Monday, October 27, 2008

The Red Goddess

by Peter Grey (review)

258pp, Hardback 2008 £37 + p&p

This is a beautiful, provocative, thought-provoking book, one man’s journey in search of the obscure object of his desire – full of odd typography, robust, sometimes rough language and a £37 price tag. Using the latest research from books such as “Strange Angel” , “Love and Rockets” and “The Unknown God” the author blends his own narrative around that which he sees as the three pillars of the Babalonian mythos – Enochian Magick, Aleister Crowley and Jack Parsons. Thus one reads:

“Eunuchs have been used traditionally to serve the Goddess, often as sodomitic dog priests. That name is not a slur but most likely comes from their dog position sex. These were important priests who served the ancient Love Goddess by sacrificing their reproductive power. They are no longer men. They cannot penetrate the mystery. I will not advocate the joys of self castration or the smooth root of the Skopsie, but it is certainly one way to serve Our Lady. I prefer Magick with the balls to push shaft deep into the crimson petals of the Goddess.”

Babalon is modern goddess, one of the most recent to emerge from the cauldron of serendipity. Even so, some, Peter Grey amongst them, would claim she has antique roots. She remerged in the modern world via the writings of Aleister Crowley, who is also responsible for renovating the old English spelling as Babalon, which has a significant numerology of 156 as opposed to 165. For Babylon, is an ancient Mesopotamian city, the BĂȘte Noire of the ancient Hebrews, and therefore a natural cipher for corruption and hubris in the strange apocalyptic end game of the Biblical New Testament. I’m talking of the Book of Revelation, a book that exerted a powerful influence on Crowley’s imagination and one way or another figured large in his new Thelemic mythos.

The Book of Revelation is widely believed to contain much hidden and indeed Kabbalistic symbolism, So no surprise that the “anti-gods” of that book turn out to be, according to Thelemites, the true corrective of the modern age. The goddesses of ancient Babylon were Innana, Ishtar and Astarte. These are “Red Goddesses” in more ways than one – and possible role models for the modern woman who is powerful, self sufficient and above all sexual. Whether modern “scarlet woman” is, as Herodotus suggested, willing to give herself to any man for any small coin, seems unlikely these days somehow. So in as much as the author of Revelation was saying that it’s the goddesses that really bring society down, Crowley and the Thelemites say the opposite.

Few would argue that Peter’s Red Goddess is a Mesopotamian creation. Most of us accept Mesopotamia, as the “cradle of civilization” and the dispersal hub for many important things, writing, astrology, technology, religion, etc etc. I must admit my own dealings with “The Red Goddess” are in her Egyptian territory (see “The Bull of Ombos”) Peter devotes a short chapter to the exploration of her possible Egyptian roots, although this is maybe a clear example of where the works of the Victorian Egyptophile Gerald Massey provide an inadequate guide to the material.

AFAIK, Egypt, did indeed benefit from early contacts with Mesopotamia before the rise of the Pharaohs (i.e. 4000BCE) but its main development was independent. So for example although writing may have been invented in Mesopotamia, it was also invented quite independently in Egypt, presumably for the same imperative. The earliest reference in Egypt to the Semitic goddesses Astarte and Anat belongs to the reign of Thutmoses c1500bce, both love goddesses were married to ultimate “Red Bull” Seth. But my Egyptian “Red Goddess” has to be Hathor, a goddess as old as time, goddess of the cattle cult (hence the horns) she is indeed sensual, sexual and intoxicated. (See Les Secrets D'Hathor by Ruth; Rossini Schumann-Antelme, reprinted as Sacred Sexuality in Ancient Egypt: The Erotic Secrets of the Forbidden Papyrus.") When old man Ra is down in the dumps she lifts her skirts and gives him a laugh.

Having said something of the mythology of Innana et al, Peter soon leaves behind the ancient world. I definitely wanted more info on Mesopotamian religion, as his analysis is consistently interesting and engaging. He then follows the tracks of the Belle Dame Sans Merci, through the writings of her numerous modern devotees, including John Dee, Marquis de Sade, Jack Parsons and indeed many a modern mage, including his own dealing with she who must be obeyed, which brings to mind the lines of the song “my knuckles are bleeding and my knees are raw”. This reworking of the Crowleyian material on the nature of the scarlet women, is seen largely through his poetry and forms “The Red Goddess’ ” vibrant core.

Peter has no time for the post modern obsession with transgender and reclaiming the “blossoms of bone”. “Eunuchs” he tells us, “cannot penetrate the mystery.” But there again for me, Babalon might be like “post porn modernist” Annie Sprinkle –the love of whose life is famously the tortured Les, a female to male transsexual.

So all in all an interesting and provocative monograph; worthy I would think of some wider circulation. It might be that this first edition which is perhaps aimed at the “collector” for whom “the medium is the message.” Its white wibeline cover with red embossing is very striking; there are tipped in illustrations, one in colour. And indeed interior text is black and occasional red. Even so I’d be happy to read it in a standard hardback “Starfire” mode or even a good trade paperback. But whatever way you read it, it’s definitely worth a spin. [Mogg]

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Way of the Hermetica - part II

Hopefully by now you will at the very least have read the first ten little books of the Corpus Hermeticum, ending with the tenth book "The Key".

Here are some bullet points, covering some points of interest that arise in the tutorials. The internet reader is encouraged to add their own feedback as a comment to this blog and I will do my best to respond:

It was once thought that the Hermetica were essentially works of Greek philosophy with a bit of Egyptian local colour added for effect. The discovery of some of the libellos of the CH amongst the Nag Hammadi Gnostic library demonstrates the Egyptian context. So it may be that the CH is essentially an Egyptian initiatory text with the odd bit of Greek window dressing. Or the true maybe somewhere in between these two views. Keep this issue in mind.

Modern research has made untenable the distinction between philosophical and practical Hermetica made by earlier commentators. Hence we must study the practical Hermetica (eg Magical Papyri) to form a complete picture of the classical Pagan mind.

The texts are in dialogue form and lead the student through stages to a final view.

The text mirrors the structure of the Hermetic universe.

This universe has much in common with other contemporary classical religions - Notably Kabbalah, Gnosticism, the Upanishads and indeed many early part of Egyptian theology - notable that of the priests of Heliopolis, the cult of AmunRa and the religious changes of Ramesside times.

Aratalogies (mythic biographies - not to be confused with Aratology - ethical treatise) of the time, exspecially those of univeral goddess Isis, are also amenable to an Hermetic interpretation. Ie one goddess under a multiplicity of names.

The CH has inconsistencies and this may be deliberate. It is said that Plato's Timaeus, with which the CH is often compared - also has inconsistencies.

One possible inconsistency is whether "God" is part of his own creation
or radically separate.

The CH can appear quite anti "the flesh", ie the created world.

The initiate aims to become godlike.

In practical magic, the magician must also "assume the godform".

Is successful completion of the gnostic, Hermetic path a necessary prerequisite of operational magick? In later doctrines of esoteric Hinduism, this is certainly the case.

Final liberation may not be possible without bodily death or at bodily death when the limitations of the physical are finally transcended.

The CH is text of ascension through stages, returning to the source.

Various of the Lebellos offer summaries of the Hermetic doctrine. See for example CH X and CH XVI. The Latin Asclepius also provides a neat summary.

The evolutionary map looks thus:

Sun (Helios, Amun Ra etc)

Sphere of the fixed stars and planets

daemons - who are both good and bad and therefore may function as intermediaries between humanity and the divine source.

Human microcosm.

Union with the divine is not seen as an end in itself.

There must be a flow of knowledge or "gnosis".

In practical hermetica, the magicians quests for gnosis and the power it brings much as the ancient Egyptian had always had a pragmatic approachs to their gods. This may be in contrast to later concepts of religion, where union or communion is an end in itself.

Prayer of Thanksgiven occurs in "The Perfect Discourse" found at Nag Hammadi,
and several other sources, including magical spells.
(eg compare PGM III 591-609 with Asclepius 41)

"we give you thanks with every soul and heart stretched out to you, unutterable name honoured with the appellation of god and blessed with the [appelation of father] for to everyone and to everything you have shown fatherly / goodwill, affection, friendship and sweetest power, granting us intellect, [speech], and knowledge; intellect so that we might understand you; speech [so that] we might call upon you, knowledge so that we might know you. . . "

compiled by Mogg Morgan
Guardian of the House of Life at Abydos
{more next time}