A dark basement where we hide the black candles and inverted pentagrams.

Imaginalus: The Imaginal Realm and Idea Emporium


Researcher of esoterica, Forteana and all the Damned subjects in between, Blair MacKenzie Blake - who has amazingly contributed an article to *every* Darklore release so far! - sends word of a new website where he will be posting articles on a variety of topics (no doubt, mostly from the shadow areas of history and knowledge) as well as creating some occult-flavoured merchandise for fellow travellers on the roads of the strange: "Imaginalus: The Imaginal Realm and Idea Emporium". Blair notes that...

For the launch, I have posted "THE CURIOUS DIARY ENTRIES OF VERITY PENNINGTON", which reads a bit like a short story, and concerns the possible connection between the colonial farmer-astronomer Benjamin Banneker and a secret of Egyptian Freemasonry? I am also offering a deal of including for FREE a parchment copy of a SIGNED unpublished 'homage' to Crowley prose-poem entitled "IDEALITY IN A BEAST'S TEACUP" with the purchase of both "Crowley Collection" tee shirts.

BMB's writings are worth paying close attention to - a superficial reading may leave many of the gems within uncovered. 'For those with eyes to see' indeed!

Link: Imaginalus: The Imaginal Realm and Idea Emporium

The Bones Go Last: Life and Work of the First Chaos Magician

The Bones Go Last is a short documentary centered around Austin Osman Spare, a British artist and devout practitioner of Occultism, whose esoteric ideas became instrumental for the development of Chaos Magick, and influenced other artist/magicians like Alan Moore and Grant Morrison.

Alas, the documentary doesn't really delve much into Spare's occultism, beyond his brief romantic involvement with The Beast himself, Aleister Crowley. Which is why I recommend you head out to Ultraculture and read Jason Louv's article where he does explore Spare's work with sigils, as well as his autumn friendship with Kenneth Grant, who is largely responsible for Spare's popularity in current esoteric circles.

A much enviable talent; though certainly not an enviable life...

Lessons in Magic: Beware Cursive Script!

Summon a Lemon

When magical incantations go sour...

(Cartoon by Jim Benton)

Wishful Thinking and Science Fiction Influences in Modern Paganism

Those who have read recent instalments from our Darklore anthology series will no doubt have enjoyed Cat Vincent's explorations of the blurred lines between the mythical and the real, in his essays on 'The Slenderman' and on the rise of 'hyper-real religions'. In the video embedded above you'll find an outstanding talk by Cat that covers this topic eloquently and with some humour as well, ranging everywhere from the origins of paganism to the history of science fiction (which aren't actually that far apart, as you'll learn from Cat's talk).

Highly recommended - grab yourself a beverage, get comfy and enjoy!

(Warning: some cherished beliefs may be challenged.)


Crowdfunder: The Ghetto Tarot

The Ghetto Tarot

Anyone familiar with the tarot knows there are now a vast number of interpretations of the famous esoteric card deck. But a new crowdfunding campaign has a fascinating angle on it, recreating tarot imagery via photographs of people living in a Haitian ghetto:

What is the Ghetto Tarot?

The Ghetto Tarot is a photographic interpretation of the traditional tarot deck in the ghetto. The scenes are inspired by the Rider Waite Tarot deck (originally designed in 1909 by artist Pamela Colman Smith) and are replicated together with a group of Haitian artists called Atis Rezistans (resistant artists) in the Haitian slums using only material we were able to find or create locally. On several cards we used the artists art, that includes symbolism from the Voodoo religion to embody the important meaning of the cards original symbols.

While the cards were designed many years ago with the situations of the time when the world was very different, they resonate today with timeless symbols that can be applied to our busy modern world. And not just our modern, western world, but also to any other continent, country or culture, including the Haitian Ghetto. So here comes a temporary, provocative and vivid tarot deck!

The campaign is already a success (at the time of writing, it already has four times its funding goal!), but if you'd like to contribute and get your own Ghetto Tarot, you've still got a week to get in before it comes to an end.

Link: The Ghetto Tarot

A Saucerful of Strange Secrets: Pink Floyd and the Sorcerer Supreme

Dr Strange, in Strange Tales #158

It seems that these days every superhero is getting a movie, so it was no surprise to find out that one of my all-time favourite Marvel characters, Dr Strange, will be coming to the big screen in 2016.

Marvel's master magician has been around for over 50 years now, and during that time he's influenced plenty of people (including myself) - even though most of the general public might not recognise him as easily as the likes of Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk. But, rather fittingly, many people have probably looked at an image of the Sorcerer Supreme on multiple occasions without actually seeing him. In particular, Pink Floyd fans.

Hidden on the cover of Pink Floyd's second album, A Saucerful of Secrets (1968), is an image of Dr Strange taken from Marvel's Strange Tales #158, published the year before the album was released, in 1967. Created by the late Storm Thorgerson, legendary designer of many of Pink Floyd's album images, the cover includes a barely visible Dr Strange, as well as the character Living Tribunal, who are facing off over the future of the Earth.

Dr Strange on the cover of A Saucerful of Secrets

Not content with this sly album cover inclusion, a year later the Floyd made another reference to Dr Stephen Strange in their song 'Cymbaline', on the soundtrack to the movie More, with the lyrics "and Doctor Strange is always changing size". Here they are playing it live in 1971 (listen closely and you'll hear a tip of the hat to another famous Doctor near the end):

There was almost yet another reference to the Marvel Universe in Pink Floyd's work just a few years later. Thorgerson confirmed a few years before his passing that a photo version of the Silver Surfer was one of the images he once considered for the cover of Dark Side of the Moon (happily, he settled on the now famous light prism image, one of the most famous album covers in modern music).

Or maybe Thorgerson should have just gone with something like this instead...

See William Butler Yeats's Magical Golden Dawn Tools and Private Journals

Yeats and his Golden Dawn Earth Pentacle
Irish poet William Butler Yeats is perhaps the most well-known member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the influential secret magical society which originated in the late 19th century (and still exists in a number of forms today). Yeats was initiated into the order in 1890, taking on the magical name Demon est Deus Inversus—"the Devil is God Inverted." As the order fell into chaos in the early 20th century, Yeats struggled to keep it intact, but he eventually left the offshoot Stella Matutina temple in 1921.

In 2009, noted Tarot author and scholar Mary K. Greer blogged about an exhibit at the National Library of Ireland showcasing a number of Yeats's Golden Dawn tools and writings, including pages from his private magical journal. The exhibition is still online and I encourage you to view it here (although it is built in Flash and employs a clunky navigation system). Navigate to "Interactive" then click on "The Celtic Mystic" to see the showcase.

I also recently acquired a copy of the out-of-print and rare book, Yeats, the Tarot, and the Golden Dawn by scholar Kathleen Raine (The Dolmen Press, 1972), and was astonished to find it contained several black-and-white photos of Yeats's hand-crafted elemental weapons (magical tools).

Yeats's Magical Golden Dawn Tools

In the above image, clockwise from top left, are: the chalice (representing the element of Water); dagger (representing the element of Air) and lotus wand (a general "all-purpose" wand); magical sword and sheath; and the Fire Wand.

Another photo, this one from the National Library of Irelands exhibit, shows Yeats's hand-constructed and painted Pentacle, which represents the element of Earth. You can see his magical motto, Demon est Deus Inversus, painted on the pentacle. All of the magical tools are inscribed with Hebrew names of angels, and some (noticeably the cup) feature the sigils constructed from their names (the odd geometrical figures). This image comes from the collection at the National Library of Ireland:

Yeats's Golden Dawn Earth Pentacle

It is still quite thrilling to see Yeats's drawings in the notebook illustrating his progression through the grades of the order. Here, he has sketched and painted the angel Michael Auriel. [An earlier version of this article stated the angel was the Archangel Michael, but someone on a Golden Dawn forum caught the mistake.]

Archangel Michael from the Golden Dawn notebook of William Butler Yeats

And a beautiful gallery of pages from a Golden Dawn notebook from Yeats's uncle, George Pollexfen, can be found on Flckr, too.

The full story of Yeats and his involvement with magic and the Golden Dawn is covered in a number of books and online, but seeing these magical tools and drawings—carefully constructed and painted by the great poet himself—really brings the tradition alive.

Sacred Ink: The Magical Power of Tattoos

Tattooing at a temple in Thailand - © Lars Krutak

When the preserved 5000-year-old body of 'Ötzi the Iceman' was recovered from the ice of the Italian Alps in 1991, it was found be covered with over 50 tattoos. Earlier this year, a CAT scan of a 1300-year-old Sudanese mummy discovered what appears to be a tattoo of an angel on the inner thigh. The list of similar discoveries goes on: in fact, it has been estimated that around the time of Columbus, a thousand or more indigenous societies practiced tattooing.

Taken from the Polynesian tatau, the word 'tattoo' refers to (usually permanent) markings on human skin, sometimes created through scarification, but more often known as the process of inserting ink into the dermis layer of the skin. In recent decades, tattooing has become extremely popular (some 25% of Australians under 30 now have a tattoo). The reasons for getting a tattoo in the modern world are many - from simple decoration through to professions of eternal love - but a lesser known reason, still seen in many tribal societies, is for magical reasons.

Lars Krutak, an anthropologist with a fascination for tattoos, has spent 10 years traveling the world surveying "how people have used tattoos, scarification and body modification to channel supernatural power into their bodies". He documented this journey, along with sumptuous images, in his book Spiritual Skin: Magical Tattoos and Scarification:

Spiritual Skin: Magical Tattoos and Scarification is a photographic masterwork in two parts exploring the secret world of magical tattooing and scarification across the tribal world. Based on one decade of tattoo anthropologist Dr. Lars Krutak's fieldwork among animistic and shamanic societies of Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Melanesia, Spiritual Skin journeys into highly sacred territory to reveal how people utilize ritual body modification to enhance their access to the supernatural.

The first part delves into the ancient art of Thai tattooing or sak yant that is administered by holy monks who harness the energy and power of the Buddha himself. Emblazoned with numerous images of dramatically tattooed bodies, this chapter provides tattoo enthusiasts with a passport into the esoteric world of sak yank symbols and their meanings. Also included is an in-depth study into the tattooing worlds of the Amerindians. From Woodlands warriors to Amazonian shamans, tattoos were worn as enchanted symbols embodied with tutelary and protective spirit power. The discussion of talismanic tattooing is concluded with a detailed look at the individuals who created magical tattoos and the various techniques they used.

Here's Krutak discussing the project:

On his website you can also find a number of fascinating articles relating to his fieldwork. The essay "Shamanic Skin: The Art of Magical Tattoos" offers a fantastic introduction to the topic with its survey of the many tattooing practices found in shamanistic societies:

For millennia, nearly all indigenous people who tattooed practiced shamanism, the oldest human spiritual religion. Death was the first teacher, the boundary beyond which life ended and wonder began. Shamanistic religion was nurtured by mystery and magic, but it was also born of the hunt and of the harvest and from the need on the part of humans to rationalize the fact that they had to kill that which they most revered: plants, animals, and sometimes other men who competed for resources or whose souls provided magical benefits.

...Shamanism is animism: the belief that all life – whether animal, vegetable, or human – is endowed with a spiritual life force. Sacrificial offerings, especially those made in blood, were like financial transactions that satisfied spirits because they were essentially “paid off” for lending their services to humankind or to satisfy debts like infractions of a moral code which most indigenous peoples around the world observed.

For example, the heavily tattooed Iban of Borneo respect adat or the accepted code of conduct, manners, and conventions that governs all life. Adat safeguards the state of human and spiritual affairs in which all parts of the universe are healthy and tranquil and in balance. Breaches of adat disturb this state and are visited by “fines” or contributions to the ritual necessary to restore the balance and to allay the wrath of individuals, the community, or of the deities. Traditionally, such rituals included the sacrifice of a chicken, pig, or in special instances even another human – especially when a new longhouse was built.

…Apart from their role as the guardians of tribal religion, some shamans actively participated in tattooing traditions themselves. Among the Paiwan of Taiwan, the Chukchi of Siberia and the Yupiget of St. Lawrence Island, Alaska, female tattoo artists – who were usually shamans – worked via supernatural channels to cure their patients of “soul-loss” which was attributable to disease-bearing spirits that could be either human or animal. Sometimes proper treatments included the application of medicinal tattoos at particular points on the body or “tattoo foils” to disguise the identity of the sufferer from such malevolent entities.

…The Kayan tattooists of Borneo, who were always female, tattooed a design called lukut or “antique bead” on the wrists of men to prevent the loss of their soul. When a man was ill, it was supposed that his soul had escaped from his body: his recovery showing that his soul had returned to him. To prevent the soul’s departure, the man would “tie it in” by fastening round his wrist a piece of string on which was threaded a lukut within which some magic was considered to reside. Of course, the string could get broken and the bead lost, so the Kayan replaced it with a tattooed bead motif that has come to be regarded as a charm to ward off all disease.

…The Mentawai of Siberut Island also wear intricate bead tattoos on the backs of their hands. One man told me that these permanent beads “tied-in” his soul to the body but that they also made him more skillful whenever he needed to use his hands to perform various tasks. It should be noted that the Mentawai people are one the most profusely tattooed people living today. The reason for this, they say, is that their beautifully adorned bodies keep their souls “close” because they are pleased by beautiful things like beads, flowers, sharpened teeth, facial paint, and above all tattoos (titi).

For those fascinated by tattoos, or shamanism (or both!), I highly recommend taking the time to sit down and browse Lars Krutak's website, and pick up a copy of his book on the topic, Spiritual Skin: Magical Tattoos and Scarification.

Link: Lars Krutak - Tattoo Anthropologist

Link: Spiritual Skin: Magical Tattoos and Scarification on Amazon.com

The Dangerous Book (of Ritual Magick) for Kids

Magick for Kids

Remember those wonderful kids books of old such as The Golden Book of Chemistry, since deemed too dangerous for our over-protective times? In recent times, our yearning for those daring days has seen success for the rather non-risky 'Dangerous Book for Boys' series.

The occult equivalent of the Golden Book of Chemistry might just be How to Make Magic, a 1974 book that showed kids how to perform a little stage magic, and oh SUMMON THE DEVIL HIMSELF. Thankfully, this classic tome has been rescued from obscurity by @Cavalorn, who has posted scans of the book to his blog, with commentary.

The book seems to begin innocuously enough, with some neat little 'stage magic' tricks to mystify your friends and family with. Although, like the Golden Book of Chemistry, the book is happy enough to recommend a child go and purchase some volatile chemicals. As Cavalorn reminisces: "Oh for the lost days of our youth when a small boy could come skipping out of a chemist's shop with a manual of witchcraft in one hand and a bag of bomb ingredients in the other."

But really, what could go wrong with some of the juvenile stage magic tricks in the book, as long as there are clear directions to ensure the safety of the child? I mean, really?*

Oral candling

(* Full disclosure: I once did the 'pencil up the nose, out the mouth' magic trick in front of a 12-year-old. Minutes later they staggered out of their room screaming with blood pouring from their nose)

But of course, these were different times, when we didn't fixate on little details that might be harmful, given the unlikely scenario of a bunch of unfortunate circumstances combining. So let's not castigate the authors for well-meaning passages that....wait, what's this?

Witches used to make wax or wooden dolls of their enemies and stick pins in as a spell to hurt them. Has your teacher, or a friend, made you a little angry lately? Here's what a witch with a sense of humour might do.

Voodoo for kids

That's right, a magic book for kids recommended making a voodoo doll if friends or teachers had "made you a little angry". We've obviously left the stage magic section well behind now, although I shudder to think what the recommendation is for anyone that's made you really angry...

Head on over to Cavalorn's blog for plenty more occult tuition for juniors, including such gems as:

  • "Ask your parents if you can bewitch a corner of your garden at home. The centre piece should really be a tree around which you should plant a circle of white flowers - snowdrops or daisies, perhaps - in honour of the moon goddess"
  • "Of course, this is no ordinary cat but a 'familiar' sent by the Devil himself to lend a helping hand"
  • "Be careful not to put the pentagrams upside down because they look a bit like the Devil with his horns and you don't want him turning up"

That last pearl of wisdom comes from the spread in which young children are taught to construct a circle to conduct ritual magick in. I would totally have made this book my personal bible if I had ever come across it in my own youth.

I mean, seriously...DIY Ouija craft!

Craft Ouija

Link: 'How to Make Magic' from 1974. A children's handbook of the occult. No, really.

The Witch-Cult: from North Western England to the World Beyond

GOYA - El aquelarre (Museo Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid, 1797-98)

August the 1st is Lammastide, a traditional Summer Harvest Festival dating back to pre-Anglo Saxon times. Lammas, also known by its Celtic name Lughnasadh, is one of the key dates (along with Walpurgis Night, All Hallow’s Eve, and the Feast of Corpus Christi) closely associated with the Renaissance idea of the Witches’ Sabbath. On these dates, it was believed that witches would gather together in secret locations and perform dark forbidden rites. The Compendium Maleficarum, 1608, by Italian priest Francesco Maria Guazzo gives a typical account of what was supposed to occur at such gatherings:

The attendants go riding flying goats, trample the cross, are made to be re-baptised in the name of the Devil, give their clothes to him, kiss the Devil's behind, and dance back to back forming a round.

Paul gives 666 sign, John throws horns

I'm writing this post sitting at my desk in my hot, book-stuffed workroom/study here in leafy Liverpool, in the UK. If you Google the words "Witchcraft" and "Liverpool" together you can all too easily find yourself descending into an quagmire of Beatles conspiracy theory. The group's profound fascination with Aleister Crowley (as evidenced by that one picture of him included on the cover of Sergeant Pepper's...), Paul's untimely death (by some occult means, probably) and replacement by a fake Paul ("Faul"), Lennon selling his soul to the Devil for fame and fortune then being assassinated (possibly at the hands of the Illuminati utilising an MKUltra brainwashed gunman) when his contractually agreed time in the spotlight expired, and of course Yoko Ono's status as a sorceress and master manipulator (the track "Yes, I'm a Witch", and the 2007 re-mix album of the same name almost certainly being cited).
The Fiendish Four aside however, Liverpool and Merseyside may not, at first glance, appear to have much of a history of witchery. Indeed, Dr Margaret Alice Murray’s notorious 1921 work The Witch-Cult in Western Europe mentions Liverpool witches only once in Chapter VIII - Familiars and Transformations:

In 1667 at Liverpool, 'Margaret Loy, being arraigned for a witch, confessed she was one; and when she was asked how long she had so been, replied, Since the death of her mother, who died thirty years ago; and at her decease she had nothing to leave her, and this widow Bridge, that were sisters, but her two spirits; and named them, the eldest spirit to this widow, and the other spirit to her the said Margaret Loy. 'This inheritance of a familiar may be compared with the Lapp custom: 'The Laplanders bequeath their Demons as part of their inheritance, which is the reason that one family excels another in this magical art.

Liverpool, and in particular the district of Toxteth (where I now feel duty bound to point put that Richard Starkey AKA Ringo Starr grew up), does however have a very strong connection with one of the most well remembered and often dramatised of all witch trials. A Puritan community once thrived in the Toxteth/Dingle area and in 1618 they erected the Toxteth Unitarian Chapel which still stands on the corner of today’s Park Road and Dingle Lane. The chapel’s first minister was a man by the name of Richard Mather who, along with most of that Puritan community, eventually emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts in North America. Mather’s son Increase Mather and grandson Cotton Mather (author of Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions, 1689 and The Wonders of the Invisible World - Observations as Well Historical as Theological, upon the Nature, the Number, and the Operations of the Devils, 1693), both became Puritan ministers themselves. Today Increase and Cotton are best known for their involvement in the infamous Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s, in which more than two-hundred people were accused of practising witchcraft and twenty were executed.

Salem Witch Trials as depicted by Baker, Joseph E., ca. 1837-1914

In the 1920s and 30s, the Egyptologist Dr Margaret Alice Murray published several books (Witch-Cult... cited above being the most famous today) detailing her theories that those persecuted as witches during the Early Modern period in Europe were not, as the persecutors had claimed, followers of Satanism, but adherents of a surviving pre-Christian pagan religion - the Witch-Cult. In the decades following the publication of Dr Murray’s works the Witch-Cult grew with new covens springing up in places such as Norfolk, Cheshire and the New Forest. These new witches drew their inspiration not only from Murray’s writings but from a broad sphere of influences including classical mythology, Aleister Crowley’s writings, folk magic, and Freemasonry. The New Forest Coven, for example, was formed as a Neopagan off-shoot of The Order of Woodcraft Chivalry - a non-Christian Scouting-like movement founded in 1916 by Ernest Westlake. One, perhaps rather unlikely, initiate of the New Forest Coven was a white-haired, retired Civil Servant named Gerald Gardner. Gerald Brosseau Gardner was born in Blundellsands, Merseyside in 1884 but lived in places as diverse as Portugal and British Malaya before returning to England in 1936. Following his involvement in the New Forest Coven, Gardner formed his own group known as the Bricket Wood Coven.

Gerald Gardner

Gerald Gardener wrote several books on the subject of modern witchcraft – High Magic's Aid (1949), Witchcraft Today (1954) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959) – all of which attracted much media attention at the time. Today he is known as the Father of Wicca – the neo-pagan religion which grew out of his writings and Bricket Wood’s practices (although Gardner seems to have preferred Murray’s term Witch-Cult himself).

So, next time your mind turns to moptops and the Ferry 'Cross the Mersey, maybe you'll remember that one of the most infamous incidents in American history, and a global religion with as many as eight-hundred thousand adherents (according to www.adherents.com) were also birthed upon the banks of that river. So much of our modern concept of witchcraft has its roots buried deep here in the Mersey mud.

Today the 1st of August is one of the sabbats in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year - eight festivals, spaced at even intervals throughout the calendar. No doubt Guazzo and the Mathers would be glad (or perhaps disappointed?) to learn that there is no flying-goat riding, or Devil-arse kissing involved in the modern Witch-Cult’s Lammas celebrations. www.Wicca.com gives the following as suggested activities/practices for Lughnasadh:

As summer passes, many Pagans celebrate this time to remember its warmth and bounty in a celebrated feast shared with family or Coven members. Save and plant the seeds from the fruits consumed during the feast or ritual. If they sprout, grow the plant or tree with love and as a symbol of your connection with the Lord and Lady. Walk through the fields and orchards or spend time along springs, creeks, rivers, ponds and lakes reflecting on the bounty and love of the Lord and Lady.