In addition to carving, I’ve been spending time with my bedside reading, making my way through a trio of new-ish offerings on the Traditional Craft.
Ars Philtron has been on my shelf for a while, but the broader scope of Viridarium Umbris demanded my attention first, even through the first edition of AP was the earlier publication. The Children of Cain is on loan from a witch who has university papers on medieval witch hunts to write, so I scooped it from her ample bookshelves until she has the time to go through it herself. The first of the Three Hands Press occult monographs is a recent arrival, and a quick and satisfying read that provided the icing on this particular occult layer cake.
Ars Philtron, Concerning the Aqueous Cunning of the Potion And its Praxis in the Green Art Magical, by David Schulke
Edition Codex Vasculum, Xoanon Press, 2008
In the author’s words, the focus of Ars Philtron is, “any ensorcelled aqueous coction compounded with Plant, Mineral, or Beast adjuncts, employed as a vehicle of enchantment.” (Italics are the author’s)
This book is part Alchemical, part Herbal, and part Grimoire. Simultaneously revealed and concealed within the writing style of the Cultus are instructions and lore dealing with all manner of potions, running the gamut from love philtre to thanatotic libation. Unfortunately, many of the formulae call for distillation equipment, putting them outside the scope of practice for most Green Witches and Wort Cunningfolk.
The author begins with a description of the materials and equipment used in the art, their preparation and function in the production of the potion. He proceeds to describe in detail the lore and manufacture of several classes of philtre, among them, aphrodisiacs, ablutions, sacraments, vinegars, potions to alter states of consciousness and dreaming, poisons and animating potions. To conclude, Schulke offers the consummation of the art, words to the Wise concerning the Real Work. This is followed by a brief lexicon and a useful bibliography.
Occasionally profoundly obscure, some sections require significant effort on the part of the reader to recall what it is the author is actually talking about. Though, as always, this offering from Mr. Schulke is a very thorough and valuable elucidation of the subject matter.
Children of Cain, A Study of Modern Traditional Witches by Michael Howard
Three Hands Press, 2011.
As the editor of one of the longest running and highest quality witchcraft periodicals in the world, The Cauldron magazine, Mike Howard is in an ideal position to write a history of modern Traditional Witchcraft. His exposure to wide range of Craft traditions and practices over the years and his connections built up in the traditional community put him in a position to assemble and share a valuable history.
The Children of Cain is a general wander through the realm of modern Traditional Witchcraft. The author provides a basic introduction to a dozen traditions in the UK and the US. As might be expected from the author’s background, his approach is more journalistic than academic, and while some traditions are very well researched and referenced, others are presented with no new information offered than what has already been published elsewhere, and in some cases, no support given for what is offered beyond its presentation. It may be in these cases that Howard relied only on secondary sources where he lacked personal contacts with the primary ones or, knowing what I know about Mike Howard, he chose to respect the privacy of his sources and their requests for secrecy about some aspects of their traditions.
Howard begins his book with Robert Cochrane and the Clan of Tubal Cain, providing a short biography of the former and a valuable description of the beliefs, tools, Gods and methods as well as the documented and oral history of the latter. Howard has been severely criticized by one member of the Clan for his treatment of Cochrane, but in reading the criticism, I am left wondering if we have in fact read the same book! My impression as a reader without a vested interest is that Howard has dealt fairly with the details of Cochrane’s life and that his treatment has been realistic and balanced. I didn’t read a depiction of a “dysfunctional madman” in the author’s writing. As for the other criticisms, again, as an outsider it looks like the Clansman is grasping at straws or suffering from tunnel vision fixating on the parts of Howard’s narrative he disagrees with. There has been little written about the Clan from its originator, and what there is Mike Howard has used in detail, along with information from Cochrane’s successor and past associates in the Clan.
From here he goes on to describe The Regency in a lengthy section, providing some history and details on the more neopagan outer circle and the traditional inner circle and describing the important role The Regency played in keeping old witchcraft alive while simultaneously making it more available to the growing neopagan movement.
The next section focusses on the legendary George Pickingill and his nine covens, though much of what is here was already published in the Pickingill Papers, which Howard relies on extensively.
After this he details the Guilds, and again Howard has drawn extensively on secondary sources for historical information on the various guild groups making use of witchcraft including the Horsemen, the Toadmen and the Millers Word. Regarding the initiation rites, Howard goes into rather more detail that I would like to see revealed in a general survey of traditions.
The final two sections deal with Traditional Witchcraft imported into the US by European immigrants and a trans-Atlantic review of the Old Craft today. Today is used rather loosely to include figures and traditions from the 1900s on, including Cecil Williamson and his museums, Austin Osman Spare, Rosaleen Norton and the contemporary Cultus Sabbati, among others. With his personal connections to the Cultus Sabbati, Howard does an excellent and in depth discussion of its history, influences and approach, speaking extensively about Andrew Chumbley and the contributions he made to the modern occult movement. He also includes discussions with Daniel Schulke, Chumbley’s successor in the Cultus.
In all, I would describe the Children of Cain as an excellent and detailed introduction to the Modern Traditional Craft, but not the definitive work that its publishers would like it to be. I do highly recommend it and consider it to be an essential addition to any witchcraft library.
Mysticism, Initiation and Dream, by Andrew Chumbley
Three Hands Press, 2012
This slender volume is the first of the Occult Monographs series published by Three Hands Press and is an academic paper by Andrew Chumbley surveying Voodoo, Sufism, Tibetan Bon and other sources on the subject of Dream Initiation. The work is particularly valuable in that it is not an historical survey of dreams and their meanings, but instead the author posits two directions of work for oneiric praxis – the first is the grounding of the dream into the physical, the second is the ennoblement of the dreamer through the dream. In the author’s words:
“It is as if the initiatory dream is a window – a transliminal portal, set on the border between many worlds and many states, through which the divine numen shoots forth a starry beam; a ray with which to inflame the mystic’s heart whilst on earth, but nonetheless to draw him heavenwards.”
Chumbley’s thesis is that through the interpretation of the symbols in dreams, the sacred is made manifest in the dreamer’s world; and through dreaming, the dreamer is linked in an immediate and personal way to the source of the mystical dream, which shapes his outlook and actions to move him in that direction. The author also addresses the concept and role of the dream initiator and the universality of access and gnosis in the dreaming.
The breadth and depth of Chumbley’s understanding of his research subject is, as always, impressive, and this addition to his published works is heartily welcomed. The production quality of the volume is up to the Cultus Sabbati’s usual excellent standards. Tantalizing glimpses of future titles and authors show great promise for the series as it addresses a broad range of subjects in sufficient depth to be of use to both experienced practitioners and critical scholars.