in the mind. Perhaps one of the most powerful of these poems is the final one in which the narrator tells of her own death and her encounter with the Hela-like goddess of death:

She knelt and her hair
fell about her shoulders;
I saw that at the end
of each black strand
was a finger’s width
of purest white.

She removed my hand
from its mitten,
held it, simply said –
‘Daughter…’

That is it;
I can say no more.

Published by Asphodel Press. ISBN 978-0-578-00653-6

Magpie Woman

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Realm of the Ring Lords – Laurence Gardner

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Categories: faery, folk, mesopotamian

This is the third part of Laurence Gardner’s holy bloodline trilogy following on from his Bloodline of the Holy Grail and Genesis of the Grail Kings, in which he picked up the torch left by Baigent, Lincoln, and Leigh’s The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, and ran with it. For this instalment, Gardner turns largely to Western European folklore and legend to see how his supposition of an ancient bloodline stretching back to Mesopotamia was carried through by those in the know.

As the title and inside cover suggests, this third volume seems to be an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the Lord of the Rings by emphasising the apparent link between this royal bloodline and the symbol of the ring; going so far as to clumsily call the members of the bloodline Ring Lords though out the book. This attempt at tapping into what was at the time a red hot Tolkien mania obviously dates this book to the start of the millennium, as Gardner’s more recent book titles and cover art now ape the works of Dan Brown in a rather self-consuming Ouroboros-like circle of meta mania; just as his first two book covers were evocative of Baigent, Lincoln, and Leigh.

As it is, the making of mileage out of Tolkien is quickly abandoned early on, following a brief summary of his work, the equivalent of a listing in, let’s date this, the Encarta multimedia encyclopaedia. Despite the book’s claim to reveal the mythological underpinnings of Tolkien’s oeuvre and the One Ring in particular (a rich field, as the Tolkien legendarium section of the Scriptus Recensera library attests), this does not occur and Gardner swiftly moves on to more familiar areas of legend and folklore, never really touching on Tolkien again.

That is indicative of the problems with this book, you can see the seams. Because he has written two books on his main argument of an ancient royal bloodline that stretches back to antiquity (and stretches credulity with its continuity), Gardner does not feel the need to reargue it here; and if the previous two books didn’t necessarily convince you, this doesn’t help. As a result, everything after the first chapter is interesting only in and of itself, but does nothing to convince you of his main argument.

So why is this book of interest? In much the same way that Gardner’s theory rather grandly over-reaches itself with a vision from the dawn of time to the present, this book tends to look at practically everything from legend and folk lore and sees it as relating to these Royal Ring Lords who had nothing better to do than breed down through history, perpetuating their diluted bloodline. In this broad consideration, we find werewolves, Arthurian legend, elves, witches, Robin Hood, vampires, Santa Claus, Lorna Doone, and more, all somehow tied back to the Annunaki of Mesopotamia. You won’t get the most detailed and comprehensive consideration of these topics but with Gardner’s broad brush strokes there is enough considered to fire your own connections and make you want to look deeper elsewhere.

This broadness is the major flaw in Gardner’s whole argument, as he seems to have little regard for how indigenous belief and folklore operates, instead proposing a blanket lux orientalis, in which every single thing anyone ever imagined was somehow a reference to some ancient land no one had ever heard of, let alone been to. Like any theory which seeks to totally explain myth or legend, it ends up doing those forms a disservice. But putting aside the conclusions he reaches and considering the information he presents, the data itself is valid, especially because much of it can be related to indigenous systems of belief.

The book is thoroughly footnoted and referenced, and written in such a way as to convey a sense of scholarship. The real sense though is one of belief, and an immersion in a theory that has resulted in a little too many trees being seen instead of the forest. Nice colour plates though.

Published by Multi MediaQuest International Ltd, England.

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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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Witchcraft: A Tradition Renewed – Doreen Valiente and Evan Jones

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Categories: folk, magick, robert cochrane, witchcraft

Witchcraft - A Tradition RenewedThis is a deceptively bland title for a book that could be any collection of rituals and recipes published by Llewellyn. But it’s not, on either count. Instead of being one of those Wiccan books that seem to do nothing but regurgitate everything from the last Wiccan book, this is more a book about Witchcraft, and more specifically, the traditional witchcraft of Robert Cochrane; which Valiente immediately separates from the Wicca of Gardner and Sanders in her preface. At the time this review was first written, precious little has been published in book form about Cochrane’s system, with one slightly veiled exception being Jones’s ritual-n-recipe book Sacred Mask, Sacred Dance, in which Cochrane’s rituals were presented palatably for a Llewellyn audience. It was a form of witchcraft that did indeed differ from that of Gardner and Sanders (largely drawn from ceremonial magick), and instead had more of a rustic shamanic base, which was carried on through his group, The Clan of Tubal Cain. This book seeks to go some way in making up for the previous lack of published information, with both Doreen Valiente and Evan Jones having been members of Cochrane’s original coven.

Unfortunately, if you want specifics about Cochrane and the history of the Clan of Tubal Cain, this isn’t it, and instead the book presents the Clan’s magickal system through an in-depth exploration of the rituals and coven procedure. It’s not quite a ritual-n-recipe book, but the whole approach is more magickal than historical. As a result, it’s not exactly an easy read, because to find out the information, you have to read the rituals, and reading magickal instructions isn’t exactly thrilling or engaging. When you do get into it, you find a system that features many elements of folklore, specifically the type considered by James Frazer, with the seasonal death of the corn being a key image. In some respects, there are elements common to other forms of witchcraft, but there is also a darker, more visceral element that makes it distinctive. One of the central deities is the Nameless, Faceless One, called the Black Goddess, while another is Goda, mother of gods and mortals, lady of light and darkness. The specifics of names are largely absent from this book (though they are hardly secret outside of Clan confines), and so whilst the work seems intent on presenting Cochrane’s practices, they are done in more of a non-denominational, open way.

For the details of the rituals, this is an essential book, but for a wider view of Cochrane’s system, it is better read in combination with Sacred Mask, Sacred Dance and Michael Howard’s more recent Children of Cain.

Published by Phoenix Publishing Inc, Washington, USA. ISBN 0-919345-61-1

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The History of British Magick After Crowley – Dave Evans

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Categories: chaos, magick, thelema

magickaftercrowleyI was really looking forward to reading this book. If i recall correctly, it was one of those “spoil myself with one expensive item” items in an Amazon order of more modestly priced books and CDs. I mean, 435 pages of post-Crowley magickal history, what wonders it must explore, what depth it must go to in what must surely be the definitive work on modern occultism. Sadly, this turned out to be wishful thinking that led to my hopes being dashed more thoroughly than they perhaps should have been. Perhaps my biggest mistake was not paying close enough attention to the publishers, who i now see are the print-on-demand Lightning Source. I had assumed that the higher than average price was because it had been released via some academic publishing house, rather than being the result of the over-pricing that occurs in some POD; and must surely make a mockery of that supposedly frugal financial model. This lack of a real publisher now makes sense of some of the annoying elements in the content that surely any proof-reader would have pointed out; more about those in scurulous detail later.

Dave Evans is apparently a practising magician as well as a “professional academic researcher,” whose supervisor at Bristol University is Ronald Hutton. I can’t imagine that Hutton supervised much of the final work, though, at least not with a red pen in hand, ready to make suggestions. This is Evans’ PhD thesis turned into a book, and it suffers many of the problems associated with publishing an academic paper as a book; though Hutton has shown that you can write about magick academically without it being tiresome or losing any of the thrill of the subject. The biggest of the academic problems this book has is its attempts at providing wider context and marking out process. In his Triumph of the Moon, Hutton does this in the early chapters, extensively setting the birth of Wicca in the colonial and post-colonial milieu in which ideas central to Wicca, such as Pan as a catch-all god of a personified spirit of Nature, had their origins. But where Hutton is effective in authoritatively setting the context upon which his later chapters will be based, Evans seems to have cribbed stuff he may have written for other papers and inserted it to give the appearance of ponderous academic digression or scene setting. There’s a particularly tedious and lengthy section on blasphemy and morality which really has very little relevance to the subject of modern magick of any stripe; with even Satanism, one of the paths mentioned in the book, tending to stray away from it once the thrill of a Black Mass has worn off. I mean, what’s the point of this extensive survey of blasphemy when Evans himself mentions that despite his litigious nature, it was never a charge of blasphemy that saw Crowley in court. Genesis P-Orridge is also mentioned in this section, but is ridiculously prefaced with the self-defeating caveat “Although not prosecuted for actual blasphemy,” before going on to talk about the bottom-feeding Channel 4 documentary that saw hir exiled from the UK. So, no modern magickian has been charged with blasphemy, probably because one, prosecutors don’t really care what some loonies get up to own their own (unless it’s safe, sane and consensual sex, amirite?) and two, because blasphemy plays such a minuscule role in magickal practise.

Along with this useless digression about blasphemy and morality, there’s 50 pages of scene-setting twaddle that concludes with some equally pointless blather about the meaning of “the left hand path.” I mean, who really cares anymore? Does anyone really define themselves like that still, other than self-publishing demonalatry etc authors on Amazon.com? There’s an extensive survey of magickal practitioner’s definition of the left hand path, but the only thing that the thoroughness of it does is highlight the failing this book has in wasting time on useless information. But you ain’t seen nothing yet, folks, no siree.

Although the previous 200 pages have occassionally mentioned aspects of post-Crowley magick, they are but a preamble to what occurs now which is a concentrated study of particular magickal practitioners and movements. Who could be the first choice? What shining dark light from modern occultism could be going under the microscope? Yes, you guessed it, come on down Armado fucking Crowley. Yes, the man who claims to be Uncle Al’s biological son and sole magickal heir (sorry Caliphate, and apparently he wasn’t actually all that into Thelema anyway), but who no one takes seriously. You just have to read one of Armado’s books to know it’s all a rather pointless charade and that the Crowley in them bears little relationship to all other records of him (including his own). And it’s not as if Evans doesn’t know this. In fact, he spends page after page showing how Armado has lied about this, or falsified that. Again, it’s pointless. While it’s somewhat fun to see each of Armado’s falsehoods scandalously documented, why bother? We know he’s a liar, so should we really be surprised to find that, omg, he’s not a novelist or playright anymore than he’s a magician! Evans seems to have spent far too much time playing detective, trying to track Armado down from various leads about his legal name, before finally scoring the jackpot himself from the Properties window of a Microsoft Word doc that Armado himself had sent. Score! But a score of 0, because nobody cares. Armado gets 50 pages and then as he has done before, Evans shoots himself in his irony-oblivious foot by quoting Armado himself as a final jab: “there is not the least value in trying to use writers of ‘fiction’ as witnesses.” Well, 50 pages worth of value say differently, Mr Evans.

Evans then turns to Kenneth Grant (finally) and uses him to also talk about Austin Spare and the use of Lovecraft’s mythos in contemporary magick. There’s not much in the way of revelations about Grant here, and nothing that familiarity with Typhonian documents online won’t have already introduced someone to. But it’s good to have it all in one place and Evans seems quite proud of having the most pages in print about Grant; though he’s probably equally proud of the Armado word count too. From there, it’s a brief discussion about Chaos magick which made me realise just how old hat and ridiculously last century it now seems. Somehow i had imagined that the history of British Magick after Crowley was a much richer field than what Evans covers. Obviously he’s looking at magick in a ceremonial-Crowleyesque vein, so there’s little in the way of Druidism or Wicca/Witchcraft here, and equally obviously, Ronald Hutton has covered that area so well already. But even so, what about rune/Norse based magick, such as the Rune Gild UK, with both Freya Aswynn and Ian Read (as well as the whole neo/apocalyptic folk scene) having elements of Crowleyan influence in addition to the runic stuff. For that matter, why not look at Current 93, or a proper, rather than cursory, look at Gen and TOPY, or a consideration of Coil that goes deeper than referring to them as, i kid you not, a “magically-inspired rock band.” Yeah, i totally remember that time Jhonn Balance like totally shredded this mind-blowing guitar solo. Dude. I would think the fact that Caliphate OTO head William Breeze/Hymenaeus Beta has worked and performed with both Coil and Current 93 would suggest they deserve more than passing mentions as rock bands. Also totally absent is Shri Gurudev Mahendranath’s International Nath Order, which is a bit ridiculous considering Mahendranath (or Lawrence Miles, as his parents knew him) met Crowley, and the Nath system could be said to be informed by elements of Thelema. And despite having a brief section on Satanism, in which he’s far too kind on Anton La Vey, Evans doesn’t look at specifically British Satanism at all. No mention of Magda Graham, or the presence that the Temple of Set had in the UK. There’s one mention of the Order of Nine Angles, but only in a caveat stating that they and the TOS are “worthy of an entire PhD thesis rather than this tiny overview”. Well, maybe if there wasn’t 50 pages of Armado fucking Crowley and the same amount about blasphemy, then he could have done some proper research for at least a page or two instead of that cop out. In total, there’s a feeling of Evans not being quite as involved in British occulture as he tries to appear, with the focus strictly on the Typhonian OTO, Chaos, and out of left left left field, Armado Crowley.  

But in all fairness, it’s not the content (or lack thereof) that bothers me the most about this book. It’s the writing. The lack of a proofreader is really obvious, and we’re not talking spelling or gramatical mistakes, but more the kind of things where another set of eyes would have said “maybe you don’t want to keep on doing that on every fucking page, you knob.” The real kicker is a Dan Brown-like(1)  need to introduce everyone as if they were appearing in an obituary: “Acclaimed wank artist, Freddy McFingers,” “Annoyingly pseudonym-happy bullshit merchant, Ramsey Dukes” (not real quotes, but the last one is the opinion the reader will eventually develop thanks to Evans’ constant references to him). But it’s not the sentence phrasing itself that’s all that annoying, it’s that Evans seems to think his readers have poor short term memories and reintroduces the same people again and again. Phil Hine seems to suffer worst of all and i began to dread references to him, as they would each time be prefaced by “Magician and author Phil Hine” or variations thereupon. I mean, i think the reader should be quite capable of remembering who Phil Hine is, and not needing a little job description in case they think Evans actually means international film star and surrealist painter Phil Hine, or the 35th president of the United States Phil Hine. I don’t know why magician and author Phil Hine seems to suffer this repeated prefacing more than anyone else, but it’s so bad that in one instance it actually happens on the same page to magician and author Phil Hine. Mercifully Crowley and Kenneth Grant are, apparently, big enough fish in this book that the reader doesn’t need to be reminded who they are. Poor Andrew Chumbley, though. Despite being mentioned several times already, by page 222, Evans feels we’ve forgotten who he might be, so he is introduced anew as “The late academic, author and modern magical practitioner of the ‘Sabbatic Craft’ Andrew Chumbley (1967-2004).” Thank goodness he didn’t collect stamps or own a cat or we’d be here all night.

And then there’s Lionel Snell, aka Ramsey Dukes and a bunch of other tedious pseudonyms, who is apparently Evans’ magickal guru. These are guru feet that Evans must spend a particularly long time sitting at because Snell is quoted extensively throughout the book to the point of annoyance. Even when it’s not something that really needed to be quoted to prove a self-evident principle, there he is; and often with the usual job description variations, sprinkled with various adjectives of praise.

So yes, not the successful exploration of post-Crowley magick that i had hoped for. Maybe Ronald Hutton will read his student’s work and realise he needs to do the subject justice.

 
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1. I have never read a Dan Brown “novel” but gained this understanding of his inimical style from some lovely entries on Language Log, where his hamfisted writing is deliciously dissected. 
The Dan Brown code and
Renowned author Dan Brown staggered through his formulaic opening sentence

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