Grimoires: A History of Magic Books, by Owen Davies
Oxford University Press, 978-0-19-959004-9, 380 pp., 2009
I need to acknowledge right now that I am not a ceremonial magician, but then again, this book is written for people like me. This is not a compilation of grimoires, nor is it a distillation of those books. It is a broad overview of magick books and books about magick (which are not necessarily the same thing). There is a fairly thorough discussion of the suppression of magick books, which makes it abundantly clear that, although most of us think in terms of the Christian church’s efforts in this respect, Christianity was a “Johnny come lately” to that game. There had been suppressions long before the beginning of the Common Era.
This type of book often falls into one of two categories. It is either heavily influenced by pop culture, or it is full of erudite, academic attitudes which leave you grabbing your dictionary as you read. This book walks the middle ground quite nicely. It answers questions with easily understood words, and saves the inevitable citations for the end of the book.
One thing which modern readers often forget when reading about the grimoires of the past is that simply because two (or more) books had the same name did not mean they had they same content, especially in a time when the books in circulation were manuscripts, as opposed to printed volumes. Religious scholars has this brought home to them with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library where there were numerous books with identical names and widely varying contents. Grimoires were, generally, perceived as having more power if they were handwritten (magicians would make handwritten copies of books which they had in their library to impart more power to them). What this means is that even those grimoires which have survived in printed form may only be one version of numerous ones which circulated during the Renaissance and later periods. Continue reading
There are some books that are required reading for the dedicated student, and this list represents my top five books dedicated to chaos magick – books that defined chaos magick as a distinct field of study and practice.
1. Liber Null & Psychonaut: An Introduction to Chaos Magic, by Peter Carroll
Liber Null, first published in the late 1970s by Ray Sherwin, is the handbook for the Illuminates of Thanteros, the first group dedicated to chaos magick. The IOT was conceived of as a new kind of order based on meritocracy, and Liber Null serves as an introductory text to what was then a new approach to magickal practice.
New Falcon published Liber Null and Psychonaut together in 1987. Psychonaut expands upon themes raised in Liber Null, and contains the much maligned pseudo-scientific approach to catastrophe theory, but it does have its moments, defining and reframing magickal theories for a new generation of occultists. Continue reading
[T]here [is] a type of occultist who believes that it doesn’t matter what you do in magic that “intention is everything”. I am a strong believer in the phrase “the path to hell is paved with good intentions” and think these types of occultists are more dangerous to the experimental magician because everyone thinks that they hold similar, sloppy views.
These occultists often call themselves chaos magicians or repeat Aleister Crowley’s much misunderstood phrase “Do what you will be the whole of the Law,” [sic] as if it gives them a wholesale license to bunk off from doing any work.
— Nick Farrell, “Experimentation as Magical Path”
I’m reading Magick on the Edge, ambitiously subtitled “An Anthology of Experimental Occultism.” The above quote appears in the first essay, which is otherwise quite good at making a decent case for “experimental” magick. (Though isn’t all magick experimental? Isn’t that the point of doing the Work?)
In the context of the essay, Farrell is snidely suggesting that chaos magickians (or magicians, if you prefer) practice magick with no understanding or interest in the theory behind it, cheerily believing that as long as you want “it”, “it” will happen. I hear this expressed online on occasion, but I’m surprised to read such a misguided sentiment expressed so blatantly in print.
“Intent” forms a central part of any magickal working – chaote and otherwise – for without purpose, what’s the point? And I’ll fess up, in chaos magick, the intentions aren’t always “good” in the Wiccan (or even Golden Dawn) sense of the term, but with the experienced practitioner they are never sloppy. Continue reading
There are some books that are required reading for the serious tarot enthusiast, and this list represents my top five foundational books on tarot – books that will provide a solid historical, symbolic and esoteric foundation for any student.
1. Dogme et rituel de la haute magie (available in English as Transcendental Magic), by Éliphas Lévi (Alphonse-Louis Constant)
First published in 1855 as Dogme et rituel de la haute magie, it became a foundational text for the French occult revival. It was translated into English by Arthur Edward Waite in 1896 as Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual and gained wider recognition among English-speaking occultists on both sides of the Atlantic.
Dogma et rituel became the first occult text to weave elemental, alchemical, astrological and planetary theory with kabbalah, the tarot and ceremonial magick, synthesizing the first wholly integrated system of magick. It served and continues to serve as the basis for much symbolism found in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Ordo Templi Orientis, and various contemporary mystery schools. While lacking in historical accuracy, and allowing for many liberties taken with its symbolic integrity, Dogma et rituel remains an important historical work for this reason. Continue reading
Confessions 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