Tag Archives: reviews

Clavis Arcana Magica

Hermetic Library fellow Colin Campbell reviews Clavis Arcana Magica by Frederick Hockley and Alan Thorogood, from Teitan Press.

Frederick Hockley is getting more and more attention these days, and rightly so. I was fortunate to have written the introduction of one of Hockley’s manuscripts, The Offices of Spirits, which (if you will indulge me the shameless self-promotion) is also available from Teitan Press, the publisher of the work at hand, Hockley’s Clavis Arcana Magica.

Alan Thorogood’s introduction to the previously unpublished manuscript is well-written and concise, giving a history of Hockley’s magical practice and background – what little of it is known – that sets the stage for the context of the work. Often regarded as a prolific if not exceptional crystallomancer (one who calls spirits into crystal balls or mirrors), Hockley was, like John Dee before him, perfectly miserable at the practice. He thus employed a scryer, in this case Emma Louisa Leigh, for his workings. Sadly, she would die in 1858 at the age of twenty, but appears to have been the seeress for these sessions.

While no internal reference is available, Thorogood dates the manuscript to approximately 1856. It has a wonderfully Egyptian-themed gilt cover and spine with a transcription of the manuscript along with a facsimile in Hockley’s as-always brilliantly careful and legible hand. The manuscript covers everything from obtaining a suitable crystal or mirror for scrying to operations and discussions on necromancy in the true sense, a capacity to speak with the dead that was at the heart of the contemporary Spiritualism movement.

The contents themselves remind me quite strongly of Dee’s work, a magical practice still based in tradition but which has clearly taken a personal turn from the more well-worn path of the Renaissance influences that formed the corpus of Hermetic literature. In fact, if you had laid the names SOL, TARUOM, MANBET, ADA and ELTESMO before me, I would have suggested they were from Dee’s Enochian and not Hockley’s work at all! The end of the work even includes a name in “Angelic Language”, something also strongly connected with Dee’s philosophical corpus.

There are a number of magic seals and circles containing various names given unto him by his Crowned Angel, a name and function that conjures up (pun intended) echoes of the “Holy Guardian Angel” of modern occultism. Similar to Dee as well, most or all of these are difficult to decipher or deconstruct beyond taking them at face value. This should not be understood as a detraction from the work, but a parallel to similar practices that have been widely adopted. To me, it shows that he had at this point begun to formulate his own personal magical system: the hallmark of both the adept and the delusional. In this case, given Hockley’s expertise and depth of knowledge in the field, I obviously side with the former.

This excellent and intriguing work is available as a limited edition of 650 hardbound copies from Teitan Press. [via]

In the Center of the Fire

Hermetic Library fellow Colin Campbell reviews In the Center of the Fire: Memoirs of the Occult, 1966-1989 by James Wasserman.

Wasserman’s In the Center of the Fire: Memoirs of the Occult, 1966-1989 strings together like a fantastic rough and tumble road movie, an occult version of Easy Rider. Wasserman lays it bare; everything – personal, professional, sacred and profane. A long time advocate of the practice of keeping a magical diary, the work clearly shows the fruits of Wasserman’s careful notes in reconstruction.

Yes, it does appear that I have been on an O.T.O. history kick as of late, though this is partly due to a number of new books released in and around that topic. It started with Kaczynski’s Forgotten Templars, followed with the Collected Writings of Phyllis Seckler (Vol. 2) by Shoemaker, Peters, and Johnson, and finally Wasserman’s In the Center of the Fire. Interestingly, Kaczynski’s work is about the pre-Crowley era of O.T.O, Phyllis Seckler’s time intersects a late and post-Crowley era, and Wasserman’s completes the trinity with the re-emergence of the O.T.O. in its modern form. So, between the three, you get a great view of the history of the Order from a number of different viewpoints. I highly recommend each of them – but we are here to discuss the latter.

There were a number of threads that resonated strongly with me. Most so was his insight into the Motta/Weiser trials that solidified the (for lack of a better word) legitimacy of the late Grady McMurtry as the head of the Order. Moreover, his reminiscence of Weiser’s bookstore and Donald Weiser himself were heartwarming. (I still remember my oldest son pulling at Donald Weiser’s beard as a youngster when I would visit in the bookshop!) All of this while detailing various publishing efforts, his own personal struggles, and the evolution of Tahuti Lodge of OTO, makes for a very entertaining read.

To the point: James Wasserman was there. He was there, man. I found it a fantastic read to peek (perhaps just a bit) into a historical period in the emergence of the modern OTO, a time that few speak about even now. I felt like I was given the opportunity to be a fly on the wall in a number of these pivotal moments, and I thank him for that. [via]

The Island of the Day Before

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco, trans. William Weaver.

“I challenge anyone to find himself abandoned on a deserted ship, between sea and sky in a vast space, and not be ready to dream that in his great misfortune he at least has had the good fortune to stumble into the heart of time” (273).

The Island of the Day Before is a fantasy about fantasy, with a documentary conceit and no genuinely supernatural elements. Some details of the seventeenth-century science may now seem rather occult, but the essential metaphysics of the entire tale are very much of our world. It is a tale about a quest for the secret of determining longitude, and it seeks to celebrate the mystery of the antipodes in the paradoxes of an international date line.

Although this story was set a century earlier, I found it rather reminiscent of Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon. Both are big beefy novels written in the waning of the 20th century, and concerned with the exploratory push of European powers (in early modernity and the Enlightenment, respectively), as well as the relationships between objective and subjective worlds. But their titles show the biggest difference between the books. Mason & Dixon has two protagonists, and the surfeit of plot (to be expected from Pynchon) concerns their relationships to each other and their world. The insular Eco novel is instead nearly solipsistic in the extent to which characters other than the protagonist Roberto are practically reduced to figments of his imagination–the plot, such as it is, is largely in his reminiscences, dreams, and eventually, composed fictions.

The book is a long one, with many short chapters, and the slow pace of the plotting makes it easy to pick up and to put down. It took me more than a month to read it through. My two favorite chapters in the book could each stand on their own, and with particular reference to my occult interests. Chapter 26, “Delights for the Ingenious: A Collection of Emblems” is a long meditation on the symbolism of doves. Chapter 37, “Paradoxical Exercises Regarding the Thinking of Stones,” is a contemplative demonstration of getting stoned in line with the discussion “On the Final Will” in Liber Aleph vel CXI.

The metafictional elements are pronounced in this novel, where the principal character himself ends up writing a “romance,” in which his imagined half-brother and rival becomes his alter-ego. Eco makes both the opening and the closing of the book rather disorienting and unconventional, as part of his reflection on the composition of imaginative literature, and he uses the premise of working from a discovered three-hundred-year-old manuscript both to assert and to undermine the credibility of his story. [via]


Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Cannabis – Philosophy for Everyone: What Were We Just Talking About?, edited by Dale Jacquette.

Since this book was issued in 2010, the circumstances of cannabis prohibition in the US have changed considerably, but not so much as to obsolete any of the issues that it treats. (Following the consequences of the relevant 2016 referenda, marijuana possession and consumption–without medical sanction–is now legal in eight states, including the entire Pacific coast, and accounting for a majority of the US population, although Federal prohibition remains in effect.) The volume collects essays by an assortment of authors with different intellectual specialties, treating a variety of concerns, such as phenomenology, ethics, aesthetics, psychology, and sociology. The trend overall is toward a somewhat favorable view of moderate cannabis use, but the mix of perspectives includes at least a couple of pieces that condemn it.

More than one of the papers notes the mystery involved in the origins of the US-cum-global cannabis prohibition of the 20th century, but none provides an adequate explanation. Mitch Earlywine, whose “Pot Politics” piece does a good job of raising the question, only goes so far as to note the suspicious coincidence of the end of the alcohol prohibition and the start of the Federal marijuana ban. None of the papers note the significant racist component of US drug policy, evident in both the origins of laws against marijuana, and their later selective enforcement as a conscious anti-civil-rights strategy directed at the non-white population of the US.

Still, political science is not the book’s center of gravity. Several of the papers include a component of psychological and psychiatric literature review, and most, in keeping with the title, attempt to address basic dilemmas or obscurities of cannabis use. I especially appreciated the chapters on escapism and “weakness of will.” Gilbert Shelton’s famous comics freak notoriously quipped “Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope,” and the adage is cited in this book. The writings collected here make a decent case that getting stoned is a better conundrum for philosophy than philosophy is for stoners. [via]

The Sign of Glaaki

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Sign of Glaaki by Steven Saville and Steve Lockley.

Although this novel is published as a supplement to the Arkham Horror games franchise, it only includes one Arkham Horror character, and that in a minor supporting role: Joe Diamond the P.I. The central characters of novel are in fact historical figures: the young English WWI veteran Dennis Wheatley (prior to his days as an author) and escapologist Harry Houdini. Additionally, the screen actor Max Schreck has a part in the story, and it seems as though the meta-cinematic film Shadow of the Vampire (2000) had more than a little influence on the plot of the novel.

Despite the presence of Ramsey Campbell’s ancient god Glaaki in the book’s title, the god and its cult as represented here have little detail in common with “The Inhabitant of the Lake.” Glaaki is still in a lake, but has been transposed from the Severn Valley in England to Dunwich, Massachusetts. The Dunwich setting notwithstanding, there are no explicit allusions to the events of Lovecraft’s “Dunwich Horror,” even when the investigators visit Professor Armitage at the Miskatonic University Library.

The story uses many conventions of the murder mystery genre in addition to its horror elements, and these are fairly effective at moving the plot along. The disappearance of a movie actress and the murder of her replacement are–at first–the central subjects of investigation. What might have been a tame denouement in the final chapter pivots the focus back from mystery to horror. [via]

Aleister & Adolph

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Aleister & Adolph by Douglas Rushkoff and Michael Avon Oeming.

Aleister & Adolph is Douglas Rushkoff’s comic-book version of the “Magical Battle of Britain,” told from the perspective of a young American propaganda agent, and nested within a 1990s frame story that connects the occult phenomena of the story with twenty-first century current events. The starkly black-and-white art by Michael Avon Oeming is a little cartoonish, but never silly, and is quite effective for some necessarily impressionistic passages of the plot. The story is a fast read, and a good one. With only 77 pages to the body of the book, it can easily be digested in two sittings. Despite Hitler’s presence in the title, there is no personal focus on him comparable to the one on Crowley.

A foreword by Grant Morrison heaps praise on the book, and while I found Rushkoff’s writing refreshingly free of clinkers, Morrison’s claim of “impeccable historical research” is maybe a bit over the top. On the count of positive history, though, it’s certainly a lot better than Alan Moore’s From Hell–or Symonds’ Medusa’s Head, for that matter. Selections from the artist’s sketches appended to the book include some text by Oeming that made me glad he hadn’t been the writer, e.g., “I’m still not sure if Crowley was truly evil or just a performance artist…” as if that exhausted the possibilities.

On the whole, this graphic novel is a stylish little taste of occult history, with some genuinely chilling storytelling. [via]

Called for Freedom

Maxomenos reviews Called for Freedom: The Changing Context of Liberation Theology by José Comblin, trans Phillip Berryman, in the Bkwyrm archive.

Liberation Theology is a Christian movement that grew out of the harsh realities of Cold War Latin America. It was pretty rough back then; I heard from more than one refugee about how American-backed dictatorships engaged in torture, rape, murder and kidnapping of political dissidents, students, nuns, priests and Indians. (A lot of it was paid for by your tax dollars. Cheerful, innit?)

As a response to the Church’s apparent apathy towards the suffering in Latin America, Comblin and others constructed a theology which is fundamentally different from the old Medieval theology still used by the Roman Catholic Church, or for that matter, the teachings of fundamentalist Christianity. Comblin tries to get away from the Christian God as we are used to it: all knowing, all seeing, all powerful, perfectly good; an unchanging and fixed prime-mover for the Universe, as discussed by Anselm and Aquinas. His criticism is that this idea of God carries with it an inherent implication: the Universe has Order, God has ordained this Order, and you shall stay in your place because God has willed it. Comblin throws this idea out and instead argues for a Christianity based upon the Gospels, where God is Love and where humans are expected and challenged to be free. The knowledgeable magus may see some similarities to Thelema here. Ultimately, however, Comblin’s goals are political and social. For Comblin, true Christianity is political and socially conscious Christianity, and true Christianity is a Christianity which encourages greater social freedoms instead of trying to step on them. This includes, apparently, issues such as abortion, birth control, sexual equality, freedom of speech, and so forth. (As a note, because Comblin is quite Pauline, I am not sure where he stands on homosexuality).

Speaking as a Wiccan, and as a magician, and as a former Catholic, I found this book incredibly insightful. First of all, it helped to clear up a lot of issues that I had with Catholicism before I started to see the holes in the Church’s teachings. It thus helped to put my struggle with my spirituality into perspective, “I’m not the only one who felt this way.” Since a lot of pagans and magicians are converts from Christianity and often have pent-up anti-Christian anger, I can see how the perspective lent by this book can be very healing. As a Wiccan, this book helped me to understand why there is a tendency, in a religion which claims to be nature-oriented and inherently healing, for people not to consider things like world peace or world hunger in their usual prayers and magickal work. To be blunt, Wicca is becoming an incredibly narcissistic religion and I think Comblin has laid out the foundation for a better, more proactive, and probably more permanent, Wicca. As a magus, this helped me to understand a fundamental flaw in my concept of God in relation to the Tree of Life. My concept of God is very logical, like Swinburne’s, and I started out studying Qabala thinking that Aquinas’s God, the Prime Mover, sits at Kether. Comblin pulled the plug on that one. As I see it now, Aquinas’s God sits at the top of the Pillar of Restriction while Comblin’s God sits at the top of the Pillar of Mercy.

What’s at Kether? Why, Anselm’s God, of course.