In effect, it is a new religion altogether, displaying unified religious attitudes and beliefs. As an example, one may mention the enormously important role of the gods and goddesses of the underworld… it is characteristic of the Hellenistic syncretism of the Greek magical papyri that the netherworld and its deities had become one of its most important concerns. The goddess Hekate, identical with Persephone, Selene, Artemis, and the old Babylonian goddess Ereschigal, is one of the deities most often invoked in the papyri…Hermes, Aphrodite, and even the Jewish god Iao, have in many respects become underworld deities. In fact, human life seems to consist of nothing but negotiations in the antechamber of death and the world of the dead. The underworld deities, the demons and the spirits of the dead, are constantly and unscrupulously invoked and exploited as the most important means of achieving the goals of human life on earth…

Hans Dieter Betz
Introduction to The Greek Magical Papyri

Let us begin with a quote from that most important of witchcraft texts, the inquisitor’s bible, Malleus Maleficarum:

All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which in woman is insatiable.

The fantasies of the witch hunters do conceal a truth, not only about sex but about the source of power: woman. There is both fascination and fear at work here.

All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which in woman is insatiable.

For all the tongs, pincers, irons and fire, they are frightened of the carnal appetite of woman. This is the first principle of witchcraft, before poppets, dolls, charms, chants, potions, candles and claptrap: the raw power of female sexuality. Stripped bare, violated, hung in strappado, burned, yet woman remains miraculously unquenchable amongst the flames.

All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which in woman is insatiable.

Though the inquisition is still with us, she cannot be burned when she is the fire. So can we find in modern witchcraft a way to access this incandescent power? Are there voices, and is there a goddess who addresses carnal lust?

We are the witchcraft. We are the oldest organisation in the world. When man was first born, we were. We sang the first cradle song. We healed the first wound, we comforted the first terror. We were the Guardians against the Darkness, the Helpers on the Left Hand Side.
We are on the side of man, of life and of the individual. Therefore we are against religion, morality and government. Therefore our name is Lucifer.

We are on the side of freedom, of love, of joy and laughter and divine drunkenness. Therefore our name is Babalon.

Sometimes we move openly, sometimes in silence and in secret. Night and day are one to us, calm and storm, seasons and the cycles of man, all these things are one, for we are at the roots. Supplicant we stand before the Powers of Life and Death, and are heard of these powers and avail. Our way is the secret way, the unknown direction. Ours is the way of the serpent in the underbrush, our knowledge is in the eyes of goats and of women.

This is one of the surviving fragments of the work of Jack Parsons. Written in 1950 at the nativity of modern pagan witchcraft and yet his writing and ideas are still largely unknown. His is a name not mentioned in the history of the Craft or the index of Ronald Hutton’s
Triumph of the Moon. Our own work is a continuation of the spirit, if not the letter, of his work and a return to the roots of witchcraft. In the instinctive and passionate example of Jack Parsons, we can find a way to reconnect with the primal spirit of woman and man: a partnership of equals. The story of Jack can be reduced to one whispered word, the name of his goddess: Babalon. The derided whore of Revelation. In Revelation 17 John of Patmos evokes her:

And I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet-coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.

But this is not a strictly Christian image, behind the sulphur and brimstone is the oracular goddess of love and war come to engulf the world. Not a black or a white, but a red goddess. We have exposed the pagan origins of Revelation in our writing. Our research has taken us on pilgrimage to the very cave where John composed his poison pen letter to the goddess. We have done more bible study than most devout Christians. The inescapable fact of our research is that Christianity is violently opposed to the goddess, to witchcraft and to the pursuit of knowledge. In particular, the images of Revelation comes from the demonisation of the goddess known as Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte, a slur repeated in biblical literature since the captivity in Babylon. The failure of the god of the Jewish people to save Jerusalem and the Temple from destruction was squarely blamed on the worship of pagan divinities in the propaganda hate-speak of the biblical Prophets.

In Revelation John continues the war against women, and in particular their oracular role. In Ephesus the priestess would bind a band around her forehead inscribed with the Greek word MYSTERY and utter prophecies. This speaking goddess was a threat to those who saw religion as signed and sealed in a book. It is this direct connection that defines witchcraft.

In the pagan cults it was wine which inspired divine intoxication, a wine loaded with hashish, opium, henbane and rue, a wine sweetened with sexual juices. But to John, this was a poisoned chalice and the priestess who entered possession states, a whore. Needless to say, drugs of vision are also those of sexual ecstasy, and a witchcraft that does not fly to the sabbat on these wings is no witchcraft at all. Limitations on sexual freedom go hand in hand with the banning of the sabbatic wine.

In the iconography of Babalon and glimpses through biblical scripture, it is possible to experience a forbidden history unfurling which drenches us in perfume and nectar, which lacerates us with thorns. Woman is the second sex, raped, degraded, despised and demonised. Yet her erotic power burns undiminished. This is Babalon. From a legacy of Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte, Aphrodite, a goddess has arrived, one who is not chaste and virginal, one who is not disconnected from her body, one who possesses us with the fury of Eros and the ecstasy of living witchcraft. Babalon is the critical figure behind the Enochian angel magic of John Dee, Babalon confounded Crowley and Babalon turned Jack Parsons into living flame. Rather than a reconstruction of the past, this is a goddess who is taking form around us and within us now.

Alkistis Dimech and Peter Grey
2010 Presentation: Raw Power: Witchcraft, Babalon and Female Sexuality

Madness and witchery…

October 15, 2016

witch-and-candles

Madness and witchery… are conditions commonly associated with the use of the female voice in public, in ancient as well as modern contexts. Consider how many female celebrities of classical mythology, literature and cult make themselves objectionable by the way they use their voice. For example there is the heart chilling groan of the Gorgon, whose name is derived from a Sanskrit word garg meaning “a guttural animal howl that issues as a great wind from the back of the throat through a hugely distended mouth.” There are the Furies whose high-pitched and horrendous voices are compared by Aiskhylos to howling dogs or sounds of people being tortured in hell. There is the deadly voice of the Sirens and the dangerous ventriloquism of Helen and the incredible babbling of Kassandra and the fearsome hullabaloo of Artemis as she charges through the woods. There is the seductive discourse of Aphrodite which is so concrete an aspect of her power that she can wear it on her belt as a physical object or lend it to other women. There is the old woman of Eleusinian legend Iambe who shrieks and throws her skirt up over her head to expose her genitalia. There is the haunting garrulity of the nymph Echo (daughter of Iambe in Athenian legend) who is described by Sophokles as “the girl with no door on her mouth.”

Putting a door on the female mouth as been an important project of patriarchal culture from antiquity to present day. Its chief tactic is an ideological association of female sound with monstrosity, disorder and death.

Anne Carson
The Gender of Sound

Ezra Pound, Canto I…

August 5, 2015

Poundscantos

Does anyone read poetry today?

Obviously some people do. I read and write poetry myself. But the number of people reading verse nowadays is small. We are true minority in the world of letters.

What about reading Ezra Pound?

What…?

I can almost hear the collective gasp. Pound? The anti-Semite fascist? The madman who turned bewildering obscurities into verse? Are you serious…?

Well, yes, I am. Pound, it’s true, held some pretty unpleasant views. He attacked the Jewish people; frequently partook of nonsensical and aggressive condemnations of usury (he saw Jew and usury as synonymous terms); he thought Benito Mussolini to be the proverbial bee’s knees! And he was undoubtedly a fascist and a great supporter of the one party state, but most of his poetry – and that’s what’s important to me – wasn’t (isn’t) fascist poetry.

Perhaps for many the problem lies in the complexity of the Cantos?

Pound started composing them in 1915, and these were first published by Harriet Monroe in Poetry magazine, and in 1925 they were compiled into A Draft of XVI Cantos. Pound’s early cantos met with less than favorable public opinion, a problem that would prove to be ongoing. Even his editor, Monroe wrote that she “read two or three pages…and then took sick.” Not a particularly auspicious birthing for one of the greatest works of 20th century literature!

Ron Bush in the “The Ur-Cantos” (The Ezra Pound Encyclopedia. Ed. Demetres Tryphonopoulos and Stephen J. Adams.), has this to say on the subject:

“By the time Ezra Pound published his first collected volume of cantos (A Draft of XVI Cantos of Ezra Pound) he had been redrafting the poem’s opening for ten years. Manuscripts and typescripts of fragments of a set of Cantos 1-5 dating from 1915 can be found at the Beinecke Library and contain some material never finally incorporated into later cantos (for example, sections on The Mahabharata’s “Vyasa’s Wood” and the Cynewulf episode from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle).

“Pound worked up the bulk of these drafts into the Three Cantos (sometimes called the Ur-Cantos) he published in Poetry for June, July, and August 1917, then tinkered with the texts in versions that appeared in the American edition of Lustra (1917) and in the magazine Future for February, March and April 1918. Between October 1919 and January 1924 Pound went on to publish small press or magazine versions of individual cantos that closely correspond to the canonical cantos 4-13. It was not until shortly before the publication of A Draft of XVI Cantos, however, that he recast the first three poems into their final (or near final) form.”

Ummm. And I’ve probably already lost you, poor reader, such a chronology is bewildering to say the least, isn’t it? So let’s take a quick look at what eventually became the “first” Canto:

Canto I
And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, so winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas,
Circe’s this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.
Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller,
Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day’s end.
Sun to his slumber, shadows o’er all the ocean,
Came we then to the bounds of deepest water,
To the Kimmerian lands, and peopled cities
Covered with close-webbed mist, unpierced ever
With glitter of sun-rays
Nor with stars stretched, nor looking back from heaven
Swartest night stretched over wretched men there.
The ocean flowing backward, came we then to the place
Aforesaid by Circe.
Here did they rites, Perimedes and Eurylochus,
And drawing sword from my hip
I dug the ell-square pitkin;
Poured we libations unto each the dead,
First mead and then sweet wine, water mixed with white flour.
Then prayed I many a prayer to the sickly death’s-head;
As set in Ithaca, sterile bulls of the best
For sacrifice, heaping the pyre with goods,
A sheep to Tiresias only, black and a bell-sheep.
Dark blood flowed in the fosse,
Souls out of Erebus, cadaverous dead, of brides
Of youths and at the old who had borne much;
Souls stained with recent tears, girls tender,
Men many, mauled with bronze lance heads,
Battle spoil, bearing yet dreory arms,
These many crowded about me; with shouting,
Pallor upon me, cried to my men for more beasts;
Slaughtered the heards, sheep slain of bronze;
Poured ointment, cried to the gods,
To Pluto the strong, and praised Proserpine;
Unsheathed the narrow sword,
I sat to keep off the impetuous impotent dead,
Till I should hear Tiresias.
But first Elpenor came, our friend Elpenor,
Unburied, cast on the wide earth,
Limbs that we left in the house of Circe,
Unwept, unwrapped in sepulchre, since toils urged other.
Pitiful spirit. And I cried in hurried speech:
“Elpenor, how art thou come to this dark coast?
Cam’st thou afoot, outstripping seamen?”

And he in heavy speech:
“Ill fate and abundant wine. I slept in Circe’s ingle.
Going down the long ladder unguarded,
I fell against the buttress,
Shattered the nape-nerve, the soul sought Avernus.
But thou, O King, I bid remember me, unwept, unburied,
Heap up mine arms, be tomb by sea-bord, and inscribed:
A man of no fortune, and with a name to come.
And set my oar up, that I swung mid fellows.”

And Anticlea came, whom I beat off, and then Tiresias Theban,
Holding his golden wand, knew me, and spoke first:
“A second time? why? man of ill star,
Facing the sunless dead and this joyless region?
Stand from the fosse, leave me my bloody bever
For soothsay.”
And I stepped back,
And he stong with the blood, said then: “Odysseus
Shalt return through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas,
Lose all companions.” And then Anticlea came.
Lie quiet Divus. I mean, that is Andreas Divus,
In officina Wecheli, 1538, out of Homer.
And he sailed, by Sirens and thence outward and away
And unto Circe.
Venerandam,
In the Creatan’s phrase, with the golden crown, Aphrodite,
Cypri munimenta sortita est, mirthful, orichalchi, with golden
Girdles and breast bands, thou with dark eyelids
Bearing the golden bough of Argicida. So that:

Our journey through history begins with this loose translation from Homer’s Odyssey – in fact a translation of a translation, because Pound worked from a Renaissance translation of the Odyssey, by Andreas Divus, published in 1538. The hero Odysseus journeys to Hades to communicate with the shade of Tiresias (who was, you’ll remember, a Theban prophet blinded, perhaps, by the Goddess Athena after he saw her naked!). Odysseus (like Pound) seeks knowledge. The knowledge he acquires from the dead is supernatural and forbidden to mankind.

Odysseus uses mystical, holy rites to call forth the shades of the dead. The unmourned, unburied Elpenor appears (he, you’ll recall, got pissed-up one night and fell from the roof of Circe’s palace). He wants Odysseus to return to Circe’s Island and carry out the rituals of burial and mourning for him…This to prevent his soul remaining in limbo.

Pound is calling up the ghosts of his past as well as the shades of Homer and Andreas Divus – not to mention the shades of Odysseus’ past. Thus Pound uses the story of Odysseus to tell us the story of himself. The free verse of Canto 1 begins and ends mid-sentence. It was Pound’s view that the Nekuia, the journey down to the realm of the dead was manifestly older than the rest of Homer’s narrative. It was something borrowed from an earlier age. Thus the oldest verse we have in a western language, has a fragment more ancient still, a fragment that celebrates the oldest of human concerns: the rights of the dead.

So this Canto in its opening communicates with dead masters: Homer, for one, Andreas Divus, for another; the ancient seafarer (Odysseus) makes a third. The archaic qualities of the verse, oldest Greek melded with oldest English via the cauldron of Renaissance Latin is studied and deliberate. “Its rush of narrative is pre-syntactic; its first verb has no subject, its first adverb (forth) works like a verb, and no Flaubertian subordinates conceal the simplest narrative connective, “and”.’

Pound in this first Canto displays his glorious vision of European poetry, as “a rich multi-lingual organism which develops in time but keeps all time simultaneous, and is preserved for us in strings of letters.”

The Canto ends with an evocation of Aphrodite. This hymn taken from “Hymni Deorum” appended to Divus’ book. “Cypria munimenta sortita est” translates as “The citadels of Cyprus were her appointed realm. We should make an offering to the Goddess, a “golden bough”. Why should we do this? “So that…”

And we are left to decide for ourselves. To make up our own minds. The essence of all ancient Greek philosophy…

Aphrodite

December 22, 2014

gulls

oh lady of the foam
Aphrodite
a friend asks me
about Harmony
who is your daughter

what am I to say ?

I have heard her
enter the bar, have known her
to be amongst us, & lady
have looked up

suddenly in pure love

to find the strangest company
of angels & otherwise.