Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Shaping Formless Fire : Distilling the Quintessence of Magick

By Stephen Mace
Published by New Falcon Publications

Review by Akashanath 8/1/06 e.v.

Based on a series of articles originally written for German Magazine Zillo, Shaping Formless Fire is a comprehensive introduction to the author's unique magick system. This is not to say that the sixteen short essays will be of no use to people working in other paradigms. Nor should the experienced occultist be put off by the fact that this book is aimed at 'beginners'. The fermentation of Mace's thirty plus years of practical experience, sharp analytical mind and lucid writing style has produced a rich and deeply textured brew that will appeal to a wide range of palates.

For those who are not familiar with the work of Stephen Mace, it may be useful to rewind twenty years, to the point where he stepped out of the shadows. After a decade of sterility amongst English-speaking occultists, a new magickal underground had started to gather momentum. Bored with the elitism and exclusivity of Golden Dawn style hierarchical Orders and unimpressed with the repetitive formalism of rituals based on combinations of freemasonry and the qabalah, this new breed looked to individualists like Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare for their inspiration. The new credo eventually coalesced around the twin pillars of non-dogmatism and mastery of technique, subsequently acquiring the glamour of 'Chaos Magick'. Publications such as Peter Carrol's Psychonaut and Liber Null made the ideas accessible to a wider audience. This stimulated enough interest to generate several working groups and a few periodicals, notably Chaos International. These in turn gave a public platform to a surprising number of like-minded occultists who, it turned out, had been beavering away in the wilderness all along. It is to this group that Stephen Mace belongs.

Though Mace's ideas definitely captured the Zeitgeist of the mid eighties, they have scarcely become less relevant over the intervening period. While many of his contemporaries departed from the early egalitarianism of the Chaos scene by attempting to build personality cults or by reinventing the Occult Order, Mace remained humble and unincorporated, with his nose firmly to the grindstone. I mention this because it bears closely on the work in question. The book is not interesting because it is written by 'The Great Stephen Mace', it is not interesting because the author is 'an XIo Adept in the Crowley Copyright Club'. It is interesting (and convincing) because Steve Mace has done exactly what he says he's done, usually repeatedly until he's understood it completely and assimilated any lessons to be learned.

The whole book exemplifies this, but to illustrate the point I'll use Chapter III (Astral Projection). It may help the reader to know that Mace's original Manum Opus (yes, they are plural) synthesised Sparian sigilisation with the Thelemic Liber Samekh (known to the old school as the Abramelin Operation). As many readers will know, those who claim to have achieved 'the knowledge and conversation' of their Holy Guardian Angels can often sound a little pompous. This contrasts sharply with Mace's matter-of-fact reportage. 'Of course, all this [astral magick] would be easier if you had an assistant on the [astral] planes to help you manage all the spirits you meet there' he mentions almost in passing. In case you were interested, he continues 'Traditionally the way to become acquainted with your Angel is through months of progressively greater austerities. An alternate method is to design an alphabetic sigil from letters of a sentence requesting knowledge of it. Then after about 6 weeks of putting energy into it you should be able to use it to meet your Angel on the Astral.' The only possible objection to this is that it sounds a little simplistic. As if he's read your mind, the author immediately meets you with the rejoinder 'I have told you a great deal about astral projection, but I haven't given you the explicit instruction you need to do it. This is because its proper practice is just too complex to fit into the space I have here …" This could equally apply to the book as a whole. It's full of fascinating detail about the author's down-to-earth approach to the whole gamut of magickal experience, from divination, through initiation, sacred spaces, and sex magick to magickal combat and black magick. But it's not a manual.

So, what are the highlights, apart from the aforementioned? The occasional personal anecdotes the author throws in to illustrate various themes are usually pretty entertaining. Take, for example, the story of his arrest and subsequent imprisonment in the 1970s, used to illustrate the process of initiation Chapter X. He also drops the occasional pearl about the modern world, such as the reference to '…the vast insurance pool that underlies modern society' . And Chapters XI and XII, which deal with black magick and magickal combat, should be compulsory reading for every hormone-high teenager who's just scared himself shitless by discovering that magick actually works. And the low points? Very few. Perhaps the book could've benefited by omitting the dark prognostications for the collapse of the Pax Amricana in the opening paragraphs, although it could equally be true that some readers will find inspiration here, as the author obviously intends. Some people might also take issue with the more idiosyncratic features of the author's approach, such as the location of the Guardian Angel at the centre of virtually every process, or his insistence on the necessity of 'magickal cleansing'. From my perspective, however, this one of the book's great strengths. The world is not short of occult writers who can read and digest books on magick, regurgitating in general terms any plausible sounding relationships and parallels, but rejecting anything that looks out of place. What we are desperately short of, on the other hand, is experienced magicians prepared to tell it how it is, and Shaping Formless Fire has this in spades.

To summarise, then, it's a modern classic by one of the less visible founders of Chaos Magick. Essential for anyone thinking about practicing Macian Sorcery, useful for the general beginner, and a good read for the experienced occultist.


Blogger Jane said...

this book is definately on my 'to read' list. The literature of Magick is new to me, but of all the authors I have read I can relate most to Mace for I have developed my own personal magic that I never called magick until I found out that it was. Delving into Mace he really puts a focus on self development, not memorization of rituals and meditations.

I highly recommend "Squeazing Being" and "Sorcery as Virtual Mechanics" though any essay or book of Mace's is sure to be helpful.

Expect to need to read any of his work more than once!

10:56 AM  

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