History and Occulture

Biographies, history, and cultural criticism.

The Starry Rubric, by Alexander Cummins

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The Starry Rubric, by Alexander CumminsThe Starry Rubric: Seventeenth-century English Astrology and Magic, by Alexander Cummins
Hadean Press, 9781907881213, 166 pp., 2012

Alexander Cummins is a new name in the field of historical research, but you will hear more of him in the future, I hope. This review is based on an electronic copy of the work, but having seen the quality, appeal and sheer tactile beauty of Hadean’s previous output, buyers of the physical book are in for a treat; the production standards and quality of materials in use are both extremely high. These books are going to be around for centuries, which is pleasing.

Both (some) academics and lay readers might ask “Astrology? A load of old nonsense isn’t it?” Maybe, but it still has a power to influence behaviour and beliefs in the 21st century (for example I bet you can tell me your star sign, without even pausing?) when we are all supposed to be rational scientific thinkers. Imagine the added power, then, of a system that was so all-encompassing, some four centuries ago, before the advent of mass literacy, TV and the internet. Wisely this book does not delve deeply into whether the systems in use ever worked, instead this worthy book concentrates more on the history and social function of how believing that it did work affected how people acted, what they did and believed, and what they thought, and said, and wrote. That is definitely fertile ground for the researcher, and this book plants many seeds in that ground. The harvest is exceptionally interesting, with chapters covering both prophetic and propaganda uses of astrology, and the personal, the societal, the political and the practical implications for those who consulted astrologers in those times (and, indeed by implication, those who do so now). Continue reading


Thoth, by Lesley Jackson

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Thoth, by Lesley JacksonThoth: The History of the Ancient Egyptian God of Wisdom, by Lesley Jackson
Avalonia Books, 9781905297474, 225 pp., 2012

This is a rather unique book in that it does not attempt to be anything other than an attempt to show how Egyptians through the millennia related to Thoth. It isn’t designed to detail the hymns and rituals associated with Thoth, although they do figure into the account. It isn’t about his priesthood or his temples, although they also enter into the account

There are numerous books which relate how the dynastic families of ancient Egypt related to Thoth, but very few which give any indication how commoners saw their interaction with the God of Wisdom in his various functions of scribe, messenger of the gods, protector, and psychopomp . While the average Egyptian might expect that they would never encounter the majority of their gods, Thoth was their guide in the afterlife, and everyone – no matter how high or low their status – would meet him during their transition between life and afterlife. Continue reading


Sun at Midnight, by Geoffrey Ahern

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Sun at Midnight, by Geoffrey AhernSun at Midnight: The Rudolf Steiner Movement and Gnosis in the West, by Geoffrey Ahern
James Clarke and Co., 9780227172933, 279 pp., 2009

Anthroposophy, and its founder Rudolf Steiner, are topics which, like many others I am sure, I have bumped into during my tears of study. This book, a reworking of Dr. Ahern’s PhD work, is one of those areas I wanted to re-examine. Anthroposophy (and Theosophy, from which it split off in the early 2oth century) underlie much of Western esoteric thought and are, if for no other reason, worthy of study.

Anthroposophy – at least in its “pure” form – is extremely Christo-centric, which may present a stumbling block for some. This is not, however, unexpected as its origins date to a time and place (late 19th century Austria/Germany), which was not particularly, with tolerant of non-Christian religious express, with few exceptions. Continue reading


Confessions of a Black Magician, by Nathan Neuharth

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Confessions of a Black Magician, by Nathan NeuharthConfessions of a Black Magician, by Nathan Neuharth
Original Falcon Press, 9781935150794, 191 pp., 2010

Our hero in this tale is the author himself, and as no occultist anywhere ever had but one name, he’s known variously as Nathan Neuharth, Frater Parsifal, and Natas, or Saint Natas.

The book opens with his initiation into the Golden Dawn, introducing a colourful cast of characters in his new fraters and sorors. Neuharth allies himself with Fater Azazel, a brother in the order who shares his affinity for Aleister Crowley and Thelemic magick. His experiments lead him to encounters with angels, and devils too, not to mention aliens and Atlanteans who offer him questionable messages.

Inspired by Jack Parson’s Babalon Working, Neuharth seeks to undertake a similar project he called the Babalon Isis Working. Various incarnations of Babalon appear as she is won, lost, regained and eventually walks out of his life. In the process Neuharth loses his wife, his kids, his job and very possibly his mind. Continue reading


The Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal, by Judith Joyce

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The Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal, by Judith JoyceThe Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal: Abductions, Apparitions, ESP, Synchronicity, and More Unexplained Phenomena from Other Realms, by Judith Joyce
Weiser Books, 9781578634880, 210 pp. (incl. resource guide and index), 2011

Setting out to write a field guide to the paranormal is perhaps the definition of thankless task. There are bound to be quibbles with what one includes or doesn’t, and even terminology is certain to be contentious. Judith Joyce’s bravery is only matched by her handling of competing interpretations within the entries of this field guide, though the overwhelming impression in this particular book is one of editorial bias.

The “field guide” focuses very heavily on Victorian-era Spiritualism and UFOs instead of taking a broader view. With the American study of the paranormal so heavily influenced (and indeed, in the 19th century pretty much exclusively funded by) by Spiritualists, it was perhaps a legitimate choice, though not to my personal taste. In some cases (like the entry on Lily Dale) said emphasis threatens to choke the guide as a whole. A better title might have been “A Field Guide to Spiritualism and UFOs, with Some Other Cool Stuff Slid in Around the Edges.” Continue reading


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