Tag Archives: Reference

The Age of Reason

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Age of Reason [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Thomas Paine, ed Moncure Daniel Conway.

Paine Conway The Age of Reason

Thomas Paine was a leading public intellectual of the 18th-century American Revolution, with his pamphlets Common Sense and The American Crisis as chief texts of the “spirit of 1776.” He followed these publications with his Rights of Man to defend the French and American revolutionary efforts against reactionary political sentiment in England. His final major work The Age of Reason was written as an expatriate in France. The first and shorter part he composed under the shadow of imminent arrest and possible execution, without recourse to a copy of the Bible that it criticizes. The second part includes a more detailed evaluation of Christian scripture, on grounds of both its provenance and internal features.

“Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself than this thing called Christianity” (189-90). Raised by Quakers, Paine was an exemplary Deist of his period and staunchly anti-Christian. His distaste for Christianity is entirely consistent with and often justified by his Deist piety, refusing to attribute to the godhead sentiments and behaviors offensive to human conscience.

Paine’s dismantling of claims that the Bible should be regarded as the “Word of God” remain effective today, performed entirely around the evident sense of the texts themselves, without recourse to the “higher criticism” already being developed in Paine’s time, which was to prove so damning to the historical pretenses of Bible reception. He does verge on source criticism at a couple of points in discussing the evident “Gentile” origins of certain component texts of the Bible, but simply refers to the judgments of Jewish authorities (Abenezra and Spinoza) and the texts’ inconsistency with ancient Hebrew culture and religious sentiment (124-5), rather than any putative source texts. Paine’s attacks on the moral features of the supposed heroes of the Bible have not lost any of their force or relevance.

While Aleister Crowley was later to take up as a rallying cry Paine’s maxim that “Mystery is the antagonist of truth” (76), I would not say the Beast intended it in just the same unsubtle sense as the venerable Revolutionary, although mystery’s envelopment of truth in Paine’s argument foreshadows Crowley’s incantation. Paine classes mystery with miracle and prophecy as the three invidious organs of revealed or “fabulous religion” (75, 80-2), which he opposes to the “true religion” grounded in scientific admiration for nature and individual conformity to reasoned ethics.

Miracle is faulty for “degrading the Almighty into the character of a show-man, playing tricks to amuse and make the people stare and wonder” (79). The enlightened man of reason (dare I say “magician”) will stare and wonder at unadorned reality, of course. As regards prophecy, Paine makes an important distinction between the archaic sense that he finds for the word in the Hebrew Bible, where it evidently means musical performance and/or poetry (35-7), and the “modern” sense in which “prophet” takes the place of “seer” indicating a claimant to divinely-guided psychic foreknowledge (81-2, 111 citing 1 Samuel 9:9). “Prophet” thus ultimately descends to a mere synonym for “liar,” particularly in such cases as Isaiah, whose prognostication was contradicted by the subsequent course of events (133-4).

A full chapter of the first part of The Age of Reason is dedicated to “The Effects of Christianism on Education,” sadly relevant to the US of the 21st century. The Christian institutions of education substitute indoctrination for learning, in order to profit by the resulting ignorance and cognitive dissonance. Today, we can see the further turn of the wheel in which Christians accuse sincere secular efforts to foster learning with the psychologically projected charge of “indoctrination,” since that is the only function they can see in schooling. Current attacks on public libraries and new laws to put schoolteachers in ideological straight-jackets manifest such perspectives in policy, although the recurring phenomenon is as old as the US nation-state, a polity distinctive for its historical adoption of anti-literacy laws.

My Dover paperback copy of The Age of Reason reproduces the 1896 Putnam’s edition by Moncure Daniel Conway, which reconciled the first-published French text with the later unauthorized English edition, noting the variances in footnotes. Conway also appended some correspondence by Paine regarding the work: one letter to “a friend” clarifying the book’s thesis, and another in response to his Revolutionary comrade Sam Adams. The latter clearly shows the Deist anti-Christian Paine to have a greater magnanimity of spirit than his Puritan interlocutor Adams.

The Keys to the Gateway of Magic

J S Kupperman reviews The Keys to the Gateway of Magic: Summoning the Solomonic Archangels and Demon Princes [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Stephen Skinner and David Rankine in the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition archive.

Skinner Rankine The Keys to the Gateway of Magic Summoning the Solomonic Archangels and Demon Princes

Keys to the Gateway of Magic is the second of Skinner and Rankine’s “Sourceworks of Ceremonial Magic” series, following their first book on the angel magic of John Dee. The goal of this series is to provide transcriptions of important manuscripts on Renaissance ceremonial magic. This makes the “Sourceworks” series an important source for primary source material for those studying Renaissance magic.

Keys consists of transcriptions from Harley MS 6482 and Sloane MSS 3628, 3821, 3824 and 3825 from the British Museum and Rawlinson MS D.1363 from the Bodleian Library. In simpler terms it is a collection of three texts on angelic and demonic evocation; Janua Magica Reserta (Keys to the Gateway of Magic), Dr. Thomas Rudd’s Nine Hierarchies of Angels with their Invocations to Visible Appearance and The Demon Princes. Each of these texts appears to have been extremely influential not only during the period when they were written but also in centuries to come; those familiar with the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn will find many of the correspondences presented in these texts to be quite familiar.

Janua Magica Reserta, the first of the texts transcribed by the editors, consists of several different sections. These sections deal with diverse subjects ranging from magical aphorisms to the nature of the human soul and its relation to the Earth to the nature of angels, demons and other spirits such as fairies and Robin Goodfellows, not necessarily subjects one would expect to find in a manuscript on ceremonial magic.

The second book, Dr. Rudd’s Nine Hierarchies of Angels with their Invocations to Visible Appearance is a practical answer to the theoretical information provided in Janua. Hierarchies begins with “The Directory”, which consists of numerous evocations for the summoning of spirits; good, bad or in between, it is interesting to note that there are no differences between the evocations used to call angels and those used to call demons. The text also instructs the magician in ways to test the spirits that have been evoked to see if they are what they say they are. The final section presents nine celestial keys or calls used to evoke the archangels of the Kabbalistic sefirot, along with their seals or signs. As with the previous section the nine calls, each of which being about four pages long and consisting of a single sentence, are identical, with only the specifics of the angels being changed. There is also a tenth key that appears to be a later addition that differs from the previous keys in tone and does not include a seal. The information on the sefirotic angles will be quite familiar with modern ceremonial magicians and appears to be a source for much of the Golden Dawn’s understanding of those great angels.

The Demon Princes is the final, as well as shortest, part of Keys. Princes arms the magician with information about not only the three primary fallen spirits; Lucifer, Beelzebub and Sathan, two of which can actually be evoked, but also the divers spirits that serve beneath Sathan, the four kings of the air; Oriens, Paymon, Egyn and Amaymon. Following these four kings are the numerous spirits who act as their ministers and messengers. Thus Princes is similar in nature to the Goetia, though there are some notable differences such as a complete lack of seals or magic circles. It does however provide lengthy evocations similar in nature to both those found in the Goetia as well as those found in Hierarchies.

The editors do a fine job in their transcriptions; notes are provided to tell the reader where differences between manuscripts occur and they even go so far as to use red ink in places were the original manuscripts used red ink, usually for heading titles or the names of spirits. While I was disappointed to see only facsimiles of the angelic seals, which were often unreadable in places, and no cleaned up versions for ease of reading, this was not a major concern. The readability of the overall text, combined with the numerous notes, more than make up for this.

However the introduction, as well as a few notes and comments on some of the bibliographical material were of concern. The editors present a great deal of historical information, some correct, some not, that while interesting is not always useful. Richard Keickhefer’s Magic in the Middle Ages does in fact provide a much more comprehensive view of medieval magic. While some of the background information on the personae dramatis of the period is interesting they fail to support a number of the theories they present with actual evidence, many of their conclusions come through inference instead. Finally, in a multi-page dissertation on how demons are true entities and not simply psychological constructs, along with attacks on modern psychology appear to be more of a rant than a scholarly discourse; while these assertions may in fact be true the editors are far from able to prove it and simply attacking those who feel otherwise is less than persuasive. Their views also fail to take into account the records of pre-Christian philosophers who were of the opinion that such entities were figments of the mind.

For the most part Keys to the Gateway of Magic will only be of interest to those who want to study primary source material, with its Christian theology and moralizing, long invocations and complete lack of modern banishing techniques. Keys to the Gateway of Magic presents a type of occultism that will be foreign to many practicing occultists today, however it will also show where much of modern occultism comes from. Even with the issues surrounding the editors’ introduction, the transcription makes the purchase of the book worthwhile, though the price makes such a purchase somewhat daunting. For anyone interested in the history of ceremonial magic Keys to the Gateway of Magic is a must have that I greatly recommend.

The Complete Magick Curriculum of the Secret Order G∴B∴G∴

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Complete Magick Curriculum of the Secret Order G∴B∴G∴: Being the Entire Study, Curriculum, Magick Rituals, and Initiatory Practices of the G∴B∴G∴ (The Great Brotherhood of God) [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]  by Louis T Culling, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke.

Culling Weschcke The Complete Magick Curriculum of the Secret Order of G∴B∴G∴

This text (the “Edited, Revised, and Expanded” second edition of The Complete Magick Curriculum of the G∴B∴G∴) is the work of three men distributed over about eight decades. 

At the root is the actual curriculum in the form of rituals and “directives from Headquarters” written by C.F. Russell to instruct the adherents of his Thelemic magical order G∴B∴G∴, which boasted “A Short-cut to Initiation.” This material was put into practice by an organization which achieved total membership in the triple digits during its operation in various US metropolitan areas in the 1930s. It is quite interesting in being a fully-realized Thelemic system of magical training and organizing that appears to have made no reference to the person of Aleister Crowley. It did, however, operate under the authority granted by him to Russell, and it did promote Crowley’s Liber Legis and his cardinal doctrine of Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. The system is deliberately minimalist in design, and the ceremonial liturgies hardly measure up to Crowley’s ritual texts, but I’m sure they were effective. Another notable feature was its deployment of a sex-magical program stemming from the writings of Ida Craddock.

The next layer of The Complete Magick Curriculum was contributed by Louis T. Culling, an initiate of G∴B∴G∴, O.T.O., and A∴A∴, who claimed to have been entrusted by Russell with the duty of publishing the G∴B∴G∴ material — to take place at least twenty years after the closure of the order to aspirants in 1936. (Culling also thanks Katherine Peacock, a fellow G∴B∴G∴ initiate, for her work in preparing the original edition of The Complete Magick Curriculum.) In fact, it was more than thirty years before Culling actually brought the book out, through Llewellyn Publications.

The new “edition, revision, and expansion” of the text, reflected in the 2010 trade paperback issuance, is the fault of longtime Llewellyn publisher Carl Weschcke, who facilitated the publication of the original edition, and was on friendly terms with Culling. This book appears to be a cardinal illustration of the scenario in which editorial correction is poor-to-nonexistent, since nobody wants to tell the boss that his composition stinks. Spelling is variable and erratic. Weschke’s contributions, whether in the foreword, the chapter-level commentaries, the “study and discussion points,” or the appended glossary, are all structured in the form of glosses and lemmas which purport to clarify topics and expressions on which Culling’s text touches. Most of these are repeated at least once, so that by my rough estimate, at least seventy pages’ worth of the book are perfectly redundant. Even just within the forty pages of front matter, there are multiple paragraphs that recur verbatim.

Weschcke has a long history of involvement in American occultism, including AMORC, Aurum Solis, and Wicca. But he has evidently never been initiated into any Thelemic society, and his comprehension of Thelema is patently lacking. The book reproduces the first chapter of The Book of the Law, introducing numerous significant errors. E.g. I:56-57, where “solve” is “solved,” and the Hebrew letter aleph is given instead of tzaddi! (117) Weschcke confesses himself “rather at a loss” in accounting for the “Calypso Moon Language,” (88, 243) because he has (obviously) never given serious study to The Vision and the Voice or Liber LXVI. Instead he offers “research” — fruit of a quick Internet search, I suspect — consisting of the various possible meanings of “Calypso,” most of which are painfully irrelevant. In the G∴B∴G∴ instructions, practitioners are told to use the ficus gesture (right-hand fist with thumb between index and medius) as the “Magick Wand.” Weschcke says that this ceremonial technique is “to my knowledge, unique to the G∴B∴G∴” (58, 268), because his knowledge includes no working familiarity with the O.T.O. Gnostic Mass or the A∴A∴ Ritual of the Mark of the Beast (Liber V).

Sometimes Weschcke’s commentaries willfully contradict the spirit of Culling’s original text. For example, when Culling offers a useful distinction between the technique of the Thelemic magical oath and that of the New Thought affirmation (33), Weschcke insists that Culling is “showing his natural prejudice for what today we more often refer to as ‘fluffy.'” (Surely Weschcke means “prejudice against“?) Then Weschcke provides a lengthy defense of the “beautiful philosophy” of New Thought and its derivatives (41-42, 274).

Unfortunately, one point in which Culling and Weschcke concur is a certain anti-intellectualism (e.g. 178). While it is surely true that intellectual inquiry alone will never suffice to accomplish the Great Work of spiritual realization, the sort of active disparagement of study shown in this book will result in just the accumulation of errors and nonsense that it now exhibits throughout. As successful magicians should be aware, it’s not a matter of either theory or practice, but rather both theory and practice.

I would like to be able to refer readers to the first edition, which would be free of the more egregious elements of the book I read. But it is quite scarce, and commands prices of $100 and more — which I can hardly view as worthwhile to anyone other than the specialist researcher into Thelemic history. There is a missed potential shadowing this book: the possibility of a richly objective documentary treatment like that in The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor by Godwin, Chanel, and Deveney. Perhaps someone will someday undertake that work for the G∴B∴G∴

The Satanic Rituals

The Satanic Rituals: Companion to The Satanic Bible [Amazon, Abebooks, Bookshop, Local Library] by Anton Szandor LaVey, reviewed by Majere, Pr.ODF in the Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews archive.

LaVey The Satanic Rituals

The Satanic Rituals is the “companion” text to LaVey’s “Satanic Bible”, and is an expansion of the material given in the last two sections of the latter. Included in the book are a variety of rituals and ceremonies derived from French, German, Middle-Eastern, Russian, and fictional sources – as well as Satanic baptisms, and including a version of the Black Mass. LaVey gives informative forewords to each ritual, explaining the origins and nature of the rites. Perhaps the only tenuous inclusion in the volume is a rite based on the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P Lovecraft, which may make HPL purists squirm (although LaVey reworked it from it’s first “incarnation” in a Derlethian-style Christianized context as penned by Temple Of Set founder, Michael Aquino). Overall, this is worthy of a read.

The Satanic Mass

The Satanic Mass [Amazon, Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by H T F Rhodes, reviewed by Majere, Pr.ODF in the Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews archive.

Rhodes The Satanic Mass

This is perhaps one of the most acclaimed books on the history of the infamous “Black Mass”. The author provides an insightful and unbiased account of the origins of this ceremony from ancient pagan times through to it’s more corrupt modern incarnations. Perhaps one of the most interesting theories put forward by Rhodes is that the “Black Mass” was actually pagan in origin, rather than an invention of Christian fantasies – he suggests that the early pagans performed rites which denied the Christian god in favour of their own ancient cultural deities – rites that were later to be considered “Black Masses” by the Christian missionaries who were shocked at such “blasphemy”. Other topics also covered include the “heresy” of the Knights Templar and Cathars, the Guiborg Masses, and “diabolism” in Freemasonry. Essential reading.

The Satanic Bible

The Satanic Bible [Amazon, Abebooks, Bookshop, Local Library] by Anton Szandor LaVey, reviewed by Majere, Pr.ODF in the Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews archive.

LaVey The Satanic Bible

Where to begin? This is undoubtably the most popular treatise on Satanism that has ever existed – but is it any good? The main problem with the “Satanic Bible” lies in it’s commercial singularity – such has aided more than a few Church of Satan spokesmen over the years in arrogantly claiming they are the only “true” upholders of Satanism since other groups hold no desire to come forth into the public eye with a marketable introduction. But the real issue, of course, is what the book contains. It is divided into four parts – the first section being primarily paraphrased from Arthur Desmond’s “Might Is Right” and revised by LaVey. It is basically a collection of elitist proclamations presented in “verses”. The second section could be easily said to be the primary part of the book, expounding the philosophies of Anton LaVey and his Church of Satan in relation to a variety of subjects, covering “God”, love, hate, life, death, sex, and “psychic vampirism”. It’s an interesting read to be certain, although the actual personal appeal of LaVey’s philosophies depends mainly on the attitude and tastes of the reader. It has been often said that the appeal of LaVey lies mainly in his accessibility – especially to teenagers, who no doubt form a large part of his following. The language used, and the rationale LaVey applies, made this book pretty much an assured bestseller – and indeed it has been so. In essence, LaVey’s brand of “Satanism” is mainly a blend of rational self-interest (with emphasis on hedonism), materialism, and anti-mainstream sentiments – mixed together with a magickal system that is itself a blend of historical, cultural, and psychodramatic ritual applications (also borrowing from Aleister Crowley and other modern magickians). All this is nicely “packaged” together under the symbol of that age-old Christian archetype – The Devil, Satan. The third and fourth sections relate to the aforementioned magickal system, although the rites presented are basic ceremonies designed for the purposes of invoking lust, compassion, or destruction. LaVey outlines the principles of his system with a fair deal of (accurate) logic and explains the nature of the tools applied. The book is concluded with his own revisions of John Dee’s “Enochian Keys”, which are basically much the same as the originals save for the inclusion of Satan. In summary, whether you love or hate LaVey, the book is certainly worth a read. For those seriously interested in the doctrines of the late “Black Pope” and the Church of Satan, it is an essential purchase. For anyone else, it is a good reference text on the basics of American Satanism as well as an interesting read in it’s own right. Decide for oneself.