Sigil Magic – The Manipulation of Signatures

Ptolemaicsystem-small

Diagram of the Ptolemaic System, showing the spheres of the Seven Classical Planets, Zodiacal Belt, and the Realm of Fixed Stars.

I dare say most of you reading this will have at least some familiarity with the idea of Sigil Magic as has been attributed to Austin Osman Spare – or at least the version popularised via Chaos Magic, and the endless oversimplified reiterations that have made their way round the World Wide Web ever since – like a watered down copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy, ending up with something as crude and basic as the “make a wish and have a wank” formula popularised by the likes of Grant Morrison.

Truth is, Sigil Magic did not, in fact, originate with Austin Spare – there were definite precursors, and ones that he would have been well aware of. Apart from the tradition of artist’s monograms, usually consisting of their initials combined or intertwined in such a way as to form a distinctive logo – the example of Albrecht Dürer, a known favourite of Spare’s, springs to mind – there were also more occult precedents.

The word sigil, from the Latin meaning “little sign”, has a long history in Western Magic. The members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn were perfectly familiar with it – they said; and I paraphrase – that if you combine the letters, the colours, the attributions, etc., of a spirit or some entity you wish to conjure, the sigil will serve you to trace the current in order to move a certain Elemental Force. Golden Dawn figurehead MacGregor Mathers devised a method he called Sigils from the Rose, created using the characters of the sacred Hebrew alphabet arrayed around the 22 petals of the Rose+Cross emblem.

Rose Cross AlephBeth

 MacGregor Mathers, Sigils from the Rose

In the paper Mathers wrote on the subject, only made available for candidates who had been invited to the prestigious Second Order or Inner Circle, he explains:

“The inner Three Petals of the Rose symbolize the active Elements of Air, Fire, and Water, operating in the Earth, which is as it were the recipient of them, their container and ground of operation . . . The seven next Petals answer to the Letters of the Seven Planets, and the Twelve Outer to the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac.

“If thou wilt trace the Sigil of any word or name either in the Air, or written upon paper, thou shalt commence with a circle at the point of the initial letter on the Rose, and draw with thy magical weapon a line from this circle unto the place of the next letter of the name. Continue this, until thou hast finished the word which the letters compose. If two letters of the same sort, such as two Beths or Gimels, come together, thou shalt represent the same by a crook or wave in the line at that point.”

Rose Cross Alphabet

 Rose Cross emblem with English characters

Likewise, there were also the planetary letter-and-number squares known as Kameas. Even as far back as Agrippa’s Books of Occult Philosophy, the Kameas attributed to the seven classical planets* could be used to derive signatures of angelic or celestial intelligences, as are found throughout the later grimoires.

*Being the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – each of which were believed to inhabit there own distinctive and ascending orbit, as per the Ptolemaic Cosmograph shown at the top of the page.

Mercury square

Mercury square

Mercury seal

Mercury seal

Venus square

 Venus square

Venus seal

Venus seal

The most common use for these kameas is to provide a pattern upon which to construct the sigils of spirits, angels or demons; the letters of the entity’s name are converted into numbers, and lines are traced through the pattern that these successive numbers make on the kamea – but of course, there is no reason why you could not instead convert and trace a phrase signifying your wish or desire, thereby creating a sigil resonant with symbolic planetary forces.

Moon square

Moon square

Moon seal

Moon seal

You might even be surprised to learn that Hoodoo practitioners make use of these planetary squares and Solomonic seals for talismanic magic, along with their more traditional Voodoo Vévés.

Legba Veve - inv.

Vévé for Papa Legba

Spare certainly devised his own quite unique and aesthetically charming and distinctive rendition, however – but even the version he put forward is nowhere near as simple as what has later been promoted in his name.

Apart from some later manuscripts, unpublished in his lifetime and mostly written at the encouragement of Kenneth Grant, also a few scattered references in letters to close friends like the Grants or Frank Letchford, almost all that Spare had to say on the subject of Sigils was published in The Book of Pleasure, written between 1909 and 1913 – when he was all of 23 to 27 – and published the year before The Great War broke out. Although other writers are usually quick to draw attention to the sexual methods of charging or firing Sigils, emphasising the convenience and simplicity of auto-erotic methods, Spare himself is somewhat vaguer, almost coy – as if not wanting to be pinned down – and the one method that he is quite definite about, his ‘Death Posture’, is more about a kind of single-pointed mindfulness.

    Spare - preliminary Deathposture

 From The Book of Pleasure – The Death Posture: Preliminary Sensation Symbolized

There is something some people in the past have always understood, mystics, visionaries: that if you – metaphorically speaking – ‘sacrifice’ the child of your loins (or your womb), in other words, sublimate your desire, it may yield something very valuable, such as a vision, it may fulfil a wish, or reveal a special knowledge and insight. Kenneth Grant said that Spare “urges us to will insatiety, brave our self-indulgence and primeval sexualism, for belief freed from conception, merges desire with the Infinite.”

Now how would you do this? Well, you may “Inflame yourself With Prayer” – advice given in the grimoire The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, and adopted as a personal motto by Aleister Crowley. You might also create an amulet or talisman and ‘charge’ it (with some sacrifice you make) – this being the more traditional route, perhaps, utilising the kinds of seals and signatures found in grimoires such as the books of Abramelin, Goetia, Key of Solomon, Picatrix, etc. There are plenty of more modern examples as well – Franz Bardon has a whole book full, in his The Practice of Magical Evocation – and there are Crowley’s signs for the Dayside and Nightside of the Tree of Life in Liber CCXXXI, later developed by Kenneth Grant in his Nightside of Eden and from there by Linda Falorio with her Shadow Tarot. Or you may take a more sensual route, which Spare often did. “Let this be my one excuse: I pleasured myself.”

AOS Satyr and Witch

Austin Osman Spare, Satyr and Woman

AOS Self Portrait

Austin Osman Spare, The Death Posture

All the religions and magical cults of the past have laid emphasis on the idea of Death as a pre-requisite for a new Birth and another plane of existence where you might acquire new knowledge and insight. In the case of Spare it would be to open his Memory Palace which is spread out there in front of him. Things he’d read and seen, fantasies and fears and dreams.

The artist himself has his fingers over his nose, partly restricting the flow of air, while his other hand is holding his drawing tool. He may have heard of pranayama and adapted it for his own use.

24.pranayama

He would take himself to the brink – how far he went we don’t know – but when he’d reached a trance-state – he would communicate with a state in himself, an ‘inbetweenness’ as he called it, Kia. It would release what we see in front of him in this picture: homunculi, familiars, strange magical objects.

All techniques the world over, from culture to culture, down through the ages, ultimately fall into one of two categories: excitatory or inhibitory. You’re either whipping yourself up into a frenzy – perhaps quite literally! – with chanting, dancing, drumming, or sexual arousal; or else stilling your mind to concentrate it to a laser-beam point, through fasting, meditation, and methods of restriction and internalisation.

 ♦

REVIEW: Women of Babalon

Women of Babalon - Cover

Women of Babalon is a new anthology from Black Moon Publishing, based in New Orleans and Cincinnati. But do not make the mistake of thinking this is a solely American affair – or else because of the Babalon theme or New Orleans connection, all of the material sings from an exclusively Voodoo or Thelemic song-sheet. There are some obvious common sources and inevitable parallels between a number of the works herein, but the range of material gathered across the book’s (almost) 200 pages gives a rich and varied cross-section. As you might expect, the stories conveyed through the words and pictures gathered here are as individual as the journeys of the women telling them, reflecting the diversity of ages, backgrounds, desires, ethnicities and experiences. Sexuality and spirituality are the keys held in common, of course, in a sense forming the crossroads at which these Modern Witches meet to compare and contrast notes about what it means to be a magickal artist-practitioner – and also a woman – in today’s world.

It makes for a heady brew indeed.

Contributors include Linda Falorio, Charlotte Rodgers, Mishlen Linden, Lou Hotchkiss Knives, Emma Doeve, Diane Narraway, Geraldine Lambert, Semirani Vine, Lorraine Sherwin, Dianne Mysterieux, Lilith Dorsey, Ayahna Kumarroy, Madeleine Ledespencer, Maegdlyn Morris, Sarah-Jayne Farrer, and Sharmon Davidson-Jennings.

The collection opens with a substantial contribution from Linda Falorio, best known for The Shadow Tarot, and her emphasis is refreshingly practical. Here are suggestions for meditations and visualisations, the preparation of the Astral Temple, and explorations of orgasm at each of the chakras:

“Manual magick is the formula for those who wish to dance with demons and with Jinn, to seduce the Loa and the serpent Nagas of the earth, and to create for themselves familiars to carry forward their desires.”

Linda Falorio - Characith

Perhaps not surprisingly, much of this is rooted in Falorio’s work with the Nightside energies – and images from her Tarot do appear. Other highlights include suggestions for working with the Zar spirits  of Egypt or Voodoo Loa, guidelines for conjuring the Demon Lover “by invoking your Holy Guardian Angel (HGA) into the body of your lover via the sexual act”, and a ritual to that proto-Babalon, Sekhmet – with a recipe to make your own Kyphi incense – all giving further food for thought.

Next is Emma Doeve, with two articles accompanied by her own original artwork. The first profiles Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington (fast becoming everybody’s favourite Witchy Great Aunt, and currently subject of a Retrospective at Tate Liverpool), in particular her engagement with the occult, and also explores her harrowing experiences of breakdown and incarceration during wartime as a kind of crisis initiation. The second boldly follows on from Carrington’s boast that she “didn’t have time to be anybody’s muse” to look at the struggles women have had to confront and overcome mostly male authority – summed up here by Robert Graves’ infamous “Woman is not a poet; she is either a Muse or she is nothing” – and then to find their own equivalent to the Muse, or Daemon, as Doeve would have it. She gives numerous literary points of departure for further consideration, from Coleridge’s Kubla Khan and Percy Shelley, to Camille Paglia, Sylvia Plath and Emily Brontë – but these issues are just as relevant for the female occultist as for the artist or writer. Details of a more personal nature reveal the dilemma for the potential Babalon of being a woman in what is still largely a man’s world, but also that solidarity with other women may not be that forthcoming: “I would be branded, and often made to feel like an outsider among my own sex” writes Doeve about her formative years, and affirms “mine has been a more organic and solitary journey.” She describes spontaneous Kundalini awakenings, Nature rites, and study of Tantra and Yoga, and “the whole Tradition of Western Sex-Magick: of Crowley, and Evola, and Fortune, and Grosche, Parsons-Cameron, Randolph, Spare” – and, like some of the others here, reveals a special affection for the works of Kenneth Grant!

WoB, Heart

Diane Narraway presents her own very distinctive answer to the question of the Daemon Lover, examining the figure of the Adversary through the different aspects of Lucifer, Satan or the Christian Devil, the Shaytan Iblis, Baphomet and Pan, and gives an intriguing insight into what it is for a woman to engage with such figures, magickally and erotically.

Charlotte Rogers resumes a trajectory taking in animism, Crowley, promiscuity, work in the sex industry, and the use of orgasm “not just for the charging of sigils, but also as a way to aid astral projection.” She describes shifting gender definitions and sexual delineations, working with bodily emissions – then what must have been a series of radical re-evaluations post hepatitis C and menopause – and ends with the declaration that “True Magick does Not Exist Without True Love.” As with Emma Doeve, there is an acknowledgment that to be a Babalon may be a doubly antinomian path, not just at odds with the mainstream but even with other women occultists. Rogers tells us also that her “shift from bisexual to heterosexual to celibate” was actually “considered deviant and close minded” by some of her friends, suggesting that even now, the last taboo of Sexual Empowerment – especially for a woman –  may still be the right to say NO.

Editor Mishlen Linden provides the lengthiest and most intimate contribution, a substantial excerpt from her personal Magickal Record, which details sex-magickal workings with a new priest-lover that she meets unexpectedly after the death of her Beloved. An account of exploration – with practical hints & tips on asana (both sexual positions and gestures of prayer), cautions about the care of your Priest, and possible attitudes needed (“Those around you will call you a whore, and that is exactly right! But you are a Sacred Whore”), also of discovery of possibilities for further exploration (“There are five chakras above us, and each brings us closer to the stars”) – in the end, it is a revelation of healing through the acts of love and acceptance.

On a personal note, I was struck by Linden’s observation in respect of the fact that she is 58, her new lover only 28, her description of the Crone Wisdom, the build-up of power that can come when a woman is no longer subject to the release that comes with the monthly cycle of bleeding:

“We simply build the power up inside ourselves… it just grows with age. A younger man, at his peak of sexuality, and an older woman, who has crone wisdom, is arguably the best combination for this work.  Of course, it’s not likely you will hear this from a man!”

Speaking as a former graduate (the pun is there if you want) of just this form of initiation, let me go on record as saying that here is the answer to the dilemma posed by Nema, quoted at the beginning of the book:

“What happens when Babalon gets old?”

Answer: She keeps on growing in power, initiating, loving – Herself, and Others…

By contrast, Lou Hotchkiss Knives clearly represents the younger Babalon, writing with an eager enthusiasm as she weaves together a tale of growing pains from the loss of an unplanned-for child and exultation as she struts her ripped-fishnet hour upon the Sex ‘n’ Death ‘n’ Punk Rock stage – delivering a roll-call of Outsider Heroines, from Emily Dickinson and Nell Gwyn to Patti Smith, The Slits, Courtney Love and beyond, all wrapped around enough Cabala, Dee & Kelley, Parsons & Hubbard, and Crowleyan Sex-Magick to keep occultist fanboys happy. My only caution would be a certain unease at the easy juxtaposition of rock ‘n’ roll rebellion with references to “codeine dreams” or “Nancy Spungen’s opiate-fuelled romance” (I defy anyone to find meaningful role-models in Sid & Nancy’s short, squalid, tragic affair and its ghastly end) – but Hotchkiss makes it clear in her arch comparison of Aleister Crowley and Kurt Cobain that she is all too aware that for “a Witch with a foot on the punk rock scene… shadows lurk in every corner.”

Lorraine Sherwin - Glaistig

Some of the contributors even manage to go beyond conventional Thelemic notions of Babalon: Lilith Dorsey, comparing Her with Voodoo’s Erzulie, plus the insight that while possession might be central to Voodoo and Santeria, they tend to keep sex separate from their spiritual practice – Sarah-Jayne Farrer, introducing the little-known spectral seductress of Scottish folklore, the Glaistig (illustrated with a delicate, finely detailed drawing from Lorraine Sherwin) – and Madeleine Lesdespencer, who takes us into the trans-human realm with her sadomasochistic icon of gender as biomechanical process. Her strange angel is fitting accompaniment to the piece that follows, by Maegdlyn Morris, in which she celebrates a “Warrior Babalon” that is an intriguing mix of sexualised Our Lady of Sorrows and Belle Dame sans Merci. With a background in BDSM sex-work, Morris puts forward perhaps one of the most challenging images of all, that of the “Babalon of Severity” and tells us that her “secret weapon is the knowledge of her infinite selves” – a clarion call to women of all ages, places, and times.

Madeleine Ledespencer - Angel

So: Women of Babalon, a diverse and dynamic collection, but I would have to take issue with the subtitle, A Howling of Women’s Voices – I appreciate there may just be a pun intended here, along Goetic lines – but these assorted women’s voices don’t just howl: they educate and initiate and inspire, they startle and seduce and sing.

May the voices of the Women of Babalon be heard far and wide!

Ian Cooper, for WhollyBooks.

Women of Babalon is available through Amazon or else direct from:

http://blackmoonpublishing.com/webstore/women-babalon.html

WoB, Sekhmet

WSB 100+1

WSB 100+1 spread

Coming up to the anniversary of the centenary of the birth of William Seward Burroughs, and the year of the “Burroughs Century” that got under way in 2014 shows little sign of abating just yet . . .

Our main contribution, The Magical Universe of William S. Burroughs by Matthew Levi Stevens, was published last Halloween by Mandrake of Oxford, and continues to attract positive attention with a number of Five Star Customer Reviews on Amazon (where it also made the Top Ten in their list of Magicians Biographies, ahead of a reissue of Lawrence Sutin’s Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley and just beaten by Derren Brown’s Confessions of a Conjuror !)

One such Review was from Sandy Robertson, former music journalist, Penthouse editor, author of The Aleister Crowley Scrapbook, and co-founder of the Montague Summers Memorial Society, who wrote:

Five Stars, “It’s Magic!”

Matthew Levi Stevens is an underappreciated cultural excavator whose latest work is deserving of high praise – no Burroughsian pun intended.

Known primarily as a Beat genius who explored the limits of language and the evils of our masters from a junkie/queer perspective, perhaps only the more hardcore of Uncle Bill’s admirers are aware of his interest in the interstices of art and the occult. Stevens’s book explores this aspect in some detail, and as is his wont coming up with hitherto unknown (to me at least) details of dabblings and strange encounters in the process.

If you are a Burroughs fan, a magickal madman, or simply an aficionado of the marvellous byways of literature, this is a must-read volume.

A slightly unexpected addition was the detailed and in-depth examination, Curses, Cut-Ups, & Contraptions: The “Disastrous Success” of William Burroughs’ Magick, by James J. O’Meara that appeared on the website of Counter-Currents Publishing. Although we were not too sure about Mr. O’Meara’s comparisons with the “New Traditionalism” of Right Wing esotericist Baron Julius Evola, it was nonetheless a well written and thought-provoking article:

. . . Stevens’ unique contribution is using [that] material, and his own experiences with Burroughs and his acolytes, such as Phil Hine, Peter Carroll, Malcom MacNeill, and Genesis P-Orridge, to locate in and explain through his life, the magical beliefs and, more importantly, magickal practices therein.

This makes the book required reading for anyone interested not just in Burroughs, but in late 20th-century literature, music (from the relatively popular Bowie, hip hop, ambient, and trance to the unfriendly extremes of punk, Industrial, and Noise), film (again, from the relatively mainstream David Cronenberg to Anthony Balch) and even painting.

Apparently James studied Buddhism at Naropa College 1976-77, during the time that Burroughs was teaching there [ which was also when WSB was sharing an apartment with Cabell McLean in Boulder ], so his perspective on matters is interesting. His article can be read in full here:

http://www.counter-currents.com/tag/the-magical-universe-of-william-s-burroughs/

Another delightful surprise was to find out that The Magical Universe of William S. Burroughs had been included in the round-up of The Best Films And Books Of 2014 by Gordon White on his Rune Soup blog. He says :

. . . let me tell you… this is the page-turner on the list . . . This is a must-have for anyone slightly interested in the following: the Beats, New York, magic, cut-ups, Burroughs’s weird relationship with Scientology, art in general . . . Dozens of ideas and magical possibilities spun out of reading this book . . . some really detailed and sophisticated opinions regarding magic and the universe . . . Really excellent work.

Other titles on the list include Peter J. Carroll & Matt Kaybryn’s Esotericon, Jake Stratton-Kent’s Testament of St. Cyprian the Mage and Carl Abrahamsson’s Reasonances, so it’s in pretty good company !

You can read the whole of Gordon’s Round-Up here :

http://runesoup.com/2014/12/the-best-films-and-books-of-2014-plus-a-spell/

Finally, for now, author & poet Paul A. Green was kind enough to write a review for Lawrence Russell’s Culture Court:

Matthew Levi Stevens, however, has chosen to explore a previously taboo zone of the Burrovian mythos – not Burroughs’ interest in guns, nor the accidental shooting of his wife Joan Vollmer, nor his cameo role in the events surrounding the death of David Kammerer, as dramatised in the recent film Kill Your Darlings. Instead he has created a map of the private Interzone in which so many of Burroughs’ practices and preoccupations overlapped – the Occult.

There’s overwhelming evidence, from the materials that Stevens has gathered and analysed, that exploration of the magical realms was the central focus of William Burroughs’ journey as a writer – which in itself was a quest for some ultimate truth about himself and his place in the universe. Given the lifelong intensity of his preoccupation, it can’t be written off as a posture.

Stevens has woven the complex strands of Burroughs’ magical adventure into a highly readable narrative. It’s illustrated with numerous photographs and original art work by Emma Doeve and Billy Chainsaw. Whether you read it as a psychological profile, a striking literary biography or as a Magical Record of a Master, it offers unique insights into Burroughs’ inner space.

It can be read in full here:

http://www.culturecourt.com/B/Magical_Universe_Burroughs.htm

A year on from the Burroughs Centenary, we don’t doubt that we haven’t heard the last of The Magical Universe of William S. Burroughs. Rest assured, we will do our best to keep you posted . . .

In the meantime, The Magical Universe of William S. Burroughs by Matthew Levi Stevens is still available from Amazon, or direct from the publisher, Mandrake of Oxford:

http://mandrake.uk.net/the-magical-universe-of-william-s-burroughs/

‘Women of Babalon’ OUT NOW!

Out Now from Black Moon Publishing:

WOMEN OF BABALON

A Howling of Women’s Voices

Women of Babalon - Cover

Featuring contributions by Linda Falorio, Charlotte Rodgers, Mishlen Linden, Lou Hotchkiss Knives, Emma Doeve, Diane Narraway, Geraldine Lambert, Semirani Vine, Lorraine Sherwin, Dianne Mysterieux, Lilith Dorsey, Ayahna Kumarroy, Madeleine LeDespencer, Maegdlyn Morris, Sarah-Jayne Farrer, and Sharmon Davidson-Jennings.

From the publisher’s website:

‘. . . This is a book of sexual magicks in both theory and practice from the feminine power zones and from their own points of view. Very little has been written on this. It is a compilation composed of the text and art of sixteen practicing female magickians through which the vital character of a Babalon is explored.

Both the elder and younger Babalons write here in order to expand upon this almost taboo subject. Linda Falorio, one of the writers within, says “Men, read on if you want to know our deepest secrets.” This book focuses on the ‘what,’ the ‘who’ and the ‘how’ of the practice . . .’

CONTENTS

• Blood Rites of Babalon by Linda Falorio

• Qulielfi: From The Shadow Tarot — Art by Linda Falorio

• Characith: From The Shadow Tarot — Art by Linda Falorio

• Hemethterith: From The Shadow Tarot — Art by Linda Falorio

• Strange Birth — Art by Emma Doeve

• A Darker Magick by Emma Doeve

• At the Heart of the Labyrinth — Art by Emma Doeve

• Mistress of Eros — Art by Emma Doeve

• The Dæmon Lover by Emma Doeve

• Gestation — Art by Sharmon Davidson–Jennings

• Lucifer’s Lover by Diane Narraway

• In Honor of the Lightbearers — Art by Geraldine Lambert

• Lucifers Child — Art by Semirani Vine

• Babalon and the Beast — Poem and Art by Lorraine Sherwin

• Sexual Magick: Point to Point by Charlotte Rodgers

• Lilith — Art by Mishlen Linden

• In the Garden of Earthly Delights:

From the Magickal Record of Mishlen Linden

• Babalon — Art by Dianne Mystérieux

• Watch Her Wrap Her Legs Around This World:

Babalon, Sex, Death, Conception, Punk Rock

and the Mysteries by Lou Hotchkiss Knives

• Untitled — Art by Ayahna Kumarroy

• Sex and Possession/Voodoo Love

The Gede We Always Knew Was There by Lilith Dorsey

• And you shall see the shades which she becomes —

Art by Madeleine Ledespencer

• The Warrior Babalon by Maegdlyn Morris

• A Love Letter by Sarah–Jayne Farrer

• Chant d’Automne — Art by Sarah-Jayne Farrer

• Spirit House/Womb: A Place for Things to Grow —

Art by Mishlen Linden

• Glaistig — Art by Lorraine Sherwin

• Glaistig by Sarah-Jayne Farrer

• Notes on Glaistig — From Wikipedia

• Outro by Lou Hotchkiss Knives

• En Finale by Mishlen Linden

• Biographies

• Babalon Community Contacts

• Nuit — Art by Mishlen Linden

ISBN-13: 978-1-890399-49-8 : 192  pages : 8×10 : Softbound

B A B A L O N

Chimaeric Gods of Ancient Egypt & Greece

Bes-Pantheos

A God of Many Parts

Bes-Pantheos and Solar serpent

In contrast to the ugly-yet-homely, more user-friendly Bes or Besas – a helpful dwarf-god, known to assist in both magic and matters pertaining to childbirth – Bes-Pantheos [literally meaning “Bes all-gods”, pictured above] is cast more as Master Magician, or Master of Spirits.

If one sought blessings from Bes-Pantheos, an effigy of the god would need to be “deified” in the following manner:

“. . . sacrifice to it a wild white-faced falcon, and burn this offering entire; also pour to it, as a libation, the milk of a black cow, the firstborn of its mother, and the first she suckled . . . And now feast with the god, singing to him all night long the names written on the strip of papyrus put in the hollow inside it. Wreathe the little temple with olive and thus you will prosper throughout life.”

[ Excerpted from PGM IV.3125-3171. ]

A Greek Interlude

The glamorous Glycon

Glykon-statuette

Dating from the mid-2nd Century CE, the snake-god Glycon was both an intriguing composite and a figure of some controversy : the Greek mystic and oracle, Alexander of Abonoteichus (c.105 – c.170 CE), was said to have foretold a new incarnation of the god of medicine, Asclepius – and when the eager crowds gathered in the marketplace to see the promised miracle, he produced a goose egg and sliced it open to reveal the god within.

Contemporary critics such as Lucian dismissed Alexander as a false prophet and utter fraud, but in the classic manner of miracle workers and magic men, he was said to have “made predictions, discovered fugitive slaves, detected thieves and robbers, caused treasures to be dug up, healed the sick, and in some cases actually raised the dead.”

As for the newly-born god, Glycon soon became the centre of a thriving cult : by 160 CE it had spread as far as Antioch, where graffiti has been found reading “Glycon protect us from the plague-cloud” – that same year, the governor of Asia married Alexander’s daughter, and pledged himself to protect Glycon’s oracle – emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius sought guidance from Alexander and his god – and even satirist Lucian’s revelation that the snake-god with the human head and flowing golden locks was, in fact, a glove-puppet did not diminish the cult’s popularity . . .

In Modern Times, celebrated Graphic Novelist and Magician, Alan Moore, has cheerfully remarked :

“I earn a living by making up stories about things that have never actually happened. When it comes to my spiritual beliefs, that’s perhaps why I worship a 2nd century human-headed snake god called Glycon, who was exposed as a ventriloquist’s dummy nearly 2,000 years ago . . . A live, tame Boa constrictor provided the puppet’s body, while its artificial head had heavy-lidded eyes and long, blonde hair. In many ways, Glycon looked a bit like Paris Hilton, but perhaps more likeable and more biologically credible.”

May Glycon protect us from the plague-cloud indeed !

The Devil’s Dung

A smell to drive out even evil spirits . . .

ferula vulgaris

Asafoetida is a perennial herb that grows in the deserts of Iran and the mountains of Afghanistan, but is mainly cultivated in neighbouring India. It is also known as asant, food of the gods, giant fennel, jowani badian, stinking gum, Devil’s dung, hing, kayam and ting. It has a very strong smell (hence the ‘foetid’) but it contributes a lovely smooth flavour to certain, especially Indian dishes.

asafoetida_2Dbenefits small

It also has other properties:

One is medicinal – it’s known to be beneficial against indigestion and flatulence, it helps with influenza, and is a remedy for asthma and bronchitis, to name a few.

Below: the plant, Ferula assa-foetida, in full bloom

flowering asafoetida

It has occult uses as well:

It repels spirits and is used in magic spells. The devil’s dung is one of its names. In Graeco-Egyptian Magical practice, the Magician would have it at hand to help drive out spirits when necessary.

asafoetida

“Mirror, Mirror”

. . . The Glassy Mansion of the Dead . . .

'Mirror, Mirror'

It is eleven o’clock at night and I dim the lights, leaving only candles in the background, and take down the large mirror, placing it upright on the bed and propped against the wall. I sit down opposite, naked and cross-legged, straight-backed, relaxed but alert. I start breathing deeply and slowly, basic pranayama, clearing my mind, allowing my gaze to wander and rest as it will.

Almost at once I start getting results, but nothing that I can hold onto quite long enough to really make out: flickering around the edges of my vision, the image in the mirror fogging and clearing – presumably caused by my eyes focusing and re-focusing. Then, as I look more intently at my face, I can see it shift and twist, like it’s starting to melt – and suddenly my eyes are looking through me. This happens every time but I can never quite get used to the impact, the shock that shoots up my spine: it’s like coming face-to-face with something totally alien.

Gradually in the half-light my head becomes a silhouette, and then fades to a diffuse black cloud, but with the eyes still staring, clear and alive, as if hanging slightly nearer the surface of the glass. Small points of light flicker like stars amidst the black void where my head just was, and suddenly I am staring up into the night sky . . .

. . . With a shift of attention, my face comes back into focus through the mist: a dark, negroid face – the thick lips and flat nose then melting, as if under great pressure, deforming into the face of a gorilla. This then gives way to a cat-like face and, as the eyes change, for an instant the background is lit flickering green. The cat grins back at me from the mirror and the mouth becomes more human, taking on Mongoloid, then Oriental, features. My vision swims for a second-or-two, and then a new image appears, amid waves and ripples, as if it had just floated to the surface of a pool of clear, still water: a white porcelain mask with very simple, smooth features and dark, empty slits, in place of eyes and mouth. This slowly gives way to a flickering darkness that borders on transparency, but my eyes are very tired by now, and I can’t hold it at all.

CHACHCHŌ CHARACHŌCH CHAPTOUMĒ CHŌRACHARACHŌCH APTOUMI MĒCHŌCHAPTOU CHARACHPTOU CHACHCHŌ CHARACHŌ PTENACHŌCHEU

My mind is empty of all thought as I lie back on the tatami mat and gently stretch out my limbs. I close my eyes, take a deep breath – then, after a count of four, let it out slowly, and wait for the pictures to come:

An outstretched arm appears first, fist clenched against a dark ground that suggests the night sky. In silence, it opens to reveal a living, human, female eye in the centre of its palm, flicking long lashes as it blinks at me, giving me the once-over. At the same time, a star explodes in a flash in the night sky behind it, leaving a halo of light that spreads out slowly, like a ring of smoke from a good, fat cigar. This pale radiance reveals the hand to be growing out of a landscape of collapsed ruins: corners of half-submerged buildings jutting out, rough-hewn, lumpen pyramids, in a plain of coarse reddish sand that stretches on and on to a rocky horizon, stained purple in the night’s dark blue light . . .

For a few minutes, darkness, then a black keyhole, in close-up – as if looking through. Cuts quickly to a strangely three-dimensional image, like an animated painting – possibly something by Magritte: silhouettes of heads that all appear to bear my profile. At different levels, painted eyes of various sizes swim in and out, like exotic fish. And somewhere, slightly off-centre, and to the left, drifts the black shape of the keyhole. It’s difficult to tell if this is in front of or behind everything else, the perspective shifts like an optical illusion. And all of this is floating in front of a green and yellow background that looks like cheap, old-fashioned, textured wallpaper.

 – From the ERoHE Archive.

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