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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. We also actively seek publications of all kinds for review in this space. Send submissions (or requests for a snailmail address for review books and mags) to:  aion@psychicsophia.com



Reviewed  by Nema

Convolvulus and other poems, with drawings by Austin Osman Spare, by Kenneth Grant,
Starfire Publishing Ltd., BCM Starfire, London WC1N 3XX, UK, 2005



Kenneth Grant transforms poetry, as he transforms expositional prose and novellas, into sigils, talismans and phoenix eggs. His poems are direct in emotional and preconscious effects, yet subtle in imagery.

In this volume are gathered three books: Black to Black and Other Poems from 1963, The Gull's Beak and Other Poems from 1970, and Convolvulus: Poems of Love and the Other Darkness, until now unpublished.

Among the poems are drawings by Austin Osman Spare. These resemble mists that swirl and condense into faces and figures for a few moments, then melt into other images and caricatures endlessly roiling.  The drawings and the poems generate extra dimensions among them, although both words and images are complete in themselves.

The poems come from various levels of time and experience. There are songs of natural beauty in "Bright Water" and "All Soft-Winging Things", melancholy meditation in "A Dead Hydrangea", a hymn to Kali in "Song of Adoration", and a generous variety of other nuanced subjects.

The format of the poems strikes me as effective minimalism:  with the exception of proper nouns, only the initial word in a sentence is capitalized. The purposes of punctuation, in most cases, are served by spaces. The titles are all capitalized. I find these choices to be transparent, aiding clarity to the reception of the words themselves.

Show is better than tell, in my opinion, especially in poetry. This one caught my eye with its title, which refers to a method of causing change to occur through written symbols of desire.

SIGILS

My massive book whose leaves
you turn with a single
eyelash
wheels round in space
spirals

a velum grimoire scratched with sigils
from a future aeon whispering with
ageless spells unnerving even the grey
magus who
waiting for the Word
scans the twisted runes
as hell's own hieroglyphics

A spider's web that only vampires leave
unbroken in their passage.


These images of shaped, meaningful lines hint of a progression toward a desired disappearance.  Each image speaks to a weight and complexity that fades from one stanza to the next while clarity emerges in the fading. My immediate response was "Of course!"

Mr. Grant's verbal images generate graphic images for my mind's eye, pictures moving in more ways than one. He speaks a fluent Surrealish that changes my current way of looking at things, whatever that way may be. For example:

" The backs of women
shadowed by the trees
are flowing
with a pure white line
on which the smooth gull glides
not knowing
evening ghouls will feed
or lead their flight of newly dappled
brides along the deep dark ways
where hunger rides a darker phase
than falling night."

--from The Backs of Leaves

The transition from one scene to another suggests the movement from day to night, from shore to ocean, from gull to ghouls, movement that Dali would achieve through juxtaposition of images and objects. I was struck by the amount of changes here, transitions precisely conveyed by honed words.

Many of Mr. Grant's writings are dark, in subject as well as in mood and color. Some poems in Convolvulus remind me of the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe. Others seem more attuned to the atmosphere of H.P. Lovecraft's stories. My favorite example of the latter is a vignette of horror, a gem called

THE WEED

There is a monstrous growth
in a garden close,
its roots imbibe a turbid putrefaction
from the quaking soil
which breathes a black malignant oil
of rank decay.

Sometimes a stray
and staring bird
is snared, its tremulous gyrations
stilled:

and all is quiet and calm,
fulfilled,
in a garden close…


Where these two artists of horror differ most is in their attitudes: Lovecraft seems to equate "alien" with "monstrous" while enjoying his own terror, where Grant seems more of a Trickster who knows what strings to pull. I found The Weed to be slyly humorous. The first stanza seems a tribute to Lovecraft, but the other two convey an innocence like that of a hunting cat.

 The poems were written over a long span of time, so some of them exhibit more experiential depth than others.  On the subject of death, Poe mourns his lost Lenore, Lovecraft seems to equate death with madness, but Grant writes:


"Our span of being, being vaster
than the breath, a death
we cannot comprehend
sails past,
its pale wings trailing
moths which like the summer  lightning
tremble
over blue waters."

--from The Silent Ones

I was struck by the serenity of this image, its calm observation of passage, and its cool bliss. It would be the logical conclusion to a decorous and polite review. However, I think this final example,  which celebrates a dark Babalon in the passionate words of a dark Priest, is a better valediction.


NOCTUA

Woman of Night!
your demon screech-owl shudders
on its Lilith-flight
across the blackened hells
where hideous hissings spout
from the mouths of Hecate's shells

Your leprous toads
leap evilly in echoing pools
where lightless moons
drown their blood-drained ghostliness
and noxious ghuls
at cross-roads
cast their runes

The smooth white alabaster
of your skin is phosphorescent
with a million sins that lust
behind your eyes
charging their limpid light
with tawny lies that turn
my soul to dust

Yet the fascination
of your serpent mouth
sucks in the semen of the sun
that dies with a scarlet face

Your spider's web spans space
laces  that to this
across the black abyss
its glittering ropes
binding the pylon of my erect and sentient
sentinel now mummified
beneath the silky kiss of your obscene caress

Black as ice embalmed
piercing the colder dream
of white

I cling to you like bat to barn-loft beam
And slake my thirst upside down
At the climax of your evil rite

O Queen of Night!


Nema



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All following book reviews by Shade Oroboros-



Lao Tzu/Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way, a new english version by Ursula K. Le Guin with the collaboration of J.P. Seaton, Shambhala 1998, 125 pages.

The Tao Te Ching is in my opinion among the greatest books on earth, and the incredible subtlety of its infinite simplicity has not always been easy to capture in the many translation by scholars and others. Ursula K. Le Guin, however, is a poet who has devoted some 30 years of study and of life to this wonderful fresh rendering, which I find clear and translucent, beautifully expressed, profoundly wise and humorous. Her brief commentary is illuminating, her notes on the process of the writing and comparisons to earlier attempts very useful. She was assisted by Professor J.P. Seaton with the technical and linguistic aspects. This is a work of high art which has gently unfolded through decades of penetrating insight and careful thought, and I am delighted to recommend it to everyone. The author is one of our national literary treasures in the fields of fantasy, science fiction, and other tales far less susceptible to limiting classifications; many of my readers may well be familiar with her Earthsea sextet.


The Hidden Messages In Water by Dr Matsuro Emoto, translated by David A. Thayne, 160 pages, many photographs, Beyond Words Publications 2004.

An unusual translation from Japanese which has somehow become a worldwide new age sensation, and a new way of understanding the mystical nature of water and the many ways in which it somehow seems to receive and transmit the imprints of human thought. The author is a naturopathic physician who developed a novel method of performing microphotography on ice crystals and analyzing their forms. To his surprise these often quite beautiful crystals took very different shapes when exposed to positive (happy thoughts, chanted mantras) or negative (death metal, angry threats) influences or when drawn from pure or polluted streams. He provides many lovely examples that contrast clear and colorful snowflake structures with dull and asymmetrical defective forms, and proceeds to explore an assortment of unusual insights drawn from both modern scientific and other sources in a warmly human book with an important spiritual message that has very interesting implications for mages as well as the general public. There are currently two additional sequels.


Etheric Anatomy: The Three Selves and Astral Travel by Victor H. Anderson with additional material by Cora Anderson, Acorn Guild Press 2004, 97 pages.

The late seer and healer Victor Anderson may well be termed the poet laureate of the Wiccan Revival, and with his wife Cora he formulated the rather secretive yet highly influential Feri Tradition, which drew upon many shamanic influences including the northern European, Native American, Vodou and Hoodoo, and especially Hawaiian Huna. Only a very few of their writings have appeared, including Cora Anderson’s important work Fifty Years in the Feri Tradition. This slender volume presents rare essays and insights upon subtle anatomy, the nature of the soul, out-of-body travel and astral sexuality drawn from his many years of personal experience and work as a healer, and this experience is worthy of both attention and respect.


Vodou: Visions and Voices of Haiti by Phyllis Galembo, 113 pages oversized, illustrated, Ten Speed Press 2005.

A volume of powerful photography documenting the temples and priesthood of Haiti’s magical folk religion, with an excellent text covering the Spirits, Sacred Places, Symbols & Ritual Objects, and Practitioners.  There are a number of traditional chants, powerful modern poems and quotations from scholars and other writers. It is in the many brilliantly colorful images that the work comes alive, however: in the household altars, personal artworks, and devotees garbed in the costumes of their patron loa. Vodou was the secretive practice of the colonial slave revolt, the creative mystery that kept alive the ancestral spirits and suppressed culture of West African tribes and continues to give hope and meaning to some of the poorest and most politically oppressed people in the western hemisphere today. Seeing the famous poster of Natassja Kinski naked and wrapped in a snake on the wall of a shrine as a representation of the serpent god Dambhalla-Wedo is but one example of the subversive ways in which Vodou both appropriates images and permeates the entire Haitian culture.


Borough Satyr, The Life and Art of Austin Osman Spare, 86 pages plus a 7 page catalogue of the recent exhibition at the Maas Gallery, Fulgur 2005.

Austin Osman Spare was a truly amazing artist and an innovative sorcerer whose work is one of the greatest influences on post-modern occultism, and he is often regarded as both a proto-surrealist and the Godfather of Chaos magick. This volume opens with an outstanding introductory essay by Robert Ansell, which guides us through the different stages and styles of his work and the evolution of his magical philosophy; and then collects a dozen rare essays about Spare ranging throughout his career, dating from 1904 to 1999. Some are interviews by journalists and appreciations by critics, others are by friends, patrons, and fellow artists, and one is a radio script from 1956. In these intimate and contemporary portrayals the sense of Spare as a person comes alive. Some are drawn from catalogues of his exhibitions and others explore Spare's magick, including insights from Ithell Colquhoun, Steffi Grant and Kenneth Grant. However, it is always Spare’s art that dominates the page. Stunning images of creative genius and atavistic power, many of them recently exhibited at the Maas Gallery, are magnificently reproduced in full color and clearly show why Spare was controversial throughout his life and how completely he can still capture the imagination today. There are countless portraits and also examples of his more bizarre or occult work; many are full-page illustrations and the book is the same format as the seminal work on his life and art, Kenneth Grant's recently reprinted Images and Oracles of Austin Osman Spare. This is a beautiful piece of publishing and a window on the life and boundless creativity of an astoundingly prolific visionary. And as always, his remarkably suggestive gnomic aphorisms remind me of Lao Tzu on psilocybin:  

“We are millions of yesterdays, and what appears autogenetic is the work of unknown mediators who permit, or not, our acts by the mysterious chemistry of our believing."  
~ A.O. Spare


Generation Hex, edited by Jason Louv, Disinformation 2006, 286 pages.

One of the best and most original works on magick I have seen in the new millennium, this is a collection of enthusiastic writings from the current generation of mages and shamans, including creative mutations of chaos magick, personal records, drug workings, rave and cyber-culture, politics, DNA, the ecology…. you know, the future. First of all, it is quite good writing, stylish, honest, fun, direct, and born of some real experience. Second, it shows how fast the future is happening as these unique mutations accelerate and spread through our popular and esoteric and underground cultures. Third, this perpetual reinvention of the occult tradition shows the immense potential of a constantly transforming power springing from ancient forms and creatively reborn in ways that are novel, vital, modern and exciting. I highly recommend this book to anyone who thinks that Thelema should ever have any kind of orthodoxy, or that the impetus of chaos magick has stalled in recent years. Big fun!


Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius by Gary Valentine Lachman, Disinformation 2001, 430 pages.

An outstanding and hugely amusing history of the 20th century occult revival as seen through the lens of popular movements and rock & roll, ranging from magick and mysticism to tantra and zen, from the beats to the hippies to the punks, through literature, philosophy, music, radical politics, LSD and drug experimentation. Odd links between Manson, The Beatles, Blavatsky, Leary, Watts, Led Zeppelin, Krishnamurti, Castaneda, Huxley, Jung, Hesse, Lovecraft, LaVey, Crowley, Tolkien, Grant, Ginsberg, Hubbard, the Process… a host of imported gurus… the unusual suspects. Revealing the dark hidden depths of the self-proclaimed intelligentsia and glitterati, making connections between all kinds of unlikely characters, exposing the secret history of our times and of events that even I did not know about (and I have a lifelong unhealthy interest in this kind of stuff). The author is an erudite cultural historian who was also a co-founder of Blondie and a guitar player with Iggy Pop, The Know and Fire Escape.


A Dark Muse by Gary Lachman, Thunder’s Mouth Press 2005, 384 pages.

From the same author, the additional history of an earlier era of the Other Side, covering periods from the Enlightenment through the fin de siecle to the modern era, from the rosicrucians to the illuminati, the romantics to the symbolists, from Christ to Satan… Levi & Mesmer, Blavatsky & Baudelaire, Strindberg & Goethe, Swedenborg & Balzac, and inevitably Aleister Crowley. Have you ever noticed that there is always an Occult Revival going on somewhere? That is because Magick is primordial, eternal, and always new…. There are also over 100 pages of carefully selected texts to illustrate the era.


Sex and  Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons by John Carter, introduction by Robert Anton Wilson, 229 pages, illustrated, Feral House 1999.

I have been meaning to review this excellent book for some time. One of America's most active early O.T.O. lodges was run by the pioneering Californian rocket-scientist John Whiteside Parsons, a co-founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that helped create the American space program. Parsons was strongly drawn toward the flaming archetype of Babalon, the Scarlet Woman of Revelations; Crowleanity has inherited a tendency toward apocalyptic aeonics quite similar to that of the U.F.O. cults. Parsons' life was a remarkable and ultimately rather tragic magical melodrama which intersected unfortunately with that of sci-fi hack-writer L. Ron Hubbard, later the founder and guru of Scientology and Dianetics, a man who is all too seldom recognized as both an early follower and watered-down imitator of Crowley and a casual acquaintance of H.P. Lovecraft. Jack Parsons perished in a laboratory explosion, leaving behind a small but very striking body of work (collected in Freedom Is A Two-Edged Sword from New Falcon Press). A grateful NASA has appropriately named a large crater on the dark side of the moon after him. As a lifelong rebellious spirit he is essentially the occult James Dean, and his demise was quite unfortunate. Intelligent, charismatic and deeply devoted to Thelema, he might have provided much stronger continuity to a movement that had a considerable hiatus (if not a near-death experience) after Crowley’s passing. This is without a doubt the best account of his life to date, detailed and well documented, collecting rare photographs, and covering all aspects of his complex personality.


Aleister Crowley and the Ouija Board by J. Edward Cornelius, Feral House 2005, 165 pages.

A little-known chapter in the career of Crowley involved his experimentation with the Ouija Board, as revealed in an essay or two and considerable correspondence with Frater Achad. The author places this material in context with ancient oracles and methods of divination, the Angelic or Enochian workings of Dr. John Dee, the checkered history of spiritualism in popular culture (including the fundamentalist hysteria sparked by the book and film The Exorcist) and the evolution of the talking board itself. Mr. Cornelius is a clear and intelligent writer who is also an experienced practicing magician, and he provides a ritual framework for further experimentation, documentation and verification, as well as considerable advice on the nature, care and feeding of spirits that is very useful in other contexts. He appends an extensive essay on the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. We might recall that the Golden Dawn was spawned in the golden age of spiritualism as a mass movement, and there can be no doubt that many of its adherents turned a few tables themselves. This is an informative and very entertaining volume. Note that the planchette is essentially the fabled Triangle of Manifestation used in medieval and renaissance ceremonial magick.


Shaping Formless Fire: Distilling the Quintessence of Magick by Stephen Mace, New Falcon Press 2005, 91 pages.

This slender tome collects an excellent series of essays originally presented in a German rock zine. Mr. Mace is one of the unsung heroes of modern magick, with many writings privately published or appearing in Chaos International magazine, and his Stealing the Fire from Heaven was an underground classic, merging the Abra-Melim system with Crowley, Spare, and Castaneda back at the dawn of what has now become Chaos Magick. These sixteen short chapters are a basic yet very clever and comprehensive introduction to the whole range of the magical Art as he sees it, a practical, personal and experimental approach to insights and results. Apparently more volumes of his writings will follow, and his exposure to a wider audience is long overdue. Such penetrating and original thought is as rare in sorcery as it is anywhere else, and very welcome indeed.


The Paradigmal Pirate (Liber LLL & Liber Ventum) by Joshua S. Wetzel aka Frater Palimpsest, privately published limited edition 2001, 149 pages, illustrated.

Chaos Magick first found its agenda expressed in Peter Carroll’s Liber Null, the essential volume expounding its tentative technology and conceptual underpinnings. Since then many other magi have explored the potential, and this is a report from the front lines. The first half expounds and draws upon working the outline as provided by Carroll, with advice regarding lucid dreaming, magical tools, techniques of varied and layered gnosis and the ‘colors of magick’ agenda as a system of personal metamorphosis. The second explores more personal creations, rites based on children’s games, open-handed magick, the alphabet of desire, Lovecraftian entities and use of images for both cursing and protection. This is hard-edged, no-bullshit sorcery designed to create solid results and foster the useful habit of reliably expecting such results. Chaos Magick has occasionally seemed to harden into dogma for some, as its original formulation of a conditional system worked quite well. This volume shows that the true success of the movement lies in continuous creativity, mutation and evolution – and in actually doing magick instead of just reading about it!


Space/Time Magick by Taylor Ellwood, Immanion Press 2005, 204 pages.

I have previously reviewed this author’s Pop Culture Magic, and I like this book even more. Time and Space are pretty damn mysterious, and are essentially linked to the nature of reality and the consciousness that experiences what appears to be that reality. Modern physics, however, has come to many unnerving conclusions regarding our many previous assumptions about what is going on in our universe, and it seems that nothing is as simple and straightforward as it seems. Space bends and Time curves, and the past and future are equally insubstantial from the perspective of the present. Mr. Ellwood explores many rather surprising implications of science and psychology as well as philosophy and occultism, of Chaos magick, divination, and various methods of reality-shifting and retroactive enchantment as well as future-focused operations. He also has high regard for the work of mages such as William G. Gray, Stephen Mace and Robert Anton Wilson. One of the Big Secrets of magick, by the way, is that you actually do the exercises you may well find out that they work, and that the habit of transforming your reality does indeed have a cumulative effect and an increasing momentum, and this book has some excellent suggestions for doing just that. This is a wide-ranging, thought-provoking and intelligent work with profound implications for anyone who is actually thinking about how magick works, and what we can become by practicing it.


Gathering The Magic: Creating 21st Century Esoteric Groups by Nick Farrell, Immanion Press 2005, 259 pages.

Recent decades have seen an explosion of covens, cults and magico-mystical orders of various persuasions. Few have given serious thought as to how they should realistically be structured. This nice man has (perhaps) given the question way too much thought, and created a detailed guide to the ways in which such orders can successfully function in the long term. Largely based on the workings of British orders from the Freemasons and Mather’s Golden Dawn to Theosophy and Fortune’s Society of the Inner Light, but progressing to many modern manifestations and personal experience, he covers ways in which groups can be structured and run, leader/follower and sexual conflicts can be resolved, cliques, gossip and infighting can be transcended, and genuine spiritual egregores formed. In my own experience such groups can be both incestuous emotional pressure-cookers and incredibly rewarding and productive experiences, if things are done right. This book shows how to make the systems work. The author has also written Making Talismans and Magical Pathworking, both published by Llewellyn.


The House of Doctor Dee by Peter Ackroyd, Penguin Books 1994, 277 pages.

Peter Ackroyd is one of the brighter lights of modern times: a Times literary critic, poet, prolific author of biographies including Chaucer, Shakespeare, Moore, Blake, Milton, Newton, Turner, Dickens, Pound and Eliot, commentaries on the Bible, histories of ancient civilizations and especially of London and British culture, and some very unusual and award-winning novels. The House of Doctor Dee may well be the best fictional depiction of John Dee & Edward Kelley to date. Employing the time-honored device of alternating between the present and the past, the mythic spirit of London itself unfolds in a tale of the haunted young man who inherits the home where Dee performed his experiments in Angelic or Enochian magick centuries before. The story comes vividly alive in the exploration of Dee’s life and thought, much of which employs his own words and writings and the rich astrological and alchemical symbolism of his era, a feat that could only be accomplished by an author so completely steeped in the legend, prose and personalities of the times. A suspenseful and broodingly atmospheric narrative building in tension to a climactic catharsis that achieves the level of true poetry, a vision of multiple revelations reaching through centuries. I will also highly recommend Hawksmoor.


The True Face of Jack the Ripper by Melvin Harris, 216 pages, illustrated, indexed, Brockhampton Press 1999.

Jack the Ripper was perhaps the first notorious serial killer and tabloid sensation of modern times, and he was never caught, which maintains his fascination to the present day. Countless books, stories, articles, films and TV shows have exploited his image and theorized about his identity and motives: crazed madman, royalist freemason, demented surgeon, perverted midwife, black magician? Aleister Crowley wrote a long-ignored essay claiming to know the occult truth, and after some considerable and careful research this contemporary Ripperologist has concluded that he may well have been right. Crowley’s candidate is Roslyn D’Onston, a confidence trickster, former war surgeon and later on a very odd christian author with links to Theosophy through Mabel Collins, a close friend of Madame Blavatsky.  These murders may indeed have been an operation of sacrificial satanism; stranger things have happened, and while we will never know for sure this theory makes a better case than many other attempts. D’Onston was clearly out there, and even wrote taunting articles on the subject of the Ripper; his presence in Whitechapel at the time is better documented that that of many other candidates. This is a fascinating story, filled with bizarre personalities.


From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, massive graphic novel compilation, Eddie Campbell Comics 2000.

Among the other glories of esoteric Ripperology there is Alan Moore’s brilliant graphic novel From Hell, which sort of spawned a major motion picture starring Johnny Depp. A multi-layered and complex exploration of the whole range of Ripper theories, largely going with the notion of a Masonic conspiracy, this is both a complex historical mystery and a powerful sociopolitical critique. Among my favorite segments is a lurid esoteric tour of the sacred sites and supernatural history of London. The art consists of outstandingly grim, subtle and evocative black & white illustration by Eddie Campbell, whose extensive historical research reproduced the gritty atmosphere, casual brutality and grinding poverty of the Victorian underworld. Alan Moore is an intricate and astounding prose stylist, and this is also one of the very few major projects in comix with completely revealing footnotes.
A truly remarkable achievement.


Think Like An Egyptian: 100 Hieroglyphs by Barry Kemp, 256 pages, illustrated, Penguin 2005.

A very entertaining work by a Cambridge Egyptologist, who presents one hundred hieroglyphic signs as the starting points for a rambling tour through an ancient culture touching upon history, religion, mythology, warfare, politics, commerce, architecture, geography, marriage, medicine, daily life, the arts of the scribe, and crafts including metal-work, pottery, boat-building and magic. “Egypt was the mother of magicians,” said Clement of Alexandria, and the language and symbolism of Egypt has flowed like the Nile through all of human history, constantly resurfacing and reinterpreted, and still evolving today for those Followers of Horus who have the eyes to see.


The Hymns of Orpheus: Mutations by R.C. Hogart, Phanes Press 1993, 184 pages.

This is one of my all-time top-ten Holy Books. The ecstatic and esoteric Orphic sect lurked in the Mystery cults that influenced the ancient Greek philosophers who provided the conceptual underpinnings of what we now laughingly refer to as Western civilization. Their surviving and often fragmentary hymns have been collected and reinterpreted here as a luminous and oracular set of invocations to the entire Olympian pantheon and many of the other gods and spirits. For anyone involved in the revival of classical paganism, the creation of archetypical rituals, or the magical power of words in poetry, this book is a treasure-house of inspiration and is also very useful in practice. It is an absolutely beautiful poetic universe.


Tales From Ovid by Ted Hughes, 257 pages, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1999.

The Metamorphoses of the ancient Roman author Ovid is one of our traditional Great Books, a retelling of legendary tales linked by the theme of transformation, and an inspiration to thousands of years of artists and writers. Twenty-four of these tales have been uniquely re-envisioned in primal and powerful verse by the late Poet Laureate of England, in a highly-acclaimed work. Like the previous title, it reveals the force of magical words and the impact of primal deities and natural imagery. Greek myth evolved from the seething primordial depths of the human psyche into a subtle and sophisticated exploration of human experience, and to this day is still one of the few pagan visions taught to schoolchildren. It lurks beneath our culture, and resurfaces in our dreams.


Labyrinths & Mazes: The Definitive Guide to Ancient & Modern Traditions by Jeff Saward, 223 pages, profusely illustrated, indexed, Gaia Books Limited 2003.

Mazes have existed from the dawn of humanity, and the spiraling symbol of the labyrinth has appeared in near-identical forms in widely diverse corners of the world. In recent years there has been a revival of interest in walking the labyrinth as a profound meditative process, and a number of fine books have appeared. This one may well be the definitive guide to the phenomena, covering prehistoric and classical manifestations, Asian, Indonesian and American forms, christian cathedrals, European gardens and hedge-mazes, and the modern rediscovery and contemporary projects. A wide-ranging, comprehensive text completes an encyclopedic effort by an acknowledged expert, with charts and geographic guides and fabulous photography.


The Archeon Tarot by Timothy Lantz, U.S. Games, 78 cards and instruction booklet.

This is a gothic and quite good-looking computer-generated deck, drawing from the archeology of various world cultures, atmospheric and with an effective use of color. I enjoy it, but I am something of a collector. The artist clearly has talent. Where I find a problem is that, handsome though the images may be, they seem to lack some of symbolic depth that allows the Tarot to create moments of resonance. When I look at a Magician atu, by Gawd I want to see a wand, cup, sword and pantacle. I have studied the system for decades, so I have the associations to fill in the blanks. But the Tarot is a system of visual triggers for the deep mind. Without the more elaborate imagery of some other decks (while admittedly there is indeed a fair amount to work with here) I sense an absence of clear or deeper meanings that would make me hesitate to recommend this deck to someone just beginning their studies. It is, however, quite beautiful in its way; and honestly, most of it works just fine. It is just sufficiently stylized to make me wish for a bit more to work with emotionally. The author is influenced by the Symbolists, which is always a good thing; and as customary miniscule instruction booklets go, this one is actually quite lively and rather clever.


Liber T: Tarot Of Stars Eternal by Roberto Negrini, art by Andrea Serio. 78 cards and instruction booklet, distributed by Llewellyn Worldwide.

This deck is a close reworking of the Crowley/Harris Thoth Tarot, which may strike some as verging on blasphemy. I actually quite like it. The major arcana are a slightly simpler rendition of Crowley’s descriptions and Harris’s imagery, but with an effective style and sense of color all their own. The real innovations lie in the minor arcana, which have been enriched by many exotic figures from ‘the hermetic tradition of the Egyptian Decans’ and ‘the astrology of the Golden Dawn’, from the Arabic Picatrix and the constellations of India. These surreal images of men, women, spirits and beasts are bizarre, goetic, sexual, alchemical, mythical, daemonic, sidereal, and strangely effective. Sadly, the usual miniscule instruction booklet fails to provide many explanations or details, leaving me hoping for much more information in the future. The original artwork by Lady Frieda Harris still remains one of the glorious achievements in the art of Tarot, but this intelligent tribute to the roots of Crowley’s vision stands quite well on its own.


I AM ONE Tarot by Maya Britan, 78 cards, chart of spread and instruction booklet, distributed by U.S Games.

Long long ago in a galaxy far far away there was a very innovative deck called the New Tarot, drawn from very detailed descriptions given via Ouija board in 1962-63, created by John Cooke and Rosalind Sharpe and accompanied by their Book T, Book G and The Word of One. It was said to be a Reverse Tarot, the turning back of the Nile, and for me it always had a futuristic Maatian feel for reasons made even more clear in the texts. This is clearly a more recent reworking of that deck, with rather striking artwork, but one which seems to be strangely unaware of the previous incarnation, making no reference to the original creators and referring to it online as the completion of an unfinished project. It is in its way a vivid and enthusiastic version of the symbols, with a very colorful and more sophisticated style that sometimes overshadows the details. I want to like it, since in either incarnation it forms a powerful interpretation of the Tarot. But the lack of credit or attribution sort of weirds me out, as I remain quite fond of the now long out of print original.



<+O(  ~   Shade Oroboros 817