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Chaos Protocols

As I mentioned the other day, I’ve been crying into my beer a little lately over the swiftly growing number of people I know or follow who have recently joined the ranks of published authors.  In particular, I’m weeping over the prodigious and prestigious one-two punch delivered by Gordon White of Rune Soup.  The second of two books he has published this year is The Chaos Protocols, via Llewellyn.

The Chaos Protocols, simply put, is the magic book I wish I’d had ten years ago.  Of course, ten years ago it couldn’t have been written: half the calamities and fewer than a third of the innovations (technological, cultural, and magical) that produced the world today had not yet happened.

Where Star.Ships is theoretical, meandering, and academic, The Chaos Protocols is pragmatic, to the point, and actionable.  Amusingly, it is the latter that has footnotes on almost every page.  The book begins with a brutal crash-course in economics and ends with a miniature grimoire.  In between, it provides magical theory, economic reality, and practical techniques by turn.

Economic highlights include a sober discussion of the probable medium-terms effects of crony capitalism; advocating for the return to multi-family and multi-generational housing; a realistic assessment of the value of formal education and property ownership; and a discussion of the meaning of value and the value of meaning.

Magical highlights include Gordon’s own variation on the Stele of Jeu; the print publication of his masterwork on sigils; necromancy and ancestor worship; a discussion of divination mechanics and strategies;  and magical strategies ranging from personal syncretisms to the Greek Magical Papyri to street-corner Hoodoo.

The most important parts of the book, though, can be summed up in three quotations:

One does not meet the devil at the crossroads to build a life that looks like everyone else’s.


Even if this is the apocalypse, that is no call to avoid making things interesting.

and, finally,

Become invincible and have adventures.  The rest is detail.

Let’s have at it, shall we?


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Star.Ships Calling

As a yet-unpublished writer, the last eighteen months have been rough on me: the list of people I know and admire who have published before I have has grown immensely.  Rufus Opus, Lance Tuck, Luna Teague.  Most recently, now, Gordon White has blown onto the scene with not one but two books in the last fewmonths: the first with the most prestigious occult publisher of our age, and the second with the largest.  My hat off to you, sir, you fucking grand over-achiever.  Holy shit.

On the off chance that you don’t already know who Gordon White is, stop what you’re doing and check him out now.  Gordon runs the twin pulpits of his blog and podcast, Rune Soup, whence he pontificates on a wide variety of subjects, mostly culture and  the paranormal.  He speaks from a Chaos Magick and animist perspective, which is refreshingly off-center, and he is very, very clever.  Some day I hope to be cool enough to win an interview on the podcast.

for book page

The first and (arguably) more ambitious of his two books is more theoretical.  Star.Ships gathers up a wide swath of archaeological loose ends from the late paleolithic and demonstrates how they may lead to the earliest portions of history.  Gordon weaves his argument from the recently discovered paleolithic monuments of Gobekli Tepe to the infamous heads of Easter Island to the submerged ruins off the coast of India.  He draws on cutting-edge linguistics and genetics research to illustrate how the now-widely disseminated 1990s theories of human migration desperately miss the mark, and turns into the analysis of geologists and engineers regarding a variety of ancient “mysteries”.   In doing so, he attempts to fill in the “missing links” of western esoteric tradition, and argues that great swaths of human history have been influenced by a handful of stellar powers.  He also, almost incidentally, condemns the current state of scholarship in general and the field of Egyptology in particular.

I am, by training, a Classicist.  This is to say, on the one hand, that I know little or nothing of the paleolithic sites Gordon points to to illustrate a number of his arguments — particularly Gobekli Tepe, to which he points so often — and I look forward to spending a fair bit of my spare time over the next year looking up everything in the bibliography.  On the other hand, however, it also means that I know better than most how much a shambles academic knowledge is regarding the moments just before “history” (that is to say, the things we wrote down) begins.  I mean … there are Classicists who still believe there was a Dorian invasion, but no city of Troy, and that Pythagorus invented the math he clearly stole from Egyptian engineers.  It was a professional hairdresser who demonstrated how the women’s hairstyles of Roman statuary were physically possible and not sculptors’ flights of fancy; it was the engineers of a century ago who provided the first viable theories of how the Egyptian pyramids might have been constructed; and I have personally seen at least three drunk construction workers on YouTube demonstrating how single individuals might have erected the megaliths across the British Isles.  Finally, having given up my dreams of pursuing a Doctorate entirely because of my own experiences navigating the politics of the academy, I am entirely sympathetic to his condemnations of that institution.

This late to the game, however, there is almost no point in writing a full review of the book.  To that end, I have only three more things to say on the subject:

  1. Unlike so many, Gordon White does an excellent job of distinguishing between his data and his conclusions.  If you are uncomfortable with his conclusions, he cites his less mainstream sources very clearly and has an extensive bibliography at the end.
  2. The most important thing Gordon has to say in Star.Ships is not actually his core thesis, but the mantra he repeats as he makes each of his points: it is the task of science to accumulate data; it is the task of the magician to provide meaning.
  3. Go buy the damn book.  Gordon White’s Star.Ships from Scarlet Imprint

</fanboi squee>



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Seven Spheres in Review

I ordered my copy of RO’s Seven Spheres the second day after it was released.  I think it’s telling that people who ordered the day before I did got their copies ten days before I did.  My copy is numbered 120/1000.  I was already half-familiar with a lot of the material from the Seven Spheres in Seven Days project and the magical experiments that came before and after, but I took my time going through the book.  I took my sweet time performing the rituals, too, and even longer processing the effects before even beginning to write this review.  In the intervening time, more people than I care to count have already reviewed the book in great depth, so I will keep my own comments brief and largely personal.

The book opened with a preface, “On the Gender of Kings,” that makes good-faith effort to reconcile the highly gendered language of the rites with the much wider reality of the occult community.  It falls little short in that it doesn’t question the legitimacy of male-as-default, but as an opening gambit by a straight white male hermeticist, it’s a sea-change.  So thank you for that, Fr. Rufus Opus, it means a lot.

The following chapters go one to provide a rough outline of the neo-Platonic theology upon which the book hinges.  After, he goes very specifically into the theology and philosophy of the kingship metaphor.  These sections are both interesting and helpful, but, based on Aradia’s struggle to understand some the material, I don’t believe that they are fully comprehensible without a decent background in either Classical Studies or the wider world of Hermetics.

While the Seven Spheres does not actually contain a complete philosophy (a good thing, in my opinion), it does contain a complete ritual structure.  With only a little outside knowledge and no outside ritual, one could actually use the Seven Spheres as the basis for an entire ritual practice.  Rufus Opus has combined the Stele of Jeu the Heiroglyphist with the Trithemius’ spirit conjuration and the Thomas Taylor translation of the Orphic Hymns into an elaborate but effective and accessible rite.  Each of the seven conjurations is largely the same, substituting the names of the appropriate archangels and planets at the appropriate times and reading the (loosely) appropriate Orphic hymn.

I have only three complaints about the book, one of which is editorial and two of which are academic.

The first academic issue is one of a citation.  In the chapter about the Sun (p.50), Rufus Opus makes reference to Supernatural Assistant in the Greek Magical Papyri.  Unless he is refering to the Stele of Jeu, itself, which never uses that language, the only such rites I know of (or can find, quickly consulting the table of rituals) are PGM I.1-42 “Rite”  and PGM I.4 “The spell of Pnothis”.  The first opens with the “deification” (drowning) of a falcon, which is to then be stuffed and made offerings; the second requires the head of a (the same?) falcon.  I sent the good gentleman an email for clarification at the time, but never received a response.  This saddens me immensely because I want to read those rituals, damn it.

The second academic issue is one of translation.  Thomas Taylor’s Hymns may be good for magic, and beautifully ensconced in the public domain, but the are awful English representations of the Greek.  Athanassakis is the only legitimate English translation currently available.

Finally, there appears to be a transcription error in the ritual script.  On page 114, one is instructed to say, “…prepare now the way between myself and the sphere of Mercury…” regardless of the sphere one is conjuring.  Because there is no explanation elsewhere in the book as to why one always trucks with angels via the sphere of Mercury, one suspects that this is supposed to read “… sphere of [Planet Name]…” even as the space for the Angel’s name is noted at the bottom of the page and again on 120.

Aradia and I began our journey through the spheres on Thursday the 1st of January.  It took us about nine weeks to make it through six of the seven spheres — we never felt called to conjure Saturn.  Each time we conjured the archangels of the spheres, we asked for their blessing that we might be beloved of gods and mortals, and that they appear before us that we might know them.  In each of those rites, I drew the Powers that I saw.

The positive effects of those rites are still reverberating through my life.  I’ve finished my first novel and gotten it out to several friends for editing.  I’ve opened a portfolio site to sell my photography.  I’ve decided to go back to school for my Master’s degree.  I’ve begun an ambitious artistic and magical mask-making project for the main ritual arc at this coming Heartland Pagan Festival.  I’ve found a new lover.

I cannot possibly recommend this book strongly enough.

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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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Source Review – the Tarot: History, Symbolism and Divination.

Books on how to read Tarot cards are dime-a-dozen. (Figuratively, at least; Hermes help me, I wish they were cheaper.) Good books on the Tarot are fewer and further between, and most of them are associated with a particular deck – there are entire libraries, for example, dedicated to the Crowley&Harrison’s Thoth deck, alone. For a generalist book, though, you can hardly do better than this one.

Robert M. Place stand out from other Tarot writers, first and foremost, in that he can distinguish between myth and history. The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination actually has a chapter devoted to each. Unlike many authors, who subscribe to the mythical history wholesale, Place recognizes that the symbolism of the Major Arcana cannot be traced further back than Renaissance Italy, and goes to great length to prove his point, citing a number of studies and histories patently ignored by many in the New Age community, romantically attached as they are to the idea of ancient (even prehistoric) origins. He then goes on to describe and debunk the mythic history, showing where Levi and others invented the Tarot they needed, ultimately culminating in the well-known Waite-Smith deck.

From there, Place traces the individual symbols in many of the cards, providing a clear insight into their historical meanings and contexts. He describes the divinatory and symbolic meanings of the Waite-Smith illustrations (more commonly known as the Rider-Waite deck, a name which credits the corporate publishers over the female artist). He cites Waite and Smith’s memoirs, notes, and letters, giving us further insight into the origin of the modern Tarot deck.

Finally, he has a chapter on layouts, which – to my delight – overlooks the overused Celtic Cross and includes an expanded version of the Twelve Houses spread. It even starts with some general discussion of the theory behind various layouts.

Place, Robert M. the Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination. New York: Penguin, 2005. Print.

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