The Greek Qabalah

The Greek Qabalah
Kieren Barry
1999, Weiser Books
4.5 out of 5

The history of Kabbalah has been shrouded in a great deal of mystery for centuries, really since it emerged into the mainstream of Jewish thought in 13th century Europe. Numerous erroneous assumptions have been spread around in New Age and occult literature, such as the idea that the Hebrews introduced using letters as numbers, or that they originated gematria and other numerological techniques and the doctrine of emanations into Western thought. The facts, of course, are far different.

Barry convincingly proposes instead that the process was the reverse. Greek philosophy, especially the systems of Pythagoras, Plato (and his student Aristotle), Empedocles (the Elements), Ptolemy (astrology), the Gnostics (pre- and post-Christian), and Hermetics (Hellenized Egypt and the Near East), were the sources of these and other ideas no identified with Kabbalah in Judaic, Christian and Hermetic circles.

Barry’s work is scholarly and in-depth, with ample in-text citations and extremely useful bibliographies. What perhaps improves Barry’s work in this regard is that he does not visibly support any one religion or philosophy. Instead, he presents an objective and factual analysis of the history of these ideas and is not afraid to point out the flaws in certain works.

A final point of importance is that Barry’s writing style is clear and flowing. Many serious scholars have difficulty in this area, presenting history and philosophy in dry terms that make them tortuous to read.

All in all, Kieren Barry has provided historians and occultists alike with a valuable historical perspective on some of the most important ideas in Western history and in modern spirituality.

Published in: on September 12, 2007 at 11:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Magical Ritual Methods

Magical Ritual Methods
William G. Gray
1980, Weiser Books
4 out of 5

William G. Gray, as I’ve said many times before, is one of the unsung heroes of modern occult literature. Magical Ritual Methods is his magnum opus to be sure. Where one of his later books, Inner Traditions of Magic, presents a “high school education” in the construction and use of magical rituals, MRM provides a veritable college-level course.

Gray shines in his exposition; he makes very clear the essentials of ritual design in a manner which makes the presented exercises immediately useful. The exercises themselves are brilliant. They are useful on their own, but build one off of the other to form a synthetic method of ritual design. The universality of the book lies in the fact that Gray does not present a system, his own or anybody elses, except by way of an example to be easily followed. He makes use of Kabbalah and Hermetics as concrete displays of powerful and practical ritual construction, but always insists that the topic at hand is one of global application for both groups and individuals.

While I do not agree with every detail presented, I can find only two flaws in Magical Ritual Methods. First of all, I must take issue with his frequent condescending attitude toward shamanic, aboriginal, and folkish systems. While his ritual design techniques are plainly workable within any such system, he makes comparisons between the “primitives” and the “moderns” and almost universally sides with the latter in everything from theology to ethics to simple matters of cultural presentation. If the reader can ignore this fact, the book will provide food for thought for years, even decades to come.

The second flaw is perhaps less obvious and really less vital. Gray does not cite his sources. While he only directly references a handful of books, he never lets the reader in on which books those are! It is clear that nearly all of the material in the book is from personal experience, but a bibliography of books which he himself took as inspiration and education may have made MRM more complete.

Despite those two flaws, William G. Gray remains one of the greatest occult authors of the modern age with Magical Ritual Methods standing apart as his most important book. No magician of any system can be said to have a rounded occult education without it.

Published in: on September 12, 2007 at 11:32 pm  Comments (1)  

Real Magic

Real Magic
Isaac Bonewits
Weiser Books, 1989
1 out of 5

I had first read this book a few years ago and really didn’t like it then. After it was recommended to me recently by a fellow author, I decided to give it another try. After all, it had been so long that I didn’t really remember anything about it, so there was no reason to hold anything against it until I tried again. Well, now I know what I can hold against it.

Bonewits combines the worst of Aleister Crowley’s arrogance with the worst of Pat Robertson’s judgmentalism in one compact green-covered paper package. Just like Crowley, Bonewits insists that there’s only one correct approach, and he’s got it. Like Robertson, he makes himself out to be a spokesman for an entire and diverse religious group making the frequent insistence that he has so much experience that his opinion is the same as a fact. This, shockingly, isn’t  even the most opinionated of his books; it’s just the most well-known.

To make matters worse, there’s little-to-no useful information in the book. The closest to useful is the section on the “laws of magic” (which Bonewits claims to be the first to have codified). These laws, however, are mostly rehashings of the same few ideas which have been previously put together by anthropologists and occultists and given several new names apiece.

Mostly, the book is full of untestable theories and dogmatically asserted opinions coated in a thick layer of witless sarcasm. Read at your own risk.

Published in: on September 7, 2007 at 8:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Isaiah Effect

The Isaiah Effect
Gregg Braden
2000, Random House
4 out of 5

I didn’t know what to expect out of this book, but I ended up being very pleased with it within the first chapter. Braden writes with sincerity and from experience. His discussion is straight-forward, but often poetic in feel.

Writing style aside, the book itself is primarily about prayer and prophecy. The prophecies are the standard fare: 2012, Earth changes, consciousness changes, and so forth. Everything from Nostradamus to the Bible, Braden pretty well covers all the biggies. He treats them, however, as more of a thought experiment than inevitable doom. Braden is emphatic about the fact that the job of a prophet is not to tell people what will happen, but to tell them what could happen; they are to serve as human warning bells so that we can change our course before it’s too late.

The prayer section is both the practice and the shining gem of the book. Braden presents an approach to prayer rather than a system or specific technique. That approach is intended to be workable for anybody, of any religious system or mystical tradition. The only caveat is that the reader must be willing to accept the view that we are ourselves divine (or at least directly connected with the Divine) and are capable of choosing our own reality in a conscious fashion. In other words, Braden asserts that not only are we capable, through prayer, of unleashing our divine Right to Choice, but that choosing our physical reality is a spiritual act.

The greatest flaw of the book is Braden’s misinterpretation of quantum mechanics. While I doubt that it’s on purpose, it’s definitely done in such a way as to try to provide a scientific foundation for prophecy and prayer (as if they need one). I took off a full point for this because, frankly, I’m sick of seeing it in New Age and occult literature.

Beyond that one problem, I loved the book and would recommend it to anybody interested in the relevant subjects. Peppered with entertaining anecdotes and enlightening insight, Gregg Braden’s The Isaiah Effect is a great spiritual read for a quiet weekend.

Published in: on September 3, 2007 at 8:40 pm  Leave a Comment