The High Magic of Talismans and Amulets: Tradition and Craft, by Claude Lecouteux
Inner Traditions, 264 pp. (incl. appendices, notes, bibliography, and index), 2014
The first part of The High Magic of Talismans and Amulets goes into the traditions related to amulets and the natural magic thereof, and also examines the tension between established Christianity and the long-standing tradition of magick, especially of the apotropaic (evil averting) sort. One is strongly reminded of the generations of priestly execrations of goddess worship in the Bible, which similarly told us how long the practices persisted, and some details of them which we would not otherwise have had.
The priests inveighing against these charms were particularly intent on discouraging the use of magical characters (alphabetic or sigilic writing that conveys spiritual power). They sometimes waxed poetic: “The demon slithers in the characters like the serpent beneath the flowers.” This ties nicely into his statement that “the unknown always inspires the Church with fear.”
Lecouteux summarizes part of this history thus: “Implicit in the background are notions of natural, licit magic and illicit black magic,” ((p. 30)) after giving one of many examples of a churchman condemning the talismanic art as being an implicit pact with a demon, a pattern which, as he points out, is “commonly repeated throughout the sixteenth century.” What this means to me is that the Faustian current which arose in early modern magick didn’t just appear without help. Apparently, it is as possible to call an egregore into being by constant execration as by constant evocation! Continue reading
The Book of Grimoires: The Secret Grammar of Magic, by Claude Lecouteux
Inner Traditions, 9781620551875, 264 pp., 2002, 2013 (English translation)
To understand a book it’s important to know the purpose for which it was written. Lecouteux states that his aim is to provide a historical account of the use of grimoires, and to synthesize a “universal grimoire” from numerous source texts, but I find this proposal problematic. I’ve read several academic books on grimoires and medieval magick as part of my degree, including collections of original articles or reproductions of sections from various texts. Lecouteux says the book “takes the approach of a guided tour,” and that the material is obscure and complex, so he will explain the material throughout the book in order to make sense of what is provided, and this, I feel, is where things falls apart. Continue reading
The Theban Oracle, by Greg Jenkins, PhD
Weiser Books, 978-1-57863-549-8, 237 pp, (incl. appendix and bibliography), 2014
There are effectively three books within The Theban Oracle: an introduction to what the author calls “Medieval Metaphysics,” including the few references to the Theban alphabet; a method for divination using the alphabet and correspondences created by the author, which requires the reader to make a casting set using the instructions included; and examples of spell-casting with the support of the Theban letters. Continue reading
Magic 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
Chemical Serpents: The Symbols of Illumination, by Anton Channing, illustrations by Janice Duke
When Illuminated Press, 978-1-909279-01-8, 100 pp. (incl. appendix, bibliography), 2013, Silver First Edition
I started falling in love with this book as it came out of the packaging. It’s tight, and has good, heavy cover stock and glossy high-quality pages. The cover art (an interpretation of Baphomet within an ouroboros) is a feast for the eyes and mind. The notebook-sized format, 8.5 x 11″, gives plenty of room for the text and lavish illustrations throughout its 100 pages. The print is done with accent colours, which takes a little acclimatization, rather like one’s first time playing poker with four-colour cards, but then the effect is pleasing.
The plan of the book is Pythagorean, in the sense that it starts with serpent symbolism, including the ouroboros, as the one, moves into egg-and-serpent and other generative symbols for the dyad, then has sections on the trinity, the four elements of the manifest world, then the pentagram, hexagram, and heptagram in the section on the microcosm and macrocosm before synthesizing in the long chapter on world trees, and ending in a Gnostic lecture on illumination. Continue reading