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

The Occult Experience: Then and Now

The above documentary, "The Occult Experience", is a 1985 feature examining occult practices across the world during the 1980s. Researched and produced by Australian occult scholar Nevill Drury, it features the likes of Anton LaVey, Michael Harner, Margot Adler, H.R. Giger and Michael Aquino, discussing Satanism, Wicca and other esoteric 'traditions'. Watching it from our current vantage point 30 years on, there's a certain cringe factor to a number of the segments, but it's still a fascinating picture of the occult community at the time.

Fast forward to the current day, and Reality Sandwich is featuring a discussion between Mitch Horowitz and Richard Smoley on the 'State of the Occult 2013'. It's interesting to see the opinions of those in the 1985 documentary, as well as surmise their underlying motivations, and compare to the commentary in the Reality Sandwich piece:

Horowitz: A topic that comes up every now and then is whether we are poised for some sort of an occult revival in the early 21st century. I'm of different minds about it, frankly. A couple of years ago when people would ask me if I saw a new occult revival on the horizon I would say no. I absolutely did not. In fact, I was very concerned that large precincts of the New Age were giving themselves over to conspiracy theories, to a certain degree of paranoia, and other outposts of the New Age just couldn't run away fast enough from terms like New Age or occult or ESP, and they were desperate to try to appear serious, or to try one last ditch effort to make themselves appealing to the New York Times Book Review, which I'm afraid is never really going to work out.

And yet maybe, maybe I feel a little less grave about things today than I did a couple of years ago, if only because, by whatever labels people live under, I do see a lot of people in this country very freely adapting practices and ideas from different religious traditions and fashioning something very personal out of it all. Of course critics or cynics refer to this as "cafeteria religion," and yet I find something very appealing about what people critically call cafeteria religion.

I think we are living in an age of dissemination right now. This is not an age of secrecy, I don't think it's an age of large organizations, and I don't think it's an age of great teachers, but it is an age in which ideas are dispersed to large numbers of people and ingathered in new ways. I find in my own life, for example, a deep interest in meditation, a deep interest in the writings of Transcendentalism, a deep interest in the ideas of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, an interest in the writings of a brilliant spiritual thinker, who was not widely known, who died in 1992, named Vernon Howard. I find some of these things permeate my own family life, too. So if there's any part of me that feels there's something fresh bubbling up, it's in this determination with which people around the world, where they're able to, are selecting among different spiritual traditions, and doing so with great vigor. I'm interested to see what comes out of that.

Is the occult scene moving forward, or is it a stagnant pond full of rotting ideas? Feel free to share your thoughts.

Review - Apocalyptic Witchcraft by Peter Grey

Apocalyptic Witchcraft by Peter Grey (Scarlet Imprint, 2013.)

In recent years, the Scarlet Imprint press has staked a valid claim for being one of the most significant modern occult publishing imprints. Their reputation for challenging, passionate and exquisitely crafted books is well-deserved. Of these, perhaps the most impactful was their founder Peter Grey’s work The Red Goddess - a personal, heartfelt, deeply-researched and truly magical work about the origin, worship and power of the whore-goddess known as Babalon. It’s one of my favourite magical texts of all time - and so getting a copy of Grey’s second book Apocalyptic Witchcraft was something I looked forward to.

It’s certainly as passionate, literate, sincere and powerful a book as The Red Goddess... but overall, I have reservations.

First, as to the physical book itself: I bought the Of The Doves regular edition (cloth-bound, archive-grade paper, limited numbered edition of 1000, £40) as the £200 for the no-doubt gorgeous Of The Crows version (Moroccan leather, edition of 81) was out of my price range, and I wasn’t prepared to wait for the coming-soon paperback or ebook. And it’s lovely - a striking cover design of flocking doves revealing the face of the Devil in relief. Sadly, the pure white doves soon became black-speckled due to colour flaking within a few days of receipt, and that the cover (perhaps aptly, given the subject matter) is a veritable magnet to cat hair! Also, I noticed quite a few typos in the text.

(I must note here that Scarlet Imprint took impressively swift action when they heard about the cover flaking issue, which was not isolated to my copy. The issued an immediate explanation and apology and sent free dust covers to anyone who wanted one.)

The book itself is not a sequel to The Red Goddess as such - Grey calls it "its secret heart." He also calls it a polemic, which it certainly is. Grey’s stated intention is to find a new interpretation of witchcraft as both a concept and a practice, in the face of the turmoil and natural disruption of the modern world.

On the very first page, Grey says;

This is a perilous book, and one that does not aim to please.

This is certainly true. Grey sets out to explicate a perspective on the familiar symbols and stories of witchcraft in the West which has little truck with the formalities of scholarship, the sensibilities of the Wiccan paths or the white-light Newage perspective. His is a witchcraft both messy and impudent, one that stinks of mud, blood and spunk - in a good way. One where the oft-ignored or sidelined aspects - the legends of human sacrifice, poisons, curses and The Devil Himself - are both represented and, on some level, embraced.

Within its sixteen chapters, Grey sets out a poetic history/mythology of the witch as outsider, mirror and opponent to the status quo... and poetry forms the heart of its telling. He draws heavily here from the works of Peter Redgrove and Penelope Shuttle (whose remarkable books The Wise Wound and The Black Goddess and the Sixth Sense are far too often neglected) and, especially, Ted Hughes. He also intersperses the text with ten poems in praise of Inanna, whose worship is both his deep personal work and whose archetype his nominee for the prime ancestor of the witch Goddess.

The majority of these chapters focus on various parts of the witchcraft myth - the Devil, the Sabbat, the Wolf, child sacrifice - and reinterprets these with a piercing combination of deep research and personal gnosis. The overall effect is of a coherent new version of the story of witchcraft - as Grey puts it;

"What I am describing is an ideal abstraction, a myth which is within my remit as a storyteller."

One chapter which especially moved and interested me is Grey telling of his visit to the Greek isle of Patmos, and his entering the tiny cave where the Apocalypse of Saint John was written. His encounter with the spirit of that place, and his sense of the perspective John may have brought to his end-times vision, felt weighted with purpose.

For, make no mistake, Grey has a purpose. He sets out clearly his feeling that witchcraft is a necessary, and Goddess-blessed, opposition to the forces which have poisoned Nature and caused the turmoil of the modern world. He sets his response out clearly, in his 33-statement Manifesto of Apocalyptic Witchcraft (in Chapter 2) and many times in the text - this is a War, and the enemy the hierarchies and technologies of our modern world.

His later chapters reinforce the proposition made in The Red Goddess, that the primary Goddess of witchcraft, and the direct source of the entity now named Babalon, is the Babylonian deity Inanna - a proposition I have no problem with at all. (The chapters on this are best read in conjunction with this article by his partner Alkistis Dimech, especially in reference to the other-world or kur which is Her realm - and which bears to my eyes a striking resemblance to Alan Moore’s theories about Idea-Space.)

The book ends with providing a working perspective for the reader who wishes to take the model presented into personal praxis. Grey is smart enough to eschew the idea of forming a new cult or religion - rather, he provides a set of tools and perspectives, combined with a small but potent symbol-set for an Apocalyptic Witch to use.

I have no doubt that this book will inspire many, will possibly be for some that book - the one which shifts their perspective, forms the new core of their belief.

But not for me.

Grey specifically rejects the modern world many times in the text, treating it solely as a blight and a defilement of Nature Herself. He says, for example, that in order to fully free one's dreaming potential,

…get rid of your television. Next step, delete yourself from the digital.

Later, he refers to

...the myth of myths, that of the healing quest, which is in direct conflict with technology and Christianity which only destroy
(emphasis mine)

...and then quotes favourably from perhaps our most notorious living Luddite, Ted Kaczynski.

To my mind, and from my perspective, Grey seems to be simplifying the problems of modernity in a needlessly dualistic fashion, fleeing, Future-Shocked, to a mythic, simpler past - despite his own insistence that

Witchcraft is meaningless if we use it to retreat into an imagined past and play at being the very different people who inhabited it.

Grey clearly has his biases: the rural over the urban, the poem over the comic book. But there’s a difference between following the path one’s perspective sets and ignoring the consequences of privileging them above all other perspectives.

There’s also a tendency for Grey’s thought to be restricted to simple dualism - male and female, war and peace, nature and artifice - which leaves out the excluded middle. It also tends to push aside the gay & bisexual, the trans* and many others who don’t fit the tribal structure he espouses. (Grey does refer to “the queer” as fellow-travellers a couple of times, but the male/penetrating, female/menstruating deep symbolism he considers the root of witchcraft leaves little room for them within his system.) Grey’s only methods of dealing with these dualisms are by either opposition or simple inversion - a system of black and white solutions, aching for some colour, for the possibility of resolution.

To be sure, there are many aspects of modern life which are in need of criticism, are problematic, even toxic - but in my view, any solution to these wicked problems must also be complex, considered and respectful of the lives of those involved.

I cannot help but think; just how much technology is Grey willing to lose to see his vision enacted? For, make no doubt, the cost of dropping the modern world back to anything close to the pre-agricultural level Grey seems to wish for would be the deaths of billions.

I have my biases too. I’m an urban kid, a Cunning Man self-raised with fiction, Forteana, comics and movies and the telly. I live in this world and, though I dream of a better one, it’s not one of the past. My magic embraces the modern, the digital, the connected. My hero figure is not the poet, but the cyborg, the Technomage. Grey’s witchcraft specifically rejects me and my kind... but I worship that same Whore-Goddess. And I also see her as Inanna; but I see the one who descended to the Underworld to bring back the me, the techne... the mental technologies that the first city sprang from and are her power as the Goddess of Cities. And, generally, whores are not noted for their rejection of artifice...

...and, like another urban working class magician, I do not reject artifice either - and I see our times not as a war, but a rescue mission.

This is a challenging and significant book - and for all that I reject its core premise, there is much of note here and I have no regrets about reading it.

As this went to post, I found my colleague and fellow Grinder Damien Williams had posted a very timely piece at The Breaking Time of the problems inherent with violent opposition to the modern technological state. It fits here nicely.

The Essential Fortean Booklist - Esoterica and the Occult

Fortean Library Bookshelf

Late last year our good friend Matt Staggs posted a link to the "Nervous Breakdown Reading List: Occult and High Weirdness". This got me to thinking that once the Christmas craziness had settled down, a fun project might be to compile a list of books that any Fortean should definitely have on their bookshelf. But how to approach the compilation?

My thought was that the process could be done in two-steps. Firstly, I'll put out a general call (first one below) for NOMINATIONS of books to a certain Fortean category (to simplify things a bit). From that list of nominations, a short-list will be compiled based on the number of nominations, which will then be PUT TO A VOTE to determine the order of importance. I'm thinking some parts of the process may end up being a little organic, but this should provide us with a reasonably fair end result.

This week I'm looking for nominations for the topic of 'Esoterica and the Occult'. This can range from histories and analysis through to working grimoires and the like:

The Essential Fortean Booklist


Please list a maximum of ten books that you think are required reading/reference material on this topic for a Fortean, in the comments section below. This may be for a number of reasons, from historical/sociological importance through to scientific importance. Note: this means it does not necessarily have to be the *best* or most *scientifically valid* book on a topic - the criteria is simply that it deserves to be on the bookshelf.

Note that the number of nominations may be crucial in making the short-list, so you shouldn't decide to not post a certain book just because it has already been mentioned.

A one or two line blurb accompanying the nomination describing the reason for its importance is encouraged and appreciated (and may end up being used in the final presentation of books)!

(You will need to be registered as a Daily Grail user to nominate and vote, to avoid spammers/self-promotion/poll-crashing by external sites.)

I look forward to seeing your recommendations!

The First (TV) Exorcist

Posted over at Who Forted:

Living in the day and age when exorcism has become fodder for countless horror films, books, and even awful reality television pilots, it’s hard to believe that the ancient religious rite was once a fairly risky thing to show on television. In fact, the ritual wasn’t even televised until 1971, a good few years before feel good hits about battling Satan came along in the form of The Exorcist and The Omen.

Well, some kind soul has given us the opportunity to view that exorcism in all it’s poorly transferred, bad VHS tape glory via the miracle of YouTube. The clip features NBC journalist Carole Simpson interview Ed and Marsha Becker, a couple who began to experience some very strange things after moving in to their new Chicago home. Things like thrown objects and disembodied crying. Obviously rattled, the couple called upon the help of medium Joseph DeLouise and Rev. William Derl-Davis, who proceeded to channel the spirit and exorcise it.. two things you don’t generally see together very often.

Read the full article.

Did Aleister Crowley Unleash Demons at Loch Ness?

The atmospheric 9-minute film above, by Brian Butler, depicts a magical ritual on the grounds of Boleskine House at Loch Ness - a former residence of the infamous magician Aleister Crowley (and later, of rock guitar legend and occult enthusiast Jimmy Page). Most people know of the famous loch only through its alleged resident monster, but the Fortean roots of this Scottish location run deeper than that, as the film above suggests.

Situated in the north of Scotland, Loch Ness is nearly 24 miles in length, and at some points around 300 metres in depth - more than enough to conjure up all sorts of fears in human minds of what may lie beneath. And as paranormal researcher Nick Redfern pointed out in an article in Darklore Volume 2 (Amazon US or Amazon UK), there's no shortage of weirdness to dip into in the history of the place, including "encounters with UFOs, Men in Black, shape-shifting water-horses known as kelpies, demons, spooks, specters, fairies, and much more."

In his article, Nick notes the dark history of Crowley's former residence and the central location it plays in many of the location's legends:

Originally a hunting lodge for noblemen, Boleskine House was constructed more than two centuries ago on the southern side of the dark loch. During his time at Boleskine, Crowley was engaged in a magical sequence that was designed to create a “knowledge and conversation with the holy guardian angel.” The ritual was an elaborate one, consisting of several weeks of purification and ritual
work for Crowley.

Interestingly, at the site of what is arguably the world’s most famous monster, Crowley’s actions (which included black masses and wild orgies) led to some disturbing phenomena. In his autobiography, Crowley described how the spirits he summoned at Loch Ness got wildly out of hand, causing one housemaid to leave, and a workman to go mad. Crowley also insinuated that he was indirectly responsible for a local butcher accidentally severing an artery and bleeding to death. Crowley had allegedly written the names of demons on a bill from the butcher’s shop.

Across from Boleskine House is a graveyard with a reputation for strange activity, and which was established long before Crowley even set foot on the scene. One legend suggests a tunnel exists linking Boleskine and the graveyard, and that is said to be the haunt of a band of unholy witches.

Crowley's summoning of strange entities, mixed with the strange legends and folklore surrounding Fortean occurrences at Loch Ness, have led some, including cryptozoologist Richard Freeman, to ask whether the famous occultist's ritual "worked in a way that Crowley had not foreseen?”

Jimmy Page himself has noted the sulfurous stench that pervades Boleskine House. "A man was beheaded there and sometimes you can hear his head rolling down," he said in a 1975 interview. "That sort of thing was there before Crowley got there. Of course, after Crowley there have been suicides, people carted off to mental hospitals.”

But in truth, Crowley was late to the party when it comes to trying to harness the demons of Loch Ness. A century previous, in 1833, the Inverness Courier newspaper reported that a local resident, one George MacGregor (alias “Willox the Warlock”) had passed away. As Nick Redfern notes, found among his possessions was a “piece of yellow metal resembling a horse’s bridle, which in the days of yore was sported by a mischievous water Kelpie, who haunts the banks of Loch Ness and Loch Spynie.”

In other words, spirits have been called from the vasty deep of Loch Ness for a long, long time now...

For Nick Redfern's complete article about Loch Ness, "What Lies Beneath", see Darklore Volume 2 (Amazon US or Amazon UK).

Investing Money Based Purely on Superstitions

Superstitious Fund Brochure

Shing Tat Chung is more than acquainted with the role superstitions play in people's lives: his parents changed his name on the advice of a fortune teller. That sort of influence may have something to do with the project he's just launched: an experimental investment fund that will make decisions based on superstitions. The Superstitious Fund is...

...a live one year experiment where an uncanny algorithm or SUPERSTITIOUS AUTOMATED ROBOT will trade live on the stock market. The financial instruments it will be using will be spreadbetting on the FTSE 100.

The superstitious trading algorithm will trade purely on the belief of NUMEROLOGY and in accordance to the MOON. It will for example have the fear of the number 13, as well as generating its own beliefs and new logic for trading.

Unfortunately (or, it may turn out, fortunately), you can no longer invest in the Superstitious Fund - though you can express interest in joining the next one by emailing the project through their website (minimum investment 2GBP).

Read more at the BBC

Wickedest Books in the World 2nd Edition

A couple of years ago, I mentioned the publication of a fantastic book by a real good friend of the Grail, Blair MacKenzie Blake, titled The Wickedest Books in the World. It's a coffee table-style hardcover book containing more than 50 glossy full color photographs of the rare, often magnificently produced, first edition books of the renowned British occultist, Aleister Crowley that are currently in the collections of both Blair and fellow bibliophile, Danny Carey (Tool's drumming genius).

In case you missed out on the 1st edition printing (now sold out, and going for big prices on eBay), but would like a sumptuous occult tome to show off/scare family and friends, Blair has just published a revised and expanded (and corrected!) 2ND EDITION of the book. But do get in quick - this is a very limited run and I would imagine it will be snapped up extremely quickly by collectors, occult adepts and fans of Tool:

Wickedest Books in the World Cover


(With a foreword by DANNY CAREY)

GLOSSY LARGE-FORMAT SOFTCOVER with over 60 full color photos of rare Crowleyana currently in the collections of the author and Danny Carey.
A VERY LIMITED NUMBER AVAILABLE in the STORE at www.dannycarey.com (click on MEDIA) or via this direct link.
Price: $39.00 USD

When it comes to the history of books on the occult and Forteana, Blair is an absolute expert, and along with the wonderful images of these fantastic books you'll find text touching on Crowley's history, the story of how many of his most coveted books have meandered their way through the decades and into Blair's collection, and also a foreword by Danny Carey.

(And don't forget to check out Blair's book of sumptuous occult-influenced prose-poems, Ijynx too!)

Grant Morrison on Comics and the Occult

I seem to be on a real bender lately imbibing information about comic books and the occult, even though I haven't been actively going out to become inebriated. From Jeff Kripal's Mutants and Mystics being sent to me by his publisher, to incoming news stories about the passing of comic greats who had links to the paranormal and occult, I seem to be on a real journey of discovery into these closely-linked topics.

Anyhow, the latest shot glass slung across the bar at me is this video of a very drunk Grant Morrison discussing his own paranormal experiences, the occult, and comics at the 2000 Disinfo Con. NSFW language, and at times a real drunken ramble, but also plenty of nuggets in there and a few giggles as well:

Plenty worth discussing in those 45 minutes! For more on these topics from Morrison, check out his recent book Supergods (Amazon US or Amazon UK).

You might also like...

The Rules of Magic

It's always good to have a little magic in your life, but this is fairly comprehensive. io9 have created a graphic explaining 'The Rules of Magic' (more explanations than rules really) as found in some of the great fictional works of fantasy (click on the cropped image below, and say "Maximus graphicus!" loudly, to view the full-size chart):

The Rules of Magic

Any others you think they should have included, or any obvious errors in the ones listed?

Was King Tut's Curse....Aleister Crowley?

Well I didn't see this one coming: a UK historian has claimed that the deaths of six people, supposedly due to the 'curse of Tutankhamun', were actually ritual murders committed by occultist Aleister Crowley:

Six mysterious London deaths attributed to the "curse of Tutankhamun" were murders by a Satanist called Aleister Crowley, a historian claims in a new book.

...At the time, a frenzied press blamed the "curse" and speculated on the supernatural powers of ancient Egyptians. But author Mark Beynon has now drawn on previously unpublished evidence to conclude the deaths were all ritualistic killings masterminded by Crowley, an occultist called "the wickedest man in the world".

After unique analysis of Crowley's diaries, essays and books and inquest reports, the armchair detective argues that he was a killer obsessed with Jack the Ripper's reign of terror in 1888.

Beynon puts forward his theory in his newly released book London's Curse: Murder, Black Magic and Tutankhamun in the 1920s West End.

Hysteria tonic is available right here: "How to Use Satanism to Market Your New Book"...