Categotry Archives: classical


The Light of Hermes Trismegistus – Charles Stein

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Categories: alchemy, classical, hellenic, hermeticism, Tags:

The Light of Hermes Trismegistus coverCharles Stein’s The Light of Hermes Trismegistus is one of those releases from Inner Traditions that feels a little different from their usual fare, appearing as something for shelving in the reference section, rather than the personal growth or practical magic ones. Stein has a Ph.D. in literature and a bachelor’s degree in ancient Greek, and in the past he has principally published works of poetry, as well as a Persephone-focussed study of the Eleusian Mysteries. With this new book he provides translations of what are categorised here as seven essential Hermetic texts, each drawn from the earliest written source, and with context and further insights provided by Stein’s preamble and voluminous commentaries.

Despite a subtitle promising “seven Hermetic texts,” the works included here come from a period that spans several centuries, beginning in the seventh century BCE and ending in the fourth century CE, with only one of them, Poimandres, having provenance within that great canon of Hermetic thought, the Corpus Hermeticum. Thus, instead of being texts that could be specifically defined, in a purely technical sense, as Hermetica, these are works that pull on threads various, drawing from Greek myth, the Homeric Hymns, Neoplatonism, archaic alchemy, and (in the case of Apuleius’ The Metamorphoses) picaresque novels from ancient Rome. The one occasional through-line amongst these temporally and culturally diverse texts is Hermes, whether he appears as the divine messenger of Greek myth, as seen in Hesiod’s Theogony, or as the later Hellenistic syncretic form of the fabled Hermes Trismegistus; with Stein regarding the mythic and the legendary incarnations as largely one and the same.

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Stein opens with a substantial introduction, outlining his focus on Hermes in a rather personal and devotional manner, describing him as the very principle of the mind in all its possibilities. Here, Stein makes clear his intent, defining this work as an exercise in what he calls configurative theology, with an attendant configurative theophany, emphasising the concept of hermeneutics, in which the translation and interpretations of a text perpetuate it in new, ever evolving ways.

Hesiod’s Theogony is the first work featured here, with Stein translating from the original Greek as recorded in Hugh G. Evelyn-White’s 1977 collection of the Homeric Hymns and works by Hesiod. As a poem dated to the eighth or seventh century BCE, this is the piece furthest from the traditional corpus of Hermetica, retelling the creation of the world. In his commentary, Stein ties this act of cosmic creation to Hesiod’s text itself, saying that Theogony does not simply describe the act but rather, through the reading thereof, initiates it. This is emblematic of Stein’s hermeneutic approach to this material, using etymology, historical precedent and philosophy to present it as not only profound, but inherently magical.

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Rather than providing a line-by-line analysis of each text, Stein’s commentary is often focussed little on the specific textual content itself, and instead uses the works as starting off points for broader discussions of each core theme. Sometimes this extends far beyond the source texts, such as in the translation of a text by Zosimos of Panopolis, which is followed by an extensive overview of alchemy that stretches centuries, even millennia beyond the fourth century origins of the source; embracing everything from the Greek Magical Papyri to seventeen and eighteenth century alchemists, but without too much reference to the text itself.

This book’s Hermes-focussed brief finds a good fit in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, for which Stein provides a nimble translation followed by commentary focussed on the themes of magical voice and conscious listening. This is the abruptly book ended by an assemblage of somewhat contextless and usually brief additional comments on various matters from within the hymn, some as little as a sentence long, each divided by a short row of bullet points as if they were research notes that have been formatted into the chapter by mistake (not that they were).

In the next section, The Poem of Parmenides, Stein translates the fragments of Parmenides’ sole surviving work, usually retroactively referred to, though not here, as On Nature. Here the following commentary is less an exegesis on matters metaphysical and is, for the most part, purely textual in its focus, with a selection of notes about the translation.

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Stein’s translations are often functional with a literal approach that predicates economy over poeticism. His translation of The Poimandres, for example is almost staccato in its brevity, with none of the free verse flourish and beauty of G.R.S. Mead’s version. The same is true of the Chaldean Oracles, though this is largely due to the fragmentary nature of the very source material. For the version here, Stein has used only 87 of the 260 extant fragments, and, diverging from the ordering template established in 1894 by Wilhelm Kroll, has rearranged them as if they make up a single poem.

After a free verse reinterpretation of the vision of Isis sequence from Apuleius’ prose The Metamorphoses, Stein concludes with a translation of a foundational but innominate alchemical text by Zosimos of Panopolis, in which the 4th century Greco-Egyptian alchemist related a series of visionary dream journeys. This translation dates from 1964, using a text found in the Columbia University Library (though Stein notes that the exact source document is unknown as he no longer has the reference), and it was first published the same in his own single issue journal of the occult and the phenomenology, Aion: A Journal of Traditionary Science. For his translation, Stein uses the title On Divine Virtue and follows it with a commentary that is significantly longer than the mere five pages of entries from Zosimos’ dream journal.

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Priscilla Harris Baker provides the text design and layout for The Light of Hermes Trismegistus, using Garamond for body copy and Trajan, Optima and Gill Sans as display faces. The translations themselves are formatted in Friz Quadrata, a pleasant enough modern serif, but one that feels a little incongruous for content from the Hellenistic and Roman eras. With its heavier than usual typographic weight, it is a face that seems more suited for display purposes, and at this point size, the tiny serifs almost disappear, giving the impression of a bulky san serif whose readability is not ideal for often poetically-formatted text. Like another Hermetic-themed work recently published by Inner Traditions, Marlene Seven Bremner’s Hermetic Philosophy and Creative Alchemy, this book has been granted a little more finesse than their usual trade paperbacks. It is presented as a sturdy hardback wrapped in a fetching blue-hued dustjacket, with foiled gold text on both jacket and spine; though it must be said that the gold of the title makes it hard to read against the blue background of the dustjacket.

Published by Inner Traditions


The Strix-Witch – Daniel Ogden

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Categories: classical, witchcraft, Tags:

The Strix-Witch coverAnother entry in Cambridge University Press’ compact Elements in Magic series, Daniel Ogden’s The Strix-Witch seeks to provide the tricky answer to what is acknowledged as an ostensibly simple question: what was a strix? The simple answer is a winged and often predatory female figure of Greek and Latin folklore, travelling at night in either a birdlike physical form or as a projected soul. But as Ogden shows, the strix is a being of shifting classifications whose liminal status as a creature of simultaneous substance and ephemerality makes her difficult to grasp and define.

Ogden begins with a brief consideration of the Latin term itself before providing a survey of the three most substantial accounts of the strix, as found in the works of the poet Ovid, the satirist Gaius Petronius, and from a Christian perspective, the seventh century Byzantine theologian John Damascene. Ogden then provides an analysis of the imbricated motifs within the three texts, isolating fourteen in all: the strix as an old witch, the strix at night, flying and avian transformation, flying and soul projection, screeching, snatching of whole bodies, snatching of individual body parts, the extraction of moisture, the imposition on a time-limit on the life of victims, fighting back against the strix, cannibalism and covens of striges, and the strix’s imperceptibility in relation to battles over both houses and bodies. This is a thorough section, the lion’s share of the book, and Ogden does not simply list the recurring and constituent motifs, highlighting whether they appear in all or only some of the texts. Instead, he provides parallel instances of such information, drawn from passing allusions in a substantial collection of additional sources, whether they concern themselves with striges in particular or with broader folk conceptions. In the consideration of the flying strix as an avian soul projection, for example, he incorporates various precedents from the Classical world, ranging from Homer and Virgil’s underworld ghosts that flock like birds, to a group of marvellous figures from Pythagorean tradition credited with the ability to fly, including Aristeas of Proconnesus (mentioned by Herodotus, Maximus of Tyre and Strabo), Hermotimus of Clazomenae (mentioned by Apollonius), and Abaris the Hyperborean (mentioned by Porphyry in his Life of Pythagoras). Similarly, Ogden draws polymathically from both Classical and medieval sources when discussing the snatching of bodies and body parts, referencing Gervase of Tilbury in the former and Plautus’ comedy Pseudolus in the latter. In so doing, Ogden provides a far broader picture of the strix than an assessment of just three texts would lead one to believe, drawing on information from both forwards and backwards in time to build up a comprehensive, culturally and temporally diverse image.

From this comparison of motifs, Ogden reconstructs the ideal narrative of a strix attack, what he defines as ‘the strix paradigm,’ and uses this to offer a more complete and final answer to the fundamental question of what a strix was. This paradigm defines the strix as a terrible woman that attacks babies, flying by night by transforming into a bird or bird-like creature and focussing her onslaught first on the exterior of the house in order to gain ingress via invisibility or permeability. Once successful in its intrusion, the strix may steal the entire body of the child, or rend its liver and other internal organs, or drain the victim of moisture.

In the third section, Ogden shows how the strix paradigm influenced the general representation of witches in the Latin literary tradition, something that becomes evident early on with the intersection of so many motifs, particularly in the prior discussion of striges gathering to feast on the bodies they had stolen, so reminiscent of the witches’ sabbat. Ogden suggests that the strix provides an explanation for the vastly different ways in which witches are represented in Greek and Latin literature, with the latter having greater emphasis on the morbid, predatory and gruesome. To this end, he analyses various Latin accounts of witches: Candida in Horace’s Epodes, Dipsas in Ovid’s Amores, Erictho in Lucan’s Pharsalia, the Thessalian witches in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, and the unnamed witch who is described killing the slave Iucundus on his epitaph from early 20s CE Rome. In addition, there are the later accounts of the witchy innkeepers from St. Augustine’s City of God and the belief in the night-working witches mentioned by Burchard of Worms in his 1012–20 CE Corrector sive Medicus. Ogden introduces each excerpt and then highlights the strix-like motifs in what are rather striking reiterations of core themes, in particular the ability to gain ingress via small gaps, and the interest in matters corporeal.

In his fourth and final section, Ogden considers the strix via the analogous figure of Gello whose existence constitutes a longue durée that stretches from the child-killing demons of ancient Mesopotamia and Greece, right down to survivals in modern Greek folklore. He begins with the child-stealing Lamashtu demon found in Akkadian texts of the first and second millennia BCE, tracing her descent into the Classical lamia, but he also considers another predatory Mesopotamian demon, Gallû. Although they are male in their initial appearance, Ogden documents the Gallû demon’s evolution into the female bay-stealing figure of Gello, mentioned in a grimly ironic fragment by Sappho in which she describes an unidentified subject as “loving children more than Gello.” Ogden also uses this section to consider briefly a few minor threads, like related terms such as the men-transformed into birds called styx in Antoninus Liberalis’ Metamorphoses, the striglos/ strigla defined in Hesychius of Alexandria’s lexicon as either the inside of a horn/wing or as a little owl or a long-eared owl, and ultimately the more recent folkloric night spirit known as stringlos.

Like other entries in the Elements in Magic series, Ogden’s The Strix-Witch is a satisfying deep dive into a specialised topic with much to satisfy for those seeking information both on the predatory female figures such as the strix specifically, but also for those interested in the roots of the image of the malevolent witch.

Published by Cambridge University Press


Demons in Late Antiquity: Their Perception and Transformation in Different Literary Genres – Edited by Eva Elm, Nicole Hartmann

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Categories: classical, satanism, Tags:

Demons in Late Antiquity coverThis anthology, edited by Eva Elm and Nicole Hartmann, is the 54th volume in the Transformationen der Antike series, produced by the Collaborative Research Centre’s Transformations of Antiquity project and Humboldt University of Berlin’s August Boeckh Centre of Antiquity. It considers the myriad way in which demons were perceived in late antiquity, drawing variously from spells, apocalypses, martyrdom literature and hagiography to show how this perception was moulded, as anything is, by context both cultural and religious, and considers the specific influence of literary genres on this. The eight articles that are presented here originated from a conference that took place in Berlin in November 2015, with the slightly different title of The Perception of Demons in Different Literary Genres in Late Antiquity, and reveal a variety of voices with different approaches.

The first four papers in Demons in Late Antiquity focus on the rendering of demons in a variety of genres, including magical amulets, apocalypses and the Vetus Latina (the earliest Latin translations of the Gospels), while the four remaining papers address how the theme appears specifically in late antique hagiography. The intersection between demons, disease and cultural influences is a focus of the first two entries, with Christoph Markschies considering the transformation of pagan concepts of demons to Christian ones on apotropaic talismans, while Annette Weissenrieder’s Disease and Healing in a Changing World concerns itself with the exorcisms performed by Jesus as recorded in the Vetus Latina, in which then contemporary Roman medical ideas inform the narrative. Markschies provides examples of the overlap between pagan and Christian ideas of demons, drawing attention to how in his dialogue Theophrastus, the fifth century Neo-Platonic philosopher and convert to Christianity, Aeneas of Gaza, talks of the airy materiality of demons, ideas that had precedent two centuries earlier in the work of another Neoplatonist, Porphyry. A similar overlap occurs in the work of the presumed-Christian philosopher Calcidius whose fourth century translation into Latin of Plato’s Timaeus includes, as part of his commentary, an excursus on demonology, describing demons as ‘associates of the enemy power,’ a phrase that can be traced back to Porphyry as well. Weissenrieder’s essay, meanwhile, focuses heavily on technical etymology, highlighting difference between the Afra versions of the gospel and the European Vetus Latina versions. By deep-diving into the intricacies of language and the terms used, Weissenrieder argues that the latter texts present a more pragmatic and medical view of the process of exorcism, in which Jesus removes the plague of illness, rather than a plague of demons and unclean spirits. A similar exploration of language at a technical level is found in The Ambiguity of the Devil, in which Nienke Vos employs a discourse-linguistic analysis to focus on the appearance of the devil in Sulpicius Severus’ Life of St. Martin.

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Editor Nicole Hartmann’s On Demons in Early Martyrology is not so much about demons but rather a lack of demons, arguing that they feature little in early martyrology. She shows how despite the unquestioned belief then current in a variety of unseen spirits that surrounded the faithful in the everyday, they, and in particular daimones, play little active role in early martyrdom accounts; This early martyrology had little impact in the shaping of Christian demonology, and indeed, later stories of martyrs reflected this evolution, with a reversal in which less focus was placed on the martyrdom itself, and more on contests of power between martyrs and adversarial, malevolent spirits. It is this later period that is addressed in Robert Wi?niewski’s Demons in Early Latin Hagiography, in which he draws specifically on Athanasius’ Life of Antony, Paulinus’ Life of Ambrose, Jerome’s Life of Hilarion and Sulpicius Severus’ Life of St. Martin; the latter two of which are also dealt with individually within this volume by Eva Elm and Nienke Vos respectively. Wi?niewski provides a wide ranging survey of the role of demons in such literature and draws attention to the fact that encounters with demons occur more frequently in the lives of monks than those of bishops, with spiritual combat and the fight against temptation often being quintessential to a monk’s monastic and eremophilous existence, whereas the ecclesiastical life didn’t quite present the same opportunities for interaction with the demonic.

Editor Eva Elm’s consideration of demons in Jerome’s Life of Hilarion is titled Hilarion and the Bactrian Camel and focuses rather less than one might expect, given its titular prominence, on said rabid camel, which appears only in passing references to its exorcism by Hilarion. Instead, Elms presents a thorough account of Hilarion’s life and interaction with demons, including a significant, and ever-so-slightly diverting, preamble discussing his appearance in Gustave Flaubert’s 1874 novel The Temptation of St. Anthony, in which he acts as an adversarial figure attempting to sway his mentor from the monastic life.

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Perhaps the most intriguing exploration of this book’s themes is found in Emmanouela Grypeou’s Demons of the Underworld in the Christian Literature of Antiquity, though the demons concerned here are actually punishing angels. Grypeou suggests that later fifth century images of demons as infernal administrators of punishment were informed by earlier themes of angels, not fallen and still aligned with heaven, acting as arbiters of divine justice within Hell itself. She focuses little on transitional examples that might confirm this supposition and instead provides a thorough documentation from a variety of texts of various punitive angeli Tartarum; texts in which they along with personified figures associated with death effectively constituted a ‘mortuary pantheon’ for Late Antique Christianity. Grypeou focuses specifically on second and third century Christian apocalyptic texts such as the Hellenic-influenced Apocalypse of Peter and the Apocalypse of Paul. Both apocalypses mention several hell-bound angels who administer punishments, as well the angel Temelouchos, a figure who appears here as a benign guardian of the victims of infanticide but who in later works, such as the First Apocalypse of John, also becomes a divine arbiter dispensing specifically igneous punishments. Grypeou acknowledges the precedent of tormenting angels in early Jewish apocalyptic texts, such as the Parables of Enoch, the Second Apocalypse of Enoch and the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, and also documents significant examples in later Coptic literature, where the angelic demons of Amente are often thought to be evidence of the survival of ancient Egyptian eschatological ideas.

Save for an epilogue by Jan. N. Bremmer, Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe brings this volume to its conclusion with Demon Speech in Hagiography and Hymnography, in which she exhaustively covers various examples of the speech of demons and their characteristics. She contrasts the utterances of demonic actors in late antique saints’ lives with Syriac and Greek catechetical hymns, such as Ephrem’s Nisibene Hymns, in which infernal beings are given voice as characters in an instructional narrative.

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In all, Demons in Late Antiquity is an interesting compilation of texts, that show a variety of themes even if there are certain through-lines such as disease, and a focus on some particular texts more than others. Demons in Late Antiquity is presented as an oversized 6.8 x 9.6 inch hardback in a fetching shade of red. Illustrations are limited to Christoph Markschies’ essay with slightly muddy photographs of some of the manuscripts he references, and the text is presented in the De Gruyter house style, with the body set in a mild slab serif that almost scans as a sans serif, giving a distinctly modern look that is ever-so-slightly unconducive to reading.

Published by De Gruyter


Hekate Her Sacred Fires – Compiled and edited by Sorita d’Este

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Categories: classical, devotional, goddesses, hekate, hellenic, Tags:

Hekate Her Sacred Fires coverApparently some unwritten goal here at Scriptus Recensera is to review all recently published titles related to Hekate, so much so that she’s the only deity here with her own subject tag. This might be a somewhat insurmountable task, given her popularity at Avalonia alone, with this being but one of two anthologies released by that press in honour of her; the other being the equally colon-deficient Hekate Key to the Crossroads from 2006. Published in 2010, this massive work takes a more global view than its predecessor and brings together contributions from more than fifty people, with some familiar names but considerably more who just appear to be practitioners who are not otherwise writers. This vast cast is somewhat intimated in the cover which has not a single image but many, featuring the work of Emily Carding, Brian Andrews, Shay Skepevski, Georgi Mishev, and in the centre, Magin Rose.

Hekate Her Sacred Fires is presented as a large format A4 book, which doesn’t make for the most pleasant reading experience. Reading on-the-go is pretty much out of the question, and reading not-on-the-go isn’t all that easy either, with the ungainly format requiring a solid reading surface lest hand fatigue and RSI kick in. In addition to the physical aspects, the large dimensions don’t allow for the most sympathetic of layouts. Text is formatted in a single, page-wide column, meaning that the enervation of hands and limbs is joined by a similar weariness of eyes and concentration, with the excessive line-length being detrimental to sustained comprehension. The formatting of the text doesn’t help in this manner either, providing little in the way of visual interest. Paragraphs are fully-justified, and separated with a line-space between, but they also have redundant and far-too-large first line idents, including the first paragraph and in one infuriating instance, subtitles; meaning that the body text can appear insubstantial and untethered. Titles and subtitles are presented as larger and bolded versions of the body typeface, set in the almost-a-slab-serif face that Avalonia have stuck with over the years. There are images preceding almost every contribution on the verso side of the page spreads but these, like the various other illustrations and photographs that fill spaces throughout the book, are of varying quality and are not treated that well by Lightning Source’s print-on-demand press.

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This all means that it can be hard to get into Hekate Her Sacred Fires, and it is a testament to this difficulty that this review has sat here half-written for some time. Once one does make it past the monstrously large pages and the walls of long-line-length text, a sense of the variety in contributions begins to emerge, though the majority are first-hand accounts of working with Hekate. But first off, in her own introductory section, is d’Este, who gives an overview of Hekate, providing a thorough historical grounding that allows for the more speculative or specialised considerations that come later. This is then followed by an exhaustive illustrated timeline that is spread across nineteen pages, and stretches from 6000 BCE, with the beginning of the Neolithic period, right up to 2000 CE where it concludes with the publication of d’Este’s book Hekate Key to the Crossroads.

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With over fifty contributors there is a demonstrable diversity in what is presented here, all of varying approaches, styles and quality, in both matters magical and literary. It is the personal that dominates throughout, beginning with Georgi Mishev who gives a personal biography and testimonial of his Bulgarian approach to goddess spirituality in general and Hekate in particular, as does compatriot Ekaterina Ilieva in the following piece. Similarly, Shani Oates provides a record of a ritual for Hekate from several years prior with results of great profundity; prefaced with an introduction of equally great and characteristic verbosity. Some of these contributions include a practical element with the personal, such as John Canard who talks about using meteor showers for spell work, or Amelia Ounsted who maps out the whole Wiccan year of festivities with ways in which they can be related back to Hekate.

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Some of the more interesting contributions here move beyond the respectable and reputable classical world of Hekate, as necessary and worthy as that grounding may be, and into the more darkly glamorous realms of sabbatic and Luciferian witchcraft. This comes most notably from the pen of Mark Alan Smith whose appearance amongst these other authors seems a little incongruous, but it is a theme also discussed first by Trystn M. Branwynn in the gloriously-titled The Hekatine Strain. Here, Branwynn discusses Hekate as but one of the names of the pale Queen of the Castle of Roses in Cochrane-style Traditional Witchcraft, drawing together a tapestry of threads from myth and folklore to unpack the symbols of Hekate, in particular the crossroads, and linking it ultimately back to this particular vision of witchcraft. Smith, in turn, writes, as one would expect, from the perspective of his Primal Craft tradition, telling of how Hekate introduced him to Lucifer who appears here as her consort. This is a thorough ritual account, documenting the long, distressing after effects of The Rite of the Phoenix, culminating in a crossing of the Abyss and a journey through the City of Pyramids.

The type of personal turmoil mentioned by Smith is not something unique to his contribution here, with several authors describing trauma and dark nights of the soul that either came through interacting with Hekate or were eventually soothed by her cathartic arrival. As always, there’s a variety of feelings and impressions that can be stirred up when reading such accounts, especially when it concerns mystical goings on and messages from the divine world; incredulity being one of them. But that is the nature of the brief here, so the reader needs to buckle in and enjoy the ride on this train of personal testimonies or get off at the next dour stop. For devotees of Hekate, though, one can imagine that a collection of so many allied voices would be well received and a valuable addition to one’s library.

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In the end, it’s hard to get past the large formatting of Hekate Her Sacred Fires and it can be genuinely exhausting just to read a page, with your head and eyes having to travel right across each A4 width just to get one sentence in. It is obvious why this has been done, as with an existing page count of over 300, a volume with more conventional dimensions would have doubled the amount of pages to make for one hefty tome. One option might have been to reduce the number of submissions or to have at least pared down some of them in the edit, but there would probably have been some reluctance to do this, given that in her introduction, d’Este talks of how necessary it was to preserve the voice of so many writers; meaning that editing for proofing alone has been minimal, limited to what are designated essential changes.

Published by Avalonia


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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


The Cult of the Black Cube – Arthur Moros

Categories: classical, esotericism, hellenic, Tags:

The Cult of the Black Cube coverA quick survey of Scriptus Recensera’s hallowed halls shows that Saturn has a certain degree of popularity within this here occult milieu, with our shelves bearing several books both by, and about, the Fraternitas Saturni, along with two Saturnian titles from Aeon Sophia Press, Moshe Idel’s Saturn’s Jews: On the Witches’ Sabbat and Sabbateanism and now this volume from Theion Publishing. In some ways, The Cult of the Black Cube takes things back to basics with a general overview of matters Saturnine, with an overview of various incarnations of what Dr. Arthur Moros broadly refers to as the Saturnine deity, followed by theory and a little practicum.

But first, after an introduction from Frater U.:.D.:., Moros begins with a personal anecdote, giving his life story, from being crippled and having his spine damaged in high school, to nascent explorations of academia, to a dramatic Roman-style necromantic invocation, and finally a dream encounter with a black creature of pulsing energy that led to a miraculous curing of all ills and the beginning of a journey along the path this book reveals. Given that the name of the good doctor is a pseudonym, and the biography is without significant markers of time or space (save for a reference to an unspecified Ivy League school), this account feels like it is caught in a slip of myth. This is then compounded with Theion Publishing reporting that Moros died soon after delivering this manuscript to them, his body found exotically “in the land of Kush” where he, like some Lovecraftian or Rider Haggard hero, “never afraid of adventure and risk, investigated ancient traces of the Saturnian Cultus. Contact had been lost for days until his body was found. The cause of death remains unknown.” Thrilling Boy’s Own stuff.

Full-page colour painting of the black cube by Erica Frevel

Moros begins his consideration of the various iterations of the Saturnine deity not, as one might expect, in ancient Greece, but in the later world of Medieval Islam, where the form is that of the spirit Zuhal; perhaps familiar as the planetary spirit Zazel from grimoires like Clavicula Salomonis; or an award-winning American erotic film from 1996, apparently – the more you know. For his depiction of Zuhal, Moros draws largely from the third to fourth century text Nabatean Agriculture (Kitab al-falaha al-nabatiya), credited to a writer named Qûtâmä, and translated into Arabic at the beginning of the tenth century by the polymath Ibn Wahshiyya. It’s worth noting that, for whatever reason, Moros presents Wahshiyya as the text’s author throughout, never once giving credence to, or mentioning, his longstanding identification as only its translator. Zuhal shares many of the characteristics common to classical depictions of Saturn: death, decay, the persistence of time, and most importantly from an aesthetic perspective, a range of appealing stygian symbols: black stone, black sand, black man. The content of Nabatean Agriculture flows neatly into that of The Picatrix and considerably lesser known texts like Kitab al-Ustuwwatas, which provide still further details to the Arab world’s vision of the Saturnine deity.

The Cult of the Black Cube spread

Following a fairly thorough sojourn in the Greek and Latin climes of Cronos and Saturn, Moros takes an easterly turn and heads to India, which he identifies as the only place that the Saturnine cult has “survived since ancient times.” Here, ?ani shares many of the characteristics of his classical and Arab counterparts, something that likely developed alongside the other elements of Jyotisha or Hindu astrology in the centuries after the arrival of Greek astrology in India with Alexander the Great. He is slow like the passage of the planet, and associated with the colour black, the metal iron and suitably piceous animals such as crows.

With this anthropological exploration out of the way, Moros turns theoretical with the book’s second section, Saturnine Gnosis, which includes an analysis and interpretation of the Saturnine deity and an outline of what constitutes the Saturnine Path. Moros begins this with a broad discussion of spiritual paths, in which he throws shade at occult teachers who claim to be able to teach you how to become a deity whilst physically incarnate (a living god, if you will), yet are strangely unable to direct their own lives… *zing.* Dismissive of attempts to reframe spirits and gods as archetypes or aspects of the self, Moros argues that the consistent appearance of the Saturnine deity within a variety of cultures is because they are real, an “actual deity (or planetary intelligence, or power) with which various cultures have made contact.” As for the reason for pursuing the Saturnine Path, Moros lightly touches on the ebony elephant in the room that is asking why anyone would want to interact with such a malign and negative deity, highlighting the antinomian element behind this act, acknowledging that in siding with the exiled, wounded and marginalised, one is backing a dark horse, “but that dark horse is definitely in the race.” Initiation into this Saturnine current has, according to Moros, two main rewards: access to the gnosis that flows from the Saturnine deity, and the ability to draw on the power and emanations of Saturn’s Black Cube to work magic.

The Cult of the Black Cube spread with images of Saturn

The practical side of this path is then laid out in the book’s third and final section, and follows some fairly familiar guidelines. The ritual space is what one would expect without even looking: it’s black, the ritual accoutrements include any of the symbols associated with the various iterations of the Saturnine deity, and the shrine is treated as a living thing that grows in power. Daily devotions play a role here, and the space, once established, should begin to aid the flow of Saturnian gnosis. Along with the devotional aspect, the example of ritual work includes a self-initiation, a rite for aide in oracular matters, rites using a black cube and chains respectively, and several rites to summon Saturn, based on the templates from The Picatrix and Nabatean Agriculture.

At 175 pages, The Cult of the Black Cube succeeds at what it is: a concise introduction to working with the Saturnine deity, providing enough mythology to give you a grounding in their character, and enough basic ritual elements to start devotional practice. Moros writes capably and confidently, free of error, and while there’s little in the way of in-text citing, it is clear where most information comes from, and these, both source texts and scholarly reflections, are referenced in an annotated bibliography at the rear.

The Cult of the Black Cube spread

Layout and typesetting in The Cult of the Black Cube is by Jessica Grote in a functional style, with body text in paragraphs of a fully-justified serif, subtitles in Fredrick Nader’s Amerika face, and titles (and the whole contents page, for some reason) in Casady & Greene’s middling script face CalligraphyFLF. Illustrations are largely limited to in-body images depicting the various incarnations of the Saturnine deity, with the exception of an evocative full-page colour painting of the black cube by Erica Frevel that acts as something of a prelude to what follows.

The Cult of the Black Cube comes in two editions, standard and auric, both printed on 115gsm wood-free high quality Lessebo Design paper, and several black and white illustrations throughout. The standard cloth hardcover edition is limited to 720 copies and is bound in blue-grey fine cloth, with a silver Saturn sigil debossed on the front, lettering in silver on the spine, and Surbalin moiré endpapers. The 52 hand-numbered copies of the sold out Auric Edition were fully hand-bound in Saturnine black leather, with a sigilised and embossed lead plate, individually consecrated to the deity, embedded on the front.

Published by Theion Publishing


Queen of Hell – Mark Alan Smith

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Categories: classical, goetia, grimoire, hekate, nightside, witchcraft, Tags:

Queen of Hell coverOriginally published in 2010 by Ixaxaar, Mark Alan Smith’s Queen of Hell is here released as a Nightside edition via his own Primal Craft imprint, acting as the first instalment in a reissue of his Trident of Witchcraft trilogy. On the most immediate level, Queen of Hell looks like everything you want in an occult publication: bound in a luxurious green velvet cloth, sigils on the front and reverse covers foiled in gold, blackletter title on the spine (also in gold, naturally), and said spine with a substantial, tome-worthy width of three centimetres. Plus, a matching green cloth bookmark, huzzah!

The queen of hell of the title is Hekate (henceforth Hecate, in deference to Smith’s spelling) but the Hecate within these pages bears only a passing resemblance to the goddess of classical Greek and Roman sources, and appears, instead, as the figure of the book’s title, a diabolical queen of hell and witchcraft of the most glamorously demonic kind. Largely unmoored from her classical origins, Hecate here instead exists within a more qliphothic cosmology and goetic pantheon; something that is made clear from the first page of the first chapter where her throne is said to be beyond Kether and its corresponding qliphah Thaumiel, and with her envisioned as a primordial first goddess, the highest tip of the initiating power or trident of witchcraft, and the queen not only of hell but of heaven and earth. While this has little parallel with the traditional image of Hecate, it must be said that divorced from the specific nomenclature of the qliphoth, it does recall her appearance in the Chaldean Oracles in which she is a grand cosmic force, the lightning-receiving womb and formless fire of the aneidon pur, visible throughout the cosmos.

Queen of Hell spread with sigils of Lucifer

Despite the qliphothic decoration, it is fundamentally a form of witchcraft that is presented here, made none more clearer than in the next chapter and its listing of some familiar ritual implements: athame, wand, chalice, pentacle, sword, salt, etc. Smith gives his own dark veneer of interpretation to these, though, with the wand as the staff of the Dark Lord, the chalice as the grail that is the emerald of Lucifer fallen from on high, and multiple references to Atlantis, which in Smith’s cosmology acts as an ur-culture for his pantheon and its tradition.

This demonic side comes to the fore fairly on when Smith provides an overview of his core pantheon, headed, naturally, by Hecate and followed by the two other points of this Trident of Witchcraft: Lucifer and Belial (subjects of their own books in this trilogy as the titular Red King and Crown Prince of the Sabbat respectively). Somewhat reminiscent of the legend of Diana and Aradia as recorded by Charles Leland, Lucifer is defined as the son and brother of Hecate, a dark solar form of the horned god of witchcraft. Belial, meanwhile, is conflated with Beelzebub and identified as the ruler of the qliphah Ghagiel and as a darker twin of Lucifer, thereby being described by Hecate as “the spawn of my spawn.” Rather than create new sigils for Lucifer and Belial in an already crowded sigil market, Smith relies on the classics and draws from grimoires. And instead of picking just one sigil, he presents the various variations from the Grand Grimoire, the Grimorium Verum, and the Lemegeton. Each is said to be a separate junction belonging to its spirit, though some are given more significance than others, such as, for example, the familiar and more aesthetically-pleasing Grimoirium Verum sigil for Lucifer, which, as its form suggests, is said to be the gateway to the City of Pyramids.

Queen of Hell spread

Beyond this primary trinity of powers, Smith list a range of lesser spirits, once again mixing demonology with the occasional nod to Greek mythology. Thus, sitting quite happily alongside goetic spirits like Surgat and Lucifuge Rofocal are the fate-spinning trio of the Moirai, the Hadean daimon Eurynomos, and the hound Cerberus. Like Hecate (their sister in this telling), the three Moirai, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, are contextualised within a qliphothic framework, and given an abode in the qliphah of Sathariel from which they also access Gamaliel for works of dark moon magick. Similarly, Eurynomos dwells in Belial’s qliphah of Ghagiel, while Cerberus is associated with Daath and the initiatory great Abyss.

As the cast of characters and their areas of influence attest, there is, unsurprisingly, a distinctively dark hue to the content of Queen of Hell, with everything cast within a grimly glamorous aesthetic of moons and serpents, horns and blood, stars and fire. The language of the rites and evocations echoes this, employing a rich, descriptive lexicon in service of a suitably gothic liturgy. It’s not entirely tenebrous, though, and Smith embraces Hecate’s role as queen of heaven as much of hell by having one invocation of a force from the Empyrean realm, with the Archangel Michael called upon as an initiatory force, ultimately merging with Lucifer within the practitioner, the two acting effectively as classic shoulder angels and devils.

Smith writes with a style that is no-nonsense with little room for handholding, deferring to no authority other than that of his own tradition. In some cases, it seems to be assumed that you have gleamed all that needs to be gleamed in the discussion of a particular technique, often presented in its core theory rather than step-by-step instructions, and then you’re on your own if you weren’t paying attention. There’s nothing wrong with such an approach, as it ensures focus and emphasises the experiential, with each incremental step building one ‘pon t’other.

Queen of Hell spread with Evocation of the Witch Gods

Summoning in a broadly goetic style plays a large part in the magical arsenal here (with some major tweaks, as one would expect, with less of the cajoling and threatening), with all of the previously mentioned cast, as well as a broad range of other beings, having invocations. But there are also little things that bring this primal craft back to its witchy underpinnings. There’s a discussion of core techniques of malefica, the use of familiars, a brief diversion into the now almost de rigueur toad rite, as well as the employment of totemic witch bottles (here called spirit pots) to house egregores, and in a continuation of the theme but on a larger scale, the use of cauldrons as a gateway between worlds.

Queen of Hell concludes with a second part, defined as its own self-contained Book of the Inner Sanctum (though the first part of the book is not given a comparable heading), in which the focus moves away from the practical sorcery of the first half and into the astral. The Inner Sanctum of the title encompasses the highest powers and gnosis in the Primal Craft system, and these are accessed with a series of considerably and increasingly more complex and involved rituals, incorporating a variation of the aforementioned toad bone rite, as well as a series of other workings that have less of a familiar witchy pedigree. It is this section which underpins the general impression generated by Queen of Hell, in that what is presented here is a complex, thorough system that, should it and its aesthetics appeal to you, has a lot to work with.

Queen of Hell is illustrated in a style similar to all Primal Craft titles, with sigils rendered as chunky, somewhat-angular, heavy-weighted vector forms, while illustrations are full page glossy plates that have some hand-drawn elements but are also heavy on post-processing, with blurred Photoshop-rendered flames, smoke and clouds. The most striking of these is a portrait of Hecate in which she eerily resembles Carice van Houten as the Lady Melisandre from Game of Thrones, with the ruins of some building ablaze in the background.

Queen of Hell spread with full page image of Hecate

Typesetting in Queen of Hell is rather utilitarian, with the body in a slightly too large serif face, with subtitles in a bold variation of the same, and chapter titles all-caps in another serif face, Garamond. This is set as fully-justified paragraphs, within conservative left, right and top margins, creating a somewhat cramped feeling. Paper stock is heavier than usual, sitting between 130 and 140 gsm, and having an almost card-like quality, which may account for a few places where the binding seems to have suffered.

This Nightside edition of Queen of Hell was released in a now sold-out edition of 500, featuring double thickness endpapers, and handbound in an emerald Lynel Fur that retains the green of the Ixaxaar edition, but with a new sigil foiled in gold on the cover. Sigils within and other artwork have been recreated and enhanced, the promotional blurb tells us, by the D’via Roja Group (though both context and even the powers of Google make it hard to tell who or what this group are).

Published by Primal Craft


Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism – Algis Uždavinys

Categories: classical, esotericism, hellenic, hermeticism

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism coverIn the preface to Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism, Juan Acevedo, director of the publisher Matheson Trust, provides an initial outline of the work, being one in which, he says, Dr. Uždavinys’ intoxicated enthusiasm for his topic is tempered with a need to carry out exposition in a discursive and academic manner. It is a work which, would you believe, moves uneasily between the apophatic and the cataphatic, and we all know what kind of shenanigans that leads to. No? Alrighty then.

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism runs as a single, 99-page monograph, divided into 24 chapters or sections that are given titles in the contents page, but infuriatingly, not in the actual body. Without these appearing within the body, the journey that Uždavinys takes the reader on can feel a little unstructured, as he jumps from one topic to the other without preamble. Laborious though it is, it becomes helpful to flip back to the contents page when encountering a new chapter, just to give you a sense of what is coming; and even then, that sometimes helps little.

Its sub-100 pages belie this volume’s density, with Uždavinys employing a multi-layered, polymathical style of writing that crams the pages with as much information as possible and often seems to divert into detail. Conversely, though, Uždavinys avoids using any theoretical framework or providing definitions of terms, so his highly specialised lexicon can be intimidating for those not familiar with it. Contrary to the title, there’s not always a lot of Orpheus involved, and this is no clearer than in the first chapter which begins, sans Orpheus, with a discussion of madness as a melancholy-like gift of the gods that can be poetic, telestic or prophetic (poietike mania, telestike mania and mantike mania).

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism contents

Indeed, the roots that Uždavinys speaks of are more likely to be found in Egypt and more broadly, Mesopotamian, most notably Babylonia and Assyria. Even here, though, Platonism itself begins to lose its status as the focus of the text with Uždavinys spending an inordinate, though enjoyable, time considering the nature of prophecy and divine utterances in ancient Mesopotamia. These mantic experiences are explored exhaustively and range from the kind of channelled material generated by priests and priestesses standing within temples and embodying the gods, to local prophets who received messages from the gods involuntarily. This thorough exploration is divorced from what one would assume, given the title, is the focus of the book, and when Uždavinys does make reference to parallels in Greece he uses the rather less than satisfying, and possibly euphemistic, example of Pythagoras teaching from behind a curtain.

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That isn’t to say there isn’t any mention of Orpheus or Orphism here, and the following four sections explicitly bear his name in their titles. Given the scarcity of extant information about a mythic figure like Orpheus though, and the lack of definition Uždavinys gives in turn to Orphism, these sections are brief, considerably more so than those that precede and proceed them, before yet another tangent is enthusiastically and abruptly pursued.

To return to the introductory words of Juan Acevedo, whether Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism does indeed move uneasily between the apophatic and the cataphatic this reviewer cannot say for sure, but it does succeed in its inability to sit still, ensuring that little gems spark interest amongst the turmoil of Uždavinys’ generously-described “discursive manner.”

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With the expectation generated by the title ignored, what Uždavinys provides is an interesting consideration of a variety of matters of interest to the esotericist, whether it be prophecy, initiation, divine inspiration, cosmology and eschatological conceptions of the soul. That these are hidden away within Uždavinys’ somewhat desultory text may make the journey all the more satisfying.

Published by the Matheson Trust


The Seven Faces of Darkness: Practical Typhonian Magic – Don Webb

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Categories: classical, egyptian, magick, typhonian, Tags:

The Seven Faces of Darkness: Practical Typhonian Magic coverAs a sequel to the December review of Set by Judith Page and Don Webb, we get nostalgic with a look back at the first book from Webb to make it into the nascent Scriptus Recensera library. Published in 1996, the year that Webb would become High Priest of the Temple of Set, The Seven Faces of Darkness identifies itself on the title page as the first volume of the proceedings of the Order of Setne Khamuast, a Temple of Set order that Webb was then the grandmaster of. There doesn’t seem to have been any subsequent volumes to these proceedings, but what is presented here speaks to the order’s raison d’être of combining scholarship with magical practice. The blurb on the back of the book suggests a similar motivation, mentioning Webb’s hope that it will be “a partial antidote to the fuzzy thinking of the occult world,” – wonder how that turned out.

The other intention of The Seven Faces of Darkness, mentioned on the back cover of the book, is to reclaim the wisdom of Late Antiquity, and that is very much what we get here with a focus on authentic examples of Typhonian sorcery, principally from the Greek Magical Papyri. Before getting to those examples, though, Webb begins with a personally-voiced introduction and then provides a broad overview of the source material, focusing, by way of an early example, on three representative rituals: two from papyri (one in Greek and the other in both Greek and Demotic) and one from a curse tablet found in a well in the Athenian Agora. For each of these, Webb highlights how they relate to Set, in particular his syncretisation with the Greek figure of Typhon, a natural figure to appeal to when performing maleficia.

In the third chapter, Webb does a slight jump back by regrouping and focussing on Set; almost introducing him anew despite referring to him multiple times in the previous chapters. He gives a brief history of Set, beginning with what traces there are in the predynastic period and culminating with more recent events deemed significant, like the founding of the Church of Satan, Michael Aquino’s reception of The Book of Coming Forth By Night in 1975, and a Temple of Set heb-sed festival, under the guidance of the Order of Setne Khamuast, in Las Vegas in 1995. Webb then discusses attributes and symbols of Set, and considers his role in three locations: in the Duat, on earth, and in the sky; a fairly standard tripartite cosmological division.

Seven Faces of Darkness page spread

The largest section of The Seven Faces of Darkness contains a selection of spells from the Greek Magical Papyri and a few other sources, which are presented, one assumes, verbatim, usually with a note from Webb at the end. These spells, for the most part, cover the kind of things you come across in any compendium of folk magic, with formulae for creating sexual attraction, breaking up relationships, and restraining enemies. While some of these are only tangentially related to Set, others, though, have a particularly interesting Setian emphasis, such as the Spell for Obtaining Luck from Set from PGM IV 154-285. Here, the practitioners both summons and identifies themselves with Set, describing all of Set-Typhon’s activities as their own. In so doing, it provides a rich Setian liturgy, with Set addressed in all manner of evocative terms.

At just over 100 pages, The Seven Faces of Darkness should feel like a brief volume, but it’s surprisingly detailed. There’s the discussion of Set providing a good cosmological base, another chapter dealing more with modern Setian magickal theory and a guide to ritual, and then the exploration of the various spells from the PGM, which gives examples of genuine Typhonian sorcery and provides a toolkit of forms, tools and techniques drawn from Hermeticism and its Egyptian syncretism that can be adapted for personal use. As such, The Seven Faces of Darkness feels a little bit more essential as a guide to both Set and his magick than the recently reviewed Set: The Outsider. The exploration of Set from a mythological perspective while detailed is not that extensive, but it provides enough for anyone not familiar with him as a neter to get a sense of his complexity. Similarly, Webb’s discussion of ritual hits a lot of useful beats when it comes to setting up a system of magical praxis, including a listing of tool, several ways to approach working with Set, and a schema of festivals to celebrate throughout the year. This worth is somewhat hidden by the formatting, which is very utilitarian, so speaking of which…

Seven Faces of Darkness page spread

The Seven Faces of Darkness is formatted in Rûna Raven’s style of the times, which appears to have involved a sole rudimentary word processor. This means everything is messy and cramped with very little room to breathe. Ugly, archaic underlining is used for emphasis and everything (paragraphs, first paragraphs, subtitles, block quotes) have a first line indent. It’s those now atypical underlines that are the worst though, cutting thickly underneath bits of text, but coming across, such is the brutality of their placement, as if they are strikethroughs correcting copy.

The cover design by Timothy Weinmeister (who also contributes some select internal illustrations) features a striking image of Set against a pyramid and temple peppered horizon. The reproduction, though, is soft and regrettably, it’s clear that a high resolution version of the artwork wasn’t used.

Published by Rûna Raven Press.


Hekate Liminal Rites – Sorita d’Este & David Rankine

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Categories: classical, goddesses, hekate, 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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