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POPULAR OCCULTURE
Reviews


Editor's note: This will be a regular feature in Silver Star Journal. Any and all readers are encouraged to submit reviews that they feel pertain to the magickal community. Send submissions to:
aion@psychicsophia.com


All reviews by Shade Oroboros-
 

“Shower of Stars” Dream & Book: the Initiatic Dream in Sufism and Taoism by Peter Lamborn Wilson, Autonomedia 1996, illustrated, 1996, 183 pages.

 A remarkable study of the links between intentional dreaming and prophetic text, wandering from ancient Sumeria to modern hoodoo, through hemp-inspired Taoism, qabala and angel magick, Siberian shamanism and afro-caribbean spiritualist cults, and countless other dimensions. Ultimately it offers us techniques of veridical dreaming, of conscious exploration and initiation beyond the fabled Gates of Horn & Ivory. The author is an authority on alternative history and esoteric Sufism, and is perhaps better known as Hakim Bey, whose earlier work T.A.Z. (Temporary Autonomous Zone) I carried around like Chairman Mao’s little red book when I first discovered it.
 

Trance from magic to technology by Dennis R. Wier, Trans Media Inc. 1996, 182 pages.

 A very serious attempt to review the strange history of altered states, mind control and hypnosis; and to distill a practical theory of trance and how to create it, a theory of the mind itself. This is what happens when a systems analyst studies psychology, practices magick, and passes his insights along. We all exist in various levels of trance: habit or concentration or distraction, obsession or addiction or television, fundamentalism or yoga or shamanic ecstasy, on up to the great illusion of Mahamaya that is existence itself. A mage must master the tigers of the mind, and this book opens doors for both the academic and the esoteric explorer.
 

Becoming Magick: New & Revised Magicks for the New Aeon by David Rankine, Mandrake Press 2004, 196 pages.

 The ongoing insights of a thoughtful magician, featuring some quite unique extrapolations and revolutionary techniques. There are new methods of sigilization and insights into both traditional and radical qabala, including a very original gematria based on prime numbers and new magical number squares (kameas) created for the three outer planets. There are circular mantra chanting and mudra techniques, personal Kala and energy workings, rites for Maat, tables of numbers and correspondences, and even some useful recipes. I really enjoyed reading this book, it is always pleasing to discover the creative art of one who is clearly of my own tribe.
 

PERDURABO: The Life of Aleister Crowley by Richard Kaczynski, Ph.D. New Falcon 2002, 555 pages.

 You know a biography is serious when it has footnotes, index, bibliography and no pictures. This has pretty much instantaneously become the definitive work on the life and times of the Great Beast 666, a carefully documented and exhaustively researched account delivered with honesty, style, sympathy and clarity, sometimes day by day. If you like Crowley, if you study Crowley, you will find this invaluable: years of dedicated work by a gentleman who had access to virtually everything out there published or unpublished, some generous assistance of many others in the Thelemic community, and the understanding of magick that is essential to the understanding of the man.
 

The Unknown God: W.T. Smith and the Thelemites by Martin P. Starr, Teitan Press 2003, 416 pages, illustrated.

 Another wonderful work of occult biography, the first to extensively explore Crowley’s earliest American followers including Wilfred Talbot Smith and a who’s who of Thelema: Charles Stansfeld Jones (Frater Achad), Jack Parsons, C.F. Russell, Jane Wolfe, Louis Culling, Grady McMurtry and others. These were the first contemporary Thelemites, and their magickal, lurid, hysterical and instructive saga is brilliantly told in this handsomely produced volume. Smith had a long and complex esoteric career, and the author draws upon all of his carefully archived papers and interviews with those who knew him. The insights into Crowley’s travails in attempting to control an Order in California by remote control are endlessly amusing. Mr. Starr, who has for many years published deluxe volumes of Crowleyan rarities, is truly one of our resident scholars.
 

The Infernal Texts: Nox & Liber Koth, edited by Stephen Sennitt, New Falcon 2004, illustrated, 119 pages.

 Hardcore Lovecraftian, Chaotic and Satanic occultism: 22 infernal texts contributed by many sinister luminaries including Phil Hine, Anton Long, Peter Smith, Nikolas Schreck, and Stephen Sennitt himself, drawn from dark sects of the 23 Current including the Order of Nine Angles, the Esoteric Order of Dagon, and the Werewolf Order. This is blackest magick in the purely technical sense, the real thing. Collected from some long unavailable but still influential small-press British publications.
 

Demons of the Flesh: The Complete Guide to Left Hand Path Sex Magic by Nikolas Schreck & Zeena Schreck, Creation Books 2002, 398 pages, illustrated.

 Probably the best available study of sexual magick ancient and modern, divided into eastern, western, and practical sections. From the tantric and gnostic beginnings on up through recorded time to Crowley, Grant, Spare and the Temple of Set, an immense amount of unusual history, technique and art is collected and discussed with intelligence and a bit of an attitude, including the implications of modern sexology and the practices of algolagnia. Includes some unique art and an extensive bibliography.
There is really nothing else in the field quite on this scale, although the top previous efforts are probably Secrets of the German Sex Magicians (recently retitled!) by Frater U.D., Sexual Alchemy by Donald Tyson, and Modern Sex Magick by Donald Michael Kraig & others, all published by Llewellyn.
 

Mysteries of the Temple of Set: Inner Teachings of the Left Hand Path by Don Webb, Runa-Raven Press 2004, 95 pages.

 One of the most explicit descriptions yet of this secretive order, this is largely a collection of annual internal communiqués from Mr. Webb, whose rather rational view of magick I always find useful and resonant. While not quite as remarkable as his previous works (see my reviews in Silver Star vol. 2) it is always worth examining his writing if your inclinations lean toward the Left Hand Path. The Temple of Set has remained active for decades now, passing through several changes in leadership, which has always been the true acid test for survival in traditionally contentious underground magical orders.
 

The New Encyclopedia of the Occult by John Michael Greer, Llewellyn 2003, 555 pages.

 An extensive comprehensive and up-to-date reference book of magick and mythology, alchemy and symbolism, history and practice. The author is a well-known authority on both the early history of hermetics and works of geomancy, and also on mainstream (post-Golden Dawn style) Lodge-work, including his excellent qabalistic treatises Paths of Wisdom and Circles of Power among others.
 

Mystical Origins of the Tarot: From Ancient Roots to Modern Usage by Paul Huson, Destiny Books 2004, 335 pages, illustrated.

 The modern Wiccan Revival had three parents: Uncle Gerald (Gardner), Aunt Doreen (Valiente), and Cousin Paul (Huson). His classics are Mastering Witchcraft (which sure changed my life when I was 13!), Mastering Herbalism, and the first real Pagan work on the Tarot, The Devil’s Picturebook.
 Mr. Huson is a lifelong scholar of the Tarot, and his latest work is among the best accounts ever of its true beginnings, ranging from the origin of playing cards in Persia through their western evolution in the medieval and renaissance periods and on up to the later esoteric interpretations that continue to this day.  A beautifully illustrated and clear examination of the layers of symbolism that have accumulated in this essential system of charting the magical universe.
 

The H.P. Lovecraft Tarot, art by Daryl Hutchinson, manual by Eric C. Friedman, Mythos Books LLC 2002, 78 card deck, 80 page booklet.

 Portrayed in a sepia-toned and flowing variety of styles, the sinister realm of the Cthulhu Mythos is revealed in an extremely effective visual manifestation. The major arcana depict the gods or entities of Lovecraft’s hideous visions, while the four suits are Men, Tomes, Artifacts and Sites. There is far too much bad Lovecraftian fan-boy art out there; this is truly Dark Art. My sincere compliments to the artist!
 

The Victoria Regina Tarot, deck by Sarah Ovenall, text by Georg Patterson & Sarah Ovenall, 78 card deck, 269 page book, Llewellyn 2002.

 A rather clever black & white deck, collaged from woodcuts and steel engravings of the Victorian Era, when the sun would never set on British Imperialism. The court cards portray members of the royal family, while the four suits are fountain pens for Wands, guns for Swords, pocket watches for Coins, and mason jars for Cups. Quite fun!
 

Dictionary of Ancient Deities by Patricia Turner and Charles Russell Coulter, Oxford University Press 2000, 597 pages.

 This is a massive multicultural and absolutely great reference work, crammed with over 10,000 entries documenting every known divine being in human history. If you research mythology in any way, this is the place to find gods you cannot find anywhere else, or discover new aspects of the gods you know. Names of the gods are keys to their power and essence, formulas to make contact. Through much of history magick has been bedeviled by imaginary sources, corrupted lore and fake history. One of the many advantages of the modern age is finally having access to accurate information.
 

The Rotting Goddess: The Origin of the Witch in Classical Antiquity’s Demonization of Fertility Religion by Jacob Rabinowitz, Autonomedia 1998, 153 pages, illustrated.

 A vital and utterly fascinating book, which completely illuminated my own understanding of the evolution of the witch archetype out of the ancient goddess Hekate, beginning largely as a figure in the dramas of classical literature, and later degraded by the well-known genocidal excesses of christian hysteria. A lucid study of all the sources, woven into a brilliant theory of the deep roots of all later witchcraft. The author’s work has been compared in significance with that of Margaret Murray and Carlo Ginzburg.
 

Witchcraft and the Book of Shadows by Gerald B. Gardner, edited and compiled by A.R. Naylor with an introduction by Kate West. I-H-O Books 2004, 295 pages.

 The Gardnerian Book of Shadows is the Ur-text of the Wiccan explosion, long held as a deep dark secret, believed to by created by medieval witches, the ancient Celts, or possibly Neanderthal Man.
It was in fact largely the work of Gerald B. Gardner, the ‘father of modern witchcraft’, and this is the definitive record of its evolution, a series of carefully annotated texts that reveal how this remarkable movement began. Very few religions in history have ever experienced such rapid growth, and the influence of Wicca and the return of the Goddess have had an enormous impact on both popular culture and countless lives including my own. To finally have access to an understanding of this secretive history can only deepen our appreciation of the Craft, and of the ingenious man who rediscovered and reignited the primordial and archetypical power of an elder faith that survived the Burning Times in an extremely battered condition, but has now spread worldwide as a valid alternative to the Black Dharmas of the oppressive monotheisms which afflict our spinning globe to this day.
The Goddess is Alive, and Magick is Afoot!
 

Taking Up The Runes by Diana L. Paxson, Weiser Books 2005, illustrated, 415 pages.

 A long-awaited tome from one of the leading lights of the Norse revival. Diana L. Paxon is well known to many as a prolific author of fine historical fantasies, including the Wodan’s Children trilogy and her current continuation of the Mists of Avalon series begun by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Yet to some she is also well respected for her work with the Ring of Troth and the Hrafner kindred, which has revived the ancient oracular practice of seid-working.
 This is a major work arising from years of study, a series of practicing runic workshops, and the contributions of many others in the Nine Worlds of Norse retro-heathenism. It collects an immense amount of both academic scholarship and traditional and modern lore, and weaves it all together into a complete course of initiation into the runic cosmos of divination and sorcery. One of the elements that distinguished the revival of Asatru is the reliance on genuine history and surviving texts, as opposed to the all too frequent Wiccan tendency to just make up happy fantasies about the Celts. This is a substantial and comprehensive work of Old Norse secrets, revealed in the New World. Very highly recommended indeed!
 The other reliable pagan writers in the field include Edred Thorsson, Freya Aswynn, Kveldulf Gundarsson, Nigel Pennick, Jan Fries, and many academic sources. Avoid New Age fluff at all costs! And read the Eddas as soon as possible.
 

Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic: Ecstasy and Neo-Shamanism in North European Paganism by Jenny Blain, Routledge 2002, 185 pages.

 Another shining example of what has been best in the recent magical revival of Norse heathenism: high-quality scholarship in anthropology and the history of religions now meets actual practice in a contemporary setting. Undoubtedly the best available study of the known history and possible practice of a truly European form of ancient shamanism, the oracular and occasionally gender-bending seers or ‘seidkonas’ of the Viking world. The author raises a remarkable range of issues with both intelligence and empathy, showing the vast possibilities that academia can offer genuine occultism.
 

Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals and Beliefs by John Lindow, Oxford University Press 2001, 365 pages, illustrated.

 More state of the art scholarship, a clear and concise survey of the rich otherworld of Scandinavian myth. In between a cogent introduction to their culture and the nature of time as they understood it, and a final guide to resources both in print and on-line, there is a comprehensive dictionary of the Deities, Themes and Concepts that is essential to the beginner and expert alike. An absolutely marvelous and completely readable reference book.
 

Temple of the Cosmos: The Ancient Egyptian Experience of the Sacred by Jeremy Naydler, 310 pages, Inner Traditions 1996, index, illustrated.

 A most excellent and thorough introduction to the history, thought, mythology and magick of Egypt by yet another academic with genuine empathy and an openness to this high pagan culture whose philosophy influenced much of the ancient, and hence our own, world. Gives an excellent sense of the rhythms of the Nile Valley landscape, the aspects of the soul and the topography of the Underworld. Highly recommended, a good place to start for anyone beginning to study the fables of Khem.

 
Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art by Richard H. Wilkinson, Thames & Hudson 1994, illustrated, 224 pages.

 Our Featured Egyptologist is one of my favorites, the author of many beautifully illustrated volumes of absolutely up to date archeology. This first is a very useful guide to the esoteric and artistic symbolism that has inspired and influenced all our later magical thought and practice, covering many aspects of numbers and colors, actions and gestures, forms and materials, size and location. Any modern mage would greatly benefit from absorbing this essential lore.

Reading Egyptian Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Egyptian Painting and Sculpture by Richard H. Wilkinson, Thames & Hudson 1996, illustrated, 224 pages.

 The companion volume is a very clever concept: explaining the meanings of 100 of the hieroglyphic signs, each with a page of text facing various artistic examples chosen to express their forms and principals, contrasting countless aspects of both the religious and daily world and making connections that bring the culture to life. It has been said that many works of egyptian art are simply hieroglyphs expressed in four dimensions.

The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt by Richard H. Wilkinson, Thames & Hudson 2000, illustrated, 256 pages.

 Exactly what it says it is: a marvelous oversized art book covering all aspects of the architectural design and construction, functions and meanings, priests and rituals, festivals and cult practices of the great temples that were so central to the life of egyptian civilization; followed by the most thorough available survey of all the surviving examples including maps, plans, views and a guide to visiting the sacred sites.

The Complete Gods & Goddesses of Ancient Egypt by Richard H. Wilkinson, Thames & Hudson 2003, illustrated, 256 pages.

 I love the way this book is arranged. Most modern dictionaries of myth are simply alphabetical, while this goes by category: gods in human, bird, feline, avian, serpent or other forms are grouped by species. Since many of the earliest gods (the neters, or divine principles) of Egypt arose from primitive animal totems or fetishes, and as their theology evolved into remarkable sophistication and complexity, they had a tendency to mingle and merge, illuminating various aspects of nature and the creation of the cosmos. To examine the ways in which the various hawk-deities or others are related allows us to appreciate the immense richness and depth of pagan thought; and this is a very complete listing indeed. Few things reveal our humanity more than our mythology. I’ll even throw in a brief quote for those of us who are devotees of the night-sky goddess Nuit:

“The goddess Nut was primarily the personification of the vault of the heavens… the firmament which separated the earth from the encircling waters of chaos out of which the world had been created… she was not only the great sky whose ‘laughter’ was the thunder, and whose ‘tears’ were the rain, but she was also the ‘mother’ of the heavenly bodies who were believed to enter her mouth and emerge again from her womb each day. The sun was thus said to travel through the body of the goddess during the night hours and the stars travelled through her during the day.
Several scholars have suggested that Nut may have originally represented the Milky Way, as Spell 176 of the Book of the Dead refers to this broad band of stars which crosses the night sky and the following spell begins with an invocation of Nut, and some representations of the Ramesside Period show stars around the figure of the goddess as well as on her body. There is astronomical evidence which may support the equation. Ronald Wells has shown that in the pre-dawn sky at winter solstice in predynastic Egypt the Milky Way would have looked remarkably like a stretched out figure with arms and legs touching the horizons in exactly the manner in which the goddess was often later depicted. Furthermore, at the time of the winter solstice the sun would have arisen in the area of the goddess’s figure – her pudendum – from which it would be imagined to be born, just as nine months earlier, at the spring equinox, the sun would have set in the position of the goddess’s head – suggesting it was being swallowed.
Nut also became inextricably associated with the concept of resurrection in Egyptian funerary beliefs, and the dead were believed to become stars in the body of the goddess.”

(from Complete Gods & Goddesses of Ancient Egypt,
Richard H. Wilkinson)