Ancient World


Servants of the Grail: The real-life characters of the Grail legend identified by Philip Coppens

reviewed by Nina Lazarus for the Esoteric Book Review

This fascinating book presents a completely different take on the Grail legends – placing them out of the realm of myth and firmly in the chain of history.  The author places the events of the Grail legends within the Spanish royal court of Aragon during the period 1104-1137, and furthermore identifies various of the protaganists, especiallyPerceval.  He also claims that the Grail was in fact a foundation stone, similar to those found at Jerusalem and Mecca, or in Freemasonry.

Another intriguing premise is that the cup is actually the fourth Hermetic treatise, known as The Cup, bringing the distilled essence of thousands of years of Greco-Egyptian magic and religion into the spiritual nature of the Grail, and establishing its value as an emblem of living a worthy life.  This book merges pagan and Christian concepts, tying together a huge range of paths and information, from King Solomon to the Knights Templar, from Ethiopia to Aragon.

In the post-Dan Brown era, here is a book which opens the Grail debate again, this time in entirely new directions, some of which may finally provide some definitive answers, and show how the merging of real and mythic has been and will continue to be one of the underlying drives in human history.  Highly recommended reading for the enquiring mind!

Gwyn: Ancient God of Glastonbury and key to the Glastonbury Zodiac by Yuri Leitch

reviewed by John Canard for the Esoteric Book Review

This is an intriguing work on a subject dear to my heart – the ancient gods.  This book explores the ancient British world around Glastonbury, focusing on Gwyn ap Nudd, who although many may consider him Welsh, has strong connections with Avalon.  The author is a talented artist, and his (often portrait style) pictures grace the pages of the book and add another layer in places, expressing most eloquently some of the associated themes.

This book is not afraid to challenge views, and disputes the whole connection of Joseph of Arimathea to Glastonbury, or indeed any Christian connection until the fifth century CE.  The author also points out how the church in Glastonbury was built at virtually the only spot where the Tor is invisible, hidden behind Chalice hill!  The amount of folklore about Gwyn ap Nudd is refreshing, and the author presents a strong case for his arguments regarding the associations of the British gods and the landscape.

I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone else interested in the Celtic world, Glastonbury, Gwyn ap Nudd or earth mysteries, it is a refreshingly well written and illustrated work.

The Star Temple of Avalon: Glastonbury’s Ancient Observatory Revealed

by Nicholas R Mann & Philippa Glasson

reviewed by John Canard for the Esoteric Book Review

This is a fascinating work which illuminates a complex field.  Archaeoastronomy is a difficult area, as much of it is by its nature speculative, exploring the patterns of movement of the stars and planets in monuments left by our ancestors.  In the days of computers and modelling software, we can obviously make more informed decisions rather than having to rely so much on guesswork, but the artistic element is still present in deciphering the references in myths and legends.

This book is absolutely full of pictures and photographs, which are necessary to explain the abundance of references to the positions of heavenly bodies at significant times, such as the solstices and equinoxes.  One area where this book leaps ahead is in its consideration of the whole landscape and its connection to the stars.  The authors do not just concentrate on the Tor at Glastonbury (though this does form a large part of the discussions), but also look at all the features in the surrounding landscape.

This is a challenging book, as it is one of those leading the way in what is a relatively young field, and as such there are sure to be many more questions than answers.  Having said this, it is fascinating, and left me pondering the relationship between the earth and the heavens, and how man not only is influenced by it, but records and uses it too.

Hekate, Liminal Rites: A study of the rituals, magic, and symbols of the torch-bearing Triple Goddess of the Crossroads
By Sorita D’Este and David Rankine
Avalonia, 2009
ISBN 978-1-905297-23-8

I have been eagerly awaiting the publication of this book for some time now, so when I got my hands on it I read it voraciously, devouring it in a matter of hours! This sudden hunger for the knowledge contained within the pages of Hekate: Liminal Rites, however, was not just fuelled by months of anticipation but also by a genuine enjoyment of the journey of discovery it became.

This latest work from co-authors Sorita D’Este and David Rankine who have previously given us such works as The Isle of Many Gods, The Guises of the Morrigan, and Wicca: Magickal Beginnings, is a well-researched examination of the Goddess Hekate in Greek religion, literature, and magic. It is an excellent contribution to the subject area, since too many books and other materials on Hekate are available that completely ignore her ancient sources and origins, fabricating instead some modern travesty of information about her. Here, Sorita and David return to the source of Hekate’s personality, symbols, and worshipers to begin to create a coherent, informed view of this mysterious and popular Goddess.

Hekate: Liminal Rites treats us to an overview of the ancient writers and figures (such as Empedocles and Medea) who have been associated with, or shown to be in, the service of Hekate. The reader finds out Hekate’s role in the mysterious Rites of Eleusis, her relation to death magic and the Underworld, and how she was used in the ancient world in other kinds of magic and worship. Most interesting, perhaps, for modern servants of Hekate are the chapters exploring her many fusions with other Goddesses, her evocative symbols, and the animals she was depicted as. The book also gives two hymns used in the ancient world to invoke Hekate, which could undoubtedly be used by any modern practitioners wishing to do the same.

Undeniably the best section of Hekate: Liminal Rites is aimed at the reader who wishes to continue after finishing the book with their own research (as any good reader should!): “Charms from the PGM” and “Literary Sources”. Not only are we given an overview of some of the spells in the Graeco-Roman Magical Papyri that invoke or mention Hekate in some way, and of the writers and their writings about Hekate in the ancient world, but we are also given tables with detailed references for these sources. In my own experience, any attempt to catalogue a subset of the spells from the huge PGM collection is brave at best and madness at worst, but Sorita and David have succeeded and given us a comprehensive list of all the spells with Hekate in. As a PGM scholar myself I all but orgasmed when I saw the list, and in fact recall skipping around the garden maniacally in joy. (Us PhD researchers are easily pleased.) Even more useful is the list of literary sources – all 98 of them – given in chronological order on pages 31-36. It would be a joy for any reader to go and find these source texts to further their understanding of Hekate, and thankfully such a task has been made easy and accessible by this book.

Hekate: Liminal Rites has managed to be scholarly and well-researched, without being dense or difficult to read. It does not use obtuse language or jargon that only an ancient professor who lives in a library and can translate twelve different dead languages can understand. Rather, it is aimed at the average person interested in occultism and magic, but does not dumb itself down like so many publications these days. The result of this is that readers have been given a work that can be verified, a work that allows them to do their own research, a work that is a joy to read, and a work that remains on the level without sacrificing academic awareness. In places I found that my own academic background made me want more from the chapters, but I understand that a book does not have room for everything, and the authors have, as mentioned above, opened up ways for people like me to find out more ourselves. This is most important, as several of the chapters contain tantalizing pieces of information that unfortunately due to brevity and book size the authors were unable to explore further. (However, I understand that this is not the last work on Hekate we can expect from Sorita and David… Yay!)

Overall, this is an enjoyable book to read that also retains its depth of information. It would be excellent for anybody interested in Hekate and would provide them with an excellent examination of the source of Hekate. For those with an academic bent this book is indispensible and would be a great starting point for further research. I highly recommend any such reader to take a look at the extensive Bibliography for material for further study! I cannot think of a better introduction to the mysteries of Hekate.

Reviewer Bio:

Kim Huggens is a 24 year old Pagan Tarot reader and PhD student in the Ancient History Department of Cardiff University. She is the co-creator of “Sol Invictus: The God Tarot” (recently published by Schiffer Books) and the forthcoming “Pistis Sophia: The Goddess Tarot”. She has had recent work published in “Horns of Power”, and “Priestesses, Pythonesses, and Sibyls”, with forthcoming in “Both Sides of Heaven” edited by Sorita D’Este, and is the Editor of online Pagan magazine Offerings. She is currently working on a homestudy Tarot course book for Llewellyn, due for publication Autumn

Cover for Hekate: Liminal Rites

Cover for Hekate: Liminal Rites

2010.  When not getting orgasmic about ancient voodoo dolls and Sumerian cunieform writing, she works in a vetinary clinic, plays Dungeons and Dragons, and practices Vodou.

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…)

Review: Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick, Volume 1: Foundation
By Frater Barrabas
Megalithica Books, 2008
ISBN 978-1-905713-20-2

Review by Kim Huggens

Ritual magic is a topic that is fascinating and in places extremely complex. It is also, in places, extremely simple and founded upon common sense theories and cosmologies. It conjures up varying images in the mind of the beginner, from Cornelius Agrippa’s scholastic writings and the medieval grimoire magician waving his demon-binding sword around, to Aleister Crowley trying to get his mistress to pleasure a goat and modern people performing meditation and pranayama. Its long history has added to the differing views and images, and this has made the subject difficult to research and somewhat intimidating to get involved with. What is needed is a clear, welcoming book that sets out the basic principles of ritual magic at the beginning, moving coherently through the most useful techniques such as breathwork, visualization, yoga, and the direction of energy, and giving plenty of practical exercises to do along the way. We need a sensible guide that leads you through safely, securely, and with a solid foundation in common sense understanding of why these things are as they are.

This is everything that Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick is not. Never before have I emerged from a book on this subject so confused and alienated – even after reading Crowley! So confusing and incoherent was this text, in fact, that when I finished it I had a sudden urge to soothe my soul with Crowley’s Book Four… or beat myself over the head repeatedly with The Complete Golden Dawn (for its size as much as its complexity!)

The title of this book, by Frater Barrabas (who appears to be expounding theory and magical practices from the Order E.S.S.G. – Egregora Sancta Stella Gnostica) suggests to the casual observer that it is a beginner’s guide of some kind, or is the first in a series of books that will focus on giving the reader a solid foundation of practice, theory, and experience. However, I found this title extremely misleading as throughout the book Frater Barrabas writes about techniques and theories that he barely touches upon: they are briefly mentioned, almost like one might name-drop a famous author you know very little about but whose name sounds impressive in your work, but not discussed at any great length. Mostly this is just frustrating, as on p.178 where he says:

“While the magickal discipline of the Moon is performed at least once a month when the moon is full, it can be expanded to include many other aspects of the moon too, depending on the kind of magick performed and the nature of the seeker’s quest.”

And says so without telling the reader what this monthly magickal discipline is, what form a lunar ritual or invocation might take, or why the reader would want to perform such a discipline. P. 177 is an entire page basically saying “you do something once a month every month for the moon” without saying what! In this case the lack of elaboration is merely frustrating, but in other cases the omission of information could be downright dangerous for a beginner who doesn’t know any better – such as Frater Barrabas’ ‘advice’ on pranayama techniques on p. 69, which is given a whole half-page of space! Here, he mentions the Lotus 7-breath (a technique that employs hyperventilation in a controlled way to induce ecstatic trance) but does not tell the reader the theory behind it, where it comes from, nor how to actually do it. His description simply tells the reader that they need to hyperventilate – an extremely dangerous thing to do if done wrong, as it will do more to induce an asthma attack or actual hyperventilation which can lead to unconsciousness, than ecstatic trance.

This prevalence of quick mentions of techniques without further information and advice is found throughout the work and as I read through it, it became increasingly more like a series of short, unsatisfying Wikipedia articles than the coherent magical system it had set out to be. Of course, a reader would be free to look elsewhere for further details of the understudied topics from Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick, but given that Frater Barrabas writes at the beginning:

“There are nine topics that we seek to understand in greater detail so as to prepare us for the work of building a new personalized system of ritual. These nine topics are fully covered in this book, and they are arranged as the different sections in this work.” (p.18)

Call me a know-it-all, but I really don’t think that the information given in the various sections of this book constitutes “fully covered”.

Further, these sections that he writes about are ineptly named: their titles are extremely misleading at first sight. For instance, the chapter entitled “Ritual Performance” looked promising, and I was hoping to read a thorough examination of how to make ritual look pretty, sound effective – the theatrics of magic. Indeed, Frater Barrabas mentions it briefly at the beginning of the chapter, but the rest of it is taken up by stuff that should have been discussed earlier in the work: ecstatic dance techniques (should have accompanied the section on trance), drawing lines of force, and circumambulations (which are not satisfactorily explained at all.)

In places the author reveals a lack of knowledge that I find shocking, such as p. 50 where he states that Assumption of Godhead was first introduced to ritual magick by Aleister Crowley, and is used in many African and Caribbean religions. Firstly, Assumption of Godhead (also known Theurgy) was practised not only by the Golden Dawn, but also in a very similar manner by the magicians and redactors of the Graeco-Roman Magical Papyri, the texts which had a great influence on the development of modern ritual magick. Secondly, the African and Caribbean religious do not use Deity Assumption, but instead employ possession – the two practices are distinct and too often confused as the same by those who know little about them.

I also found Frater Barrabas’ frequent value judgements about monotheistic religions and about the influence of physical gender upon magical energy to be distracting at best and bigoted at worst. He repeatedly states that the first level of charging and empowering a ritual occurs with the joining of a female and male celebrant, and that women all experience a different form of initiation to that of men. He doesn’t imply inequality, but he does imply that one’s soul has a gender based on your physical body – a view that I find old-fashioned and not at all useful. Frater Barrabas’ theology and criticism of monotheistic religions is plainly contradictory:

“Perhaps the greatest truth and paradox is that Deity can exist in any of these [efined, distinctive, multitude] states, individually or simultaneously, and yet not exist in any of them. The definition of Deity cannot be adequately determined by the mind, so it can’t be defined by a belief or a doctrine […] Deity cannot be defined, but humans resist this limitation, so they will define the nature of a deity who is truly indefinable […] The most popular religions in the West propose a Deity that is monotheistic and outside of all material creation. However, one can see the absurdity of adhering to a doctrine of a single monotheistic concept of Deity, when human experience shows that Deity is multiform and intrinsic to all creation.” (p.176-7)

I don’t know about anybody else, but quite frankly I tire of the hypocrisy of many in the Western Mystery Tradition believing (and loudly stating) that their definition of this indefinable Deity is more correct than that of the Religions of the Book. It creates a dichotomy that shouldn’t exist between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’, and takes for granted what it believes its comrades adhere to. Well, sorry to tell you this Mr. Barrabas, but I’m a monotheist. And I’m a Pagan. Ohnoes! My human experience has not shown what Frater B. thinks his has regarding Deity.

There’s a lot of theory in this book that looks impressive (complete with diagrams) but which is not applied in any way, or explained to the reader in practical terms. For instance, the theory surrounding the various ‘Ritual Structures’ – identity, occurrence, polarity, alignment, and resonance, complete with their accompanying patterns (e.g. pyramid, spiral, double-ended wand) remains at the base level of theory. The patterns seem to me to be just a pretty illustration of the concepts that serves to confuse the issue, acting more as theoretical masturbation for the author than useful information for the reader.

Further theoretical masturbation occurs in the chapter Frater B. devotes to his mashing together of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey with the Tarot trumps. Being an avid mythologist and Tarot reader myself, I eagerly read this chapter with great expectations… Perhaps that was unwise. Whilst the linking of the two together is fun and useful for the Tarot reader, it does nothing to explain the real-term process of initiation for the ritual magician. The Tarot reader in me ended up disappointed as well, since Frater B. assigns some very strange trumps to the different stages – assignments I’d disagree with and which, upon asking others, it seems I’m not alone on. Further, the mythologist in me was disappointed as Frater B. seemed to do nothing more with this than parrot Joseph Campbell, and my earlier criticism of Frater B’s gender theories was even more valid: here, he gives the woman’s cycle of initiation, which is not entirely different but in places veers from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey substantially enough to merit comment. The cycle Frater B. gives as the woman’s journey, however, is based on our biological function as womb-bearers. It would be entirely inappropriate for a woman unable to have children, or who chooses not to.

Overall, Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick presents material that is not new (although Frater B. declares it to be in his Foreword, in which he also states that the material in the book was “too advanced” to be published ten years ago…) and presents it badly. It is just another book in a market already saturated with work on the subject – most of it much better than this text which not only fails to provide a solid foundation, but also includes a vast amount of irrelevant information (such as the Campbell-Tarot debacle above), value judgements, and misinformation. Perhaps this is how the Order E.S.S.G. performs magic or perhaps this is just Frater Barrabas’ attempt to put into written form his own personal magical system – an endeavour prone to failure by the sheer fact that it is so personal. Perhaps it is a book based in the desire of Frater B. to show off how much he knows rather than aid the lost beginner. If you want a beginner’s guide to ritual magic, don’t read this book – go read Modern Magick or Techniques of High Magick or something. Definitely don’t do what I did and read all the way through this work, ending up with a disturbing desire to either throw the book in a fire or spork your own eyes out. I’d recommend the former.

Reviewer Bio:

Kim Huggens is a 24 year old Pagan Tarot reader and PhD student in the Ancient History Department of Cardiff University. She is the co-creator of “Sol Invictus: The God Tarot” (recently published by Schiffer Books) and the forthcoming “Pistis Sophia: The Goddess Tarot”. She has had recent work published in “Horns of Power”, and “Priestesses, Pythonesses, and Sibyls” edited by Sorita D’Este, and is the Editor of online Pagan magazine Offerings. When not getting orgasmic about ancient voodoo dolls and Sumerian cunieform writing, she works in a vetinary clinic, plays Dungeons and Dragons, and practices Vodou.

The Smiting Texts

By Roy Lester Pond

Published by Austin Macauley

PB, £9.99, 372pp

Reviewed by David Rankine for the Esoteric Book Review

 ——————————-

Conspiracy thrillers have become a popular genre in recent years, promising earth-shattering revelations of hidden histories.  This novel focuses on the realms of Egyptology, and manages to successfully expound on a range of themes within contemporary and fringe Egyptology, though in some instances in a shallow or slightly twisted manner.  However the author must be given artistic licence to make a good plot, and so the small discrepancies can be forgiven as part of a greater picture.  The plot has some interesting twists and turns, dropping in a surprising twist just when you thought it had become predictable.  This is a relief, as in places the pace becomes very slow, and then suddenly it races along.  However this in itself could be seen as a good analogy to the process of discovery during the archaeological process.

The other criticism that might be levelled at this book is the two-dimensional nature of many of the secondary characters.  However in many respects the sacred sites of Egypt are the secondary characters of the book, and the author does not stint in describing these and bringing them to life.  If the same passion had been applied to the people as the places it would have made the book even more enjoyable.  All in all a good read, especially for anyone who enjoys conspiracy thrillers or has an interest in Egypt.

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