Mystery at Eleusis



Prologue : The Myth

Persephone, daughter of Demeter, was playing and picking flowers one day in the fields with the daughters of Oceanus. Unknown to her, but sanctioned by Zeus, Hades, god of the Underworld, was setting a trap for her. She came upon a narcissus, the flower of the Underworld, which was blooming so beautifully that she could not resist reaching out to pluck it. Immediately, the ground split open to allow Hades in his chariot to emerge into the field and abduct the girl. No one heard her cries, except for Hecate and Helios.

Demeter, aware that something had gone wrong, began to search for her daughter, but no one was willing to to tell her what had befallen Persephone. After wandering ten days without nourishment, she met Hecate, who told her that she had heard Persephone’s cry, but had not seen what had transpired. So, the two of them decided to seek out Helios, the watchman of the gods. Helios, pitying Demeter, told her the truth : that Zeus had allowed Hades to kidnap her daughter.

At this news, Demeter fell into deep sadness and removed herself from Olympus, bitter at Zeus. While she was resting at the Well of the Maidens in the town of Eleusis, she encountered the grand-daughters of Eleusis himself, who did not recognize the goddess because she was disguised. Demeter told them that she was from Crete and had been carried here by pirates and was now looking for employment. In due course, Demeter was hired as the household nurse for the girls’ family and was given the care of their youngest sibling, a boy. Secretly, Demeter fed the boy ambrosia, nectar of the gods, and placed him into a fire each night, slowly turning him into an immortal. Her plan, however, was uncovered by the mother, who thought Demeter was trying to kill the child. In anger, Demeter informed the queen that her son could have become immortal, but now would only live to an old age. Then, the goddess demanded that a temple and altar be built to her on a hill, that she might teach the people of Eleusis her Mysteries.


Part I

Those that took part in the Eleusinian Mysteries were said to be in possession of a secret that was not to be divulged on pain of death, literally: the story goes that two young men were executed for breaking into the sanctuary while the secret ceremony was in process.

Before the multi-layered Mysteries, a pilgrim seeking initiation was a mystes, a person with eyes closed and therefore blind to the truth, afterwards he or she had become an epoptes, one who sees the truth.

The Goddess Demeter was the presiding deity at the sanctuary of Eleusis (together with her daughter, Persephone – and in the background Hekate, in her form as Crone.) First and foremost, She was the Mater Dolorosa, connected with Death and the Afterlife.

Along the narrow, almost ruined bridge across the brackish water of a swamp, a great number of pilgrims – at its height they came in their thousands ! – made their way in the Autumn to the sacred Temple grounds of Eleusis. The bridge was too narrow for vehicular traffic, and for the pilgrims it was also a ‘crossing’ between worlds, for the region beyond was deemed to have a particular affinity with the realm of the departed spirits.


Part II

Part of the multi-layered myth forming the basis of the Eleusis Mysteries includes the Great Mother, Demeter, disguised as an old woman playing nursemaid to a royal child, whom she intends to immortalise by, quite literally, nightly ‘baptising’ him in fire. [Almost exactly the same incident occurs in the story of Isis, when she too is in hiding, after the murder of Osiris . . .]

The sanctifying and protective power of fire was tended for its magical properties long before its more practical applications – perhaps even in imitation of other forces that early man had seen and, without fully understanding, could only interpret as a kind of fire.

Such traditions are commemorated even into such a relatively late saying as “He who is close to me is close to the Fire”, but similar manifestations go way, way, back – almost to the very beginning in fact.


Part III


For many, it has been a challenge of the ages to ‘solve’ the Eleusinian Mysteries, and over the last half-century-or-so many self-appointed experts have gamely stepped forward with their idea of an answer.

Taking Nietzsche as their starting point, most have alighted upon the kykeon – the potion of barley steeped in water, perhaps with a little mint, consumed after the fast which preceded the Rites – as the key. The assumption, of course, has been that it must have contained some sort of mind-altering substance – the suggested culprit changing over time (to avoid apparent objections and obstacles), from psilocybin to claviceps purpurea, LSD to DMT – even the ‘vine of the soul’ ayahuasca ! – thereby also keeping nimbly in step with ever-changing fashions as psychedelics give way to entheogens . . . 

It would seem to be the case that contemporary commentators simply cannot conceive of a meaningful psycho-spiritual experience without the need for an underlying physical cause – as if that would ever ‘explain’ away the Mysteries, anyway.


Part IV

It was never simply one thing only. As time went on – and the Initiations continued for some 2,000 years ! – the legends, the myths at their heart, became more layered. Stories are retold and embroidered along the way; variants are combined, and new characters and events are added in ways that do not always make the greatest sense.

As well as the more obvious story about the crops, the seed, fertility, the life-cycle of the plants and the seasons – the fact that Winter seemed a kind of death : the seeds going into the ground, like the dead, only to return and bring new life or at least the source of new life with the next Spring – there is more. 

There is also a kind of ‘family romance’ about shifting roles between Mother and Daughter, as the latter comes of marriageable age. There’s the upheaval for the Mother of apparently losing the Daughter, the way the men of the tribe or family were often complicit in what must have seemed like a theft, if not rape. Then, the reconciliation of the Mother to her Daughter’s new role as a bride and potential mother in her own right. Only after the Mother seeks the advice of the Crone figure and ‘role-plays’ being the older grandmother-like figure herself [Demeter disguised as the old woman], can the reconciliation between Mother and Daughter actually begin.

Wrapped up in the middle of all this there’s a lesson about the continuance of Life beyond this incarnation: that mothers and daughters, fathers, sons, siblings, and lovers, will all be re-united and go on to new forms of Life.

Death is not the end and the eventual reconciliation of Demeter as the Mother, the Source of Life, with Hades, King of the Dead, via her Daughter’s union and the way they end up sharing her, as it were, is a representation of the balancing of these two engines, Death and Life, and the varying roles they each require.



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AKEPHALOS : The Rite of The Headless One

A K E P H A L O S : 

On the Rite of the Headless One

for FB

Whether it is known as The Bornless One, Liber Samekh, The Preliminary Invocation of The Goetia, or, more accurately, The Rite of the Headless One from the Stele of Jeu the Hieroglyphist in the Greek Magical Papyri, the subject of my Talk this evening is a missing link, standing at the crossroads: a product of Antiquity, all-but-forgotten until it was rediscovered at the Dawn of Modern Magic. A personal favourite of Aleister Crowley, who described it as “the most potent [ritual] extant”, its use in the King’s Chamber of The Great Pyramid very probably triggered the reception of The Book of the Law, and he would later recommend it as the ritual par excellence for attaining to the Knowledge & Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel; his follower, one-time “magickal son” and possible successor, Jack Parsons, performed it repeatedly in the build-up to The Babalon Working; and contemporary Goetic magician Jake Stratton-Kent has described it as “the single most important ritual in modern magic.”

This strange and potent Rite, with its heady mix of Egyptian, Greek, Jewish and even Samaritan ideas of God, “barbarous names of invocation” and Words of Power, is quite possibly the entry point of a key concept into the Western Magical Tradition, and perhaps constitutes the basis of a whole Occult Tradition all of its own. At first considered a mere curio, it would be taken up and revised, becoming in the process nothing less than an essential foundation stone of Magick in Theory & Practice for the New Aeon, from there to be taken up by countless others in turn. Its worldly origins are lost in Antiquity, coming down to us from the syncretic melting-pot of Alexandria, in an obscure fragment of papyrus that was, perhaps, a last desperate attempt to preserve something of the Old World of the many gods before it was too late, and the New World Order of the One True God would close the door on ‘magic’ forever – or at least try to. Resurfacing as an antiquarian curiosity in Victorian times, it is undoubtedly the adoption of the Rite by one of the most notorious enfant terrible of that era, the self-styled ‘Great Beast’ Aleister Crowley, which has contributed most to its survival into these Post-Modern Times.

Much of contemporary Occultism continues to draw from, and be shaped by, the foundation laid down at the end of the 19th Century by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and then built upon by its most (in)famous student, Aleister Crowley – who took the bones of their Teachings and used them to shape the conceptual framework of his New Aeon cult of Thelema, and also the Rituals of the various Orders he created (and re-created) to serve it, such as the Argenteum Astrum and the Ordo Templi Orientis, to name but two. This dual influence continues to spread throughout almost all of Western Magic, and much of Neo-Paganism in general – thanks also to his peers and progeny, from Dion Fortune, to Israel Regardie and Kenneth Grant, and not forgetting that even freewheelers like Austin Osman Spare and Gerald Gardner had some acquaintance with or background in the likes of the A.’.A.’. and O.T.O. as well. So we see this influence crop up again and again, not just among the ‘usual suspects’ such as the various groups claiming descent from the Golden Dawn or Crowley, but also among less obvious heirs – including Chaos Magic, Maat Magic, and the various branches of Wicca; and even the Church of Satan, and a Left Hand Path Initiatory School like the Temple of Set.

One concept that originates from this wellspring, and is indeed symptomatic of just how widespread its influence has been, is that of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel: a Rite – or even series of Rites – aimed at connecting the practitioner with what may be considered as anything from a ‘Higher Self’ to literally the intermediary, or even embodiment of, whatever deity he or she chooses to engage with. Whether it be thought of as the Genius of the Golden Dawn, the Augoeides of Iamblichus, the Atman of Hinduism, the Daemon of the Ancient Greeks – or indeed, either a literal messenger from the Divine or the idealised embodiment of all that is highest and best in one’s True Self – the seeking of Contact with this entity is considered by many to be the central most important Work in Magic. It should not only come above and before any other, but success – or failure! – is a key determinant as to any further progress.

As Crowley writes in Chapter 83 of Magic Without Tears:

“It should never be forgotten for a single moment that the central and essential work of the Magician is the attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.”       

And in Chapter 21 of Book 4 (later included in Magick in Theory & Practice), he goes as far as to say:

“. . . the Single Supreme Ritual is the attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. It is the raising of the complete man in a vertical straight line . . . If the magician needs to perform any other operation than this, it is only lawful in so far as it is a necessary preliminary to That One Work.”

The origin of this idea can be found in The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, a 14th Century work attributed to one Abraham of Worms, just one manifestation of the legend of the Jews as Magicians that we will see surface in this tale. This classic grimoire had been translated into English by the head of the Golden Dawn, Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, and its system formed a cornerstone of that Order’s method. Aleister Crowley was most likely introduced to it by either his unofficial mentor within the Order, Alan Bennett, or fellow initiate George Cecil Jones (with whom he would later found the Argenteum Astrum.) Abramelin presents a long, complicated program of arduous and gruelling devotions, involving six months – or even nine, depending on which version of the manuscript you consult – of sustained celibacy, fasting, all-night prayer vigils, meditations and rituals of ever-increasing frequency and intensity, requiring the aspirant to take time off from work, marriage and family life, and also purchase a property just to create the right environment for the Working.

Not surprisingly, this has proven to be a major stumbling-block – even for independently wealthy men like the young Crowley – but the lure of a direct hotline to God that would give you power over angels, demons, and elementals, thereby opening up all the powers of magic, was not to be given up in a hurry. The original source for the Ritual Crowley wrote was The Rite of The Headless One, which he had already published as the “preliminary invocation” of his edition of The Goetia as far back as 1904. Although the original text of The Stele of Jeu has no connection whatsoever with the Ars Goetia of the 17th Century Grimoire known as The Lesser Key of Solomon, in many people’s minds the association has stuck. When the Abbey of Thelema was created in Cefalu, Sicily, in the 1920s, with the express intent of being a Spiritual College to help aspiring adepts discover their True Wills, the question of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel became a burning one. After a particularly promising student, Frank Bennett, had experienced what he described as a spontaneous Gnostic contact, Crowley penned Liber Samekh, with the hope that it would be an express handbook for the process. It has been suggested that the more blatantly ‘Satanic’ elements that he added to this revised & expanded version, such as the exhortations “O my Father, O Satan, O Sun!” and “Satan, my Lord! The Lust of the Goat!,” were for the express benefit of Bennett, as a kind of ‘deprogramming’ of any lingering Christian sentiment. The rest of his so-called “restorations” are justified Qabalistically, on the grounds that they are ‘numerologically correct’ – but, to be honest, most of them are at best guesswork, and at worst Crowley pandering to his own personal cosmology.

The true origins of The Stele of Jeu the Hieroglyphist, who wrote it, when, where, and why, are lost in the mists and myths of antiquity. Little or nothing of any certainty is known, other than that the papyrus dates from circa 350 CE, but we can perhaps imagine along certain lines: probably originating in Dynastic Egypt, the text that has come down to us was most likely written by a wandering scribe, still able to read Egyptian hieroglyphs, who now eked out a living transcribing texts for a clientele who wanted to be able to access the esoteric wisdom of the Egyptians, but regrettably were without the ritual framework of temple practice. It has also been suggested that the author was simply “a Jew” who knew hieroglyphs – “The Jewish Scribe” we might say – but some effort has also been made to connect the Stele and its contents with the Gnostic texts from the Bruce Codex known as The Books of Jeu. As these are also known as The Books of IEOU, I-E-O-U – a vowel-sequence obviously suggestive of the Seven Sacred Sounds of Greek Hermetica – perhaps such attributions are misleading. Curiously, The Books of Jeu – or IEOU – deal with the Creation of Aeons by way of a process of Ascension, so as to acquire Knowledge of a Word.

In one of those coincidences that the History of Magic seems to be full of, Aleister Crowley’s Golden Dawn colleague, the actress Florence Farr, included sections of the Bruce Codex in her 1896 work Egyptian Magic, published as part of W. Wynn Westcott’s 10-volume series Collecteana Hermetica. In a discussion of what she saw as the Egyptian origins of Gnosticism and Hermeticism, Farr put forward a theory of the ascent and descent of the soul, derived from her reading of the Books of Jeu, and of cycles of aeons that were a product of the will of the magician, that surely must have been an influence on Crowley’s own later thinking on the subject.

Although at first glance the body of texts referred to as the Greek Magical Papyri may appear alien, artefacts of an antiquity long gone, and therefore redundant, the world they came from is very much like our own, its concerns surprisingly similar. The world of the Graeco-Egyptian Alexandria in the first centuries AD was a vibrant melting pot, with a host of different cultures, peoples, and tongues coming together in pursuit of trade, all going about their business against the backdrop of different world powers vying for pre-eminence. Cultures clashed, competed, and even combined like never before, with information as a new currency – and those with the means to record and communicate that information had a key role to play.

Much ink has been spilled on the subject of the exact nature of the cultural mix that gave rise to the Papyri in Alexandria – with gods and names and words of power showing the influence of Samaritan, Persian, Jewish, Gnostic, and even early Christian sources – but by far the most important ingredients are the Egyptian and the Greek. Already by the time of the Greeks, Ancient Egypt had a reputation of being “the home of magic” – and it was possessed of a culture that seemed to stretch back into the mists of time. By the time of the Papyri, however, Egypt was an occupied nation, its glory fading, and its religion in decline with the closure of its temples. Many of the former priests now became wandering scribes, and as they travelled in search of work they took their religious and magical ideas with them.

Of course, in the world of Antiquity, there was nothing like the hard-and-fast distinction between notions of “religion” and “magic” we are used to now – with, in fact, the majority of spells and other magical workings being performed within a context of religious observance. Likewise, the same specialists who might be called upon in their sorcerous or priestly capacity might just as likely be summoned for what we would now consider medical reasons, and the Papyri are as full of spells to relieve migraine or flatulence – or amulets to protect against miscarriage or gout – as they are formulae for more overtly magical purposes.

The world of the Greek Magical Papyri was one built increasingly on trade rather than conquest, and ideas – old or new – and the papyri and scrolls containing them became a sought-after commodity. Just as now, knowledge was power and information exchange currency. In a world of diverse beliefs and the often competing systems that went with them, there was a hunger to compare and contrast techniques, and stockpile whatever tricks of the trade might add to the practitioner’s toolkit and give an advantage. The Papyri are products of a collision of cultures – often enforced through Colonialism and Imperialism – with strange new forms emerging because of perceived correspondences and relationships, such as the identification of the Egyptian god Thoth with the Greek god Hermes because of their similar roles as messenger gods of magic; or the antinomian ‘god-against-the-gods’ Set with the monstrous primal Titan, Typhon – with both of these composite gods, Thoth-Hermes and Set-Typhon, being major presiding forces over the magic of the PGM.

It is to be remembered that although much of the material in the PGM may well have had its origins in the Temples of Ancient Egypt or even the Mystery Cults of Greece, by the time it is being collected together and written down for posterity, magic is increasingly on the retreat to the margins of society, in the face of first Roman Imperial, and then, increasingly, Christian persecution. In this respect, as with so many others, there is an uneasy resemblance to the climate of our own times: information about different beliefs and practices – often from wildly divergent backgrounds – is available like never before, the serious student-practitioner is able to compare and contrast material – and if he or she is committed and serious enough, put it to the test – but it is against a background of mounting hostility and tension with the authorised, official beliefs of the mainstream of society, and what practices are considered acceptable. Although much of this treasured wisdom would survive in the Arab world, in the West it would become an underground stream, which would not resurface until the Renaissance and thereafter.

In certain sections of the PGM there is also a marked preoccupation with Self-Deification: there are whole rituals in which the practitioner, having raised themselves up through their communication with gods and daimons, and exerted their Will to bring about change, is called upon to, quite literally, Speak and Act as a god.

The Rite of the Headless One is just such a working.

So, here is an outline of The Rite of the Headless One, based on the text given in The Stele of Jeu the Hieroglyphist, with my attempt at a pronunciation guide, for English speakers who did not have the benefit of a Classical Education that included Ancient Greek.

First, write the Characters of the Names ‘AŌTH ABRAŌTH BASYM ISAK  SABAŌTH  IAŌ’ on a strip of clean papyrus. As in this first instance the Names are to be written, rather than spoken, it makes more sense to me that this should be done in the original Greek characters:


Having done so, mark either end of the Strip with the ‘Beneficial Sign’:

Then hold the strip to your forehead, stretched from temple to temple, the Names facing outward. Take up position at your altar, or other place of Working, and face North, towards the Big Dipper (or what the Ancient Egyptians thought of as “The Imperishable Stars”.) Visualise the strip as a Serpent swallowing its own tail, as you vibrate the Names:


( Ar-ot’ arb-Ra-rot’ bar-zoom ee-zark zar-ba-rot’ ee-ar-o )

As you do so, imagine your mind expanding to the very limits of Consciousness, until the Ourobourous encircles the Cosmos, the Names you have vibrated radiating out through the Universe, and begin to recite the following, vibrating the Names & Words of Power where indicated:

I summon you, the Headless One,

who created the Earth and the Heavens

who created Night and Day

you who created light and darkness

you are OSORONNOPHRIS, whom none has ever seen

you are IABAS, you are IAPOS,

you have distinguished the just and the unjust

you have made female and male

you have revealed seed and fruits

you have made men love each other and hate each other.

I am Moses your prophet, to whom you have transmitted your mysteries celebrated by Israel

you have revealed the moist and the dry and all nourishment,

hear me!

I am the messenger of OSORONNOPHRIS

this is your true name which has been transmitted to the Prophets of Israel.

Hear me,


( ar-R-bar-t’-ee-ar-o Re-ee-bet ar-t’-el-eb-eR-set’ ar-Ra  blart’ar  arl-bew eh-behn-F-khee  kht’ars-go-ee  ee-bar-ot’  ee-ar-o )

listen to me and turn away this daimon.

I call upon you, awesome and invisible god with an empty spirit


( ar-Rog-og-Ro-Rob-Rar-o so-khoo  mo-do-Rio  F-ar-lar-R-khar-o  o-o-o )

Holy Headless One, deliver me, (your name), from the daimon which restrains me,


( Roob-Ree-ar-o mar-R-ee o-darm bar-arb-nar-ot’ arz-ss ar-don-ey ar-F-nee-ar-o eet’o-let’ ar-bR-ar-zarks ar-er-o-o-oo )

Mighty Headless One, deliver me, (your name), from the daimon which restrains me,


( mar-bar-R-rar-ee-o ee-o-el  ko-t’ar  art’o-R-eeb-ar-lo  arb-ra-rot’ )

deliver me, (your name),


( ar-ot’ arb-ra-rot’ bar-zoom ee-zark zar-bar-ot’ ee-ar-o )

He is the Lord of the gods,

He is the Lord of the inhabited world

He is the one whom the winds fear

He is the one who made all things by the command of his voice.

Lord, King, Master, Helper,

Deliver this Soul


( ee-eh-oo  poo-R  ee-oo  poo-R  ee-ar-ot’  ee-ar-er-o  ee-o-o-oo  ar-bR-ar-zarks  sarb-R-ee-em  o-o  oo-oo  ey  o-o  ee-ee  ar-don-ar-ee-ay )

quickly, quickly, good Messenger of God!


( arn-lar-lar lar-ee  g-ay-ar  arp-ar  d-ay-ar-kharn-nar  kho-R-oon )

I am the Headless daimon with my sight in my feet

I am the mighty one who possesses the immortal fire

I am the truth who hates the fact that unjust deeds are done in the world

I am the one who makes the lightning flash and the thunder roll

I am the one whose sweat is the heavy rain which falls upon the earth that it might be made fertile

I am the one whose mouth burns completely

I am the one who begets and destroys

I am the Grace of the Aion

My name is a heart encircled by a serpent

Come Forth and Follow.

Upon successful completion of the Rite, it is said that the Headless One will appear and:

“Subject to you all daimons, so that every daimon, whether heavenly or aerial or earthly or subterranean or terrestrial or aquatic, might be obedient to you and every spell and scourge which is from God. And all daimons will be obedient to you.”

What more could you want?

Solarised Osiris

As for The Rite of The Headless One itself, even if all of the Words of Power are still not totally decipherable, a quick scan yields the following:

AŌTH = “[The god] before whom every god prostrates himself and every daimon shudders, for whom every angel completes those things which are assigned.”

ABRAŌTH = “From Abra (‘four’) and AOTH, the four lettered supreme name.”

BASYM = “This magical name may have originally come from the Aramaic words meaning, ‘In the name of . . .’ For the magician, however, the word serves as a magical name.” [Betz.]

SABAŌTH = “The god who [brought] knowledge of all the magical arts. Derived from the Hebrew Tzabaoth, the god angelic and spirit hosts, rather than the usual interpretation of armies.” Also the Gnostic Demiurge, the Lord of the World.

IAŌ = “The god appointed over the giving of soul[s] to everyone. The Greek transliteration of IHVH.” – can also be related to IAA, an ass-headed manifestation of RA, the Sun-god.

OSORONNOPHRIS = As I Have said, a corruption of the Egyptian Asar-un-Nefer, meaning “Osiris the Beautiful” or “Osiris Perfected”, with whom the Raised Up initiate identifies.

IABAS, IAPOS = Samaritan names for the Almighty, equivalent to the Hebrew IHVH (Yahweh) or Coptic-Gnostic IAO. [Likewise, to my mind it seems pretty likely that the reference to “Moses” and “The Prophets of Israel” is an interpolation at the time of The Stele being written down, adding the newly-developing meme of Moses-as-Magus & the Jews as Magicians, just for a bit more added syncretic oomph.]

ARBATHIAO = related to ABRAOTH [= “From Abra (‘four’) and AOTH, the four lettered supreme name.”]

ATHELEBERSETH = [I’m guessing related to epithets of Set-Typhon, i.e. ERBETH, PAKERBETH, BOLCHOSETH, etc., just thrown in to “shake it up a little.”]

IBAOTH = [possible conflation of ‘IAOTH’ – a combination of IAO and SABAOTH, and IABAS, a form of IAO, would be my guess?]

ADONAI = “Hebrew for ‘the Lord,’ inflected in its Greek form, which assumes the role of a god.”

ABRASAX = “The ‘anguipede’ [=snake-legged.] A solar god with snakes as legs, a cock’s head, whip and shield.”

KOTHA = “The Hollow One.”

This last perhaps relates to the phrase “empty spirit” – which of course refers to making oneself a vessel for the indwelling of the Higher Power. Then there is the curious line about having “sight in my feet” – which could, perhaps, refer to the funereal custom of placing decapitated heads upon the feet of the deceased – but I think simply describes seeing everything that is below, from the perspective of spiritual ascent. Lastly, “the one whose mouth shoots forth tongues of fire”, or “whose mouth burns completely” as other versions have it: this is a description of one whose mouth is full of the fire of sacred speech, whose utterances are literally ‘fired’ by the power of Creation – perhaps not unlike the descent of the Holy Spirit making itself known through “Tongues of Fire”, as it is described in a later such manifestation.

And, of course, as well as all these, there are a number of variants derived from the Seven Sacred Vowels, relating to the seven directions of the Hellenic Cosmos, which were frequently invoked throughout workings in the PGM as a way of attuning and aligning the magician to cosmic and elemental forces, instead of Banishing, or even Casting a Circle, for that matter.

Speaking of Banishing, it has been suggested by some commentators that The Rite of The Headless One is little more than an exorcism. Stephen Skinner has more-or-less said as much in his otherwise excellent Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic, perhaps following the example of Goodwin, who rather snippily wrote in his 1852 Fragment: “It will be seen that the object of the present invocation is to cast a demon out of a possessed person.” Regardie also wrote in Ceremonial Magic that “The original simple intention of this ritual was exorcism” – but that – “The modern intent is . . . quite remarkably, the exact opposite . . . To open the mind of the aspirant . . . that he becomes possessed by . . . the Holy Guardian Angel.” If it were the case that exorcism was all there was to the Rite, then what would be the necessity for calling, and then building up the association with, the Holy and Mighty Headless One – yet alone the clear identification of the magician with the summoned deity in the final section, and the pay-off that having achieved the object of the Rite gives you the mastery over “every daimon, whether heavenly or aerial or earthly or subterranean or terrestrial or aquatic” described at the end? That seems like quite a bonus for a simple exorcism!

I would argue that both intentions are already included in the original working, the obvious explanation surely being that the repeated call to “deliver [the subject] from the daimon which restrains him” – which, incidentally, is repeated four times: another survival from its Egyptian origins, no doubt, as in Egyptian magic to say-or-do a thing four times brought about change – is so that he or she is ready to undergo the process encoded in the Rite, without obstacle or restraint.

With regard to the origins of The Stele of Jeu, some critics have been quick to disparage the late Kenneth Grant for ascribing a Sumerian genesis, despite the complete absence of any Sumerian references in the text, as he does in a number of places. For example, in his first book, The Magical Revival [1972, revised 1991 and, most recently, 2010], he refers in the opening chapter to “This antique ritual – the most potent, according to Crowley” and goes on to affirm that it was “composed on the basis of a Sumerian ritual of extreme antiquity.”

However, I don’t think we can lay the blame for this misapprehension solely at Grant’s door. In one of the letters from Jack Parsons to Marjorie Cameron that survive – in which he endeavours to give her a kind of shortcut correspondence-course in Thelemic magick – following a discussion of the Descent of Inanna, Parsons baldly asserts “The Bornless One is a Sumerian ritual of the same period.” But seeing as The Master himself, Crowley, had decided that Aiwass, whom he had come to regard as his very own personal HGA, was of Akkadian or Sumerian origin, and that what he was by then calling Liber Samekh was the procedure for contacting said HGA – is it too much of a leap to think that this misguided ‘Sumerian’ attribution actually starts with him, and was just repeated faithfully thereafter by the likes of Parsons, and, later, Grant?

Like many of the Papyri, the one containing The Stele of Jeu was found in a cache of papers sealed into amphorae and stashed against discovery, the elements and the ravages of time, in a cave. The brothers Ali, who were looking for a stray goat, literally stumbled onto the cache amid pottery fragments, and quickly realised they were ‘on to something.’ From there the papyrus made its way, via the then largely unregulated black market in Egyptian Antiquities, into the hands of the Swedish consul in Alexandria, one Jean d’Anastasi, who later split it in two, selling one half to the Rijksmuseum in Leiden in 1828, and the other to the British Museum in London in 1857.

The first translation of the text to appear anywhere was by one Charles Wycliffe Goodwin, published for the Cambridge Antiquarian Society in 1852 as Fragment of a Graeco-Egyptian Work Upon Magic. Born in 1817, Goodwin was a Bible Scholar, Egyptologist, and lawyer, who in 1865 became Assistant Judge of the British Supreme Court for China and Japan. He was something of a man of letters in his spare time – as well as writing for the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, editing and translating Anglo-Saxon lives of the Saints, and contributing to the Literary Gazette, he was also for many years music critic for The Guardian – but it is for his deep-seated love of Egyptology that we are interested in him here. His engagement with all things Egyptian apparently began at the age of 9, when he read an article on ‘Hieroglyphics’ in the Edinburgh Review for December 1826, and throughout his life he would write and lecture extensively on related subjects, corresponding with the leading Egyptologists of the day, and his work on hieratic was credited as “a genuine revolution in the science.”

As for the Fragment itself, Goodwin is fairly scathing in his comments upon the text, dismissing the combination of Egyptian, Greek, and Jewish terms as symptomatic of the confusion of the more pagan Gnostics, and the words of power as being akin to the gibberish of the superstitious primitive. He quotes Porphyry in regard to this heresy:

“The magician lies in order to compel the heavenly powers to tell the truth: for when he threatens to shake the heavens, or to reveal the mysteries of Isis, or the secret thing that lies hid at Abydos, or to stop the sacred boat, or to scatter the limbs of Osiris to Typhon, what a height of madness does it imply in the man who thus threatens what he neither understands nor is able to perform . . .”

Despite this, it came to the attention of Mathers and his Golden Dawn, who thought it was just the sort of thing they needed to lend their ritual theatrics a touch of Graeco-Egyptian authenticity.

Somewhere between Goodwin’s first translation and the Rite’s adoption by The Golden Dawn, the Greek ‘Akephalos’ – meaning literally “headless” – came to be replaced by the approximation “Bornless.” There is no particularly sound reason for this, but Israel Regardie makes a go of suggesting “In many primitive languages, the word ‘head’ is often used as an equivalent of ‘beginning’ . . . So ‘the Headless One’ or the ‘Beginningless One’ is of course the Eternal One, the One without a beginning, the Bornless One.” This is the name that has stuck ever since, but the present author feels it is more authentic to restore the meaning that, even if it is stranger, is decidedly more accurate.

After Goodwin, later Commentaries on The Headless One and related texts would include: in English, Griffith & Thomson’s edition of The London and Leyden Papyrus, which was first published in 1904, just in time for the start of the Aeon of Horus, making one of those neat ‘Remanifestation’ links for Thelemites and Crowley-friendly Setians – Belgian Armand Delatte’s ‘Études Sur la Magie Grecque: Akephalos Theos’ of 1914 – and German Karl Preisendanz, who wrote Akephalos: De Kopflose Gott in 1926. Preisendanz also published two volumes of the various Graeco-Egyptian Magical Papyri in translation, in 1928 and 1931, before advancing his career by joining the Nazi Party and leaving the Papyri behind. Then, in 1986, the definitive edition – in one volume, and all translated into English, at last – was published as The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, including the Demotic Spells, edited by Hans Dieter Betz for the University of Chicago Press.

Since then, apart from appearing on more blogs than you can shake a stick at, the Rite has been brought to us by Israel Regardie, Alex Sumner, Don Webb, Stephen Flowers, Jake Stratton-Kent, and even Chaos Magic’s latest blue-eyed boy, Gordon White – although I have to say, with the exception of Israel Regardie’s Ceremonial Magic and Alex Sumner writing in The Journal of the Western Magical Tradition (although he still insists on referring to it primarily as ‘The Bornless One’ and ‘The Preliminary Invocation of The Goetia’), most of these are fairly disappointing, inasmuch as they either just copy-paste the original Headless, without comment, from Betz, or else reproduce Crowley’s ‘Bornless’ version. I have a lot of time for Don Webb, and on the whole found his Seven Faces of Darkness refreshing and thought-provoking when it first came out – I mean, the fact that somebody was trying to take a look at Graeco-Egyptian Magic from the Alexandrian period that was both intelligent and imaginative had to be a good thing! – but even he loses his way a bit by trying too hard to fit The Headless into the Setian remit of his ‘Practical Typhonian Magic’ subtitle, for reasons that I hope will become more apparent later. As for Jake Stratton-Kent, frankly I was disappointed: the fact that his booklet from Hadean Press (originally published in 2012, and reissued a couple of years ago – but without being in any way revised or updated, as far as I can tell) is actually called ‘The Headless One’ would make you think he was going to take it back to the source, but no – he just reproduces Crowley’s first ‘Preliminary Invocation of The Goetia’ version from 1904 with its various ‘corrections’ – such as the ludicrous shoehorning of the voces magicae IABAS and IAPOS into “Ia-Besz” and “Ia-Apophrasz”, when they are in fact Samaritan names for the One Great God, equivalent to the Coptic-Gnostic IAO, or Hebrew IHVH – and then compounds matters further by adding even more unnecessarily ‘Thelemic’ references that even Crowley didn’t have the gall to insert, such as ‘Aiwass’ and ‘Babalon.’ To top it all off, Stratton-Kent repeats the mistake of earlier commentators in equating Akephalos with Set, suggesting that ‘The Void Air’ or ‘Empty Wind’ mentioned in the invocation is “the blasting wind of Typhon-Set.”

Goodwin himself, way back in 1852, started the ball rolling with a Note to his version of the Rite in which he commented “The god here addressed is Σήθ, the evil principle of the Egyptians” – rather coyly spelling it out with the Greek sigma, eta, theta – his justification being “The name occurs apparently in the word ATHELEBERSETH in line 12 of this section.” Now, it’s true enough that there’s a whole range of Set-related voces magicae that when they appear in the PGM are generally accepted as being calls on Set, or Set-Typhon as he was more commonly syncretised by this time, including IO ERBETH IO PAKERBETH IO BOLCHOSETH and ATHELEBERSETH – the last two of which do at least include the name ‘Seth’ I suppose – but if there is one thing that has become increasingly apparent with the one hundred and fifty years of study of the PGM that have elapsed since Goodwin’s time, it is that the vast majority of the spells are absolute melting-pots, real everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, and then sometimes even throwing in the kitchen sink for good measure!

There are spells addressed to Helios – who is, after all, a Sun-god, the last time I looked – which start off with invocations of Set-Typhon; there are spells addressed to Besas, or Bes – the funny little lion-faced, pot-bellied ithyphallic pygmy god of Ancient Egypt – that use exactly the same wording that is used here to address The Headless One. For example, here is the invocation to Bes from a spell in the PGM asking for a Dream Oracle, of which there are several, all similarly worded:

“I call upon you, the Headless God, the one who has his face upon his feet, you are the one who hurls lightning, who thunders, you are one of those whose mouth continually pours on himself. You are the one who is over necessity ARBATHIAŌ . . . I conjure you, Daimon, but your two names ANOUTH ANOUTH. You are the Headless God, the one who has a head and his face on his feet, dim-sighted Besas . . . You are the one whose mouth continually burns. I conjure you by the names ANOUTH ANOUTH M… ORA PHĒSARA Ē . . .”

Almost all the key phrases here are used in The Rite of The Headless One, the spell even addresses The Headless One, and it even uses the voces magicae, ARBATHIAŌ, which is also used in The Stele of Jeu. So you would think if Akephalos is not Set, then this surely must clinch it that The Headless One is Bes, or Besas? But if we look a little closer with what’s going on with these barbarous names of invocation, as they used to be called, we start to get a different picture . . .

ARBATHIAŌ, as we have already seen, apparently means something like “The four-lettered supreme name” and is  derived from AŌTH, which appears right at the start of The Stele of Jeu, and means “[The god] before whom every  god prostrates himself and every daimon shudders, for whom every angel completes those things which are assigned.” So basically it is the Coptic equivalent of something like the Tetragrammaton.

Moving on, ANOUTH ANOUTH: ANOUTH, according to the Glossary at the back of the Betz edition of the PGM, is a name of Osiris.

As for the last fragment in the Dream Oracle Spell, that ORA PHĒSARA Ē is suggestive of the OSORONNOPHRIS – which is one of the few voces magicae that Crowley actually got pretty much right in his version, in that it is a corruption of the Egyptian ‘Asar un Nefer’ meaning “Osiris the Beautiful” or “Osiris perfected.”

So, is the identity of the real Akephalos beginning to suggest itself?

Professor of Egyptology at John Hopkins University and The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, John Colman Darnell, tells us in The Enigmatic Netherworld Books of the Solar-Osirian Unity, in which he deciphers hieroglyphic content from the tombs of Tutankhamun, Ramesses VI, and Ramesses IX, that Akephalos refers to the Egyptian Osiris, but not in the form of the mummified god of the Underworld – rather as a deity of solar-reunification, Ra-Osiris. Darnell provides evidence, based on archaeological finds and Egyptological research, which shows that the Head of the Headless form of Osiris is the Sun, and that the solar Osiris is one with Ra.

Following on from this line of reasoning, it is not too much of a leap to see that lines within The Stele of Jeu may also point to Ra, for example:

You who created the Earth and the Heavens (Geb and Nut – technically Ra’s grandchildren by Shu and Tefnut)

You have made the Female (Tefnut) and the Male (Shu).

You have produced the Moist (Tefnut, goddess of moisture) and the Dry (Shu, god of air) and that which nourishes all life. (Ra, of course, as the Sun is the source of All life.)

Just as the magician in The Stele of Jeu ultimately identifies with the supreme progenitor solar deity, so too do the souls who successfully traverse the Underworld in the Egyptian Afterlife become as one with Ra. The Pyramid Texts display more affinities with Shamanism than is admitted by most contemporary Egyptologists, with the King-as-Initiate identified with the dismembered and decapitated Osiris in the Underworld. The restoration of his head corresponds to his rebirth as a god, one who is as much at home in the world of the spirits as in the world of the living, and whose identification with the solar principle is complete. Just as Osiris himself becomes self-realized as Ra, so too does the worthy soul, united with the risen Sun of the New Day.

But even if one were to identify The Holy Headless One with Osiris – and as we can see, there is a whole body of evidence that one could draw on in support of this – I would suggest it is still too literal an interpretation: Akephalos, in essence, is a formula – a process – by which the consciousness of the magician, hence their HEAD, is put in some other place, whether it be the chthonic realm of Osiris in the Underworld, or the ascended consciousness of the Risen Man, the Perfected Osiris, whose Head has joined with the Sun, and sees all and knows all, because it is at the Centre of the All.

One of the central premises of The Rite of The Headless One is that Man can Act as God. Personally, I see the text as a survival of the Egyptian origins of theurgy. Egyptian priests generally divided their time in office between two particular types of role:

sems-neter, where they were in the service of the gods – performing mostly temple duties, officiating at ceremonies, and the like; acting as what we would call a priest.


paxer-neter, where they were literally acting as gods – to cast spells, perform healings, or divination; acting as what we would call a magician.

The Rite of The Headless One clearly derives from the latter. Here, perhaps, is one of the beginnings of the split between what have come to be thought of as all-too-separate categories: ‘religion’ in the case of the former, and ‘magic’ in the case of the latter.

The Rite of the Headless One draws on what was a relatively newly established idea at the time of its writing, that of Moses as prototype magus: The Man who saw God face-to-face, and came back with His Word to impart His Law, and Act in His Authority. In his Vita Mosis, Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of Christ and the Apostles, adds to the already accepted notion of Moses as Prophet and Lawgiver the concept that the ‘superior magician’ represents a Logos (Word) and articulates a Nomos (Law), based on that Logos; secondly, that such a Magus no longer needs to be transported in ecstasy like the shamans of old to receive intimations of the Divine or experience the OtherWise, but can instead be raised up so that he or she apprehends them by direct personal knowledge, or Gnosis. As such, The Rite of the Headless One may be seen as the seed by which the ultimate blasphemy against the spiritual monopoly of the monotheist religions survives to later re-manifest in our Post-Modern world: for surely the goal of the Magus has always been, rather than merely to know the Will of God and be its instrument or vessel, to Act as such in their own right?

Perhaps in the final analysis it is meaningless to ask whether one can ever truly act above whatever notion of ‘God’ or ‘the gods’ one has, but maybe it is enough to decide in which direction one’s actions and intent are directed. To my mind the fact that The Rite of the Headless One is a survival from a time when such options were still considered, and is not a Working whose end result is an ecstatic union with the Divine – rather one in which an identification with the Divine, and a claiming of the ability to act as such, is asserted, and of necessity is to be repeated – makes it an ideal tool for those of our times who would truly seek to walk the Path of the Magus, and in so doing speak the Word that establishes a Law, and thus create a World.

Few are Called – Fewer will Try – Fewest still will Succeed.


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MAYA DEREN (29th April, 1917 – 13th October, 1961)

“I make my pictures for what Hollywood spends on lipstick.”

Maya Deren (29th April, 1917 – 13th October, 1961)

Maya, smoking

“I am not greedy. I do not seek to possess the major portion of your days. I am content if, on those rare occasions whose truth can be stated only by poetry, you will, perhaps, recall an image, even only the aura of my films.”


Maya Deren was in born 29th of April, 1917, as Eleanora Derenkowskaia, in Kiev, Ukraine. Her family were Jewish, and in 1922, they fled the country because of anti-Semitic pogroms, settling in Syracuse, New York, where the family surname was typically shortened to “Deren” but at least her father was able to pursue his work as a psychiatrist.

Maya montage

After earning a Master’s Degree in English, and having married the Czech photographer and film-maker Alexander Hammid  himself better known as ‘Sasha’ under his influence and inspiration, Deren began to make the transition from would-be poet to film-maker. She also felt that another change was in order, as Hammid would later explain:

“Maya wasn’t always Maya. She used to be called Eleanora. Her mother used to call her Elinka, in Russian.  She confided in me that she was unhappy about her name, and she asked me once to find a name for her. So I just went to the library and looked through a lot of books, mainly books on mythology. I came across the name ‘Maya’ in different connections, for instance with water – but Maya also was the name of the Mother of Buddha. In Hinduism, Maya was the name of the goddess who wove the veil over our eyes – a veil of illusion that prevents us from seeing spiritual reality behind it . . .”

Sasha, cat, Maya

Maya with Sasha and cat

Maya became personal assistant to Katherine Dunham, an African-American dancer, choreographer, and anthropologist, whose fieldwork was largely concerned with Afro-Caribbean culture. Deren traveled with Dunham’s dance troupe as they toured around segregated America, and the racism she witnessed during those trips left a deep impression on her. It was during this time that she was also introduced to the interwoven relationships between dance, ritual, iconography, and metaphysical transcendence in Haitian culture, which would become such a major influence in her later life and work.

Katherine Dunham

Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe

Speaking of the transition from poet to film-maker, Deren wrote in 1953:

“It was like finally finding a glove that fits. When I was writing poetry, I had, constantly, to transcribe my essentially visual image . . . into verbal form. In motion pictures, I no longer had to translate . . . and I could move directly from my imagination into film.”


Dance also had always been an integral part of Deren’s sensibility, long before she came to film.

“My reason for creating [films] is almost as if I would dance, except this is a much more marvellous dance. It’s because in film, I can make the world dance!”

Speaking of dancers, a close friend and collaborator was the African-American actress Rita Christiani, who as well as appearing in such Hollywood fodder as Road to Morocco alongside Bob Hope & Bing Crosby, and the 1943 shlock-horror I Walked With A Zombie, featured in Deren’s Ritual In Transfigured Time (1946), along with dancer Frank Westbrook and a somewhat desultory Anaïs Nin.

Rita in Ritual, Frank in background

Rita Christiani in Ritual in Transfigured Time, with Frank Westbrook in the background

Years later, interviewed about her friendship with Deren, Christiani remarked:

“I came from Trinidad at five years of age, and later on I found out that Maya had come from her country at five years of age, and on a boat also – so that was a commonality that might not have been expressed, but was felt by some psychic mean between the two of us . . . Because coming here, at that young age, unless you’ve experienced it you don’t know what it is: everything is new to you, and everything is so frightening to you – the people, the places, the way people talk, the way they act – and then you had to speak English, to become an American, and that was the goal: that you become American, you know?”

Maya Deren, Kiev, c.1921

Another expat who had made America into her adopted home was the born-to-Cuban parents French bohemian Anaïs Nin, an erotic adventuress who had poured out her encounters, fantasies, and observations in short stories, novels, and essays  but it was the many volumes of journals [kept over 60 years, and at least 15 volumes published within her lifetime] in which she gave detailed accounts of her friendships and often intimate relations with writers such as Antonin Artaud, Lawrence Durrell, Henry (and June) Miller, and Gore Vidal, as well as her therapist, Otto Rank, and very probably her own estranged father that had really made her into the notorious celebrity she had always wanted to be.

Maya Beach Nude by Sasha

In the summer of 1944, when she and her friends were taking a walk on the beach of Amagansett, New York, Anaïs Nin encountered a strange scene. A woman was lying on the shore, letting herself be pummeled by the waves while two people filmed it. Later, Nin found out the woman was Maya Deren, already making a name for herself as an avant-garde filmmaker, who was filming the opening scene of At Land (1945). Nin was naturally attracted to Deren, and eventually got so involved with her films that Deren wrote a part specifically for her in Rituals in Transfigured Time (1946).

Typically, Nin  who can be seen positively pouting in her one-or-two brief appearances in the finished film (not perhaps realising, as with her comparable misadventures with Kenneth Anger and Marjorie Cameron, that her time had simply been and gone) – would characteristically attempt to have the last word, as usual, grumbling in one of her indeterminable diaries for May 1946:

“We gave (Deren) our time, our energy, and even our money . . . We believed in her as a filmmaker, we had faith in her, but we began to feel that she was not human . . . We were influenced, dominated by her, and did not know how to free ourselves.”

Anais Nin

Anaïs Nin, as she appears in Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946)

One wonders if Nin had ever been aware of this unpublished poem that Maya wrote before the filming even began:

For Anaïs Before the Glass

The mirror, like a cannibal, consumed, carnivorous, blood-silvered, all the life fed it.

You too have known this merciless transfusion along the arm by which we each have held it.

In the illusion was pursued the vision through the reflection to the revelation.

The miracle has come to pass.

Your pale face, Anaïs, before the glass at last is not returned to you reversed.

This is no longer mirrors, but an open wound through which we face each other framed in blood.

(By Maya Deren, August 19, 1945)

Maya_Deren_Still by Sasha from Unreleased_Film, c.1942-3

“Myth is the facts of the mind made manifest in a fiction of matter.”

The Point of Departure:

“Myth is the twilight speech of an old man to a boy. All the old men begin at the beginning. Their recitals always speak first of the origin of life . . .”

Her anthropological field-work broke all the rules, but with her film and book, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, she left behind an important document of direct encounter with the Voodoo mysteries:

“All ceremonials begin with the salute to the guardian of the Crossroads, the Loa principle of Crossing, of Communications with the Divine World . . . but that World of Les Invisibles is also the cosmic cemetery of the souls of all the Dead.”

She was actually welcomed, invited in, so to speak, when she went to Haiti to make her film – and was permitted to become an authentic initiate, because the Voodoo Community recognised her sincerity – and, more to the point, they felt she had been called by the loa.

Maya Camera

Although it may not have been Babalon in so many words, in her experience of possession by the loa Erzulie, Deren surely had a direct and empowering experience of the Female Divine:

“What I do in my films is very – oh, I think very distinctively – I think they are the films of a woman, and I think that their characteristic time quality is the time quality of a woman. I think that the strength of men is their great strength of immediacy, they are a ‘Now’ creature, and a woman has strength to wait – because she’s had to wait: she has to wait nine months for the concept of a child. Time is built into her body in the sense of Becomingness – and she sees everything in terms of it Being in the stage of Becoming. She raises a child knowing not what it is at any moment but seeing always the person that it will Become . . .”

Maya, by Sasha, 1941

The lovely though fierce Maya Deren was not only capable of being a personification of Erzulie, but was also told by her mambo that she had a warrior spirit in her as well. Once, she was invited to administer Voodoo Rites and lay on a Reception for the Wedding of a Haitian dancer, but as the day progressed Deren became increasingly angry that the loa were not being properly honoured. Jane Brakhage Wodening – at the time the wife of Deren’s fellow experimental film-maker, Stan Brakhage – describes what happened:

“And so, when all the people were gathered at the Recepetion, Maya Deren became possessed by the voodoo god Papa Loco. She went into the kitchen and she started to roar and she picked up the refrigerator that weighed several hundred pounds and she threw it across the kitchen.”

Luckily, some members of the Wedding party who understood voodoo carried Maya upstairs to her room and stayed with her, where she sat rolling her head from side to side and roaring:

“She asked for rum to be brought and set aflame . . .

“Stan went up to Maya’s room and she was sitting up in her bed and rolling her head and roaring. The other people there, Haitians, were caring for her and not afraid because they knew it was Papa Loco. And the rum was burning with blue flames in a bowl beside the bed and Maya put her hands into the bowl of blue flames and flung them all over Stan . . . and blessed him in the name of Papa Loco.”

Arguably, this tremendous drive helped her to get her work done – often against the odds – but undoubtedly contributed to her early burn-out.

Maya Deren died in 1961, at the age of 44, from a brain haemorrhage.

Maya with cat 2

According to Mark Alice Durant, writing in a special feature for the film & photography magazine, Aperture, No. 195, in Summer 2009, Deren might not have adjusted very well to the changing times of newly-emerging underground film that she herself had unwittingly helped to create:

“As the 1950s wore on, the taste for Deren’s careful, literary, Old World aesthetic was overshadowed by less formal approaches to experimental film, such as the irreverent Pull My Daisy (1959) by Robert Frank, Alfred Leslie, and Jack Kerouac. Such films were anathema to Deren’s work. In both words and pictures, she did not indulge in casual spontaneity; it is as if, to borrow her phrase, she choreographed her life for camera.”

Luckily, we at least have the legacy she left behind of films, field recordings, and her marvellous book, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti.

Maya Deren - The Voodoo Gods (1975 UK Paladin paperback edition!)

The Voodoo Gods – Paladin paperback edition (1975, U.K.) of Deren’s The Divine Horsemen


Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) – with Alexander Hammid.

At Land (1944) – with Hella Heyman, Parker Tyler, Philip Lamantia, Gregory Bateson, John Cage, Alvin Lustig, and Alexander Hammid.

A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945) – with Talley Beatty.

Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946) – with Rita Christiani, Frank Westbrook, Hell, and Gore Vidal.

Meditation on Violence (1948) – with Chao-Li Chi, music by Teijo Itō.

The Very Eye of Night (1958) – in collaboration with Metropolitan Opera Ballet School, music by Teijo Itō.

Maya Deren stills grid

Stills from various films by Maya Deren

Among the archives of the New York Film-Maker’s Co-Op, lovingly preserved by Jonas Mekas, there are also a number of short, unfinished works, such as Witch’s Cradle made with Marcel Duchamp in 1943, the touching 1947 home-movie with Sasha Hammid, The Private Life of a Cat, as well as lost and unfinished fragments such as Medusa (1949), Ensemble for Somnambulists (1951), as well as something called “Lascivious Folk Ballet” – apparently the only surviving sequence from a project entitled Ritual & Ordeal, which is notable if only for the fact we get to hear Maya sing, in her smokey, late-night, husky voice, a kind of proto-Blues Rock, whose lyrics run:

“I got stones in my head,

I got pebbles in my bed,

In my head they rattle,

In my head they pound,

Cant ya hear ’em ?

Stones . . .


'Woman of the Month'

In addition, she also released an LP of the wire-recordings she had made during various ceremonials while travelling in Haiti, and of course there were the many, many hours of footage she had recorded during her numerous visits over 18 months – mostly funded by the Guggenheim Foundation. These were eventually edited together from Deren’s extensive notes by her former husband, the composer Teijo Itō and his new wife, Cherel Winett Itō, with considerable financial assistance from Deren’s close friend, the wealthy philanthropist and poet, James Merrill.


NB: A free and legal version of both sides of this album, converted to mp3 form, and with the excerpted liner-notes from the cover, is currently available as part of the excellent U B U W E B : S O U N D online archive here :

Maya's Haitian bed

Maya Deren’s sleeping quarters in Haiti, c.1947-1952

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The Final Academy Revisited

“The purpose of Art, the function of Art – of all creative thought as I see it – is to make people aware of what they know but don’t know that they know…” – William S Burroughs

At last finished transcribing my original ‘The Paintings of William S Burroughs’ article-cum-interview from back in 1988 – completed ‘Apprentice to an Apprentice’ on Terry Wilson, his time with Brion Gysin and after – and steadily drawing together material for our memoir/scrapbook ‘The Final Academy Revisited’

We have been in touch with a number of individuals concerning possible contributions of either archive or new, original material, and have to say so far we have been touched by the enthusiasm and generosity of spirit we have met with in most cases…

Some people we are still waiting to hear back from, some leads we need to follow up, and some ideas need to be developed a little further yet – but if the response so far is anything to go by this should turn out to be a unique memento of a powerful creative nexus that still echoes and resonates to this day!

We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge everybody who  has offered their advice and encouragement so far, as well as possible contributions: a big ‘Hello!’ to Joe Ambrose, John Coulthart, Eric K Lerner, John May, Mogg Morgan… and Thank You as ever to Paul A Green, Spencer Kansa, Charlotte Rogers and Raoul V!

There will be further updates in due course…

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Arthur Machen, Near and Far…



“…These  burning pools, the level meadows fringed with shuddering reeds, the long dark sweep of the forest on the hill, were all clear and distinct, yet the light seemed to have clothed them with a new garment, even as voices from the streets of Caermaen sounded strange, mounting up thin with the smoke. There beneath him lay the huddled cluster of Caermaen, the ragged and uneven roofs that marked the winding and sordid streets, here and there a pointed gable rising above its meaner fellows; beyond he recognised the piled mounds that marked the circle of the amphitheatre, an the dark edge of trees that grew where the Roman wall whitened and waxed old beneath the frost and rains of eighteen hundred years.” (From ‘The Hill of Dreams’)

Arthur Machen’s rumination on living in Caerleon (‘Caermaen’), the small town where he grew up, and with which he had a rather intense relationship. He tore himself away, realizing that if he didn’t leave he would dream his life away; something in him would sicken and become incapable of action. The heartache and melancholy underlying his taking on adult responsibility would always subtly influence his writing. He went the way many have gone before and after him: to London where he worked at becoming a ‘man of letters’.

He would often return to his first and native home, even if it was just in his imagination:

“Well, from the heart of this London atmosphere I was suddenly transported in my vision to a darkling, solitary country lane as the dusk of a November evening closed upon it thirty long years before. And, as I think that the pure provincial can never understand the quiddity or essence of London, so I believe that for the born Londoner the country ever remains an incredible mystery. He knows that it is there—somewhere—but he has no true vision of it. In spite of himself he Londonises it, suburbanises it; he sticks a gas lamp or two in the lanes, dots some largish villas of red brick beside them, and extends the District or the Metropolitan to within easy distance of the dark wood. But here was I carried from luminous Oxford Street to the old deep lane in Gwent, which is on the borders of Wales. Nothing that a Londoner would call a town within eight miles, deep silence, deep stillness everywhere; hills and dark wintry woods growing dim in the twilight, the mountain to the west a vague, huge mass against a faint afterlight of the dead day, grey and heavy clouds massed over all the sky. I saw myself, a lad of twenty-one or thereabouts, strolling along this solitary lane on a daily errand, bound for a point about a mile from the rectory – (From ‘Things Near and Far Away’.)


Arthur Machen wrote that he imagined ‘The Hill Of Dreams ‘from the single stimulus of a shard of blue Roman enamel’. It was at least a point of contact with the material world during a quest of ‘high theurgic magic’ more in keeping with the Spirit of the world of the Greek Magical Papyri than his own and one which he pursued with a ‘fine desperation’. Lucian Taylor the hermit boy,  is transported to the ‘Hill of Dreams’ and experiences another dimension of time and place, which Machen conjures up with extraordinary poetry and vividness. It is not surprising his protagonist finds it hard to return to a cold, mundane reality.


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The Ghost-Trap


The Ghost-Trap is the definition and the limit of meaning

The Ghost-Trap is the place wherein we haunt ourselves

The Ghost-Trap is remembering to forget

The Ghost-Trap is a container for our fears

The Ghost-Trap is the echoing of unfulfilled Desire

The Ghost-Trap is made up of the very substance of absence

The Ghost-Trap is the incubator of the Babe of the Abyss

The Ghost-Trap is a cancelled index of possibilities

The Ghost-Trap is a Stone Tape being erased, slowly

The Ghost-Trap is the irritation that forms an imperfect black pearl that no-one wants, not at any price…

The Ghost-Trap is the very essence of The Stumbling Block

The Ghost-Trap is the shadow that remains after the heat, the flash, and the blast

The Ghost-Trap is drawing a line, and then erasing it



The Ghost-Trap is the calm at the eye of the Storm

The Ghost-Trap is Beyond Good and Evil

The Ghost-Trap is The Space Between

The Ghost-Trap is never the same twice

The Ghost-Trap is a hole in the soul

The Ghost-Trap is decadent and symmetrical

The Ghost-Trap is how you disappear out between Midnight

The Ghost-Trap is Not True, and must never be Permitted

The Ghost-Trap is the emerald Beginning and End of Word

The Ghost-Trap is infinitely hot and infinitely dense

The Ghost-Trap is what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object

The Ghost-Trap is a Black Mirror within the Triangle of the Art

The Ghost-Trap is a circle of fire, lit against the Night

. .  .    .        .

Image: Emma Doeve + Words: Matthew Levi Stevens


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‘She Travels The Curvature of Time…’

Emma Doeve with her three most recently completed works: ‘The Curvature of Time’, ‘The Passing of The Secret’, & ‘The Ghost-Trap’. Drawn from sketches & studies that were originally part of the ‘Dreams In The Witch House‘ project, they were completed at the end of June and had their first outing at the event ‘Arte: An Elemental Happening’ in Bristol.


‘The Curvature of Time’


‘The Passing of The Secret’


‘The Ghost-Trap’


‘The Curvature of Time’ & ‘The Ghost-Trap’ will form part of our ongoing collaboration, ‘The Book of Dark Things’, of which more details will follow soon…

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Matthew Opens a New Perspective on William S Burroughs

A rainy afternoon in Bristol and at Odd Fellows Hall, once host to one of the ‘friendly societies’ operating in the UK (set up to protect and care for their members at a time when the Welfare State and the NHS still belonged to the future), Matthew delivers an outstanding talk on the writer William S Burroughs as part of the Event ‘Arte: An Elemental Happening’

 [ photo: Mogg Morgan of Mandrake, with Thanks ]

What would he have thought of it all, WSB? Definitely an ‘odd one out’ in his own time – even though he found his own company of other  ‘odd fellows’, and has since trailed a substantial following of both outsiders and insiders of society.  He needed a powerful magic of his own (with some shamanic help) to navigate through the Magical Universe. The thing he feared most – and justifiably so, considering his history – was the threat of Possession. Being called ‘genius’ – or at least possessed by genius – by Norman Mailer did not banish the spectre or the fear. Being possessed by a virus of language was one thing, possession by the ‘Ugly Spirit’ another. During a sweat-lodge purification ceremony in an attempt to ‘evict the Ugly Spirit’, Native American Medicine Man Melvin Betsellie described it as “a spirit with a white skull face, with no eyes and sort of… wings”, Burroughs knew all he could do was attempt to write himself out of trouble.

In so doing – and how successful he was in the end cannot be known, old age overtook him – he took his own possession of the literary world. The Medicine Man who told him about the look of the thing, impressed him with his strength and heart”. He felt persuaded that when you see such an enemy, it’s “just a matter of, well, if you see it on the outside, it’s no longer inside.”

Whether that’s true or not, William Burroughs rendered apprehensible the Ugly Spirit through his writing, a thing without eyes which is powerfully at work in the world – perhaps more now than ever…

An A5, 44 page chapbook giving the text of ‘The Magical Universe of William S Burroughs’ – as well as ‘The Forgotten Agent’, a reminiscence of Matthew’s first and last meetings with Burroughs – was made available for the ‘Arte’ Event in Bristol.

Some copies are still available directly from WhollyBooks, price £5. If you would like a copy, please email us with your details and we can provide a PayPal Invoice. All copies are of course Signed, and a dedication can be added on request.

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The Curvature of Time


‘The Book of Dark Things should not then be read primarily as an account of actual rituals performed & travels undertaken, but as an exploration of the role of the imagination and the power of dreams to transmute the familiar nature of our surroundings into something strange and wonderful.’


‘The Curvature of Time’ – Preparatory Sketches:


The Curvature of Time

wraps threads and tatters of memory

around you like a winding-sheet…

Each night that you sleep, and set sail upon Other currents,

Other tides – go down into the Darkness

as if your body had been lowered into the grave,

dark Mother Earth from whence you came

The Curvature of Time

will steer the course of your life

on mingled black currents of memory & forgetting…

“Life is a shadow with violence before and after

It is spirits, fighting”

You who were once ridden, are you now ready to ride?

Take leave of your shell – sit up, I tell you! Sit up and make ready I say!

(He folds the paper, with her name on it – he folds the paper and he draws the signs, traces the lines and makes the anointing)

The World Turned Upside Down!

The boat is coming

to carry your soul to the Other Lands,

beyond the Far Horizon,

over the Edge of the World

and along

The Curvature of Time

Like a bride called to your wedding, like a guest to the feast, raise yourself up and be ready I say!

(He draws the lines – he makes the sign – he calls and chants, starts his dance)

The portal is open and the way is clear –

And the drumming, and the rattle,

and the scourging and the song

spirit-vessel here to carry us on

The Curvature of Time


‘She Travels’ – Study:


‘In such moments of exhaustion & surrender, the sensible spirits are drawn in great commotion as if to quit the body corporeal for some other vessel that will carry them Up & Out & On across the Curvature of Time, White Darkness shadowed by the light of a Black Sun, strange absences made solid in unknown Spaces Between, as to make all our questing metaphysic seem but tracing childish patterns in the familiar sands of our nearest shore.’

. .  .    .        .

Images: Emma Doeve + Words: Matthew Levi Stevens


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A Taste of Uncle Bill’s Magic…

Here is a little taste of ‘The Magical Universe of William S Burroughs’, from my article for ‘Chaosphere’ #4 and in advance of my presentation at ‘Arte: An Elemental Happening’ in Bristol at the end of the month…


‘When I first met William S Burroughs in London at the time of ‘The Final Academy’ in 1982, I asked him about Magic, and whether he would care to recommend any books on the subject. Without hesitation he mentioned Dion Fortune’s ‘Psychic Self-Defense’, even though he qualified it as “a bit old-fashioned”.  At that time I was beginning to move in the ‘Temple ov Psychick Youth’ [sic] circles around Psychic TV, who were key players in organising ‘The Final Academy’ series of Events – a scene that was steeped in the same fascination with Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare that would also fuel the emerging ‘Chaos Magic’ current – and so Burroughs’ recommendation did indeed seem ‘old-fashioned’, but as he began to talk of Black Magic and Curses in North Africa, travelling with Medicine Men up the Amazon, and describing his experiments with tape-recordings and playback  on the streets of London’s West End and in the midst of the 1968 Chicago Democrat’s Convention and ensuing riots, I realised that for Burroughs this was UTTERLY REAL. He told me about a dream that he had as a young man, working as an exterminator in Chicago: of watching from a helpless out-of-body point of view floating above the bed as his body got up and went out with some unknown and sinister purpose that he was powerless to influence… with a shudder, he told me that possession was “still the basic fear.”

A little while after, Burroughs asked me if I would like to ‘get some air’ with him, I think while preparations were being made for a photographer or interview set-up (my impression being that he liked to avoid the ‘fuss’ inevitably involved in such situations). As he took me round the block, we talked about books: he was delighted to discover that I had read his beloved Denton Welch, also J W Dunne’s ‘An Experiment With Time’ – I had been lucky enough to find them in my old school library, and both had been a tremendous influence on him in different ways. He talked about different kinds of perception, and I heard for the first time his famous remark that the purpose of all Art & Writing is “to make people aware of what they know but don’t know that they know!” He described the famous ‘Walk Exercise’, in which you try to see everybody on the street before they see you – “I was taught this by an old Mafia don in Chicago… sharpens your ‘Survival IQ’…  It pays to keep your eyes and ears open” – as well as an on-the-spot illustration of the theory of Cut-Ups as Consciousness Expansion:

“As soon as you walk down the street like this – or look out the window, turn a page, turn on the TV – your awareness is being Cut: that sign in the shop window, that car passing by, the sound of the radio… Life IS a Cut-Up…”

I mentioned ‘Real Magic’ by Phil Bonewits (which I had just read in the ‘Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult’ cheap paperback edition!), and he acknowledged that it had “some good information” – but he was much more enthusiastic about ‘Magic: An Occult Primer’ by David Conway, which he discussed with the same enthusiasm as Reich’s Orgone Theories, the possible uses of Scientology Auditing techniques and the E-Meter, and his own experiments with Cut-Ups and their extension into film and tape-recorder (including the notorious ‘Playback’, where street-recordings are made, Cut-Up, and then played back – on location – to cause disruption, often accompanied by the taking of photos: Burroughs actually described it to me as “Sorcery”!) – and I realised that he thought of all of them as tools for deprogramming and self-liberation: in some cases, to subvert the methods of the Control Machine and its various agencies, and turn the weapons they would try and use on us back on ‘Control’ itself…’

By way of a PS: During the late 1980s living in London for a while I was in regular contact with Terry Wilson, author of ‘Dreams of Green Base’, ”D’ Train’, and ‘Here To Go: Planet R101’ with Brion Gysin. At the time he was working on what would eventually become the first part of his novel ‘Perilous Passage’, dealing with his time as Brion Gysin’s informal secretary, friend, collaborator, and “apprentice to an apprentice” (Gysin’s words!)

With additional material, the book eventually appeared as ‘Perilous Passage,  The Nervous System and the Universe in Other Words’ back in 2004 by Synergetic Press, but was just reprinted earlier this year (see: )

Here is a brief excerpt from ‘Soul-to-Soul: Matthew Levi Stevens talking to Terry Wilson’, which will be published shortly by WhollyBooks:

Tell me about your new novel, which you’ve almost finished?

Well… I’ve got about a hundred pages of it. Where it will go from here I don’t know, I mean… if it’s the same size as GREEN BASE and ‘D’ TRAIN then there won’t be too much more!

It’s called PERILOUS PASSAGE – I think! – and it’s… well, really ‘D’ TRAIN focused entirely on the relationship between the two people, two heads, and this is a lot wider in scope… I mean it mentions other people, other characters come in who are not mentioned in ‘D’ TRAIN, it generally describes the whole area in which that situation was happening.

There’s a particular emphasis about the time of… the character called ‘Bedaya’, his death… subsequent events. It’s not so internalised, in other words.

‘D’ TRAIN is more to do with the dialogue between two characters whereas PERILOUS PASSAGE is more concerned with the overall picture?

Yes, ‘D’ TRAIN is pretty much a totally elliptical transcription of consciousness, non-linear… as I say, PERILOUS PASSAGE is a little more down-to-earth – maybe! It’s difficult to know, it’s not focussing on those two characters in the same way… much more concerned with Bedaya and all his works.

Do you think of writing as an act of magic?

Well, I think it is.

You are quoted as talking about the Cut-Ups – and writing generally – as a form of exorcism

That simply came from one of my observations in HERE TO GO where I was saying that William’s texts – once they brought the Cut-Ups into the tape-recorder are, cutting up tapes and whatnot – William’s texts increasingly became like spells and very much exhibited a preoccupation with exorcism…

[excerpt from an Interview conducted 28th June 1988]

. .  .    .        .

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