Tag Archives: reviews

Fire of Motion

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Fire of Motion: Proceedings of the Tenth Biennial National Ordo Templi Orientis Conference by Ordo Templi Orientis

This most recent of the U.S. Grand Lodge National O.T.O. Conference proceedings volumes contains some worthwhile and timely offerings. As usual, the book includes an apparatus that documents the biennial event at which the included papers were originally delivered. The program of events shows that fewer than half of the presentations were ultimately published in the book, and my understanding is that the authors did not submit them for inclusion, rather than that they were in any way disqualified. (At least one was restricted to initiated members, and thus not for publication.)

The papers “The Torchbearer in the Underworld,” “The 20th-Century Rosicrucian Conflict,” and “Aleister Crowley on Death” are all valuable contributions to Thelemic scholarship, as I hope my own “Secret Chiefs and the Interior Church” to be. The wine tasting event “Whores, Amazons, Witches, and the Grand Dames of Wine” appears to have been themed with a nod to Scarlet Woman Lodge in Austin, local to the conference site, and its documentation is an interesting glimpse of the weekend’s doings.

The most important part of this book, though, is the Grand Master’s address, which is concerned with the relationship of Thelema and O.T.O. to exoteric politics. It points out that “racism and classism are both rooted in fear,” and that “Opposing racial and sexual prejudice is a Thelemic value” (68-69). Two years after this address, we now see some anecdotal cases of attempts to identify Thelema with “alt-right” bigotries, and it is satisfying to have in print this authoritative statement to the contrary. It is also available online. [via]

Slade House

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Slade House by David Mitchell.

Since Slade House was conveniently available at my local public library, I read it hot on the heels of The Bone Clocks, to which it is a supplement with many points of plot and character contact. It is structured similarly, taking place over the course of five decades, with a distinct section dedicated to each. As in The Bone Clocks, narrator duties revolve among principal characters, and the default narrative voice is in present tense. This book does not, however, go into the future, wrapping up its larger story in 2015, the year of its publication.

The chronological structure is determined by the nine-year cycle involved with the renewal of Slade House, a sort of sinister TARDIS stationed in an urban alley and operated by sorcerers who depend on destroying human souls for their sustenance. The overall genre tendency in this book is toward supernatural horror, although at one point Mitchell makes the political allegory of his Horologist stories quite plain, as the villains are indicted as “same old, same old … from feudal lords to slave traders to oligarchs to neocons to predators like you” (235), also tying this book to the social concerns of his wider work.

Slade House is relatively short and reads quickly. I enjoyed it as an epilogue to The Bone Clocks, but I think it would work equally well as an introduction.

Some notes on “psychosoteric” and related neologisms: At first “psychosoteric” struck me as a reprehensible portmanteau of “psychic” and “esoteric.” However, further and more charitable reflection suggests that it might signify the techniques associated with the “soul” (psycho-) “saving” (soteric) efforts of various Atemporals. The term “Atemporal” doesn’t seem all that well-chosen either, though. And I bristled at “the operandi” for well over a hundred pages until Mitchell made it clear that it was a contraction of the phrase modus operandi. Most psychosoteric terms of art are fairly blameless (aperture, lacuna, orison, redaction, suasion, etc.), although they do straddle the stylistic divide between parapsychological and occultist terminology — probably by design. [via]

Marvel 1602

Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, &al, is something I’ve wanted to read for a long time and finally got a round tuit.

This was originally an 8 issue series, now available as a collected graphic novel. Apparently there’s been others created in the 1602 universe, but this is the core story. This is an alternate universe story about the main Marvel superheroes out of time, for some reason, which is eventually revealed. On the main, the cool part is the period drama and how the heroes have turned out in another time, and an extended thought experiment about this alternate reality in which essential natures and essential stories still play out.

I think for me the real feature that drew me to this story was that it featured Doctor Strange, and moreover in the era of John Dee, but it turns out there’s a lot more I enjoyed. Lots of little things that tickled my interests, like Daredevil talking about mystery and audere, Fury and Peter Parker talking about secrets, powers and mysteries, & c.

I think I was really hoping that Doctor Strange would use Dee’s obsidian mirror, but if it was there, even in the background, I missed it. But there’s plenty I found interesting. Two moments that come to mind are the villainization of libertarian, individual as the myopic measure of right Doom opposed to the excellence in a collective of the various others coming together, and an almost Zen parable about tools and weapons that resolves into an oblique takedown of filthy lucre.

On the other hand, I don’t think it ever occurred to me that the Fantastic Four could be seen as the four classical elements. I still don’t enjoy FF much, but it’s a dimension to them I’d not thought about before, that’s kinda obvious now that I’ve read it.

The art is in that almost over-perfect style that is hand-drawn but finished on a computer, which tweaks that peculiar Alex Ross-like trigger of glossy detail while still being minimal. The writing is good, though not stunning, to be honest. The primary novelty is in the time-twist and what-if-ism, which does deliver a solid series. Overall, worth reading and a fun adventure that kept me interested and thinking beyond just what the story presented.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Marvel 1602

Anarchy after Leftism

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Anarchy after Leftism by Bob Black.

Bob Black’s is perhaps the most searing wit of anti-authoritarian political writing. In Anarchy after Leftism, he trains it on the senescence of self-styled eminence grise Murray Bookchin. “Bookchin does not mind standing on the shoulders of giants–he rather enjoys the feel of them under his heel–so long as he stands tallest of all.” (19) Demolishing Bookchin’s Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm Black insists, “This time he’s bitten off more than he can gum.” (102)

In his rejection of the “unbridgeable chasm” of Bookchin’s title, Black sinks his gleaming teeth into the “central conundrum of Western political philosophy,” i.e. the reconciliation of “individual autonomy and social liberation.” (31) This observation, which launches Black’s second chapter, sums up why I, as a (non-anarchist) mystical libertarian, find works on anarchism worth my continuing study.

Anarchy after Leftism is composed in scholarly fashion, with a full editorial apparatus and bibliographic citations, for which Black seems slightly apologetic. He is aware, however, that his selected antagonist (and presumably those readers sympathetic to Bookchin) fetishizes such discursive styling, and so he condescends to the chosen weapon of the duel, showing that he can handle it at least as well as the one who chose it.

A recurrent tactic throughout Black’s argument is to quote the earlier, more lucid writings of Bookchin against his recent output. The goal is not simply to demonstrate inconsistency. Black typically agrees with the young Bookchin that he quotes, showing that at one point, even the antagonist of the moment knew better than he does now.

It takes Black ten short chapters to thoroughly dispose of the so-called “social anarchism” (not anarchism at all) of Bookchin. The eleventh and final chapter bears the title of the book as a whole, and explores Bookchin’s irrelevance as a symptom of a Kuhnian paradigm shift in anarchist theory.

As usual, Black’s writing is littered with trenchant aphorisms. For instance: “‘Policy’ is a euphemism for law, and ‘administration’ is a eumphemism for enforcement.” (85) And best:

“The problem is [not selfishness, but] the prevailing social organization of selfishness as a divisive force which actually diminishes the self. As society is now set up, individual selfishness is collectively, and individually, self-defeating.” (55) [via]

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular Activities, a short set in The Machineries of Empire series, by Yoon Ha Lee is a breezily written, as I understand, prequel that tells a bit of backstory about an interesting main character from the other novels in a richly developed future. The language is simple and not at all complex, so this short is an even quicker than expected finish. But, on the whole, the universe in which the story takes place has a beautiful complexity of culture and conception that proves ultimately this is worth more than the sliver of time it took to read.

The cultures of this fiction appear to be based on many social and aesthetic norms within various Asian nations, so if I were more versed in the history and those cultures then I may have recognized more analogy to the real world than I did just well-done fiction. It occurred to me while reading this that my personal immersion in Western and American culture, although I’d certainly claim to be at least cosmopolitan, helped to create a sense of otherness and alienness to the particulars of the story which I might not have felt otherwise. I wondered about the reverse of that experience for readers of sci fi from the East with so much of the science fiction futures that I’ve read have been my Western and American authors. Kinda obvious now that I’ve thought it, but I’m not sure I’d pondered that so specifically before, as I had while reading this. It occurred to me perhaps the world-building might not seem quite as inventive and novel for a reader within those cultures that seem represented in allegory.

It’s short, quick, cheap, and interesting. Plus, after reading this short, I’m certainly more interested than I was to read the full novels in the series. So, well done, author! Well done.

I made 2 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Extracurricular Activities

Love’s Shadow

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Love’s Shadow: A Novel by Ada Leverson.

Many readers of Ada Leverson first approach her as a “friend of Oscar Wilde,” and so she is denoted on the back cover and the in the “note on the author” in this reissue of her early novel Love’s Shadow. My interest in her was instead initially fueled by knowing her to be the acrostic dedicatee of Liber Stellae Rubeae, and a sometime mistress of Aleister Crowley, who described her in print as “easily the daintiest and wittiest of our younger feminine writers.” (She was thirteen years his senior.) In fact, her relationship with Crowley was at or around the time she was writing Love’s Shadow, but there are no conspicuous Crowley characters in her novels. This book may translate some elements of Crowley’s relationship with Leverson into the love of young Cecil Reeve for the older Eugenia Raymond. Cecil is 34; Crowley was in his early thirties when he was involved with Leverson.

Although the book is in no sense a roman a clef, readers interested in the biographical penumbrae of the novel will want to know that Hyacinth Verney is doubtless based upon Leverson’s friend Kitty Savile-Clark (later Mrs Cyril Martineau), while Edith Ottley is almost certainly an attempt at retrospective self-portraiture. I shudder to think that Leverson actually endured twenty-one years of marriage to anyone like Bruce Ottley, but hopefully his character tremendously exaggerates the faults of Ernest Leverson.

The Bloomsbury Group 2009 edition of this 1908 novel is attractive and conveniently packaged–a small trade paperback that fit in my coat pocket. But it preserves a handful of errors from earlier editions. For example: “I don’t think you’ll look you’re best tonight.” (p. 33)

On its own literary merits, Love’s Shadow does have droll characterizations and clever dialogue; a fair amount of plot, and yet seemingly little story. The apparent weakness of the ending may be mitigated by the two volumes to follow in the “Little Ottleys” trilogy. Those who enjoy comedy of manners should find some value in it. [via]


Legionnaire, book 1 of the Galaxy’s Edge series, by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole is Generation Kill in space. In spite of the science fiction setting, the particulars are thinly veiled allegory for recent military misadventures, with all the usual suspects and situations. The danger didn’t quite reach the Hidden Fortress level of impossible-situation plot-twists, but it was an entertainingly constant chaos of complications.

For me there was cringingly uncomfortable racist overtones to the description and conception of the main alien species, with the double whammy of being both Innsmouth-look-ish (which for me added a whole other genre can-of-worms by reference) and clearly Middle Eastern inspiration, on the planet where the action takes place, but if you can get over that, or accept it as littérature vérité, the rest is a pretty strong and stirring story about the common (hu)man trying to survive a vertically-integrated perpetual-motion military-diplomatic clusterfuck.

The epilogue felt wildly out of place to me because that little story-within-a-story went completely wibbly-wobbly Flash Gordon science fantasy pastiche. I’m not sure how that bodes for the rest of the series. I hope that was just an anomaly. Otherwise this was a solid first installment in a series with promise for worthy visceral commentary on recent global political-military history through a very thinly-drawn distancing lens of uncomfortably-close-to-real fiction.

I made 7 highlights, but 3 of those were notes about errors.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Legionnaire

Modern Magick

Magdalene Meretrix reviews Modern Magick: Eleven Lessons in the High Magickal Arts by Donald Michael Kraig in the Bkwyrm archive.

Kraig’s background in the Golden Dawn tradition is readily apparent in this excellent beginner’s text on ceremonial magick. Kraig takes the novice through several basic rituals, step-by-step, and explains the moves, tools and words in very clear English. Each chapter ends with review questions and a bibliography of suggested reading.

Kraig tackles subjects that beginners often find overwhelmingly confusing – the myriad convoluted ways of drawing pentacles, qabbala, goetia, sex magick, charging and consecrating talismans, creating magickal weapons – and offers straightforward explanations in lucid prose.

Although I disagree with some of the author’s views, particularly his oversimplification of “white” and “black” magick, overall I have found this to be a very useful addition to my library and feel that Kraig offers valuable insights for beginner and seasoned practitioner alike.

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

Paganism Today

Bkwyrm reviews Paganism Today: Wiccans, Druids, the Goddess and Ancient Earth Traditions for the Twenty-First Century by Graham Harvey and Charlotte Hardman in the Bkwyrm archive.

The book is essentially a collection of essays by various British Pagans on what Pagans were, and what they are today. It’s edited by two lecturers in religious studies at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne – American readers will have to pay slightly more for it, as it’s an import. There are three sections to the book: Paganism and Historical Perspectives (three essays), The Main Traditions in Contemporary Paganism (eight essays), and Paganism in Practice (five essays). The book begins with a note on each of the contributors – establishing his or her authority to write their essay.

A very fine introduction by Ms. Hardman gives a general overview of the Pagan religion, Pagan ethics, and why Pagans are Pagans. There’s more to it, of course, as she delves into monotheistic, duotheistic, and polytheistic Paganism, the way the religion(s) have matured over the years, and how the different groups – primarily Wiccans, Druids, and Shamen – have developed. Ms. Hardman also talks about the historical roots of Paganism, and mentions that even though anthropologist Margaret Murray was largely “debunked” in the 1970s by Keith Thomas and Norman Cohn, the extent to which modern Paganism can be linked to a tradition in the past remains a controversial issue. She points to Ronald Hutton’s book “The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles” and Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick’s 1995 work titled “A History of Pagan Europe” as evidence of this fact. These days, it’s rare that an introduction to a collection actually serves as an introduction, a warmup to the topic, but this introduction is excellent, and would be sufficient on its own as a brief article.

The first three essays concern where Paganism fits into modern historical perspectives of ancient Europe. Ronald Hutton’s “The Roots Of Modern Paganism” is something of an interim report on research in progress at the time the book was published. He talks about the witch myths, the traditions of ceremonial magic, and how this history has been reflected in literature. Most importantly, Hutton identifies authors and books for further research and study – French, German, and British scholars who are historians and archeologists with no agenda except to find out what people really did practice those thousands of years ago. Kenneth Rees’ essay on the role of myth in Paganism – how personal and allied bodies of myths can keep a person, religion, or entire society functioning in a particular way. Prudence Jones writes on what the ancient Pagan theologies might have been – because of course, a polytheistic religion gives many different accounts of the Divine, thus the term “theologies”. She also demonstrates how these theologies are being accepted and used by the modern Pagan community in a constructive and evolving way.

The second set of essays concern the main traditions in modern Paganism. Heathenism, or Northern Paganism, is given a brief explanation and overview by Graham Harvey. The essay on Druidism by Philip Shallcrass is probably one of the weakest in the book – he presents no clear picture of modern Druidry, and does not seem to even want to attempt to link it to ancient Druidry. Vivianne Crowley’s essay on Wicca as a modern-day mystery religion is fascinating, as is Lynne Morgan’s essay on women and the Goddess. Then Richard Sutcliffe’s essay on the left-hand, or sinister, path, provides a historical and philosophical overview of the “dark” side of Paganism. Marvelous to see that included in this book, as the left-hand-path Pagans often get shoved into corners and covered up with metaphorical blankets when books like this one come out. Adrian Harris speaks on Sacred Ecology, and the link between Pagans and the Earth. Michael York wraps up the section with a brief look at the New Age Movement and Paganism, and how each has changed the other.

Finally, the section on Paganism in Practice contains five short essays. Amy Simes contributes what appears to be much more of a sociological study than a religious one – it’s titled “Mercian Movements: Group Transformation and Individual Choices Amongst East Midlands Pagans”. Not one of the best essays, and it doesn’t seem to really fit in with the rest of the essays, but still interesting enough. Susan Greenwood’s essay on Will, Gender, and Power in Magic was entirely too short. It covered the topic, but that’s one essay I’d love to see expanded into book format. Shan Jayran takes up the “dark” Pagan banner with an essay on “Darklight Philosophy: A Ritual Praxis”, exploring both her personal magical philosophy and the larger philosophies of others in an essay liberally sprinkled with block quotes from important literature. The reading list for this essay is especially impressive. Leila Dudley Edwards contributes what I consider to be another weak essay, this one on Halloween and Traditional Paganism. It may be personal bias on my part, however, as I’m really quite tired about hearing the Samhain/Halloween argument rehashed over and over again. Finally, Marion Bowman examines the current Celtic revival in the Pagan Community, and the spiritual aspects of that revival. All in all, this is a good solid book of essays. There are no rituals in here, and really no investigation of the magical practices of Paganism. This work examines Paganism as a religion, accepts it at face value, and explores where it came from, where it is now, and where it’s going. Highly recommended for those who like scholarly essays on their religion.

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

People of the Earth

Bkwyrm reviews People of the Earth: The New Pagans Speak Out by Ellen Evert Hopman and Lawrence Bond in the Bkwyrm archive.

Subtitled “The New Pagans Speak Out”. This work consists of interviews with Pagans of all kinds, with many traditions represented. Not all, of course, since it’s only one book. Writers and artists, lawyers and community organizers – all have something to say about the current status of Paganism. Interesting reading, but not for the faint of heart or easily discouraged. Some of these people have harsh criticisms for today’s Pagans, and some have obvious biases against other traditions. Read it if you’re interested in the sociological makeup of the Pagan community and the opinions contained in that community.

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