Monthly Archives: June 2011

Source Review: the Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford, by Lon Milo DuQuette

Ever since Aradia gifted my with my own personal copy of Crowley’s Thoth deck – skillfully hunted down in the dark corners of the internet, no more than eight weeks before it was once more available in print – I have been using DuQuette’s Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot in conjunction with Hajo Banzhaf’s Keywords.  As such, I already had some inclination that Duquette was both a brilliant magician and a hilariously funny man.  When I went looking for the Chicken Qabalah, I was not actually aware that DuQuette was the author.  I was simply looking for double-0-duh book on Qabalah, so that I might have better luck understanding the paradigms of mainline Western occultists, and the Chicken Qabalah had been recommended to me by numerous sources, but without attribution.  When I found my copy, I was delighted to see that it was by an author I had already come to respect.

As the title implies, The Chicken Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford: Dilettante’s Guide to What You Do and Do Not Need to Know to Become a Qabalist  is humorous exploration of Qabalistic thought through the medium of a pseudepigraphy, wherein he attributes his absurd framing of Qabalistic ideas to the clearly-mad (and utterly fictional) Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford – as well as a number of opinions he might have difficulty expressing in another mode.

The book is written in ten chapters, covering numerous core concepts of Qabalah as relevant to a magician.  Several of the most abstract doctrines are distilled into Ten “Command-Rants”.  The four worlds and four parts of the soul are explained through the mechanism of a screenplay.  The Hebrew alphabet is covered as concisely as possible.  The structure of the Sephiroth within the Tree of Life is laid out crudely.  Tarot correspondences and numerology are discussed, and the concept of the Holy Guardian Angel is introduced.  Finally, the book concludes with the introduction of a Qabalistic Mystery.

The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford was exactly what I needed it to be: not so much an introduction to Qabalistic magic, but rather a foundation in Qabalistic thought to prepare me for an introduction to Qabalistic magic.  DuQuette’s warped humor is a highly effective teaching tool – making the material more interesting for the casual student, and more memorable to any reader.  I highly recommend this book.

DuQuette, Lon Milo. The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford: Dilettante’s Guide to What You Do and Do Not Need to Know to Become a Qabalist. San Francisco: Weiser, 2001. Print.


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Source Review: The Study of Witchcraft, by Deborah Lipp

Having read The Elements of Ritual, Aradia was already a fan of Deborah Lipp before we attended her workshops at Heartland Pagan Festival 2011.  In her workshops and previous books, Lipp complains that publishers have been printing and reprinting the same dozen 101-level books on witchcraft for the last 30 years.  Her most recent book, The Study of Witchraft: A Guidebook to Advanced Wicca, is an answer to that complaint.  It is an excellent answer to that complaint.

Speculating as to why so few books on Wicca have anything new to offer, Lipp concludes that it is because in the Good Old Days (an implication she makes with all due irony) the shortage of books on witchcraft forced a Seeker to study farther afield.  It is in those “outside” studies, Lipp argues, and in the process of applying the core ideas of witchcraft to both those studies and one’s life as a whole, that “advanced” Wicca actually happens.  She goes on to suggest areas of study, both wide and deep, which she believes are essential.

The Study of Witchcraft, then, is ultimately an elaborate framing device for an extensive reading list and a few “homework” assignments aimed at better understanding those readings.  I have read – at best – 10% of the books she recommends.  Those I have read, though – Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon, Carlo Ginsburg’s Ecstacies, Charles G Leland’s Aradia, Dion Fortune’s Sea Priestess, to name a few – and the number which have been in my “to read” pile, convince me of the quality of the rest.

In the introduction to her workshop, Deborah Lipp admonished her audience, “…[I]f you haven’t read two books on witchcraft, go read two books on witchcraft!”  My advice would be, having done that, read this book (and at least half of the books it recommends) next.

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Mingle Under a Darking Moon

The rituals at the last two Heartland Pagan Festivals were deep, dark, and powerful – digging up years of accumulated pain in the attempt to cleanse and heal them. The climax of last year’s main ritual featured the enactment of a confrontation between Demeter and Hades over the abduction of Persephone, where each participant let go of something, or honored something which they had lost.  At the end of each ritual – and several of the workshops – nearly everyone was crying.  (That I wasn’t, actually, was one of the Clue Phone calls I got that year: apparently I am still more emotionally retarded that I had allowed myself to believe.)  This was at the height of a blue moon, following the full moon at Beltane. 

This year the rituals were somewhat less focused.  The opening ritual was about finding the fun and awakening the inner child; the main ritual was about blurring the line between the Sacred and the Mundane; the intensive workshops were largely aimed at the BDSM and polyamorous communities, so Aradia and I did not attend.  This year, however, was not a blue moon but the last bleeding edge of waning and the first night of the Dark. 

There had been storms for most of the week, and tornadoes Wednesday afternoon.  The forecast for the weekend had been deteriorating slowly the closer we got.  Camp Gaea was soaked and battered when we arrived. 

The opening ritual began strong [1] with an invocation of the Four Elements.  Guest speaker Orien Laplante cast the circle with a bell – more like a miniature gong on a string – a feat which I will have to reproduce at some point.  Into that circle, we [2] called our various patron Goddesses and Gods, and spread that circle to the corners of the land.  We were encouraged to reclaim our childish sense of fun, and given a length of string with which to affirm our purpose in being at the festival.  Mine was to reconnect with the life I have – before moving on to my new life at Earlham, and I believe I ultimately achieved that goal.  As always, the circle was left open, to be dismissed at the conclusion of the festival.

The main ritual echoed the first in structure.  The Elements were invoked and Orien cast the circle with a musical instrument – this time a drum.  As the elements were invoked, the circle was drawn in colored sands.  The ritual leaders did a bit of sermonizing – telling us how we, outside the circle, could not know the things they experienced inside the circle – then directed us to step into the circle, and back out, to feel the difference.  We danced in and out of the circle, walking and eventually obliterating the line, both literally and magically.  It was fascinating to feel the edges of the circle unweave, blur, and eventually disintegrate.  Ultimately, the ritual proved what we should always have known: that the distinction between the magical and the mundane is an arbitrary and illusory one.

The closing ritual, sadly, was weak.  Firstly, I don’t care for the new tradition of holding it Sunday night, rather than Monday afternoon; although I understand why that might be better for the Sacred Experience Committee and even for some of the attendees, Sunday night is usually the largest bonfire and the height of the festivities, and having the closing ritual right before the bonfire undermines both events.  Secondly, the closing ritual was just that – a closing.  No energy was raised, I didn’t have time to enter a magical state of mind.  We thanked the various powers for their attendance and bid them depart “at dawn”.  This, I think, serves as an excellent example of the sort of drama that would work well in fiction, but not in real magical ritual – at least not for a group as large and un-integrated as a public festival; a close-knit coven might well find it effective.

As has been the case since I started participating it, the vision quest was my spiritual highpoint of the festival.  This year’s them was The Odyssey, a narrative with which I can relate and whose characters I know well.  Homer was the guide waiting outside.  Athena [3] stood waiting at the first station, warning that though I had “survived the war”, there were struggles yet to come.  As is often the case, I wish now that I had taken more time to meditate on each of these things sooner, while they were still fresh in my mind.  Each of the guides had something of value for me, but only these stick so firmly in my mind.

The second station was the Winds, reminding that there was aid to call upon – a notion which was particularly helpful to me, given that so much of my magic is related to movement and progress, and who better to call upon for that (especially given my Wiccan ritual structure) than the Four Winds?  The third station was a Kyclopes, reminding me of the debts of hospitality and the dangers of overstepping those proprieties.  At the third station was Kalypso, followed by Tiresias, followed by the Siren.  Eventually I came upon two suitors of Penelope, and finally stood before the great Queen, herself.  Kalypso spoke of loneliness, and Tiresias warned of the debts to the dead.  The Siren spoke of voices, warning against those that lead us astray – I am fortunate in that I can barely hear those over the screaming of my Muses.  Penelope the Queen spoke to me of patience, a virtue I often neglect; my path is cleanly laid for the foreseeable future, now I have to walk it.

The sky was overcast for most of the weekend.  The winds were high, and cold, hard rain threatened constantly.  By the time Sunday morning came – and with it a much-hoped-for parting of the clouds – we were afraid that Thursday had held all the sun we were going to see that weekend.  Spirits throughout the camp were low.  People seemed to be trying too hard to have fun, and not succeeding.

Aradia and I attended only one workshop – a detailed and informative two-part lecture on the structure of spellcasting by Deborah Lipp, one of Aradia’s newest favorite authors.  Aside from participating in the public rituals, we spent almost all of our time in camp – drinking, smoking, and feasting.  I picked up a few pointers on hot stone massage from the gentleman associate of one of the Taco ladies, and intend to incorporate that into both my massage techniques and magical practice.

When Monday came – usually a day of frantic last-minute shopping, goodbyes, and intermittent packing – I saw the camp empty faster than almost any year.  Everyone was exhausted and yearning for their beds – “to my babies and my fuzzies”, as one friend put it.  Aradia and I were no exceptions.

[1] I will say that the invocation of the Great Buffalo in the North bugged the shit out of me.  Sorry, Sacred Experience Committee, but even if your North Caller is Native (or legitimately initiated into a First Nation tradition) and has a right to that invocation, not enough (read: “few or none”) of your attendees have a similar right.

[2] Or, rather – the rest of the attendees.  Although I am generally comfortable with Wiccan structure, the monism and gendering implicit in invoking Goddess and God in that fashion are still things I have trouble reconciling with my queer polytheism when I’m not in control of the ritual.

[3] Athena, as channeled by a friend of mine who will henceforth be known as such on this blog.  I could tell just on seeing her that she was at least half-ridden, and talking to her later learned that she could not actually remember any of the individuals who passed by her.  The presence of Athena was adequately clear that I was able to name her without any of her major iconography – helm, spear, or owl.

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Dreams of Gods and Spirits

I rarely have dreams that are explicitly Pagan.  Even the flying dreams that have so influenced my treatment of dreams in writing draw more heavily on pop culture than on my experience of witchcraft.  Last night was a notable exception.

The dream was set in a place that closely resembled the Lawrence of my youth, except that all the buildings seemed larger (a common feature of my dreamscape) and the houses to either side of my parents were rotting.  The trees that lined the streets were taller, too – wilder – and the woods through which the train tracks passed were wilder.

As always, the earliest parts of the dream are the vaguest.  I don’t remember what initially drew my attention to the car in front of my parents’ house – just that I found a lion-headed woman therein.  She seemed to appear and disappear, sometimes more lion-like, sometimes more wholly woman.  She was tired, drunk, or sleeping, and there was a staff of some kind in the back seat beside her.

I somehow discerned that she belonged to the house next door, and took the staff to show to them.  A woman and a child were on the front porch, and a man coming down to the road.  They didn’t seem to trust or believe me, so I threw the staff to them.  It became a pitchfork and stuck in their door near the child – which upset me, but didn’t seem to concern them.

Back in my parents’ house, other creatures were appearing, and I gathered a group of people – D, and a half-dozen others that I can’t remember – to go wandering.  We found ourselves along the train tracks, where it was winter and calf-deep in snow.  Over in the street, we spy a pair of blue rubber snow boots walking on their own – each one about six feet tall.  I am convinced that there’s an invisible giant in them and that if I touch it I’ll be able to see it, so I climb up the stone wall and tackle-hug it.  I’m right – it’s an invisible giant, we can all see her now, and she can’t decide whether she’s more amused or disturbed.

My group goes back to my parents rental – which, as I alluded before – is three stories tall instead of two, and falling apart.  We are all convinced now that All The Rules Have Changed, so we start climbing out of windows, leaping from building to building, and walking across the roof of the rental.  My father is seriously disturbed by these events – the roof-climbing in particular, he’s afraid of heights (true story) – and my grandfather is in denial; I’m not sure where my mother and sister are at, but my brother is one of the people on the roof.

The giantess is coming to visit, and I’m very excited.  My grandfather is staying at the rental house, and one of his friends comes by.  I’m frustrated because I know that they’re going to be rude to the giantess, and because of course he’s going to have a guest if I’m going to.

About that point, I start waking up.  Although I continued the dream – or new dreams with similar themes – I cannot remember any of those in detail.  One featured the lion-woman again.  The two surviving Gorgons made an appearance in another.

For all that I’ve somewhat fallen off my ritual practice, dreams like this indicate to me that I can’t be as far astray as I sometimes feel.

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Occult Titles

I first encountered the title “Frater” in The King’s Dragon, by Kate Elliot. Although the novel (and its sequels) are set in a magnificently researched alternate Europe during the early Medieval period, it did not occur to me that the title might genuine until some years later when I came across the authors Frater U.D. and Frater Barrabas.  I began to wonder what the title meant and why someone would want to claim that title – especially F. Barrabas, a Wiccan magician.  Recently, I was introduced to a magical blog by one Frater Acher.  All three are ceremonial magicians of one stripe or another. 

Once is an incident, twice is a coincidence, and three times is a pattern.  l have no doubt that the taking of titles is a long and storied tradition within (at the very least) Western occult practices. I have been led to understand that the titles within the Golden Dawn – and the Freemasons from whom they draw much of their ritual – can be quite elaborate.  I know that it has been the peculiar practice among many American Wiccans to take the titles of “Lord” or (especially) “Lady” as part of their craft names.  How widespread is this practice?  How far back does it go?  I now have a new area of research.


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