Bkwyrm reviews The Magical Household: Spells & Rituals for the Home by Scott Cunningham and David Harrington in the Occult Book Reviews archive.
Let me preface my review of this work by mentioning for what seems like the nine millionth time that Cunningham wrote beginner books. If he had lived longer, he probably would have written intermediate and advanced texts on Wicca, but he didn’t. He died before he had a chance to write anything beyond the absolute basics. If you’ve been practicing for a while, and you’ve got a fair number of books on your shelf, Cunningham works are not going to be all that helpful to you. This is a work about hearth-and-home Wicca. It is intended to guide the reader through charms and spells to make the home happy, productive, and magical. Nineteen short chapters include Thresholds of Power, Bathing and Brushing, The Mystic Garden, Household Purifications, and suchlike. The writing is clear and easy to read – the usual standard Cunningham fare. Charms and rituals are scattered throughout the book, together with folklore on the home from many cultures and traditions. Each chapter stands on its own, as a self-contained essay on a particular subject. It might be because the book was a collaboration project, but I didn’t find this book particularly interesting or useful. The sections seem disjointed – while there is an overall coherency to the style, the varied topics are arranged in such a way that the reader is shifted from one concentration to the next, with no transition. The different cultures and traditions that the spells and charms come from are given a very superficial treatment, with no materials suggested for further research and study. As Cunningham’s books go, this is certainly not one of the best examples of his work.
Julianus reviews The Lord of the World by René Guénon in the Occult Book Reviews archive.
Rene Guenon is the founder of the Traditionalist school of religious philosophy. They consider that all “authentic” religions are derived from the “Primordial Tradition” and spend a great deal of time denouncing the anti-Traditional trend of modern civilisation. This odd little pamphlet is all about Lord of the World who is sort of a Secret Chief behind all valid Traditions. Much of this material comes from Theosophy, which Guenon denounced as a “pseudo-religion” in an early book, and this edition is published by some Gurdjieffians, who Traditionalists abhor as horrid anti-Initiates. This strange bedfellowship suits the odd mix of Hinduism, Grail mythology, 19th century occultism, and Qabalah in the text. Not bad for a guy who looked like a dead fish.
Magdalene Meretrix review The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher and The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher by Lewis Thomas in the Occult Book Reviews archive.
These, Dr. Thomas’ first and second books, are timeless classics. Though Dr. Thomas is discussing science in his essays, his writing style has a mystic and poetic quality to it and his thoughts are inventive, unique and quirky. I imagine the late Dr. Thomas would be intrigued by alchemy and other hermetic disciplines though he might not take them seriously as being applicable to modern times. Still, there is a strong quality of magick in Dr. Thomas’ writing, particularly in his first book, Lives of a Cell.
For the scientist who enjoys a poetic view of nature or for the magician who tends to incorporate modern science into his world paradigm, these essays will be a delight. Some are sad, some will make you chuckle, all will make you ponder the universe whether on a large or small scale. I highly recommend Dr. Thomas’ essays to the intellectual reader.
Randal Bowyer reviews The Light of Egypt, Vols. I and II: The Science of The Soul and The Stars by Zanoni (Thomas H Burgoyne) in the Occult Book Reviews archive.
T. H. Burgoyne (co-founder of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor) speaks with an unusual level of authority on occult matters, in the second volume at least. If I understand the situation correctly, Burgoyne published Volume I in 1889, died in 1895, and then published Volume II in 1900 through the mediumistic assistance of Henry and Belle Wagner. I understand that after the deaths of Dr. and Mrs. Wagner, they collaborated with Burgoyne on a third volume which was channelled through their son, the publisher H. O. Wagner. I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing Volume III, nor have I been able to discover if H. O. Wagner has yet “crossed over;” if so, I do hope he will join in the family business, and give the world a fourth volume via the next generation of Wagners.
Anyhow, the best parts of volume I are reprinted in The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, and those who are only interested in the stuff written before the author died can get by with those reprinted selections. Personally, I liked what Burgoyne had to say after he was dead better than I liked that Great Cosmic Cycle goo he emphasized while alive: death seems to have made his outlook more practical and his style a little, well, livelier. I can think of a few contemporary esoteric writers who would do well to repeat Mr. Burgoyne’s experiment.
Randall Bowyer reviews The Law Is for All: The Authorized Popular Commentary of Liber Al Vel Legis Sub Figura CCXX, The Book of the Law by Aleister Crowley in the Occult Book Reviews archive.
Back in the 1970s, everybody and his dog decided to publish Crowley’s commentary on Liber AL: Grant & Symonds did Magical and Philosophical Commentaries on the Book of the Law in ’74, then Regardie produced The Law is for All in ’75, and Motta joined the fray with The Commentaries of AL in ’76. All these books are abridgements of Crowley’s voluminous commentaries, and all differ according to the views of the editors.
Twenty years later, Hymenaeus Beta has given us the abridged commentary which Crowley himself intended to publish. Intended for the layman, this “Authorized Popular Commentary” brushes aside Qabalistic complexities and metaphysical fuzz to focus on the central message of The Book of the Law – just the thing to give your favorite Minerval!
The one thing I really dislike about the book is that it uses Regardie’s title from 1975, The Law is for All, instead of the straightforward Commentary on the Book of the Law which Crowley intended. Of course, Crowley bibliography has never been a simple matter, so I suppose the existence of two distinct books on the same subject, with the same author, same title, and same publisher, will only confuse a few tyros.
Julianus reviews The House of Toad by Richard Tierney in the Occult Book Reviews archive.
A sort of modernised Cthulhu Mythos novel featuring a Black Magician named “J. Cornelius Wasserman” who is fond of saying, “Let thine own Will become the Law of Laws.” Like many such books, it starts out interesting and then succumbs to deus ex machina as the author lets the good guys win. File it under “fictional use of Crowley”, cross-index it with “Lovecraft pastiche”, then go reread the real things.
Bkwyrm reviews The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries: Feminist Witchcraft, Goddess Rituals, Spellcasting and Other Womanly Arts … Complete In One Volume by Zsuzanna Budapest in the Occult Book Reviews archive.
Subtitled “Feminist Witchcraft, Goddess Rituals, Spellcasting, & Other Womanly Arts”. This subtitle gives Z. Budapest’s bias away – she’s a Dianic Witch and a feminist.
There’s a ton of information on her own tradition of Dianic Wicca in this book, including holidays, beliefs, tools, and just about everything else. All of it, however, subject to Budapest’s personal views and opinions. Contains thought-provoking essays, including a whole section on “The Politics of Food”. Budapest includes rituals, meditations, and group-working activities in this book. A useful reference if you’re a Dianic, or interested in Dianic trad. Still a useful reference if you’re a Witch of a different tradition – Z. Budapest is a well-known author, and this book is a good example of why so many people read her work.
Randall Bowyer reviews The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor: Initiatic and Historical Documents of an Order of Practical Occultism by Joscelyn Godwin, & al. in the Occult Book Reviews archive.
This book certainly provides more information about the H.B.L. than did the previously available sources: the first half of the book gives historical information about the colorful personalities involved in the order, and the second half offers a heap of primary-source material by and about the order.
The H.B.L. secret documents are pretty disappointing, and consist mostly of the sort of metaphysical gup that was popular in the nineteenth century–you know, vague pseudo scientific theories about magnetism and verbose yammering about Great Cosmic Cycles that guide the course of history. There’s some stuff lifted from Levi which will be familiar to students of Crowley or the G∴D∴, and there’s some occasional stuff about sex to revive the reader’s interest. More interesting and more entertaining, though more frustrating, is the historical section. Unfortunately, the material is not organized chronologically; instead it is grouped anecdotally around the major figures in the order’s history, which makes it a little difficult for the reader to keep in mind what was going on when. I suspect the authors chose to present their research in this odd fashion to give the impression of a connected story, since it seems that they really don’t know much about the chronology of the order. Even a century ago the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor was pretty obscure, and modern researchers just don’t have much to go on. For example, O.T.O. initiates would be very eager to learn more about the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light, which was somehow involved in the early history of O.T.O. The entire discussion of this H.B.L. offshoot is one sentence on p. 67, which informs us that the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light was either founded or reorganized in 1895, at either Chicago or Boston, and that it “fed the streams of sexual practice flowing into the Ordo Templi Orientis….” While that is more than I knew previously, it is not quite as much as I had hoped to learn from this book.
Ingeborg Svea Norden reviews The Healing Runes by Ralph Blum in the Occult Book Reviews archive.
Yet another book in the same vein as his previous two; he produced it with the help of a Christian minister, which should give you some idea of how seriously he takes Germanic pagan beliefs. The only good thing about it is the cheap rune set that comes packaged with the book. If you’re a rune reader who desperately needs to replace a lost set, buy this book–then throw it away and keep the runes.
Julianus reviews The H.P. Lovecraft Dream Book in the Occult Book Reviews archive.
Despite all the rumours amongst the Junior Satanist League types, HPL was certainly not a practicing occultist, at least not conciously. He was a great dreamer who could hardly nod off for a second without entering some elaborate fantasy, many of which formed the basis for his best-known stories. This chapbook collects some 23 letters describing various important episodes in Lovecraft’s dream-life, sometimes giving varying accounts of the same dream to different correspondents. Some of these would certainly be classed as significant visions or past-life memories if the writer were a Magician, and a Qabalistic analysis of these would be interesting. Of special note is an extended dream of ancient Rome where HPL experienced something like a week of detailed coherent life (not the least bit “dream-like”) in the period. This was used almost verbatim as an episode in Frank Belknapp Long’s “The Horror from the Hills.”