Review: Sumerian Exorcism, by M. Belanger

2015/06/04

sembSumerian Exorcism: Magick, Demons, and the Lost Art of Marduk – M. Belanger
Dark Moon, 2013, 9781482521733, 180 pp.

Disclaimer: Michelle is my friend, so while I try to remain unbiased I acknowledge the potential for such is present.

Mesopotamian culture set the foundation for many elements of the modern Western world, and that includes the influence on magick. While the magick of the ancient Near East is often a feature in pop culture and obliquely referenced in paganism and magick generally in terms of Inanna it is rarely more than loosely based in actual beliefs and practices.

This book is a step towards helping shed some light on the actual practices of the time by sharing translations of the original source documents of various magickal tablets, most notably the Maklu Texts made famous by their reference in Simon’s Necronomicon.

The book is a collection of various texts, translated by academics, not by practitioners, and presented with some interpretation and explanation. The fact that the texts are academic translations is important to me, because while academics still have their own bias, when a text is translated by a practitioner they often translate to support their belief which may or may not be factually correct.

Michelle provides the necessary background material, when possible, to help the reader contextualize the spell. Whenever a god or demon or class of spirit is mentioned Michelle gives a brief introduction to them, knowing that the average reader, even of a text as focused as this, might not know whom they are discussing or praising. Sometimes there is a clear parallel between an ancient practice and a modern one, and when noted Michelle will often draw the link out for the reader. Also whenever something is suggested or implied in the text, but not stated probably due to being “common knowledge” to the priests at the time, Michelle fills in the gap or at least makes educated guesses. For instance a few spells reference the way a demon or influence might “melt away” and be burnt, so it’s suggested (and I’ll agree) that it probably referred to making a wax figurine or tablet to be destroyed.

The spells included cover what one would expect in general from a magick sampler text, there are curses, praises, exorcisms (imagine that), protection spells, blessings and more. This text is more for the academically inclined. If you’re looking for a how-to guide to ancient Mesopotamian magick and religion, this won’t be it, it might fill in the gaps and inspire, but won’t give you the foundation you need. The bibliography would also be a great starting point for a more involved study. For students of the western traditions of magick it will be interesting to see the origin (or at least oldest recorded description) of various ideas and both see where some practices came from, and perhaps rekindle part of them in your modern work.

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Review: Drawing Down the Spirits, by Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera

2015/03/06

ddtsDrawing Down the Spirits: The Traditions and Techniques of Spirit Possession – Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera
Destiny Books, 2009, 9781594772696, 338pp.

The idea and practice of spirit possession is one that is growing in the modern magickal and pagan communities. Despite the long and deep roots in a variety of traditions all across the world the practice more or less died out in Western traditions, but in the last decade or so it’s an idea and experience that is becoming more popular. In this book Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera start to fill in the gaps for the Western traditions and open up the conversation of possession.

First off, this is not a how-to book. If you’re looking to learn how to be possessed you can stop reading this review now because this isn’t the book you want. Filan and Kaldera suggest that people can’t learn to be possessed generally, it’s something that’s “wired” into you, and while I’m not sure I agree they still make very solid points about the role of the horse. (Horse is a term from the African diaspora religions for someone being possessed or ridden by the spirits, and is borrowed in this book.)

While not a how-to guide, the book is very thorough for what it does cover: the history of possession, traditions around the world, theories behind it and the spirits called into the horse. There are two elements to the text that really hit me as crucial reading for those getting into possession, but not from a tradition with an understanding or living history of the practice. The first is about the care of the horse, both in terms of the woogity and the mundane. They discuss how possession should be treated in safe, sane, and consensual manner, how to work with the spirits to set up boundaries. It might seem great to be able to be ridden by a patron deity, but despite ideas that such figures only work for your best interest, sometimes a spirit may go for a ride when it’s not wanted or even problematic. Kaldera and Filan give ideas for negotiating with the spirits, and ways to invite and close off possessions.

On the mundane side they cover the depth of what needs to be considered before, during, and after a possession. For instance most people inexperienced with possession might think it just happens, the horse stops, opens, and the god steps in, but the period of transition between self and possession can be a bit rough on the body, the horse might lose control of their limbs, so it’s addressed how to make sure they’re safe in that process. Also an emphasis on aftercare is covered, because having another spirit controlling your actions for a while isn’t necessarily the most comfortable or easy experience. The horse may need to be lulled back to the themselves, given food and drink, or a quiet place alone to settle down, and all of these ideas and more are laid out for the reader.

The second element I felt was crucial for readers is the discussion of the role of the horse in the community. Filan and Kaldera show how the horse is a social role, it’s not about the horse being someone big and important, but about what they can do for their religious community. Between the care and the context, I think the modern practitioner and group can get a sense of how to work with possession.

The book is written in a way that shifts back and forth from theory to experience, it’s filled with a variety of stories from Kaldera and Filan’s past that illustrate their points, without having so many that the text seems to be more about discussing cool experiences to prove how awesome the authors think they are.

As said right away, if you want a how-to guide on possession, this isn’t it, but if you’re curious about the phenomena or part of a group working with it, this text will help explain and explore what it means to work with the spirits in this way.


Review: Grimoires, by Owen Davies

2014/08/21

51Mp9yLSz1L._SL160_[1]Grimoires: A History of Magic Books – Owen Davies
Oxford, 2010, 368pp., 9780199590049

If you’re an academically and/or history driven ceremonial magickian, then Grimoires is a book you really need for you collection.

After reading a few reviews about this book, I feel I have to make one point clear: This is an academic text, this is not a book about magick, it is not how to understand or use the grimoires, it is a look at the texts, the social influences on them, historical documents, and how they have changed over time. If you want an overview of grimoires for your magickal practice, look elsewhere.

Davies covers the history of grimoires, going as far back as we can and still understand the texts as grimoires, arguably sometime around the BCE/CE crossover, up until the present day. Along this journey he touches on a variety of factors that influenced the grimoires. It would be too easy to conceive of them as something isolated in the field of magick, but they’re not. Grimoires grew and were shaped by pressures from the Church, by popular fiction, by technology, cultural exchanges, and perhaps something spiritual. “They not only reflected the globalization of the world but helped shape it.” (5) Davies doesn’t write as a magickian, doesn’t write as a believer, but as a historian analyzing the texts and the histories, and that’s to the benefit of this book, otherwise it would be too easy to assume lines of thought persisted only due to magickal reasons.

When we think of grimoires we tend to think of the same handful over and over, but what really intrigued me was how many grimoires were identified and created in the Middle Ages. All of the text was interesting, but the interplay of the grimoires and the medieval Church were really fascinating. Davies covered how various grimoires survived, but more importantly why they were used, and how they were viewed. You could see some of the push and pull around the Church and the grimoires, as both an organization threatened by their existence, and yet obviously making use of them. In that same period Davies makes a case for the “democratizing” magick through the printing press.

Another plus for the book is that lot of magickal histories tend to drop off in the Renaissance, pick up with the Golden Dawn, maybe address the OTO, and then jump to the present. Davies on the other hand covered all that time between, as grimoires flowed into North America, becoming pulp books sold everywhere, in mail order catelogues even, and how they were a part of rural American cultures right up into living memory. This type of continuous thread of thought and practice is just what he traced from the earliest records, through the Dark Ages, into the Renaissance, to the present.

The data itself in this book is amazing, unfortunately Davies has a habit of throwing in random knowledge which seems less to illustrate a point, and more to illustrate his knowledge of something obscure. At first these little side-trips were interesting, but by the end of the book these details felt like they were detracting from the big pictures. When discussing an interesting text, there will often be an inclusion of one of the more unusual spells, even when it is irrelevant to the discussion of the text itself.

As someone who recently finished a university degree in History, with my final paper on Liber Iuratus Honorii, I found this book an excellent resource for creating the context and background for my paper. As a ceremonialist magickian I find this book invaluable to help me centre my practices both in their own magickal tradition, as well as a historical reality.


Review: Hands of Light, by Barbara Ann Brennan

2014/07/31

handsolightHands of Light: A Guide to Healing Through the Human Energy Field – Barbara Ann Brenna
Bantam, 1988, 294pp., 0553345397

This is a rereading review. Hands of Light was probably one of my first energy work books I read way back, I was possibly still in high school then, which is scarily more than a decade away… For various reasons I’ve felt the need to go back and recover some old stuff, and this book was high on my list.

Hands of Light is probably one of the best books I’ve read on the energy body and energy healing, it definitely has its flaws, but overall it’s a great book.

Let’s look at the flaws first. First and foremost this book is very newage in its delivery, the author’s language jumps from culture to culture with little-to-no understanding of the basics, but using them as buzzwords. (The highest levels of your chakras exist in the Ketheric template, for instance) The book deals with channelling, spirit guides, white light, universe as happy-love, and things like that. The material is great, and even when she’s framing it as newage as possible there is a lot of good stuff in the book, you just have to be willing to filter out some of that language. The second problem is this text is very prescriptive. Red means this. A bulge here means that. Cancer will look like this. If you don’t know me, I have issues with prescriptive texts like that, people can and do perceive (not even see) things radically differently, and our energetic bodies, like our physical ones, are too complex to say X=Y with certainty, but it might be a good indicator. Must like the newage language, if you’re willing to reframe her descriptions as personal and a bit nebulous you’ll get more from it. Originally I thought she was more of an authority, so I tried diagnosing and evaluating people by her colours and symbols, sometimes they were right, sometimes they were wrong. Perceptions don’t map 100% across people. (Normally I wouldn’t comment about that in a book, but as I went through that way back I thought I’d bring it up.) I assume that is in part due to Brennan’s background, she has an M.S> in Atmospheric Physics and worked as a research scientist with NASA (these claims pan out), which may not be the most conducive to accepting a more flexible subtle reality.

So what are the good things about this book? It is detailed. It’s nearly three hundred pages (which are 8.5X11) so there is a lot in here. It covers the aura, how it interacts with the “Universal Energy Field,” therapy and energy healing, physical manifestations of psychological-energetic imbalances, the chakras, major chakra patterns, how they operate and interact, past life damage and healing, layers of reality and the way templates affect the bodies, various methods of perception, how to heal and a lot more. Brennan covers the basics all books on the subject hit, but does so more in depth, and covers a lot more.

The book also has a lot of exercises, and case studies for you to work with, these really help people who want to learn, and they’re practical and effective. The perspective and depth of Brennan’s work is what sets it apart. Even after all this time it’s the only book I’ve read that really handles the idea of multiple layers of the energy body in a way that’s rational and informative. Usually it’s glossed over or not mentioned, but her model is the one closest to my own, as well as the models used by several groups I’ve worked with.

With everything she covers this book really is probably the best resource or place to start, if you’re willing to be a bit more flexible, and divorce the newage language. I honestly think if you work through this book, follow the instructions, then you’ll have an amazing foundation for energetic healing.

While it is white light newage, no doubt, if you’re looking for a book on the energy body, and how to work with and heal it then this book is a great starting point and resource.


Review: The Magus of Strovolos, by Kyriacos C. Markides

2014/07/10

magusThe Magus of Strovolos: The extraordinary world of a spiritual healer – Kyriacos C. Markides
Penguin, 1990, 222pp.., 9780140190342.

It is usual that I read a book and I’m so unsure what I think of it, but that’s exactly how I came out of reading “The Magus of Strovolos.” I first read it years ago during my Abramelin period, and the book still confuses and intrigues me having just reread it.

The book is a sort of student-teacher memoire in the same vein as Carlos Castaneda, except Markides’ teacher actually existed, just to start. Markides tracks down a man he had heard of his entire life, a man to whom a great variety of miracles were attributed to, and begins to learn from him and this book tells that story.

What confuses me and intrigues me is that this book has me vacillating between “this has to be bullshit” and “this is so true” so often and so quickly it’s hard to know what to think. This happens both in terms of the theories of spiritual/magick that Daskalos puts forth, and also the events he and Markides experience. (Note: Daskalos is just the Greek word for teacher, used as an alias for who was later revealed after the book was published as Stylianos Atteshlis) Daskalos is a Christian mystic, and in many ways that term could be applied loosely, he was definitely a devout Christian, but many of his beliefs run counter to that of contemporary Christianity, his beliefs in reincarnation and energy healing for instance, and beliefs that just fit awkwardly with Christianity: transportation, karma, magick, aliens, and the like.

The stories/miracles range everywhere from healings and possessions, to bilocation and communicating with aliens who are visiting Earth and using their assistance to prevent Skylab from falling anywhere it could cause damage. Sometimes the healing is what we’re more familiar with, other times he describes reaching into someone and dematerializing their bones, and filling in gaps in their bones to instantly fix spine problems. Regarding which I’m assuming people can see where my issue is, but it’s a bit worse than that, even the more outlandish stories have something to them, something in the description, in the experience or explanation that seems…right. Even when Daskalos is talking about something outlandish, even when it’s coded in the jargon of his system, it’s something that I can recognize as see the value too. I’m sure we all have a few really out there experiences, well Daskalos is surrounded by them, but the way they play out, the way they’re explained, they seem plausible, they seem to fit my understanding and worldview, even if their degree seems unrealistic.

What I appreciated in the text was Markides and his sense of skepticism, he wasn’t trying to convince the reader, but was relaying what he saw, and questioning what he could. Daskalos also had a bit of a skeptic in him, in the way he wanted things to be tested, but he admitted he couldn’t fully be skeptical anymore. “’How can I not be convinced? This is my life, my every-day reality. How can anyone who does not share similar experiences convince me that my world, my reality is illusory?’” (53) He also wasn’t trying to convince, or impress, he merely was a man recounting his experiences or his understanding/interpretation of them.

The same right/unrealistic balance goes for his theories on cosmology, some of them seem out there, but a lot of them seem in line with my own. In fact the system of Daskalos probably bears more similarities to my personally developed/intuited cosmology than most codified systems I’ve come across, and that’s a bit unusual in its own right. Regardless of how much is real, there is still value to the spiritual system he expounds, much like Castaneda’s work. If you’re looking for the tale of a modern mystic, a contemporary sage with bizarre skills, a modern magickian who can get results, then this is a book to read. Take it as you will, truth, embellishment, or total fiction, it is interesting and worth the read, and I feel that the story of Daskalos has been overlooked by too many and deserves some consideration from occultists. If you’re interested in his experiences you can find more about them in the books by Atteshlis himself or by looking into his order The Researchers of Truth.


Review: Tantric Thelema, by Sam Webster

2014/06/19

tantric thelema Tantric Thelema & The Invocation of Ra-Hoor-Khuit in the manner of the Buddhist Mahayoga Tantras – Sam Webster
Concrescent Press, 2010, 114pp., 9780984372904.

When one studies the history of Buddhism they cannot help but notice that Buddhism changes with every culture it encounters. As it spreads it encounters new ethics, new cultural norms, new magickal systems, new gods and demons, and in time these may become part of the tradition. At first look some might be confused by the integration of Crowley’s Thelema with Buddhism, but one must realize that in many ways this is just another of the hundreds of shifts in Buddhism, except this time we’re seeing it as it occurs.

Tantric Thelema is what it sounds like, Tantric Buddhism (Vajrayana) combined with Thelema, but probably in a way deeper than most readers expect, it is a combination of ritual structure and underlying theological practices of Buddhism with the figures and Law of Thelema. What is deeper than expected (and I’ll admit I was not expecting too much) was how thoughtfully and appropriately the systems have been combined. I’m sure we’ve all read a book, or blog entry, or been to a ritual and seen someone combine two systems with no more depth or understanding than changing a desktop theme. They call “elemental” Orishas in the Angelic corners, regardless of how they interact, or switch out Hebrew names for Egyptian names (poorly translated) cause they like them better, and so on. Yet, as someone who is a devout Tantric Buddhist (whether I want to be or not), and arguably a Thelemite I cannot help but be amazed at how well Sam Webster has integrated these systems.

Now to clarify my statement, and Webster’s, this is a book about Thelema, as he states “I don’t teach Buddhism, but I do see this work as an implementation of the Buddhadharma. If you want to learn Vajrayana, go find a competent teacher and do the work.” (ix) That being said this book is also one of the clearest explanations I’ve ever read on Tantric invocation, but this book is geared around a Thelemic form. Another aspect in this combination I would like to applaud Webster for is his use of technique but not symbols. While he relates everything back to Buddhist ritual he does not use Buddhist mantras, or seed syllables, or combine Buddhist and non-Buddhist figures. He understands “[t]his would be a theft of identity and culture and thus unjustifiable. But using the principles as published and duly translated is righteous as a recovery of a replacement of our own lost technology.” (xiv) So from a perspective of respect to the tradition, that as an admirable trait, also a wise decision in terms of avoiding mismatching things in catastrophic ways, as one often sees in poorly synthesized traditions. Too often in these combined systems the creator uses symbols because they’re traditional, even if they get misapplied, but Webster focuses on the process of invocation and the underlying theology, instead of copying the symbol set.

The text begins with explaining how and why Buddhism and Thelema work together, which seem unlikely on the surface, but Webster intelligently and skillfully links some of the major figures and concepts of the traditions, and also shows a nuanced understanding of Buddhism that allows him to understand Ra-Hoor-Khuit as a Bodhisattva. After the theoretical ground is laid Webster begins a systematic introduction into the practices of Tantric Thelema beginning with a Thelemic form of Taking Refuge, through Dedication of Merit, Empowerments and eventual Front and Self Generations (Evocation and Invocation in Western magickal terms). He also includes some “beta” rituals which haven’t been as thorough tested or practiced yet including a Yab-Yum ritual (spiritual sexual congress) and a phowa (an ejection of consciousness ritual used at the time of death). The book claims to have 47 Tantric Thelemic practices in it, which sounds a bit overwhelming, but really they’re all small elements of a handful of larger and more complex rituals.

Ra-Hoor-KhutMy only complaint about the text and the rituals is the inclusion of the figure of Ra-Hoor-Khut (not Khuit) who is essentially a female form of Ra-Hoor-Khuit mixed in with Nuit. I have nothing wrong with the concept of her, but she is used in major rituals in a way that I find unnecessary and not in line with the Buddhist methodologies. In the act of invocation one calls upon her, in order to further the invocation ritual in a way that is untraditional (an odd complaint in a text like this) and not strictly needed. Perhaps my issue here is the fact that I feel she isn’t explained clearly and I don’t know why she’s included in the process and feel that wasn’t made clear. I’ve worked the rituals both without her and with her, and I’ve found they are just as effective and powerful, but that without her they flow more. What I would like to see is a set of ritual practices around Ra-Hoor-Khut on her own. (Which I might add to my short list of Thelemic Tantric rituals I’ve been toying with.)

Don't judge my wallpaper.

Don’t judge my wallpaper.

Now that I’ve explained the text, let me take a step back and explain what this means to me. As mentioned I’m both a very devout Vajrayana Buddhist, and a Thelemite in many ways, so it was interesting and useful to see how these aspects of my beliefs could work together. More than that, I maintain that this book, while not about Buddhism, is one of the most straightforward explanations on Buddhist invocatory ritual I’ve ever read, which has been useful as a textual reference since then. I first read this book about two years ago, and I’ve wanted to review it since then, but more than any other magickal book I’ve read in the past decade this one demanded I work through it and explore. Here I am, two years later, finally reviewing, and still working with it, I’ve found the system to be very effective and satisfying. While it in no way replaces my Buddhist practices it works well to bring some of my Western work more in line with it. I have even gone so far as to order a print of the Ra-Hoor-Khuit image, and create my own thangka frame for it, so it now is on display for my working no different from my thangkas of Machik Labdrön or Yamantaka. I’ve created and used malas dedicated to the system (as well as sell them on my etsy). While I don’t think you need to have an interest in Buddhism to make this ritual system work, I think it is worth looking into if you’re already drawn to Thelema, or feel drawn to it but can’t connect with the system perhaps the (re)centring of Thelema around compassion will help make that connect.

Though the text is short, it is one of the most intriguing and in-depth works I’ve come across in a long time, and would be beneficial for a wide variety of people from either or both traditions.

ABRAHADABRA

-=-=-=-=-=-
For those interested in picking up either a print of Ra-Hoor-Khuit or Ra-Hoor-Khut both can be purchased on The Thelesis Aura website, along with other great pieces by the artist Kat Lunoe. EDIT: Kat has just corrected me, currently there are no Ra-Hoor-Khuit prints available, only Ra-Hoor-Khut, so if you’re interested check back from time to time.

And for those interested in the malas I’ve made for the practices you can find the listing here, including options for a four coloured mala or a six coloured mala, depending on which system within the text you’re drawn to.


Review: Tara in the Palm of your Hand, by Acharya Zasep Tulku Rinpoche

2014/02/21

Tara in the Palm of your Hand: A Guide to the practices of the twenty-one Taras – Acharya Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
Wind Horse Press, 2013, 164pp., 9780992055400.

((Disclaimer: Zasep Rinpoche is one of my teachers.))

Tara is the primary female Buddha is Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. In fact some schools believe all female Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are expressions of Tara. She is a forceful, compassionate female figure in a tradition that often lacks the representation of independent women. (By independent here I do not mean in a modern social sense, but literally independent, most female figures in Buddhism are linked to male figures as consorts or attendants, while Tara is a Buddha in her own right.) Her practice is one of the most popular in Tibet, specifically in her Green Tara form or as the twenty-one Taras, and with this book Zasep Rinpoche seeks to make her practices and the teachings around them more accessible to those of us in the west.

This book is not simply about Tara’s practice though, while it is expected that one has experience in Buddhism in order to do her practices (and some would argue initiations to even attempt them) this book does contain a primer on related Buddhist practices that can be applied beyond Tara. Beginning with the essentially obligatory explanation of Buddhism, Rinpoche then moves on to discuss the origin stories of Tara, the basis of the practice and the history and the traditions involved. Zasep Rinpoche manages to find a balance between giving relevant and interesting history (specifically of the Surya Gupta tradition of Tara practices) but not overwhelming the reader with information. He explains the forms and meaning of the twenty-one Tara practices, as well as giving simplified sadhana (ritual) instructions for each one. Zasep Rinpoche also includes the transliterated Tibetan for the prayers, and in his explanations of them translates it as he goes, which for anyone learning the Tibetan language (as I am) it’s a great help for testing and building on my lexicon and skills.

As mentioned there is some discussion of general practices that are occasionally overlooked in Western Buddhist texts, which can be helpful for those with less exposure to the tradition or teachers. Zasep Rinpoche covers how to make a Buddhist altar, how to make tormas (a type of dough offering), as well as how-tos and explanations of many primary practices: going for refuge, bodhichitta, the four immeasurables, empowering tormas and ritual items. More or less this book covers everything required to begin practicing with Tara, and while some books may offer more information (such as The Cult of Tara, which I will review in the futre) this book is written in a way that is very concise, clear, and personal, making it very accessible. While I’ve had Tara trainings in the past, and have various sadhana scripts of hers, this book has become my go-to text when performing her rituals as it has everything I need in one place, easy to read and use.

So if you have your Tara initiations, or plan on getting them, or are curious about whether she would be the right fit for you, I’d recommend Tara in the Palm of your Hand, it’s a good read, detailed enough to be useful, not overwhelming in data, and a fun read.


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