The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin The Mage: the 100th post on Nocturnal Revelries

the book of sacred magic of abramelin the mageThe Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage – Abraham of Würzburg (Translated by S.L. MacGregor Mathers)
Dover – 1975

Wow, 100 posts! I don’t think I realized how much work I was going to put into reviewing dumb books when I started. This blog now contains more words than most of the books that have appeared on it. To celebrate this momentous achievement, I’m going to briefly review the Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, a curious grimoire of angelic magic. I first heard of it in the BBC documentary about Aleister Crowley’s house by Loch Ness, and I remember soon thereafter watching a video of Robert Anton Wilson discussing how he had attempted to perform part of the Abramelin ritual while tripping on acid, but it wasn’t until I heard the name of the text being mentioned in Ghoulies, one of the finest motion pictures ever made, that I knew that I needed a copy for my library. This book of spells purports to have been written in 1458, but the oldest surviving copies date from 1608. Many grimoires claim to be far older than they really are as that makes them seem more mysterious, but if this text was written in 1608, you’d imagine that the author would have set it back more than 150 years. Regardless of its authenticity, this is a rather interesting read.

I don’t want to spend too much time going into the plot details as there are plenty of summaries of this book to be found online, but the idea here is that in 1458, an old man named Abraham wanted to give his younger son, Lamech, a present. He had already let his eldest son in on his knowledge of Kaballah, so he decided to initiate Lamech into the secrets of Sacred Magic instead. He himself had come across these secrets from a hermit named Abramelin. We never find out much about Abramelin, but his magical secrets had supposedly made their way to him from the lads in the Old Testament.

There are three books within this book. The first of which gives Abraham’s account of how he came by this magic, and the second book gives the instructions for a 6 or 18 month ritual that one must go through in order to use the spells that make up Book 3. The lengthy ritual puts the magician into contact with his guardian angel. (I use the masculine pronoun purposefully here; women aren’t really supposed to practice this magic.) The guardian angel then grants the magician the power to control demons. This makes for a weird form of whitened-black magic. The practitioner is commanding legions of evil spirits to do his bidding, but he is doing so under the guidance of a good spirit. The standard how-to-turn-invisible/tell-the-future/get-money spells are all here, but it is presumed that the magus will only utilize these abilities for the good of all humanity.  Abraham strongly advises that this system of magic never be used for evil purposes, but he nevertheless includes instructions on how to cast spells upon Men, to bewitch beasts, to cast spells upon the liver, heart, head and other parts of the body, to demolish buildings, to ruin possessions, to excite emnity in general, to excite quarrels and fights, and to cause a general war.

Each spell comes in the form of a magical square. These look a bit like wordsearches, and each one must be used in a certain way. You generally have to make a copy of the square, rub it on your bum or keep it in your hat for a few days and then plant it close to the thing you want to bewitch.

spell square abramelin
The Spell Square to “make work done in inaccessible places”

It’s pretty hard to imagine anyone being in the position to give up 6 months of their life to perform the ritual as described in Book 2. The ritual must also be performed in a very specific type of building, so unless you’re a millionaire, you’re probably not going to have the opportunity to get this done. Aleister Crowley tried in 1901, but he didn’t get to finish it. The fact that he didn’t finish the ritual meant that the demons he evoked were never banished and were left free to haunt the house where he had evoked them. (Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page bought the house in 1970, but it has since burned down.) The book is fairly clear that its instructions must be followed very carefully, and I doubt many people have had both the determination and the means to actually go through with it. A few of those who have claimed to complete the ritual have published the diaries that they kept throughout. I would imagine these accounts are very boring indeed.

The Mathers version of the Book of Abramelin, the text that I read, was translated from an incomplete, already translated version of the original text. The manuscript that Mathers translated is of a later date than the copies that have since been discovered, and it only contained 3 books while the earlier German versions contain 4. The missing book is about the Kaballah though, so I’m actually pretty relieved that I didn’t have to waste my time reading it. The other big differences between the texts are that Mathers got some of the ingredients for one of the potions wrong, his version of the ritual is 6 rather than 18 months long, and his versions of the magic squares are missing some letters.

Unlike many grimoires, the Book of Abramelin is actually a fairly entertaining read. The narrative of the first book reads like a novella, and the unique bad-angels-working-for-good-angels-working-for-the-magician-working-for-God concept makes the magical instruction fairly interesting too. George Dehn and Steven Guth put out a translation of one of the older manuscripts, but unless you were seriously considering performing the ritual herein described, I wouldn’t bother shelling out the extra money. The Mathers translation may not the most authentic version of this book of spells, but it still includes all of the bits I’d be interested in. That being said, if I ever come across a cheap copy of the newer translation, I’d probably take a look.

If you want a far more in depth look at Abramelin’s magic, check out this blog.

The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin The Mage: the 100th post on Nocturnal Revelries

Disinformation’s Book of Lies

img_20170119_170708 Book of Lies – Richard Metzger (Editor)
Disinformation – 2003
I can’t quite remember what put this book on my radar, but it was on my goodreads to-read list for a few years before I picked up a copy. Unabashedly taking its name from one of Aleister Crowley‘s books, this is a collection essays on Magick and the Occult, all written by modern authors. (Actually, I recently found a copy of Crowley’s Book of Lies at a library booksale for a cool 75 cents, so you can expect a review of that at some stage in the future.) The format (and choice of contributors) of this book reminded me a bit of the super edgy Apocalypse Culture series (although, in fairness, this book contains less paedophilia). I’ve been making my way through it since December, and although I have not read every single essay herein, I doubt I will get much further.

The book is divided into 8 sections, each dealing with a different aspect of occultism:

Section 1 is about the actual practice of Magick. Even though I had heard it during his infamous speech at DisinfoCon, I enjoyed Grant Morrison’s explanation of sigil charging through masturbation, I struggled through Mark Pesce’s piece, and I gave up about two paragraphs into Genesis P Orridge’s pile of rubbishy nonsense. Joe Coleman, the artist who did the covers for the Apocalypse Culture books, wrote a fairly cringeworthy prose poem on the magickalness of his own art. I barely even looked at the other essays in this section. All together, this part really sucked. The kind of magick being discussed here isn’t completely loopy stuff; it’s really just other forms of self motivation. If this kind of thing works for you, and I totally understand that it could, that’s awesome, but it isn’t for me.

Section 2 is about “Chemognosis”. I’m not a drug user, and I have no interest in ‘getting high’, so I skipped this section completely.

Section 3 is about magickal icons. There are several essays on Austin Osman Spare, Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs. I once heard a poem by Brion Gysin that was so irritating that I decided to skip the essays about him. I don’t really care for Spare either, but I may come back to the essays on him if he ever catches my interest. I read Burroughs’ first 3 novels in my early twenties, and I used to think he was really cool because he had collaborated with Kurt Cobain, U2 and Ministry. (Coincidentally, I only recently realized that Ministry’s Psalm 69 song and album were allusions to Aleister Crowley’s Book of Lies.) That being said, William Burroughs was definitely full of shit, and I don’t really care about his forays into magick. There was another essay in here on Lovecraft’s influence on occultism, but it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know already. This section ends with excerpts from two books. I don’t like excerpts, so I skipped them.

Section 4 is mostly about Aleister Crowley. The essays focusing on him were extremely boring. Donald Tyson’s essay on John Dee and the Enochian apocalypse was entertaining enough, but I can’t really remember what it was about and I’m only after reading it last week. Richard Metzger’s essay on Jack Parsons wasn’t horrible, but Jack’s wikipedia page is currently more informative.

Section 5 is titled Scarlet Women. There are three essays here, one on Marjorie Cameron, one on Ida Craddock, and one on Rosaleen Norton. They were ok. In a book that is 350 pages long, only 22 pages are about women. Out of the 40 essays in this book, one was written by a woman and three were written by Genesis P Orridge. I have seen this book being criticized for its very white guy perspective on occultism and magick, and while I certainly don’t want to read about sacred femininity and that kind of nonsense, I’d have to say this is a fair criticism.

Section 6, the section on secret societies, was probably my favourite. Twyman’s article on Hitler and the occult put me on the trail of a few interesting books, and P.R. Koenig’s accusations that the Ordo Templis Orientalis are a gang on spermchuggers was rather amusing. It pains me to admit it, but Boyd Rice’s very silly essay connecting Enoch’s Watchers, the Holy Grail, Dagon, Jesus Christ and Ea, Lord of the Depths is probably the best part of the entire book. The last essay in this section is rather long and it explains why wicca might not be as legitimate as some people think. I have never taken wicca seriously, so I didn’t care to finish that one.

Section 7 is quite short and not particularly interesting. It includes an interview with an aged Anton LaVey and an introductory essay about rock music’s links to the occult.

The final section is awful. There’s a big, boring, section on Julius Evola, the esoteric fascist. There are also 3 essays by Peter Lamborn Wilson/Hakim Bey. Wilson/Bey, for those of you who don’t know, is a rotten paedophile. He freely admits to and writes about wanting to have sex with children. I didn’t read what he had to say, and I really wish that he hadn’t been included in here. I am very glad that I bought a second hand copy of this book and thus avoided giving the publishers any money. Fuck that. Put that paedo in the oven. This section ends with a super cringy essay on “The Secret of the Gothic God of Darkness“. We’re dealing with seriously edgy stuff here.

Overall, Book of Lies was a bit disappointing. Some of the essays are on very interesting ideas, but in most cases, they barely scratch the surface. Then again, I bought my copy cheap, and it gave me the names of a few books that I will be checking out in the future. If you see a copy for less than a tenner and you want a nice book to leave beside the toilet, you could do worse than this.

Disinformation’s Book of Lies

The Trials and Tribulations of (reading about) Paracelsus

paracelsusParacelsus Magic into Science – Henry M. Pachter
Collier Books – 1951

I was looking for a new book to start at the end of November when I picked up a most peculiar volume off my shelf. 100,000 Years of Man’s Unknown History had come as part of a set of cooky ancient-alien books that I bought years ago, and as I skimmed through it, I saw mention of the mysterious Count Von Küffstein and his homunculi. (If you’re not familiar with the Count Von K, you might want to check out my post about Aleister Crowley’s strange creations.) I was intrigued, but I was about to spend half the day on a bus and I wanted a smaller book that would fit in my pocket. I was buzzing off the idea of homunculis though, and so I picked up the biography of Paracelsus that I had found on a ‘free books’ table when I was in university.

Paracelsus was a travelling doctor/healer in the 16th century. He disdained the traditional academic approach to medicine and tried to figure out better ways to heal people. Most of his methods would sound very silly to us today, but his approach, which was based on reasoning and experiment, has contributed to the development of the modern scientific method. He was a pretty cool guy too. He traveled around Europe, healing people, writing books, getting drunk and starting arguments with local professors and doctors.

theophrastus
The man’s life was interesting, but in truth, this book is actually quite boring. However, when it comes to books on Paracelsus, I reckon the boring ones are probably the most trustworthy. Pachter’s focus is on how Paracelsus influenced science, and while he never denies Paracelsus’s fascination with the occult, he doesn’t give it as quite as much attention as I maybe would have liked. There’s only a few very brief mentions of Homunculi in here. (Paracelsus claimed it was possible to create miniature human life by placing glass bottles of sperm into steaming piles of horseshit.)

Pachter acknowledges that other writers have gone completely overboard with their interpretations of the more mystical aspects of Paracelsus’s writings, and even though I was fairly bored with Paracelsus when I finished this one, I went straight on to a silly book on Paracelsus that I had been meaning to read for the past year.

paracelsus-by-hartmannThe Life and Doctrines of Paracelsus – Franz Hartmann
1886?

The only attraction of this book is the fact that it seems to have been the text that brought the story of Count Von Küffstein to the attention of the occult community towards the end of the 19th century. In the 8th chapter there’s a chapter on Homunculi that contains an extremely lengthy footnote telling the story of Count Von K. As far as I can tell, this book was originally written in German and later translated into English. If it was originally published in German, we can presume that the footnote on the Count was a paraphrase of the account given in Die Sphinx. (Again, read my post on Crowley if you’re not following this.) This would mean that nobody has ever actually translated Die Sphinx directly. I have been toying with the idea of translating and publishing it myself, but I don’t want to waste my time if it was already been done. If anyone has any information on this, please let me know.

Aside from a single footnote, this book was un-fucking-bearable. The first chapter gives an account of Paracelsus’s life, and the rest explores his beliefs. This is basically the exact opposite of Pachter’s book. While Pachter gives perfunctory mention to the more nonsensical ideas of Paracelsus, Hartmann wallows in them. I read the first two chapters and then skimmed till I got to the homunculus bit. I simply wasn’t prepared to give these dated and stupid concepts the attention that would be required to make sense of them. This book was utter shit.

paracelsusthegreatFrom The Book of Alchemy

Paracelsus was actually cooler than I expected, but these books were a real chore to read. I’m reading two other dry ones at the moment, and I don’t think I’ll move straight on to 100,000 Years of Man’s Unknown History as I reckon I ought to treat myself to something a bit more enjoyable first. The story of Paracelsus played a part in shaping the Faustian Legend, and I am now considering a reread of Marlowe and Goethe’s versions of that tale for a future post on the same.

paracelsus-ulyssesParacelsus was Swiss born, but James Joyce thought so highly of him that he included him in a list of Irish heroes and heroines of antiquity in Ulysses.

The Trials and Tribulations of (reading about) Paracelsus

Witchcraft (The Story of Man’s Search for Supernatural Power) – Eric Maple

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Octopus Books -1973

This is a pretty cool coffee table book on witchcraft from the 70s. Most of it is the kind of stuff you expect from a 140 page overview of an overwhelmingly broad topic, but there were a few cool bits in here that I hadn’t come across before; some of the details on the torture techniques of the inquisitions made me feel rather uncomfortable. The section on Wicca is far too long, but otherwise the book  is pretty good. The images are by far the best part. I have a bunch of other books on the topic that are far more detailed, but I paid less than a dollar for this one, and I feel like it was a wise purchase.

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An irresponsible mother allows a dog-like serpent to give her a little bit of licky-licky-bum-bum in front of her kids.

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The caption below this Roman mosaic in the book claims that its intention was to “to crush the evil eye’s potency by means of pecks, bites and stabs”. Hang on though! The eye isn’t just being pecked, bitten and stabbed; there’s also a man farting at it.  And is that just a fart? That brown stream spewing from the man’s anus looks like it’s carrying baggage! Either way, think of how disrespectful that is! Imagine being captured by your worst enemy; he pokes you with his trident, throws you in a cage with gross insects and wild animals, stabs you with a sword, and then adds insult to injury by farting in your eye. What a blackguard!

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Good boy Jimmy, scratch that mentally handicapped woman’s face with your rusty nail. She won’t be casting any more spells on you after that!

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These images are the coolest part of the book. They’re from the aftermath of the 1963 desecration of Clophill Graveyard in England.  These grisly exhumations are thought to have been the work of Satanist Necromancers. 7 graves were desecrated and chicken’s feathers and blood were found strewn across the scene. One of the corpses was a lady named Jenny Humberstone who died in 1722. Her grave was opened 3 more times after the initial incident. I suppose that if you’re going to dig up a corpse, it’s probably more polite to exhume somebody that nobody remembers. It’s still pretty fucked up if you ask me. There was actually a horror movie made about Clophill church a few years ago, but it looks absolutely shit and I probably won’t be watching it.

 

Witchcraft (The Story of Man’s Search for Supernatural Power) – Eric Maple

Transcendental Magic, Its Doctrine and Ritual – Eliphas Levi

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Senate – 1995

This book is a load of bollocks. I’ve seen it mentioned in other books, and I thought that I should check it out. In fairness, I was probably underwhelmed because I have come across these ideas in so many other books (Although they were bollocks in those books too.) There is a story that the secrets disclosed herein were once the private knowledge of a secret society to which Levi belonged*, but I think it would be unfair to blame anyone other than Levi for this stinking garbage heap of nonsense. Levi links the usual ancient traditions together and adds a bunch of his own bullshit into the mix to create a completely incoherent mess of esoteric diarrhea.

This is actually two books in one. The first is a book on the dogma of magic, the second is a book on the rituals. The chapters in each book correspond to each other, and if I were to read it again, I would read the corresponding chapters in pairs. I am almost definitely not going to read this book again though. The first ten chapters in each text are on numbers. For example, the second chapter is on the number two. For this chapter, Levi thinks of all the things that exist in pairs, and occults them. Cain and Abel represent the Yin and the Yang. Yin is the Angel Lucifer, but Yang is the Angel Michael. Yin depends on Yang, so death (Lucifer) depends on life (Michael). Death is a penis, but it is also life, therefore a penis is actually a vagina. Now this is of course corroborated by the two pillars of the temple of Solomon: they enclose the tree of life and the tree of knowledge, duhh! It’s all so obvious!

So each book starts off with ten chapters of that kind of crap. It’s only after the number chapters that Levi gets into necromancy and witchcraft. Those chapters are alright. There are some fucked up rituals described in detail. My favourite is the ritual that requires the necromancer to somehow put themselves in a position whereby they are assisting a priest in the celebration of mass on Christmas Eve. They must help the priest until the host is consecrated and then  interrupt the ceremony by yelling ‘LET THE DEAD RISE FROM THEIR TOMBS!” After this they run from the church to the graveyard, continually screaming. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see that happening? Levi also gives detailed instructions on the steps you need to take to become master of the Gnomes of the earth. Yep, this is all fairly pragmatic stuff…

The translator, A.E. Waite, provides lots of footnotes, most of which criticize Levi’s nonsense in a manner so harsh that one would wonder why he bothered with it at all.  Waite, who wasn’t exactly the most rational man in the world, describes Levi’s ideas as ‘fantastic’, ‘without authority’, ‘idle nonsense’, ‘incredibly bad’ and ‘made up out of his own head’. I also own his translation of Levi’s History of Magic, a book that I now doubt I will ever read.

The illustrations are cool though. The Sabbatic goat on the cover is quite deadly, and there’s a fair few images in here that I’ve seen elsewhere.  That’s the thing about this book; it has been used as a source for lots of other books that explain its contents far more clearly than it does itself (I would recommend Cavendish’s The Black Arts to anyone who’s interested.)

I was also delighted to find a brief reference to the tarte Bourbonnaise of Panurge. The Borbonesa tart is a dessert mentioned in Gargantua and Pantagruel. It is a “filthy and slovenly compound, made of store of garlic, of assafoetida, of castoreum, of dogs’ turds very warm, which he steeped, tempered, and liquefied in the corrupt matter of pocky boils and pestiferous botches” This is Rabelais’ description, not Levi’s. Levi only mentions the tart in comparison to the smell that might emerge from one of the potions described in the chapter on charms and philtres.

If you want to read a mess of mystical bullshit about the astral plane and tarot cards, then this is the book for you. Otherwise, skip to the chapters on necromancy, witchcraft and the Sabbath, and leave it at that.

*My source for that information was Wade Baskin’s Dictionary of Satanism, so it’s almost definitely untrue.

Please share the below image, and let’s hope somebody takes the challenge!

necromancer challenge

Transcendental Magic, Its Doctrine and Ritual – Eliphas Levi