Archive for September, 2017

October Eve

Posted in Liber et Audax, Magick by Trial & Error on September 30, 2017 by Occult Detective

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At long last, the dark, ominous presence of October is felt. It’s Last Day for September, harbinger of winter’s advance. Autumn may be born in what the Anglo-Saxons called Gerstmonath, but its roots run deepest within October’s embrace.

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As I’ve said so many times before, in September we collect the components, but in October we cast the spell.

And what a spell it is — Winterfylleth, they called it in ancient times. With most of the harvest in, it was time to prepare for the long, cold dark ahead. The veil between this world and the next thins throughout the season, culminating in Samhain, Calan Gaeaf, Kalan Gwav, and Kalan Goañv, when the spirits are unfettered and those bumps in the night becoming a thundering cacophony.

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I’ve loved October since I was but a wee lad, growing up on the banks of Turkey Creek in rural Indiana. Nature is never more beautiful than in these October months, when the earthy greens, russets, golds, and vermilions of autumn’s palette are painted upon the leaves of the Hoosier woodlands.

October brings with it Connor’s birthday (14 this year); our annual visits to our favorite abandoned house, Fishers’ Renaissance Faire, and Mississinewa 1812; All Hallow’s Read; paranormal investigations; cemetery strolls; and heaps of horror and fantasy roleplaying and playtesting.

There are frightening tales to be read and spinetingling movies to be watched; and writing, so much writing to be done.

Oh, October, how I love thee…

I bid September a fond farewell. You have set the stage, but now it’s time for the dark star to ascend, to bask beneath the arcane spotlight and for the play to begin.

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My review of Understanding #AleisterCrowley’s Thoth Tarot by @Lonmiloduquette

Posted in Magick by Trial & Error on September 29, 2017 by Occult Detective

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I purchased Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris’ Thoth Tarot, and Crowley’s Book of Thoth, in 1986 from a small occult bookstore in Muncie, Indiana. I was just a hair past 20 years old at the time.

I had lived with Pixie’s Rider-Waite deck since junior high school. Embracing the Thoth deck felt like a graduation of sorts, and it was in many ways.

Our small off-campus house on Martin Street was something of a meeting place for esoteric-leaning and like-minded acquaintances.

We abused various illicit substances indiscriminately and pulled at the threads of the very fabric of the universe. Crowley was a hot topic, of course. He was and is a rite of passage for most occultists.

Admittedly, Crowley’s writing, while genius, can be somewhat labyrinthine, especially when chemical dependency is a point of fact. But devour it we did, and I was particularly devoted to the Thoth deck. While Pixie’s cards still held court in my readings for clients, in private, it was the Thoth to which I turned in those years.

By the gods, it was a challenge, and many aspects were debated, sometimes quite fervently, among our little clique of would-be magi. It was (and is) a difficult and intoxicatingly complex work, true of both the cards and Crowley’s guidebook.

crowleyThe struggle was so very satisfying, however, and I cherish those long nights poring over the deck, multiple references on hand, as I worked my way through it all.

That being said, I would have killed to have had access to Lon Milo DuQuette’s seminal work on the subject — Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot.

Lon has a unique voice, writing in an effortless and often humorous and self-depreciating manner. His style is very relaxed and conversational without losing any of its authoritative stature. That goes a long way, believe me.

I stumbled upon this book in early 2004, I think, and at the time, worried that it gave away too much, that it removed much of the challenge implicit in the study of the deck and magick in general. But as I’ve grown older, I have softened on this view. Granted, I don’t think esoteric knowledge should be spoon-fed to the masses, but Lon is an erudite instructor, and an invaluable resource.

If you already own the book, as I did, this volume is well worth picking up. It seems cleaner than my original copy, far fewer typographical errors and such, plus the new introduction is worth the price of admission alone.

This really is a perfect companion to Crowley. Lon pulls back the veil, shedding light on the intricate symbolism Crowley and Harris infused within the artwork of this Tarot. It was true when I read the book thirteen years ago. It’s even more true today.

I will state it categorically — There has been no better resource written regarding the Thoth, to be sure. It really doesn’t get more definitive than this. If you are new to the Thoth deck, this book is the perfect compliment to Crowley’s own words on the subject.

Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot by Lon Milo DuQuette is hot off the presses and available directly from the publisher with but the click of a few buttons. You might also track it down in your local brick and mortar, assuming there’s one in your zip code, or through various and sundry online retail outlets.

Godspeed, Raymond Buckland

Posted in Magick by Trial & Error on September 28, 2017 by Occult Detective

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Raymond Buckland
1934 – 2017

It has been widely circulated that the Grandfather of American Wicca, Raymond Buckland, has left this world for the next. A prolific author and lecturer, Buckland was, in many ways, the magical voice of my generation.

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I was introduced to Buckland in 1976 via Amazing Secrets of the Psychic World, followed very shortly thereafter by his Witchcraft from the Inside. Ten years later, his 1986 release, The Complete Book of Witchcraft, left an undeniable mark on the future of Modern Wicca.

His most important work, for me, was The Tree: The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft. While not a reconstruction, the Seax-Wica Tradition showed how a modern revival could successfully work and become a viable religious form in the modern age.

Buckland was an undeniably gifted author and orator, and as one of the premiere spokesmen for modern esoterica, he gave these movements a charismatic frontman who was charming and erudite.

I was thrilled to have met with him on several occasions. A more warm and inviting host I cannot fathom. He will be well and sorely missed by the magical community.

Godspeed, Lord Buckland. I hope to hear from you soon.

My review of Santa Muerte by Tracey Rollin

Posted in Magick by Trial & Error on September 26, 2017 by Occult Detective

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First, a disclaimer, of sorts. I am not well versed in the Mexican Folk tradition. My knowledge is superficial, at best.

As a child, I was frequently around Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. A family lived across the road from us, in an old farmhouse that was razed more years ago than I care to admit to, and I was good friends with a boy who lived there, we being the same age.

We fished, played backyard baseball, sword fought with sticks, and killed blackbirds for money.

A few folk traditions floated my way through my spending time with his extended family. They shared folk tales and home remedies and it was an eye-opening experience for me, peeking into a culture that was so very different from my own.

A lot of that came simmering to the surface as I submerged myself into Tracey Rollin’s Santa Muerte: The History, Rituals, and Magic of Our Lady of the Holy Death.

I cannot swear to the authenticity of what I found within its pages, but I can say, without hesitation, that it was informative, engrossing, and has the air of truth about it.

Santa_MuerteThe author seems to walk a tight-rope between Santa Muerte from a historical perspective and from modern magical and religious interpretations. She does this with respect shown to both sides, as is fitting of Saint Death.

Death comes for us all is the message.

As the popularity of this Saint grows throughout the Americas, there is no time like the present to become versed in the figure’s historical context and the breadth of Santa Muerte’s influence.

Rollin does an admirable job of keeping things scholarly. She is here to shed light on the subject, and while the work can at times come across as a textbook, it remains engaging throughout.

As a synthesis of Folk Catholicism with ancient Aztec traditions, Santa Muerte is a complex figure. The female representation of Death, she is our protector as we journey from this life to the next. Rollin’s examination is comprehensive and as she delves into the ritual and magical aspects, she keeps things clear and concise.

I can think of no better source for an informative perlustration of Santa Muerte, and if you’re looking to go even further and bring Our Lady of the Holy Death into your personal cosmology, this is a brilliant place to start.

Santa Muerte: The History, Rituals, and Magic of Our Lady of the Holy Death by Tracey Rollin  is available wherever books are sold. You can purchase online via the publisher — Red Wheel/Weiser — or any number of web-based retailers.

My review of Witches and Wizards by Lucy Cavendish

Posted in Magick by Trial & Error on September 25, 2017 by Occult Detective

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I wanted to love this book.

I really did.

It is beautifully packaged, from Gustave Dore’s painting of Vivian and Merlin on the cover, to the pop of gold trim and whimsical font choice, the bookmark ribbon, and the enchanting endpapers. Even the paper choice, a heavy stock, adds to the book’s mystique, and when coupled with delightful illustrations throughout, well, it seems like this book had everything going for it.

Unfortunately, the words contained therein are unable to elevate themselves to match the grandeur of the design.

While there are some interesting tidbits here and there, the book is far too brief, awash in a sea of vague references to figures and events both legendary and historical, but its the historical inaccuracies littered throughout that do the work the most harm.

I like the author’s writing just fine, but the devil’s in the details, and it’s the attention to these details, be they altered and malformed either to meet some attempt at brevity or an out and out failure in terms of research, that is most lacking.

To that fact, for just the slimmest of examples, volumes have been written about Aleister Crowley, arguably the single most influential occultist of the 20th Century. Researching the man would require only the minimalist of efforts, yet his home on Loch Ness, the infamous Boleskine House, is referred to as Boleskin over and over again, not to mention the inaccuracies concerning W. Somerset Maugham’s interactions with Crowley and their subsequent “feud”.

I could go on until breath escapes me, but let it suffice to say that despite a glorious example of graphic design at play married with an author with a clear talent for the craft of writing, the end product is marred by careless misrepresentations.

Witches and Wizards really is a brilliantly designed book. I will cling to it, for its physical attractiveness, but the meat of the tome is to be found wanting.

Witches and Wizards by Lucy Cavendish is available wherever books are sold.

Now Available —The Weiser Book of #OccultDetectives, edited by @JudikaIlles

Posted in All Hallows Read, Magick by Trial & Error, Occult Detectives on September 24, 2017 by Occult Detective

Judika Illes has put together a terrific occult detective collection. I reviewed it some time back when it was up for pre-order. Well, it’s now available via Amazon and other online outlets, just in time for Hallowe’en.

Here’s the review I wrote then. Allow me to preface it by adding that it’s even better now that I’ve read it a second time. It more than deserves a place on your shelf.

wbodI proudly parade my near lifelong obsession for the occult detective genre in all its forms and guises on this blog. That obsession led me to not only pursue a writing career entrenched in the conceits of the genre, but to explore the preternatural outside the realm of fiction as a paranormal investigator.

It is also no secret that October is my favorite month, that I have an unnatural attraction to Hallowe’en, Samhain, and all the trappings the Witching Season has to offer.

Well, when the Season of the Witch rolls around this year, readers are in for a real treat as my two favorite preoccupations collide with the October 1st release of The Weiser Book of Occult Detectives: 13 Stories of Supernatural Sleuthing, edited and introduced by none other than one of the premiere occult authors and scholars of the modern age — Judika Illes.

Judika Illes has compiled an amazing collection of occult detective stories, mining some of the best paranormal mysteries the early twentieth century had to offer, written by such legendary authors as Algernon Blackwood, William Hope Hodgson, Sax Rohmer, Dion Fortune, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

As one devoted to the genre, both as a fan and an author, I understand the awesome task Illes has undertaken. To pore over the sheer volume of early occult detective tales and select the very best and defining tales for a collection such as this would be a maddening endeavor for any scholar, but Judika Illes has done an admirable job of putting together a brilliant and impressive table of contents here.

As well read in the genre as I am, Judika Illes has managed to unearth no less than four spectacular tales that had escaped my attention: The Dead Hand by L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace, The Vampire by Alice and Claude Askew, The Witness in the Wood by Rose Champion de Crespigny, and The Eyes of Doom by Ella M. Scrymsour.

Whether you are new to the genre or a lifelong fan, The Weiser Book of Occult Detectives: 13 Stories of Supernatural Sleuthing is a collection you absolutely cannot do without. Why, I am already pining for the coming of October when I can once more crack the spine of this assemblage of paranormal thrillers and read them when the moon is high and unseen spirits roam unfettered.

The Weiser Book of Occult Detectives, edited and introduced by Judika Illes is available now from amazon.com.

My review of William Meikle’s Carnacki: The Edinburgh Townhouse & Other Stories

Posted in Horror, Occult Detectives with tags , , on September 23, 2017 by Occult Detective

William Meikle has a new collection out featuring all new tales starring William Hope Hodgson’s occult detective Thomas Carnacki.

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The Edinburgh Townhouse and Other Stories is an assemblage of cracking good yarns written by an author who is at the top of his game. Meikle is adept at immolating* Hodgson’s prose, but I find Meikle’s take on Carnacki even more compelling.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Hodgson’s tales and consider Carnacki an indispensable fixture in the occult detective tradition, but William Meikle, who I am proud to count as a friend and compatriot, does far more with the character.

The stories, while set firmly in the era, breathe with a more sinister air about them, with a more urgent sensibility.

My favorite of the stories closes out the collection and is as fine an example of the occult detective genre as you’re apt to find. Once again in service to a young Winston Churchill, whom is written brilliantly with what seems to be the perfect voice for this historic figure, Carnacki is charged to dispel a lingering evil within The White Stag Inn, a place where hermetic sorceries were employed by men  with devilish intent, succumbing to the temptations of carnal revelries and feeding their hunger for power beyond measure.

Into the Light is a rollicking good yarn, atmospheric and perverse, with layered, nuanced storytelling that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The other tales in the collection, including The Cheyne Walk Infestation, The King’s Treasure, and The Edinburgh Townhouse, are all equal to the task.

Willie is, by no stretch of the imagination, one of our generations finest writers. He is unapologetically firmly entrenched in pulp fiction traditions, and by the gods, his words never cease to thrill me to no end.

Carnacki: The Edinburgh Townhouse and Other Stories is published by Lovecraft eZine Press and available now from Amazon. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up, and if you haven’t already, there are two previous Carnacki collections that will offer the same spinetingling chills as this one…

And the covers by Wayne Miller are almost worth the price of admission alone.

Let’s be honest here, if William Meikle’s name is on the book, it’s well worth picking up. You’re guaranteed one helluva ride.

*I meant “emulating”, but in a case of cognitive phonology typed “immolating” instead. I was going to change it, but quite like the visual of Willie sacrificing Hodgeson’s words on some sort of pagan altar, capturing his essence and style, to be delivered by black magic to those of us eager for such tales.

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