Apocalyptic Witchcraft

apocalypticwitchcraftTitle: Apocalyptic Witchcraft
Publisher: Scarlet Imprint/Bibliothèque Rouge

Author: Peter Grey
Pages: xvi + 182 pp.
Price: £200 (fine edition), £40 (hardcover), £15 (paperback), £10 (digital)

Scarlet Imprint is one of the foremost modern occult and talismanic book publishers, creating works of quality and integrity in their content, but also — a far more rare and thus more greatly appreciated characteristic — books of astonishing beauty and sensual appeal.  These books want to be stared at, smelled, touched, and, most importantly, read and cherished.  While some of their books are only available in such beautiful hardcover editions, a gradual number are also being offered in e-book format, and in affordable paperback editions — but even the latter are appealing in their exterior binding and covers, at least from my perspective.Peter Grey’s Apocalyptic Witchcraft is one of their most recent books, and Grey himself is one of the founders of the publisher.  I absolutely devoured this book when it arrived in the post.  While many people might find some of Grey’s assertions challenging, the reading itself is not difficult, and in fact flows quite nicely and pleasurably.  I’m a slow reader at the best of times, but this was never a chore to read or understand.

Too many reviewers and potential readers have been or might be put off by some of Grey’s ideas because they are radical in their condemnation of many of the excesses of modern (and particularly industrialized, technologized, and commercialized and consumerist) life, and may get stuck with those difficulties while ignoring or missing the more interesting and potentially revolutionary aspects of Grey’s work as a result.  I invite anyone who does read Apocalyptic Witchcraft to put those concerns as far aside as possible while they consider his manifesto — indeed, his work reads that way at points, in a passionate and poetic fashion, and pages 14 to 17 are a thirty-three point “Manifesto of Apocalyptic Witchcraft.”

To use a hackneyed phrase, Peter Grey is interested in restoring the cultus and practice of witchcraft in the modern world as a practice of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll”; the only difference is that by “rock ‘n’ roll,” Grey’s book tends to mean “poetry,” but otherwise, “sex” and “drugs” should be brought back, brought forward, and brought out far more than they have been or should have been in more recent decades.  Further, the cleaning-up of the public image of witchcraft and the distancing of itself from some of these things which the overculture has considered unpalatable should be avoided at all costs, and an unapologetic approach should be taken to these matters wherever they might arise.  I think this is a laudable goal, and one that I can agree with on most points (and where I differ does not matter for the purposes of this review).

One particular point in the book that I found insightful, while now seeming a bit obvious perhaps to many readers besides myself, is the parallel Grey draws between the “diabolic pact” and details of the witches’ sabbath of the medieval witch trials and the temptations of Jesus in the canonical Christian Gospels (pp. 97-98).  The Devil invites Jesus, after his forty days of fasting, to do two things that are standard motifs in the later witches’ sabbath of medieval folklore:  to feast (in the form of stones turned to bread) and to fly (by throwing himself off the pinnacle of the Temple to be carried by angels) in return for his homage to him.  I have not encountered this parallel before, but it is an excellent and insightful one, and demonstrates Grey’s facility with texts and theological traditions outside his own.  However, he does likewise argue that Christianity, in this instance as well as in others from its scriptures (e.g. the Book of Revelation), has had a profound role in shaping notions of witchcraft, as have its ideas about the Devil.  Grey argues that “It is time that witchcraft paid the Devil his due” (p. 67).

In addition to the many other excellent chapters in this book, I must give particular compliments to Grey on the subject of lycanthropy in the chapter “A Wolf Sent Forth To Snatch Away A Lamb” (pp. 112-135).  In both academic and occult/pagan/polytheist literature on lycanthropy and werewolf traditions, there are very few treatments in existence at this point that are as compact, insightful, honest, and accurate in overall terms as that of Grey in this book.  His construction of werewolf traditions as a youthful outlaw hunter/warrior caste in premodern societies in which canid metaphors and imagery are regularly employed in a variety of fashions and for different purposes is in accord with all of the best and most recent research on the subject, and stays away from the all-too-common misapprehension (and fraud!) given in some books on werewolves or other human-animal shapeshifting practices which suggest it was (and still is or can be) a physical phenomenon.  He draws on a variety of the most important classical sources on lycanthropy, and makes apt parallels (as have scholars like Carlo Ginzburg) with the witches’ sabbath in doing so.

I only have three caveats on Grey’s treatment which cannot be faulted based on his research; these are simply matters which he is not likely to have known and which are not outlined in the sources listed in his bibliography.  Firstly, even though a lunar connection is attested for some early werewolf traditions (and the one in Petronius’ Satyricon is somewhat problematic in this regard), it is by no means a necessity for lycanthropy.  Some of the earliest western European werewolf lore in the medieval period does not suggest a connection to the full moon, but instead to the new moon.  Secondly, there are a variety of contexts in which werewolf traditions are not simply under the patronage of a “mistress of the beasts” or huntress goddess similar to one of the “witches’ goddesses” listed in medieval witch accounts by Christians, but in which human women take part just as fully and equally as men, including many of the earliest Insular Celtic sources on werewolves and warrior traditions.  It is not that witches are women and werewolves are men, it’s that both are both, and have been both, and should be both in the future.  Thirdly and finally, he states that nudity is not a part of northern European werewolf traditions, whereas it is rather essential in several of the classical accounts of the Arcadian werewolves, and in Petronius’ Satyricon.  In fact, nudity is just as essential, and far more problematic in terms of the narratives which result from it, in several of the northern European medieval werewolf traditions, including those of the Breton lais Bisclavret (by Marie de France, and all of the later versions derived from it) and Melion (anonymous), as well as several of the traditions in Ireland, including that deriving from the account of Giraldus Cambrensis on the werewolves of Ossory.  The presence of these other pieces of evidence supports Grey’s overall ideas, and does not contradict them; thus, they would have been useful to have known earlier and incorporated into the chapter.

No matter if one is invested in the notions of traditional witchcraft (whether magical or religious) in their modern identity or not, the fact is that these traditions have shaped and continue to shape modern Christian views of the subject.  These traditions have their own power which remains to be reclaimed in ways that the witches and pagans of the past seven decades have not always done fully, but which could be potentially transformative, healing, and — as Grey’s title indicates — may be profoundly revelatory.  I recommend this book to anyone who finds what I have spoken about above of any interest.

[P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is a metagender person, and one of the founding members of the Ekklesía Antínoou–a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and related deities and divine figures–as well as a contributing member of Neos Alexandria and a practicing Celtic Reconstructionist pagan in the traditions of gentlidechtand filidecht, as well as Romano-British, Welsh, and Gaulish deity devotions. Lupus is also dedicated to several land spirits around the area of North Puget Sound and its islands.

Lupus’ writings are available in several Bibliotheca Alexandrina devotional volumes, including Unbound: A Devotional Anthology for ArtemisWaters of Life: A Devotional Anthology for Serapis and Isis, and Bearing Torches: A Devotional Anthology for Hekate;From Cave to Sky: A Devotional Anthology for ZeusOut of Arcadia: A Devotional Anthology in Honor of PanThe Scribing Ibis: An Anthology of Pagan Fiction in Honor of ThothAnointed: A Devotional Anthology for the Deities of the Near and Middle East, andQueen of the Sacred Way: A Devotional Anthology in Honor of Persephone, a sole-authored book of poetry, The Phillupic Hymns. Lupus’ poetry has also appeared in theScarlet Imprint anthology Datura: An Anthology of Esoteric Poesis and Galina Krasskova’s anthology When the Lion Roars: A Devotional to the Egyptian Goddess Sekhmet. An essay by Lupus appears in the anthology edited by Lee Harrington, Spirit of Desire: Personal Explorations of Sacred Kink. Fiction by Lupus has appeared in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina anthology The Scribing Ibis: An Anthology of Pagan Fiction in Honor of Thoth, Inanna Gabriel and C. Bryan Brown’s Etched Offerings: Voices from the Cauldron of Story, and the e-zine Eternal Haunted Summer. Three books in The Red Lotus Library, the Ekklesía Antínoou’s publishing imprint, are now available, The Syncretisms of AntinousDevotio Antinoo: The Doctor’s Notes, Volume One, and All-Soul, All-Body, All-Love, All-Power: A TransMythology. Further publications will be mentioned here as they become available!]

 

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