Tag Archives: review

Blood in the Aether

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Doctor Strange: Blood in the Aether by Jason Aaron, &al.

Aaron Bachalo Fabela Doctor Strange Blood in the Aether

This collection of the contemporary Doctor Strange comic book covers issues 11-16, immediately following Strange’s costly defeat of the trans-dimensional anti-magic army of the Empirikul. His powers are at a complete ebb, and his accustomed sorceries are mostly inoperable. So this plot arc has a “greatest hits” of his old foes competing for the privilege of snuffing him while he’s down. Jason Aaron’s story makes Strange into a more dedicated pugilist that he has been in the past. There’s some amusing banter between Wong and Zelma. And the arc ends with a tease regarding difficulties to come.

I like that Strange now carries a sword, which is not for fighting, it seems. It is part of an occult magician’s kit, after all. Most of the compositions/pencils in this book are by Chris Bachalo, whose work is commendable, showing influence from the relatively recent work of Emma Rios, and making good as a successor to Dikto, Brunner, and Colan for bringing a coherent and engaging visual style to Marvel’s flagship occult superhero title. His re-imaginings of Nightmare and Dormammu are top notch. Issue 11 had art from Kevin Nowlan, and I was not so impressed there.

The most amusing issue of the arc is perhaps number 14: “A Gut Full of Hell,” in which Satana attempts to conscript Strange into her infernal enterprise. I was relieved to find out that Strange was still capable of astral projection, surprised that that his astral form was nekkid, and dismayed that someone felt the need to eclipse his butt with a black rectangle of modesty.

The New Satanists

The New Satanists by Linda Blood, reviewed by Majere, Pr.ODF, in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Reviews.

Blood The New Satanists

This load of utter drivel was penned by a former member of the Temple of Set (and allegedly a “lover” of its founder, Michael Aquino). Basically, it is a propaganda piece full of the typical sour grapes backlash one would normally expect from someone who leaves their group on bad terms. It dredges up all sorts of inane conspiracy theories regarding modern Satanism, and also tries to drag Michael Aquino through the mud with a considerably sizable chunk of the book devoted to accusations leveled against him over an alleged paedophilia case in the eighties. Aquino apparently responded by suing the author for slander. But regardless if you like or hate Aquino- the rest of the book is a load of hysterical, cliched nonsense, and, as one might quite reasonably wonder: if Satanism is so utterly evil and repulsive as Blood claims, then why was she so immersed in it in the first place? As anyone in genuine Satanism knows – no-one is ever forced to join. This book isn’t even worth using as a doorstop.

The New Satanists

The New Satanists by Linda Blood, reviewed by Julianus, in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Reviews.

Blood The New Satanists

A sort of memoir by a woman who claims she was seduced into the Temple of Set and had an affair with Michael Aquino. Aside from the insiders details of ToS, it is mostly a re-hash of the usual legends with an emphasis on the neo-Nazi connection and Satanic child abuse.

Unfortunately, the few details of Setian life and ritual that Ms. Blood (her real name apparently) shares with us seem far too shallow to give her narrative the required air of verisimilitude.

The Necronomicon Files

The Necronomicon Files: The Truth Behind The Legend by Daniel Harms and John Wisdom Gonce, reviewed by Bkwyrm, in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.

Harms Gonce The Necronomicon Files

Hooray! A book about the Necronomicon that actually explores the myth and legend behind this “terrible text” with accuracy, scholarship, and a sense of humor. Before those of you clutching a copy of the Simon paperback in your sweaty hands have a chance to gasp (I’m kidding), they come to the conclusion that there is no such thing – and was no such thing – as the “real” Necronomicon. Rather than just saying “well OBVIOUSLY” the way the rest of us do, Harms and Gonce give footnotes, quotes, and interesting essays about things like H.P.’s father’s possible magical background (unlikely) and so forth. Rather than an actual narrative by two authors, this is a collection of highly relevant and interesting essays by them.

The introduction does what it’s actually supposed to do – introduces the reader to the subject. Interesting reading even if you hang out on alt.necronomicon and know how to say Goat-With-A-Thousand-Young ten times fast. The Necronomicon In Literature is the first section, which covers H.P. Lovecraft, the rumors surrounding the existence of the book, and the connection with the Voynich Manuscript. Three essays cover a wide array of literary topics – with (be still, my heart) footnotes, quotes, end notes, and proper bibliographic notation. Those good things continue throughout the book. Speaking as a staunch defender of the English language and someone who named her cat after a bibliographic citation system, it is such a nice thing to find a book on an occult or mythologic subject that is not only well written, but nicely edited and complete with such academic geegaws as citations to other literature that is not necessarily written by the authors, by friends of the authors, lodge brothers of the authors, or even people who agree with the authors. Ahem. I’m done applauding madly now. Back to the actual book.

The second section of the work is titled The Necronomicon In Magick, and covers just what it says it does. Four essays review the various “hoax” Necronomicons, the Cthulhu mythos in magic, and begins with one of the best “Brief History of Modern Magick” sections I’ve ever seen. This section covers most of the important topics – is there a Cthulhu, if there isn’t how come people are able to work with the mythos as a magical system, why it is that occultists have such a fascination with a book that ought to summon something that will destroy the world, etc. There’s an essay on something here I’d never even heard of – apparently, there’s a myth that along with the Necronomicon, there’s also a powerfully magic sword. The title of that essay had me laughing in the aisle on the plane to South Carolina – “Nameless Cutlery – The Sword of The Necronomicon”.

The next collection does not consist of essays. The Necronomicon in Film and Television consists of “Unspeakable Cuts: The Necronomicon on Film” and “Call of the Cathode Ray Tube: The Necronomicon on Television.” In these, the authors give an overview/review of every film that has some homage to pay to Lovecraft or the Necronomicon. They give the title of the film, the year it was released, the director, and the main actors involved. I disagree with some of the authors’ opinions with some of these films (I hated In The Mouth Of Madness) – but agree with what appears to be their conclusion that the vast majority of Lovecraft-derived or Necronomicon-related films have been really awful. “Call of the Cathode Ray Tube” was a section that I found fascinating. Even as a mythos fan, I didn’t realize how many television shows or TV movies have a debt to pay either to Lovecraft or the Necronomicon/Cthulhu mythos. Again, the authors go in and provide the reader with the name of the show/TV movie, the director, the year it was released, the major actors, and a brief synopsis of the plot. The synopsis gives you an idea of how bad (or good) the television show was, and how closely it was related to the Necronomicon or the mythos.

Probably the most valuable essay in the book is Evaluating Necronomicon Rumours. Well-written common sense with footnotes. The provable history of the Necronomicon has already been established, in the first section. One might see this section as a wrap-up reminder to readers that however seductive the legend might be, people need to keep a tight rein on their common sense and not get tied up in rational and logistical knots in to in order to justify a belief that the real Necronomicon is in someone’s attic because a guy on a newsgroup who seemed really reliable said that it was. Harms and Gonce are not condescending, or snide. They’re earnest and sensible. Triple points to the authors for not falling into the easy trend of ridiculing people who do believe in the Necronomicon. Hopefully, by the time a reader gets to this section, they’ve read enough about the actual history and legend to know that the chances of the Necronomicon existing are virtually nil. In case they haven’t, though, the authors have provided “Six Guidelines for the Evaluation of Necronomicon Hoaxes.” This guide could (with a bit of alteration) very well serve as a guide to evaluating whatever rumors that crop up occasionally about various books/items in the occult community. They refer to various web-FAQs and “new editions” of the Necronomicon that haven’t been discussed earlier in the book, as well as novels that mention the book. Harms and Gonce wrap up their work with a separate and distinct conclusion – that the Necronomicon, as Lovecraft and the various other authors of Cthulhu mythos works described it, does not exist.

The Appendix, consisting of H.P. Lovecraft’s own text (with annotations by Harms), is interesting in and of itself. The end notes show clearly the painstaking research that went into the creation of this book. A short chronology of the supposed book, using events described by Lovecraft and other authors, shows how little was actually written about the book, in comparison to the size of the legend around it. And, if you buy the book, make sure to read the final page. It’s not about the typeface, the binding, or the authors’ mothers.

So. All in all, well worth reading. More than that, well worth buying and having on hand. Not only to combat the eternal silliness of people who email you asking for information on where they can get the “real” Necronomicon (could be just me who gets these emails), but also as an example of a book on an “occult” subject that is scholarly, well-written, and with excellent documentation to secondary sources. Would-be authors of texts on magic could do much worse than to look to Harms and Gonce for an example of intelligent prose about a much-debated subject.

The Myth of the Eternal Return

The Myth of the Eternal Return or, Cosmos and History by Mircea Eliade, reviewed by Bkwyrm, in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.

Eliade The Myth of the Eternal Return

One of my favorite authors. Eliade once said that if someone was only going to read one of his books, they ought to read this one. From the back cover: “This is an essay on mankind’s experience of history and its interpretation, beginning with a study of the traditional or mythological view, and concluding with a comparative estimate of modern historiological approaches. At a moment when modern man has brought his race almost to the point of annihilation, the historical attitude has been all but discredited. The author seeks an answer to the question: What can protect us from the terror of history?”

This isn’t witchcraft, or magic, or ritual. It’s philosophy. I find this work absolutely fascinating. Eliade was the chairman of the department of history of religions at the University of Chicago, as well as the Sewell L. Avery Distinguished Service Professor in the Divinity School and professor in the Committee on Social Thought. He was the author of novels, short stories, and plays as well as works in the history of religions. After you’ve read this work, you ought to read “Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions,” as well as “Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy.”

The Mystery of the Grail

The Mystery of the Grail: Initiation and Magic in the Quest for the Spirit by Julius Evola, reviewed by Julianus, in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.

Evola The Mystery of the Grail

This book originally formed an appendix to the author’s Revolt Against the Modern World, which he later expanded into a book in its own right. Evola’s thesis is that the Grail Cycle forms a Pagan “northern” mystery distinct from the “southern” Christian religion, and that this represented an Imperial “resistance” to the Church in the Middle Ages. I am not entirely convinced of this, but there is much interesting analysis of the Grail legends in here.

The Mysterious Stranger

The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain, reviewed by Magdalene Meretrix, in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.

Twain The Mysterious Stranger

Twain’s final story, published posthumously in 1916, is, despite its obscurity, arguably one of Twain’s greatest works. In this story, Twain distills all the sarcastic religious views he expressed in “Letters from Earth” into a gem of gnostic thought. Though many modern readers will have already come into contact with the notions of a trickster god in a nihilistic universe that Twain depicts, he was far ahead of his time when he wrote these ideas into The Mysterious Stranger.

The Mysterious Stranger takes place in a small Austrian village in the late 1500s. Three boys meet a mysterious stranger. Is he an angel or a demon? The boys, and the reader, are left uncertain – though what is a demon, after all, but a fallen angel?

The story follows the events that transpire when this angel touches their lives and the lives of everyone in the village. The main character, Theodor, undergoes a painful and sorrow-laden awakening to the reality of the nature of the universe, humans, angels and god that will leave the reader contemplating these philosophical constructs and religious ideas for quite some time.

The Modern Witch’s Spellbook

The Modern Witch’s Spellbook by Sarah Lyddon Morrison, reviewed by Bkwyrm, in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.

Morrison The Modern Witch's Spellbook

Subtitled “A Guide to the Mysteries of the Occult, Explaining How to Cast Spells, Work Charms and Love-Magic, and Improve Daily Living Through Witchcraft”. Almost sounds like an ad for a new laundry detergent, doesn’t it? “Brighten your colors and get those whites really clean, use Witchcraft!!” I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but this was the first book on Witchcraft that I ever bought, at a Waldenbooks in Florence, Kentucky. Sad but true. It doesn’t have any kind of religious focus – it’s a spellbook, published in 1971, and definitely reflects the attitudes of the time it was written in. Morrison has basically tossed together a whole bunch of Wiccan traditions and some Ceremonial Magick and presented it as a “spellbook”.

The Masters Revealed

The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge by K Paul Johnson, reviewed by Julianus, in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.

Johnson The Masters Revealed

Everybody in occultism has heard of the Secret Chiefs who direct world affairs from behind the scenes with their awesome powers. H.P. Blavatsky was probably most responsible for popularizing this idea and much controversy has ensued over whether she was faking those “letter from the Mahatmas” or not. Mr. Johnson takes a middle course between the two extremes on this subject; he concludes that HPB really was the representative of a world-wide network of Adepts which she deliberately mythologized for various reasons. The book is mostly a series of capsule biographies of real people that HPB was known to be in contact with (though some cases rest on circumstantial evidence.) These people range from European explorers, occultists, and revolutionaries to Sufi mystics to Indian Rajas. The fact that an overwhelming number of these figures were involved in revolutionary or anti-colonial political movements goes a long way to explaining Blavatsky’s concealment of their identities, and Mr. Johnson presents (for example) internal memos from British intelligence showing that she was watched by Colonial authorities in India.

Another interesting aspect of the “Myth of the Masters” is how it was inflated by HPB’s disciples, much to her annoyance. Mr. Johnson takes great pains to show how the most extravagant claims originated outside of Blavatsky’s control. The result is kind of an object-lesson in human credulity.

The two major problems with this book are, first, that it is really to short– the biographical material is so brief that one feels at time as if one is reading a “Cliffs Notes” version of the real book (indeed this is apparently a “popular edition” of the author’s Master’s Thesis.) The second problem is that many of the “Masters” listed really do not seem to have much real connection to Blavatsky or Theosophy except that the author seems to think they should! Perhaps this due to the above-mentioned abridged quality of the work, and if so I do hope he expands on these points in future editions.

– Koot-Hoomi

The Masks of Odin

The Masks of Odin: Wisdom of the Ancient Norse, translated and commented on by Elsa-Brita Titchenell, reviewed by Ingeborg Svea Norden, in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.

Titchenell The Masks of Odin

A native Scandinavian should be able to translate the Poetic Edda very well–at least, that’s what readers expect. Unfortunately, Titchell doesn’t measure up. Not only does she insist on putting a Theosophical spin on her translations (East meets North–UGH!), but she renders the proper names in a confusing mixture of Old Norse, English, and Swedish. One kindred that I hoped to join had this book on its required reading list; after buying and reading this book, I had second thoughts about joining. (Anyone who can’t accept Norse philosophy on its own terms shouldn’t write or teach about it!)