“Before we knew how to farm, before we lived in villages, before we even knew how to make pots, we built a star temple on a hill . . .”
The opening words of ‘The Cathedral Predates The City’, Chapter II of Gordon White’s excellent Star.Ships – subtitled A Prehistory of the Spirits (Bibliothèque Rouge, from Scarlet Imprint, 2016.)
Göbekli Tepe, the incredible site, or collection of sites, which have been unearthed in the South-Eastern Anatolian region of Turkey, seems to be challenging just about all of the comfortably held, longstanding assumptions of orthodoxy about how early Man moved from small bands of nomadic hunter-gatherers to, gradually, a more settled, agrarian way of life – the surplus food-stocks being more reliably produced allowing, in effect, more ‘leisure time’ so that he could then develop the earliest forms of what would become, in time, all those exciting things like Art and Culture and Religion.
Well, think again . . .
10,000 years old – 12,000 years old – just how far back can you go ?
In the centre of each of the 20-or-so roughly circular or ovoid enclosures, surrounded by 10 – or more often 12 [a number of zodiacal significance, surely ?] – shorter pillars, are pairs of what have come to be called ‘T-pillars.’ Anything up to 23 foot high, these narrow, precariously balanced, tall shapes are unanimously considered to be stylised human – or at least humanoid – figures. Some say they are Headless. They all appear to face due South, or at least South-ish. So, are they commemorating a first tribal Chieftain and Consort, God and Goddess, Priest and Priestess – or a distant memory of some Others that lorded it over Neolithic Man, as he came out of the Ice Age ?
Above : the late Klaus Schmidt, archaeologist in charge of the site, welcomes Graham Hancock to Göbekli Tepe. This gives some idea of the scale of the T-pillars. [Photo by Santha Faiia]
The peculiar conundrum of Göbekli Tepe :
Why did the builders bury it ? Changing belief systems, as Gordon White points out in Star.Ships, usually result in people abandoning their temples or churches and letting them fall into ruin. Stonehenge, for instance, and other such Megalithic sites were left, and some have found another use.
At Göbekli Tepe, the entire site was deliberately buried in about 8,200 BC – after thousands of years of continual use – a project of vast proportions, almost as demanding as the construction itself, involving some 300 cubic metres per enclosure.
If this complex of temples reveals the “majesty and sophistication of the hunter-gatherer’s inner landscape” as Gordon White puts it, why not leave it in the open, for subsequent generations to puzzle over?
Who knows what stories are still waiting to be recovered from the Night of Time . . .
For more information concerning Star.Ships by Gordon White, including availability, follow this link for the website of Scarlet Imprint :
Women of Babalon:
A Howling of Women’s Voices
Edited by Mishlen Linden
(Black Moon Publishing, 2015)
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.”
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!
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 lovingly wrapped around a riot grrrl symphony of Cabala, Dee & Kelley, Parsons & Hubbard, and Crowleyan Sex-Magick. 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.”
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.
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!
Women of Babalon is available through Amazon or else direct from:
Like William S. Burroughs’ Subliminal Kid channelling a Scribe of Thoth, for nigh on the last half a century novelist, playwright & poet Paul A. Green has been endlessly cut-shift-tangling the image-glut of the Post-Modern datasphere, looking for clues and reading the runes. His works are comment, distillation, and interpretation of the Post-War Cold War world and On, surfing and sifting the intersections and interference patterns as he scans the late-night shortwave and ham-radio for Broadcasts From Another World as they collide with the Akashic Record, the whole spilling out in a mixture of Comic Books, Saturday Morning matinee picture-shows – newspaper headlines Cut-Up with their own cartoons, spliced with Horror Noir Pulp Sci-Fi and Weird Tales – the whole given a Beat Jazz bongo party Gonzo journalism remix. High Art & Low Art meets Occulture & Under-the-Counter-Culture as Pre-Millennial Tension collides headlong with Post-Millennial Terrorism. The Pan-Daemon-Aeon is HERE & NOW, and whatcha gonna do about it? (Never mind the Ghostbusters, better call Brother Paul . . .)
‘A most valuable addition to the present anthology is the closing AFTERWORDS, in which we get the Author’s own account of his formative years and the origins of the Work here collected. Green’s formative input was suitably esoteric and erudite : educated by Jesuits, but with a timely, under-the-cassock introduction to the Beats, his already nominal Catholicism was permanently derailed by an encounter with existentialism, via Colin Wilson – and, with the image-and-idea-hungry instincts of a born poet, the discovery of Surrealism, the aforementioned Burroughs, and J. G. Ballard. To a large extent, Green’s writing in general and these plays in particular can be seen as an outgrowth or distillation of his own esoteric researches: back in the 1970s interviewing Richard Calder – editor of seminal part-work, Man, Myth & Magic, among other things, prolific popular occult writer Francis X. King, Golden Dawn historian Ellic Howe, EVP expert Peter Banda, and ‘The Outsider’ himself, Colin Wilson. Lurking behind all this, however – like the establishing premise of an H. P. Lovecraft story – was his father’s somewhat unconventional and doubtless unintentional influence : he collected straaange books, including A. E. Waite, Grillot de Givry’sPicture Museum of Sorcery Magic and Alchemy, John Symonds’ biography of Aleister Crowley, The Great Beast, and the works of Montague Summers – with whom Green Senior had actually corresponded as a young man, discussing with that most irregular of clerics contemporary witchcraft and J. K. Huysmans, and commiserating about the rise of Satanism in the modern world . . .
Green’s ‘Greatest Hit’ – and centrepiece of this varied and vivid collection of his plays, most of which were originally written for radio – is undoubtedly BABALON, his imaginative examination of the Life & Work of pioneering rocket-scientist and ardent Thelemite, Jack Parsons (dubbed by one wit “The James Dean of the Occult”) – more specifically his ties to ageing Magus Aleister Crowley, in his heroin-fuelled decline in a Hastings boarding-house, and magickal experiemnts with none other than future founder of the Church of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, the so-called ‘Babalon Working.’ Although the play was passed on by the BBC, it was discovered by Alison Rockbrand and adapted for a successful live performance by her Travesty Theatre group in 2003.
Although there is certainly much else here besides, the works most likely to be of interest to those of an occult or magic(k)al inclination, apart from the aforementioned BABALON, must surely include :
THE RITUAL OF THE STIFLING AIR takes as its starting point the hints in Pauwels & Bergier’s bestselling Morning of the Magicians that Himmler’s SS conducted necromantic ceremonies in the ‘Hall of the Dead’ beneath the North Tower of their Black Camelot, Wewelsberg Castle – a modern myth that has grown to form part of the psychodrama of both Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan and its Left Hand Path successor, the Temple of Set. Taking this as his starting point, Green imagines the ceremony of a neo-Nazi magus, acolyte and clairvoyant, attempting to make contact with the spirit of Der Führer, with predictably appalling consequences.
THE MAGUS OF KLOOK’S KLEEK is a reconstruction of the terminal decline of Sixties R&B legend, Graham Bond, “a big exuberant warlock of a man with a Fu Manchu moustache who played manic Hammond organ and alto sax (sometimes simultaneously) and snag with a voice like burning anthracite.” The music – and era – both of which Green clearly lived through and knew well (in part through his intimate friendship with Bond’s equally tragic keyboard peer, Vincent Crane, whose presence hovers over this and other works by Green like some sort of doomed spirit-guide) are vividly brought to life. Unfortunately, his initial fascination with magic(k) – which had originally led to ground-breaking albums such as Holy Magic and We Put Our Magic On You – mutated into an increasingly unhealthy Crowley fixation [Bond was convinced he was the Beast’s long-lost son] and chronic heroin addiction, which spiralled out of control leading to his tragic death under a tube train, like something out of Night of the Demon.
TELL ME STRANGE THINGS – again, an imaginary reconstruction : this time of the twilight of self-appointed expert on matters supernatural and very irregular self-styled ‘Reverend’ Montague Summers, all based around the tantalising tease that among the papers written during his last days of boarding-house obscurity (ironically so like Crowley, in his way), there might at last have been a ‘tell all’ memoir, a confessional of most probably paederastic pleasures, heretical hoo-hah, and sorcerous shenanigans.
I have written elsewhere that it is among the power of Words to weave Worlds, summon Ghosts, and make them live again. To my mind, Paul A. Green certainly succeeds in conjuring worlds both real and imaginary, and animating their inhabitants so that his Ghosts walk once more upon the stage and have their say. As such, he is undoubtedly a Master of Words, and deserves to be read for it.
[Originally written by Matthew Levi Stevens for Scarlet Imprint, July 2016.]
The Black Alchemist
(ABC Books, Revised Edition 2015)
“The Black Alchemist is a real account of terrifying true events. The nightmare begins when Collins and his friend Bernard G. visit a secluded churchyard on the Sussex Downs of southern England as part of a psychic quest . . . they uncover a stone spearhead, inscribed with magical symbols. Through further investigation they discover it has been concealed as part of a dark occult ritual by a character they dub the Black Alchemist. Collins and Bernard are then thrust into a series of horrifying confrontations as this sinister figure attempts to put a stop to their unwanted interference.
“Then, in the aftermath of Britain’s first hurricane in nearly 300 years, the Black Alchemist initiates the next phase of his great work—the creation of an antichrist, a second Adam, taking the form of an unholy child of unspeakable power. Even though Bernard now wants out of this dangerous affair, Collins convinces him it is something they cannot ignore, setting up a final psychic confrontation on the Sussex Downs.”
Ah, The Black Alchemist – psychic quester Andrew Collins’ self-published account of occult goings-on in South East England in the mid-80s, “a real account of terrifying true events” that clearly caught the imagination of the moment, going on to be a runaway success when the author self-published it in 1988.
Now comes this new edition, in part catching the wave of the anniversary, but also as tribute to the man at the heart of it, the author’s dear friend, psychic Bernard G, who has now passed away. Although Collins is undoubtedly the author, in many ways the book is the story of his friend as much as it is his own – as he writes on his website :
Bernard features in my books as a psychic of unequalled ability, picking up on everything from the nefarious activities of the Black Alchemist to the search for the Egyptian Hall of Records . . . He was what I referred to as a direct information psychic – someone who has the ability to pick up information containing names, dates and places on a regular basis. I had worked with a few such people before, but the accuracy of Bernard’s ability intrigued me from the outset. What is more, Bernard and I shared not only similar interests, but also a passion to uncover the mysteries of the past. We also liked a drink, and a smoke. After meeting at the church, or on the green in front of it, we would always retire over the road to The Griffin pub, where over a pint or two we would discuss our latest research and talk about his latest dreams or visions.
Whilst psychic questing in an East Sussex churchyard in 1985 on the trail of the fabled STAVE OF NIZAR – allegedly an ancient Egyptian artefact brought to England at the time of the Crusades – Andrew Collins and Bernard G instead uncover a stone spearhead covered with magical symbols. Bernard senses that “black magic” has gone on, which literally sickens his stomach. No Egyptian relic is found, but this unexpected discovery sets them off on an investigation which, as the blurb on the back of the book says, “thrusts our two questers into a series of horrifying confrontations as this sinister figure attempts to put a stop to their unwanted interference.” It is as if the exotic nature of their quest brings into their lives an exotic presence all of its own, one they had not bargained for.
The villain-of-the-piece – quickly dubbed “The Black Alchemist” – never really becomes tangible. We never learn his name, we never see his face; he remains a tantalisingly shadowy figure. Information about him is scant, sporadic. A house he may have lived in swims into view in one of Bernard’s visions (or is it a dream? Sometimes the distinction is unclear) – it’s “somewhere on the South coast” (Eastbourne is a possibility) – it’s a bleak cold place, squalid and uncared for as an abandoned squat, serving only as a bolthole and laboratory, a place to work in in private.
The account moves up a gear during the infamous hurricane that struck the South East of England in October 1987. The Black Alchemist now has a female assistant (the “Black Sorceress of Arundel” no less), a priestess or witch with affiliations to the goddess Hekate, apparently. The story opens out and we are introduced, however briefly, to a cast of characters who are all marked by its effects in related ways: during the storm many have strange and troubling dreams and visions about the goddess Kali, or about she-wolves, animals associated with Hekate. With the help of his associates, The Black Alchemist somehow taps into the dark, destructive energies released in the hurricane. He is conducting his operations outside, exerting his will over the environment, working a perversion of the principle of microcosm and macrocosm.
It seems to match the magical currency that also forms a rich part of the story: we hear of Zosimus of Panopolis, gnostic and alchemist, who wrote the oldest known books on the subject, famed Elizabethan magus Dr John Dee and his monad, which the Black Alchemist – Collins writes – is tinkering with, even daring to assert (via psychic contact with Bernard) that “John got it wrong” – and the Graeco-Egyptian Magical Papyri, all three fundamentals of the Western Magical Tradition. And this is where it starts to become apparent that our two psychic questers are somewhat in over their heads. It probably doesn’t matter to most readers; it clearly hasn’t hampered the success of the book.
The unholy connection Bernard feels with the Black Alchemist may best be illustrated by the rather slapdash way he and Andy consider some potentially valuable communications received by psychic means: Zosimos is heard of as “Zozzimozz” – Zosimos had a sister, THEOSEBEIA, although Bernard incorrectly hears “Theosopia.” Impressive for information received psychically, you might say, but when does a ‘near-miss’ become simply a miss? And how far does it matter if historical figures are completely – and negatively – re-interpreted?
In reality, Theosebeia had lost her husband and feared she would spend the rest of her life alone – but Bernard tells Andy this “Theosopia” was of the Dark Side: she symbolised Zosimos’ Shadow.
The real Theosebeia consulted one PAPHNOUTIA, a priestess of Hekate, who was truly skilled in the Occult Arts. Bernard tells Andy she is called “Paphotia, Winder of Snakes”, a crone, like an old woman – a “foul virgin – a sort of opposite to the Virgin Mary” who Theosebeia becomes possessed by, he tells him. To top it all, Bernard has a “sickening nightmare” – a vision of chthonian horror that is positively Lovecraftian – wherein he meets a woman at the mouth of a cave, once again surrounded by eel-like black snakes, whose face he never sees (she’s wearing a black cowled robe), and who is pregnant:
“…she slowly slid her hands over a swollen belly to emphasise that she was pregnant. ‘Soon he comes,’ she rasped with a self-gratifying sense of pleasure.”
This vision of hag-like horror is, Bernard tells Andy, Maria the Jewess.
In fact Maria the Jewess (Latin: Maria Prophetissima) – who appears in the writings of Zosimos, and lived between the first and third centuries AD – was a woman credited with the invention of several kinds of chemical apparatus and has been called “the first true alchemist of the Western world” [Raphael Patai, ‘The Jewish Alchemists: A History and Source Book.’ Princeton University Press, 1995.]
For Bernard – and, by extension, Andy – to interpret this pioneering Jewish female alchemist in this clearly pejorative way is somewhat startling, to say the least.
Despite his apparent gifts (which were not inconsiderable, if Andrew Collins’ account is to be taken at all at face value), Bernard does not come across as someone who has been particularly transformed by his experiences, nor even as someone who wants to be) – and he certainly does not strike us as a candidate for initiation. We would offer the suggestion that in another time, another place, Bernard might have had the makings of a shaman – with all that would have entailed, including the ‘shamanic crisis’ during which the initiate would have to suffer a process of death, transformation and rebirth. On some intuitive level Bernard might have sensed this, and it is part of the reluctance he feels at times. It has no place in his ordinary human life. The startling ease with which he receives his psychic information – as well as the mental and at times even physical discomfort it causes him – are continually undercut by the emphasis that he is just a regular guy, a married man with a family and “a proper job” whose perception of all-things-occult is surprisingly pedestrian and pejorative. There is nothing structured about the information Bernard receives during his ‘remote viewing’ episodes. Still, some of his dreams and visions are terrifying to him, and clearly leave ill effects. You wonder if the sense of dread that threatens to overwhelm Bernard – and at one time almost does, when he is in danger of possession, but for some quick thinking and liberal use of Holy Water on the part of Collins – really stems from the Black Alchemist or Bernard’s own psyche (or even the interaction of the two.) His communications, as the story continues, are more and more filtered through his own increasingly alarmed mind. Rituals are automatically construed as “black magic” before we have any sense as to who performed them or why – a stance that is not once countered or corrected by Collins. Despite having esoterically-informed friends and colleagues to call on like Caroline Wise, Paul Weston, David Rankine, Terence DuQuesne and Chesca Potter – and a passing reference to his own “ritual magic days” – apart from the odd Qabalistic protection visualisation, Collins comes across as surprisingly obtuse where the performance of ceremonial magic is concerned.
Truth be told, real Satanists are probably far too busy getting up to their nefarious jollies in well-appointed – and no doubt private – ritual chambers, and it is only really the deluded or the delinquent who would think there is anything remotely empowering about desecrating a churchyard in the middle of the night. [One only has to think of David Farrant, Sean Manchester and the whole tawdry ‘Highgate Vampire’ fiasco – or, conversely, Charles Walker’s fruitless search for the ‘Friends of Hekate’ in Clapham Woods these past decades.]
Curiously, the only press reaction given is from the New Musical Express – a music-paper rather than an Occult or even New Age journal, of all things – who hail it as “a cult classic.” There is no doubt of the book’s success, but among what audience, exactly? One wonders what the Occult Community made of the whole affair? Although the book contains a startling roll-call of esoterically-informed friends and colleagues – some of whom attest that the whole experience was “quite an initiation” that they still find valuable nearly 30 years later – there seems to be little response outside the circle of those who were directly, personally involved.
As with all Journeys of Initiation – whether under the guise of ‘Psychic Questing’ or OtherWise – maybe it cannot help but be thus, what record as is left behind at best serving as an inspiration or spur for those who come along afterwards . . .
This new, remastered edition of The Black Alchemist is much expanded with various new chapters, and a completely new ending, along with a reprise in the current day showing that the Black Alchemist affair is by no means over.
Each copy of the special edition of The Black Alchemist, limited to just 276 copies, contains a blood-red Monas hieroglyphica stamp on the pre-title page, and the edition number and author signature also in blood-red ink.
It is available from :
Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic
(Golden Hoard Press, 2014)
Firstly, despite what might be inferred from the title, this is not a practical handbook of magic in its own right, and certainly not a replacement for the Papyri Graecae Magicae – indeed, how much you get out of this book will be in direct relation to your familiarity with the source material, and you really will need to read it side-by-side with a copy of Hans Dieter Betz’s The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation for maximum benefit and effect.
We are told in the Acknowledgments at the start of the book that Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic derives from one-third of the University of Newcastle thesis for which Dr. Skinner received his PhD. This – and the fact that the book is not in a limited edition of six hundred and sixty six copies, printed with bat’s blood and bound in toad-skin, or suchlike – should immediately alert us to the fact that this is not another one of those copy-paste would-be ‘grimoires’ but is, in fact, a serious piece of academic work. It is, nonetheless, also a fine volume: a large format hardback of getting on for nearly 400 pages, with a sewn-in red ribbon bookmark, stitched binding, and a handsome dust-jacket [see illustration] – and for the real book fetishists, there was a leather-bound edition of 100 copies, but it is no great surprise to read that this has already Sold Out.
So, what of the contents of the book?
In Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic, Stephen Skinner brings a great deal of clarity to the mysteries of the PGM, which, at first glance – even in the English translation of Betz & co – can appear confused and confusing.
Skinner begins by offering some definitions of just what he means by magic and magician, his assertion being bold and original enough to warrant quoting in full:
By using the term ‘magician’ there is no implied or overt claim for special powers on the part of the practitioner, simply an assertion that the people so designated were practitioners of magical techniques. Just as the terms ‘carpenter’ or ‘priest’ define a trade or a profession, rather than a claim to special skill or special sanctity. (p.14)
He then argues for the consistency and transmission of specific identifiable techniques, nomina magica, and implements – and that the PGM, not some unknown Hebrew antecedents, are the true source of the Solomonic magical tradition, medieval grimoires, and later European magic in general. Also, that despite the corpus being more commonly known as the Greek Magical Papyri, Dr. Skinner is quite emphatic that the roots of the material are in Dynastic Egypt.
What Stephen Skinner puts forward that really helps to open up the PGM is a system of categorisation based on certain key head-words in the original, thereby ordering the material beyond the sometimes haphazard sequencing of the physical texts. Here he does an excellent job of trying to restore the precision and discrimination of the Greek and Demotic, showing that much of the confusion has arisen via the generalities of previous translations: for example, where numerous different and often quite wide-ranging terms for phylacteries or even magical procedures have been simply glossed as “amulet” or “spell.” Instead, Skinner categorises the texts according to common approaches or elements: gods invoked, materials and methods employed, words of power used. There has been a painstaking examination of such names, terms, and words, resulting in numerous tables throughout the book that present indexing and cross-referencing of the material in a clear, easy-to-follow, form.
In addition to a careful examination of the various aspects and constituents of the magic of the Papyri – from angels, daimons and demons, to gods and spirits, incense and inks, perfume, rings and robes, to wands, weapons, and words of power – Dr. Skinner raises numerous points of interest:
- Within the PGM, there is hardly any mention of or allusion to the use of a protective circle, with one or two notable exceptions – phylacteries are more often specified – but we should not conclude from this that the Magician did not habitually use such a powerful and effective protection. Skinner argues that the circle was so well-known that its use was implicit, and gives a close examination of an example (PGM VII. 846-61) – which he says “has a strong Egyptian flavour with no admixture of Greek words or gods, suggesting an early usage” – in support of this.
- The acquisition of a paredros or magical assistant, a modus operandi which has long been part of the professional magician’s repertoire, perhaps comparable to the “witch’s familiar” in the popular imagination. The paredros can range from the angelic to the demonic, and when ‘tamed’, serves as a helper and mediator between the magician and the spirit-world. Skinner inspects its origins and workings, and cites some fascinating examples.
- Judeo-Christianity viewed magic as a genuine threat, so its prohibition prevented the development of an adequate dialogue between magic and religion. There has been a serious misapprehension of the relationship between the two. They are not oppositional, there is no dichotomy between them, and the controversy that has long simmered among scholars (even to the point of being judged ‘unsolvable’) has been caused by a ‘missing third’: the Mystery religions, of which we no longer have the experience. As Skinner says: “they do not exist anymore in any form in any Western culture.” And even historical accounts are very hard to find: by the very private, and largely secret, nature of the rites, initiates would not reveal proceedings, and to have any testimony at all is rare indeed.
- Skinner excavates and then examines three self-contained texts which belong to neither magic nor religion, and supports his conclusion that they are a Mystery rite, or part thereof. They were once separate books, before they were copied into the papyri by the magician who owned them. It is probable that such magicians, particularly if they were Neoplatonically inclined, would themselves have been initiated into the Mysteries. They would have considered their work theurgia, “divine work.” They concerned themselves with “purifying and raising the consciousness of the individual practitioner to the point where they could have direct communion with the gods.” A case in point: the so-called Mithras Liturgy, which Skinner asserts is neither a liturgy nor particularly Mithraic. Instead, he proposes that it is, in fact, part of a Mystery rite, and puts forward some crucial criteria that it answers to be so: for instance, the language indicates it is not meant to be performed in public, but that the occasion is a private one; the range of entities addressed is limited; and, rather than some worldly desire, the primary benefit is immortality requested by a father for his only daughter.
- A straightforward explanation of the code-of-concealment is given that clarifies the true nature of many of the more obscure ingredients and “magic materials” that recur throughout the PGM, with handy tables revealing, for example, that the blood and semen of various gods called for are, in fact, the juice or sap of plants such as dill, house leek, or wild lettuce, or that the testicles of a dog or a fox are actually types of orchid (but apparently “semen of a lion” is actually human semen.)
- We should not be misled by the presence of apparently Jewish and even Christian material: the magicians of the PGM would appeal to any power or include any technique that they thought might work, including calling on the names of foreign gods or even foreign wise men if they were famous for having commanded gods or demons, or worked miracles. Even the relative newcomer, Jesus, was called upon in some of the later material – but this is really just a reflection of the increasing cultural diversity of the world and client-base that the magicians both drew on and sought to serve. Unlike so much of the material that has come down to us on Gnosticism, which is largely pejorative because it was written by orthodox critics condemning the Gnostics as heretics, the material of the PGM was written by practitioners, for
- In the world of the PGM, the magician does not cower before the spiritual beings he conjures, but stands before them with dignity, even if sometimes this amounts to little more than a kind of “dressing to impress” with the magician putting on the trappings of power and authority. The notion of coercing the gods – or even threatening them – is no doubt the origin of the practice of “constraining the spirits” in the later grimoires.
- The chapter on Necromancy (Dealing with the Dead or Divination by the Dead) provides some absorbing insights into its long-standing fascination, surviving from Dynastic Egypt through Classical Greek and Hellenic times, to the Present Day. As Hans Dieter Betz wrote, with the exception of the Mystery Rites, most of what is in the PGM deals with “negotiations in the antechamber of death and the world of the dead. The underworld deities, the demons and the spirits of the dead, are constantly and unscrupulously invoked and exploited as the most important means for achieving the goals of human life on earth.”
Stephen Skinner makes it abundantly clear that the material contained in the Graeco-Egyptian Magical Papyri is not for beginners, that there is little here for the dabbler or dilettante. Likewise, Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic is not a book for the casual reader or the armchair occultist, but for the serious student who is prepared to really engage, get to grips with the material, and work it.
In The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Hans Dieter Betz relates how the German Classical philologist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff remarked “I once heard a well-known scholar complain that these papyri were found because they deprived antiquity of the noble splendor of classicism.” Ironically, Betz neglected to report that Wilamowitz-Moellendorff went on to add: “That they did so is unquestionable, but I am glad for that. I do not want to admire my Greeks but understand them, so that I can judge them fairly.” We would have to agree with him, and insist that time has proved his unnamed colleague wrong. If anything, the spells, hymns and formulae of the PGM, with all their strange and sometimes barbaric beauty, their splendid and unsettling power, provide an invaluable adjunct to our understanding – adding the shade to complement the light, if you like – and furnishing us with a more fully rounded, more truly three-dimensional understanding of the lives and loves, hopes and fears, of the peoples of Antiquity.
In Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic, Stephen Skinner has provided an equally invaluable key to unlock the magic of that world.
Emma Doeve & Matthew Levi Stevens, November 2014.
Stephen Skinner’s Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic is Available Now from The Golden Hoard Press. For more details, please see their website: http://www.goldenhoard.net/