A collection of ConjureMan Ali's thoughts about magic, the occult, and spirituality.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review: The Book of Abrasax

Michael Cecchetelli of Crossed Keys fame has released his new book, The Book of Abrasax: A Grimoire of the Hidden Gods. This book promises to be a complete grimoire developed using manuscripts from a magical tradition that has been neglected by all except academia and let me say, it delivers.

This book is of interest to me for several reasons, first and foremost because I am a modern magician working within the magical current of North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Sabians, and this book revolves around a very similar tradition. Secondly, because I am an academic whose speciality happens to be this part of the world and their magical and religious traditions. So from both perspectives, I was very interested in the release of this book and I was not let down. Even its timing is auspicious as I have begun an academic study of the Coptic manuscripts by comparing them to the Greek Magical Papyri.

Like his previous works, Michael Ceccetelli demonstrates a high level of scholarship that ranks him among the quality writers of our time, but more importantly this book is down-right practical. While the source of the text is something familiar to academia, what the author has done is take those sources and make them accessible to the modern magician by presenting a complete system of magic that carries on the Graeco-Egyptian Gnostic and Coptic culture. Here we have a grimoire about ancient magic, but for the modern magus. Grimoires of the past were notorious for being incomplete or often having obscure instructions, but not The Book of Abrasax.

The book delivers on all fronts and presents for the reader not only a glimpse into this ancient magical current, but revives it and makes it accessible for the modern practitioner. The words of ancient Coptic Magi could be heard within the pages teaching you how to cast spells to capture love, to crush an enemy, or even to bring down the hidden gods and luminaries whose power could shake your very world.

The book is divided into several sections that begins by setting the stage and introducing the topic then dives right into the practical magic of it all. Here are found spells whose flavor will be quite familiar to those acquainted with Hoodoo or the Greek Magical Papyri--the book captures the powers of the ancients and it can be felt. I have already tried the methods for securing space and creating boundaries and the power is tangible; calling the Sevenths and vibrating the voces magicae have a palable result that you can feel in the air. Further to my excitement, The Book of Abrasax also reveals detailed instructions on the creation of difixiones or Hellenic curse-tablets along with instructions for the making of a magical statue--literally the secrets of god-making. Here are ancient powers that academics have marveled over, but now available for the first time in ages to the mage.

But the book does not stop there, it goes on to present rites of evocation, invocation, and most imporantly of all the author reveals an initiatory rite called the "Triune Baptism" which reveals this text as not just an ordinary grimoire, but the remergence of a Gnostic mystery--here in the Transcendental magic of the Book of Abrasax is found the keys to the hidden realities guarded by the magi of the Graeco-Eyptian world. The path to hidden gods and forgotten powers is laid out clearly and open to all with the courage to walk it.

We live in interesting times. Mages have turned to history to find the roots our spiritual ancestry and returned with the keys to ancient magic unlocking the future. I could not recommend this book more and forsee it having a deep and lasting impact on the magical current. I strongly suspect that in the years to come we will see people making difixiones once more along with practicing other long-forgotten secrets and that makes me happy.  


Jack Faust said...

Excellent review, good sir.

Also: comparing the PGM to coptic manuscripts? That sounds like a good time. I wish you all the best on that and hope that you consider writing about it if the muse ever strikes!

Had Matter said...

I am really interested in the Sabian tradition myself.. and I do think there is a connection between them, the Picatrix and the Picatrix to the (albeit hoaxed/modified) Necronomicon.

I have been in search of a real, authentic/ancient Mesopotamian tradition connected to the Sabians and other Gnostic groups.. I do think the Mandaeans and Yezidi are somewhat a survival of the original Sumerian and Akkadian currents (while acquiring much syncretistic bits from other traditions along the way to avoid genocide), what Mehrdad Izady calls the 'Cults of the Angel' and another Turkish scholar calls 'Ishkism' or 'Chinarism'. This appears to be the Proto-Gnostic tradition that informed Zoroastrianism and then the religions of the Book in their early days.. Do you have any book suggestions or areas I should look into?

The Necronomicon, while very fascinating (something about it does feel true, but not all), is somewhat a dead end.. thoughts?

ConjureMan Ali said...

The Sabian tradition is an oral tradition that is actually best preserved in the more esoteric teachings and practices of Sufism.

I would be careful of linking these rather different traditions together. They share commonalities, have some associations, but Yezidi and the Mandaeans are quite different than the Sabians who have more in common with the Nabataens and Hanifs than anyone else.

I fully encourage you to get the Book of Abrasax as the practices are actually quite similar, especially the blending of Near East with Hellenic.

Had Matter said...

Thanks for the reply..

The only link I am really making is a Sumerian influence as well as Gnostic components, but I could see how they might not be that similar. The power of seven is quite important in the Sabian and Yezidi traditions though, yes? From my research and that of others, it seems this is a big commonality, with angelic archetypes (both positive and negative) being attributed to the 7 main planetary bodies as a major feature. The Alevis, Nizari Ismalis also share(d) this traditional element.

Can you explain why many Mandaeans insist that they are one and the same as Sabians? I realize it is related to an Islamic name given to them (Sub'ba meaning immerser or baptizer) however they claim to be the same people as those Sabians mentioned in the Old Testament. Is it simply a cultural justification after the fact made by themselves to legitimize their historical narrative?

All of the mentioned faiths AFAIK are monotheistic, despite their outward appearances in what seems like polytheism.. although I read up on the hanifs, and it said they were strictly against idolatry, wouldn't magick somewhat conflict with that?

I also do notice that Harran is much closer to Yezidi territory than the lands of the Nabataeans.. such distances did not stop the Mandaeans from migrating from Jewish lands in Jordan and such to Southern Iraq. Edom (Jordan) is also where Nabataeans come from, yes? Both Mandaeans and Nabataeans spoke a form of Aramaic after a point as well.

Perhaps someone made a typo or mistranslation somewhere and meant to say 'Hauran' (Southern Syria & Jordan) rather than 'Harran' (Turkey). Similar confusion arises when considering the Sabaeans of Yemen and the Sabians of Harran.

I'm not trying to be a pain in the ass, as I believe you, but I do really want to understand the subject better; I am currently writing about and researching it and you're one of the only people I've encountered who knows anything at all about it. Heh, it gets pretty complicated, maybe I should throw in the towel. I guess you could say I have an obsession with the roots of religion. Yes, I definitely intend to pick up the Book of Abrasax!

ConjureMan Ali said...

One need to only look at the religions themselves to see how different they are. Looking for commonality is perfectly fine, but there are some stark differences between the Sabian and Mandaeism traditions.

Mandaeism shows a far stronger Iranian influence in the fact that its more dualistic with a heavier emphasis on the separation between matter and spirit and even the postulation of mutliple demiurges. It likely either influenced or was influenced by Manichaeism. Also they reject several figures accepted by the Sabians (Christ, Abraham, and Moses). Finally look at the texts, which are different for the two. Then of course you have the figure of Tawuse Malek in Yezidi with his central importance. These differences make it hard to see them as linked. It would be more accurate to view them like the ATRs, part of a family with likely similar origins (note not the same), but wholly different religions.

All of these religions share practices and some view points, but their manifestations are different.

The confusion comes from the writers of antiquity themselves who often mistook one for the other and we can find the first confusing accounts in the Fihrist. Followed by our own modern ideas of religions--we tend to see religion in neat little isolated categories, but religion is a fluid thing open to outside influence and change. This region especially, with its caravans, exchanged ideas in a manner that we completely overlook in our current study of those areas.

Had Matter said...

Thank you Ali, that makes tons of sense, and I agree with you, upon further research.

It does make sense now that Islam would label the Sabians 'people of the Book' if they accepted Abraham, and that Mandaeans wouldn't fall under that category necessarily. Maybe the Nabataeans were also a Baptist cultus? (I haven't read any of their texts yet, the only one I was able to find was 'Nabataean Agriculture'). They certainly knew their way around water! As far as I know, Mani was the son of an Elchaisite (which were barely distinguishable from the Mandaeans), so there are a lot of commonalities there.

The link I made between the Yezidi and other groups was surrounding their belief in the Universal Spirit as God. Tawusi Melek is definitely very central but is not synonymous with God.. but certainly the highest angel, a corporeal or anthropomorphic expression of God. Their religion likely goes back to India in what eventually became Kartikeya/Murugan tradition during the time when there was little ideological difference between Brahmanic, Chaldean and Magian priesthoods. I've spent many months living in Southern India, and some there certainly venerate peacocks and snakes to the point of godliness. There was a snake shrine there filled with thick jungle that no human was ever allowed to enter, and peacocks everywhere! Beautiful..

I suppose the '1st religious tradition' will never be found.. I should probably stop looking. :) I find wisdom in a lot of these branches though! Thank you for your knowledge, I do very much appreciate it.

ConjureMan Ali said...

Whether which religion is the "source" of it all is likely impossible to discover historically. The reality is that these religions are obscure at best. As a historian I can tell you that there is a lot of difficulties when we try to find the influence these religions may have had on one another and which may split off from the other etc.

I personally do not believe the Yezidi to be related to Indian veneration. I would say the link between the Yezidi and the Kartikeya/Murugan tradition is superficial at best. Examining the Sangam literature and having been to India in my youth, I simply don't see it, I'm sorry. I mean they both have peacocks, but...

Also Tawuse Malek is a defining feature of the Yezidi and it that central role that is not found in the corresponding cults you made a link to.

While ultimately this is academically quite interesting, the idea of finding a clear defining link between these religious traditions and discovering a clear source is likely not feasible. It is simply lost in the annals of history. What it comes down to is educated analysis with lots of guess work.

Had Matter said...

I didn't mention it previously, but the link between the Yezidi and the Indian peacock god traditions comes down specifically to their most sacred objects, the 7 sanjaks or oil peacock-topped lamps. Maybe it is a mythology just like many other cultures have, but they claim that these 7 lamps are quite old, even ancient, and I do find it interesting that they are basically identical to certain ones made in India in terms of style (having looked at them side by side). Having grown up in the Vedanta tradition myself, I have seen many an Indian oil lamp.. hah.

Some of their fakirs claim that a long time ago their community split, and that they are in diaspora, some of them in Iraq and other places, some still in India.

Also, peacocks do not naturally live anywhere in Iraq, the climate does not suport it. Iran.. somewhat. So perhaps the Yezidi connection to the Ahl-e-haqq could explain that, however it is more likely that there is an Indian connection.

The quite ancient bull god culture has also been traced to Tamil Nadu and made its way to Sumeria and other places (or vica versa), so I don't think it's a stretch that other traditions may have as well.

It is a bit complicated, because while there is an effort made by a certain individual and his wife to reach out to this community undergoing genocide, he does seem to have a New Age agenda and sometimes colors the information by bending it to his own viewpoint. However, I've listened to radio interviews he has done with Yezidi fakirs, and the bit about India came from the horse's mouth.

I think it is important to remember to not completely trust ethnologists' perspectives as 100% valid or objective, since often outsiders' views of a culture become what is written down in books over the views of the culture itself and have been proven to be overly biased in many cases, as Wouter Hanegraaff is currently pointing out in academia in the case of Western Esotericism. Most of them are not as fair as someone like, say, E.S. Drower. Yet sometimes the cultures themselves embellish their history, what culture hasn't, at some point. Who knows, ultimately what is true.. you have a good point there.

ConjureMan Ali said...

Peacocks have been in Mesopotamia since earliest times. While likely they were indeed imported from India, they've been kept in the region for quite some time and we find legends and stories revolving them as far as other parts of the Arab World.

I believe you are making a bit of a stretch here and honestly I've spent years with many Yezidi Pirs and Sheikhs and never heard any claim association with anything other than Zoroastriansim. While certainly the imagery of the bull and such are Mithraism's influence, one merely need to look at the prayers multiple times a day with emphasis on the suns position and the Yezidi feasts which all link up to Zoroastriansim.

What we see in Yazidism is a very strong Persian-Iranian influence and even linguistically they are closer to the Iranian branch of Indo-European family.

I think your intentions are good, but going into this study trying to make connections to a "source" is the same mistake anthropologists made by attempting to "categorize" deities into such labels at "dying-rising" gods. I suggest you approach this study instead by allowing the religions to speak for themselves. This is the approach of a historian of religion and one I teach my students in the field.

While this topic is interesting, it is getting beyond the scope of the blog. Thank you for your comments and good luck in your search.

Had Matter said...

We'll have to agree to disagree on a few of these. Anyway, I didn't mean to distract from your blog, only to strike up a conversation, but I will respect your wish to not comment further on this thread from here. Just one final thing, I don't care if you post my last comment on your blog or not (I'm not trying to argue with you), but I do hope you read this and reply if you care to.

It is a little difficult to swallow that any person from the Western world has spent years with the Ezdi, I'll have to take that at face value. I say that not at all to insult but only that I know they do not accept outsiders. I read up on your background, it is very interesting but it doesn't sound like you're related to them but to other families of magi.

If this is really true, I hope you write about it and become an advocate of theirs, as likely their culture will only survive in diaspora and the authentic center of it will crumble in their current ongoing genocide. They need a more knowledgable and unbiased advocate than Mark Amaru Pinkham, who seems to have ulterior New Agey motives in his support of these people.

Take care.

ConjureMan Ali said...

Not really interested in what you can swallow. As an academic as well as person raised in very similar traditions I was part of a team who worked with several Pirs as part of research into their religion. They are indeed suspicious of Westeners and I acted as a fascilitator for this research. I have had contact with them for nearly a decade.

And they certainly need an advocate, for many reasons, one of which is the misinformation highlighted in the above posts conversations. The level of knowledge by outsiders is shaky at best. However, this role falls to a colleague. I was merely blessed to be a small part of the process.

Good luck in your research. This thread is now closed.