I've always wanted to write a post title like that. We appreciate and want to acknowledge the support of Tarcher/Penguin, who this month are advertising (see the banner at the top right of the page) the latest book from the wonderful Gary Lachman, Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World (available from Amazon in paperback and as a Kindle eBook):
Twenty years after his death, in the middle of the Swinging Sixties, Crowley was more popular than he ever was in his lifetime. In 1967, the Beatles put him on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Rolling Stones became, for a time, serious devotees, their music and image being groomed by one of Crowley’s most influential disciples, the avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger. Today, his face is practically as well known as that of Elvis, Marilyn, or Che. His libertarian philosophies informed generations of notable heavy metal groups like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Metallica, and others, while these same beliefs form the subject of scholarly theses. His image hangs in goth rock bars, occult temples, and college dorm rooms alike, and he’s turned up as a character in pop cultural environments from Batman comic books to Playstation video games.
But ALEISTER CROWLEY is more than just a biography of this continually compelling and divisive figure–it’s also a portrait of his influence on modern pop culture and rock music, from one who knows firsthand. Before he was the acclaimed religious historian behind books like MADAME BLAVATSKY and JUNG THE MYSTIC, Gary Lachman was Gary Valentine, a young New York City punk rocker who immersed himself in occult study when he wasn’t busy playing bass with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Blondie. Lachman experimented with Crowley’s life philosophies as a young man, coming to understand their allure and power–as well as how they were, ultimately, spiritual dead ends.
Decades later, as a religious scholar, Lachman returned to Crowley, fusing his own personal experiences with meticulous research and sharp-eyed cultural observation, to paint the first truly thorough portrait of one of the most famous occult figures of all time. ALEISTER CROWLEY show readers not only who “The Great Beast” was and where he came from, but also why he’s still on our minds nearly one hundred years later.
If the book interests you, pleaes do support sponsors who are supporting this site. More information about the book can be found at the Tarcher/Penguin website.
Strange Attractor have announced the very sad news that Steve Moore, a 'hidden' giant in the fields of the occult, Forteana and comics, has passed away:
We’re deeply sad to announce that Steve Moore, author of Somnium and a regular contributor to Strange Attractor Journal, passed away over the weekend, under a beautiful Spring full Moon.
Steve was a warm, wise and gentle man, with a surreal sense of humour and an astoundingly deep knowledge that covered history, the I Ching, forteana, magic, oriental mysticism, martial arts cinema, science fiction, underground comics and worlds more.
Steve was amongst the earliest members of the Gang of Fort, who launched Fortean Times magazine in the early 1970s, and the author of a great many influential comics and short stories for publications including 2000AD, Warrior, Dr Who magazine and, most recently, the Hercules series for Radical Publishing. At the time of his death he was working on a number of new projects, including his ongoing, privately published Tales of Telguuth and The Bumper Book of Magic, with his lifelong friend Alan Moore.
In 2011 Steve gave a rare interview to Aug Stone of The Quietus, while Alan Moore’s book and album project, Unearthing, explored Steve’s life, their friendship and their magical relationship in great detail.
I'm lucky enough to own one of the signed limited edition hardcovers of Steve Moore's Somnium, and in a nice/tragic little synchronicity had pulled the book out of its safe storage a few days ago after reading through a couple of Alan Moore biographies (which yielded its own little synchronicity last weekend).
Those familiar with Steve Moore's work will appreciate the beauty of the Strange Attractor comment that he passed away "under a beautiful Spring full Moon". Safe travels sir.
Link: Steve Moore 1949 – 2014
Donald Michael Kraig, author of the popular introductory occult text Modern Magick and former editor of Fate magazine, has sadly passed away at age 62. Kraig had been fighting Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. His wife Holly posted this note to her Facebook account:
It is with great sadness that I announce that Donald Michael Kraig took his last breaths last night (3/17/2014) and died. He has crossed over to Summerland and is finally no longer suffering. The type of cancer he had was just too aggressive for us to do any more treatments and his body finally gave way. He did not suffer. He simply slipped away in his sleep.
Publishers Llewellyn have also posted a short obituary on their site.
The Kraigs had been running a fundraising campaign to help cover Donald's health expenses - his wife Holly has asked that rather than cards or flowers, anybody that wants to help are welcome to contribute to that campaign to help cover funeral expenses.
In 1920 the voice of the famous/infamous occultist Aleister Crowley was recorded for posterity onto wax cylinders, with the 'Master Therion' chanting magical incantations claimed by some to be in the language of the angels (as part of the 'Enochian' strand of magic). In the intervening years, the recording has been reissued by a number of sources, most recently on Original Wax Recordings from the Mr Suit label. But many of the tracks have also found their way online over the years, and for those that haven't heard them, you can listen to Aleister Crowley chanting "The Call Of The First Aethyr" in the YouTube video below:
I had previously heard this online at the 'Occult Voices – Paranormal Music, Recordings of unseen Intelligences 1905-2007 ' webpage - at which you'll also find other fascinating recordings, such as a number made of famous trance medium Gladys Osborne Leonard, and her 'control' personality Feda, as well as other prominent mediums of the day. Not to mention, recordings of possessed children made in the 1970s. Sleep well!
This amazing carved skull is alleged to be 300 years old, and come from a Buddhist monastery in Tibet. The owner posted images of the skull on a forum back in 2011 asking for more information about it:
I got this skull in March 2011 from an antiques shop in Vienna, Austria. Showed it to several experts and organizations, such as the Institute for Tibetan and Buddhistic Studies in Vienna, the Museum of Natural History Vienna and the Völkerkunde Museum. The Tibetan letters and most of the symbols got deciphered, but no one ever heard of a skull like that. Except one Tibetan Khenpo (Monk-Professor), who said such skulls where carved a long time ago to take a curse off a family or to guide the soul of a mislead human being on the right path. The guy who sold it to the auction house where the antiques shop got it from said that one of his ancestors used to be a medical doctor in Vienna. He travelled around Tibet and also gave medical treatment to an abbot of a Buddhist monastery. That abbot gave the skull amongst other relics to that doctor as a reward for his services. Allegedly around 300 years old.
The owner of the skull also pointed out the depiction, on the forehead area, of the Cittipati - the 'Lords of the Graveyard - apparently in a Tantric posture (the "bow and arrow"):
Anybody able to shed more light on this skull? Is it an historical occult artifact, or just a modern tourist trophy?
Happy birthday to Alan Moore - writer of Watchmen, From Hell, V for Vendetta, Promethea, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and much more - who turns 60 today! Why not celebrate by watching the documentary The Mindscape of Alan Moore, in which Alan himself walks you through his early life and influences, his own works, and also his thoughts on storytelling, and other fascinating topics such as art, magick and imagination. It's a film worth having on hand at all times, so grab your own copy of it from Amazon.
If you're looking to learn even more about the man and his work, I'd recommend grabbing a copy of the excellent Storyteller (Amazon US/Amazon UK), or the brand new Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore (Amazon US/Amazon UK).
Happy birthday good sir, and thanks for sharing your stories!
Sad news this morning, with the website of esoteric researcher and author Nevill Drury reporting his passing. I was hooked into Drury's writing some 15 years ago via his book Don Juan, Mescalito and Modern Magic, and now have a number of his works on the bookshelf behind me. He was also behind the fascinating documentary The Occult Experience (embedded above).
As a writer, Nevill’s driving interest was always associated with the relationship between art, visionary experience and the esoteric traditions. In 1971, during an eight-month visit to England, he worked in a London bookshop and acquired a reader’s ticket to the British Museum. Here he read the visionary texts of the neglected English artist Austin Osman Spare, who was both a trance artist and occultist. Nevill’s first book, The Search for Abraxas, co-authored with a university friend, Stephen Skinner, and published in 1972, delved further into this area. It was described by British author Colin Wilson, who contributed an introduction, as ‘the manifesto of a new generation’. Over a period of some forty years Nevill wrote and co-authored numerous books on shamanism, modern Western magic, contemporary art, ambient music, holistic health, paranormal consciousness research and esoteric thought.
Farewell, and thanks, to Nevill Drury (1 October 1947 – 15 October 2013).
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.
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
...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...
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.
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
Category: ESOTERICA AND THE OCCULT
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!