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