History and Occulture

Biographies, history, and cultural criticism.

Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic, by Stephen Skinner

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Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic, by Stephen SkinnerTechniques of Graeco-Egpytian Magic, by Stephen SkinnerTechniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic, by Stephen Skinner
Golden Hoard Press, 9780738746326, 388 pp. 2014

Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic exhibits a soft spot I have for magick: the academic approach. This Ph.D. paper by Stephen Skinner is the latest of the his many works on the Western esoteric tradition, in addition to many books on feng shui. His clear grasp on the historical data and his academic lens make this paper-turned-book a highly educational though sometimes mundane read. There is no fluff here — just facts, charts, and the occasional historical backtracking. Yet, Skinner’s painstaking translation, organization, and interpretation bring to light many long-standing traditions’ origins in the magick of Late Antiquity. Skinner describes a snapshot in time when magick held reverence as part of a tradition tied to the mystery cults and religions of the day.  Continue reading


Jesus the Magician, by Morton Smith

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Jesus ChristJesus the Magician, by Morton SmithJesus the Magician, by Morton Smith
Hampton Roads Press, 97815747150, 309 pp., 1978, 2014

The historical existence of Jesus has long been debated with varying degrees of bias on any side of the argument. The problem in the quest for the existence of Jesus is not so much if he existed, but who and what he was if he did live: sorcerer, fraud, divinity in flesh, healer, prophet? Unfortunately the sources we have detailing his life are almost exclusively Christian, making harder to sort out the real man due to the fact that Christian sources would want to push a certain image of Jesus, so things might be shifted, added, or deleted from his life.

This is where Morton Smith comes in with this classic book reprinted after more than 35 years, for he attempts to analyze the Biblical and Christian sources, as well as the few non-Christian sources in order to parse out who Jesus was, and how he was understood at the time. Continue reading


The Magiculum, ed. by Todd Landman

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The Magiculum, edited by Todd LandmanThe Magiculum, edited by Todd LandmanThe Magiculum, edited by Todd Landman
EyeCorner Press, 9788792633279, 216 pp., 2014

Editor Todd Landman decided he’d like to create a magiculum vitae, a sort of magical resume, and became interested what such a thing would look like among  those of his friends and associates. Landman invited them to write essays about their experiences, and the only guideline seems to have been three questions: 1) What in your upbringing and formation lead you to magic?, 2) What does magic mean for you?, and 3) In what ways odes magic affect your day-today-living? From there, The Magiculum was born. Continue reading


The Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism, by Patrick Lepetit

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The Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism, by Patrick LepetittThe Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism, by Patrick Lepetitt
The Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism: Origins, Magic, and Secret Societies, by Patrick Lepetitt
Inner Traditions, 9781620551752, 544 pp. (incl. bibliography and notes), 2014

The Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism symbolizes a reuniting of art, science, and mysticism: the head, body, and heart, all working together.

As an artistic movement surrealism seeks to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality” as a revolutionary act. From the outset, the surrealists declared war on rationality, which had allowed for the atrocities of two world wars to take place, causing French novelist Albert Camus to proclaim that “surrealism’s essential enemy is rationalism.” Devoted anarchists, the surrealists felt that “so long as revolutionaries confine themselves to certain specific aspects of social life without attacking the spiritual structure of society directly,” then they were doomed to failure. This caused poet Tristan Tzara to claim that “the love of ghosts, witchcraft, occultism, magic, vice, dream, madness, passions, true or invented folklore, mythology (or even mystification), social or other kinds of utopias, real or imagined journeys, bric-a-brac, marvels, the adventures and mores of primitive peoples and generally everything that did not fit into the rigid frameworks in which beauty had been placed to identify itself with the mind.”

The surrealists were interested in occult and metaphysical currents from the very beginning — as seen with the Vodou-ispired works of Cuban painter Wifredo Lam, or the explicitly Pagan paintings of Leonora Carrington — although often not in so many words, as they “ventured onto the terrain of mediumship stripped of its spiritualist clutter.” In the process the surrealists would become a kind of secret society and take a similar role to that of the Freemasons or Rosicrucians in the Enlightenment, illuminating and updating the age old mysteries with emerging schools of thought like psychoanalysis, quantum physics, and relativity. Continue reading


William Blake’s Sexual Path to Spiritual Vision, by Marsha Keith Schuchard

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William Blake's Sexual Path to Spiritual Vision, by Marsha Keith Schuchard

William Blake's Sexual Path to Spiritual Vision, by Marsha Keith Schuchard

William Blake’s Sexual Path to Spiritual Vision, by Marsha Keith Schuchard
Inner Traditions, 9781594772115, 398 pp., 2008

Reading William Blake one cannot help but realize this is a man who is both religious and spiritually active, especially his poems known as the prophecies. The question is what was the nature of his spiritual life? What inspired Blake to create works that are both heavily Christian and at the same time antagonistic to many Christian ideals? The surprising answer is laid out as Schuchard leads us back into the complex religious web of mystical Christianity of the 17th and 18th century.

No clear, singular document exists that explains Blake’s religious life and upbringing, so Schuchard researched and wrote this text as a “reconstruction of the lost religious history of the family of William Blake.” This area is rarely investigated, and considering how bizarre and complicated a picture Schuchard paints it’s not surprising that “sensible academic critics have cautiously refrained from taking the plunge” into this counter-religious culture. Continue reading


Magic Without Mirrors, by David Conway

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Magic WIthout Mirrors, by David ConwayMagic Without Mirrors, by David ConwayMagic Without Mirrors: The Making of a Magician, by David Conway
Logios, 9781463761724,336 pp., 2011

For a large number of individuals of a certain age, Magic: An Occult Primer was the introduction to the world of magick. At the time there wasn’t a whole lot of information about the author available. In the intervening years The Magic of Herbs and Secret Wisdom: The Occult Universe Explored were also produced by the same author, but without (to my knowledge) as much acceptance and fanfare.

This book is essentially Conway’s autobiography. It is filled with amusing anecdotes and enlightening background information. It also contains snippets of magickal information as well, though that is not its primary purpose. Continue reading


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