Sunday, January 30, 2011

Questions About the del Bosco Sacro of Benevento Strega Family

Recently there has been some questions posed by individuals both outside and inside the Strega tradition about the new family that has arrived to the U.S. from Italy, which calls itself the del Bosco Sacro of the Benevento. Since I personally know the individual who has made this visit possible, whose craft name is Lupercus, I have also been introduced to the Arch High Priestess and Arch High Priest whose craft names are Diana and Dianus. Some have even questioned the validity of this new family, but most are just curious about them and want to understand their mission and know who they are and where they came from. They will be making an appearance at Pantheacon, and will be presenting lectures and workshops there, but before that occurs, I thought it prudent to field a handful of basic questions to them so that my readers might have a greater appreciation of who they are and why they are here in the U.S.

Their story is a fascinating one, since few of us have much knowledge about paganism, witchcraft and magick as it is practiced in geographic locations other than the U.S. or the U.K. I know that my knowledge of what is practiced in regards to witchcraft, its history and present disposition in other lands is rather limited to what I have read. So this is a very interesting and exciting occurrence. So let us move on to the questions and the answers that I hope will give them the best possible public face.

What is Stregheria in Italy like and who are the Strega Families?

“Carefully concealed in a handful of Italian families for Centuries, numerous Branches, Traditions, and Clans of Italian Stregheria have secretly survived. Several have recently begun to cautiously open to the outside world. Survivors include the Animulari, Clan Nemorensino, Janare, Benandanti, Cogas (or Surbile) , Strie, Magare, Anguane, Majiare, Maiare, Masche, Bazure, and Clan Umbro.”

What family did Diana and Dianus come from and why did they choose to come to this country?

“Diana & Dianus del Bosco Sacro arrived from Benevento, Italy on December 8, 2010 to bring Stregheria del Bosco Sacro of Benevento, a Tradition of the Pre-Pagan shamanic religion of the Great Mother, Diana Lucina, to America as an essential, additional tradition within the modern Pagan movement.”

What initiatory lines do Diana and Dianus hold, and why do they appear to represent multiple areas in Italy simultaneously?

“Diana & Dianus del Bosco Sacro personify four lineages of Italian Stregheria: Janare of Benventano, Masca of Piemonte, Majara of Puglia & Maiare of Sicily. The principle Stregan lineage of Dianus and Diana is Stregheria del Bosco Sacro of Benevento Tradition. As Diana & Dianus have lived in various parts of Italy for employment reasons, they were initiated into various additional local Traditions or Congregations in the various places where they have lived. This is not really at all unusual among Stregans in Italy.”

I notice that they have assumed titles in their role as representatives of the Stregan families. Who gave them these titles and roles, and what do they mean?

“The title of Grand Conservator of Stregan Faith and Traditions was bestowed on Dianus del Bosco Sacro by Stregheria del Bosco Sacro of Benevento in recognition of Dianus’ advanced spiritual attainment as well as his essential role in preserving and transmitting the Stregheria Traditions of Janare of Benventano, Masca of Piemonte, and Majara of Puglia, and Maiare of Sicily.

There is no such thing as any sort of Grand Lodge, etc. and that any and all titles of recognition are given exclusively at the local congregational level. Diana & Dianus do not way pretend to speak for Stregherian traditions other than those they represent and the lineages that they embody.”

Why did Diana and Dianus assume craft names that are associated with deities? (This might be considered an unusual practice in the U.S.)

“The question has arisen as to why we use the names of Goddesses and Gods of Stregheria as our magickal names. Diana, Dianus, Lupercus, and Aegeria are not at all our real magical names in Stregheria. These names instead were given to us by elders of Stregheria del Bosco Sacro of Benevento for all public use in conjunction with our mission in America. Our elders correctly foresaw problems in accomplishing our mission, including magical attack. We were instructed to use these Divine names in all public aspects of our mission in America. This is but a small piece of an entire castle of protection magically erected around us to protect every aspect of our mission. This is, for example, why all clandestine attacks are so easily exposed to the light and neutralized.”

What is the principle mission that Diana and Dianus have assumed in coming to this country?

“The principle mission of APS Diana & AP Dianus is to bring deeper mysteries of The Great Rite out into the open in America. They offer complete initiation and training in The Great Rite, which includes both Egyptian Sexual Alchemy and the Shamanic Sexuality of Stregheria del Bosco Sacro of Benevento.”

What does ‘del Bosco Sacro’ mean?

“The ‘del Bosco Sacro’ are an ancient and noble Stregherian clan, respected by all Clans, Branches, Traditions, and Congregations of Stregheria Italiana Antica. As former guardians of the Sacred Forest of Nemi where the Temple of Diana Lucina once stood, the del Bosco Sacro Tradition has always been guardians of deeper mysteries of The Great Rite.”

What kind of training and initiation does Diana and Dianus seek to provide to those who are chosen? How is the Great Rite presented and what is it’s relationship to the teaching and initiation of the Strega tradition? What are the requirements for initiation and elevation?

“As inheritors of del Bosco Sacro Tradition, APS Diana & AP Dianus have with due authority decided to provide initiation and training in the Mysteries of The Great Rite completely independently and separately from Stregheria. In this manner, deeper mysteries of The Great Rite can be shared with the entire Pagan and Tantric communities and not just with other Stregheria groups. APS Diana and AP Dianus offer 66 distinct levels of initiation, practice, and consciousness in the Great Rite. These encompass both Shamanic Sexuality and Egyptian Sexual Alchemy.

In addition to The Great Rite, APS Diana & AP Dianus also offer initiation and training in Stregheria del Bosco Sacro of Benevento completely separately from the above. Our tradition certainly does not accept everyone for initiation. We require, for example, both prior application and legally binding confidentiality agreement. Compared to other Stregheria Traditions, our Tradition is admittedly rather liberal about admitting probationers to our First Degree. We are, however, extremely elitist regarding who will ever be admitted to our Third Degree or adopted into the del Bosco Sacro family tradition.”

So the first degree is a kind of probationary degree - what are the requirements for someone who is initiated into the first degree? Do you charge fees for initiation and training?
“Our Probationer Degree includes a year and a day of practice and devotion to the Diana Lucina. Beyond this, we will not comment on rituals, grade structure, teachings, requirements etc. of our Tradition as this is oath bound information. We indeed charge modest fees for initiation and training. This is quite necessary to support the mission of Stregheria del Bosco Sacro of Benevento in America.”

How is the del Bosco Sacro of Benevento tradition different and similar when compared to other traditions of Stregheria?

“At times there are substantial differences between one Tradition of Stregheria and another. Stregheria del Bosco Sacro of Benevento is inextricably and intimately connected with deeper mysteries of The Great Rite. We do not claim that other Stregheria Traditions need to be this way. We merely clarify that this is the nature of our particular Tradition of Stregheria.

Like other Traditions, Stregheria del Bosco Sacro of Benevento also uses, for example, magical implements, etc. These, however, take on but relatively minor importance compared to how they are used in other Stregheria Traditions. This is because essence of our Tradition are the mysteries of Love - the love of Diana Lucina - as well as the love between a man and a woman. Again, The Great Rite is of paramount importance in our Tradition.”

If the Great Rite has so much prominence in your tradition, how does that impact those who might be interested who are gay or lesbian? Is the Great Rite just for heterosexual participants?

“Due to the prominence given to The Great Rite in Stregheria del Bosco Sacro of Benevento, we have been asked about our tradition's position on sexual preference. Clearly, the Great Rite is primarily a heterosexual tradition. This does not mean, however, that our tradition excludes gay or lesbian mysteries. On the contrary, Diana and Dianus have also brought Gay and Lesbian deeper mysteries of The Great Rite with them to America as well. These, however, are separate branches of the sexual mysteries of del Bosco Sacro Tradition. We are in such a preliminary phase of our mission in America that these Gay and Lesbian mysteries have not yet been fully implemented. This will require finding suitable ambassadors for these mysteries from the GLBT community.”

Those are the answers to the questions that I fielded to Diana and Dianus. They were consulted and their answers, in Italian, were then translated and written up by Lupercus.

I feel that Diana and Dianus have answered what are likely to be the most pressing questions in a sufficiently open and transparent manner. Their tradition has a certain quality and emphasis just like any other tradition. This might be different or similar to what others practice, but that’s to be expected. Diana and Dianus have said that they don’t represent any kind of monolithic version of Stregheria. They are practicing one of many variations, and they seek to transplant that variation in the fertile soil of this country.

Whether you agree with their perspectives or not, they should be welcomed with open arms. Certainly, there is plenty of room in our country and amongst our diverse pagan and witchcraft traditions to accommodate one more. It is my hope that no one will now have any fears of any kind of turf battle, commercialized sell out of Strega or some kind of misguided attempt to wrest control over a movement that is already well established here in the U.S. I believe that Diana and Dianus are being as open and transparent as they can be, since much of what they know and teach has to be under the aegis of sworn oaths of confidentiality and secrecy.

We look forward to getting to meet Diana, Dianus, their newly forming clan, and their presentations at Pantheacon.

Frater Barrabbas

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Corrections to Some Previous Statements

I always pride myself on being as factual as possible as a writer. I believe it is an important responsibility to my readers not to post any erroneous information about topics or individuals. However, being human, sometimes things go awry. I present a point in one of my articles that I believe is factual, and I then discover that it is either wrong or misleading. This happened recently when I posted an article that was about Dianus and Diana of the Stregan family del Bosco Sacro, who have come to this country from Italy. I didn’t intend in any way to impugn the legitimacy of any of the Stregan families that were already in the U.S., but that is how my statement was interpreted.

Here is what I said, which has turned out to be quite invalid and incorrect. It also inflamed some individuals, much to my dismay.

“While there has been a few representatives of the Strega tradition in this country since the 1960's, most notably the late Dr. Leo Martello (who represented a Sicilian branch of that faith), and more recently, with the brilliant and fascinating Raven Grimassi, this tradition has not really had a true and legitimate lineage traceable to the old country. I might be wrong about that, but I am pretty certain that no one from the actual Strega families came to this country and set up their practice with the knowledge and affirmation of their elders.”

Of course, what I meant is that Dianus and Diana were the first (as far as I knew) to come to this country as a lawful and sanctioned transfer of knowledge from a Stregan family in Italy to the U.S. I unfortunately used the term “legitimate,” which means “lawful” or “sanctioned,” but it can be easily misconstrued to indicate that I didn’t consider any of the American Stregan families to also be legitimate. There is some confusion between the words legitimate and authentic, but needless to say, the statement was wrong and highly misleading. It completely distracted my readers from focusing on Dianus and Diana and their situation in San Diego, and that was not at all my intention.

I would like to make certain that my readers know that I have nothing but the highest respect and regard for Raven Grimassi and Leo Martello. I even had the opportunity to meet and briefly get to know Mr. Martello in May of 1988, when I helped to bring him to the Heartland Pagan Festival in Kansas as a main speaker. I found him to be kind, gentle, extremely courteous and eminently just. He also knew an enormous amount about the occult spanning many different and diverse subject areas. I will always honor that meeting and look back upon it as a cherished memory. 

Dianus quickly replied with this comment to my blog article, and I accepted that correction from one who knew what he was talking about, compared to me, who had far less information about this matter.

“Dear Frater Barrabas,

Please excuse that I do not yet write much English and am therefore sending this letter to you with the help of a translator.

Your article, in general, is very interesting. Since our arrival in the USA, we have indeed been a bit surprised by the actions of certain individuals in the Neo-Pagan community. In Stregheria in Italy, things are very different. Partly the result of Centuries of persecution having forced Stregheria to go underground to survive exclusively along family lines, the various known surviving families enjoy an exemplary level of harmony and cooperation.

There are a couple of errors in your article that need to be corrected. You write that prior to our arrival ‘no one from the actual Strega families came to this country and set up their practice with the knowledge and affirmation of their elders.’ This I do not believe to be the case.

Let us not forget the groundbreaking work of Leo Martello and Raven Grimassi. I never had the pleasure of meeting Leo Martello, but I am aware of his family in Stregheria in Italy. Raven Grimassi, I would also like to mention, has been most graceful and helpful in welcoming our family to America. My conversations with Raven Grimassi have convinced me that his family additionally represents a legitimate lineage of Italian Stregheria.

Our family, ‘del Bosco Sacro’ has always been respected and honored among Stregheria families, due to our history first as the guardians of ‘The Sacred Forest’ (del Bosco Sacro) of Nemi where the temple of Diana once stood, then as the guardians of the sacred forest of Benevento. As such, our family has always been the custodians of the deeper mysteries of The Great Rite.

This is the great gift that our family brings to America. With the help of Raven Grimassi, we are already entering into contact with the other families of Stregheria in America with the aim of reinforcing their position through the communication of these additional mysteries from the Sacred Forest of Benevento.

Bearing the torch of Diana Lucina,
Dianus del Bosco Sacro ”

Others in the American Stregan families objected to this erroneous statement, and I agreed that it was incorrect, written as it was from the perspective of an outsider who was not part of the Stregan families.

I have to take responsibility for making that misleading and false statement, and also apologizing to anyone who was offended by it. It was an honest but foolish mistake, and I have been corrected by individuals who actually know the real facts behind the history.

Hopefully, this situation can be seen as a mistake and we can all move on to the real concerns, which have to do with Dianus, Diana, Lupercus and their mission in this country representing the del Bosco Sacro family.

Frater Barrabbas

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Definitions of Religion - Legitimacy vs. Authenticity

My previous article brought up some interesting side issues that caught me quite by surprise in regards to the question of Strega lineages, something which I had to beg forbearance from my readers, since I know very little about that particular topic. Still, I often find these discussions and arguments fairly useless, since they often confuse and conflate two very different processes that are active in religion, and that is the difference between legitimacy and authenticity. While these issues have less of an impact in larger community religions, such as Christianity, they are quite hotly contested in the much smaller religious communities of witchcraft and paganism.

First of all, lets look at the definition of these two terms, starting with the dictionary definitions and then look at them in regards to sociological and psychological definitions. We also need to keep in mind that there are two very dissimilar viewpoints characterizing religion, that of exoteric or public religion and that of esoteric or occultic religion. Depending on a person’s or group’s perspective, the terms of legitimacy or authenticity can have a far greater weight and importance.

If we look at the dictionary definition for the word “legitimate,” we will find amongst the expected definitions the term “lawful” and “conforming to accepted rules, standards, etc.” Since we are not talking about a legitimate birth, we won’t go into the definitions that are concerned with how one was born, although sometimes the terms associated with legitimate and illegitimate in regards to birth do get conflated when discussing religious organizations. This is why some groups may be referred to as legitimate or illegitimate, where the proper term would be sanctioned or unsanctioned in regards to rules and protocols - a concern specific to spiritual and religious legitimacy. 

The dictionary definition of the word “authentic” gives the associated terms “genuine” and  “real,” which I believe are important for our discussion. Interestingly, the word “authenticate” has the associated phrases “to make valid, to verify, to prove to be genuine.” It would seem that authentic would represent a religious system where genuine and real experiences are held in high esteem as opposed to lawful decorum or conforming to doctrines, practices or rules. So it would seem that the word authentic is concerned with inner experiences and legitimacy is concerned with outer practices and established rules.

These two terms, when used to define a religious group or organization reveal the fact that they refer to different and opposed dimensions. Legitimacy defines a horizontal dimension that represents social integration, cohesion, group identity and order (rules, doctrine, practices). Authenticity defines a vertical dimension that is more focused on the individual and upon personal transformation and transcendence. Just this simple differentiation of terms reveals two very starkly different approaches to religion. One is exoteric, socially integrative and is concerned with communication and accessibility, and the other is esoteric, insular, and is concerned with mysteries, paradoxes and methods of inducing ecstasy. The former is engaged with translation, the later, with transformation. As you can see, these two dynamics in religion have contrary goals and directions, and confusing them can make communication between adherents of the same faith nearly impossible.   

To further clarify this discussion, I want to present a distillation of some of Ken Wilber’s perspectives and ideas on this issue. It was while I was reading and studying some of his ideas about religion that I had an experience that changed the way I look at religion in general, and more specifically, people’s engagement in their own chosen religion. After reading and digesting what Ken Wilber has wrote on this topic, it was almost as if a light turned on in my mind. I finally realized how easy it was for individuals and groups in witchcraft and paganism to get into passionate disputes with each other, forcing schisms and breaking up groups and spiritual families. I discovered that it often came down to whether one chose to follow the path of religious legitimacy or religious authenticity. The recent schism in the Faery/Feri tradition would seem to represent this particular distinction and how it can push individuals to follow one path or the other. They are not mutually exclusive, and in fact many have found a religious path that incorporates a certain degree of both, but they do represent diametrically opposing directions, and one can’t fully and wholly engage in one without diminishing or nullifying the other.

Let me continue with my discussion about my studies and what I discovered. Ken Wilber has written a book entitled “A Sociable God” (Shambhala Publications, 2005) to help define religion and religious phenomena using the latest theories in both the social sciences, as well his own theories regarding Integral Psychology. I have found this work to be extremely important and ground breaking, since it reduces down to a simple set of definitions what is a very complex multi-disciplined set of theories which contradict each other and are hotly debated between scholars of the same or different disciplines. Ken Wilber has offered this simplified and systematic approach, thus unifying the different perspectives and eliminating contentious points of view. I might also add that these opposing views have done more to confuse the various issues about the nature of religion than clarify them.

The greatest problem in defining religion is that it is many things to many people. There is, as yet, no single uniform perspective embodying all religious viewpoints, or at least none that would make any sense. This is precisely the point that Mr. Wilber made in his work. I will present Wilber’s ideas distilled from his book in the paragraphs below for the sake of efficiency and brevity. I also wish to present this information in manner that cuts to the core of the issues surrounding religion, assisting us to succinctly understand the spiritual and religious beliefs involving witchcraft, paganism and magick.

In his book (see chapter 5, pages 98 -102), Ken Wilber presents seven distinct perspectives based on a general  definition of religion, using a combination of the various social and psychological theories. He identifies seven basic areas, and includes two more that help to determine the depth and breadth of any one single creed (vertical and horizontal dimensions). We will cover each of these in the order that Wilber presented them in his book. Keep in mind that some previous theorists have written whole books on just one of these seven perspectives.

1. Religion is a non-rational engagement. By labeling it non-rational, religion is therefore defined as belonging to or originating out of a dimension that is “other” to reason and rationality. This would indicate that the nature of Spirit, of which religion is principally concerned about, is something that can’t be either quantified or even qualified, thus making it wholly transcendental and paradoxical.

2. Religion is an extremely meaningful or integrative engagement. This definition perceives religion as being an entirely social phenomenon that brings people together, teaching them to resolve their differences and live peacefully for the common good of all. Therefore, religion is concerned with making collective meaning and searching for collective truths that further the integrity and stability of the communal organization.

3. Religion is an immortality project, which is created to deal with the insecurities associated with the ephemeral quality of human life. This theory defines religion as a powerful social belief system that bolsters the confidence of the individual member, giving one a sense of being an elite participant in the collective destiny of the group. This has the effect of assisting individuals to cope with catastrophic loss and death (as well as the potential for such) by causing them to focus instead on the guarantee of a spiritual afterlife.

4. Religion is a mechanism for evolutionary growth through conscious transformation and spiritual evolution, so that by applying oneself to its discipline, one can fully apprehend the spiritual dimension of the self. As Wilber so adroitly put it: “[E]volution and history is a process of increasing self-realization, or the overcoming of alienation via the return of spirit to spirit as spirit.” This whole process represents the drive for transcendent self-realization and personal transformation.

5. Religion represents a social phenomenon of collective psychotic fixations and is therefore, inherently regressive, pre-personal and pre-rational. Wilber says that this perspective has a negative opinion about religion: “[R]eligion is childish illusion, magic, myth.” This perspective represents the typical attitude of empirical science and academia towards religion in general, and is a major part of the creeds of social secularism and atheism. Sigmund Freud held this opinion about religion, and so did Karl Marx and many others.

6. Religion is an exoteric social institution, and its mysteries and paradoxes are understood through the periodic and continual practice of liturgy and the study of sacred scriptures, shared by all members of a specific doctrine or creed. Religion is a public organization where everything is determined and explained in great detail, and nothing is left to chance or self-determination. Exoteric religion consists of the basic and fundamental principles of any religious organization. As Wilber has said in his book: It is a “form of belief system used to invoke or support faith,..preparatory to [an] esoteric experience and adaption..”

7. Religion is esoteric and occultic, and its mysteries and paradoxes are obscured and buried deep within the core belief system that everyone else takes for granted. These mysteries are typically not realized by the general adherent, but requires a deeper and inner exposure to that spiritual system, often acquired through the agency of a teacher and an individualized spiritual practice. The goal of esoteric religion is the obtainment of mystical experiences and a direct realization of spirit in all manifestation.

After having written down these seven different perspectives on the nature of religion, Wilber then examines the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the scope of religion, which brings us to the polarization of the two terms, legitimacy and authenticity. Notice the contrast between translation and transformation, which particularly characterize the breadth and depth of a particular religious practice.

8. Religion is only legitimate when it validates the particular “translation” or perspective established by a given doctrine or creed, usually providing its members positive reinforcements (“good mana”), and helping them to avoid social taboos (“bad mana”). This confers upon individuals a powerful emotional and social sense of being a member of a spiritual community, thereby providing personal meaningfulness, group destiny, and eschatological symbols of immortality.

Legitimacy in religion represents a horizontal dimension to qualifying a religion, and it incorporates the above definitions 2, 3 and 6. Legitimacy is concerned with the smoothness of translation (that it is readily understandable and rational) and the integrity of its social values.

9. Religion is authentic when it validates the particular “transformation” or deeper inner experience of a spiritual system. An authentic religion cuts through doctrine and dogma, giving its adherents the tools and methodologies to achieve a direct experience with the core of that religious system, and is less concerned with the outer trappings and the exegesis of liturgy and sacred scriptures.

Authenticity in religion represents a vertical dimension to qualifying a religion, and it incorporates the definitions 1, 4 and 7. Authenticity is concerned with the degree of personal transformative power and intensity associated with religious experiences, and the internal realization of truths that are paradoxical and irrational. Authenticity challenges individual spiritual seekers, forcing them to move beyond belief and faith, so as to directly experience the spiritual dimension.

So you can see from the above discussion that legitimacy and authenticity are two very different dimensions that will produce, when used exclusively, two very different religious organizations. However, most religions in the world are actually a hybrid of both of these dimensions, although as I have said, a religious group will tend to emphasize one over the other. This is also true when examining the different groups and organizations of witchcraft and paganism. Some of these groups emphasize social integration and communication, others emphasize personal transformation and occultic practices. You can see that when individuals of a greater organization who don’t agree on which emphasis should be used attempt to communicate with each other, they will not only fail to agree, but that they will not usually be able to understand the other person’s perspective. Arguments that involve legitimacy pitted against authenticity will almost always fail unless someone has the enlightened perspective that both approaches are correct, and that there is no one true way.

This also leads us to consider the nature of legitimacy within religious organizations. It would seem that it is a kind of social consensus, an agreement between members of the group. This agreement becomes part of the accepted doctrine, and therefore, is never questioned. For instance, Catholics believe that the Pope’s authority, vested in him from God, is legitimate because he represents an unbroken line of reverent individuals going all the way back to the apostle Peter. The Pope is, therefore, a representative of the apostle Peter, and all of the vested belief in Jesus Christ, his apostles and the doctrines and liturgy of the Church has been mystically translated into his very person. Does the Pope really represent an unbroken line going back to the apostle Peter? Historians would probably disagree with that claim, since for a period of time there were two opposing Popes. There is, additionally, the question of the personal integrity of some Popes in history, which might negate the idea of continuity. Also, the church hierarchy has always been the arbiter of the selection and crowning of the Pope; it is not something intrinsic in the individual, but an important role. Yet it is the consensus amongst faithful Catholics, from the lay person all the way up to the Curia of Cardinals, that the Pope represents an unbroken line, whether or not historians are willing to agree, or even that others outside of the faith would agree to its significance.

We can examine this logic and also apply it to some specific considerations in the British Tradition of Witchcraft (BTW) as it is perceived and practiced in the U.S. I am an Alexandrian witch, properly trained and initiated through all three degrees. I possess my Book of Shadows as it was given to me to be copied by my teachers, and I have papers, rituals and other lore that was passed down to me by my teachers. I have also initiated a score of women over the three decades of my practice. So one could say that I am unquestionably a legitimate witch of the BTW. Right? Not necessarily. Because there is some dispute as to whether Alex Sanders was properly initiated through all three degrees in the Gardnerian tradition, and given the sanction to promote his own initiatory line, some Gardnerians believe that all Alexandrians are not legitimate members of the BTW. Some have even said that Alexandrians aren’t even witches! (Of course, we won’t even get into a discussion of whether or not my teachers, who broke their oaths and became fundamentalist preachers, would be considered posthumously illegitimate, and therefore, negate my claim to legitimacy.)

I have personally experienced Gardnerians who were unwilling to allow me to circle with them or to even talk with me about any of their secrets because I am not, in their definition, a properly initiated Gardnerian witch. I am treated as an outsider, or perhaps a better term, as some kind of “spiritual bastard.” These same Gardnerians will admit that I am kind of a witch and a pagan, but not a legitimate member of their lineage. I have been shunned and treated as if I were the love child of some base relative. Yet my Book of Shadows and my core teachings are nearly identical to the same material used by Gardnerians. There are minor differences between the different initiatory lines of the BTW, and the unique lore of my line is no different in that respect than any other. Still, I am treated by some as an outsider.

Does this treatment bother me? Not in the least! I am not affected by this condescending behavior because I don’t need the consensus of the greater witchcraft community to validate the fact that I am indeed witch and a ritual magician. However, it does bother some witches, and I have known Alexandrians who have gotten themselves a Garderian pedigree in order to be more legitimate in the eyes of the greater witchcraft community. Why does this circumstance bother some and not others? The reason is the distinction in the emphasis between legitimacy and authenticity. For me, the most important perspective is to be authentically a witch. It doesn’t matter to me what the overall social consensus of the witchcraft community thinks is right or proper. What is important to me is that the magick I practice and the liturgical rites that I perform are effective and fulfilling for me as a spiritual person. Also, the most important goal that I am seeking is to unify myself with the One - to be enlightened and illuminated through transcendental transformation. I do work with my community as a teacher, spiritual elder and leader, but the focus of my practice is on the individual rather than the group. One could easily say that my emphasis is almost wholly towards being authentic rather than legitimate, and ritual magick probably has had a powerful effect in pushing me in that direction.

When I read or hear individuals arguing about their initiatory legitimacy or its lack, I understand and know why such a controversy is occurring. It is, in fact, a dispute over social consensus and membership credentials. Is it a valid discussion or argument? That depends on one's overall perspective, but from the standpoint of the tradition of witchcraft, authenticity must outweigh legitimacy. There are some very important reasons why this is so.

An individual’s claim to be a witch should never rest exclusively on the integrity of their supposed initiatory lineage. My tattered and questionable lineage is a case in point. I have also known a few individuals who had impeccable initiatory lineages, but who were also either completely incompetent or totally corrupt. I have also known individuals who had no exoteric initiation in any kind of reputable organization, but who were probably some of the most powerful witches I have ever encountered. Having a pedigree is no guarantee that one is a competent and capable witch, in fact sometimes it would even seem to guarantee a certain degree of fallibility and hubris. As I have stated previously, initiation is not the same thing as transcendental transformation, but for someone who seeks to emphasize authenticity over legitimacy, it becomes critically important that both occur simultaneously.

In my humble opinion, a witch should be first and foremost measured by his or her ability to function as a witch. A proper initiation and the reception of the lore of a particular line may confer legitimacy, but can’t guarantee that one is even truly a witch. What this means is that a witch is a witch because they practice witchcraft and worship the old gods. Does this negate traditions, lineages and families of witchcraft? No, it doesn’t negate them, but it also doesn’t make them a requirement for being a witch, either.

When someone comes to me and says that they are a witch, then I have the right to test them in a magick circle. If they pass that test, then I must respect that they are indeed a witch. Do I break my oaths and share the lore that was handed down to me by my teachers? Of course not! But I will also not exclude them from circling or practicing magick with me. This also means that all of the lore that I know and possess that is not covered by my initiatory oath is available for sharing with that person. Not only that, but I will believe them if they tell me that they are a witch, and I will consider them a sister or a brother - perhaps of a different line than my own, but still kindred seekers on the path of magick and mystery. Eventually, perhaps the distinction of lineages, traditions and families will melt away in the practice of witchcraft, thus we will all be of one overall greater tradition, and we will also be individual seekers after the same goals. I look forward to that time, where authenticity will rule and legitimacy will be considered a quaint affectation.

Frater Barrabbas

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Art of Rational Thinking and Mutual Acceptance

These are my thoughts about the advent of the Stregharia tradition coming to America. This is an event that should be celebrated, but some have made it a time to cast aspersions and spread false rumors.

I have always believed in giving someone at least the benefit of the doubt when they present to me a new approach or new idea. No matter how long I have been studying something, there is always something new to learn or a different approach to be tried. Sometimes engaging with something too closely can have the effect of causing one to lose objectivity, so problem solving becomes difficult and figuring out a totally new approach requires some much needed outside input. I think that the pagan community might be in this kind situation, and could benefit from some outside benevolent intervention.

As pagan and witches, we should embrace the advent of a new idea or the discovery of an old tradition that was obscured by time. We should be flexible, open minded and use our critical thinking skills at all times to not only adequately gauge what someone is presenting, but also to cautiously judge it based solely on its merits instead of the person who is presenting it. We saw this issue emerge with the recent publication of Ben Whitmore’s book “Trials of the Moon,” where some in the pagan community were quite ready to dismiss Mr. Whitmore’s premises simply because he wasn’t a properly accredited academic. Instead, I urged people to give Mr. Whitmore a chance, and at the very least read his book carefully before critiquing it or his ideas. What we don’t need is to vilify each other and to wage witch or pagan wars either locally or nationally. We are a small group of unique individuals who are loosely grouped into various traditions, practices and beliefs. We are, in a sense, a lot like snow flakes, all analogous, but each unique and different in its own way - no two are alike. I suspect that this has a lot to do with the fact that so much of our beliefs are based on personal experience.

As my friend Steve Posch, a living treasure of wit and wisdom in our local pagan community has said, “Christians, Jews and Muslims are people of the book, we are people of the library.” Yet we are also individuals who rely a great deal on our personal experiences, and those must, by definition, be quite different. This can cause us to passionately disagree with one of our own people over some minor point of belief because we have invested a lot of our personal inner worth with what we practice and experience in the domains of Spirit and magick. Old age, verbally having the shit kicked out of me a few times and also mellowing have taught me that my way of doings things is not the only way, and that what I believe is right and good may not agree with others who follow the same path. I have long since given up fighting petty wars with others who might only slightly disagree with me. I know, just by looking around, that there are some real enemies out there in the world who would, if they could, do me harm or suppress me for my religious activities.

We can fight our brothers and sisters with a zealous passion over minor differences, but in the end, nothing is gained and much is damaged. Since we are such a small minority in our culture, I think that a common sense rule of thumb should be that we engage with our brothers and sisters with an open mind and a tolerance that allows multiple perspectives to live and thrive together. Certainly, there are boundaries to what we will accept, but what I have found is that few of us who are jointly on this path merit any kind of uncritical condemnation or dismissal. What seems to be required in our communities is a balance between rational and objective thinking and a kind of mutual acceptance. If you can’t show any kind of respect, love or forbearance to your spiritual kindred, then to whom can you show this special compassion? Not only that, but it starts with your brothers and sisters, and should hopefully grow to include nearly everyone of all faiths, persuasions, cultures and beliefs. 

The reason why I have brought up these points is that a very tragic thing has recently happened. We have been blessed recently with the arrival of a couple from Italy who represent the witchcraft movement in that country. I am speaking of arch-priestess and arch-priest Diana and Dianus who have brought a valid and living lineage of Stregharia to the west coast of the U.S. This is a momentous event, and one that we should celebrate and perhaps even be a bit excited about. While there has been a few representatives of the Strega tradition in this country since the 1960's, most notably the late Dr. Leo Martello (who represented a Sicilian branch of that faith), and more recently, with the brilliant and fascinating Raven Grimassi, this tradition has not really had a true and legitimate lineage traceable to the old country. I might be wrong about that, but I am pretty certain that no one from the actual Strega families came to this country and set up their practice with the knowledge and affirmation of their elders.

For this to happen now is a truly wonderful thing, because according to both Dianus and Diana, they have been urged by their elders to travel to this country in order to transfer their knowledge and their lineage to the fertile spiritual soil of America. They have come here not to make a fortune selling their religion, but instead came here to freely give this knowledge and its special insights to the witchcraft and pagan communities of this land. What that means is that now, for the first time, there will be a truly legitimate line of Strega, backed by the blessings and urging of the slowly dwindling Strega families in Italy. This is a very interesting and fascinating development, and we should at the very least, extend a hand in friendship and open-ness to the seeding of this old tradition in new soil. I think that it’s amazing that only now the Strega has sought to transplant itself here, and that no previous members had attempted to do this in the past. Many Italians and Sicilians migrated to this country over the last hundred years, but it’s possible that because witches are very much tied to the land of their mothers and fathers, they may have sought to stay close to their ancient lands instead of migrating, in order to continue to work its magick in the old and traditional manner.

News of this event has reached me through channels that I am not allowed to talk about just yet, but as an author and someone who is traveling the country meeting various people, my opportunities to meet fascinating and engaging people are quite high. Needless to say, Diana and Dianus, of the Benevento line of Stregharia will be giving two presentations at Pantheacon 2011. They are also beginning to teach, organize communities and to initiate worthy and interested individuals into their line of witchcraft, beginning with the San Diego area. This is all wonderful, and it would be something exciting to talk about and experience, except that there have been a few individuals who have already gone on the offensive to raise questions about the legitimacy of their tradition of Stregharia (some even demanding to know the actual line of initiates), and to specifically condemn their emphasis on the Great Rite, or sacred sexuality. These questions of legitimacy and of core practices should never be asked by someone who is not an initiate. You can either accept that they are legitimate (hopefully after meeting them) and that their teachings are valid, or not. However, no one has the right to ask for specific lineage based proof unless they are inside the tradition as initiates. The simple response is that this information is oath-bound, and I am sure that a lot of traditional initiates know what that is all about. As for the focus being on sacred sexuality and sacral nudity, I have already posted an article that explores that topic. It has long been a core discipline in a number of pagan and witchcraft traditions.

A couple of misguided fools have even resorted to saying that Diana and Dianus are potential sexual predators who should be avoided and shunned instead of greeted and engaged. Along with this condemnation is the implication that sacred sexuality and sacral nudity have no place in pagan practice, especially ones that involve the whole family, which would include children. No one in their right mind is even suggesting that underage children should be involved in sex magick or sacral nudity - these are activities exclusive to adults. Of course, all of this is astonishing, and even more so because this was publically declared before the two had even had a chance to give their very first presentation in San Diego. So without any real knowledge or anything to back up such accusations, slanderous and scandalous comments were made in what could only be construed as an atmosphere of fear and loathing. But a fear and loathing of whom or what? The potential for something happening was entirely based on zero evidence.

What seems to be going on here is actually a lot simpler and also quite tragic - someone’s afraid that their “turf” will be marginalized by the introduction of a bonafide tradition of Strega into the San Diego area. This is obviously the act of someone who is desperate to stop the intrusion of a new transplanted old tradition in the soil of our country. All this was done in ignorance and extreme prejudice, which I can only judge as being completely at odds with any kind of pagan mindset. Unfortunately, it’s always the case that a small minority will attempt to spoil and thwart the opportunities of the many simply for the sake of ego, territory and selfish personal gain. These folks have been relentless, attempting to contact Ravin Grimassi to discredit this couple and confound their selfless desire to teach and share their knowledge with us. They have actually gotten a couple authors stirred up who also contacted Mr. Grimassi. In short, they have been quite busy creating as much mischief as possible, all to no avail, because the weekend presentations in San Diego went ahead anyway.

Diana, with the help of her American translator and benefactor, Lupercus, has recently put out an interview that hopefully deals with these issues - you can find it here. What she and her mate are presenting to the public is certainly not for everyone, but only for the few who are truly interested and ready to take on the responsibility for being a representative of this venerable line of witches. They can be selective and picky about those with whom they choose to share their knowledge and practices. After recent occurrences, I can’t say that I blame them. I, myself, won’t take on just anyone who wants to learn my system of ritual magick. I want people to show me that they are willing to make a long term commitment and actually do the work, so that my time (and theirs) isn’t wasted.

I found the interview to be fascinating and also very sad, since Diana and Dianus have only been in this country for a month, and they have already experienced the petty back biting and viral gossiping that seems endemic in our small communities. I hope that this barrage of unpleasant behavior dies down and that people will give this couple the respect and open mindedness that they are due. They should be treated as we would want to be treated if we happened to travel to Italy and met with pagan folk there. Diana and Dianus are learning English, but they still need the help of a translator. I admire their perseverance, since they are here in a foreign land having to navigate in a foreign culture with a foreign language. They are not enduring this ordeal simply to enrich themselves in this new land. They came here to share their knowledge and practices, and therefore, we should accord them some very special considerations. We should be compassionate, open, engaging, kind and helpful to them, simply because they have come here with an open hand and a desire to reach out to each and all of us. How could we justify behaving in any other way?

I must say that I am looking forward to meeting both Diana and Dianus at the forthcoming Pantheacon. It will make this event memorable and quite fascinating. Whether or not I choose to take the challenge of engaging with their tradition, I believe that there is something important to learn from them. So I will listen respectfully with an open mind and an open heart. I will embrace them for coming to this country in peace and goodwill, and I will show them that American pagans are worthy of their outreach. I hope that you will accord them the same respect and openness, if they should come to your town in the months ahead.

“Possa la luce della Luna e del Sole vi benedica con la loro luce e di amore.”

Frater Barrabbas

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pantheacon 2011 - Preparations and Research

I have completed my class notes and handouts for the upcoming Pantheacon 2011, which is scheduled to occur next month, from Feb 18 through Feb 21. I have been slated to present two workshops at this gathering. This event is now less than a month away, and I have to say that I am really looking forward to it, particularly since the wintry weather here is getting a bit bleak and difficult to deal with. Sunny San Jose will be a welcome distraction to the cold tundra-like climate of the Twin Cities in the midst of deep winter.

Anyway, these two presentations are new to my slowly building collection of workshops and lectures. What I usually do for Pantheacon is to propose up to four workshops or lectures, all of them untried but based on previous articles and research. When one or more gets approved, then I will assemble my research and writings to build up the workshop or lecture. The two workshops that the Pantheacon staff selected were “Astrological Decans - Key to Evocation” and “Lunar Magick.” The first one is based on three or four articles that I have already written and researched, and despite that assembled information, I still found that I had some holes in my presentation that had to be researched and filled. The second one was based on a rather lengthy article that I have written but never published entitled “Lunar Mysteries and Moon Magick.” This article will be part of the book that I am assembling on Elemental and Talismanic Magick, using the lore of the Order of the Gnostic Star for that work.

If you have been faithfully reading my blog articles, you will note a recent article that I penned which dealt with the issues of the Goetic daemons and whether or not there were 72 daemons, 69 or perhaps even 73. You can find that article here, just in case you missed it. That was a bit of a hair pulling conundrum that I had to resolve before writing my presentation on the Astrological Decans. As I resolved that issue, I also wrote up an article to support that research, adding to the total articles needed to back up the presentation.

One issue was still outstanding, and I ran smack into it when I attempted to start pulling and assembling all of the writings and data that I had collected or written together. I discovered that there appears to be two schools of thought when it comes to assigning the spirits (both angels of the ha-Shem and the Goetic daemons) to the specific decans and their associated quinarians. This issue was discovered when I was working on retrieving the seals for the 72 angels of the ha-Shem and attempting to show how the decan could be more aptly used to define the qualities of the spirits. I wanted to see if other authors had given the decans that much power in defining the qualities of the associated spirits.

What I discovered is that the two schools seem to be the Golden Dawn and other European occultists, with Carroll “Poke” Runyan and his system giving weight to the European methodology. The whole issue revolves around where to start the decan and spirit association, in other words, which decan would be considered the first decan in this set, and this might also determine when in the season one could access that decan. The Golden Dawn system starts their decan list with first decan face of Leo, the other methodology starts in the most obvious place, in the first decan face of Aries. Starting in Aries would make sense if one were using Tropical Astrology, which is what I use in all my occult works. This is because it's considered the starting point for that system of astrology, which naturally starts at the Vernal Equinox (zero degrees Aries). The Golden Dawn preference for starting in Leo was both unexpected and also poorly documented. Very few authors have given any explanation as to why this choice was made, but many, including Thelemites like Lon Milo DuQuette (and Aleister Crowley) used this system, seemingly without question.

As you recall, we stated previously that each decan appears at the ascendent at dusk (or some say dawn) for approximately 10 days, which would leave five intercalated days. So if one has a methodology that determines the first decan and the start of the astrological wheel, it could also impact not only the spirits associated with quinarians, but also their qualities and astrologically based definitions. I decided that this issue warranted a massive search that would include the internet as well as any and all books in my library. I also consulted with a friend of mine (Ananael Qaa) who is probably a lot more knowledgeable about these obscure issues than me. What I uncovered was that other occultists had different opinions on how this should be resolved.

“Poke” Runyan decided that the traditional tropical astrological paradigm required that the first decan face in the set should be the first decan of Aries. Another individual, French occulitst Robert Ambelain, who wrote the book “La Kabbale Pratique,” also favored the Aries first solution. I found a translation of chapter five of his book on the Shemhamphorash in a PDF file associated with a certain Golden Dawn group. Still, despite all of that weighty evidence pointing to the starting point at the first decan of Aries, I was unfortunately wedded to the Golden Dawn version that proposed Leo as it’s starting point. The rational for this choice is explained in Book T with a rather terse and unhelpful explanation. I was vaguely informed by this brief explanation that the reason for this odd starting place has to do with determining that point using the star Cor Leonis (Heart of the Lion, also Regulus), which represents the beginning of the zodiacal sign of Leo. No reason for this choice is discussed or why it was used. This lack of explanation could be considered a small mystery, or just something that was assumed everyone would know.

Other authors have done little to illuminate this choice. Aleister Crowley accepted it without any comment, which was odd. If it were an arbitrary choice, then I am sure that Crowley would have researched it and replaced it with something more “Thelemic.” Even Lon Milo Duquette, in his book “Angels, Demons & Gods of the New Millennium” accepts this starting point. Lon explains it as having something to do with Chaldean astrology, but doesn’t go any deeper into the issue than that. He did produce a beautiful color table that shows how the spirits of the ha-Shem and the Goetic daemons fit together into a tight system, all associated with the decans and their associated Tarot cards, and all starting in the first decan face of Leo.

A comprehensive search of the internet turned up the interesting revelation that this issue has been discussed and pondered over by a number of individuals, and the various explanations for it were all very weak. No one seemed to know why this difference existed. And it got even more interesting when I attempted to compare either of these associations with what Dr. Rudd had done in his version of the Goetia. Dr. Rudd’s system was unique and appeared to use the sequence of spirits associated with the Goetia, where the first daemon in that work would be coupled with the first angel of the ha-Shem, needless to say, that made yet a third methodology that one could follow. I found Dr. Rudd’s version to be awkward and not very meaningful, but that could be easily explained by the fact that he lived in the first half of the 17th century when such a comprehensive system didn't yet exist.

Consulting the other experts in the Golden Dawn tradition didn’t yield any additional information. Pat Zelewski discusses the fact that there are other methodologies in his book “Kabbalah of the Golden Dawn.”  He doesn't explain why this is so, or why the Golden Dawn uses Leo first. He does refer the reader to Franz Bardon and his system. So I consulted  the material written by Franz Bardon, examining his book “Practice of Magical Evocation,” but Franz uses the Aries first sequence, so it was surprising that Pat Zelewski recommended that book to his readers.

Perhaps the only one who has actually managed to explain this issue in a manner that actually makes sense is David Griffin in his book “Ritual Magick Manual.” David talks about how the Golden Dawn, from Mather’s time, sought to use a system of astrology that was more based on Sidereal astrology than Tropical astrology. That would make a lot of sense, because the Golden Dawn Book T says that the choice for the decan starting point was to place it in the first decan of Leo, so as to be aligned with the star Regulus. This might seem to be still rather vague and inexplicable, and indeed it was, until I examined the mythology and background of the fixed stars, particularly Regulus.

I consulted a favorite book of mine, entitled “The Fixed Stars and Constellations in Astrology” written by Vivian E. Robson, which is a veritable goldmine of interesting occult facts for the fixed stars, lunar mansions, nebulae, clusters and even how they are used in magick. I decided just for the sake of thoroughness, I would examine this book to see what it said about Regulus. Low and behold, I believe that I found the answer to the enigma, but it was not in any of the books about the Golden Dawn. Here’s what that book had to say about Regulus.

“A triple star, flushed white and ultramarine, situated on the body of the Lion. From Regulus, a Little King, and often called Cor Leonis, the Lion’s Heart, and symbolically the crushing Foot. It was one of the four Royal Stars of the Persians in 3,000 B.C., when, as Watcher of the North, it marked the summer solstice.”

We can throw away the reference to 3,000 BC (this book was first published in 1923 and has a decided Theosophical bias), but the rest is quite interesting.

If also consider that the helical rising of Sirius also occurred during the early part of Leo, and coincided with the ancient Egyptian new year, when the calendar changed over to the first month, then the choice for this starting point begins to make a lot of sense. It would seem that Mathers had some very good reasons for choosing the first decan of Leo as his starting point, based on a desire to determine it through a sidereal approach, and to begin this set with the annual cycle as the ancient Egyptians would have understood it. The argument for this approach is that the Egyptians used the decan system exclusively as their variation of astrology, calendric determination and even the means of telling the hour at night. How they used the decans would be an appropriate consideration for a magickal tradition and organization that saw the ancient Egyptians as their predecessors.

So I believe that the mystery is pretty well solved, although the devil is in the details, of course. Still, because I have invested so much already in the Golden Dawn variant, I think that I will keep using that version, not the least because I would then be able to continue to use Lon’s beautiful color table. Anyway, this bit of detective work ate up nearly four or five days of my spare time, but I think that it’s worth it. At least if anyone asks me why I have adopted this system I won’t just say because its part of the Golden Dawn tradition and not to be questioned. I now can give at least a sensible explanation as to why it’s different, and feel confident in using it. This is not to say that the Golden Dawn method is in any way superior; in fact, intuitively I would have chosen the Aries first method instead, and there seems to be little need to explain that approach.

One other little item I found out is that the proper spelling for the word Shemhamphorash is actually Shem ha-Mephorash. That little point was made known to me in my research, and I have adjusted my notes and handouts accordingly. 

The assembling of the Lunar Magick workshop was actually quite straightforward. In fact I had more material than I could conceivably present in a 90 minute maximum class time period. I will have to zip through the material I did include since there is so much of it, but I think that when I have gotten through it all, that the attendees will know the value of tying their magickal and liturgical work to the cycles of the moon. This is particularly important for important ro strategic magickal workings that seek to dramatically change one’s material situation. I will be posting some additional articles on that topic in this blog on or after the workshop has been presented - so stay tuned.

If you are thinking about attending Pantheacon 2011 this year, I would like to let you know that I will be there, too, and also to give you the times and locations of my two presentations. The program book has not yet been made available to the public, so the schedule at this point is tentative but fairly certain. Here’s some information about the two classes that you can use - but don’t forget to examine the program book to make certain nothing has been changed. I hope to see you there. I will be bringing my laptop with me, so I might even make a remark or two in my blog while I am attending. There are some very interesting programs and presentations being given during that period, so I am hoping to get to attend some of them. I will also get to see some really good friends that I haven't seen since the last time I was there. Hopefully, I will get to make some new ones, too, so if you are there, drop into my class or say hello if you happen to bump into me. I will have autographed copies of my books for sale, just in case you might be interested.

Here are the workshop classes and the times and locations where they will meet. You will notice that both of them are scheduled for Friday. Interestingly enough, the workshop on Lunar Magick will be held during the Full Moon for February. How cool is that occurrence?!   

Title: Astrological Decans - Key to Evocation

When & Where: Friday - 01:30 PM - Santa Clara

Description: This workshop will examine all of the elements, including correspondences and materials from other authors that will show how the astrological decans, also known as the Faces, are the key to categorizing and mastering the invocation of the Ha-Shem Angels, Goetic Demons and the Angelic Rulers.

Title: Lunar Magick

When & Where: Friday - 07:00 PM - Santa Clara

Description: This workshop examines how the cycle of the moon can be used to powerfully effect practical magick. We will examine the seasonal full moons, the eight phases of the lunation cycle and the 28 mansions of the moon.

Frater Barrabbas

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Great Rite & Sexual Alchemy - Ultimate Achievement?

There have been some articles in the blogsphere lately about nudity, sexuality, sex magick, and even the highest rites of sexual alchemy, as proposed in certain lines of the Golden Dawn. Of course there are detractors, dissenters and others who decry this sort of activity. As a witch and ritual magician as well as a modern pagan, sacral nudity and sacred sexuality are considered the highest forms of spiritual and magickal expression. Certainly, these practices are not for everyone, but just as I would be foolish to critique and condemn Christian or Jewish liturgical practices, so it would be just as idiotic for someone to condemn mine. We each have our own ways of worship and seeking a powerful alignment with what we conceive as the highest spiritual good, which some would call God. Still, if you are a practitioner of the Western Mystery Tradition, sacred sexuality is a highly important key to the whole process of emulating the One, the Union of All Being. That emulation is taught in witchcraft to be the joining of the Goddess and the God in primal sexual, emotional and psychic union. As witches we can do no better than being able to express that union in as perfect a manner as possible. That’s why it’s called the Great Rite, but it can also be called the “great wrong” if abused or done in an exploitative or abusive manner.

Also, when facing the immanence of the Godhead in a liturgical setting, as a sign of purity, integrity and complete openness, witches can adopt the divestment called “going skyclad,” which is a fancy way of saying sacral nudity. This is not a requirement for all witchcraft traditions, and typically, the Gardnerians and Alexandrians do require it, while others don’t. Yet what it symbolizes is a necessity of being completely open and transparent to the gods, so that there is nothing between them and us. This openness and transparency is also extended to those who are worshiping together, ensuring that all within that private and sacred sphere are respected and treated as representatives of the divine personages of the gods themselves. It symbolizes a level of integrity and purity of intent that is absolutely necessary, whether or not one will go to the extreme and be completely nude. One must be at least “nude” within oneself at the very least, and my experience is that this level of reverence is followed by nearly all adherents of witchcraft and paganism even if they refrain from being naked. You don’t have to strip off your robe to show the right degree of integrity and purity of intent, but in my opinion, it helps.

We of the Wicca say the words “Perfect Love and Perfect Trust” to exemplify the mind set that we adopt when comporting ourselves within sacred space. What that means is that nudity and all forms of vulnerability are protected and guaranteed to be safe, and if anyone were to be stupid enough to violate that protection and guarantee, they would be considered corrupt and without any of the grace of the gods. It would be considered a form of a sacrilege to exploit others within a magick circle or temple. Are people preyed upon and taken advantage of in craft or pagan settings, yes, unfortunately, it does happen. But when it does happen, we are all expected to condemn it and the person who perpetrated it, or we, in turn are also without grace. These are the ideals, and it does pleasantly surprise me that most take them to heart and act with integrity and good faith. Yet there are always a few who use this very sacred setting to gratuitously take advantage of others, and to predate those who are vulnerable without any shame. While some may take the approach that this kind of behavior is somehow OK, in the community settings that I have been privy to (and I have lived all over the country), such activity is more often condemned with extreme prejudice. Sometimes the condemnations have been based on rumors and false accusations, and reputations have suffered due to the maliciousness and mendacity of others. All sides suffer when the exploitation is real or when it is falsely claimed. In my tradition there is little recourse to make when sexual exploitation occurs, since covens and their leaders are fully autonomous and there is no hierarchy that can arbitrate disputes and meet out punishment for wrong-doing. Instead, coven members get to vote with their feet, leaving a coven where they don’t feel safe or where the sacred trust and integrity is either a sham or has been suborned by a sexual predator. It is assumed that bad covens and leaders end up having no one left to exploit, since reputations and common community gossip usually also become endemic and continuous for such malefactors.

However, despite the possibility that one might be exploited, abused or used, this should in no way detract from the ideal that sacred sexuality is a great thing, and that sacral nudity is the highest honor that one can give to the gods, in my opinion. All life holds its risks, and exploiters and predators can be found everywhere. Persistence and seeking the greater good will, in my opinion, allow one to find a place and a group that holds the highest level of integrity, purity of purpose and trust between members. Such a group is more easily found in a Star Group, where all members are co-equal and the group functions through the building of consensus. Authority that is vested in one or two individuals, in my opinion, invites abuses, since there is no accountability nor any checks against that authority. If I had to be in a group that practices sacred sexuality and sacral nudity, I would rather it be in a group where everyone is respected, empowered and free to engage or not. Other types of groups have built in problems, as far as I am concerned. Anyway, you can look over the recent blog article that Rob wrote. I found it quite frank and relevant - you can find it here.

Then again, there is another related issue about sacred sexuality and how it used in forms of alchemy. This is a very old paradigm and it is not a recent invention. For someone to follow this paradigm is nothing short than continuing a spiritual and magickal path that would represent the greatest good and the highest degree of attainment. There are certainly other methodologies and practices in the west that would achieve this level of illumination and enlightenment, but few actually take the intrinsic nature of material existence in the west and make it into something that is sacred and fully representative of the Godhead. Sacred sexuality, as a part of the alchemical path, has been well established and represented over the years - we should be neither surprised by it or consider that it is somehow corrupting or deviant. One only has to examine traditions in the east to see that forms of Tantra are well represented, both in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. So we should consider that a western variant would be fully expected and not in anyway strange or pretentious. The fact that sacred sexuality is very important in forms of modern Wicca and Paganism should show that such a path is very much in keeping with the various western traditions, and probably has an antique precedence going back to pre-Christian times.

If a group or line in the Golden Dawn espouses a form of sacred sexuality as a variant of the alchemical path, then we should see that as not at all surprising, since it would readily fit in with a lot of other traditions and practices going on today, all of which, I might add, seek to conform to a methodology that espouses the highest form of integrity, purity of purpose and transparency. To behave in any other way would be to destroy the whole nature of that type of practice. I am, of course, referring specifically to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and its claim to teach and practice a form of sexual alchemy, which I would assume is done with the highest degree of integrity. We are not talking about beginners here, and I would assume that if this teaching is like most methodologies of its kind, it requires a severely disciplined regimen of instruction, preparation, practice and personal achievement in order for it to emulate the highest level of spiritual and physical being found in the Godhead. I am not familiar with what goes on in the HOGD organization, since the inner order teachings are protected by oaths and secrecy, and rightly so. Still, I would assume that if this group, who is headed by someone that I respect and know, requires a high degree of discipline and personal integrity, then the outcome would be truly glorious, as it is for those of us who are witches and pagans. We can understand and highly value sacred sexuality, and we also know that if it is practiced correctly, it can produce total illumination and at-one-ment with the Godhead. There are other methodologies, certainly, but this particularly method is not unknown to witches and pagans, and in fact, we share its basic tenets.

Now that I have made these points, I need to switch modes here and assume the mind-set of a general rant. I apologize in advance for having to bring this next issue to light. 

Then out of nowhere comes a rather slanderous short article by Robert Zink who claims that sacred sexuality is incapable of acquiring any form of enlightenment or union with the Godhead for those practitioners who engage in it. He couldn’t be more dead wrong if he stated that humans can’t fly, the moon-shot was a hoax, and that the world as we know it is actually flat. His premise is disguised by some Qabbalistic “mumble jumbo” about the parts of the overall spiritual body, but none of this is actually relevant to his argument. In fact, Robert Zink doesn’t have the first idea about what he’s talking about, and I would say that there is a world of practitioners out there who are proving him to be foolishly ignorant and inane on a daily basis.

This is not only a slap in the face of western practitioners of witchcraft, paganism and ceremonial magick, but also flies in the teeth of many traditions in the east. Why would the leader of a faction of the Golden Dawn (EOGD) say such an egregious and foolish thing? Well, in his article, he tells the reading public that sex magick is totally wrong, and that one particular Golden Dawn group is practicing it (you can guess which one, I am sure), and then tells his readers to beware of that group. So what we have here is some malicious slander and fear-mongering about a particular line of the Golden Dawn, which then attempts to condemn the whole basis of sacred sexuality. This doesn’t just hurt an opposing Golden Dawn group, it in fact hurts all of us who do strongly believe in this methodology and who are attempting to practice it in the highest level of integrity and purity of purpose we can. Robert Zink, in his zeal to slander a fellow Golden Dawn group, has instead insulted the entire Wiccan and Pagan tradition, not to mention adherents of various eastern traditions.

This is all sort of astonishing, and it is my hope that Mr. Zink really does some deep thinking before making such generalized and obviously false statements about a topic that knows absolutely nothing about. I know that I have mentioned him previously in the article about astral-only initiation, and how odd and ridiculous that was to many others besides myself. Yet his statements about sex magick have really gone over the top. While these practices can be abused and individuals can be exploited, these occurrences are not considered the norm, nor are they representative of the practice itself. I found his words “guttural sex magick” in regards to sacred sexuality to be quite offensive and completely unwarranted. Mr. Zink might not agree with the tenets of sacred sexuality, but to resort to using insulting and denigrating terms is quite amazing.

It’s my hope that other witches and pagans will reject these insulting and absurd accusations made by someone who is supposed to be part of our over-all movement. I am saddened by this behavior and I find it just as pernicious and vile as if it had been said by some foaming at the mouth religious bigot. Anyway, I believe that we can dismiss Robert Zink’s foolish diatribe as the kind of harsh, prejudiced and ill-informed screed that we would expect from our spiritual adversaries. It just amazes me that he has put himself on the same side as other intolerant sectarian pundits. I think that I can speak for the community when I say that I not only reject what Robert Zink has said, but I would recommend that others avoid his organization like the plague, since it doesn’t appear to be either pagan friendly or even open minded.

You can find Mr. Zink’s article and the HOGD rebuttal here. Now that we pagans know what side of the fence Mr. Zink is really on, we can steadfastly ignore any future utterances that come from him or his organization. At least you have my promise that nothing further will be brought to your attention about this man or his group. I feel that this was and is, the very last straw. 

Frater Barrabbas

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Our Lady of Darkness & Megapolisomancy

One of the most interesting and amazing science fiction tales that I gobbled up when I was a young man was written by Fritz Leiber, entitled “Our Lady of Darkness.” It was a rare genre from that time, an occult fantasy novel written in the same vein as the tales of H. P. Lovecraft and August Derelith, although Fritz Leiber was a much better writer than Lovecraft (and occultist), in my humble opinion.

The tale takes place in San Francisco in the contemporaneous post Hippy age of the late seventies, when the novel was actually written. The main character, a writer named Franz Westen, has an perilous encounter with a long dead mad magician named Thibaut de Castries, who had written an obscure book with the strange title “Megapolisomancy: A New Science of Cities” and had formed some sinister occult group. That group had oddly consisted of some of the more affluent and outrageous members of the artistic intelligentsia in turn of the century San Francisco, just before the great earthquake of 1906. I will not spoil a good ripping story for the sake of my article, so I will refrain from giving away any further elements of the plot.

Still, I would like to expound a little on the occult premise of the book, and on the art of megapolisomancy, in greater detail. Based on the name, megapolisomancy is the art of predicting and manipulating the present and future using the massive building structures, roads, railways, electric lines, water, sewage and gas lines, underground tunnels and cisterns as a kind of magickal topology, which can be seeded with sigils, talismans and other occult artifacts and thereby, harnessed to whatever ends the magician would desire. As de Castries himself says in his book, as quoted in the story:

“The electro-mephitic city-stuff whereof I speak has potencies for achieving vast effects at distant times and localities, even in the far future and on other orbs, but of the manipulations required for the production and control of such I do not intend to discourse in these pages.”

My reasons for discussing this very obscure topic and giving it some serious consideration is that I met my own version of de Castries in the person of Michael Bertiaux, and he also used a system of magick that was very similar to what was revealed in this fictional tale. First of all, I doubt that Bertiaux had ever read Fritz Leiber’s novel, so the fact that one of his systems of magick corresponded exactly with the book’s is probably a coincidence. The irony is that the book was published in 1977, exactly when I was first introduced to Michael Bertiaux and his strange occult systems. I read this book during the same period that I would occasionally travel to Chicago to visit with Michael and personally experience his magickal rites and ceremonies. Not only that, but Michael attempted to use his own version of megapolisomancy to prevent me from leaving his apartment on the very last time that I visited him. Sounds kind of strange and weird, I know, but it really happened.

In order to unravel this mystery and make sense out of it, let’s first examine the nature of megapolisomancy and look at it from a purely occult perspective. To do this we will have to rely on Fritz Leiber’s story, using various quotes from his fictional historical character, the sinister Thibaut de Castries, to make some sense out of this idiosyncratic occult system. I believe that I can do so in a thorough manner without giving away the plot and the shocking end of the story. I leave you, my readers, to the pleasure of seeking out this book and reading it for yourself, or not.

Megapolisomancy is based on both the energy and spirit model of magick, however, it would seem that the spiritual entities (called paramentals by de Castries) are very likely generated rather than existing forever as part of the domain of Spirit. The energy of this system of magick is based on the collection and disbursement of various substances, like electricity, natural gas, fresh water, sewage (and in the modern age we could include telephone, television and broadband cable and data lines). In addition there is the collection, accumulation and removal of various kinds of trash, both recyclable and non-recyclable substances, as well as the transportation of various goods to be sold and consumed. Streets made of concrete and asphalt provide a surface level grid formulation, but underground pipes, cables and subterranean tunnels for subways and sewers produce a multi-layer grid structure as well.

Buildings and skyscrapers are the most obvious formulations that impact the city-scape, since they produce a vertical grid structure and add loci of extreme mass and weight at strategic points, producing a nexus of horizontal and vertical forces. Thus megapolisomancy uses a kind of complex occult topology to map the confluence of forces and nexus points of what de Castries called “paramentality.” Knowledge of this occult topology allows one the ability to manipulate, prognosticate and alter reality - to create something from nothing, as well as to control or destroy individuals, structures or whole city-scapes.    

De Castries’ main declaration is that cities were originally designed as necropolises, places where the honored dead were housed for eternity. However, in the present modern age, the same designs are used to build massive domiciles for the living. One of only a couple of actual quotes from de Castries’ book seems to describe his dread, loathing and deep insight into the collective gathering of human beings and their associated materials in large megapolises. 

“At any particular time of history there have always been one or two cities of the monstrous sort -- viz., Babel or Babylon, Ur-Lhassa, Nineve, Syracuse, Rome, Samarkand, Tenochtitlan, Peking -- but we live in the Megapolitan (or Necropolitan) Age, when such disastrous blights are manifold and threaten to conjoin and enshroud the world with funebral yet multipotent city-stuff. We need a Black Pythagoras to spy out the evil lay of our monstrous cities and their foul shrieking songs, even as the White Pythagoras spied out the lay of the heavenly spheres and their crystalline symphonies, two and a half millennia ago.” - de Castries (from “Megapolisomancy”)

It is assumed that de Castries himself took the role of the “Black Pythagoras” in producing his system of occultism and magick, which he called the “new science” of the modern age, and through a system of mathematics known only to him (and never divulged) he was able to perceive and control the inherent, unknowable and unperceived powers and spirits that course through the grid structures that permeate a typical city. So instead of feeling alienated and repulsed by the obvious innate evil associated with large cities, de Castries was instead powerfully attracted to them. Where others might have used their knowledge to avoid the dangers of megapolises, de Castries sought to master these inherent forces through an application of his own occult system, making him a kind of puppet master or dark high priest of these negative manifestations. A further quote from de Castries’ book pretty much sums up his particular motives for ensconcing himself in a large city, in this case, San Francisco of 1900. 

“Since we modern city-men already dwell in tombs, inured after a fashion to mortality, the possibility arises of the indefinite prolongation of this life-in-death. Yet, although quite practicable, it would be a most morbid and dejected existence, without vitality or even thought, but only paramentation, our chief companions paramental entities of azoic origin more vicious than spiders or weasels.” - de Castries (from “Megapolisomancy”)

What de Castries is saying about the “azoic origin” of the paramental entities is that they were formed from substances and in conditions where no life had previously existed. Of course, a city is teaming with life besides the obvious human occupants and their deliberate pets and stock animals. There are numerous insect and rodent forms of life, as well as a veritable massive volume of microbes of an almost infinite variety. However, within the pure streams of electricity, natural gas, high pressure steam, not to mention the cables carrying streams of data and condensed video signals, a certain proto elemental life form could be conceived as living, reproducing and thriving, yet all but completely undetected by living creatures - a veritable “ghost in the machine.” These elemental entities are what de Castries has called “paramentals” and their actions and effects are called “paramental phenomena.” De Castries’ system of magick is particularly concerned with these entities and their effects on the artificial world of the city-scape.  Through a system of “neopythagorean metageometrics”, the location and effects of the paramentals can not only be deduced, but they can be revealed as well, allowing the operator a rare vision into the spirit dimension of a large city-scape and seeing what is transpiring on that super-symbolic level.

The method for tapping into and also controlling the behavior and effects of paramentals is through the use of sigils and talismans strategically placed at the various points of a city where the greatest impact of mass, weight and energy flow would occur, verifiable nexus points where streams join and form collective pools of various substances. The most obvious points would be where massive skyscrapers have been built. These points were considered by de Castries as a kind of fulcrum, and the planted talisman acted as a kind of lever that could manipulate the massive powers of the fulcrum and tap into the concentration of paramentals that would collect at these points.

A total of fifty of these sigils were required, all placed throughout the city at strategic nexus points, and a copy of each of the sigils would be placed in a book, called by de Castries, the Grand Cipher, or Fifty-Book. The number 50 was highly significant, since it was the total number of faces associated with all five of the Pythagorean solids. The relationship between the planted sigil or talisman and the Grand Cipher was analogous to a lattice structure or web, which would allow the magician to expand his senses as well as compel the paramentals to perform specific operations. Whatever happens in the city, and how it develops in the future, from the most minute to the most macro level in the various grids would be sensible and perceptible to the megapolisomantic magician.

Paramentals were believed to be controlled or temporarily deflected by certain instruments or substances. These are items (tools) made of pure silver, abstract designs and star forms, such as the pentagram. One could also assume that pure gold or copper might have the same effect as silver (as conductors), and that abstract designs and star forms would do nothing more than channel the powers of a paramental. Considering that they are generated, it would be impossible to completely destroy them without completely destroying the city structure and various substances that generate them. Needless to say, because paramentals are not living or sentient as we would understand, they function without any compassion or sentiment towards other living beings. They can be enslaved and made to perform tasks or they can behave in a fashion that is completely inimical and hostile to all life forms when made aware of them. You almost get the idea that being able to see and interact with paramentals would be a very dangerous preoccupation, and one that could ultimately go awry with disastrous results. 

One of the most important occult components in the system of megapolisomancy would have to be astrology, since it would be necessary to know the impact of various cosmic forces on the large geographic structures of city-scapes. The Fifty-Book appeared to be full of astrological symbology, so one could assume it to be an important feature. A megapolisomantic magician would use astrology to assist him to predict future events and to understand the astrological aspects that precipitated the events of the past. The megapolisomantic magician would likely have to create a natal chart of the city, based upon the date of its legal founding, and this chart would be progressed and compared to transit aspects for the present times as well as the future.

That natal chart and its progressions and transits would have a considerable bearing on certain conditions that would make specific strategic nexus points more volatile than at other times. The factor of timing, and when and where to exert certain manipulations could only be determined by some kind of astrological methodology. It’s also likely that astrology would play a part in the charging and generation of the talismans that would be used to produce the network of 50 planted talisman-sigils. This factor was only obliquely hinted at in the story, but it would make sense based on the description of the Grand Cipher at the end of the story.

De Castries gathered around himself some rather famous and eccentric writers who lived in San Francisco at the turn of the century, such as Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, and poet George Sterling. Other individuals, actors and actresses, artists and free thinkers, the host of the bohemian crowd, gathered around de Castries and became, for a year or so, acolytes of a kind of dark magickal lodge. De Castries called this coterie, the Hermetic Order of the Onyx Dusk, and as the master adept, he wore a specially made black onyx ring whose stone was shaped like a black bird of prey which he wore at all times.

However, after a surprisingly short while, all of the members of this organization became bored and lost interest, since de Castries was loath to reveal the true nature of his occult system, and these sophisticated folks had never really taken him seriously. Individual members were expected to perform random and mindless actions at certain places and times in the city, and were never really told what they were doing or why. After a little while, they got tired of de Castries demands, his short temper, tyrannical and obstreperous mannerisms and his paranoid inability to trust anyone. They all left at around the same time, and the short lived cult of the Onyx Dusk quickly collapsed. Needless to say, de Castries was furious, referring to all of his former associates as traitors and defamers of the mysteries, vowing to get revenge on one and all. A few died within a few years of leaving his group, and others, who were probably terrified of him, likely paid de Castries blackmail money to keep matters quiet and peaceable. Some believed that de Castries had killed some of his former followers by sending paramentals after them, and the fear that was generated by this speculation allowed him to continue to live a comfortable but somewhat meager existence.

Then the great earthquake of 1906 occurred, which almost completely destroyed the city of San Francisco. While most would see it as a natural catastrophe, those former members of de Castries’ group fearfully and quietly blamed him for causing the cataclysm. Afterward, the remaining members of the former group all met terrible and tragic deaths, one by one, until none were left. De Castries had only a couple of devoted friends left who looked after his needs, but his decline slowly continued. They witnessed de Castries’ obsession with reacquiring all of his published books by whatever means, including threats and intimidation, only to burn and destroy them when he got them back. In a sense, de Castries was attempting to erase completely whatever information about this occult system that he had put forward in his books, as if to ensure that only he would have any knowledge of it.

By the 1920's de Castries was an aged and cantankerous old man whose paranoia had grown to the point that it made him a borderline psychotic. Clark Ashton Smith, a science fiction, fantasy and horror writer of some fame was one of the last of de Castries followers. Yet even he could only stand so such much of de Castries’ raving madness and moments of terrible clarity. Some quotes from his diary that he kept at the time give quite an impression of what it was like to spend afternoons in de Castries’ parlor, at the inexpensive hotel Rhodes. So terrifying were these sessions, that Smith couldn’t even commit to his own diary the name of Thibaut de Castries, instead calling him Tybalt or Tiberias. Here are few excerpts from Smith’s diary, as presented in the story.
“Three hours today at 607 Rhodes with the furious Tybalt. All I could take. Half the time railing at this fallen-off acolytes, the other half contemptuously tossing me scraps of paranatural truth. But what scraps! How that old devil sees into cities and their invisible sicknesses - a new Pasteur, but of the dead-alive.

He says his book is kindergarten stuff, but the new thing - the core and why of it and how to work it - he keeps only in his mind and in the Grand Cipher he’s so sly about. He sometimes calls it (the Cipher) his Fifty-Book, that is, if I’m right and they are the same. Why fifty?” - C. A. Smith’s diary

One of the last entries in Smith’s diary shows both the fascination and the horror of being exposed to de Castries’ theories and ideas, and we can only assume, experimental proofs.

“I should get out myself - I’ve all that I can use and there are stories crying to be written. But can I give up the ultimate ecstasy of knowing each day I’ll hear from the very lips of Black Pythagorus some new paranatural truth? It’s like a drug I have to have. Who can give up such fantasy? - especially when - the fantasy is the truth.

The paranatural, only a word - but what it signifies! The supernatural - a dream of grandmothers and priest and horror writers. But the paranatural! Yet how much can I take? Could I stand full contact with a paramental entity and not crack up?

Coming back today, I felt that my senses were metamorphosing. San Francisco was a meganecropolis vibrant with paramentals on the verge of vision and audition, each block a surreal cenotaph that would bury Dali, and I one of the living dead aware of everything with cold delight. But now I am afraid of this room’s walls!” - C. A. Smith’s diary

In this final entry, we can see that Smith has finally deduced that he himself is getting into trouble with de Castries, and he also learned the fate first hand of those other followers who met tragic ends.

“Hated what gloating Tiberius hinted today about the disappearance of Bierce and the deaths of Sterling and Jack London. Not only that they were suicides (which I categorically deny, particularly in the case of Sterling!) but that there were other elements in their deaths - elements for which the old devil appears to take credit.

He positively sniggered as he said, ‘You can be sure of one thing, my dear boy, that all of them had a very rough time paramentally before they were snuffed out, or shuffled off to their grey paranatural hells. Very distressing, but it’s the common fate of Judases - and little busybodies.’ he added, glaring at me from under his tangled white eyebrows.

Could he be hypnotizing me? Why do I linger one, now that the menaces outweigh the revelations? That disjointed stuff about techniques of giving paramental entities the scent - clearly a threat.” - C. A. Smith’s diary

Not long after writing that diary entry, Smith quickly abandoned his hotel room and left San Francisco without leaving any note of explanation or apology, never to return. De Castries saw it as yet another betrayal and vowed to have revenge on Smith. However, Clark Ashton Smith lived to a very advanced age, but even so, he became a recluse and avoided traveling to any large cities or metropolitan areas for reason we can only speculate about.

De Castries died in 1929, ironically just a few months shy of the great stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression. His body was cremated and then later, the ashes were secretly buried at the top of a wild promontory called Corona Heights. There, his urn of ashes and his magick ring, lay hidden through the decades that followed, enduring all of the major building projects that followed his death. However, the magickal currents and powers that de Castries had tapped and controlled were still active, and the Grand Cipher, hidden away in a secret place, acted as the lever for the fulcrum of the Trans-America building and the massive twin TV tower, positioned obliquely to the secret burial on Corona Heights and the place where the Grand Cipher was hidden. These magickally strategic points were all fully alive and waiting for the moment when someone or something would activate them, manifesting de Castries’ final curse on humanity.

Anyway, that’s how the book promotes this system of magick, and I felt it prudent to go over the details so that my own personal experience back in the late seventies with Michael Bertiaux would make more sense. You see, Michael had somehow intuited this entire system of magick, and had placed a number of talismans at various locations in the great city of Chicago. Michael lived at that time in the downtown area right near the shore line of Lake Michigan. He called these talismans the strategic points of his spider’s web, and through it, he could draw power, cause things to happen, and even project into the past and the future. He might have been lying, or even exaggerating, and I might have written it all off as some eccentric gag, except that he demonstrated to me personally how it worked.

I was visiting Michael one weekend day when we also happened to meet an acquaintance of his who had flown in from Europe. I was with my teacher, Christopher Syn (Bill Schnoebelen), and somehow, we invited Michael’s friend to accompany us back to Milwaukee and stay there as our guest for a week. This fellow was very polite and charismatic (unlike Michael), and he knew a lot about the occult and had traveled a lot, too. He had many fascinating and entertaining stories to tell us. Why he was visiting Michael at that particular time wasn’t revealed to me, but then Michael had a lot of visitors back in those days. Anyway, he stayed with me and with Christopher for a week, and then needed to get back to Chicago to catch his flight back home. I volunteered to drive this fellow back to Chicago, so we both climbed into my Red Gremlin and drove down the turnpike to that great megapolis.

After I got there, I stayed with Michael for a few hours to wait for the traffic to die down and also to be sociable. Michael had plans for me, however, and wanted me to spend the night at his place to work magick with him and my new friend. I demurred, since I had to get back to Milwaukee so I could go to work at my evening job. I couldn’t stay because at that time I needed every penny that I earned to survive. Michael insisted that I stay, and began to threaten me magickally, even though he made it out to be a joke. He told me about his magickal system where he was able to tap the powers and spirits of the actual structure of the city, and could use it to force me to stay. He told me that my automobile wouldn’t get me safely back home, which was a rather frightening thing to say.

I was adamant, and despite the protests and the various bribes and offers that were made, I effusively apologized and then left. When I got to my car, I discovered that it wouldn’t start. I used my will and desperate desire to get home, and somehow managed to get the car started, but it was running very roughly, with gouts of black smoke coming out of the tail pipe. Even though this car was six years old and had a fair amount of mileage on it, it had never acted this way as long as I had owned it. Running on what seemed like four out of six cylinders, I jerkily and weakly drove away, wondering if I was even going to make it home, but unwilling to return to Michael’s apartment. I used my will and my innate connection with the car to proceed back down the city street to where the freeway was located. I noticed that the further I got away from Michael’s apartment, the car began to run better and smoother, until by the time I entered the freeway and proceeded north on my way to Milwaukee, my car acted as it had always acted. As I crossed the state line into Wisconsin, my car was functioning normally. I arrived back in Milwaukee without an incident, but it seemed that a dark power had locked onto my car, but then allowed me to continue. Had Michael been more forceful, the car would have either failed to run, or I might have had an accident when the car broke down on the freeway somewhere. Such an incident would have put me in mortal danger. I got home because my will was so strong, and because Michael let me go, but not until showing me that his magickal spider web was both potent and long reaching.

So, it would seem that I had a personal experience with a variation of megapolisomancy, and that Michael Bertiaux was my own real version of de Castries. I have no doubts that such a system of magick is not only plausible, but in fact it is also completely practical. If I lived in an urban area, I would likely experiment with this system of magick, but I live in the country and happily so. However, I have expounded on this system of magick just in case anyone has any interest in experimenting with it and seeing if they can get it to work. I am certain that a lot of details have been left out. Yet a crafty and creative magickal practitioner would probably be able to discover how to make this system work, if not by insight, then by trial and error. I guess that such an eccentric system of magick would be very attractive to a Chaos Magician, except for the necessary use of astrology.

Anyway, I have presented this system from an experienced occult perspective, which was missing from Fritz Leiber’s novel. Yet he had uncannily included more than enough components to make my work fairly simple and straightforward. I kind of wonder how much Fritz Leiber really knew about the occult, but since he is now dead for some years, we will never know.

As a final note, I believe that the paramentals are out there. They can be found and then enslaved to the will of a true Black Pythagorus, yet it is doubtful that such a person would ever come forth and reveal himself. I suspect that Michael Bertiaux would have qualified, but my evidence is unfortunately anecdotal and over thirty years old. Still, Megapolisomancy is a very credible system of magick for the urban magus. Here’s to the old paramentality!

Frater Barrabbas