Grimoire of the Necronomicon

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Grimoire of the Necronomicon by Donald Tyson.

Tyson Grimoire of the Necronomicon

I have praised occultist Donald Tyson’s Necronomicon pastiche as one of the best of its class. I was therefore a little disappointed with what I found in his book of practical cthulhvian magick Grimoire of the Necronomicon. On the whole, this text represents a hermetically domesticated approach to such sorcery, rife with concessions to make it accessible to the vulgar. Tyson has elaborated a conspicuously tidy pantheon of chaos deities, and burdened it with a quasi-Gnostic theology of his own devising, regarding the redemption of the goddess Barbelzoa, daughter of Azathoth.

Tyson’s introduction is written earnestly in his own voice, but the rest of the book is portentously styled as formal instruction from the (non-existent, when he wrote it) Order of the Old Ones. This postulated organization is a strange case of aspirational invented religion. The author expresses his undisguised hope that practitioners will adopt the codes of ceremony, community, and rank that he sets forth here, but also seems unwilling to admit to any efforts on his part to realize such an eventuality beyond writing the book in hand. His chapter on “The Order of the Old Ones” says it “shall be established” using the imperative tone of a constitutional document and supplies plausible mechanisms by which his proposed system could generate the Order stochastically. There are in fact traces of bloggery and facebooking from professed representatives of the Order of the Old Ones from 2010 forward, including an alleged Temple of Azathoth, but if any real organizing has been done, it has had little visibility on the ‘net. (So much the better for them, if they do exist.)

The four sections of the text are concerned with theology, material trappings, basic practices, and initiatory attainment. The material demands of the system are unambitious, and full of allowances for the limitations and convenience of the practitioner. The routine ceremonies of Nightly Obeisance and daily Rites (cycling through the seven pseudo-planetary Lords of the Old Ones) have a jarringly pious sensibility. The equinoctial Rite of the Dancing Gods has the sterile synthetic feel of much neo-Golden-Dawn-style ceremony. But the operation of “Opening the Gate” is a considered mechanism for private attainment drawing significant inspiration from Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch-House.” It also reminds me somewhat of Stephen Sennitt’s “Liber Koth,” a more interesting astral itinerary for sorcerers of Yog-Sothoth.

A curious internal contradiction of the system of attainment set forth in Grimoire of the Necronomicon involves the requirement that “Lords” of the Order’s highest grade must specialize in one of seven paths. The author does not overtly identify with any of them, and how he could write about them with authority is thus a puzzle.

Tyson has composed an Enochian “Long Chant” for use in his system. I give him good marks for his Enochian proficiency, and the commingling of Enochiana with yog-sothothery is well justified, but the content of the chant is so intrinsically “Barbelzoist” that I am unlikely to find any use for it. In the introduction, Aleister Crowley is mentioned in a discussion of the apparent moral valence of the system, but Tyson wisely avoids any attempt to implicate Crowley himself in yog-sothothery. The only detectable trace of actual Thelemic technique or doctrine in the body of the text is the “93 steps to the Black Throne of Azathoth” repeatedly invoked as a central image of the process of attainment.

For purposes of genuine magical work in a Lovecraftian mode, the Grimoire of the Necronomicon is inferior to Hine’s Pseudonomicon and even to the relevant parts of LaVey’s Satanic Rituals. In my library, this book’s main value will be to document the plan for an esoteric invented religion which seems not to have manifested. [via]

On the Fruit of Knowledge and the Precession of the Ages

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Gnostic Notebook: Volume Four: On the Fruit of Knowledge and the Precession of the Ages by Timothy James Lambert.

Lambert The Gnostic Notebook: Volume Four: On the Fruit of Knowledge and the Precession of the Ages

Reviewed on the basis of a complimentary copy received from the author. (Nevertheless, this review contains only my usual biases.)

In this fourth volume of his Gnostic Notebook series, Timothy James Lambert starts in earnest to apply the tools assembled in the first three volumes to the project that he initially forecast. Most of On the Fruit of Knowledge consists of a somewhat digressive exegesis of the biblical books of Genesis and Exodus in terms of the astrological symbolism of equinoctial precession. Lambert begins with the Age of Leo and works forward to Aries. This topic is one to which I have myself given serious attention, although I have prioritized a modern Hermetic symbol system, rather than the “Gnostic” biblical one–with its occasional odd reference to the I Ching–deployed by Lambert. (My work is in part reflected in an essay available online.) The broad outlines of our conclusions on the topic are not too dissimilar.

Throughout this work, Lambert emphasizes the ruling planet of the sign of the vernal equinox. He also includes, as a supplementary characterization, the other sign traditionally ruled by the planet in question. Thus for the Age of Taurus he stresses the symbolic attributes of Venus and also the second Venusian sign of Libra. In my experience it is more customary and more sound to orient to the vernal equinoctial sign of the age and to its complement in the autumnal equinoctial sign–which for Taurus would be Scorpio.

In a few cases, he makes some questionable leaps or contradicts himself. For example, having identified the eruption of Santorini (ca. 1628 B.C.E.) as the ultimate cause of the various plagues of Moses’ Egypt, he suggests that the guiding pillars of cloud and fire of Exodus 13 were “the active volcano in the distance, marked by its massive plume by day and lit by the glow of the molten lava at night” (129). Yet earlier, he had noted accurately, “It is unlikely that the volcanic plume being from a volcano over seven hundred miles away caused the darkness as reported in [Exodus 10:21-29]” (118), and it is no more probable that the lava’s glow would be visible at such a distance. On the whole, I think he is a little more rationalizing than the biblical narrative demands. Still, I share his essential recurring suspicions about ergot-based pharmacopoeia and venereal germ intrigue among the ancient Hebrews.

There is some fuzziness in the chapter on the Age of Gemini regarding regarding the angels or “Sons of God” who had productive congress with the daughters of men. Lambert quite forthrightly raises the question of the objective nature of these entities, and seems dismissive of Sunday School notions about them. But he doesn’t give a clear answer of his own. Are we to suppose that they were merely specially inspired humans? Spirits of psychedelic plants? Extraterrestrial intelligences? I wonder.

If you have already made an unprejudiced exploration of the first books of the Hebrew Bible with an eye to their significance in the evolution of human culture and consciousness, then this book may be a quick read on the whole. Easily half of the text consists of review of key passages from that scripture. If you have not made such study, it may be a challenge, and many of the author’s asides are likely to puzzle you. In any case, the overall thrust of the treatment is to emphasize a hidden Hebrew lore that Lambert takes to have been perpetuated in the Christian tradition represented by the Gospel of Thomas and the Synoptics. He sees this tradition as countered and concealed by the Platonizing Johannine school expressed in the Fourth Gospel and the Apocryphon of John.

The principal theological divide between Lambert’s Thomasines and Johannines is essentially one of serial monotheism versus absolute monotheism. According to the Gnostic Notebook, “Jehovah” is simply a title for the presiding god of the age, and so the Marcionite concept of a Christian god distinct from the Hebrew god is extended with multiple iterations going back through the ages, a notion supposedly affirmed within Thomasine circles. The Johannines, by contrast, had a Platonist opposition to the idea that the true God could be in any way subject to change. Thus the Apocryphon of John removes God from creation entirely, abstracting Him out of the field of tangible existence, and devolving the creator role onto a debased Demiurge spawned from the menses of Sophia (164-6). Exoteric Christianity, according to Lambert, split the difference, maintaining that a single continuous God changed His character from age to age. Though Lambert doesn’t remark the fact, a vivid albeit superstitious elaboration of this doctrine can be found in modern Dispensationalism.

When viewed in the astrological terms advanced by Lambert, the precession of the equinoxes can in fact be seen as the evolution of single deity, the godhead being the sun in its changing relationship to the earth and the fixed stars. In early Platonism, the sun is closely identified with the true world and with the Demiurge, a more benevolent figure than the (Johannine) Gnostic Demiurge. An exploration of esoteric heliolatry that makes an interesting counterpoint and/or supplement to Lambert’s work is the admirable Jesus Christ: Sun of God by David Fideler, with its emphasis on neo-Pythagorean elements in Christian scripture.

Lambert does not advance under this cover to present his view of the Age of Aquarius, which he dates from 1914. (What’s a decade’s difference in twenty-one-and-a-half centuries?) Perhaps he will make some disclosures in that direction in his next volume, where he promises to treat “deeper and darker secrets” of Thomasine Gnosticism, including those contained by the Gospel of Phillip. [via]

Aldus and his Dream Book

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Aldus and his Dream Book: An Illustrated Essay by Helen Barolini.

Barolini Aldus and His Dream Book

It would be going too far to concur with Helen Barolini’s assessment that the whole story of the Hypnerotomachia is “clearly autobiographical,” although George Painter speculates credibly that the second book may entirely be a veiled autobiography in which the priestess of Diana represents the prioress of a nunnery, and the priestess of Venus a bawd. … I am ultimately unpersuaded by Barolini’s defense of the thesis that Aldus Manutius was the author of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, preferring myself the more conservative and straightforward attribution to the monk Francesco Colonna. But Barolini’s book is full of useful research and observations on the Hypnerotomachia, and makes for enjoyable reading. [via]

Annihilation

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.

VanderMeer Annihilation

Annihilation is the first book in a trilogy about agents of a clandestine government agency exploring a forbidden territory.

Annihilation is a parable about personal identity, epistemological frustration, and the elastic boundaries of human consciousness.

Annihilation is a short novel structured around themes of exploration, control, and survival. The principal character and narrator, identified only as “the biologist,” is simultaneously de-personalized and carrying out a deeply personal agenda regarding her lost husband. She is part of a small team which experiences catastrophic internal conflict, and she encounters phenomena of evidently non-human origin that are overwhelmingly exotic. The book defies genre, but I might class it as mystical horror, with some science fiction and espionage tropes.

Despite the obvious differences, Jeff VanderMeer’s “Area X” and the “Kefahuchi Tract” of M. John Harrison’s novels (Light, etc.) have more than a little in common. The infection/mutation of characters and their ambivalent encounters with transcendent power are in both cases oriented toward a mysterious region of putatively non-human influence. Protagonists have all-too-human motives working themselves out in shockingly inhuman contexts. VanderMeer’s prose is less writerly than Harrison’s, but it is efficient and engaging, and both manage the sort of impressionistic feat of bringing the reader to identify with the crucial ignorance of the characters, who are themselves not terribly sympathetic in their traits and histories.

I enjoyed this book and intend to read its two sequels. [via]

Summary for the week ending May 13, 2018

Here’s a summary of activity for the week ending May 13th, 2018.

Still looking for help and others to join me in a working community around the library, of course.

Lots of new pages and work on old pages on the site, which is pretty much every week, really. You can always check the front page of the site which shows the most recent changes and new pages, or check out the Recent Changes special page for a full list.

Want to join me on this blog and create new art or writing for Hermetic Library? Pitch your Idea.

Help get some conversations started over on the BBS and Chat.

Be sure to check out the actual Hermetic Library, and drop a buck in the tip jar or become a Patron.

Consider also checking out what I’m up to on my personal blog and at Odd Order.

Here’s a summary of posts on the blog from last week

Some top pages at the library

Some top posts on social media

The Dirge of Reason

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Dirge of Reason by Graeme Davis.

Davis The Dirge of Reason

This Arkham Horror Files novella introduces Roland Banks, agent of the Bureau of Investigation on his first assignment to Arkham, Massachusetts. He is rueful from a recent misadventure in law enforcement where he was stymied by local corruption, and it seems like he’s been given a punitive errand in sorting out an explosion and mass-death that has stumped the local police. This story not only details his initial encounter with paranormal monstrosity, but also the degradation of his “Boy Scout” ethic, along with his first active involvement in a cover-up.

Fittingly, the tone of this narrative is more X-Files than HPL. Settings range from the Arkham woods to the Nightingale Club speakeasy to the Miskatonic University campus to a patient visit at the Arkham Asylum. Other regular characters from the Arkham Files featured in the tale include Leo De Luca and Professor Warren Rice. The illustrated end-matter consists of handwritten correspondence, a police report, magazine articles, news clippings, and scholars’ notes within the frame of the story. These are all convincingly assembled, and the clues dropped here suggest that author Davis has followed up on the lead of Cthulhvian expert Robert M. Price in identifying Azathoth with the Mana-Yood-Sushai of Lord Dunsany. Lovecraft’s own “daemon sultan” references to Beckford’s Vathek are faintly traceable in the Tell La’anat archaeological remains from northern Mesopotamia which inspired the composer Oliver Haldane in the musical project that was interrupted by the catastrophe Roland is investigating.

As with other novellas in this series, this one includes an alternate-art character card and two “replacement” signature cards for use in Arkham Horror: The Card Game. Roland Banks is a character in the original core set for the game, so there’s nothing new about the character but the art–which is rather nice, with Roland backlit by flames like he is on the book cover. The signature cards are quite interesting, though. The replacement for Roland’s .38 Special asset is a clue-finding event called Mysteries Remain, which rather pales by comparison to the gun. But the replacement signature weakness is the titular Dirge of Reason, which can actually be helpful in the use of Roland’s .38 Special and in dealing with his original signature weakness Cover Up. My next Roland deck is sure to use the double-signature option to add the replacement cards without removing the original signatures. [via]

Nightmare Alley

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham.

This deservedly-lauded noir novel was a pioneer in the use of tarot trumps to designate its chapter sequence. The tarot relates to the carnival fortunetelling that is an eventual talent of the central character–Stan Carlisle, a man who becomes less and less sympathetic with the turn of every page.

At the start of the book, Stan is a rookie magician in a traveling carnival. The story follows his career through a graduation to a high-class entertainment mentalist act, and then into the “spook racket” of Spiritualist religion, in which he fleeces a rich widow and establishes a church. It is as “the Reverend Carlisle” that Stan meets his match as a deceiving manipulator, the psychologist Lillith Ritter. His secret collaboration with Ritter is the acme of Stan’s career, but also the start of his descent into paranoid misery punctuated by dipsomania. The book brings him full circle to be crushed under the wheel of fortune he had ridden to its top. The final chapter is “The Hanged Man.”

The prose of this novel–Gresham’s first–is lively and full of vivid idiomatic language from mid-twentieth-century America, and it clearly reflects the author’s deep interest in and familiarity with carny culture and religious fraud. (In later years, Gresham would spend a short while as a Scientologist!) It is written in a third-person narrative voice that swings between clinically external observations and stream-of-consciousness interiority, requiring the reader in either case to infer the motives or the circumstances involved. Nightmare Alley offers a perceptive and unflinching observation of the extremes of human power and weakness. [via]

Dancer of Gor

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Dancer of Gor by John Norman.

Norman Dancer of Gor

More than any single volume I can recall, this one is an interplanetary bdsm fairy tale. The first-person protagonist is a virginal pink-collar professional (a librarian!) abducted from Earth to become a pleasure slave on Gor, thus having her deepest fantasies fulfilled. I was hoping that the alien intelligences of the Gor series might reappear in this installment, so I was pleased that some Kur (“Beasts”) were involved in the book. But they are really incidental to the book’s plot and don’t advance the larger background narrative in any discernible way. [via]

The White Robe

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The White Robe: A Saint’s Summary by James Branch Cabell.

Cabell The White Robe

You could be forgiven for concluding from the subtitle (“A Saint’s Summary”) that James Branch Cabell’s novella The White Robe was a hagiography. For that, though, you should read the story of Saint Hoprig in the loosely-related novel The High Place. What you will find in The White Robe is an account of a seventeenth-century rogue whose career as a savage lycanthrope fits him for great success as a high ecclesiastic. Sorry about the spoiler, but I’ve left out the final twist, as well as several in the interim. As usual with Cabell, though, the fun is less the plot than the rhetorically elaborate but emotionally understated prose.

In ten very short chapters, this book is a good representative introduction to Cabell’s fantasy work. Unfortunately, it is pretty scarce in its beautiful 1928 first edition, which is in the Polyphilus typeface on handmade paper, with simulated medieval-style wood boards, and full-page illustrations by Robert E. Locher. [via]