The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin The Mage: the 100th post on Nocturnal Revelries

the book of sacred magic of abramelin the mageThe Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage – Abraham of Würzburg (Translated by S.L. MacGregor Mathers)
Dover – 1975

Wow, 100 posts! I don’t think I realized how much work I was going to put into reviewing dumb books when I started. This blog now contains more words than most of the books that have appeared on it. To celebrate this momentous achievement, I’m going to briefly review the Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, a curious grimoire of angelic magic. I first heard of it in the BBC documentary about Aleister Crowley’s house by Loch Ness, and I remember soon thereafter watching a video of Robert Anton Wilson discussing how he had attempted to perform part of the Abramelin ritual while tripping on acid, but it wasn’t until I heard the name of the text being mentioned in Ghoulies, one of the finest motion pictures ever made, that I knew that I needed a copy for my library. This book of spells purports to have been written in 1458, but the oldest surviving copies date from 1608. Many grimoires claim to be far older than they really are as that makes them seem more mysterious, but if this text was written in 1608, you’d imagine that the author would have set it back more than 150 years. Regardless of its authenticity, this is a rather interesting read.

I don’t want to spend too much time going into the plot details as there are plenty of summaries of this book to be found online, but the idea here is that in 1458, an old man named Abraham wanted to give his younger son, Lamech, a present. He had already let his eldest son in on his knowledge of Kaballah, so he decided to initiate Lamech into the secrets of Sacred Magic instead. He himself had come across these secrets from a hermit named Abramelin. We never find out much about Abramelin, but his magical secrets had supposedly made their way to him from the lads in the Old Testament.

There are three books within this book. The first of which gives Abraham’s account of how he came by this magic, and the second book gives the instructions for a 6 or 18 month ritual that one must go through in order to use the spells that make up Book 3. The lengthy ritual puts the magician into contact with his guardian angel. (I use the masculine pronoun purposefully here; women aren’t really supposed to practice this magic.) The guardian angel then grants the magician the power to control demons. This makes for a weird form of whitened-black magic. The practitioner is commanding legions of evil spirits to do his bidding, but he is doing so under the guidance of a good spirit. The standard how-to-turn-invisible/tell-the-future/get-money spells are all here, but it is presumed that the magus will only utilize these abilities for the good of all humanity.  Abraham strongly advises that this system of magic never be used for evil purposes, but he nevertheless includes instructions on how to cast spells upon Men, to bewitch beasts, to cast spells upon the liver, heart, head and other parts of the body, to demolish buildings, to ruin possessions, to excite emnity in general, to excite quarrels and fights, and to cause a general war.

Each spell comes in the form of a magical square. These look a bit like wordsearches, and each one must be used in a certain way. You generally have to make a copy of the square, rub it on your bum or keep it in your hat for a few days and then plant it close to the thing you want to bewitch.

spell square abramelin
The Spell Square to “make work done in inaccessible places”

It’s pretty hard to imagine anyone being in the position to give up 6 months of their life to perform the ritual as described in Book 2. The ritual must also be performed in a very specific type of building, so unless you’re a millionaire, you’re probably not going to have the opportunity to get this done. Aleister Crowley tried in 1901, but he didn’t get to finish it. The fact that he didn’t finish the ritual meant that the demons he evoked were never banished and were left free to haunt the house where he had evoked them. (Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page bought the house in 1970, but it has since burned down.) The book is fairly clear that its instructions must be followed very carefully, and I doubt many people have had both the determination and the means to actually go through with it. A few of those who have claimed to complete the ritual have published the diaries that they kept throughout. I would imagine these accounts are very boring indeed.

The Mathers version of the Book of Abramelin, the text that I read, was translated from an incomplete, already translated version of the original text. The manuscript that Mathers translated is of a later date than the copies that have since been discovered, and it only contained 3 books while the earlier German versions contain 4. The missing book is about the Kaballah though, so I’m actually pretty relieved that I didn’t have to waste my time reading it. The other big differences between the texts are that Mathers got some of the ingredients for one of the potions wrong, his version of the ritual is 6 rather than 18 months long, and his versions of the magic squares are missing some letters.

Unlike many grimoires, the Book of Abramelin is actually a fairly entertaining read. The narrative of the first book reads like a novella, and the unique bad-angels-working-for-good-angels-working-for-the-magician-working-for-God concept makes the magical instruction fairly interesting too. George Dehn and Steven Guth put out a translation of one of the older manuscripts, but unless you were seriously considering performing the ritual herein described, I wouldn’t bother shelling out the extra money. The Mathers translation may not the most authentic version of this book of spells, but it still includes all of the bits I’d be interested in. That being said, if I ever come across a cheap copy of the newer translation, I’d probably take a look.

If you want a far more in depth look at Abramelin’s magic, check out this blog.

The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin The Mage: the 100th post on Nocturnal Revelries

Mr. Crowley, what went on in your head?

I’ve written about Aleister Crowley’s books before, but of the texts I reviewed, one was a novel and the other a translation. I thought it high time to look at some of Crowley’s mystical texts, the ones in which he propounds his deepest insights into magick, humanity and existence. To start, I decided to look at what is perhaps his best known work, the Book of the Law.

Just to get this out in the open right away: I’m not an expert on Crowley, and this is mostly an opinion piece. If you are a dedicated Thelemite and you feel frustrated/offended by anything in this post, please leave a comment and explain to me where I have erred. I would genuinely be interested in your insight.
liber al
The text of the Book of the Law or Liber AL vel Legis (hereafter to be referred to as AL) was supposedly revealed to Aleister Crowley by a guardian angel styled spirit named Aiwass in 1904. The work is rather short (about 20 pages), but it provides the foundation for the religion of Thelema. Much of Aleister Crowley’s subsequent literary output either references this text or serves as a commentary on it. While not an expert by any means, I’ve been mildly interested in Aleister Crowley for a few years, and I’ve had an idea of the importance of this book to his followers ever since I read about it after buying my first Fields of the Nephilim cd. I decided to buy a copy of AL a few years ago, but then I found out that the text was included in its entirety in Crowley’s Liber ABA, Book 4, Magick, a much larger and more expensive book that, for some reason I have since forgotten, I was determined to own. I thus decided that I would wait until I owned a copy of Book 4 before reading the Book of the Law. In the meantime, I found myself in possession of a book called Portable Darkness. This is a collection of assorted writings by Crowley that also includes the text of the Book of Law, but it doesn’t contain the infamous Comment section. I hate abridgments and so decided not to read AL until I owned the complete text. Eventually I found an affordable copy of Book 4, but when I opened it up and realized that it was largely about yoga, I felt desperately ashamed of myself and put it on the shelf to collect dust for few years.

 

I decided to read AL a few months ago, but I wanted to do a bit of research on it beforehand to ensure a decent level of understanding. I read essays about it in Portable Darkness and DisInformation’s Book of Lies and on countless websites. I listened to youtube clips of Robert Anton Wilson’s ramblings on Crowley, and I even read the wikipedia pages of the Egyptian deities that I knew were going to be alluded to in the Book of the Law. I felt fairly prepared by the time I opened the book.

Jesus Christ lads, what a pile of muck.

Honestly, I don’t even know where to start with this garbage. I’ve long understood that Aleister Crowley was both full of shit and had his head up his arse, and I wasn’t really surprised that he had the audacity to present this hogwash as divine revelation, but I was a little taken aback by extent to which he has gotten away with it. I could break the text down and analyze it piece by piece, but it doesn’t merit doing that. With the amount of time and effort it would take to squeeze any form of meaningful interpretation out of this barrel of masturbatory vomit, a person could doubtlessly resolve several of their real life problems. Thelemites, I have deduced, are just religious hipsters. Their religion is far more obscure than yours; I mean, you’ve probably never even heard of it, and you almost definitely wouldn’t get it if you did. Other tortuous religious texts have the excuse that they were written thousands of years ago by individuals living in societies that were vastly different our own. The Book of the Law, on the other hand, was written by a smackhead British toff that wanted to make himself sound mysterious and smart so that he could get girls (and a few fellas) to sleep with him. If you’ve been thinking about reading this piece of trash, take my advice: spend that time updating your CV and applying for a new job instead.

do what thou wiltNow, if you are ever lucky enough to be in my apartment, you might notice the above sign. Why would a person who has such disdain for Crowley’s masterpiece place its credo above his front door? Well, the phrase ‘Do what thou wilt’ and the word ‘Thelema’ actually come from one of my favourite books, the novel Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais. In this long and lurid tale, the Abbey of Thélème is basically a monastery, led by the licentious Friar John (pictured above), where the only rule that the brothers must follow is ‘Do what thou wilt’. This phrase was later adopted as a motto for the Hellfire Clubs. Interestingly enough, it’s also word-for-word the advice given by Mephistopheles to Faustus after he has turned the good Doctor invisible inside the chambers of the pope in the 7th scene of Marlowe’s tragedy (A-text).

crowley book of lies
I also read The Book of Lies. This book is probably slightly more self indulgent than the Book of the Law, but it’s made a little more palatable by the fact that it comes across as being more aware of its own absurdity. (I’m not saying that Crowley wasn’t aware of how obnoxious the Book of the Law seems; he might well have written it just to wind people up.) The Book of Lies, or to give it its full title, The Book of Lies,Which is also Falsely Called BREAKS. The Wanderings or Falsifications of the One Thought of Frater Perdurabo, which Thought is itself Untrue. Liber CCCXXXIII [Book 333], is broken up into 91 little passages that can be read as poems, jokes, philosophical aphorisms, nuggets of advice, magickal instructions and/or riddles. Each passage comes with a commentary from Aleister that’s supposed to explain it. Most of this book is absolute rubbish, but there were a few bits that made me think.

The 80th passage starts off:

“The price of existence is eternal warfare.
Speaking as an Irishman, I prefer to say: The price
of eternal warfare is existence.
And melancholy as existence is, the price is well
worth paying.
Is there is a Government? then I’m agin it! To Hell
with the bloody English!”

A self-professed Irishman? Wasn’t he born and raised in England? Crowley’s attitude towards Ireland was a little strange. He once wrote a rather curious poem to Saint Patrick, requesting that the saint come back to again rid the country of snakes (an apt metaphor for the brits). Within the O.T.O. Crowley obtained the title of Supreme and Holy King of Ireland, Iona and all the Britains within the Sanctuary of the Gnosis, and two years later, in 1914, he went to New York and tried to convince people that he  was there to raise support for Irish independence. His attempts to do so included writing a declaration of independence for the Irish Republic. As with much of what he did, it is very hard to tell how sincere he was being, but he definitely seems to have been on the right side of the argument. The above chapter is a little cringey, but I like the idea of existence being the downside of chaos.
aleister crowley IRA
There’s another interesting bit in the commentary for chapter 46 where Aleister says,

“The lesson of the chapter is thus always to rise
hungry from a meal, always to violate one’s own nature.
Keep on acquiring a taste for what is naturally
repugnant; this is an unfailing source of pleasure”

There’s something wonderfully Sadean about this notion, and although seemingly paradoxical, it’s remarkably accurate. Humans get bored very easily, and we love doing what we shouldn’t. Hardcore pornography, death metal, super spicy food and ultraviolent films might seem rather unpleasant the first time they are encountered, but they all have the potential to become ‘unfailing sources of pleasure’. However, while I think that Crowley’s observation on the insatiability of human nature is interesting, I’m not sure that I agree with his advice. While our tendency may be to intensify our pleasures, I think it might be dangerous to make the intensification the goal. I’m not preaching humility here; I just reckon that there comes a point in most human endeavors where enough is enough.

There were a few other bits and pieces in here that made me think, but it probably wasn’t really worth reading the whole thing to find them. The most rewarding part of the book was probably when I finally got the Psalm 69 joke that Ministry used on their ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ album. I’ve listened to that record a thousand times, and I have often wondered what the ‘the way to succeed and the way to suck eggs’ line meant. After reading the commentary here, I felt a bit silly for not getting it sooner. I guess I just never thought that Al Jourgensen would be smart enough to use puns. Chapter 88 (Gold Bricks) is pretty funny too. I’ll leave you to find it for yourself.

There you have it. Aleister Crowley led a very interesting life, but his books are shit. His magical writings serve as little more than ‘how to be Harry Potter’ instruction manuals for grown-ups who want to play make-believe (or is it believe-make?) In fairness to Crowley, I don’t think either the Book of the Law or the Book of Lies are aimed at beginners, but if understanding these works is the what reading his other books will allow me to do, I’ll probably not be bothering.

Mr. Crowley, what went on in your head?

Disinformation’s Book of Lies

img_20170119_170708 Book of Lies – Richard Metzger (Editor)
Disinformation – 2003
I can’t quite remember what put this book on my radar, but it was on my goodreads to-read list for a few years before I picked up a copy. Unabashedly taking its name from one of Aleister Crowley‘s books, this is a collection essays on Magick and the Occult, all written by modern authors. (Actually, I recently found a copy of Crowley’s Book of Lies at a library booksale for a cool 75 cents, so you can expect a review of that at some stage in the future.) The format (and choice of contributors) of this book reminded me a bit of the super edgy Apocalypse Culture series (although, in fairness, this book contains less paedophilia). I’ve been making my way through it since December, and although I have not read every single essay herein, I doubt I will get much further.

The book is divided into 8 sections, each dealing with a different aspect of occultism:

Section 1 is about the actual practice of Magick. Even though I had heard it during his infamous speech at DisinfoCon, I enjoyed Grant Morrison’s explanation of sigil charging through masturbation, I struggled through Mark Pesce’s piece, and I gave up about two paragraphs into Genesis P Orridge’s pile of rubbishy nonsense. Joe Coleman, the artist who did the covers for the Apocalypse Culture books, wrote a fairly cringeworthy prose poem on the magickalness of his own art. I barely even looked at the other essays in this section. All together, this part really sucked. The kind of magick being discussed here isn’t completely loopy stuff; it’s really just other forms of self motivation. If this kind of thing works for you, and I totally understand that it could, that’s awesome, but it isn’t for me.

Section 2 is about “Chemognosis”. I’m not a drug user, and I have no interest in ‘getting high’, so I skipped this section completely.

Section 3 is about magickal icons. There are several essays on Austin Osman Spare, Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs. I once heard a poem by Brion Gysin that was so irritating that I decided to skip the essays about him. I don’t really care for Spare either, but I may come back to the essays on him if he ever catches my interest. I read Burroughs’ first 3 novels in my early twenties, and I used to think he was really cool because he had collaborated with Kurt Cobain, U2 and Ministry. (Coincidentally, I only recently realized that Ministry’s Psalm 69 song and album were allusions to Aleister Crowley’s Book of Lies.) That being said, William Burroughs was definitely full of shit, and I don’t really care about his forays into magick. There was another essay in here on Lovecraft’s influence on occultism, but it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know already. This section ends with excerpts from two books. I don’t like excerpts, so I skipped them.

Section 4 is mostly about Aleister Crowley. The essays focusing on him were extremely boring. Donald Tyson’s essay on John Dee and the Enochian apocalypse was entertaining enough, but I can’t really remember what it was about and I’m only after reading it last week. Richard Metzger’s essay on Jack Parsons wasn’t horrible, but Jack’s wikipedia page is currently more informative.

Section 5 is titled Scarlet Women. There are three essays here, one on Marjorie Cameron, one on Ida Craddock, and one on Rosaleen Norton. They were ok. In a book that is 350 pages long, only 22 pages are about women. Out of the 40 essays in this book, one was written by a woman and three were written by Genesis P Orridge. I have seen this book being criticized for its very white guy perspective on occultism and magick, and while I certainly don’t want to read about sacred femininity and that kind of nonsense, I’d have to say this is a fair criticism.

Section 6, the section on secret societies, was probably my favourite. Twyman’s article on Hitler and the occult put me on the trail of a few interesting books, and P.R. Koenig’s accusations that the Ordo Templis Orientalis are a gang on spermchuggers was rather amusing. It pains me to admit it, but Boyd Rice’s very silly essay connecting Enoch’s Watchers, the Holy Grail, Dagon, Jesus Christ and Ea, Lord of the Depths is probably the best part of the entire book. The last essay in this section is rather long and it explains why wicca might not be as legitimate as some people think. I have never taken wicca seriously, so I didn’t care to finish that one.

Section 7 is quite short and not particularly interesting. It includes an interview with an aged Anton LaVey and an introductory essay about rock music’s links to the occult.

The final section is awful. There’s a big, boring, section on Julius Evola, the esoteric fascist. There are also 3 essays by Peter Lamborn Wilson/Hakim Bey. Wilson/Bey, for those of you who don’t know, is a rotten paedophile. He freely admits to and writes about wanting to have sex with children. I didn’t read what he had to say, and I really wish that he hadn’t been included in here. I am very glad that I bought a second hand copy of this book and thus avoided giving the publishers any money. Fuck that. Put that paedo in the oven. This section ends with a super cringy essay on “The Secret of the Gothic God of Darkness“. We’re dealing with seriously edgy stuff here.

Overall, Book of Lies was a bit disappointing. Some of the essays are on very interesting ideas, but in most cases, they barely scratch the surface. Then again, I bought my copy cheap, and it gave me the names of a few books that I will be checking out in the future. If you see a copy for less than a tenner and you want a nice book to leave beside the toilet, you could do worse than this.

Disinformation’s Book of Lies

The Books of the Beast – Timothy D’Arch Smith

beastCrucible – 1987
This book popped up in my suggestions from Goodreads a few years ago, but it wasn’t until I came across a quote from it that claimed that Montague Summers had attended Black Masses that I decided to buy it.

It’s a rather interesting collection of essays about different books, their authors and their publishers. The first and longest essay is about Aleister Crowley and his predilections for certain colour combinations and kinds of paper. That might sound a little boring, but I assure you it’s a very entertaining read. Not only is it quite funny at times, it is also astoundingly well researched and documented.

Timothy D’Arch Smith didn’t know Aleister Crowley or Montague Summers personally, but he did know people that knew them. He was also a dealer of rare books for a very long time, and it is rather apparent that he’s an expert in the field. (He’s still alive; I don’t know if he’s still working.) The level of detail in here is genuinely exciting, not only because the subject matter is interesting but also because the author has apparently been able to devote his life to tracking down and examining and reading rare books about magic and sex. DEADLY.

Yes, that’s right; not all of the essays in here are about magic. One is about the collection of dirty books in the British Library and another is about Ralph Chubb, a gay paedophile. It turns out that T.D.S. is also an expert on the Uranian (bent ref) poets. Apparently there was a bunch of poets in the early 1900s who had had enough of keeping their desire to bum youngfellas to themselves. Ralph Chubb was really into it. Smith’s essay is very interesting, and I wanted to read some of Chubb’s poems to see what he was talking about, but I felt a bit wary looking them up on Google.

It is suggested herein (and elsewhere) that Montague Summers, a name my readers should be familiar with at this stage, might well have indulged in a few Uranian fantasies himself. This book also suggests that he attended Black Masses. Monty you scoundrel! In his own books, Summers violently condemns such activities, but it is here suggested that he was a practicing occultist in his youth. Smith believes that Summers was sincere in his admonitions against the Black Arts, but I’m halfway through Vampires and Vampirism at the moment, and I’m really finding it tough to believe that Summers was as credulous as he makes himself out to be. Then again, maybe he witnessed something genuinely diabolical at a Black Mass and set out to warn the world of the dangers of the powers of Hell. (Smith also wrote an entire book on Summers that I hope some day to obtain.)

There’s some other bits and pieces in here too. There’s an essay on Florence Farr (a member of the Golden Dawn who shagged both Yeats and Shaw) and an autobiographical piece. Both are interesting and worth the read. There is also a short essay on Francis Barrett, author of The Magus, an influential book of magic; however, from what I have seen online, modern editions of Smith’s book have replaced this essay with another chapter on Crowley. This seems a pity as I really enjoyed the piece on Barrett. (If anyone reading this review has a copy of the newer edition, I would be happy to scan the section on Barrett in return for a scan on the newer part on Crowley. Leave a comment or email me.)

The cover of my edition is super lame, and the page numbers on the contents page are wrong (I don’t know if it’s a numerological joke or a mistake), but all in all, this book was great; it’s short, funny and insightful. I read it in a day, but I feel that I’ll probably consult it again. Timothy D’Arch Smith seems like a real cool guy.

The Books of the Beast – Timothy D’Arch Smith

Books of Black Magic

20160803_210246 The Book of Ceremonial Magic – Arthur Edward Waite
Bell – 1969 (First published in 1898 as The Book of Black Magic and Pacts)
Imagine, if you will, a man who takes it upon himself to read a bunch of cooky books on black magic and then proceeds to write about how utterly silly they are and how stupid the people who believe in them must be…  Sounds like a real cool guy, right? I’m referring, of course, to Mr. Arthur Edward Waite. Waite, famous for creating the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, is the author of this rather interesting book on grimoires, spirits, ceremonial magic and infernal necromancy.

Waite’s writing style can be painfully long-winded and academic, and nowhere is this as apparent as the headache-inducing introduction to this work. I don’t have a fucking clue what it’s about, and I would recommend that you skip it. Aleister Crowley, who is going to pop up a few times in this post, had a personal dislike for Waite and modeled Arthwait, one of the characters in Moonchild, on him. In chapter 12 of that novel, Crowley says; “Arthwait was naturally slow of thought and speech; it took him some time to warm up to real eloquence; and then he became so long-winded, and lost himself so completely in his words and phrases, that he would speak for many hours without conveying a single idea of any kind to his hearers, or even having one to convey.” Keep in mind too that Crowley himself was pretty bad for talking absolute shite.

 

Some of the minor illustrations within.

That being said, if you manage to slog through the intro, there’s lots of juicy stuff in here. The first half of the book gives the backstories to the most infamous grimoires. Waite breaks them down into three categories: books of transcendental magic – the least bad kind of magic, composite rituals – slightly sketchy magic, and black magic rituals – the purely diabolical. He goes into a satisfying amount of detail on the supposed origins of each text while also supplying his own opinions about their likely dates and places of origin.

The second part of Waite’s book, the Complete Grimoire, is basically all the good bits of the different texts that are discussed in the first half. It lists all the necessary precautions and steps you’ll need to take if you plan on summoning a demon to do your bidding.

20160803_210738Is this image over used? Waite and I agree that it’s not.

Waite’s overall stance is that Black Magic is really dumb and that these books are all forgeries for idiots. You’d wonder why he bothered writing a book about something that he had such disdain for. (If you’re a long term reader of my blog, you’ll remember that I said almost the exact same thing about his translation of Eliphas Levi’s book, Transcendental Magic.) He seems to have enjoyed making fun of gobshite occultists.  Good lad, Waite.

I simultaneously read this along with some of the grimoires that it’s about, and hence the second half seemed quite repetitive to me. The scope of this book is broad enough that it could serve as an introduction to the topic, but the writing is probably a bit too dense for casual readers. You can always check it out online to see if it’s what you want before buying a copy. Personally, I really enjoyed reading it.

 

20160803_210305The Goetia – Translated by Samuel Liddell Macgregor Mathers, edited by Aleister Crowley, and supposedly written by King Solomon.
Weiser – 1995
This edition was first published in 1904.
Original edition of the Lemegeton compiled mid 17th century.
Text purports to be from 10th century BC.

The Key of Solomon, perhaps the most famous grimoire, is supposedly a set of magic spells left by King Solomon. The Lesser Key of Solomon, or the Lemegeton, is its dirty sequel. (Although sequel might not be the correct word here. It’s more like when a band releases a collection of crap songs and covers that weren’t good enough to make it onto their last album; the Lemegeton is the Reload of Solomonic grimoires.) The Goetia is the first of four (or five, depending on who you ask) sections of the Lesser Key. It was translated by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Matthews, head of the Golden Dawn, and published by his protégé, Aleister Crowley, although by the time this was published, Mathers and Crowley were no longer friends. It has the usual crap about drawing fancy triangles on the floor and all of that nonsense, but most interestingly, it contains the names and details of 72 demons (most of which come from Weyer’s Pseudomonarchia Daemonum). This edition also includes several of Louis Le Breton’s drawings that originally appeared in the second edition of Collin De Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal.

20160803_211006One of Louis Le Breton’s drawings of a demon, accompanied by Crowley’s version.

This is mildly entertaining to flick through, but the most interesting parts are included in Waite’s book. If you have Waite’s book, this book will only be interesting if you’re a big Crowley fan. The physical book is quite nice, as Weiser editions usually are, and it contains some introductory essays by and about Mr. Crowley. In my opinion, the best parts of this text are the pictures that Crowley drew of the demons:

 

Notice any patterns?


20160803_210327
The Grand Grimoire: Being a Sourcebook of Magical Incidents and Diabolical Pacts
Compiled by Darcy Kuntz
Supposedly written by Antonio Venitiana del Rabina and King Solomon.
Holmes Publishing – 2008
Source material exists from 1521, 1522, and 1421.
Text purports to be from 10th century BC.

Now, this is it; the boldest and most infamous of all grimoires. Like the Goetia, the Grand Grimoire has its roots in Solomonic ceremonial magic. The first half gives instructions on how to summon Lucifuge Rofocale, Satan’s right-hand man, and the second half is about how to summon other demons.

20160803_210901 Lucifer and his entourage don’t really come across as super scary in this one.

I bought this book a long time ago, but the first few times I picked it up to read through it, I became confused by the introduction. The title of the edition I bought is “The Grand Grimoire. Being a Source Book of Magical Incidents and Diabolical Pacts“. There’s no blurb on the back, and there is very little information about this edition online. All of these factors led me to think that it might actually be a book about the book that I wanted to read.  I sent a message to Darcy Kuntz, the editor, on Goodreads, but he never responded to me. However, after looking through it and doing a bit of research, I have figured out that this is a version of the Grand Grimoire and not just a book about that text.

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The bulk of this edition is a word for word transcription of the edition of the Grand Grimoire that our friend, A.E. Waite, published in the June 15, 1895 edition of his magazine, the Unknown World. (How fucking awesome is it that those scans are online?!? The Grand Grimoire starts on the 35th page of the pdf.) Kuntz’s book also includes some passages taken from Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magic. The confusing introduction of this edition of the Grand Grimoire is a mash-up of the introduction in Waite’s magazine and some other sources. Entire phrases are lifted from the entry on the Grand Grimoire in Lewis Spence’s Encylopedia of Occultism, to which no references are given. Tut-tut, Mr Kuntz. Your name says it all! Plagiarism aside, I just wish the introduction had been a little clearer about how the book had been compiled. Then again, maybe the organisation was deliberately awkward to give off a more genuine grimoire experience. Summoning Belzebuth just wouldn’t be the same if the instructions you were following  were organized in a coherent order!

There are other parts in Latin or Italian that Kuntz claims were taken from a source titled “Le Grand Grimoire“, but he doesn’t elaborate on what this source was or how it differs from Waite’s translation. I have found a pdf of a more complete translation than Waite’s. This version includes an English translation of the Sanctum Regnum section, although the Citatio Praedictorum Spiritum section remains in Latin in both the pdf and Kuntz’s edition. The pdf version also includes a third section which is made up of other “magic secrets”, including the method of raising the dead that Eliphas Levi alluded to in the chapter on Necromancy in his Rituals of Transcendental Magic. (LET THE DEAD RISE FROM THEIR TOMBS!) What’s interesting about the inclusion of this ritual is the fact that Waite actually claims that Levi made it up. In chapter IX of the Complete Grimoire, he claims that this ritual “must be given on the authority of Lévi; for no available editions of the work which is in question, nor yet of the Red Dragon, nor indeed any ritual of my acquaintance, contains it. There is reasonable probability that he invented it to make out his case at the moment.” I know that the pdf version is definitely worded differently to Kuntz’s version, so either it is a different translation or it was based on another manuscript of the grimoire. If it was based on another text, maybe that text is the one that Levi had read. Then again, maybe somebody read Levi and decided to add his bit onto the end because they thought it was cool; I certainly did. This is the problem with pdf versions; you don’t really know how genuine they are. (It’s bit sad when you contemplate that you’ve spent hours of your life researching the authenticity of an online edition of a translation of a forgery.)

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This is the lad who shows up if you perform the ritual of the Black Hen correctly.

Other things to note regarding the compilation of the pdf version:
One of the spells, “The Secret of the Black Hen”, was mentioned in Waite’s book, wherein he suggests that it was a late addition to the Red Dragon (another name for the Grand Grimoire).  The pdf also includes several spells from the Grimorium Verum, including instructions on “HOW TO CAUSE THE APPEARANCE OF THREE LADIES OR THREE GENTLEMEN IN ONE’S ROOM AFTER SUPPER”. There’s also another short section on commonly held superstitions that ends with the statement, “I have related these beliefs to amuse our readers but not to obligate the readers to believe all of them because they are mostly nonsense”. This pdf edition seems to be a compilation of different bits and pieces from a variety of grimoires and books about grimoires. It’s still pretty cool though; some of the spells at the end are grizzlier (and often far sillier/funnier) than the first two parts of the “authentic” text.

If you know anything about the compilation of the different versions of the Grand Grimoire, please leave a comment below or email me.

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I have other grimoires in my collection, both books and pdfs, and I’ll doubtlessly get around to them at some stage. I suppose I’ve talked more about the actual books and what they’re composed of than the efficacy of what’s actually written within. It’s hard to imagine somebody reading through these texts and trying to carry out the rituals, but I’m sure that attempts have been made. I think that the tasks described in these books, although ludicrously tedious and difficult, are less likely to prevent somebody from attempting the rituals than is the fundamental problem of Black Ceremonial Magic addressed by Waite: these rituals require the sorcerer to supplicate God to give them control over evil demons in order that they may perform evil deeds. Why would an all-knowing, fundamentally good, God grant such a request? Also, in the grander rituals in which one of the rulers of Hell is evoked, the instructions given allow the sorcerer to essentially trick the demon into doing his/her bidding. These are not instructions on how to make a Faustian pact; it is expected that the sorcerer will get away without paying for the demon’s services. How many times would the demons fall for this kind of trickery before they cop on? Personally, I wouldn’t fuck about with a demon. It’s only polite to pay for what you’re given.

Books of Black Magic

Witchcraft (Its Power in the World Today) – William Seabrook

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Willie Seabrook was an explorer, cannibal, black magician, bondage freak and journalist. This is his book on Witchcraft, and it’s fucking wonderful. The book deals with Seabrook’s personal experiences with witchcraft, and while a lot of it is fairly unbelievable, it is deadly craic. It’s a bit like reading a Dennis Wheatley novel told in the first person. I put this on my to-buy list after reading about it in Cavendish’s Black Arts, but after seeing it referred to in my favourite section of the Illuminatus! trilogy, I knew I had to get my hands on it. The  Illuminatus authors have Seabrook playing a part in a conspiracy involving Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen, Aleister Crowley, Robert W. Chambers, J.K. Huysmans, and H.P. Lovecraft. (Expect a post on Bierce soon; I reckon I’ll get around to Chambers before Christmas.) It is implied that the Illuminati murdered Seabrook over what he published in this book and made his death look like a suicide.
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(p. 296, Illuminatus! Trilogy)
After reading this, I had to own a copy of Seabrook’s book. It’s not super rare, but it took me a while to track down a copy for what I considered a reasonable price. My edition has a fairly boring cover, but the edges are coloured an interesting purple.
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Beyond the Mauve Zone?

So there’s three parts to the book. Each part is comprised of short accounts of different things that Seabrook witnessed. The first part is on Doll magic, and it’s probably my favourite. There’s one particular story about a deceitful white explorer in Africa that I absolutely loved. A lad cheats a tribe out of money and soon thereafter goes missing. Seabrook was mates with the lads in the tribe, and one day, one of the boys asks if he wants to see something interesting. Guessing that it has something to do with the disappearance, Willie warns him that if its the missing white man, he’ll be obliged to tell the police. The native laughs this off and brings Seabrook into the jungle and shows him something good. It’s the rotting corpse of another native, strung up to a tree. The ropes binding it to the branches are digging into the flesh of the corpse’s bloating neck, and things are starting to ooze. The corpse is wearing the clothes of the missing explorer, and if Seabrook was to have gotten up close, he would have seen clippings of the missing explorer’s hair stuck onto the head of the corpse.

The missing explorer was found dead a few days later after having died of a constricted windpipe. Black magic had caused what had happened to the corpse to also happen to the victim.
Fuck yes. That is the good stuff.

The second part of the book is on Werewolves and Vampires, and the third is on general occulty stuff. It tells of Seabrook’s friendship with Aleister Crowley.  This book is the origin of that famous story of Crowley walking behind a man, mimicking his gait, and consequently being able to make him collapse without touching or speaking to him. There’s also a part in here about Seabrook’s relationship with Upton Sinclair, author of Oil!, the most boring book I have ever read.

The book ends with a few chapters about kinky psychic-bondage experiments that Seabrook performed with his lover. He had a special gimp mask made for his partners that was basically designed to maximise sensory deprivation. He’d make his girlfriend Justine wear this mask, then tie her up by the wrists until she started hallucinating. They hoped these hallucinations would tell the future. The following images are not from the book, but they are extremely relevant. (They’re from an article about Seabrook from a 1942 edition of Click Magazine.)
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One of Willie’s babes. Looks like he knew how to pick them.

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He was a man that knew what he liked, God bless him.

Overall, this book is delicious. The stories might seem unbelievable, but that hardly matters. They’re entertaining. Plus, the author maintains that he doesn’t believe in magic the whole way through the book, and his incredulity is charming. Seabrook comes across as  a remarkably interesting, and I am definitely going to keep my eye out for his other books. There were a few times in this one when he would write something quite rude, and it would take me a while to figure out if he was being bold or not. At one stage, I believe he refers to a woman’s vagina as a pickle-jar, but maybe he meant something completely different.  Like other similar books, this contains references to other texts that I am going to have to try to get my hands on. Unfortunately, some of the books mentioned herein are fairly rare, and any copies I can find are extremely expensive. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to wait till I’m rich. Until then, I’ll leave you with some awesome pictures that I found after hunting down a reference from this book. On page 20, Seabrook mentions an article from a 1939 edition of Life magazine about Ozark superstitions. Finding the full thing online really made me happy that we live in the internet era. (Full article here)
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This is why I do this blog. DEADLY!

Witchcraft (Its Power in the World Today) – William Seabrook

Did Aleister Crowley Create Strange Lifeforms?

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It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally gotten around to writing a post about Aleister Crowley. It’s hard to know what to believe about the man; some see him as a prophet, while many others see him as a charlatan. In this post I discuss three different portrayals of Crowley. The three accounts come from novels, but the authors of these novels actually knew Crowley in real life. Their accounts are therefore infinitely more reliable than the many biographies written by people who never met him. I’ll start off with Crowley’s own novel.

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Moonchild – Aleister Crowley
Weiser – 1996

He may have been many things, but a good novelist, Aleister Crowley was not. This book is about a team of magicians who force a woman to undergo a ritual pregnancy to create a “moonchild” (Don’t ask what that is. I’ve read the book, and I don’t fucking know.). Another team of evil magicians, the Black Lodge, tries its best to stop this from happening. The premise is promising, but the plot reads as if it was made up as the book was being written; it starts off decently, but by the end it feels like Crowley has gotten bored with his own story and wants to be done with it as soon as possible. The ending is so unsatisfying that it makes the rest of the book feel like a waste of time. (Imagine getting halfway through Jaws and witnessing the characters giving up and saying “Fuck it. Let’s just move to Colorado where there’s no sharks.”) Also, the mix of fiction and mystical philosophy is tolerable at first, but unless you’re a fedora-wearing goth, it will get very boring very quickly.

All of the black magicians are based on people who Crowley disliked in real life. Edwin Arthwait is Arthur Edward Waite, the lean Protestant-Irishman named Gates is W.B. Yeats, and S.R.M.D is Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers. (All of these lads were Crowley’s former Golden Dawn buddies.) Cyril Grey and Simon Iff are a Stephen Dedalus/Leopold Bloom tag-team version of Crowley himself. The fact that the author put two versions of himself into his book might give you an idea of his inflated sense of self-importance.

There were two parts of this book that I really liked. The first is when a lad called Balloch calls a lad called Akbar a “piece of dirt”. The second is a depiction of a grisly necromantic ritual. I won’t ruin it for you, but it involves a lot of animal blood and the corpse of William Butler Yeats. The book is actually worth reading for that particular scene alone.

This is a novel, but I’m sure that some of it was based on personal experiences. The characters representing Crowley are the good guys, and their magic is limited to a little astral projection here and there, but Crowley himself could well have been privy to depraved rituals similar to those of the Black Lodge. From what I understand about the man, he revelled in the air of mystery that surrounded him, and this book serves to propagate that air.

I bought this book ages ago, and I was fairly disappointed when I got around to reading it. The plot is shit, the characters are annoying, and ultimately it serves as little more than an ego wank. Overall, it provides the least interesting account of Crowley out of these three books.

 

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The Magician – W. Somerset Maugham
Penguin – 1967

What a relief it was to read this book after slogging through Moonchild! This is a fast-paced, gothic thriller about an evil magician who does his best to fuck up the relationship between a young couple. He uses black magic to take control of the girl, and he forms despicable plans to use her in an unspeakable experiment. Maugham wrote this novel early in his career and later claimed to have completely forgotten about it. It’s not supposed to be his greatest work, but I fucking loved it. It’s genuinely exciting, it doesn’t shy away from violence, and it doesn’t get bogged down in tedious mysticism. The ending is fucking glorious too; I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who might read it, but holy shit, there are freaks in the attic!

So why am I including this book in this post? Well, the evil magician, one Oliver Haddo, is based on Aleister Crowley. In an introductory note, Maugham describes how he met Crowley in Paris and took an instant dislike to him. He claims that Crowley served as a model for Haddo, but that Haddo is not supposed to be a portrait of Crowley.

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This is the back cover of my copy of The Magician. Note that the magician is mistakenly referred to as Richard Haddo instead of Oliver. Oh Drat!

So what’s Oliver Haddo like? Well, one point that is made perfectly clear is that he is a plus-sized gentleman. References to his girth are made whenever he appears; indeed, the subtext of this entire novel reads “Aleister Crowley is a fatty-fatty-boombalatty”. What I found more interesting though, were the similarities between Haddo and Crowley’s own depiction of himself in Moonchild. In both books he is described as having a peculiar glare and the ability to enter or exit a room without notice. He is also depicted as being a very difficult man to read; he seems in both books to have a very odd, yet intriguing manner about him. Maugham claims that he was simultaneously interested, amused and repulsed by Crowley in real life.

Haddo’s most sinister plan is to use the blood of a virgin to create homunculi (little goblin people that are made through magic). Could the real Crowley have been so fiendish? Well, homunculi are also discussed at length in Moonchild. Crowley there puts forth a theory of reincarnation in which souls compete for human bodies. Every incarnated soul will have three forces acting on it: the soul itself, heredity and its environment. Souls should therefore look for bodies whose heredity and environments come with as few restrictions as possible. (By their nature, homunculi have no heredity and would therefore be freer than other bodies.) The aim of the magicians in Moonchild is to magically induce a scenario where a powerful soul will be convinced to enter the body of their ritual baby. This baby was conceived in the normal way and so can only be considered a homunculus in a very loose sense of the word. Conversely, Haddo’s creations in The Magician are homunculi in the very literal sense of the world. The unholy, fabricated mutants are probably the most fantastic element of Maugham’s story, but the real Crowley clearly had come across the idea in his own practice. Is it possible that he attempted to create life out of nothing? I see no reason to believe that he wouldn’t have tried to do so; it’s not like the guy was renowned for his ethical integrity.

Anyways, so transparent was Maugham’s use of Crowley as a model for Haddo that Crowley actually wrote a review of The Magician for Vanity Fair. He even signed the article as Oliver Haddo. His main criticism was that Maugham had plagiarized much of the material in his book. (Note that one of the sources he recognized as plagiarized was a passage on the creation of homunculi from Franz Hartmann’s book about Paracelcus!) This would be a fair complaint if The Magician was an essay, but the plagiarism doesn’t make the novel any less entertaining. Also, I probably wouldn’t have discovered this wonderful novel if it weren’t for the plagiarism herein. Crowley’s response to the novel and his further comments on Maugham are quite interesting; he gets a little bitchy at him, but he’s never really nasty. From the little I know about the man, I reckon he gained enormous pleasure from the fact that somebody had written a book about him, regardless of the content.

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Arrow – 1966

I read this book a year and a half ago, and as I remember, it’s the story of an evil priest called Canon Copely-Syle who is trying to get control of a girl to use her in his attempt to create a homunculus. The girl in question is a quiet, well-behaved young woman during the day, but at night, a satanic influence causes her to become a brazen little jezebel. This is a Dennis Wheatley novel, and so the victim is obviously saved by a team of upper-class Brits who have both served in the military and somehow amassed a wide knowledge of the occult. It’s also full of the casual racism and weird demons appearing out clouds of smoke that I have learned to expect in a Wheatley novel. This is total trash, but it is the exact kind of trash that I adore. My goodreads review for this book simply reads; “I can’t say this is one of the best books that I have read, but I can certainly say it’s one of my favourites. A damn fine novel.” There is a film that was loosely based on it too. It’s not nearly as good as the film version of The Devil Rides Out, but it’s definitely worth a watch.

It’s interesting coming back to this book after having read The Magician. When I started reading The Magician, I kept thinking to myself that it was like a more stylish  version of a Dennis Wheatley novel. Once I got a bit into it, I realized that it is pretty much exactly that. Wheatley draws heavily from The Magican for the plot of To the Devil a Daughter. He does it in a pretty cool way though. The girl in The Magician slowly goes from good to bad, but the girl in this one alternates between the two every 12 hours. And if Oliver Haddo is supposed to be an over-the-top version of Crowley, then Canon Copely-Syle is the same thing pushed 1 step further. There’s even a cool scene in this novel where the Canon discusses Crowley. He initially refers to him as a charlatan, but he is told a story that leads him to accept that Crowley had reached the magical degree of Ipsissimus.

I have another book about Crowley called Portable Darkness. I bought it because it was cheap and it features a foreword by Robert Anton Wilson. The foreword begins: “Everyone knows the sinister story of how Aleister Crowley and his son, MacAleister, went one dark night into a hotel room in Paris and howled within a magic triangle the nameless names that invoked the Devil. The results, we are told, were eldritch and abominable, as the late great H.P. Lovecraft would say.  MacAleister  was found dead of a heart attack.” (I have read other versions of this story in which the son’s head was either torn off or turned 180 degrees around by the demon.) Wilson notes that this story, which is accepted as true by many occultists, has its basis in the story told to the Canon in To The Devil A Daughter. Wilson therefore dismisses it as entirely fictional. Wheatley however, did not consider the story to be fictional at all. In his non-fiction work, The Devil And All His Works, he tells how he was quite fond of Crowley and how he would often have him over for dinner. This book was published 18 years after To The Devil A Daughter, and in it he also recounts the aforementioned story of the disastrous summoning ritual. Regardless of whether that story is true or not, you could say that it has been accepted into the official Crowley “Canon”. Hahaha, get it?

I have alluded to fact that I would not have discovered Maugham’s novel were it not for his plagiarism. It would be more accurate to say that I would not have discovered Maugham’s novel were it not for Wheatley’s plagiarism of Maugham’s plagiarism. There is a passage in Wheatley’s novel that discusses the succesful attempts of Count Von Küffstein and Abbé Geloni to create homunculi. Wheatley knew his stuff, and when I read this passage, I decided to try to find out whether it was based on anything or if it was directly from Wheatley’s imagination. When I looked up those names, I came across an almost identical passage from Maugham’s book. That passaged mentioned a mysterious text called Die Sphinx as a source. I looked that up, but I couldn’t find anything so I presumed that Maugham had made it up. I put The Magician on my to-read list and didn’t think much else of it. After I had read The Magician, I looked at Crowley’s review of it and noticed that the passage from Maugham’s book that mentions Count Von Küffstein and Die Sphinx was supposedly taken directly out of Franz Hartmann’s book on the Life of Paracelcus. Crowley also alludes to the improbability of Maugham having made his own translation of Die Sphinx, and that made me reconsider the existence of such a text. Well, I found a pdf copy of Hartmann’s book on the alchemist, and it mentions the publisher and other details of Die Sphinx. It is real afterall! It’s a bizarre masonic handbook by a guy named Emil Besetzny, and it contains an entire chapter on the lives of the Homunculi. After an intensive google search, I actually managed to track down a copy of the original work. Unfortunately, my German is extremely poor, and I can’t understand much of it at all. Here is a pdf copy of the chapter that deals with the homunculi. Anyone want to translate it?

Wheatley’s first hand account of the catastrophic experiments of Crowley suggest that he was willing to delve into the diabolical. Also, the fact that Crowley knew of Die Sphinx supports the idea that he might have tried to create his own homunculi. These facts, along with Maugham’s fictional accusations and his own willingness to discuss the topic, suggest that it is almost certain that Aleister Crowley attempted to create unhallowed bastard lifeforms. The only question remaining is whether or not he succeeded…

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I gave it a go myself; these boys are coming along nicely!

 

 

 

 

Did Aleister Crowley Create Strange Lifeforms?