Tag Archives: reviews

Master of the Fearful Depths

Julianus reviews Master of the Fearful Depths by Patrick H Adkins in the Bkwyrm archive.

This book, along with its sequels “Lord of the Crooked Paths” and “Sons of the Titans,” form an attempt to translate Greek myth into fantasy fiction. They cover the reign of Kronos as ruler of the Gods and end with the boyhood of Zeus. The thing I really like here is that Adkins is actually writing about the Gods as the Greeks understood them rather than trying to explain them away as space aliens or mutants or some other such nonsense. While these books aren’t really great literature, they do a pretty good job and are worth picking up. It really is too bad the series ended prematurely since the next book would have to cover the War between the Olympians and the Titans, a great subject for a book if there ever was one.

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Mastering Witchcraft

Bkwyrm reviews Mastering Witchcraft: A Practical Guide for Witches, Warlocks & Covens by Paul Huson in the Bkwyrm archive.

One thing that ought to be made abundantly clear before any discussion of this book’s merits is that this is not a book about Wicca. It is not a guide to mastering the Wiccan religion. As surprising as it may seem to some people, Wiccans are not the only ones who practice witchcraft. This book is for those of us (whoops, gave myself away there) who practice witchcraft, but are not Wiccan.

Stewart Farrar really, really doesn’t like this book. He’s referred to it as “that amoral book”. And he’s right, in a way. This really is an amoral book. It talks about things that you won’t find in Silver RavenWolf’s introduction to Wicca materials. It covers love spells, destruction spells, curses, hexes, necromancy, initiation rituals, the various powers of a witch, and psychic protection. Definitely not for the faint of heart or easily frightened.

Frankly, this book is a great antidote to the sugar-dripping “white light” texts that seem to weigh down the bookstore shelves these days. It’s a very practical book, with very little sweetening, about what witchcraft is – as a practice, not as a religion – and what witches do. Well, what some witches do. This book really is amoral – it doesn’t presume to teach the reader any kind of magical ethics. And I like it all the better for that fact. Book after book rolls off the presses with magical ethics presented like the Ten Commandments – you can almost see Charlton Heston as Moses coming down off the mountain top, booming “An it harm none, do as thou wilt”. Arrrgh. Mr. deMille, I’m ready for my close-up. Huson isn’t interested in morality. He’s interested in witchcraft. In the foreword is the statement “We take no responsibility for the results you achieve, good or bad. Witchcraft is witchcraft. The seeds of success or destruction lie within you and you alone.” Mr. Huson is not kidding.

The book covers quite a lot. There’s information on the first steps one must take to become involved in witchcraft, with plenty of information on preliminary preparations and first steps. A chapter on divination, while not the best I’ve seen, is certainly adequate for a book not devoted to the topic. After the divination comes the no-hold-barred material: the love spells, and a section on countermagic and protection that gives Dion Fortune’s Psychic Self-Defense a run for it’s money. Vengeance and magical attacks are also covered in detail, which is where the reader is required to actually think about their own morality and form their own magical ethics. How horrible! A book that actually presents readers with information and tells them to make their own decisions! *Gasp* [sarcasm off]. The chapter on covens is really nothing new – how to find one, how to form one, how to avoid getting sucked into one you don’t want to join. It has two appendices – one on the planetary hours, and one on terms that may be unfamiliar to the “layman”. It also contains a short but scholarly bibliography with works from the sixteenth century on to modern times.

All in all, I was pretty impressed with this book. It’s occasionally hard to read, and a little dense. It does contain step-by-step instructions for those readers who choose to do certain spells and workings. The instructions are clear and easy to understand. I’d recommend this book pretty highly, if only to get a fresh view of witchcraft from the perspective of a non-Wiccan witch who actually knows what he’s talking about most of the time.

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The Magician of the Golden Dawn

Magdalene Meretrix reviews The Magician of the Golden Dawn: The Story of Aleister Crowley by Susan Roberts in the Bkwyrm archive.

Though this biography of Aleister Crowley is written in the style of a fictional novel, Roberts took great pains to avoid putting words in Crowley’s mouth. Roberts spent five years researching every available aspect of Crowley’s life. She interviewed Israel Regardie and Gerald Yorke. She read through the Yorke collection at the Warburg Institute – spending over five hundred hours reading the letters, diaries, typescripts and other unpublished materials contained in the collection. She travelled to Scotland to visit Crowley’s home, Boleskine. Finally she showed her finished product to Israel Regardie who wrote a foreword for her book, stating therein, “I am most impressed by Susan Robert’s portrayal of Crowley the man. It is an exciting book. Once begun, I rather fancy the reader will have considerable difficulty putting it down.”

I would have to agree with Regardie’s assessment. From the moment I picked up The Magician of the Golden Dawn I could do nothing else until I had finished the entire book. There were tender moments, embarrassing moments, victorious moments and tragic moments of Crowley’s life depicted in Roberts’ book. Robert’s writing style is captivating. I really felt as if I were reading about a living breathing human being.

Though Roberts writes in a novelistic style, none of the dialogue is manufactured. According to Roberts, “There is not a word of dialogue in this book that Crowley himself did not write or say.” In attempting to stay as close to the truth as humanly possible, Roberts portrays a man who was sometimes ‘saint,’ sometimes ‘sinner’ but always a genius. At times his genius seems to be masked by poor judgement, but never is he deified or vilified by Roberts.

Roberts even does a good job of explaining some of the basic tenets of Crowley’s philosophy, the Law of Thelema, in a manner comprehensible to the layman. To assist her explications, Roberts includes a short glossary of occult terms as well as a bibliography and index at the end of her book.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a biography of Crowley that is not based on yellow journalism and sensationalism. Also, unlike Regardie’s excellent biography of Crowley, “The Eye in the Triangle,” this is a breezy read that the average reader should be able to finish in a week or less.

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Lilith—The First Eve

Renee Rosen-Wakeford reviews Lilith—The First Eve: Historical and Psychological Aspects of the Dark Feminine by Siegmund Hurwitz in the Bkwyrm archive.

Unlike many Jungians, such as Barbara Black Koltuv (author of “The Book of Lilith”), Hurwitz can clearly separate the historical from the archetypal, and he divides this book accordingly into two separate sections: a historical overview of Lilith and a Jungian interpretation of the archetype she represents. His historical section is very good for the most part, but the psychological section is marred by both his anti-feminist stance and the typical Jungian essentialist approach to gender. Hurwitz seems sincerely afraid that women might identify with or draw strength from Lilith, and he goes to great pains to disparage those women who attempt to do so. For instance, he rightly criticizes many feminist writers for their lack of historical accuracy when discussing Lilith yet does not call to task the many non-feminist writers who do the exact same thing. Fortunately, the historical overview leaves out much of his anti-feminism and gender essentialism and serves as a decent survey of previous research on Lilith and her origins.

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Liber Null and Psychonaut

Julianus reviews Liber Null and Psychonaut by Peter J Carroll in the Bkwyrm archive.

This seems to be the seminal text of the Chaos Magick movement and is comprised of the instructional papers of the Illuminates of Thanateros (IOT.) Frankly, I don’t think much of it. Much of the material is best described as a paraphrase of Crowley’s Magick in Theory and Practice, without credit and so abbreviated that I doubt a beginning student could really use it successfully. Carroll does include a version of Austin Spare’s sigil Magick in the curriculum but there really is not much original material here.

Another thing that struck me is that, while Carroll talks so much about “Chaos” and rants against “dogma,” he is himself one of the most dogmatic writers on Magick I have ever encountered.

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Liber LXIX Vel Pan-Priapus

Phil Hine reviews Liber LXIX Vel Pan-Priapus: Sexual Magick in Theory & Practice by James Martin in the Bkwyrm archive.

Sexual Magick is one of those ‘difficult’ subjects where it is impossible to please everyone. Although there are a number of books available on the subject, many of them are either too twee, coy, or limited by the author’s own inhibitions to appeal to a wide readership. Happily this self-published work from James Martin does not shirk from delivering the goods. Exhaustive (in all senses of the word) and wide-ranging in scope, this book is a must for anyone with a serious interest in sexual magick, whether practical, theoretical or historical. James Martin serves up a heady brew, distilled from his own experience (in a refreshingly frank manner!), the works of Crowley, Dadaji, Reich, the Gnostics, and other magical approaches, both ancient and contemporary.

I have for some years been puzzled by the fact that although Thelema as a magical philosophy recognises the primacy of sexuality in magick, its numerous advocates appear to display a curious tendency to evade the discussion of sexuality in other than symbolism-drenched passages. Again, Pan-Priapus throws off the veil of coy symbolism, and gets stuck in with gusto! Fetishism, bondage, buggery, masturbatory rites, homosexual opera (both male and female), bisexuality, drugs, sexual demons and much more are given an open and honest appraisal. In addition, there is a thorough glossary, bibliography, and useful contact addresses.

Informative, inspiring, witty – at times eyebrow-raising; this is an excellent book for the magician or pansexualist of any persuasion.

Details of availability, price & postage from: James Martin, PO Box 1219, Corpus Christi, TX 78403-1219, USA

Putting God Second

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself by Donniel Hartman

Putting God Second is a book on “How to Save Religion from Itself” (per the subtitle). Although the argument is constructed by a rabbi with reference to Judaism and drawing on Jewish sources, it is also addressed to other religions, all of which the author understands to be at risk from the same “auto-immune” problems that he sees afflicting his own tradition and community of faith. In particular, he is concerned with the relationship of religion to ethics, seeing ethical behavior as the highest aspiration of religion, but also observing that religion itself can motivate profoundly unethical conduct.

With respect to Judaism, author Donniel Hartman is unsurprisingly on solid ground. He makes a good case from the Tanakh and the Talmud to support the supremacy of ethics and social conscience over the received codes of religious conduct and even over conviction of the existence of the Jewish God. This particular religion, in addition to being the one which the author can address with authority, supplies particularly sore and evident contemporary cases of the failings that the rabbi seeks to highlight. Although it is not made an explicit site of the conversation, the injustice of the Jewish Israeli state’s dispossession of the non-Jewish inhabitants of that region is a constant presence in the background.

The other two Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Islam, are also vulnerable to the basic criticisms and cautions that Hartman raises. He discusses “God-intoxication,” where a sense of being commanded by the transcendent leaves adherents careless about the well-being of mere humans, and “God-manipulation,” where believers leverage their religious identities and dedication to “deserve” privilege and dominance over others. In a further section, he focuses on the range of cases “when scripture is the problem,” recognizing that the most revered texts contain words preserved for millennia that nevertheless clearly sanction unjust and appalling conduct. No matter how a clever exegesis may recuperate such passages for the benefit of sincere believers, ingenious readings do not remove the indelible hazard (and recurring damage) from a sentiment like Psalm 137:9: “Blessed be he that shall take and dash thy little ones against the rock” (in reference to the Babylonian oppressors).

Augustine of Hippo rationalized that the babies of the psalm were a figure of the germinal desires that would lead to sin. Curiously, Aleister Crowley took very much the same tack when first grappling with Liber Legis II:21. In explaining “Stamp down the wretched and the weak,” he proposed: “But ‘the poor and the outcast’ are the petty thoughts and the qliphothic thoughts and the sad thoughts. These must be rooted out, or the ecstasy of Hadit is not in us.” So, even for Thelemites, scripture can still be “the problem.” Nevertheless, I think that Thelema includes some useful countermeasures against the sources of Hartman’s concern. The danger of scriptural justifications and “God-manipulation” is decidedly blunted by the “Short Comment” to Liber Legis: “The study of this book is forbidden. … Those who discuss the contents of this book are to be shunned by all ….” Likewise, “God-manipulation” is undercut by the essential privacy of the essential attainment to which Thelemites aspire: the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. And the doctrine of O.T.O. that “There is no god but man” should inoculate against both “God-intoxication” and “God-manipulation.” It is in no way clear, however, that ethical integrity is the ultimate goal of Thelema or of the general glut of religious systems, although it is common for many of them to justify themselves with ethical claims.

Although its arguments pertain especially to Western monotheisms, this fairly brief work is worth the contemplation of anyone interested in religion, and most particularly of clergy, who must concern themselves with the social consequences of the teachings they promote. [via]