Book review entries
October 14, 2005
Prime meaning first, meaning original – and the basis, of course, of the word, "Primer".
And that's what this is. It won't tell you a great deal (other than anectodal) about the history of Chaos magic, but it will tell you about doing chaos magic.
The Contents rather spell it out:
Chaos is everywhere
Liber Nice and Liber Nasty (Discordianism and the Cthuhlu mythos and magic).
This work is aimed at practitioners, rather than anyone else, but practitioner or not, reading it will give you a general overview of what Chaos practice is about – as much as anything can, that is.
For a study of chaos magic, this may not be the best book (though it should not be neglected).
The sixth and final (as of yet…) book in this excellent series. As always, it is a compilation of articles, this one including:
Modern Pagan Witchcraft (Hutton – being an updated version of information from Triumph of the Moon)
Satanism and Satanic Mythology (la Fontaine) – looks at the history, the groups, and the accusations
The witch, her victim… (de Blecourt – University of Warwick among other places!). History and discussion.
A quote from teh intorduction, "Witchcraft and magic, then, are marked both by contempraneity and by timelessness"....
A good book, worth reading if not possessing (as with all of the series, it is expensive). It needs to be supplemented by other works and original documents, but still worthwhile and important.
Level: one and a bit (it assumes some background knowledge).
October 10, 2005
Biography of Crowley, aka The Great Beast, among other things – including Perdurabo, "I will endure".
While perhaps overly sympathetic, this biography has the great grace to be readable – which so many things are not. It is also well supported by evidence – the notes are complete and the bibliography impressive.
Presenting more the man than the beast, it might well do to be balanced against with a less sympathetic tome. It is, however, a good introduction to this incredibly influential figure, taking in not only his magic(k) but his relationships, mountain climbing, publishing and art work.
Level: One (or one and a bit…).
October 09, 2005
"Aradia" may not need much introduction… but for what it's worth, it is the translation (a new translation is included, see below) of an Italian MS which was supposedly given to G Leland, purporting to detail practices of Italian witchcraft.
Various debates about the provenance of the material aside (debates which are detailed in both this book and in Triumph, already listed here), Aradia was clearly used as source material by folk such as Gardner and Valiente – it contains, for instance, the basis for what became the Charge of the Goddess.
The translation here is a new one, and much better than Leland's (the original is supplied, both in dialect and in Italian – reminiscient of some editions of Dante!).
For the notes and the translation, this is a very good edition of Aradia.
Another stalwart. Another one getting on in years, but still if not unique, then groundbreaking at the time.
Hutton's research is sound and well supported (as one would expect). He makes his own views known about some still controversial subjects (Leland, Old Dorothy, etc.) but his views are supported by the evidence (which is refreshing, if nothing else, considering other things written in this area).
Basic background reading.
I would have said that this book is almost required reading for anyone interested in the history of magic in the UK. Yes, it's getting on a bit – and there are bits of it which have been superceded by other research, but still, it's important enough that I've replaced it at least once (lend ye not books to students who move away…).
It takes a good look at exactly what the title says – how magic declined in popularity (perhaps questionable, but in terms of his definition of the term, "magic", a valid premise) – and also how long that decline actually took.
October 08, 2005
In theory, this book tracks the influence of "the occult" oon literature, art, science…
Needless to say, that's a slightly difficult task – by nature, and by definition, "the occult" is hidden.
Having said that, I enjoyed this book, and found it useful. There are times when the writer is more credulous than I am (I'm not at all sure I believe as much about some of the historical figures as he does), but not overly so – this is still within the realms of "read with some confidence".
For those who are new to the area, this book might assume more knowledge than is comfortable – for those who know the area well, the book will be vaguely interesting but will tell them little new. For those who have some background, but not much – it might just be a gold mine.
It has a serious lack, however, in not having an index – one must trawl through to find entries. Admittedly, these are fairly well marked but the lack of an index reduces the usefulness of the book greatly.
There's some useful information, moreso about the distant(ish) past than times nearer to our own.
Very much a broad brush approach, as it would have to be in a book of this length (222 pages) that purports to deal with ritual magic from "ancint times to the present" (back of book blurb).
As a beginning history of ritual magic, one could do worse. One might well do better but I'm not sure what book would fill that niche – because this is at least specific. Nothing to say against it, merely that it is broad brush.