Tag Archives: Donald Tyson


Hermetic Library Fellow John Michael Greer reviews Tetragrammaton: The Secret to Evoking Angelic Powers and the Key to the Apocalypse by Donald Tyson in the archive of Caduceus: The Hermetic Quarterly.

Tyson Tetragrammaton

Most modern Hermeticists are familiar with Donald Tyson by way of his erudite and highly useful annotated edition of Henry Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy (Llewellyn, 1993). This new book of Tyson’s has many of the strengths of that earlier work, and it fills a space in the literature of the Western magical tradition which, until now, has been largely vacant. At the same time, though, it suffers from several perplexing failings, which should be kept in mind by those who study or practice the material it covers.

The strengths of the work are substantial enough that they deserve to be considered first. The Tetragrammaton – the four-lettered Hebrew Name of God which, in Latin letters, is spelled YHVH – is a continuing presence throughout the history of esoteric spirituality and magic in the West. Tyson traces this history ably, touching on many of the correspondences and applications of the Name in Jewish, Christian, Hermetic, Gnostic and magical sources, including such rarely-considered matters as the Christian Hermeticist doctrine of the Pentagrammaton and the inner geometries of John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica. The twelve Banners of the Name, permutations of the Tetragrammaton’s letters which are assigned to the twelve signs of the Zodiac and the twelve tribes of Israel, receive a great deal of discussion; he presents a set of correspondences and interpretations for the Banners which, although they differ from the traditional ones, are certainly useable in practical terms.

From the symbolism of the Banners and a passage from the Book of Revelations, in turn, Tyson derives what is certainly the most valuable part of the book: the discussion of the Wings of the Winds, an order of twenty-four angelic spirits which can be evoked and commanded through a series of ritual workings he gives in detail. The symbolic generation of the Wings and the ceremonies used to summon them show Tyson at his best, making skillful and creative use of a great deal of abstruse magical lore, and they deserve to be studied as solid examples of the way modern and traditional perspectives can be effectively combined in magical practice.

A less productive aspect of Tyson’s book is his insistence that his particular system of correspondences is the only true one, and other (and usually older) versions are either deliberate “blinds” or simply wrong. If the diversity of the world’s magical systems teaches anything, it is that correspondences are symbolic languages, and thus useful rather than true; to say that one particular set of correspondences is “correct” is like saying that French is true and all other languages are false. Similarly, it’s not usually a useful idea to insist, as Tyson too often does, that any pattern of symbolism that doesn’t make obvious rational sense must be garbled or wrong. It’s often precisely those elements of symbolism that evade easy comprehension that have the most to teach.

A far more serious weakness in this book, and a much more puzzling one, is the way Tyson interprets the Enochian system of magic created or received by the Elizabethan mage John Dee and his scryer Edward Kelly. Tyson’s contention, developed at length in the book’s final chapter and a lengthy appendix, is that this system is nothing less than “a complex ritual working whose sole purpose is to open the four sealed gates of the Watchtowers, allowing the entry of the great Dragon, Coronzon or Satan, who will bring about the final destruction of the manifest universe.” (p. 186). He takes this claim very seriously, suggesting that the proper use of the Enochian keys will result in a quite literal apocalypse in which “Coronzon will transform the universe into a suitable dwelling place for himself and his ministers, in the process destroying the human race…his sovereignty over our blasted universe will be of brief duration, but this will yield scant consolation to those billions who are slaughtered by war, famine, plagues, and natural disasters” (p. 237).

This section of the book raises a whole host of questions, few of which are satisfactorily answered. Tyson offers little in the way of evidence for his interpretation; he simply presents it as fact, and develops a reading of the Enochian Keys based on the assumption that he is correct. He correctly points out that imagery from the Book of Revelation appears throughout the Enochian material and Dee’s diaries, but gives no reasons for believing that these images should be taken literally – or more seriously than, say, the prophecies of Mother Shipton. He suggests that errors in the system are the only reason Coronzon has not yet put in an appearance, and then proposes various corrections – surely an odd thing to do, if these same errors are our best hope of staving off Armageddon!

A good deal of the material in this section seems to derive from the same kind of overly literal reading of the Book of Revelation that shows up in so much fundamentalist writing on the subject. Like so many other modern readers, Tyson may not have kept in mind the intensely symbolic nature of apocalyptic literature, or paid enough attention to the many uses of apocalyptic imagery in the social, religious and political world in which Dee and Kelly lived and performed their magic. Still, it seems at least possible that there’s one other influence at work, consciously or not, in Tyson’s interpretation. With its images of cosmic doom and its allegations that Dee and Kelley were unwitting pawns in a diabolical plot on the part of malign supernatural powers, this entire section of the book reads remarkably like passages in the fantasy fiction of H. P. Lovecraft. The similarities in theme and tone are striking enough that one almost expects to see references to Yog-Sothoth and the Voorish Sign.

Perhaps Tyson will devote the whole of a future book to his interpretation of the Enochian material, and provide more in the way of justification for his claim. In the meantime, his work on the Tetragrammaton remains a useful contribution, but one which needs to be read carefully, so that the wheat can be separated from the millenarian chaff.

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]

Rune Magic

Ingeborg Svea Norden reviews Rune Magic by Donald Tyson in the Bkwyrm archive.

The author is a ceremonial magician, more at home with the Qabala than with anything Norse–and it shows in his book. Tyson’s rituals read as if he’d stolen them from a Judeo-Christian magical group and substituted Norse god-names for the originals. His interpretations of the runes also tend toward black-and-white thinking, more Biblical than Norse. (He translates Thurisaz as “devil”, saying that the rune “signifies a bad man or woman” in a reading.) The book also contains some rather poor poetry which Tyson supposedly channeled in an attempt to “communicate with each rune”.

Find this book at Amazon, Abebooks, and Powell’s.

Recent Rending the Veil post is an entry by Nico Psyche in an exchange about atheism, magick and mysticism

Recent Rending the Veil post at “Ignorance: The Real Enemy” is an entry by Nico Psyche in an exchange about atheism, magick and mysticism.

“In an absurd tirade ludicrously titled ‘Atheism — The Real Enemy,’ Donald Tyson misrepresents atheism and atheists in general, portraying us as fiendish creatures out to dispel the glamours of religion and spiritual belief from the credulous but duped masses.

Tyson appeals for Christian and Pagans to unite in their common belief in god(s) (of some kind or another) against the rising atheist threat. This simply isn’t necessary. If Christians and Pagans want to be friends, let them be friends for the right reasons, and not simply to become united in hatred against a common enemy, fabricated though it may be, as in Tyson’s vicious portrayal of The Atheist.”

Update 25oct2009: Here’s a post that contemplates religion without superstition, but the author thinks no such thing exists: “Can knowledge replace dogma?