Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Three Sorcerous Books

Since the focus of this blog is Druidic occultism, we will occasionally (even frequently) be looking at the ‘occult’ portion of that equation. For those waiting for something Celtic, I have another review on the way directly. These short reviews cover three small books that I have read lately in an effort to examine modern streams of magical, Pagan and witchcraft practice. Lately I’ve been getting small press items from the UK, where a nice ferment of occult ingredients seems to be cooking. All three are from small occult presses, all three nicely produced small volumes, two paper, and one handbound in boards. All three either are themselves, or relate to the tradition of grimoires and magic books. The first is itself a translated grimoire, the second concerns folkloric “Witchcraft” and it’s Pagan connections, and the third takes us on an excursion into much stranger spheres, based on one of the most rumored and buzzed-about neo-grimoires of the end of the last century. We’ll begin with the most scholastic and work our way along.

A Collection of Magical Secrets, etc., & A Treatise of Mixed Qabalah, etc.
Edited by Stephen Skinner & David Rankine. Avalonia, 2009

isbn 978-1-905297-20-7
“Translated from Wellcome MS4669 by Paul Harry Baron from the original French manuscript dated 1796” So says the cover of this book, and so it is – a direct translation of a working magician’s book of the late 18th century. The contents were bound together with a version of the Clavicule of Solomon and another Keys of Solomon, which have been published separately. As opposed to the fairly detailed theoretical and ritual systems of the keys, this book seems to be the operative notebook of a practicing conjuror. The most common name for a cunning-man’s personal book of spells and lore was a ‘Book of Secrets’, and that’s what we have here.

The text begins with a simple spell-book of the sort that might be used by a cunning-person. There are a variety of spells (or ‘experiments’ as the book calls them) for healing, love, finding lost objects, most of them very simple and folkloric. Mixed with these are various conjurations of spirits and angels, including several workings to gain a familiar spirit (one of which I just may have to adapt). Most of the charms are worked under the Christian archangels and standard divine names, though some seem to call on traditional ‘demons’ as well. In general there isn’t a trace of memory of Pagan deities beyond their presence as the seven planets.

The second section is four chapters of work called “A Treatise of Mixed Cabalah”. I found this section interesting in that it shows the existence at an early date of the kind of westernized Cabalah that is familiar to students of Mathers and Crowley. The first part summarizes material that will be familiar to students of hermetic Cabalah – the ten spheres, their correspondences and authorities. It then sets out a seven-day theurgic working to gain inspiration, knowledge and the teaching of the angels. The second part gives a method consecrating planetary talismans, similar in type to the methods given in the Keys of Solomon. The third part gives the talismans themselves, and an interesting method of dream incubation. The fourth part gives an oracle, of the sort popular in the late 18th century, the most famous of which was Napoleon’s Book of Fate. A list of numbers from 1 to 112 are each provided with an answer, such as: “Since though believest in God, trust him, for he will make thine enemies fall and he will fulfill thy requests to thy great satisfaction.” Or “Let it go. For thou dost not know the commandments of God and although God may be slow, he is however satisfied at the end.” A method is then given to determine which answer is taken to any given question, though it amounts to little more than simple bibliomancy. I must admit the model has me thinking about how it could be used to produce oracular books of use to Pagans.

This is an interesting and well-presented example of early modern English magic. Those actually working in a Cabalistic or angelic system could apply the experiments directly. Many do seem to me to be adaptable to a more Iron Age perspective.

Traditional Witchcraft; A Cornish Book of Ways
Gemma Gary, Troy Books, 2008 isbn 978-0-9561043-0-4
This is one of a number of books I’ve read that claims to represent a tradition of Pagan Witchcraft older and ‘more authentic’ than that of Gardner and his Wiccan inheritors. In this case the system of witchcraft presented draws on Cornish countryside spirit lore, folkloric spellcraft and remnants of the cunning-folk traditions to construct a modern form. An interesting thing about this system is that it attempts to provide a Pagan context inside which a folkloric magical tradition could operate.
The author describes a devotion to a nature-power, androgynous, summer-winter sort of goat or stag spirit, the Bucca (which means, roughly, “goat” in Celtic languages.). Along with this cross-roads deity the system focuses on the spirits of the Dead in the land and in the Otherworld, which are identified with the ‘pisgies’ of Cornish lore. The book provides outlines and some spoken text for rites of worship that have a nicely Pagan feel to them, including an emphasis on the witch’s hearth as a key magical center. The central rite of ‘worship’ is essentially a sacrificial feast in which bread and mead are shared with the spirits. Throughout this material there’s a kind of imagined countryside devil-worship – as long as we remember that the Devil is really the Bucca. Aesthetically it treads a line between homespun and gothic.
The author makes an effort to associate this ‘Traditional Witchcraft’ or ‘cunning craft’ with the practices of famous Cornish cunning folks and reputed witches. She drops the names of undoubtedly historical modern figures, and freely uses the term cunning folk interchangeably with ‘witches’. This is where the scholasticism of the book breaks down, in my opinion, and becomes the very same sort of Neopagan romanticism we all know and love. What we’re seeing here seems, to me, very unlikely to be an actual remnant of folk paganism from the 18th and 19th centuries, but rather a nicely done reconstruction. The author (or her group – she’s part of a circle working the system, it seems) has done a good job of cobbling bits of folklore into workable rites – a skill I admire.
More than half the book is taken up with its grimoire, which is plainly based on the same sort of cunning-person’s Book of Secrets that we see in the above review. The author is interested in herbs and oils, and gives extensive recipes for incenses and various anointing oils. There is an effort made to devise a system of categories for magical intention (or ‘energies’) and support them with corresponding substances – so we find Toad Smoke and Hare Smoke recipes along with Serpent and Crow. There is a system of making talismans in the form of ‘sachets’, small, square-sewn packets, and the usual variety of practical spells for love, healing, protection, turning away ill and cursing. The spells are influenced by the same literary tradition that produces the Book of Secrets – countryside lore mixed with elements of scholastic magical traditions. They retain the seven planets symbol system, and give planetary number-squares and sigils for each, derived from scholastic magic. However where an 18th century system would have called on angels and demons of late Judeo-Christian provenance, this grimoire offers spirit communication with the ‘piskies’ – the crowd of the Dead – instead.

The book concludes with chapters on group worship rites. Full Moon and New Moon rites are described (though not scripted). The seasonal ritual days are the four Celtic feasts along with the solstices, the equinoxes having no customs given. These days are given their Cornish folk names but are quite recognizable as the modern Pagan holy days.

All in all a good effort, with a lot of workable material for a solitary Pagan magic user. I remain bemused at the effort to turn the ‘cunning-man’ into the ‘witch’, but I understand the impulse. Incidentally also a pretty and romantic treatment for this book – I love it when magical authors illustrate their own ideas.

Voudon Gnosis
David Beth, Scarlet Imprint, 2008
Hang on to your wangas, now we’re going somewhere different. Where the first two books are themselves grimoires, instructions for personal magical practice, this small book is instead a comment on a much larger modern grimoire. The Voudon Gnostic Workbook, by Michael Bertiaux, is a book with a lot of buzz among Thelemites and chaos magicians. It’s a huge book that takes the reader on a labyrinthine journey, starting with being a Big Lucky Hoodoo and ending up somewhere-weird of Atlantis. In fact Atlantis plays a big part in its mythology, along with Zothyrius, Lemuria and Lovecraft’s Yuggoth. It may have been the Lovecraftian element in Bertiaux’s work that attracted Kenneth Grant, who profiled him in Cults of the Shadow.
One of the most notable characteristics of the VGW is its impenetrability to casual study. This small book, Voudon Gnosis, is by one of the only other occultists to write on the system, a student of Bertiaux. It attempts to offer an eighty-page introduction to some of the book’s key ideas and practices. It rather succeeds, but the author admits at the outset that the VGW material is “...abstract and very complex”, and so it really only succeeds so well.
I bought this book on the recommendation of a review of it by Freya Aswynn, who suggested that is was relevant to any magician interested in working with the spirits. I don’t disagree. Within the delightful gobbledeguk of the occultism is a serious approach not only to working with the spirits, but to empowering the individual and enabling wild explorations of little-known spiritual spaces.
The VGW system is based somewhat on Haitian Voudon, and some of the terminology is retained. The Prise des Yeux – divine vision or second sight, the points chauds – hot points, which are conceptually related to the chakras and marmas of eastern systems and the use of spirit bottles and fetishes all have roots in traditional Voudon. From that basis the system appears to intend to create a system of mysticism that allows the student to transcend common reality and construct their own magical universe in which to dwell. That’s the gnostic part of Voudon Gnosis. Along the way the system intends to produce magical ‘powers’ of the usual sort.
I bought this micro-press item because I decided I’d start actually getting some of this good stuff before it only was available as a rare book. It’s a very nice hardback edition with embossed cover, but quite slim. I thank Scarlet Imprint for not making the price ridiculous, even with overseas shipping. Is this book worthwhile for students of a northern occultism? It could be, but it will be of far more use to experienced practitioners with multi-cultural sensibilities. The material on fetishes (ummm, that is, empowered images…), on body-based mysticism and on work with the Dead could all be instructive, though the complex mythologies of the system make even this simplified introduction pretty opaque.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Bealtinne Charm

This is one of a set of very simple charms that can serve as a basic invocation for a solitary High Day. It could be inserted in a ‘Simple Rite of Offering’ as the key offering section, perhaps serving all the way through the Prayer of Sacrifice, but it could also be used with little or no other ritual context. Just build a good small fire, or gather candles and a censer, and have a well-bowl of some sort. These charms could even be adapted for use by a family at their High Day dinner table.
The Charm
Bright Fire kindled, Blazing!
Seed Springing; Love Flowing
Luck Bringing; Wight Knowing;
I keep the Feast of Bealtaine!
Mound Mother, Mead Woman, you I call
Green and Gold Goddess
Womb of All Kindreds, Lover of Heroes
Take now my offering, here at my Fire
Son of the Mother, you I call
Wonder Child; Sweet Enchanter
Harper and Singer and Heir of the Chieftain
Take now my offering here at my Fire
Beautiful Kindreds, this is your honoring
Clooties I tie in salute to your power
To bless the blossom on the branch
I tie this clout for the Kings in the Hall
I tie this clout for the Queens in the Hall
I tie this clout for all the beings of this Land
Be with me Nature Spirits, Noble People
And grant your blessing to my year.
So, all you Powers, I give you welcome at my Fire. Let your light be reflected in my spirit, let your ale flow in my veins. I raise this glass to you, and drink to your divine power. Let me know the health, wealth and wisdom of the Gods and Spirits on this holy feast of Bealtaine! So be it!

It is best to find a flowering tree on which to tie the three clouties. The clouties can be as slight as three threads, though strips of cloth are better. These should be in three colors as you prefer. The offerings to the Deities can be oil or incense as usual.

Monday, April 13, 2009

What I'll Do On My Summer Vacation

At least the parts I publicize... Here are the descriptions for the set of workshops I'll be giving this summer at Wellspring and Starwood, and maybe elsewhere.

Toward A Pagan Mysticism
In this talk we will consider what we mean by ‘mysticism’, as it relates to terms like ‘religion’ and ‘magic’ and how mysticism might play a part in a nature-centered polytheistic spirituality. We will examine a number of models of mystical experience as used in western and Indian spiritual systems, and discuss how each of them might be applied in a nature centered, polytheistic system. Classical magical and mystical methods such as the Holy Guardian Angel, the Beatific Vision and the Ladder of Lights may have a great deal to teach Pagans. We will also give some ideas for incorporating ‘mystical’ techniques into personal practice, and give some preparatory concepts for the Nineteen Working.

The Nineteen Working - A Celtic Pagan Sadhana
“Sadhana” – Sanskrit; a specific practice intended to produce a spiritual result.
The Nineteen Working is a pattern of meditation and visualization based on specific elements of Celtic, especially Irish, lore. It is meant to be performed by individuals, but makes an effective group practice as well. It is based on a reconstructed Celtic Pagan cosmology, which begins with primal Fire and Water and works its way through to the manifest Middle World in the Nine Elements. At the center of the practice are the Three Cauldrons of the inner self, the vessels of the Power of Inspiration in mortals. The intention of the working is to expand personal awareness out of the common self and into the greater awareness of divine nature. By becoming aware of the divine in the world, we become aware of the divine in ourselves, and of its unity with the Great Dance of Being.
The Nineteen Working can be developed over some weeks of exercises, to get the greatest result. Ian will teach the practice as a whole in this workshop. Come with a comfortable seat, prepared for meditation, as we seek to expand our minds and feed our spirits with this Pagan spiritual practice. The material in this workshop is available in Ian’s new booklet “Toward A Pagan Mysticism”.

Monday, April 6, 2009

My New Little Book - and a Progress Report

So, my friends, here's the first small publication to come out of my writing efforts toward this new Initiate's Book (see below). If you've been reading this blog you'll have seen the series on Druidic Mystical exercises. This chapbook combines those into a single large meditative pattern, and leads through the process of teaching the visualizations and contemplations of the work. It then provides a simple text from which the ritual meditation pattern can be worked. In a second part I've published a shortish essay on methods of producing mystical experience in world systems, and how they might be applied to a Pagan or Druidic system. There's plenty of material that hasn't been seen here.
In the fair warning department, the mystical exercises themselves will end up as part of the Initiate's Book, though not with all the commentary text from this book. The article probably won't end up in the big book.
Click the image to have a look, and I'll have copies at fests through the summer as well.
Progress on the Initiate's Book
Some of you know that I've been working on creating a guide to Druidic magical and theurgic practice that would allow a student to fulfill all the practicum requirements of the ADF's Initiate's Program. I'm setting it up in an ambitious, nearly monastic, work of nine months. For that reason I'm currently in love with the title "Book of Nine Moons". Currently that's getting all the votes from the voices in my head. The book will be set up in nine lessons, giving full scripts and support for the 'Retreat Days' at each phase of the moon. The link above gives my model as I had it a couple of months ago. That model has been juggling itself in my head all season. Persently the outline of the work of the First Moon looks like this:

The First Month:
New Moon:

• Begin Shrine Devotion & Open Meditation (as often as daily, but certainly on Retreat Days).
• Make the Dead and Sidhe Offerings during the day
• Begin the Self-Introduction and the Seelie and Unseelie Mirror exercises in the Journal.
• During the divination, you might choose to ask: “What are my greatest potentials for success?”
• The Evening Working: a Simple Rite of Offering, as you will, worked with full attention to the Inner Work of the rite.
Sixth Night:
• Continue Shrine Devotion & Open Meditation (as often as daily, but certainly on Retreat Days). • Make the Dead and Sidhe Offerings during the day
• Continue journal work.
• Consider doing a full reading for yourself or another on a practical topic. Feel free to do this ‘Open Book’ for some months to come.
• The Evening Working: A Ritual of Unknotting – a rite to remove obstacles from the student’s path, and open her to the good things of the world.
Full Moon:
• Continue Shrine Devotion & Open Meditation (as often as daily, but certainly on Retreat Days). • Make the Dead and Sidhe Offerings during the day
• Continue journal work.
• Consider doing a full reading for yourself or another on a practical topic.
• The Evening Working: A Rite of Self-Blessing – formal Blessing of oneself and one’s path as an initiate, including a hallowing of tools and symbols.
Last Quarter:
• Continue Shrine Devotion & Open Meditation
• Make the Dead and Sidhe Offerings during the day
• Consider doing a full reading for yourself or another on a practical topic.
• The Evening Work: Complete the month’s writing and journaling.
I've been writing this material in various forms over the last months, and last night I put a lot of it together, producing a fast 12,000 words of organized stuff for the First and Second Moons. To complete the First Moon I must write a formal 'Uncrossing' rite (I'm stuck on the poetry just now), and the article on introspection and self-knowledge. The latter i decided just couldn't be left out of even this early stage, even without a formal requirement from the ADF program.
So watch this space for more snippets and stuff, and maybe I'll have the first Three Moons in a draft print later this summer!