Academic


The Red Church

By C.R. Bilardi

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~review by David Rankine (originally at www.ritualmagick.co.uk )

When most of the books you read are for research, it is always a pleasure to read a good book which increases your knowledge of an associated subject which you have not had time to study.  Chris Bilardi’s The Red Church is an excellent example of this.  Subtitled “The Art of Pennsylvania German Braucherei”, this book is a fascinating study of Pow Wow, the American Christian folk magic which grew from German roots.

The first part of the book provides a detailed analysis of the different European (predominantly German) religious movements which fed into the Braucherei, setting the scene and providing the provenance for the material.  The historical analysis is a vital part of providing the context for magical systems, so it was a pleasure to see such a through treatise which covered all the ground whilst holding the reader’s interest.

As a tradition which draws on the grimoires and Qabalah as well as its Biblical core, the practices are heavily religious, and Bilardi is not afraid to emphasise the importance of being a good member of the local Christian community, something which was key to magical practitioners of the grimoires, cunning-folk and other traditions as well.  It is good to see the debt that the Western Esoteric Traditions owe to Christianity as one of the driving forces of modern magic being acknowledged.  It has become unfortunately trendy in some areas to ‘bash’ Christianity as being anti-pagan, whilst reflecting those same prejudices, and also ignoring the fact that there is an inherent magic in the Bible and Christian practice which continues to be one of the most powerful magical currents in the world.

However this book is not purely about hisotry and philosophy, it is also packed with numerous examples of the charms and practices of Braucherei, drawn from the old texts like The Long Lost Friend and also from practitioners, which show very effectively how quickly practices can evolve and change through personal use and experience.  (As an aside, Dan Harms is working on a definitive volume on The Long Lost Friend which should be a welcome addition to this field).

All in all this is an excellent volume which should be of interest to a wide range of people, from magicians to folklorists, healers to historians, psychologists to pagans.  Chris Bilardi is to be congratulated on producing such a fine work.

Israel Regardie & the Philosopher’s Stone: The Alchemical Arts Brought Down to Earth by Joseph C. Lisiewski

reviwed by David Rankine for the Esoteric Book Review

Joseph Lisiewski is an author people tend to love or hate.  I am in the former category, as I respect his refusal to pander to any sort of fashion, and his insistence on excellence over mediocrity in all things.  His manner of writing is as precise as his scientific background, and does not take prisoners; rather he reports with a clinical objectivity, even when describing his own involvement.  And this is where the book is unique, for Joseph Lisiewski was in the unique position of forming a triumvarate with Frater Albertus and Israel Regardie for many years, united through a shared love of alchemy, arguably the most esoteric of the magical sciences.

This book has four threads running parallel through it, all interwoven and linked to each other.  Those threads are the relationships between Regardie and Albertus, Regardie and Lisiewski, and Ablertus and Lisiweski, as well as the complex alchemical work they undertook to explore some of the most obscure and challenging areas of alchemy.  This final thread challenges the reader by exploring the way that both scientific and mystical competence are required to achieve successful results in physical alchemy.  The scientific detail here may go over many people’s heads, but I suspect for any neophyte alchemists it will be invaluable as a guide to good practice.

Israel Regardie’s involvement with alchemy has not been widely publicised, rather it has been almost entirely eclipsed by his publication of the Stella Matutina Knowledge Lessons and Ceremonies in his most famous work, The Golden Dawn.  Regardie’s dissatisfaction with much of the magical community and its practices is somewhat better known, but it is still fascinating reading to see how such a significant figure viewed events, both in his own life and in the developments around him.  Regardie’s passion for alchemy unfortunately resulted in him twice poisoning himself with antimony, a risk to the practising alchemist, and a reminder to always be careful.  Regardie bemoaned his lack of a scientific background, but it was his spiritual confusion more than anything which caused many of his experiments to fail, despite the passion, time and energy he put into them.  Yet his dedication and encouragement were also obviously factors in encouraging the author on his path, so perhaps this is an example of Regardie’s magic in action, not inward, but outward in catalysing those around him.

Lisiewski does not shy away from showing us the darker sides of his friends (and himself), and in doing so he provides a fascinating glimpse into what drives an alchemist, and how powerful those forces can be, not only in pursuing a goal relentlessly, but also in causing friendships to explode, as was the case between Regardie and Albertus.  Lisiewski remained friends with both men, and acted as the bridge between them, refusing to forsake either.  This was to serve him well, as they effectively counterbalanced each other, with Regardie providing the voice of calm to prevent him being carried along by the drive and enthusiasm of Albertus when it was not in his best interests.  The events between the men and the workings of the Paracelsus Research Society make for an engaging and thought-provoking read that is hard to put down!

The actual alchemical work, which resulted in the production of miniature creatures and a homunculus (which died during the process) are a testament to dedication and scientific thoroughness which many occultists would benefit from studying.  This is not a light read, it is magic at the cutting edge, both in the practices and the people within.  This is an excellent book which you absolutely should read if you are serious about your esoteric interests.

Invisibles: The True History of the Rosicrucians
by Tobias Churton
published Lewis Masonic
HB, 444pp, £19.99
reviewed by David Rankine

If you have read any of Tobias Churton’s works before, like The Gnostics or Freemasonry – the Reality, you will know he has a habit of setting himself difficult topics to cover, and then making them accessible through good scholarship and a sharp lucid explanatory style. With Invisibles he remains true to form, providing a comprehensive overview of the history and development of Rosicrucianism, one of the most significant strands of the spiritual tapestry created through the development of Western society in recent centuries. As with his other books, Churton utilises his habit of digressing down fascinating avenues of information, only to bring them back in front of the reader to illustrate the points he was making from a completely different angle! He also provides the information ina manner which allows the reader to form their own conclusions, a rare and useful quality in a work such as this.
This book could be described as the hidden or invisible history of the spiritual development of science and philanthropy over the last four centuries. It is divided into two parts, Origins and Development, both of which introduce the reader to a whole cast of historical figures, some better known and more familiar than others. Even with the better known figures, there are still details and snippets which a few produce surprises waiting to leap on the unexpecting mind and cause a re-evaluation of ideas.
Churton has produced a book which should be read over a period of time, as every chapter is full of ideas which need time to be fully explored and take seed like a strong tree. If anything, there isalmost be too much information in some chapters, hence my recommendation to take your time over this book. Like a fine wine, it has the benefit of maturity, and is best enjoyed through sips and not gulps!
So to the essence of the book – everything you would expect is included in this work, from the Fama Fraternitas and Christian Rosenkreuz to the Rose-Croix and the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia. The European essence of Rosicrucianism is explored through its luminaries, of whom there are many. For me perhaps the best quality of this significant tome is that it manages to bring out the spiritual essence which pervades the history of Rosicrucianism, a major feat for which Churton is to be congratulated. This book is an excellent and worthy study which deserves to be read by anyone with the slightest interest in spirituality, history or indeed the road of the Philosopher’s Stone to personal transformation.

Primordial Traditions Compendium 2009

Primordial Traditions Compendium 2009, Editor Gwendolyn Toynton, Twin Serpents Ltd, Paperback, 240 pages, Price £19.95.  Available from all Amazon sites for  £18.95/$31.45  with free postage: click here

 

This is an Aladdin’s cave of treasures, a comprehensive anthology covering material from numerous spiritual traditions and magical systems.

It is best used as a source book where you can dip in and out. I found most of the articles excellent and well researched.

The book cover itself is beautiful and it can probably be used to meditate on.

This latest offering by Twin Serpents Ltd  has something for everyone:

*The primordial tradition(Philosophy)
*Does practice make one perfected: The role of gTum mo in the six yogas of Naropa (Buddhist Tantra)
*Clarifying the clear light (Buddhist Tantra)
*Mara and the vinaya: A comparison of references to Mara in the Mahavagga and the Mahavastu(Buddhist)
*Monks and magic – The use of magic by the sangha in Thailand (Buddhist)
*Divine mortality: Nataraja, Sankara, and higher consciousness in the imagery of Shiva (Hindu)
*Seats of power: How does the body of Sati relate to the geographic locations of Sakta pithas? (Tantra)
*The lord of Kasi (Hindu)
*Draupadi and Kali in the Mahabharata (Hindu)
*Aesthetics of the divine in Hinduism (Hindu)
*Tantra: Fifth Veda or anti-Veda – Part I (Tantra)
*Tantra: Fifth Veda or anti-Veda – Part II (Tantra)
*Invincible sun: The cult of Mithras(Middle Eastern)
*Islamic tradition and the Muslim Hadith (Middle Eastern)
*The Yezidis: Angel or devil worshipers of the near east? (Middle Eastern)
*Dyadic approaches to the divine: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, religion, and gender (Philosophy)
*Mayan ceremonial astrology (South American)
*The Black Sun: Dionysus in the Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and Greek Myth (Ancient Greek)
*Of wolves and men: The berserker and the vratya (Hindu/Teutonic)*Contemporary shamanism(Asatru/Shamanism)
*Knowledge is power: Rune magic in Germanic culture(Asatru)
*Ancient goddess or political goddess? (Wicca)
*Athena (Poem)
*Raising Apollonius (Occult/Esoteric)
*Cúchulainn, the wolfhound of Culann (Celtic)
*Communing with the dead in ancient Greece(Ancient Greek)
*Dead but dreaming: Oneiromancy and dream incubation (Ancient Greek/European)
*The sacred state: The traditional doctrine of state legitimacy(Traditionalist)
*Tempora mutantor: The deterioration of men and the aristocratic principle (Traditionalist)
*Ars regia: The royal art revisited (Alchemy/Tantra)
*Son of the sun (Poem)
*The age of darkness: prophecies of the Kali Yuga (Hindu/Traditionalist)
*Mercury rising: The life and times of Julius Evola (Traditionalist) 

For more info on Primordial Traditions and their regular journal: 

www.primordialtraditions.com (more…)

Mithras Reader Volumes I and II

An Academic and Religious Journal of Greek, Roman and Persian Studies

edited by Payam Nabarz

published by Twin Serpents Press

Vol I, PB, £24.95, 100pp

Vol II, PB, £15.55, 104pp

reviewed by David Rankine for the Esoteric Book Review

As I received these two volumes together I decided to cover them both in the same review, though I shall consider the contents of each volume in turn to give them the attention they deserve.  Both follow the same style, being divided into three sections, followed by reviews at the end.  The sections are Academic Papers, Arts and Religious Articles, a template which works well to provide a wide range of material with something for most people.

Volume I begins with Continuity and Change in the Cult of Mithra by Dr Israel Campos Mendez, a study of the links and contuinty between the Persian (Iranian) god Mithra and Mithras as worshipped by the Romans in their mysteries.  Exploring in detail both the similarities and differences, Dr Mendez presents a step-by-step argument for continuity that avoids leaps of faith and relies on solid facts and logical deductions to present a substantial and enjoyable argument.  The second paper is an Introduction to Classes of Manichean. Mithraism and Sufiyeh by Dr Saloome Rostampoor.  This piece compares and contrasts the similarities and differences between the different religions, whilst providing background information on the religions, such as the appropriate commandments, and makes for a fascinating comparison.

The essay Entheos ho syros, polymathes ho phoinix: Neoplatonist approaches to religious practice in Iamblichus and Porphyry by Sergio Knipe is for me the highlight of Volume I.  This overview of the religious approaches of these two key magickal philosophers is fascinating and extremely lucid and enjoyable.  Particular emphasis is given to Porphyry’s On Abstinence from Killing Animals and On the Mysteries of Egypt by Iamblichus to illustrate their diverging approaches, whilst indicating their significance to future schools of thought.  If you are unfamiliar with these two giants of the past, this article provides an ideal introduction to some of their most significant ideas.

The final essay in this first section Mithraism and Alchemy by David Livingstone looks at the alchemical connections in the Mithraic ladder of initiation, drawing on the writings of figures such as Zosimus of Panopolis to explore the connections of these two diverse areas through the planetary symbolism inherent in both.  The second section contains a number of pictures showing exhibits from the For example Mithras exhibition by Farangis Yegane, which explore the symbolism of the myths contained within Mithraism through her paintings and installations.

Section 3 begins with an article by Guya Vichi on his relationship with Mithra, which resulted from a meditation, and includes an Ode.  This is followed by a Hymn to the Sun by Katherine Sutherland and a piece by Payam Nabarz on the Mithras Liturgy with the Orphic Hymns.  This latter piece is a practical rite of planetary magick, which combines the original source material with inspiration to fill in the gaps and ensure a flow which makes sense and provides a suitable catharsis for the dedicant.

Volume II follows the same format, and Section 1 starts with the essay Factors determining the outside projection of the Mithraic Mysteries by Dr Israel Campos Mendes.  This paper focuses on the social factors within the Mithraic mysteries, including their relevance within the Roman legion structure.  By concentrating on the social dynamic we are reminded of the function of the mystery cult beyond the mystery, and this is a thought-provoking paper.  The next essay is The Mithras Liturgy: cult liturgy, religious ritual, or magical theurgy? by Kim Huggens.  By studying the evidence Kim Huggens argues convincingly and precisely that the ritual may well be a rite for use by magicians who had ascended through the seven grades.

Section 2 includes more images from the For example Mithras exhibition by Farangis Yegane, as well as a striking Mithras-Phanes image by James Rodriguez, photographs of the Temple of Mithra in Garni (Armenia) by Jalil Nozariand a depiction of Mithras by Robert Kavjian.  Section 3 contains a range of invocations and poetry to entrance and delight the reader.  These include a Mithras Sol Invictus invocation by M. Hajduk, a translation of Sappho’s Ode to Aphrodite by Harita Meenee, and the poems Norooz Phiroze by Farida Bamji, Disappearing Shrines and Moving Shrines by S. David, and The Sleeping Lord by Katherine Sutherland.  This section reaches a climax with Payam Nabarz’s article The right handed handshake of the Gods, emphasising the significance of this act through the ages, as well as Mithra’s role as god of contracts and agreements.

These readers represent the top end of the publications being produced today, exploring as they do the latest academic thought, artistic impressions and personal experiences, presented in three streams which each offer their own flavour and pleasures.  In a field where rehashing third hand and lack of originality is all too common, these works are a refreshing change and well worth purchasing for your bookshelf, to be stored on the shelves for books that actually get read!

The Persian ‘Mar Nameh': The Zoroastrian Book of the Snake Omens and Calendar and The Old Iranian Calendar

by Payam Nabarz and S H Taqizadeh

published by Twin Serpents Limited

PB, 130pp, £12.95

reviewed by David Rankine for the Esoteric Book Review

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I wasn’t sure what I would make of ths book with such a long title when it was offered to me.  However omens and calendars are two areas of great interest to me, so I was intrigued to see what the authors had to say.  In fact this is more like two works in one, the first part being the contemporary work of Payam Nabarz on the Mar Nameh and the second part being a reprint of the 1917 essay on The Old Iranian Calendar by S H Taqizadeh.  Both have their fascinations, though for me the life really flows through Nabarz’s work in the first half of the book.

So what can you expect and why should you buy this book?  Well anyone interested in divination, magick, religion or calendars will find valuable material in this book, which is a pretty big range of people!  Nabarz provides the original Persian text, along with both literal and poetic translations of the text.  The text itself gives the divinatory meaning for seeing a snake on each day of the month.  As the author lucidly demonstrates in his introduction, the serpent has a long connection with time, and so this combination is a logical one, as he convincingly argues.  He also discusses the Zoroastrian spirits associated with the days, an area worthy of study by itself, especially in light of their planetary nature and possible role as antecedents to much of the later spiritual hierarchies found in magickal systems.

The essay on The Old Iranian Calendar is somewhat dry in comparison to the passionate flow of Nabarz’s style, but interesting nevertheless.  In tracing the development of the Iranian calendar, from ancient Egypt through reforms and intercalations, the importance of time and its measurement is impressed in the mind of the reader.  The juxtaposition of this essay with the Book of the Snake makes for a unique and interesting sourcework that I thoroughly encourage you to buy and read.

Review: “Living with Honour: A pagan ethics”.
By Emma Restall Orr

Reviewed by Stephen Blake

Emma Restall Orr surprised me constantly in this book, not least because I found myself completely agreeing with her for so much of it. It sets out to describe a more detailed set of ethics for pagans beyond the few quotable lines that most of us use – the Wiccan Rede, the ‘Noble Virtues’ of Asatru, or a Druid order’s set of tenets. Finding something which covers every group in the very wide umbrella term ‘neopaganism’ should be impossible, but the author comes closer to doing so than anyone else I have seen so far.

She starts by defining the main type of paganism she’ll use for this (her own path, where the primary focus is a reverence of nature). She calls this *Pagan, and makes most statements specifically about *Pagans from then on. It is different to the various magical groups who mainly work with pantheons of deities, but does capture what most people would assume by “Nature religion”.

I can’t even begin to go into detail on all the issues that are raised in this work, there simply isn’t room in the review. It’s often a good sign if each chapter of a book can provide enough content for a discussion thread on a pagan website. In parts of this one, it’s more like every second page.

To be very brief, then: Emma says that there is one fundamental change that ‘seeing nature as sacred’ forces you to acknowledge, and that is a connection to all parts of it. When nature is divine, you are not superior to it and you cannot isolate yourself. She describes this as a web of interaction between you and the rest of nature, a “mystical experience of a complete lack of separation.” (This is interesting, since it describes mystical experiences from all over the world which are based on the sensation of becoming one with everything, and nature often plays an important role in starting these peak experiences. But that’s just a personal hot topic of mine.) The reason this image is important is that it directly decides what our ethics should be.

Human beings, when they need to cause harm to each other, reduce their enemy to an object. This lets us pretend they’re not human, and so not identify with them or feel pain when we cause it to others. But the pagan who sees all life as sacred can’t avoid this empathy, because they can’t ignore the connection. Where other paths leave you free to turn people, animals and land into an abstract “It” to be used up as resources when the need is strong, the *Pagan sees everything as “me and you”. From this strong empathy, we get the courage to face the full consequences our actions have on others. Or at least… we should.

Let’s face it, I don’t know many people who are that perfect, who truly make every interaction into an honest and honourable relationship. Most of them are Buddhists. They’re certainly not the egomaniacs, escapists and flakes who make up many pagan gatherings. Emma Restall Orr says as much – if this new relationship was the reality of pagans today, she wouldn’t have had to write the book. But her argument that pagans should be holding themselves to higher standards is made extremely well, right from the beginning.

I don’t know exactly who this book is aimed at. Some chapters are dry and academic (an early one discusses philosophers and the meaning of ‘choice’ in quite serious and scholarly language). Even in the parts where she is merely retelling her own experiences enthusiastically, the tone is still very different from her popular books on Druidry. She comes across as intensely intelligent and well-read, where her other work often has a simpler and more casual approach. She writes very lucidly on what most modern pagans believe (and again I was surprised at how accurate and perceptive this was, given what a challenge it is to define), and looks for the roots of pagan thought in classical and modern times.

Ronald Hutton is quoted as saying that pagans believe in the “maximum potential for individual choice and self-expression”. This comes from accepting diversity in Nature. Welsh bards are not English Wiccans, and neither are Lapp Shamans, but all of those paths are valid and to be respected. We must balance that valuing of individuality however, with a duty to see all life as equally precious. We need to be proud of our tribe, but never see others as less blessed. It’s an extremely liberal point of view.

Pagans are often (inaccurately) assumed to be liberal and left-wing. Emma clearly is, and her green politics are quite extreme by average standards. Despite this, she doesn’t claim nature as something full of only wonder and joy. The rain isn’t there to help and support you because you’re especially connected to the Earth… it’s just rain. Nature will not hesitate to kill you if you’re not careful, because although it may be sacred, it doesn’t care. Restall Orr makes the statement that *Pagans should not think they are special or particularly chosen by God. (Or rather, we are special, but so is everything else.) She also says that when considering whether animals are worthy of protecting on the same level as humans, we should not judge them as lesser creatures who can’t speak or create fine art but instead look at their capacity to suffer. Not causing suffering is the minimum requirement for her ethics, and animals qualify. She goes further, saying that Nature’s plan for everything is to be itself, and we owe it that chance.

In fact, mankind’s treatment of animals is probably the least controversial topic in here. She tackles all the big ones in life and death: abortion, euthanasia, sex, IVF, war, food, politics, social relationships. Again I found myself in agreement with her on many points.

I won’t be able to summarise her position properly with only a few key concepts, but my take on her values would be: empathy, honour, complete responsibility for your actions, and complete right to your own body because of it. Consent is critical in all dealings, and empathy and consideration are extended to far more of nature and mankind than we currently manage. Traditional conservative values are irrelevant. There is nowhere to hide from making the choice – no text which we can fall back on and blindly follow so that we don’t have to think or choose for ourselves. We have a duty to examine each situation and acknowledge that we are fully accountable for the action we take every single time. This is not a fluffy “isn’t nature beautiful” path for people who can’t handle reality – it is a harsh, comprehensive set of real and demanding ethics. Pagans are often viewed by the public as fantasists and ridiculed for magical thinking, but there is absolutely no escapism here. Idealism, yes, but all based on reasoning and an unwillingness to look away when life challenges us.

Restall Orr forges the relationship she has with the rest of the world in an atmosphere of awareness and brutal honesty, fuelled by how she sees herself “walking in nature immersed in a web of interconnectedness”. This model works well for nature-worshippers, whether they are animists, pantheists, or anyone who works with nature deities. There is a lot of very academic discussion alongside scenes of her experiences (to illustrate the meaning in the real world) and pagans of all types will find an enormous amount to think about and discuss.

This is a fascinating book, and an important one for Neopaganism. Ronald Hutton called it “an excellent pioneering work, erudite, courageous and imaginative”. I would add humane, comprehensive, and above all, honourable.

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