The Books of Magic – reviews of some top volumes of esoterica

Twister Power is the prequel to Dave Lee’s novel Road to Thule and like that first book this is another heady blend of drugs, magic and future technology set against the backdrop of a world  heading towards economic and environmental collapse. The use of technology to enhance parapsychological powers is central to the plot and there are a number of asides in the novel that explore the history and development of magic. A dystopian cyberpunkesque tale, Twisted Power will be of interest to both sci-fi heads and futurist sorcerers.

Magical future shock

Magical future shock

Defining Magic: A Reader does what it says on the tin. This academic and (by and large) accessible volume explores the repeated attempts by the academy to answer that perennial question/koan ‘what is magic’? From James Frazer and his formulation of sympathetic and imitative magic, through to much less ‘sceptical’ or ‘detached’ theoreticians (such as Susan Greenwood) this book provides a very fine window into the two thousand year old process of people trying to establish what that slippery word magic actually points to. Recommended to both academics in this field and esoteric practitioners who want to gain valuable insight into the meaning and history of their practice.

Noumenautics by academic, philosopher and psychonaut Peter Sjöstedt-H is another fascinating book from the Psychedelic Press UK imprint. The first section deals with an analysis of the psychedelic experience (particularly those states produced by psilocybin mushrooms and LSD), while the latter section of the book presents a close analysis of (neo) nihilism and in particular the work of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. This volume joins the ranks of those tomes that emerge when you drop psychedelic drugs into the brain of a writer. The particular nihilist spin that Sjöstedt-H provides is fascinating, though I’d like to discover (perhaps in future writings) more about how the author sees the relationship of this philosophical school and psychedelics.

Mushroom philosophy

Mushroom philosophy

Riding out from the serious academic stable of Oxford University Press is The Devil’s Party, subtitled Satanism in Modernity. This is wonderful collection of intelligent papers covering many and diverse aspects of the development of Satanic culture and identity. Highlights for me included the thoughtful and generous re-appraisal of LaVey’s The Satanic Bible, and a  great essay about probably the first self-described Satanist Stanislaw Przybyszewski. Interesting, though in my viewed flawed, is the final paper on The Order of Nine Angles (which seems to exist mostly as a juvenile literary fiction rather than, as the author of the paper imagines, an actual organisation). Overall this is a fascinating, inclusive and well researched exploration of the new religious movement of modern Satanism.

The Museum Dose by the amusingly monikered Daniel Tumbleweed combines two subjects close to my heart; namely cultural spaces and drugs. Daniel takes us on a tour of locations including The Guggenhein Museum and Brian Eno’s exhibition ’77 million paintings’ at Café Rouge. Moreover these adventures happen on exciting drugs such as 25-MeO-MiPT & C-t-2 respectively. In these and ten other places the author invites us to explore, though his excellent prose, the interface between psychedelics, art, history and imagination. This book will be of interest  to both cultural curators and fans of psychedelic literature. Even if exotic drugs are not your bag the engaging authorial voice still makes this a great read.

The final book in this set is the Mutus liber of the tarot, specifically the (Facebook) Chaos Magick Group (CMG) Tarot. This social media mediated collaborative project saw 47 artists and chaos magic practitioners creating a diverse and deep series of images. The whole project took around 2 years from inception to manifestation as a physical deck, with project co-ordinator Paul Nott expertly herding the chaos cats until, as you can see in this video, our collective desire was realised.

 

CMG has  proved to a wonderfully creative space with a collective intelligence capable of identifying and booting out objectionable online nutters but managing to preserve a brilliant Discordian culture. I contributed two cards to the deck as did Nikki Wyrd and we are both really proud to have been part of this excellent venture. Check the deck out (and make a purchase if you Will) here.

Enjoy!

JV

 

Illuminating the history of Chaos Magic

There have been various attempts to provide a history of chaos magic; to describe the genesis and development of Current 23.

Chaos magic (CM) emerges initially in the British Isles, also the birthplace of Wicca, Neo-Druidry and Thelema. A nice description of the origins of CM can be found in Philip Carr-Gomm & Richard Heygate’s The Book of English Magic and of course there is various material available online (ranging from the broadly accurate, through to the ranty and occasionally bonkers end of the market). More useful background history can be found in The History of British Magic After Crowley by Dave Evans which also contextualises the rise of CM at a time when Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth was at its most active. However the most up-to-date reflections on CM, and in particular the origins and work of The Magical Pact of the Illuminates of Thanateros (IOT), can to be found in a recent lecture by Dave Lee. This presentation was made to a packed house at the wonderful Treadwell’s bookshop in London (where, incidentally, I’m running a workshop in September).

Bill & Dave's excellent adventure

Bill & Dave’s excellent adventure

In common with many other esoteric organisations the initiatory oath of the IOT requires members to be circumspect when discussing the group with non-members. This oath of secrecy aims to ensure that individuals do not have their membership revealed, without their express consent, to non-members. (While the situation in Britain is much better than it was in years past there are still contexts in which ‘coming out’ as an occultist may cause difficulties for people.) The other reason for ‘keeping silent’ is to ensure that the inter-personal processes arising within a group magical context are contained in a safe, supportive and respectful space.

With all that in mind Dave provides a very candid personal account. He manages to respect confidences, maintain a generous spirit towards those who were there at the inception of the current, and to describe in detail some IOT workings that have been ‘declassified’. This interview is both a fascinating tale of an individual practitioner’s journey into magic, and an important overview of the story of CM thus far.

Enjoy!

JV