Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Apophenion (Review)

- A Chaos Magic Paradigm
by Peter J Carroll
isbn 978-1869928-650 / £10.99 / $22

Reviewed by Julian Vayne

Framed as the outpouring of insight generated by the novel Goddess 'Apophenia', Pete Carroll's new work is a real gem. Coming from a science background, this is his attempt to create a falisfiable model of why the universe looks the way it does, and just why magick can operate successfully.

In the inimitable Carrollian style we have come to know and love, our author sets out to demolish the edifices of being, consciousness, causality, the big-bang and more. In toppling these ontological Titans Pete discovers a universe of panpsychism and intense meaning. If nothing else this agrees with my own views and is therefore a Good Thing. Pursuing this process through the scientific style of exploration means that quantum physics, special relativity et al show up pretty frequently in the text. If you buy this book expecting lists of planetary correspondence and ritual-by-numbers instructions you're going to be disappointed. However this doesn't mean that this is all physics and no esoterica. Rather the point is that the reading of the universe that the author presents is suffused with magick. (Nevertheless there are some reassuring illustrations of occult entities and one explicit ritual – a rather lovely evocation of the Goddess Apophenia herself).

My reaction in reading this book was one of excitement. The suggestions that Pete advances tickle the mind delightfully. Certainly this isn't Liber Null. It's not a manual of techniques but instead concentrates on theory, yet that doesn't make for a dull read. The theorisation presented here can light the touch paper of a hundred disciplines: cosmology and magick for sure but also Fortean studies, ethnography and especially neuro-biology.

Algebra explodes across the appendices of the book scattering the non-mathematicians towards the Epilogue where things are nicely rounded off in laypersons terms. The truth may well be that we live in vorticitating hypersphere with three dimensional time that, as the author beautifully asserts, "...invites us to become apprentice gods." The very fact that I can now say 'vorticitating hypersphere' and know what that means is a testament to the authors explicatory powers.

The final and perhaps most wonderful thing about The Apophenian is how it demonstrates the development and maturation of Pete Carroll's earlier writing. If nothing else this stands as a testament to the work of an individual (or perhaps conspiracy of selves!) who's magick really does seem to work.

Eight chaospheres out of a possible eight!

Bright From The Well – Northern Tales in the Modern World by Dave Lee

Review by Akashanath

A common difficulty for magicians moving from one tradition to another is reductio ad nauseum. With little effort, it is easy to nail the symbolism of one's latest trip onto the pre-existing crucifix of one's earlier experiences, eventually reducing every opportunity for novelty to a stale repeat of one's preconceptions. Chaos Magick has often fallen into this trap, its dogma of 'non-dogmatism' leading adherents to strip belief-systems to their 'essentials', sometimes to the point where they lose much of their beauty and function. At the opposite extreme one can simply be overwhelmed by the strangeness and unfamiliarity of a new world-view, and fail to find a point from which to begin one's assimilation.

The Norse and Saxon myths, with their fragmented, archaic language and almost prehistoric themes, can often evoke this type of response. In his newest book, Dave Lee lithely navigates the pass between these twin peaks, taking time to pause and explore the dilemmas, or muse on them in the form of short fables. People expecting a book about the runes will not be disappointed. Those hoping for further expositions on the subject(s) of Chaos Magick will find plenty of interest. But for me where Bright From The Well comes into its own is as a series of reflections on dilemmas that will be familiar to many 21st century occultists.

For example, Chapter 5 is entitled “The Magician In and Against The World.” It's essentially an analysis of the twin functions of the magician as anarchist, challenging the false autocracy of consensus reality, and the magician as priest, strengthening social traditions by helping the laity to connect them to their spiritual and cosmic sources. Within his complex analysis, Dave grapples with magicians' tendencies towards transcendence on the one hand and immanence on the other. This rang loud bells for me; in my magickal quest I have often lurched from mind-bending hedonism to ruthless ascetic austerity and back again, struggling to marry my hungers and drives with some arbitrary construct of ultimate purpose. Dave also concludes that some sort of unification is necessary, describing this in terms of the intermarriage of the Vanir and the Aesir, the two Northern pantheons who exchange hostages somewhere near the beginning of time. Dave's exegesis interprets the former as gods of immanence and the latter as deities of transcendence and consciousness (though not exclusively so). In a story from Snorri's Prose Edda, Dave tells us how the Aesir (in the form of Odin) and the Vanir (in the form of Tyr) trick the Fenriswoolf (primal chaos) into allowing itself to be bound, creating the ordered universe that is a necessary precondition for human society and hence both esoteric and exoteric religious practice.

Students of Tantrika may find parallels here, and indeed Dave makes passing reference to the left and right hand paths. In many contemporary Hindu icons the transcendent Shiva is depicted sitting on his mountain, meditating and smoking Ganja, largely disinterested in the world. One myth tells us how the goddess Kali once went on a killing spree. Initially invoked by men seeking support in their war with the demons, Kali has lost sight of her original intention in an orgy of destruction. With all the demons slain, she turns her unstoppable fury on her former allies, slaughtering them with her many arms. Summoned from his mountain, Shiva is intrigued. Lying in front of her with his cock erect, he looks up, turned on by her warped face and blood-stained body. Gradually her lust for killing turns into a different kind of lust, and the two deities begin to f**k. Separate from one another, they are aimless, functionless. In unity, Shiva (transcendence) gains the capacity to manifest in the physical world, while Kali (immanence) transmutes her destructive power to generative.

Some of the other sections completely obviate the need for parallels by speaking directly to the magician's experience. In Chapter 7, the author recounts a fascinating and credible list of magickal anecdotes spanning over 20 (and perhaps closer to 30?) years of workings, grouped into a rough typology of function. Several chapters take the form of stories, some obviously derived from Nordic originals, others less so. The style is engaging and entertaining, not laboriously educational or annoyingly whimsical, and each is short enough to be knocked off quickly (or omitted altogether) should it not be to the reader's taste.

As well as re-telling stories from the northern traditions and presenting a novel method of working with the entities described as dwarves, the book contains a complete rune poem in English. Although it probably wouldn't stand alone as a manual of rune magick, anyone genuinely interested in the subject could probably learn something new. The main strength, for those interested in Nordic traditions, will probably be for those looking for another perspective from which to triangulate dry, historical academic texts on the one hand and the often pedantic dogmatism of modern Odinists on the other. Overall, as the title implies, the collection is refreshing and inspired. Well worth a read!


Bright from the Well
Northern Tales in the Modern World

By Dave Lee

£10.99, 166pp

We change and develop ‘the past’ with narrative, and we create ‘the future’
by re-mixing the stored elements in order to continue it onwards.

All the verbal tenses cluster around the same mighty place, the same source of narrative and mythic significance.
The people had a name for this place: the Well of Urdhr, Anglo-Saxon wyrd, one of three Norns of fate,
Urdhr, Verdhandi and Skuld, who cluster around the Well. These Norns are mighty beings,
beyond and above the gods, in the sense that they are eternal and know the fates,
the rise and fall of the gods themselves. They are watchers of the Well and helpers to the Tree.
The Tree, which contains all the worlds in present time, all the branches of the Now, is nourished at its roots by the Well’s waters.

'Bright From the Well' consists of five stories plus five essays and a rune-poem.
The stories revolve around themes from Norse myth - the marriage of Frey and Gerd, the story of
how Gullveig-Heidh reveals her powers to the gods, a modern take on the social-origins myth Rig's Tale,
Loki attending a pagan pub moot and the Ragnarok seen through the eyes of an ancient shaman.
The essays include examination of the Norse creation or origins story, of the
magician in or against the world and a chaoist's magical experiences looked at from the standpoint of Northern magic.'

Dave Lee coaches breathwork, writes fiction and non-fiction, blends incenses and oils, creates music and collage.

His previous books include "Chaotopia!"



* Morgen of Lyonesse to the Sunset Bound. *

~ Ariel ~

Tendrils of Magick seep from the Internet
Twenty-four-seven, night and day.
Tantalising ectoplasmic tentacles
Like phosphorescent fern tree fingers
Unfurl languorously, penetrate my slumber;
Log-on, and I, the little cyber Match-Girl,
With precious few matches left,
Like Rapaccini’s daughter under her Datura,
Inhaling their otherworldly scent,
Hooked by indefinable longings
For unnameable things, become restless
As alien amorphous etheric Shades
Poke my dreams, probe my flesh,
Crafted by Will of disembodied strangers:
My faceless hierophantic Brothers,
With Pantagruelian appetite
Exuberantly roam in Cyberspace,
Where the Laws of Gravity don’t apply?

In the dull confinements of a prosaic existence,
A gem-like kaleidoscope of astral corollas,
Pervasive phantasmagorical Emanations
Seductively stretch, entwine, caress,
Tantalise and uproot. And I,
Thoroughly modern Moonchild,
Mesmerised, entranced by their convolutions,
Forgetting for a time both Nature and Nurture,
Melt, merge, dissolve,
Swept by this Great Tide

Psychic waves, tangible as the scent
Of blood and roses,
The acrid smell of burned wicks,
The spice of leather upon flesh,
A heady Open Source Psychotropic Draught
Bleeds from the Internet.
Ectoplasmic gales blow by numbers,
Relentlessly rocking my boat.
No matter how tight I will have myself
Tied in solitary confinement
To the rickety mast of my banal shipwreck,
They prevail: for the whole is greater
Than the sum of its part.

Their pervading vapours penetrate the stranglehold,
Rousing herds of long- repressed, shackled heraldic beasts,
Sleuth of primeval impulses,
Shoals of feral, unspeakable instincts.
In the disquieting twilight of a Dawn
That never quite breaks into day,
I beg the Shongmaw mend my broken heart;
But he doesn’t come. Instead,
Bilge water oozes, bitter as my tears,
Droves of addictive yearnings, like Golems, unleashed,
Hack at my safety net, the wilderness of brambles
Where I slept, murky chalice of Air, Water, Earth:
A Swamp awaiting the kiss of Fire.

My hand, languid, rests upon cool metal of laptop,
Carmine peonies in a broken blue vase slowly die,
Yesterday: engorged, tight and tumescent,
Shedding a lush carpet upon the dusty floor,
Their slow fall, like a clock, at first disquieted
The precarious comfort of my little Abyss.
Now, greedily, I bury my face
In their faintly scented petals,
Hungry for their soft, moist, cool pink caress
As the Occult Cyber peep-show twirls,
Night and day: Novelty-shop memetic Arcanas
Spell swirling neoteric Mayas over Gaia:
Death-Posture! Nimble reptilian fingers
Breathe life into a writhing theatre of Mandrake Servitors,
Conjure a Typhonian Pick-and-Mix
Of sharp sygilised Urban Myths;
Exalted, they arise like Baron Samedi
From the fertile graveyards of Pop Counter-Culture.

A kaleidoscope of foxy Masks, cloaked
In voluptuous shreds of bewildering Paradigms,
Dance in the Shadow of the Tree:
Papa Legba waltzes with Eris,
Cthulhu tangos with Madonna,
O! Ancient Mother - Tara: Mercy!
The Universe: a swirling Street Carnival;
Utterance of forbidden names in raucous fractals
Rips shrouds of diaphanous feathers, revealing
Glimpses of cryptic Temenos.
Polyamorous hermaphroditic Heroes
With heterochromic irises seek
The Chemycal Wedding at the Torture Garden,
Prometheus! Rise: I wanna live forever,
You know Al-ad-Insane was a junkie,
Ohm Namah Shivaya: Dionysus is on DMT,
And all the Spheres blur, veils upon veils,
Ouranian thunderbolts tear down
The controlled equilibrium of my precarious Tower:
My ancient Lions flee!
How I long for the Red Chamber,
The birch, the Cup and the Liknon!
I hide my lantern under a bushel:
I will run away with the Old Gods
Upon the wing of an Owl.
Do not unplug your computer -
It will turn off automatically.

© ~ARIEL ~ Kernow ~ June 2008 ~

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Semmens, Jason. The Witch of the West or the Strange and Wonderful History of Thomasine Blight. Plymouth, 2004, £3.99. (review)

Semmens, Jason. The Witch of the West or the Strange and Wonderful History of Thomasine Blight. Plymouth, 2004, £3.99. (review)

Cornwall certainly holds an important place in Britain's esoteric history and culture, and in terms of witchcraft, Cornwall has a particularly 'witchy' reputation. Local legends of standing stones and other landscape features suggest a history of witches' night meetings, Cornwall is the home of the Museum of Witchcraft, and today the territory hosts a vibrant Pagan community and receives Pagan spiritual tourism from around the globe. There are witches, pellars and cunning folk who were captured in legend by Cornish folklorists such as Robert Hunt and William Bottrell, but what of the stories behind the legends? It is doubtful that Cornwall was historically any more witchy than other place in Britain, but the idea that Cornwall is perhaps a more suitable conduit for supernatural activity has certainly helped to establish quite a reputation for this western peninsula. There have been quite a few small books addressing witchcraft in Cornwall but the majority has been written ! to suit a popular or tourist interest in the topic. Despite the incredible interest in witchcraft in Cornwall, there have been very few rigorous and unbiased studies of actual historical Cornish witchcraft traditions.

Finally, some of the history surrounding legendary Cornish witches and witchcraft practices is starting to emerge. Jason Semmens' valuable contribution The Witch of the West: or the Strange and Wonderful History of Thomasine Blight is a microhistory and biography of the Cornish Cunning Woman more popularly known as Tammy Blee. This book is truly a step forward in research about Cornish witchcraft traditions. Semmens, who hails from the Camborne area of Cornwall, is certainly no stranger to the material. Currently a documentation officer for a museum in South Wales, Semmens holds an MA in Witchcraft and Literature from the University of Exeter, and was previously a curator for the vast witchcraft related holdings in the private library of the late Robert Lenciewicz. In The Witch of the West, Semmens provides a detailed account of Blight's life and work in Cornwall in the mid nineteenth century, drawing upon archival material, newspaper accounts and early folklore research! .

We learn that Blight was born Thomasine Williams in Gwennap, a mining town near Redruth in 1793, and had two marriages. It's likely that she practiced her trade in conjuring in Redruth market at first, and then later took private clients in her home after her reputation had been established. Her trade consisted of finding lost objects, taking spells off of ill wished livestock, keeping people from being bewitched, and telling fortunes. Blight was a keen strategist, moving to Helston after her first husband's death, to expand her trade and opportunities, and was often able to manipulate local gossip and personality conflicts to her advantage. Semmens portrays Blight as a resourceful and independent woman who was cunning in many senses of the word, defying the common stereotype of such people as being simple and superstitious. Blight was certainly a dynamic personality, and well known as a local character which ensured that a number of her escapades and encounters were chro! nicled by well known Cornish folklore collectors of the nineteenth century, William Bottrell and Robert Hunt. Yet despite her contribution to our understanding of popular beliefs of the past, we must remember that Blight was a shrewd, individualist business woman who was thriving off of her wits in an often harsh economic and social climate.

Perhaps the most important contribution of this volume, however, is that it places Cornish witchcraft and Cornish conjurors in a historical context. Cornish witchcraft is moving out of legend and speculation into the realm of history and ethnography. These were real people, who had motivations and good reasons for taking up this trade. Almost more importantly, we learn about the people who became her clients and what they believed. The stories, especially those of ill wishing, healing sick animals and securing a good harvest, are similar to stories of witchcraft worldwide and we find almost identical practices in Ireland and Africa.

This microhistory and biography is an excellent contribution and a great companion piece to wider studies of witchcraft and folk belief such as Owen Davies' book Cunning Folk: Popular Magic in English History. Of course it has special relevance for anyone specifically interested in Cornish folklore or the supernatural in Cornwall, which is generally a pretty hot topic.

Amy Hale

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

War, Medicine & Austin Spare

War & Medicine - Wellcome Trust, Euston Road, London until 15th February - Admission Free

"As humankind has developed increasingly sophisticated weaponry with which to harm its enemies, medicine has had to adapt to cope with the volume and the changing nature of resulting casualties. Concentrating on the modern era, 'War and Medicine' will consider the constantly evolving relationship between warfare and medicine, beginning with the disasters of the Crimean War and continuing through to today's conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The exhibition highlights the personal experiences of surgeons, soldiers, civilians, nurses, writers and artists and will look at the impact of war on the ‘home front’ as well as on front-line medicine, considering the long-term implications for society of the traumas suffered and the lessons learned."

The wonderful hidden gem that is the Wellcome Trust collection in Central London has another of its winter exhibitions, this time focussing on the theme of War & Medicine. For those who are unfamiliar, I can say that the Wellcome is one of the world's greatest collections of information and artefacts connected with medicine's long and fascinating history. Henry Wellcome was a great Victorian collector who specified that a fixed percentage of profits from his pharmaceutical company be devoted to historical research. Hence the collection is very well endowed with artistic and magical masterpieces, all available to the general public free of charge. Wellcome special exhibits almost always have as large an artistic input as scientific. This includes participation by living artists often commissioned to produce work on the theme of that particular show. It's a strong subject and has some images not for the fainthearted - including Tonks rather amazing paintings of plastic surgery techniques, inspired by material from ancient Ayurvedic medicine and put to good use to reconstruct casualties from WWI. Also on display is an example of Austin Spare's work as WWI Artist, where he documented the innovative dressing stations that became part of the industrial / medical response to industrial warfare - one of the exhibits themes. Austin Spare is of course well know to occultists as a magical artist, but here you see him in an earlier incarnation. - unmissable [Mogg]

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Arianrhod A Journey to Spiral Castle (review)

Arianrhod A Journey to Spiral Castle
By Levannah Morgan (review)

obtainable from Levannah Morgan (Arianrhod), PO Box 314, Exeter EX4 6YR. It costs £3.95, including UK postage; cheques should be made payable to "J. Higginbottom".

This booklet explores the complex evolution of the Welsh goddess Arianrhod, from the earliest references to her in Welsh literature through to modern visions of her as a powerful stellar goddess of inspiration and magick. It traces the author's own experiential journey as a priestess of Arianrhod and suggests some ways of working with this goddess."

I’ve heard Levannah Morgan speak on a number of occasions, and I’ve always enjoyed what she had to say, how she said it and by and large have come away enriched by the experience.

She has also, in my eyes been one of the few woman whom I have heard talk of the Goddess forms in experiential, no holds barred, and dare I say I ‘real’ terms, and I’ve a lot of respect for what she has to say.

Thus I was more than willing to read and review this booklet, at that point sight unseen and subject relatively unknown.

A section of one of my bookcase holds some of my most valued magical literature. Not a hard cover amongst them, they are all magazines or all self-published booklets, oft printed in small numbers but containing more information that many of my glossy and expensive tomes do.

Bearing the above in mind it is really no surprise I find it as easy to write a review for ‘Arianrhod- A Journey to Spiral Castle’ as I would for a more traditionally formatted book.

‘Arianrhod’ is a great booklet; it is nicely written and in a relatively few pages (which includes a bibliography and all online sources used) she explores the roots of the Welsh Goddess Arianrhod in historical terms, as well as looking at the process in which Robert Graves fleshed out a very rudimentary amount of information to animate the Arianrhod who became so well known amongst the contemporary Pagan community.

Then Levannah goes back to source, so to speak, and presents her own research, and historical and experientially realised interpretations and perceptions of Arianrhod.

This results in an easy to read balance of the proverbial art and science that could be seen as being the backbone of true magic.

I think this booklet will be enjoyed and appreciated by practitioners of many diverse paths as well as being appreciated in general by those of both an academic and a creative bent.

‘Arianrhod- The Spiral Castle’ is of interest not just for the process, both academic and creative, of giving life, substance and character to a god/dess form but also for Levannah’s relating of more personal aspects of her journey, which creates an accessibility that endears the reader further.

Her suggested practical work is well done too; written in intensely ocular and evocative language, the visualisation is near automatic as one reads the text.

Call me a shallow, but aesthetics are of great importance to me, and the pleasing presentation only adds to something that at three pounds is more than a bargain.

Julian Vayne (author of Now That's What I Call Chaos Magick) writes:
So we all know Arianrhod right? Goddess of the Silver Wheel and Spiral Castle. Sister (or reflection) of Ariadne, the spider queen; haughty lady of the strange legend of Llew Llaw Gyffes and Blodeuwedd. Well yes and no. These things are part of the story but the tale of Arianrhod is much subtler as Levannah Morgan shows. This slim, well-produced volume traces the evolution (or creation) of this goddess from the earliest Welsh legends into contemporary paganism and directly into Levannah’s own story. As a Welsh speaker Levannah is able to shed light on the first traces of the goddess in both text and the Welsh landscape. She shows how the modern perception of her myth was woven according to the ‘poetic truth’ of Robert Graves and later stitched into the fabric of twentieth century Wicca. But this book is far from a hatchet job on an esteemed member of the modern pagan pantheon. Instead Levannah demonstrates how the goddess herself has been woven, and celebrates the creativity of this process. Levannah provides some evocative glimpses into how she has contributed to this divine fabric herself through her work in 1970s goddess feminism, witchcraft and the Fellowship of Isis. An excellent marriage of well researched cold hard facts and poetic, inspired magick, this book is a essential reading for anyone who wishes to walk the spiral road to the castle of the Otherworld. Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Oxford Golden Dawn Thelemic Symposium 2008 (Review)

draft (has a few typos)

Conversation overheard in bar . . . "I haven't had a good sh*g for ages . . . maybe I'll go to the orgy . .. " Not that there was an orgy - not in the common understanding of the word at least - but you know how folk are. Later during the Gnostic Mass there was a forced entry via the security door - luckily not too disruptive but I suppose in such a packed day the sort of thing you might expect. The culprit, later expelled returned in the early hours to burgle the place and is currently, so they say, awaiting her majesty's pleasure. It was the only cloud on an otherwise great day.

There was much harrumphing about the change of venue from the grand but tiny Oxford Town Hall, where if I remember rightly, the porters at the last event bumbled into the late Andrew Chumbley's workshop and told everyone to wind it up. Well it was the fourth hour and they'd only just cast the circle - again all hearsay. So a new slightly larger venue was in order, with en suite bar, car park and indeed nature just a step away.

Peter Grey, took the stage together with his partner and delivered a paean to the goddess Babalon as reviewed elsewhere in this august newsletter and that really got us going. A good start, followed by Mike Magee of AMOOKOS, or perhaps formerly, as he filled us in on how he was expelled from the order his help found. Coincidently, the last time Mike spoke in Oxford was at the first Symposium back in 1986? The topic of his talk was "Factions, Fictions and Functions" which was all about the negative side of magical orders. (There's more background to this in my own "Tantra Sadhana" a chapter called "When your guru goes gaga") . This time he gave a short but informative discussion of the main elements of the Kaula magick so beloved in AMOOKOS. In the flood of correspondence I've had since the effect - not sure why me - I was just making the tea afterall - someone remarked how happy they were to see Mike again, being as what he is so charismatic.

By this time, Melissa Harrington's transport has screeched into the grassy carpark and after a suitable interval, reinforced with tea and one of Kym's inch thick sandwiches - she took the stage to reprise a talk of ten years ago on Thelema and the feminine. It was a masterly performance. The intervening years have seen many changes, marriage and parenthood - estrangement from the Caliphate OTO (bit of a pattern) and a serious reframing of her attitude to Thelema, Babalon and what to her eyes now is its first, totally flawed prophet. Her talk was a counterpoint to Peter Grey, whose book she both roundly praised but also cast at least one jaundiced eye - wondering whether the image of a whore was every really anything more than a male sexual fantasy. She highlighted the huge caesura between Crowley's devotion to his goddess and the complete contempt his held for her earthly incarnations. It's difficult to imagine Crowley cutting the toenails of the mother of his children - when she was too pregnant to do it for herself.

Another break, more tea and food, more buzz and camaraderie. Now Charlotte from Bath Omphalos, accompanied by a film show from defibulator images, spoke of here own work with dangerous, blood thirsty spirits. Which all prompted a rather interesting discussion on the theme of self harm and the strange dialectic in which it stands with some extreme forms of magical consciousness. Her spooky slide film show was full of images from oxford Pitt river Museum, which is soon to close for a twelve month refit along with the stupendous Ashmolean Museum - so get your fix now.

Next up was Jake Stratton Kent who regaled us with an investigation into the Grimoire Verum and other necrotic texts that have come down to us in our long and noble history. His emphasis was on matters practical - and he fielded many interesting questions from the floor such as "is it dangerous"; "do you deal with the boss" etc. (As in all walks of life, one tends to have more dealings with the foot soldiers than the managing director.

Finally, we came to David Beth on the topic of Voodoo Gnosis, the syncretized synthesis of voodoo put together by Michael Bertieux and the Couloir Noir and published in various editions of The Voodoo Gnostic Workbook.. He spoke well but it was complex stuff and in the end it did rather boil down to whether one either understood or related to the ideas of Michael Bertieux, which many their obviously did. My ears pricked up at the mention of occult technology, I'd heard of those wyrd machines made from twisted wire and cardboard tubes with which these practitioners commune with denizens of others dimensions. So more of a post modern view of Voodoo than strictly revivalist.

So on the whole a good day - several times I wondered at the failure to mention the elephant in the room, which for me is the authentic voice of the ancient Egyptians who sometimes seems as silenced in modern occult discourse now as it was at the at the beginning of the Christian ice age. But our day was not yet done - still to come was a Gnostic Mass. I finally found out what the strange man with swivelling eyes and Sherlock Holmes costume was up to. Actually I missed the mass, but someone who was there said it was "both the most ridiculous and coolest thing he had ever seen". There was much knob twiddling after the mass and many people left before the social really got into its swing - which was a shame as it was good fun. My correspondent says: "thank you for facilitating my public dancing debut at the Canal Club. Was it the congenial atmosphere engendered by an alliance of like-minded people? Perhaps the sun in Libra, moon in Sagittarius configuration astrologically? Maybe the unknown ingredients of the EGA Eucharist - extolling the raised glass, the presence of a naked lady or just that the world was ready for such a spectacle "...
Roll on next year - [Mogg]

Monday, August 25, 2008

OTO Matters

OTO Matters

For those of you who missed it then you may be interested to know that the various incarnations of the O[rdo] T[empli] O[rientis] have been again skirmishing in the UK courts, one (the Caliphate) having just succeeded in establishing a OTO religious symbol (The Rose Cross Lamen) as a UK trademark; as well as the initials OTO. The other, (the Typhonian) had un-successfully opposed this. I've not seen the actual court ruling, just various press releases, which naturally enough tend to spin in favour of this or that organisation. For the record, let me say, that IMO, there are indeed several OTO organisations and neither of them is spurious, although some, such as the Caliphate, seem to be newer, more brash players on the scene. Aleister Crowley died in 1947 leaving his particular dispensation to Karl Germer, who on his death bed and knowing all of the candidates - plumped for Marcello Motta's (Societas) OTO. Again naturally enough - this is disputed by some - who point out that the only witness to Germer's last will and testament, was his wife, and she was after all "just a woman and not even a member".

I should say that I was a sometime member of Kenneth Grant's OTO, and was expelled for reasons not too relevant here, although I still regard myself as a Typhonian. So I have some sympathy for their refusal to lay down and die. I suspect that justice is never blind, but takes into account the relative size of competing organisations and that as the Caliphate was the bigger, richer organisation, it might have had more clout with the legal officers. But there again, when has the law ever been the friend of secret societies? Caliphate types are already swaggering that they are now the only one, but few reasonable people will agree. I read their press release on what appears to be a Caliphate friendly site, and a comment appended by a "Rodney", reveals part of their motivation is to "lessen the confusion many new people feel when they enter the world of Thelema…" Which I interpret as meaning that the world needs just one view of Thelema. As a pagan, I'm very nervous of attempts to block and negate other approaches to magick and enlightenment. So "Rodney" (whoever he might be) now thinks its safe to "assume . . . that there will only be one Order calling itself O.T.O. in future." Well that would truly be a shame but there again, I really doubt it somehow.

The Caliphate press release ends with the very encouraging remarks that they will "continue — now with fewer distractions — [their] publications program." Which includes the completely restored “Confessions” . Which is to say - the Caliphate is currently engaged in a programme of re-editing various Crowley works and at the same time suppressing what it sees as aberrant approaches to the "master". Bit of a shame I think. For me, Symonds and Grant's edition of "Liber ABA" is a handy little volume and the Caliphate's new "unabridged" version, the so-called "blue brick", is no great improvement. But there again, I'd say there is room for both. But in the interests of "avoiding confusion" - that cannot be allowed. After all, one person's "diversity " is another's “confusion". Adding deleted scenes, and "footnote fodder" has it place, but is it really that important? Roll on the expiration of the Crowley copyright - just a few more years "my people". [Mogg]


In an elist discussion of the above events I asked the question as to whether there was any mechanism by which the Caliphate's own membership might bring its leadership to account, should they find themsevles not totally in agreement with their Order's approach to other Thelemic groups. I received the following interesting reply:

"Although I've heard OTO members put out different interpretations, I myself believe, and have had members of US Grand Lodge confirm, that the only "secrets" within OTO are those directly related to initiations. So, I consider myself free to talk about anything but the specific contents of initiations, and perhaps specific confidential bits of information I may be privy to that would be a violation of another persons privacy--but the latter is just basic ethics.

There really is no direct mechanism within OTO for the general membership to hold the leadership accountable. Ostensibly, they could rally others within the higher grades to take up their cause, but that's pretty much it. Lacking that, the only recourse a member unhappy with actions not directly related to them has one course--leaving. In this way, OTO is truly hierarchical, and I wouldn't want to suggest otherwise. When I made my point earlier I only trying to suggest that it is not monolithic (just as the Catholic church is not really monolithic despite its centralization around the Vatican). My own observation has been that members within the lower grades who have issues with the leadership's actions usually are able to gain a voice in policy, if at all, through informal channels, as there is no formal channel for doing so.

Now, if a member feels that they have a grievance that relates directly to them, there are formal channels for addressing that through an Ombudsman's office, at least within US Grand Lodge. So, if you feel directly harmed, you can seek to bring the leadership to account for that through specific formal channels. But if you simply disagree with the direction, all you can really do is make your disagreement known.

One potential exception, of course, is the office of the revolutionary, whose job it is to depose the current sovereign within a grand lodge. So, if one is in strong disagreement, one could potentially secretly join the cause of the revolutionary. There are supposed to be two revolutionaries within any grand lodge. I think US Grand Lodge is the only lodge that currently has an appointed revolutionary (there is only one, and it is a recent appointment), and the identity of that revolutionary is secret. Based on my conversations and interviews, I'd say that some members do seem to hold the belief that if they are in strong disagreement with the present leadership, it is not merely their right, but their duty, to try to topple that leadership--either from without or within. I'd have to go back into my notes and transcripts to really get specifics on this--I don't have time for that kind of detailed work, but this is one of the questions I do hope to address in formal writing in the future.

Let me add, though, that my own knowledge is primarily based on local body participation and observation of actions on the grand lodge level in the United States. I'm not particularly knowledgeable about the specific workings of the International Leadership or about other grand lodges. When I set out my project as a researcher, I constrained myself to the specifics of looking at the order on a local body level, and really only concerned myself with even grand lodge issues as they affected the local body. Of course, I have my own knowledge of those workings because I've been a member for quite some time and because I work as editor of Agape, the US Grand Lodge newsletter.

I hope that helps address your questions. The institutional mode of management is definitely one of my areas of interest, and I hope to specifically address in my future writing some of how members understand the hierarchical structure of the order to integrate with the seemingly individualist ethos of Thelema. Again, though, a responsible account of that requires a kind of detailed work I won't be able to do for some months.

Regards, Grant Potts (

PS: the Caliphate "Press Release", with its not so thinly veiled warning, is posted on

PPS: Caliphate annual report: for the USA lodge, the largest with a membership of approx 1500, a growth of 40% since its founding in 1996. So a relative small organisation compared with other neopagan groups and its membership seems according to its report to be fairly static.

Turning in his grave?

Frater Hymenaeus Alpha 777 aka Grady Louis McMurtry who shed his earthly vehicle and died twenty-three years ago in California on July 12, 1985. He was lying in his hospital bed at Brookside Hospital in San Pablo, discussing forms of meditation with a friend when he softly said, “I think my path is more the Sufi Path.” When questioned what he meant, he simply looked up and said, “I don’t know.” He then closed his eyes and quietly passed away. Grady once wrote that; “The moment of ultimate self-embarrassment is when you die. That is when you wake up.” In other words, you get to review your whole incarnation for all its good and bad, shake your head and then prepare for the next. On July 15th, his body was prepared at the Apollo Crematory in Emeryville, California. He was dressed as Saladin, in a turban with his favorite red robe. A bouquet of roses was placed in his arms shortly before he was cremated. Grady’s ashes remained in the possession of the O.T.O. for almost a year. Then, on July 12th 1986, a large group of individuals boarded a boat rented at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. About three miles past the Golden Gate Bridge, with help of the Neptune Society, his ashes were spread out across the Pacific Ocean. It was written, “From the fire of cremation to the waters of the great sea, by formula and verse did we rejoice him on his way.” A single rose was then tossed into the water, cut from the same bush as the bouquet that had been placed in his hands when he was cremated. As his ashes slowly vanished beneath the waters, one of Grady’s poem was read to send him off on his last voyage -The Redeemer That is in the Waters.


O who will go with the mermen bold
With the mermen, wild and free
O who will rule from the castle old
In the Chasm of the sea
And who will brave the abyssal cold
For all eternity?

O I will go with the mermen bold
With the mermen, wild and free
And I will rule from the castle old
In the Chasm of the sea
And I will brave the abyssal cold
For one eternity!


Monday, July 14, 2008

NIGEL BRYANT versus Dan BROWN: "The Origin of the Grail"

MERLIN'S MOUND author Nigel Bryant appeared on ITV's much-publicised programme The Grail Trail (25.9.05) to attack the vision of the Holy Grail in Dan Brown's THE DA VINCI CODE.

Preface: Origins of the Grail legend?
No-one will ever know for certain, but a personal view which may well be wrong is this: I think it most probable that the story of the Grail which developed in the Middle Ages was (a) first and foremost, to all intents and purposes, an entirely original creation by Chretien de Troyes, the astonishingly brilliant French poet who, were he not stigmatised in most modern eyes by being medieval, would be regarded as one of the all-time greats; but (b) he had in the back of his mind the potent motif of a magic feeding vessel / cauldron of regeneration from Celtic oral tradition - Bretons were prominent professional story-tellers in medieval France.

It's crucial to understand that in Chretien's magnificent, inspirational poem the grail is NOT explicitly Christian - it is NOT "the Holy Grail" - but it does arrive on the scene with another object - a bleeding lance - which has been interpreted by some as a phallic male symbol accompanying the female grail, but which Chretien's audience would INSTANTLY and UNDOUBTEDLY have connected not with a phallus but with the Lance of Longinus (the lance with which Christ was stabbed on the Cross). This is overwhelmingly probable because holy relics - not least that particular holy relic the Holy Lance, which a man named Peter Bartholomew claimed to have found during the First Crusade - were a hot topic at the time, since holy relics and holy places were being lost to the forces of Christendom in no uncertain manner (in 1187 the True Cross itself was lost to Saladin at the catastrophic - if you're a Crusader - battle of Hattin). It is possible, and very interesting, to think that Chretien might have been inspired to the idea of the bleeding lance by a pagan ritual object, but in a way it's irrelevant, because whether he was or not, his audience would simply not have made that connection - or if they had, it would have been intriguingly interconnected in their minds with Peter Bartholomew's Christian "Holy Lance". But that's symbols for you. And the presence in Chretien's poem of an object so suggestive of that sacred Christian relic alongside the by-no-means-obviously-Christian grail prompted another poet, Robert de Boron, to claim the vessel unequivocally for orthodox Christianity by writing a "prequel" in which he identified the grail as the vessel used by Christ at the Last Supper and by Joseph of Arimathea at the Crucifixion.

But isn't it interesting that in other developments of Chretien's unfinished Grail story, the vessel has the power to heal, and also to feed endlessly... Then again, an orthodox Christian might say that a plate of communion wafers is a magic feeding vessel, and has the power to heal... Then again, a pagan might point out that the mother of all magic feeding vessels is the earth... And then there's the matter of the womb...

And Dan Brown . . .
"It may seem strange," he says, "that I laid into Brown for using the Grail as a symbol of the womb, of the sacred feminine, when that very thing is central to MERLIN'S MOUND. But the difference is that I'm using it knowingly as a symbol. And I don't claim that MERLIN'S MOUND is anything more (or less) than a story.

"The trouble with Brown's book is that it's a prime example of a dire new literary genre of pseudo-fact. Unfortunately, in THE DA VINCI CODE Dan Brown has swallowed hook, line and sinker the central thesis of a best-seller of two decades ago - The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail - which can be demolished in 30 seconds.

"The theory depends entirely on a mistake caused by astonishingly sloppy scholarship. The play on words by which the SANGREAL (the Holy Grail) is supposedly a code for SANG-REAL ('royal blood') - leading on to the hilarious notion (after all, let's just stop and think about it for a second) that a child born of Jesus and Mary Magdalene was the start of a bloodline which kept going in secret for 2,000 years - simply doesn't work. Dan Brown lists a series of 'facts' at the start of his book; well here's a fact he doesn't mention: the spelling SANGREAL doesn't exist in any French work. It's a pun that works only in French, but no French writer ever used it. In French it's invariably written SAINT GRAAL. The only person who ever did write SANGREAL was the 15th-century Englishman John Hardyng whose French wasn't very good, so he heard 'saint graal', didn't know how to spell it, had a guess and wrote 'sangreal'. And on that simple mistake, almost akin to a typing error, is the whole wild theory based.

"I've no problem with it, actually - the Mary Magdalene / bloodline of Christ idea's a fun story - but claiming it (and other supposed 'facts' in Dan Brown's book) to be 'true' is sad in the extreme. We've got to be able to distinguish fact from fiction. Pseudo-fact does no favours either for fiction or for history or, for that matter, for the world of symbols.

"I'm seriously interested in the medieval Grail stories - hence my book The Legend of the Grail [Boydell Brewer, 2004], which brings together the eight great French grail romances of the 12th and 13th centuries and creates from them a single, coherent narrative. Womb imagery is nowhere to be seen. But that doesn't mean I can't use the Grail's potential symbolism and work it into a story of the sacred feminine in MERLIN'S MOUND. But I'm not going to do a Dan Brown and claim it to be 'true' in the sense of being a 'fact'. Let's all grow up a bit. The Grail doesn't exist and never did. But it's there even though it's not there. It's absolutely 'true', profoundly 'true', when you take it as a symbol."

Click on title for more information on Nigel Bryant's young adult fiction novel Merlin's Mound