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
World of Dust, by Joel Biroco
Coronzon Press, 185 pp., 2013
Joel Biroco’s now classic essay, “Go underground and be a chaos magician,” was revolutionary to my teenage occultnik self. It was fierce and angry and punk as fuck. The Exorcist of Revolution, the book that it was taken from, has been labelled as “juvenilia,” and probably rightly so, but I was a juvenile, and that ferocious urgency resonated deep within.
That essay was my introduction to Biroco. After devouring it, and everything else I could find online, I spent a small fortune collecting back issues of Kaos, the influential chaos magick magazine he edited, and any chapbooks I could scrounge up on eBay. It an was instructive period.
Biroco’s work has always been powerful, but World of Dust haunts: Continue reading
Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore, by Melusine Draco
O Books, 9781846944260, 159 pp., 2012
The majority of books I encounter on the subject of witchcraft and Wicca fall into one of two categories: they are written for rural witches, or for urban witches, as though those are the only two options. If you believe the stories of how things were in the “bad old days,” witches were seldom found in either of those two settings. They were most often found in the transitional (or “liminal”) areas – the last house in the village just before you entered the countryside, or the first house after such a point. They weren’t living in the wilds, but they weren’t comfortable in the daily to-do of the village centre either.
This book addresses another transitional space: the seashore. Continue reading
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