Leonora Carrington, at age nineteen, while still studying at the Amédée Ozenfant Academy in London, had already started to explore the inner world of her imagination and its ‘hypnagogic’ vision – that state where consciousness and unconsciousness merge. When she met Max Ernst, 26 years her senior, and came into contact with Surrealism, she felt, not surprisingly, an immediate kinship.
Max Ernst & Leonora Carrington, Lee Miller in the foreground – photo by Man Ray.
In her Introduction to Leonora Carrington’s collection of short stories, The Seventh Horse and Other Tales, Marina Warner writes that the predominantly male Surrealists were enchanted by the combination of youth and aura of ‘knowingness’ Carrington carried about her. Warner then provocatively states that they – Breton, Eluard, Ernst, and others – cast her as “a kind of hierodule – a holy and erotic nymph who uniquely knew by instinct certain delinquent mysteries which old men – or older men – could not reach without her help.” Warner goes on to say that, in spite of its ‘exactions’ (which are reflected in the stories of 1937 to 1940), its calling was not unappealing to her. With her background – had she not, for instance, like a Henry James heroine, been ‘finished’ at Miss Penrose’s Academy in Florence? – was she not already practiced playing the role? How much was she playing along? It is a somewhat troubling question, and the photo above illustrates this.
After Carrington’s ordeal in Spain (which she writes about in Down Below), she made her way to Lisbon and married Mexican diplomat, Renato Leduc, who had also been one of Picasso’s bullfighting cronies. At the time Peggy Guggenheim came to the rescue of many of the Surrealists who were stranded in Marseilles. Included among them was Max Ernst, with whom Guggenheim had fallen in love and would marry. She later wrote how, after her terrifying adventure in Spain, Renato Leduc looked after Carrington “like a father,” unlike Ernst who “was always like a baby and couldn’t be anyone’s father” – even when “carrying out his genital responsibilities elsewhere” (Leonora’s words.) By then Carrington was no longer susceptible to Ernst’s charms. It is difficult not to notice the subtle ironies in these words, when looking back to the days when Leonora played the child-like erotic nymph to the ‘mature man’ Max Ernst was at the time.
The young Leonora Carrington
Some Thoughts on
Stephen Skinner’s Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic
(Golden Hoard Press, 2014)
Firstly, despite what might be inferred from the title, this is not a practical handbook of magic in its own right, and certainly not a replacement for the Papyri Graecae Magicae – indeed, how much you get out of this book will be in direct relation to your familiarity with the source material, and you really will need to read it side-by-side with a copy of Hans Dieter Betz’s The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation for maximum benefit and effect.
We are told in the Acknowledgments at the start of the book that Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic derives from one-third of the University of Newcastle thesis for which Dr. Skinner received his PhD. This – and the fact that the book is not in a limited edition of six hundred and sixty six copies, printed with bat’s blood and bound in toad-skin, or suchlike – should immediately alert us to the fact that this is not another one of those copy-paste would-be ‘grimoires’ but is, in fact, a serious piece of academic work. It is, nonetheless, also a fine volume: a large format hardback of getting on for nearly 400 pages, with a sewn-in red ribbon bookmark, stitched binding, and a handsome dust-jacket [see illustration] – and for the real book fetishists, there was a leather-bound edition of 100 copies, but it is no great surprise to read that this has already Sold Out.
So, what of the contents of the book?
In Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic, Stephen Skinner brings a great deal of clarity to the mysteries of the PGM, which, at first glance – even in the English translation of Betz & co – can appear confused and confusing.
Skinner begins by offering some definitions of just what he means by magic and magician, his assertion being bold and original enough to warrant quoting in full:
By using the term ‘magician’ there is no implied or overt claim for special powers on the part of the practitioner, simply an assertion that the people so designated were practitioners of magical techniques. Just as the terms ‘carpenter’ or ‘priest’ define a trade or a profession, rather than a claim to special skill or special sanctity. (p.14)
He then argues for the consistency and transmission of specific identifiable techniques, nomina magica, and implements – and that the PGM, not some unknown Hebrew antecedents, are the true source of the Solomonic magical tradition, medieval grimoires, and later European magic in general. Also, that despite the corpus being more commonly known as the Greek Magical Papyri, Dr. Skinner is quite emphatic that the roots of the material are in Dynastic Egypt.
What Stephen Skinner puts forward that really helps to open up the PGM is a system of categorisation based on certain key head-words in the original, thereby ordering the material beyond the sometimes haphazard sequencing of the physical texts. Here he does an excellent job of trying to restore the precision and discrimination of the Greek and Demotic, showing that much of the confusion has arisen via the generalities of previous translations: for example, where numerous different and often quite wide-ranging terms for phylacteries or even magical procedures have been simply glossed as “amulet” or “spell.” Instead, Skinner categorises the texts according to common approaches or elements: gods invoked, materials and methods employed, words of power used. There has been a painstaking examination of such names, terms, and words, resulting in numerous tables throughout the book that present indexing and cross-referencing of the material in a clear, easy-to-follow, form.
In addition to a careful examination of the various aspects and constituents of the magic of the Papyri – from angels, daimons and demons, to gods and spirits, incense and inks, perfume, rings and robes, to wands, weapons, and words of power – Dr. Skinner raises numerous points of interest:
- Within the PGM, there is hardly any mention of or allusion to the use of a protective circle, with one or two notable exceptions – phylacteries are more often specified – but we should not conclude from this that the Magician did not habitually use such a powerful and effective protection. Skinner argues that the circle was so well-known that its use was implicit, and gives a close examination of an example (PGM VII. 846-61) – which he says “has a strong Egyptian flavour with no admixture of Greek words or gods, suggesting an early usage” – in support of this.
- The acquisition of a paredros or magical assistant, a modus operandi which has long been part of the professional magician’s repertoire, perhaps comparable to the “witch’s familiar” in the popular imagination. The paredros can range from the angelic to the demonic, and when ‘tamed’, serves as a helper and mediator between the magician and the spirit-world. Skinner inspects its origins and workings, and cites some fascinating examples.
- Judeo-Christianity viewed magic as a genuine threat, so its prohibition prevented the development of an adequate dialogue between magic and religion. There has been a serious misapprehension of the relationship between the two. They are not oppositional, there is no dichotomy between them, and the controversy that has long simmered among scholars (even to the point of being judged ‘unsolvable’) has been caused by a ‘missing third’: the Mystery religions, of which we no longer have the experience. As Skinner says: “they do not exist anymore in any form in any Western culture.” And even historical accounts are very hard to find: by the very private, and largely secret, nature of the rites, initiates would not reveal proceedings, and to have any testimony at all is rare indeed.
- Skinner excavates and then examines three self-contained texts which belong to neither magic nor religion, and supports his conclusion that they are a Mystery rite, or part thereof. They were once separate books, before they were copied into the papyri by the magician who owned them. It is probable that such magicians, particularly if they were Neoplatonically inclined, would themselves have been initiated into the Mysteries. They would have considered their work theurgia, “divine work”. They concerned themselves with “purifying and raising the consciousness of the individual practitioner to the point where they could have direct communion with the gods.” A case in point: the so-called Mithras Liturgy, which Skinner asserts is neither a liturgy nor particularly Mithraic. Instead, he proposes that it is, in fact, part of a Mystery rite, and puts forward some crucial criteria that it answers to be so: for instance, the language indicates it is not meant to be performed in public, but that the occasion is a private one; the range of entities addressed is limited; and, rather than some worldly desire, the primary benefit is immortality requested by a father for his only daughter.
- A straightforward explanation of the code-of-concealment is given that clarifies the true nature of many of the more obscure ingredients and “magic materials” that recur throughout the PGM, with handy tables revealing, for example, that the blood and semen of various gods called for are, in fact, the juice or sap of plants such as dill, house leek, or wild lettuce, or that the testicles of a dog or a fox are actually types of orchid (but apparently “semen of a lion” is actually human semen.)
- We should not be misled by the presence of apparently Jewish and even Christian material: the magicians of the PGM would appeal to any power or include any technique that they thought might work, including calling on the names of foreign gods or even foreign wise men if they were famous for having commanded gods or demons, or worked miracles. Even the relative newcomer, Jesus, was called upon in some of the later material – but this is really just a reflection of the increasing cultural diversity of the world and client-base that the magicians both drew on and sought to serve. Unlike so much of the material that has come down to us on Gnosticism, which is largely pejorative because it was written by orthodox critics condemning the Gnostics as heretics, the material of the PGM was written by practitioners, for practitioners.
- In the world of the PGM, the magician does not cower before the spiritual beings he conjures, but stands before them with dignity, even if sometimes this amounts to little more than a kind of “dressing to impress” with the magician putting on the trappings of power and authority. The notion of coercing the gods – or even threatening them – is no doubt the origin of the practice of “constraining the spirits” in the later grimoires.
- The chapter on Necromancy (Dealing with the Dead or Divination by the Dead) provides some absorbing insights into its long-standing fascination, surviving from Dynastic Egypt through Classical Greek and Hellenic times, to the Present Day. As Hans Dieter Betz wrote, with the exception of the Mystery Rites, most of what is in the PGM deals with “negotiations in the antechamber of death and the world of the dead. The underworld deities, the demons and the spirits of the dead, are constantly and unscrupulously invoked and exploited as the most important means for achieving the goals of human life on earth.”
Stephen Skinner makes it abundantly clear that the material contained in the Graeco-Egyptian Magical Papyri is not for beginners, that there is little here for the dabbler or dilettante. Likewise, Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic is not a book for the casual reader or the armchair occultist, but for the serious student who is prepared to really engage, get to grips with the material, and work it.
In The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Hans Dieter Betz relates how the German Classical philologist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff remarked “I once heard a well-known scholar complain that these papyri were found because they deprived antiquity of the noble splendor of classicism.” Ironically, Betz neglected to report that Wilamowitz-Moellendorff went on to add: “That they did so is unquestionable, but I am glad for that. I do not want to admire my Greeks but understand them, so that I can judge them fairly.” We would have to agree with him, and insist that time has proved his unnamed colleague wrong. If anything, the spells, hymns and formulae of the PGM, with all their strange and sometimes barbaric beauty, their splendid and unsettling power, provide an invaluable adjunct to our understanding – adding the shade to complement the light, if you like – and furnishing us with a more fully rounded, more truly three-dimensional understanding of the lives and loves, hopes and fears, of the peoples of Antiquity.
In Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic, Stephen Skinner has provided an equally invaluable key to unlock the magic of that world.
Emma Doeve & Matthew Levi Stevens, November 2014.
Stephen Skinner’s Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic is Available Now from The Golden Hoard Press. For more details, please see their website: http://www.goldenhoard.net/
Above: Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelly drawing the Magic Circle while performing a rite of Necromancy
From PGM VII. 846 – 61:
After you have purified yourself, walk towards the sun in the 5th hour, crowned with a tail of a cat, and say “ERBETH BIO . . . PH . . . PH . . .” (etc.)
When you have said these things, you will see a shadow in the sun.
Close your eyes, look up, and you will see a shadow standing before you. Ask what you want . . .
The spell is accompanied by a series of sigils, quite possibly symbols of the seven classical planets, which may be a forerunner to later astrological aspect signs or elements:
The magician is prompted to draw these as part of a protective circle, as well as be ready with the phylactery:
The tail and the characters with the circle [on which] you will stand after you have drawn it with chalk.
In his Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic, Stephen Skinner suggests that this particular invocation “has a strong Egyptian flavour with no admixture of Greek words or gods, suggesting an early usage.”
With the exception of text quoted above, there is hardly any mention of or allusion to a protective circle in the spells of the PGM – phylacteries are more often specified – but we should not conclude from this that the Magician did not habitually use such a powerful and effective protection. The circle was so well-known that its use was implicit.
The PGM was not for beginners, but an aide-mémoire for practiced professionals who knew their craft!
The history of protective encirclement is probably some 3,000 years old. It occurs for instance in Classic Indian magic: Lakshman draws a circle on the ground and tells Sita to stand in it if she wants protection from a demon. (She doesn’t listen, and in the end pays dearly for it!)
Assyrian texts speak of it, as do Mesopotamian ones.
In the PGM a circular motion often accompanies a rite, for instance the pronouncement of the seven sacred vowels of the heptagram is performed to the four quarters, and then spirals in to address earth, air, and cosmos. To draw a protective circle on the ground before you evoke the spirits, daimons, demons and angels, or even the gods, becomes a staple in all the later grimoires.
In Ancient Egypt, the earliest known form of such a circle was an ouroboros – the snake biting its own tail. It may even have been inscribed on the ground, or it may even have been an actual snake skin or body. Later the image is used extensively in Greek alchemy and Gnosticism, but its provenance was Egyptian.
One of the earliest-known examples is this wonderful 3,000-year-old depiction from the Papyrus of Dama-Heroub, showing Horus as Harpocrates, the child within the Sun disk, resting upon the Akhet lions, surrounded by an ouroboros:
By the time Steffi Grant writes about Austin Spare in Zos Speaks!, Aleister Crowley was no longer in his good books. In fact, he detested him: “he” (Spare) “had violent likes and dislikes about people.” After regretting the two men – ‘quintessential English eccentrics’ – didn’t organize themselves to do some collaboration – Crowley did think highly of Spare’s work – Steffi writes that Spare thought Crowley to be an exhibitionist: he quoted as illustration how Crowley, dressed in full ceremonial regalia, proceeded up Regent Street “without attracting any notice” to prove he had made himself invisible. Spare said: “Of course people had seen him perfectly well, but just didn’t bother.”
But Crowley did believe in the spell of invisibility. Of course, it was not possible to become literally INVISIBLE. The skill of the magician would lie in making people stop noticing whatever was in front of their eyes (a phenomenon that happens sometimes without the help of any magic!) Whether Crowley became ‘invisible’ to people in spite of stepping out in full regalia cannot be ascertained at this distance in time . . .
For the true Invisibility Spell of the Magician, this one is deemed to be indispensable:
From the Graeco-Egyptian Magical Papyri:
Take fat or the eye of a night owl and a ball of dung rolled by a beetle and oil of an unripe olive and grind them all together until smooth, and smear your whole body with it and say to Helios … “Make me invisible, lord Helios … in the presence of any man until sunset …”
Or an even more pungent one:
Take an eye of an ape or of a corpse that has died a violent death and a plant of peony (he means the rose). Rub these with oil of lily, and as you are rubbing them from the right to the left, say the spell … And if you wish to become invisible, rub just your face with the concoction, and you will be invisible for as long as you wish …
A cautionary tale about the need to banish and put down spirits and demons after conjuring them . . .
Benvenuto Cellini, creator of ‘Perseus with the Head of the Medusa’ (see below), writes in his autobiography of how he became acquainted with a ‘curious’ Sicilian priest who knew Latin and Greek, and possessed knowledge of necromancy and evocation (one might well ask what business a priest had to know these occult arts!) Cellini confessed an enduring interest in necromancy and tells the priest about this. Well, the priest tells him, if you dare and your heart is stout, we shall go to the Colosseum and conjure the spirits. Cellini, who is nothing if not brave and boastful, jumps at the chance. He has long hoped to find someone or something to “reunite me with my Sicilian Angelica.”
They go to the Colosseum in the evening – it being thought auspicious to perform the ceremony in “a place where someone was killed in old times” – and the Colosseum, site of raw and often unspeakable cruelty and bloodshed, certainly fits the bill! Cellini has brought a comrade, Vincenzio Romoli, a friend; the priest is accompanied by a native from Pistoja. A protective circle is drawn, a fire lit, expensive ‘perfumes’, most likely incense, are burned. The priest begins his incantations. The Colosseum fills up with apparitions of devils and the spirits of the dead. ‘Ask them something,’ the priest, who can barely contain them, urges Cellini. Cellini inquires about his love, Angelica, but there’s no answer. We have to come back some other time, says the priest; and next time bring a little boy, unsullied, of pure virginity.
When the time has come, Cellini brings one of his shop lads, 12 years of age. He is also accompanied by his friends, Vincenzio Romoli and Agnolino Gaddi. They make preparations, draw the circle – the necromancer had “reconstructed with art more admirable and yet more wondrous ceremonies” – and then the priest places a pentacle in Cellini’s hand, and invites him to place the boy beneath it. Next he proceeds with his ‘awful invocations’ and they come: “multitudes of demons who are captains of their legions.” Cellini wants to ask about Angelica, and is told that ‘they’ said that in a month you will be where she is.
Now it is time to dismiss the ghosts – back to Hell – but there are so many more than intended. The necromancer does what he can, burning copious amounts of the pungent-smelling asafoetida, but has a hard time of it. The boy is terrified, hiding his head between his legs, and so are the others. The priest finally takes off his robe, picks up his books and, leaving the circle prematurely, they all hasten home. But on the way the company is followed by two demons, “gamboling in front of us, skipping now along the roofs and now upon the ground. The necromancer assured me that, often as he had entered magic circles, he had never met with such a serious affair as this.” Perhaps not surprisingly, “each one of us dreamed all that night of devils,” Cellini records . . .
“Do not call up that which you cannot put down.” – H. P. Lovecraft, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
Detail of Cellini’s ‘Perseus with the Head of the Medusa’ (finished 1545)
“Captain Clark welcomes you aboard . . .”
Fully revised and expanded from the original 2011 chapbook – 250+ pages, with 18 pages of illustrations (including photography from Graham Masterton, Baron Wolman, Brecht van Teeseling, and Ruby Ray, and original artwork by Billy Chainsaw, Emma Doeve, and Philip Willey - plus rare archival material) – and a Foreword by David Conway, author of Magic: An Occult Primer, a book that WSB often recommended.
Available NOW through Amazon, or direct from the publishers, Mandrake of Oxford :
The Visible College :
Saturday 4th & Sunday 5th October, 2104
@ The George & Pilgrim Hotel, Glastonbury
“Magicians give back to Academia over two days in mystical Glastonbury”
Mogg Morgan : The Pharaonic Shaytan – Daemons of Ancient Egypt
Geraldine Beskin : Dion Fortune & Aleister Crowley (with a surprise guest appearance from “the monstrous” Marie Stopes !)
Jake Stratton-Kent & Kim Huggens : Duelling Necromancers
Gordon White : An Archaeology of Dragons
Julian Vayne : Strange & Sacred Drugs
Paul Weston : Jung & Crowley – Seven Sermons and The Book of the Law
Mogg Morgan of Mandrake of Oxford and Emma Doeve of WhollyBooks doing their best to avoid pouring rain and stampeding sheep as they arrive at The George and Pilgrim Hotel to check in at the opening of The Visible College . . .
Some thoughts on Mogg Morgan’s The Pharaonic Shaytan – Daemons of Ancient Egypt :
Mogg, as the title of his talk suggested, would engage with Egypt’s darker side, the monstrous and daemonic beings which have ever been part of its glittering pantheon. To mark out a temenos, an enclosure, to ward off evil spirits, is no idle gesture – and, rather fittingly, he asked us all to close our eyes while he Opened with a familiar Banishing :
“Before me in the East, Nephthys / Behind me in the West, Isis / On my right hand in the South is Seth and on my left hand in the North is Horus / For above me shines the body of Nuit / And below me extends the ground of Geb / And in the centre abideth the Great Hidden God . . .”
It is not perhaps well known that many Egyptians today who are interested in their country’s occult history still perform some of the most ancient rituals that can be traced by the trained eye to where they have been recorded on the tombs and temple walls. For Egyptian magic is far from being a thing of the past. Practising magicians in Egypt today are mostly Muslim (but not the kind we have become sadly all-too-familiar with), or else Coptic or Sufi. By going there you can actually witness the survival of these magical techniques that have come down from ancient times . . .
Mogg showed a photo of his Egyptian friend, collaborator and fellow explorer, Ayman, holding up a statue of Seth (Shaytan.) It had been made as a gift and presented to him by the craftsmen, descendants of the original craftsmen of pharaonic times, still living and working in present-day Luxor (once ancient Thebes) – which is called the City of the Sceptre, a symbol alluding to the phallus.
Islamic magic, which is closer to ancient Khem and its mysteries than might at first be supposed, finds much of its inspiration in Islam’s sacred scripture, the Koran, which is considered a powerful book full of magic. To the Egyptian, then as well as now, ‘stuff’ you find in the earth (unless your intentions are nefarious) is magical – your treasure hunt may well confirm Koranic prediction and produce something sacred.
There exists near the Valley of the Kings a holy mountain. Mogg suggested that the man who discovered the texts that we now know as the Greek Magical Papyri, came from there, and that the manuscript should really be called the “Egyptian Magical Papyri” as most of the spells, invocations and rituals are Egyptian in origin. The holy mountain has many tombs in its stony body, where people, in touch with the distant Ancestors of the land, choose to live – or if not actually IN an empty tomb, then on top of one. (Imagine having a pharaonic tomb in your cellar !) There seems to be a greater continuity still with the Land of the Dead and the Spirits of the Ancestors than we here can even imagine . . .*
Since the recent troubles in Egypt, the tourists are staying away – parts of the Valley of the Kings have become deserted and returned to its former, more primitive state, “edgy – like the Wild West.” There was a great chance you might be on your own, in a world restored to its former timelessness. The nights in particular were made more eerie with the absence of lamps (all the light-bulbs having been stolen, apparently !) and the stony valley dangerous, especially if the djinn or evil spirits were wandering abroad . . .
Egypt has very probably been the magician’s oldest and most enduring love-affair, because it has been ever-evolving and still is now, revealing new knowledge and opening fresh perspectives – especially for those who are prepared to not only look to the Past, but see its survival into the Present.
- For more on Mogg’s “Khemetic research in Luxor” we thoroughly recommend his blog, Mandrake Egypt : http://mandoxegypt.wordpress.com/
[ *The subject of Necromancy, its absence from today’s Western Magical Tradition, and the possible beginnings of a resurgence, would be the subject of the Talk by Kim Huggens and Jake Stratton-Kent at the end of the day. More on this to be added soon. ]
Some thoughts on Geraldine Beskin’s Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune, and Marie Stopes :
Next up – and needing no introduction, surely (but here goes anyway !) – was the fabulous Geraldine Beskin, Grand Dame of The Atlantis Bookshop, magic(k)’s very own home of history & mystery nestling in London’s literary district of Bloomsbury, just next to the British Museum. Well known as a Speaker with lively and informative presentations on such key figures as Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare, the Women of the Golden Dawn, and Manly P Hall, Geraldine was billed as going to give a Talk on Crowley and Dion Fortune – which indeed she did, but with the unexpected addition of “the monstrous Marie Stopes“ !
Announcing the subject of her Talk as being Crowley, Fortune, and indeed Stopes, as pioneering sexologists – then correcting herself with the more emphatic “FUCKologists” ( ! ) – Geraldine gave us a rollicking, whistle-stop, compare-and-contrast about the background and origins of young Edward Alexander and Violet Mary (well-to-do, comfortable, but with eccentric, repressive, alternative spiritualities looming large, shaping the outlook of both) before then both discovering their magico-mystical Path in life and reinventing themselves . . . and with particular attention to the various partners that had served as catalyst collaborator or muse (in Crowley’s case, hordes of lovers of either sex, but with particular attention to his “first gay love” while a student at Cambridge, the female impersonator Pollitt, and then Scarlet Women, such as first wife Rose Kelly and “Dead Soul” Leah Hirsig ; with Fortune, her older male mentors, such as Dr. Moriarty – the model for her “Dr. Taverner” character, and whom Geraldine pictured as looking like the actor, Roy Marsden – and husband, Dr. Penry-Evans, her “Merl” – short for “Merlin”.)
By contrast with these two mystics, who wanted to liberate sexuality, re-equilibrate the dynamics of relations between the sexes, and saw sex as both a magic(k)al power and a sacrament, Marie Stopes – who we were told two or three times was “a monster” who “didn’t have a spiritual bone in her body . . . even if she did have a Theosophist lesbian lover” – wasn’t so much motivated to write her best-selling, controversial, and doubtless world-changing books on birth control out of a desire to throw off the shackles of oppression, or any kind of liberal (yet alone libertarian) impulse, but rather out of a powerful eugenic conviction that the “rickety consumptive poor” should be discouraged from their careless and excessive breeding in no uncertain terms, and that “we” (White Imperial British, etc.) should rather promote the controlled breeding of “fine and healthy, vigorous young men to go off to War” !
Another couple of points about this strange ménage à trois (at least we think so . . .) : Crowley is such a bullish, powerful, overwhelmingly male figure, and with the “solar phallic” dispensation of his “sex-magick” to boot, that maybe Fortune didn’t seem like a strong enough counterweight ? For all her “inner planes contacts” and visionary powers, the exposition of Dreaming True gifted to us in her beautiful, truly magical, novels . . . DF can definitely seem a bit weak – squeamish, even – when it comes to the actual nitty-gritty of real sex . . . Perhaps Geraldine wanted a female figure she felt was as Promethean as Crowley, to put in the balance, so to speak ? And Marie Stopes – for all that she was “monstrous” (or perhaps even because she was) – with her academic brilliance, bloodymindedness, bull-in-a-china-shop force of personality (at one point we were encouraged to imagine “Lucinda Lambton . . . with the brain of Mary Beard . . . and the sheer force of Brian Blessed” !), was more of a match. There’s also a good overlap with their dates (AC 12th October 1875 – 1st December 1947 ; MS 15th October 1880 – 2nd October 1958), their Libra nature, open expression of their homosexual feelings, emphasis on scientific method and approach, but at the same time a practically “messianic” sense of mission or calling.
Lastly, we feel that an important point that was perhaps implicit rather than explicitly stated was that however much the Occult Community feels it owes a debt to the likes of Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune, and that their influence may well have spread via various sub- and counter-cultures to permeate the culture-at-large, we ALL owe a tremendous debt to the pioneering efforts of Marie Stopes : even if the shape that legacy has taken – the many different ways people may have benefited from it – might be quite at odds with some of the beliefs or intentions of Marie Stopes herself . . .
. . . A point that we might meditate upon where all manner of ancestors, guides, gurus and teachers are concerned.
Details of Talks by Geraldine Beskin can be found on The Atlantis Bookshop website : http://www.theatlantisbookshopevents.com/page7.htm
Our genial host and Gentleman of Jupiter Sef Salem introducing everybody’s favourite duelling necromancers . . .
Some thoughts on Kim Huggens, Jake Stratton-Kent, and The Dead :
Jake Stratton-Kent has stressed previously that he thinks that, historically, there has been much confusion about necromancy and nigromancy. Nigromancy, put simply, derives from the Latin niger, meaning “black” (as every student of alchemy knows from the term nigredo), implying “black” magic, or the “black” arts – possibly even originating in “the Black Land” of Ancient Egypt, or Khem (hence, perhaps, alchemy from al-Khem – “out of Egypt” ?) Necromancy, on the other hand, derives from a combination of the Greek nekros, meaning “dead”, and manteia, relating to divination.
If you Google “NECROMANCY” a host of webpages will tell you about the practice of this form of divination, and, almost invariably, it is placed in a context of past religious practice, in a world generally considered to be afflicted by ignorance and superstition, backward-looking and primitive. Theologians in the (especially Catholic) Church not surprisingly hold necromancy to be due to the agency of evil spirits (“the Work of the Devil” !) When occasions of contact with the dead are “real” (as in, not attributable to fraud, mental illness, or overactive imagination), they are definitely seen as demoniacal intervention.
In this part of the world, whether it’s a true account or not, necromancy is usually reported in a climate of fear, ignorance, and repugnance. Yet most, if not all, of the major religions have always evoked the dead and sought communication with them. You only have to think of prayers for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and the Saints !
Of course our idea of necromancy in today’s world has predictably been coloured by horror stories and films, wherein it has become the prerogative of the “private detective” style lone practitioner, typically also a magician, who goes to great lengths to contact spirits and exorcise ghosts, or to practice divination by means of The Dead. From the Other Side, the astral corpse must have a very real need or desire to re-join – for however short a time – the land of the living. Very often, it doesn’t end well ; reviving the dead is a dangerous business (but profitable for Hollywood !)
In a lively and informative two-handed exchange, Kim Huggens and Jake Stratton-Kent, each in turn, drew attention to the fact that in Western Magic, the art of necromancy has been largely absent – “the Dead are missing.” Although contemporary practitioners will happily play at conjuring demons – “meddling with the Goetia” – they still seem wary or even squeamish about contacting or channelling spirits ? This has been going on for “about the last 150 years” apparently . . .
It was pointed out that in the Greek Magical Papyri, that great incomparable compendium of magical rites, spells and invocations (“The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Western Magical Tradition”), the spirits of the dead are invoked and conjured.
A Prayer to Helios, at Sunset :
Hear, blessed one, I call you who rule heav’n
And earth and Chaos and Hades, where dwell
Daimons of men who once gazed on the light.
. . .
If you go to the depths of earth and reach
The regions of the dead, this daimon send
To move at midnight hours perforce at your
Commands . . .
But what of one’s own dead, one’s own ancestors, the ones closer to home? There seems no longer to be a sense of continuity between the realm of the living and the dead. A link seems to be broken. A bridge that was once here, can no longer be crossed. Or can it ?
Kim Huggens was at pains to point out that necromancy was by no means all about Goth shlock horror, but that even calling on the Saints, speaking to the spirits of your ancestors, or tending to the grave of a dead loved one, are all forms of necromancy . . .
Performing rituals to ease the passage from life to death, and back – the dead often want to taste some of the pleasures they once knew in life ! – and meaningful exchanges with departed ones, are exercises too many of today’s magicians find difficult to integrate in their practice, but there is an increasing demand – even need – for such expression : perhaps because of the desire for reassurance about continuity, and one’s place in the “great chain of being” ?
Cooking up Rune Soup with the help of some archeological dragons, Gordon White . . .
Some thoughts on Gordon White’s An Archeology of Dragons :
Writer, media whizz, and blogger extraordinaire, Gordon White is probably best known to most for his thought-provoking website, Rune Soup. In his own words:
“Rune Soup is about magic.
“Clearly that’s something of a broad church – perhaps the broadest – so if we were to take it down a level we could say Rune Soup is about practical sorcery, entheogens, synchronicities, ‘alternative’ history, career guidance, graphic novels, the future of media, probability, divination. There’s even a post about Niki Minaj here somewhere . . .
“The magic stuff you can work out from the blog. As for the rest: I work in media and live in London which is exactly seven different kinds of awesome.”
There is also the accompanying series of excellent interviews, Find the Others, in which Gordon talks to a number of leading contemporary author-occultist-practitioners, including Peter J. Carroll, Phil Hine, Mogg Morgan, Peter & Alkistis from Scarlet Imprint, Jake Stratton-Kent, Julian Vayne & Nicki Wyrd, and Paul Weston, all of which can be found either through his website or YouTube, and are thoroughly recommended.
Gordon made a whistle-stop visit to The Visible College before flying off to Australia, to give a talk to us on An Archeology of Dragons. We weren’t at all sure what to expect, but what we got was a lively and entertaining discussion using the dragon as a kind of memetic guide, or thread to follow through the maze of history and myth. We were given an intriguing overview of the different ideas about dragons that have emerged at different times in human history in different cultures – what they may have stood for, why they probably changed and receded, and what that might tell us about our own development . . .
From serpents guarding hidden treasure and Trees of Knowledge, to embodiments of telluric currents and elemental forces – from symbols of Kingship and the Right to Rule, becoming crests and heraldic emblems – to the perhaps inevitable stigmatisation and literal demonization that saw them become as monsters, mighty worms, avatars of the devil – or, alternatively, the Reptile lurking at the base of the brain, or maybe the Kundalini Serpent coiled at the bottom of our spines – even David Icke’s Conspiracy Theories about the Seven Foot Reptile Aliens behind the Illuminati and all the Royal Families – or as envoys from Magonia and precursors of the UFO experience . . . All of which was handsomely illustrated with a well-paced Power Point Presentation of a wide range of artwork, maps, and photographs.
Raunchy, rip-roaring, rollicking – with “Aha!” moments and laughs aplenty – but also, we think, something for everybody . . . much of which will have no doubt continued to surface long after the talk, such was the information-rich and potentially mind-expanding nature of the rune soup that Gordon White cooked up for us. Feed your head indeed.
For more from Gordon White, check out his blog at : http://runesoup.com/
Julian Vayne, On Drugs. (Speaking about them, that is. Sacred, serious, and stirring stuff . . .)
Some thoughts on Julian Vayne’s Strange & Sacred Drugs :
Rather than the somewhat soporific atmosphere one might expect after Sunday lunchtime, there was quite a buzz of expectancy about the next session. Very few subjects provoke emotions, divide opinion, or cover so much widely divergent ground as that of drugs. Stakes were perhaps raised by the repeated notice that this would be the one session of the weekend that would NOT be filmed or recorded – partly because, as both Julian and Sef pointed out, the talk would involve some discussion of certain activities that are at present illegal in this country, and in the hope that because of this, the off-the-record nature of the session might encourage attendees to be more open when it came to Q & A, and perhaps even share their experiences . . .
Julian Vayne got underway by asking “What is a drug?” and then proceeded to recapitulate an outline history of mankind’s involvement with substance-induced altered states and their seeming ubiquity, one way or another, in both the recreational activities and religio-magical practices of most cultures that we are aware of. Indeed, at one point it was pointed out that “drugs” could even be thought of as a very specialised Food Group – and as well as references to mentions of Soma in the Hindu Vedas, or accounts of cactus and mushroom use in the Americas, or the ‘flying ointments’ of the European witches, we were also entertained with accounts of drug-taking behaviour in the animal world: from elephants deliberately seeking out fermented fruit so that they can “get hammered and run riot through villages”, to a story about lemurs rubbing themselves with poisonous centipedes to get high off their venom that sounded like something to give even William Burroughs nightmares . . .
Most of this of course would probably have been fairly familiar to the majority of the attendees – and indeed anybody but readers of the Daily Mail, I would imagine – as was the offered definition along the lines that “A drug is any substance, naturally occurring or made in a lab, that affects the central nervous system.” This may well be some kind of starting point, but it is debatable how useful it is, other than perhaps to diffuse some of the strange glamour that has accrued around that most potent of four-letter-words, ‘drug’.
The main problem in trying to encompass the subject is that we are talking about at least three vast and widely divergent areas, as well as the occasional intersections and overlaps between them:
- The use of substances – usually naturally-occurring (although often requiring modification, either by combination and/or methods of preparation) – in historical, often even ancient historical, or surviving indigenous cultures, but either way not Here & Now in the modern, industrialized, consumerist West, or subject to its current laws;
- The domain of Big Pharma, and the self-appointed High Priesthood of Medical Practitioners, the only people in our culture currently authorised to say which substances people may put into their bodies, what for, and how;
- Everything else – which is either illegal, or probably soon will be.
Julian’s talk was certainly lively, informative, and entertaining. Having written Pharmakon: Drugs and the Imagination, Vayne clearly knows his stuff: he can rattle off the names of the ingredients of Ayahuasca, Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis with the best of them, explain how one ingredient is added because the other is orally inert without the presence of a monoxidase amine inhibitor – when talking about so-called ‘Designer Drug’ like Ecstasy, the proper name, 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine, rolls off his tongue no problem – and as the references to hammered elephants and lemurs getting high show, he is more than capable of keeping a serious, information-dense, and fast-moving talk entertaining. Indeed, from the general amused laughter and generous show-of-hands when Julian occasionally asked “How many of you have . . . ?” and “Who knows about . . . ?” it was clear that he was speaking largely to, if not the converted, then at least the liberally tolerant and largely well-informed.
Of course, the real focus of the interest in drugs here was largely to do with entheogens, their traditional use as sacraments, and their possible use as tools of self-exploration. Like the priests who see wine as a sacred and vital part of the ritual of Communion, who would by no means equate their “use of drug-of-choice” with the potential horrors of alcoholism, I’m sure most of us at The Visible College weren’t thinking particularly in terms of addiction – but almost inevitably, you cannot expect to have a discussion about drugs without that particular spectre turning up, and needing to be addressed.
After the fast-paced and fairly light-of-tone first half, a question from the floor about the perils of addiction seemed to us to shift the mood somewhat . . .
Julian sought to effectively banish the demon of addiction and all its attendant grim realities by the almost apotropaic mention of ‘Rat Park’ – a study that was carried out in Canada in the late 1970s, wherein a bunch of lab-rats who had been deliberately addicted to morphine were then removed from their cramped, distress-inducing cages and put in a large, open environment, with plenty of food, toys to play with, and a selection of potential mates; it was found that “for the most part” once the rats were moved to their new environment, they declined the morphine-laced water in favour of ordinary drinking water, and exhibited little in the way of comparable signs of what might be termed “addict behaviour” (although the study did confirm that they showed “some minor withdrawal symptoms . . .”)
This was considered proof of the research team’s hypothesis that:
“. . . drugs do not cause addiction, and that the apparent addiction to opiate drugs commonly observed in laboratory rats exposed to it is attributable to their living conditions, and not to any addictive property of the drug itself . . .”
Now this may sound all very well and good on paper, but I would suggest that Rat Park – like most other animal behavioural studies – is a pretty crude tool from which to extrapolate human behaviour involving a whole complex of biological, psychological, sociological (and dare we say even spiritual?) issues.
To my way of thinking, this leads us down a similar blind-alley as most arguments along Nature/Nurture lines – in this case the options being either
“The cause of addiction lies in the drugs, and if only people were sensible enough not to meddle with them, there’d be no problem”
“The cause of addiction lies in the people and their problems (i.e. anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, social deprivation, etc.) and if it wasn’t drugs it would be shoplifting, sex, junk-food or bingo.”
Surely it makes more sense that the causes of addiction are a spectrum in which a combination of such factors are at work, perhaps somewhat along the lines of the model of endogenous and reactive depression?
Some, but not all, individuals with family histories of addiction may have a predisposition, as with many illnesses. It seems likely that the research identifying the gene transcription factor ΔFosB and its crucial function in the way that mechanisms of pleasure and reward are mediated in the human brain may go a long way to explaining this – as well as possibly being a contributing factor to the next category:
Some, but not all, individuals who take drugs to ‘self-medicate’ are more likely to become addicts, at least unless or until the underlying problem(s) they are seeking to ‘cope with’ can be meaningfully resolved.
Some, but not all, individuals who experiment with drugs will find something they just like too damn much and keep taking it beyond all reason, and have a real problem trying to stop – which is equally true of a whole range of risk-and-reward behaviours that most people can manage fairly well most of the time, but that some individuals will develop crippling compulsions over (sex, gambling, and food being the most obvious examples.)
And of course:
Some, but not all, individuals may actually be able to use certain substances carefully and judiciously, whether simply for pleasure, recreation, or spiritual exploration, with a consistent respect and restraint that avoids almost all of these concerns.
To the best of my knowledge, the rats in the aforementioned experiments did not know that they were taking morphine, or what it would do to them, and so could not meaningfully be said to have actively sought it out. If I hold you prisoner and give you nothing but water containing morphine, you have not chosen to take the drug, and therefore risk becoming addicted.
To the best of my knowledge, there does not exist among rats such a thing as peer pressure, nor an extensive and influential counter-culture of outsider transgression that might predispose certain rats towards thinking taking drugs was a cool or desirable thing to do, nor youth or criminal subcultures that might esteem antisocial or criminal behaviour as a rite of passage – all factors which can certainly play a significant part in a large amount of human (non-medical) drug-taking.
But of course, the fallacy here is that however much all mammals may have in common on certain essential levels, most human beings and their issues and needs are not quite as simple as those of lab-rats. And, finally, where the comparison of lab-rats with those suffering in the ghetto – or any other form of post-modern dysfunction – who might seek to self-medicate through drug use, or at least engage with drug-related crime to earn much needed money, or attempt to elevate their status, or fit in with some outsider peer group – breaks down completely is that we all know that no Kind Scientist in the Sky is going to lift all these unfortunates out of the ghetto or their otherwise unhappy lives and miraculously transport them to a groovier, more fun environment, with lots of opportunities for interesting activities, nice toys to play with, and appropriate potential mates.
The jury is still out on just how much of addiction is down to genetic factors, hereditary predisposition, and the like, however much the ΔFosB research mentioned above may be suggestive, but even though it might please us to think that intelligent people with enough to do with their lives need not fall prey to the perils of substance abuse or addiction, I think we all know that it just isn’t as simple as that.
It may well be true that a large number of people will turn away from addiction if they are just given the chance to do something better with their lives, it may well be true that there will always be a certain percentage who just “age out” – or no longer continue taking drugs once the underlying distress that prompted their usage in the first place is resolved [perhaps comparable to the medical patients who require long-term treatment with potentially addicting drugs for the management of pain from organic illness or injury, but once recovered are able to discontinue often powerful narcotics with little or no apparent difficulty or distress.]
But the wilful perversity of human nature being what it is, no doubt the tiresome and tragic roll-call of those who apparently “had it all” and yet still wasted years battling addiction, or chose to destroy themselves with substances of abuse, will continue to grow for some time yet.
Let us hope that efforts such as Julian Vayne’s, and the possible dialogues resulting from them, can, at the very least, begin the process of differentiation – and the elimination of both denial and disinformation – so that we can begin to take greater responsibility, both individually and collectively, for new ways forward. We certainly need them.
Julian Vayne contributes regularly to The Blog of Baphomet, subtitled “a magickal dialogue between nature and culture” : http://theblogofbaphomet.com/
. . . And rounding it All off – at least for now ! – Our Man In The Know : gnostic psychogeographer extraordinaire Paul Weston . . .
Some thoughts on Paul Weston’s Jung & Crowley – Seven Sermons and The Book of the Law :
Paul Weston reminded us – if we needed reminding – that there have been times in history that have been particularly significant and charged in terms of occult and spiritual meanings. “But then history,” as he told us, from early on had “felt like a mighty weird affair.” If only we could see history in its totality, “the rise and fall of empires, monarchs, and messiahs” – if only we could have access to, and see with, the eyes of the Time Spirit [ literal translation of the German “zeitgeist” ] – then “previously hidden or neglected historical tales” would be revealed, and a new perspective opened up.
To showcase these ideas, Weston transported us back to the start of last century and key events that occurred in the lives of two of the greatest personalities of the period: Aleister Crowley and Carl Gustav Jung. What could have connected these two men, who never actually met? Human beings touched by the same under-currents are not always afforded such opportunities in the ‘real world’ . . . One possible way of approaching this question meaningfully is put forward by Rudolf Steiner, whose system of anthroposophy proposes that “particular groups of people reincarnate together at various crucial historical moments.” (Cometh the hour, cometh the man? Or indeed woman?)
In their different fields of research, both Crowley and Jung had, quite naturally, been drawn to Gnosticism, a current which was experiencing a massive revival as the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth. Gnosticism, in all its many-and-varied forms, had flourished during the first centuries of the Christian era, including both people who considered themselves Christian as well as Pagans. Its disciples believed that the material world was a prison and must be transcended for redemption’s sake. It has generated already latent dichotomies in the human psyche that are still with us today. Concurrent with Gnosticism we have Hermeticism, a rich ground for cross-fertilisation and exchange of esoteric and occult ideas that found a uniquely fertile climate in the city of Alexandria.
The enigmatic twentieth century has been an age full of horror and yet, right from the start, it also “unleashed an explosion of knowledge and energy.” Aleister Crowley was certainly riding on the latter. In 1904, in Cairo, he received “a holy scripture for a newly dawning epoch, the Aeon of Horus.” This was, of course, Liber AL vel Legis, or The Book of the Law. Its alternately explosive, visionary and prophetic material can still astound and trouble today, and the story of how all this came about was told fluently in Weston’s talk, as indeed it is in his book, Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus.
Paul asked whether Crowley was alone in “his belief in the end of an entire epoch of civilisation in 1904, along with the return of ancient spiritual forces. Did anyone else of note likewise describe stirrings of what we could recognise as the Aeon of Horus?” (Or was this just the dawning of the Age of Aquarius by another name?)
During the First World War, between the summer of 1916 and February 1917, Jung, struggling with a “psychotic episode” received visions over three consecutive evenings which resembled Crowley’s Book of the Law experience:
“The Dead came back from Jerusalem, where they found not what they sought. They prayed me let them in and besought my word, and thus I began my teaching . . .”
Jung distilled what was manifested to him into a deceptively slim work called VII Sermones ad Mortuos, or Seven Sermons to the Dead [ which was first printed in a small edition by John M. Watkins, founder of the Watkins Bookshop, for Jung to distribute privately among carefully selected colleagues and friends. It was not actually reprinted and made available to the public until the year of his death, 1961. ]
Both men in their individual way received a strong intimation of the resurgence of a god-form known as Abraxas, and for comparison’s sake here is a snippet of the kind of thing they each received:
‘O all ye toads and cats rejoice! Ye slimy things,
Dance, dance to the Lord our God.’
‘He is the lord of toads and frogs, who live in
Water and come out unto the land, and who sing
Together at high noon and at midnight.’
As a coda to his talk about Crowley and Jung, Paul Weston told us a tale of his own encounter with Abraxas. It involved a recently disinterred medieval bishop, expelled because of undisclosed activity (most likely sodomy), who was found wearing a ring with an image of Abraxas. In 2002, Paul and his friend Andy Collins entered the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey to attempt to invoke Abraxas, choosing New Year’s Day in the hope that there wouldn’t be too many tourists around – and also hoping that the Company of Avalon would not be on to them for “doing a wrong ‘un” (as Paul characteristically put it!)
These are the words that he read aloud:
‘Abraxas is indefinable life itself, which is the mother of good and evil alike.’
‘He is the brightest light of day and the deepest night of madness.’
‘He is both the radiance and the dark shadow of man.’
‘Abraxas generates truth and falsehood, good and evil, light and
Darkness with the same word and in the same deed. Therefore
Abraxas is truly the terrible one.’
‘He is the monster of the underworld, the octopus with a thousand
Tentacles, he is the twisting of winged serpents and of madness.’
‘To fear him is wisdom.’
‘Not to resist him means liberation.’
Paul’s research and Psychic Questing uncovered the occult spirit-bodies of the gods that rule our world. The subject of his talk was outlining their presence and describing the process of how they were re-awakened – but as he said, it was only the tip of the iceberg. We would thoroughly recommend his book Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus (from which most of the above quotes were drawn) for the fuller story.
For regular updates on Paul Weston‘s writings, researches, and appearances, see his blog : http://www.paulwestonglastonbury.com/isis-of-avalon-glastonbury-full-moon-vision/
We would just like to say Thank You to Sef Salem for organising a really successful session and inviting us to be a part of it, and to All the Speakers for making it such a high quality, thought-provoking and varied program. Here’s to the next one !