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Bookviews Book Reviews


 11-17-2004
 

 

Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot
by Lon Milo DuQuette

 

This book would better be entitled "An Accurate and Complete Book on the Thoth Tarot Deck" or "A Method of Spiritual Attainment Using the Thoth Tarot" because this is precisely what Lon DuQuette has done in this offering. 

Rarely since either Papus' or Mouni Sadhu's works on tarot have I seen a book that is this much in depth in knowledge and scope as what DuQuette has presented in this book. Also knowing the complexity of the Thelemic system and the resulting madness which is rightfully Aleister Crowley's, the Thoth deck is not something to which many are capable of grasping more than straws. 

I have owned a Thoth deck from the first year I got involved in the Occult and that's been 17 years as of this writing and still there is so much offered in the Thoth deck that I find something new about it each time I unwrap my cards and gaze at them! How many other Tarot decks can make this simple claim? 

Originally I bought Crowley's accompanying book on the Thoth deck & after my first reading, I was more perplexed than before I started! Thus I did not use the deck for little more than contemplation and as a method to help induce altered states and astral travel experiences. Lon has offered me much more now that I've read his book and have a deeper understanding of the complexities of the Thoth deck and to that I am grateful. 

Chapters Zero and One should be read a few times prior to reading the rest of the book so you are prepped for what is to come and why it's coming. Take my advice and do not overlook this step. You'll glean a LOT more from doing this simple thing than reading the rest of the book more than once. 

Chapters Two thru Seven are the obligatory history of Uncle Al and why he was who he was. Frankly this material is not necessary in my opinion as there are plenty of other sources Lon could have referenced just as easily instead of adding this filler to the book. But there are some who have this attitude that if you like their book they have to include as much history or ethical platitudes as possible to make it a "complete" work. 

Chapter Eight is very helpful if you happen to be into the Rosicrucian  oriented framework as it covers the all important Rosy Cross. Now even if you're NOT into this aspect, it helps to further understand the Qabalistic designs of Uncle Al's Thoth deck. Why? Because this aspect of Thelema is patterened after the Golden Dawn's Rose Cross symbol and is central to Thelema as well. 

I could go on and on touching on each chapter and would end up spoiling the fun of working thru this manual before you read it. So I won't however I will say you should have your Thoth deck out and at hand as you read thru each subsequent chapter on the various cards. Take your time and read each section carefully then let that information flow thru your mind and let it drift away THEN gaze and contemplate the card in your hand. If you don't gain some sort of insights by the time you're done contemplating the card, then go back and re-read that section on that card. You'll gain SOMETHING worthwhile! 

I rate this book five stars for the breadth of the subject matter. The book is complete and tight in its offering. There are some useful insights offered by DuQuette as you work your way thru the book and he even offers some quips and personal anecdotes as well. I recommend this book to those who have a strong desire to master the Thoth deck. This is not to say that by reading this book you'll have mastered the deck itself but rather will gain a useful starting point from which to begin and material to help fill in the gaps of understanding which are most surely to plague you when trying to use this deck for more than mere divination.

Review by Moloch for TWPT

 

Inside A Magical Lodge: Group Ritual in the Western Tradition by John Michael Greer

 

 

 

Finally a decent book on forming a group in a modern, esoteric, manner. Prior to this book, there hasn't been much on the structuring of a formal magical lodge/order outside of a few Wiccan Circle types of books. The closest I've come across is the late William G. Gray's "Inner Temple Magic" and that had more to do with WHAT to do while in a magical order than it did about forming one. 

Part of the problem with such books is that little is offered as guidance on dealing with the people within such a group. The group dynamics is usually overlooked so the seeker looking to gain some knowledge running a group and not just forming one is often left to his/her own devices on dealing with people. This makes for a blind leading the blind type of situation - at least emotionally - and usually what occurs is that the rest of the group is leaderless. 

In the Satanic oriented groups, the leader is often encouraged to lead with an "iron fist" or "it's MY way or the highway" as pointed out by Rev. Yaj Nomolos in his book "The Magic Circle". Whereas in the Ritual & Ceremonial Magical traditions, the heavy handedness is not always conducive to a smooth running operation. Fortunately this book offers some simplistic thoughts on dealing with people within the lodge and mainly that is covered in Chapter 2. 

What this book does offer is pretty solid material on WHY one should want to formulate a lodge and WHAT kind of structure the group should have. 

The book starts out with pretty basic historical information on who the Freemasons were and why they came to be. This was based on the Medeival Guilds that were formed around trades and craftsmen. What follows next is the jump from the Freemasons to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and it's not like we haven't heard of that particular order before. 

Greer also points out the foundation of what a Magical Lodge really is and offers to the interested party: structure, symbolism, magic and secrecy. In chatper 2, he nails it on the head when he writes "A magical lodge can take many forms and be many things. If it's going to function at all, though, there's at least one thing it has to be: a group of people who are able to put together the resources of space, time, and material needed for the lodge's work and who can do so with a minimum of bickering, confusion, and hurt feelings....A group that can't manage at least this much isn't going to likely to last long or get far." This fact has caused many lodges (and covens) to peter out long before they really could begin all over this very fact. 

When we get thru the next three chapters on each of the foundations of symbolism, magic and secrecy, Greer has done a pretty decent job of offering more than mere platitudes in which to live by. He has explored very real concepts such as the group's egregore which helps to keep the nucleus of the group together. Then he tackles initiation and why this should be an important step to getting into a lodge. Finally he discusses the practical uses of secrecy and how this can benefit the group's continued focus as it progresses along. 

The next part of the book covers the forming of a magical lodge. Greer uses a mythical group of personalities who opt to form their own lodge using alchemy as a framework. This is a useful teaching method and it allows Greer to give a better explanation of the various intricacies of sorting thru the mess of trying to form a core lodge group. He calls this group "The Order of the Athanor" and as we follow the formation of this group, we see some of the pitfalls and highpoints of forming and operating this group. 

One of the pitfalls of lodges has always been the monetary dues contributions from its members. This is a sore point for many would-be lodge members because of their current financial situation which most deem financially strapped. Unfortunately, unless one has an ideal temple in their home, it takes the combined efforts of an entire group contributing money to rent a hall big enough to support a group. For example, if say you or I were to invest in building a comfortable working space such as an insulated and climate controlled pole barn, there is not only the initial cost of such a building and land to worry about but also the ongoing day-to-day maintenance to deal with. Utilities and upkeep usually are a drain on one person and without the group kicking in some sort of monetary support, the person in question will more than likely come to resent the fact that she or he has to foot the bill. And if one tries to keep meetings in their home, the same sort of thing eventually happens. 

Greer also discusses some of the more esoteric rites that are available  outside of just initiation and one of them is the working of Invisibility. This subject has been covered in Greer's prior work "Circles of Power". He takes this subject and lucidly explains the concept and how to do it sort of approach that many aspiring magicians drool to be able to accomplish. 

All in all, this book is highly recommended with five stars because the author has chosen to tackle a very neglected subject and offers some very practical advice on forming a group. So much so that even Wiccans wishing to form a coven would be well to research from this book.

Review by Moloch for TWPT

 

Witchcraft:
A Mystery Tradition
by Raven Grimassi

 

 

 

 

Few books on the subject of Witchcraft come along that I'm willing to doff my hat too mainly because so many are pedantic in their offering. This book is not one of those pedantic offerings but rather a well written and useful theory books that is so lacking in the Wiccan community. 

This is not a cookbook or "how-to" manual. What it is makes it all the more desirable for the budding and mid-level Wiccan practitioner to want to own and study. 

One of the things I have to give Grimassi is his due on covering the balance of the Wiccan cosmology. Most Wiccan books tend to focus solely on the divine feminine aspects and the chief reason for this is that many of the authors of Wiccan books are feminists. Thus the divine aspect of the male is either ignored (usually) OR relegated to little more than a masculine "escort" companion. 

The chapter on the "Witches God" I found useful and entertaining. For instance, I chuckled at the thought of the looks of horror on the faces of so many fluffy bunnies when they see the inverted pentagram in the pages of a Llewellyn book on the Craft! Actually Grimassi uses the symbol merely to point out the idea of the look of Hercules' ritual death position which according to Grimassi was inverted. 

When we get into Chapter Five, "Exploring the Inner Mysteries", Grimassi offers up front a skull and crossbones and how it symbolizes the "guardianship and power over the realm of death". At last, a Wiccan book that doesn't eschew the mysteries of Death! Sadly this is an aspect that is so lacking in modern Wiccan literature but is NOT neglected in Wicca's cousin the religion of Vodu where a Lord of Death is given His respect and dignity at every ceremony. 

Next the author takes us thru standing stones and sacred groves or that which we need to find peace in our workings. The idea that the stones retained all which they witnessed and that groves of trees harbored the Spirits of the Gods themselves. (Another concept that is found in other cultures.) Two other subjects covered by Grimassi are that of Summerland and Reincarnation both of which are not covered in any real depth but at least he makes an attempt to help the reader delve more into the concepts of each instead of just paying lip service to the notion as so many other Wiccan authors tend to do. 

The next two chapters were reminiscent of Stewart Farrar's "Eight Sabbats For Witches" as Grimassi tries to offer more than an overview of each sabbat and the meaning behind its importance. Not since Stew Farrar has this subject been dealt with in any real depth and due to the lack of written evidence on neo-Celtic sources, this does not help make it any easier for Grimassi to explain the spiritual significance underlying each one. I for one would like to see Raven take his time and research this area of Wiccan lore more in depth perhaps even with a book devoted solely to the spokes of the year. 

The rest of the book delves into other areas that are worthy of study for the Wiccan. One of the interesting things about Grimassi is that while I don't consider him a scholar in his research, I do consider him to be a valid reconstructionist. Why? Because some of his theories & conclusions just do not convince me when he points to historical evidence (sic). Too much of this material is skewed by minimal accounts and smacks of way too much personal interpretation. 

The bibliography is not full of other Llewellyn books and thus lends more credibility to Grimassi as a researcher for this work. This in itself is a refreshing break from your typical Llewellyn offering. One sore point though is in the section on "The View from Colleges and Cauldrons" where Grimassi quotes from one of $ilver Ravenwolf's books and he was doing so well up to that point! 

In my advanced, un-edited copy, there was no index so I'm not sure if the finalized version does indeed have an index. All in all I rate this book four stars and recommend it to anyone who wants to get a valuable overview of the mystery aspects of the Craft of the Witch.

Reviewed by Moloch for TWPT