Book Reviews

Book Review: VALIS by Philip K Dick

Known for his books that eventually would become big-screen hits like Blade Runner and Minority Report, the author Philip K Dick in VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence), combines elements of autobiography, philosophy, science-fiction, Gnostic theology, psychoanalysis, and existential self-construction. Like the recently published Exegesis, it takes its origin in the need to understand and respond to the events of February and March 1974 (which Dick called 2-3-74). He was irradiated by a brilliant pink light emanating from a Christian fish-symbol (ichthys) necklace worn by a young woman. He had a series of visions over the next two months, and spent the rest of his life trying to understand them.

The novel splits Dick into two characters: the narrator, Philip K Dick, a moderately successful science-fiction writer; and his unattractively named “Horselover Fat” (Philip in Greek means “fond of horses”; “dick” is German for “fat”), which is his crazy, schizophrenic alter-ego, to whom the visions arrived, and whose life became a quest to resolve their enigma. The principal framework of this book is a sci-fi variant of Gnostic cosmology, where the phenomenal universe is a construct of a false, malevolent and insane god–explaining all of the irrationality and sufferings that it contains.

The world humanity finds itself exiled in, is called the Black Iron Prison, and we are its prisoners. The true God is outside the universe and breaking through to heal it and us in various ways, including the pink light that Dick experienced. After many surreal experiences and visions the book ends with the narrator, Philip K. Dick, sitting before the TV, watching and waiting. He is clear that this is his way of continuing the search and keeping to his mission: keeping awake and open to infinite possibility.

Dick’s novel opens with the beginnings of his eventual psychological break-down and suicide attempt:

Horselover Fat’s nervous breakdown began the day he got the phonecall from Gloria asking if he had any Nembutals. He asked her why she wanted them and she said that she intended to kill herself” (p. 1).

This is no message from a divine light, but the beginning of a soul-destroying relationship with a toxic, thanatotic individual, whose name “Gloria.” One of my favorite lines in the book, actually has little to do with Gnosticism. It goes like this:

I am, by profession, a science fiction writer. I deal in fantasies. My life is a fantasy. Nonetheless, Gloria Knudson lies in a box in Modesto, California. There’s a photo of her funeral wreaths in my photo album. It’s a color photo so you can see how lovely the wreaths are (p. 3).

I think many of us experience moments of revelatory intensity and also of intense despair at the imprisonment of our daily lives and of our very selves.

Caught in his own maze, like Daedalus, who built the labyrinth for King Minos of Crete and then fell into it and couldn’t get out. Presumably Daedalus is still there,  and so are we. The only difference between us and Horselover Fat is that Fat knows his situation and we do not; therefore Fat is insane and we are normal (p. 31).

How did humanity get in such a situation? By the blinding, hypnotic power of the Demiurge, of course. However, other divine beings like Christ, had other plans:

It can be argued that this is the most important statement in the New Testament; certainly it is the most important not-generally-known statement. We shall be like him. That means that man is isomorphic with God. We shall see him as he really is. There will occur a theophany, at least to some. Fat could base the credentials for his whole encounter on this passage. He could claim that his encounter with God consisted of a fulfillment of the promise of 1 John 3:1/2-as Bible scholars indicate it, a sort of code which they can read off in an instant, as cryptic as it looks. Oddly, to a certain extent this passage dovetails with the Nag Hammadi typescript that Dr. Stone handed to Fat the day Fat got discharged from North Ward. Man and the true God are identical-as the Logos and the true God are-but a lunatic blind creator and his screwed-up world separate man from God. That the blind creator sincerely imagines that he is the true God only reveals the extent of his occlusion. This is Gnosticism. In Gnosticism, man belongs with God against the world and the creator of the world (both of which are crazy, whether they realize it or not). The answer to Fat’s question, “Is the universe irrational, and is it irrational because an irrational mind governs it?” receives this answer, via Dr. Stone:

“Yes it is, the universe is irrational; the mind governing it is irrational; but above them lies another God, the true God, and he is not irrational; in addition that true God has outwitted the powers of this world, ventured here to help us, and we know him as the Logos,” which, according to Fat, is living information (p. 58).

An enlightened, immortal man existed before the creator deity, and that enlightened, immortal man would appear within the human race which Samael was going to create. And that enlightened, immortal man who had existed before the creator deity would trample upon the fucked-up blind deluded creator like potter’s clay (p. 55).

This is further elaborated in the different points in Dick’s Tractates Cryptica Scriptura.

44. Since the universe is actually composed of information, then it can be said that information will save us. This is the saving gnosis which the Gnostics sought. There is no other road to salvation. However, this information-or more precisely the ability to read and understand this information, the universe as information-can only be made available to us by the Holy Spirit. We cannot find it on our own. Thus it is said that we are saved by the grace of God and not by good works, that all salvation belongs to Christ, who, I say, is a physician.

45. In seeing Christ in a vision I correctly said to him, “We need medical attention.” In the vision there was an insane creator who destroyed what he created, without purpose; which is to say, irrationally. This is the deranged streak in the Mind; Christ is our only hope, since we cannot now call on Asklepios. Asklepios came before Christ and raised a man from the dead; for this act, Zeus had a Kyklopes slay him with a thunderbolt. Christ also was killed for what he had done: raising a man from the dead. Elijah brought a boy back to life and disappeared soon thereafter in a whirlwind. “The Empire never ended.”

46. The physician has come to us a number of times under a number of names. But we are not yet healed. The Empire identified him and ejected him. This time he will kill the Empire by phagocytosis.

Earlier in the book, Horselover Fat’s world steadily begins to unravel, much like the characters in the Dickian inspired movie Dark City. In Dark City: The Reality Projector, Individuation and the Aion, the author remarks on one of the characters, Detective Walenski, who has gone insane trying to find the truth about his unreality in his spiral-like existence.

“Round and round and round she goes… where she stops nobody knows.” – Detective Bumstead. Detective Walenkski’s drawings are reflections of his efforts to try to figure out that which he cannot remember or understand. The streets and subway follow a spiraling pattern . John finds out that the “Green Line” is the only way to Shell Beach (green-Osiris), but he has no way to get on it.

Horselover Fat eventually has a similar epiphany: that the present world of 1974, in reality, is a holographic cover-up, projecting over the sprawling nightmare, boiling behind it. To his horror, humanity was still stuck in the far-flung ancient world of Rome, where Christian martyrs were thrown to the lions, and all the Caesars spread the light of the Empire all over the known world. And curiously, behind ancient Rome, was also another “big brother,” communist, technocratic New World Order-type of dystopia, explored in another novel called Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said:

…during the interval in which he had experienced the two-world superimposition, had seen not only California, U.S.A., of the year 1974 but also ancient Rome, he had discerned within the superimposition a Gestalt shared by both space-time continua, their common element: a Black Iron Prison. This is what the dream referred to as “the Empire.” He knew it because, upon seeing the Black Iron Prison, he had recognized it. Everyone dwelt in it without realizing it. The Black Iron Prison was their world. Who had built the prison-and why-he could not say. But he could discern one good thing: the prison lay under attack. An organization of Christians, not regular Christians such as those who attended church every Sunday and prayed, but secret early Christians wearing light gray-colored robes, had started an assault on the prison, and with success. The secret, early Christians were filled with joy.

Fat, in his madness, understood the reason for their joy. This time the early, secret, gray-robed Christians would get the prison, rather than the other way around. The deeds of the heroes, in the sacred dream-time . . . the only time, according to the bushmen, that was real. Once, in a cheap science fiction novel, Fat had come across a perfect description of the Black Iron Prison but set in the far future. So if you superimposed the past (ancient Rome) over the present (California in the twentieth century) and superimposed the far future world of The Android Cried Me a River over that, you got the Empire, the Black Iron Prison, as the supra- or trans-temporal constant. Everyone who had ever lived was literally surrounded by the iron walls of the prison; they were all inside it and none of them knew it-except for the gray-robed secret Christians.

That made the early, secret Christians supra- or trans-temporal, too, which is to say present at all times, a situation which Fat could not fathom. How could they be early but in the present and the future? And if they existed in the present, why couldn’t anyone see them. On the other hand, why couldn’t anyone see the walls of the Black Iron Prison which enclosed everyone, including himself, on all sides? Why did these antithetical forces emerge into palpability only when the past, present and future somehow-for whatever reason-got superimposed?

Maybe in the bushmen’s dream-time no time existed. But if no time existed, how could the early, secret Christians be scampering away in glee from the Black Iron Prison which they had just succeeded in blowing up? And how could they blow it up back in Rome circa 70 C.E., since no explosives existed in those days? And now [sic], if no time passed in the dream-time, could the prison come to an end? It reminded Fat of the peculiar statement in Parsifal: “You see, my son, here time turns into space.”

In one article, by Kyle Arnold, he sums up the following points succinctly:

In the following months, the visions continued. Scenes of ancient Rome appeared, superimposed over Dick’s suburban neighborhood. A local playground seemed a Roman prison. Where there was a chain-link fence, Dick saw iron bars, and where there were children playing, he saw weeping Christian martyrs about to be fed to lions. Dick saw pedestrians dressed in Roman military uniforms, stone walls, and iron bars. “I hadn’t gone back in time,” Dick wrote to a friend, “but in a sense Rome had come forward, by insidious and sly degrees, under new names, hidden by the flak talk and phony obscurations, at last into our world again.” Dick supposed time had stopped in 70 A.D., the year the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by a Roman siege. Everything that happened afterwards was an illusion, and the world was still under Rome’s dominion. Dick believed the Roman Empire was embodied in the tyrannical Nixon administration, and responsible for the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr. His own role was that of an undercover Christian revolutionary fighting to overthrow the Empire. That was why the delivery girl had flashed him the fish sign.

The novel ends with an optimistic phone-call from Horselover Fat reporting on his quest to find the 5th Messiah:

“one day I got a phonecall from Horselover Fat: a phonecall from Tokyo. He sounded healthy and excited and full of energy, and amused at my surprise to be hearing from him” (p. 210).

The split between Dick and Fat continues, but it enriches his life instead of despairing it. The healing power of ICHTHYS, anagram for “Iesous CHristos, THeou Yios, Soter” (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior) and Eros has come to win out over thanatos (spiritual death or ignorance) and alienation. After all the speculations and synchronicities, after all the encounters both toxic and salvific, there is no final explanation only a new sense of optimism and openness:

“My search kept me at home; I sat before the TV set in my living room. I sat; I waited; I watched; I kept myself awake. As we had been told, originally, long ago, to do; I kept my commission” (p. 212).

At the same time, Dick tells us in, “The Ten Major Principles of the Gnostic Revelation”: “To know these ten principles of Gnostic Christianity is to court disaster.” PKD is telling us right there that the archons will come after you once you figure out what’s really going on, much like the Strangers in Dark City and the agents in the Matrix trilogy.


Book Review: Clock Shavings

Clock Shavings. By. Tracy Twyman. Vancouver, Washington: Dragon Key Press, 2014. 418 pp.

In Tracy Twyman’s underground occult hit memoir book Clock Shavings, the author uncovers her past dealings with the Ouija board and various spirits and the dead–including Cain, Jean Cocteau, Baphomet, Lucifer, Satan, and even Jesus. Tracy Twyman’s philosophy on life has always been unrelenting in the face of fear and it shows with her brave dealings in the occult and paranormal research. Such dealings in divination has inevitably led her to many amazing epiphanies and ongoing discoveries concerning the Holy Grail, Judeo-Christian scriptures, the nature of reality and the Apocalypse.

This is no doubt the best book by Tracy Twyman (excluding our book). It is essentially a very candid recollection of her interests in regards to researching the Holy Grail, the Prior of Sion, etc. which would eventually lead her to research darker aspects of the occult and the paranormal. While one may simply trivialize all of this as research into the “flying spaghetti monster” or “evil gnomes,” these lesser explainable forces in the universe have been the subject of many other investigations–especially with ghost hunters, spirit mediums, and those who contact the dead and evil spirits–which are all essentially necromancers and a lesser extent, sorcerers. With Tracy’s investigations into the paranormal, she has created a narrative made up of various hair-raising Ouija-board sessions with different spirits. At the same time, her esoteric explanations of her spirit conversations also defy your expectations in every possible way. And I mean that in a good way. Once you read her last chapter written in a stream-of-consciousness-styled exegesis of her spirit sessions in Terminus: Further and Beyond, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Her more fascinating and blood-chilling conversations are with Baphomet and Cain. Both of these spirits speak to her as if they were long time friends. This seems to confirm the idea of generational ties with spirits, especially demons. Demons, according to many sources, seem to have ties with the so-called “fallen angels” of the Bible, as well as the lesser spirits of the dead Nephilim, discussed in the Book of Enoch. As a side note, in the Testament of Solomon, King Solomon interrogates a demon, in which he responds that his spirit originally came from a Nephilim giant:

And there came before my face another enslaved spirit, having obscurely the form of a man, with gleaming eyes, and bearing in his hand a blade. And I asked: “Who art thou? But he answered: “I am a lascivious spirit, engendered of a giant man who dies in the massacre in the time of the giants.” I said to him: “Tell me what thou art employed on upon earth, and where thou hast thy dwelling.”

Demons are generally regarded as non-corporeal, often intelligent beings that spring from what in Christianity refer to as as “hell” or the “abyss” which is almost the same thing as the “astral realm.” They may also be created by human confluence through occult ritual in the form of “egregores” as well. They cannot exactly interact with the natural world so they need a human host to live in and in effect possess or engage people in spiritual contracts with them. In a way, demons may be considered like lions. Lions are not inherently evil, but if you venture too close to them, you will wind up getting killed. And yet people like lion tamers are able to engage in productive relationships with lions. This may be applicable to demons as well. Luke 11:24 tells us:

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out.

And so without a nice, warm human body to inhabit like a Motel 6 or a hot Jacuzzi, these spirits are in a constant state of restlessness and dwell as the “beggarly elements” of the world in deserts, forests, the oceans, islands, etc. According to some Christian exorcists, all humans on this planet, in one way or another, are a habitation for demons. It’s only the fire of the Holy Spirit that drives them out. Demons or “jinn” are also, for the most part, responsible for many psychic, paranormal, astral projection, nightmares, hypnic jerks, sleep paralysis and even UFO phenomena, as many other researchers like Jacques Vallee and Rosemary Guiley have noted in their work. Now, personally, I’ve only used the Ouija board once but nothing particularly noteworthy happened. But I’ve had plenty of spiritual experiences as well as spirit visitations, myself, than I care to have gone through but at least I know for sure there is a spiritual world that exists behind the natural and the vale of tears.

There are theories as to if perhaps the user of the Ouija board is actually possessed by the entity that they are supposedly in contact, and that is the reason why they receive various unique answers, where the planchette and board itself activates a certain “spiritual” programming in the person. This is indeed an intriguing possibility. In a way, these same spirits or demons are also the ancestors of the ancients and have continued in the bloodlines of specific families and generations today. Perhaps these spirits are also encoded in human DNA or what scientists call “junk DNA” as well. The demons may be attempting to being “saved” by latching on to a human host. More on this later.

Where exactly am I going with this? I am thinking that different races and particular bloodlines have access to specific gods, angels or demons–particularly tribal peoples of various cultures like say, the Mayans, or the ancient Egyptians. And I can’t help but wonder if the same thing is going on with Tracy Twyman, or every other occult practitioner involved in spiritism, really. This also extends to people involved in talking to the dead and demons through “spirit boxes.” Just go on Youtube and type in “Steve Huff” and “Mortis the Wizard” in the search bar to see what I’m talking about. I also recommend checking out Stacie Spielman’s work as well. Even Tracy’s past associate, Nicholas De Vere, couldn’t help but wonder as well, since according to Tracy’s account in Clock Shavings, where he asks her for a sample of her blood to test if she has “Dragon DNA” or royal genetics. She more than likely has some quite potent blood in her to channel such entities like Baphomet, Cain, and even Jesus. Now, would a Chinese guy using the Ouija board contact these beings? Perhaps, but who knows for sure?

Many people in conspiracy circles like David Icke have said that “Illuminati” elites have special bloodlines that allow reptilians that possess them and “shape-shift.” Shape-shifting is, in fact, a demonic trait that other Satanists have mentioned that occurs in morbid Satanic rituals, I’ve noticed as well. Then there’s the whole idea of the “Serpent bloodline” hinted in Genesis but expanded in apocrypha and even Gnostic literature, in which certain bloodlines originates to the Devil himself. Whatever the case may be, the blood seems to be an important and practical significance that also reoccurs in sacrificial rituals in all religions and the occult as well. Perhaps blood is given as a sacrifice to specific spirits and demons posing as gods or even God himself. This seems to be case with many instances of human sacrifice and war against the infidels and rival tribes that occur in the Old Testament and even the Koran.

Plato, Socrates and other Greek philosophers have often spoke about the “daimon” in that it is the innate spirit guide in man, which serves a protective force, advisor or even a “deified hero.” Explanations and characteristics given to the daimon indicate that this is sort of a higher genius of each man which guides the “eidolon” being lower carnal flesh body, in this world, in each successive incarnation. Perhaps this is the same idea in which demons exist in a symbiotic state in each individual. This is how those involved in witchcraft and shamanism like Quimbanda, Obeah, Santeria, and Brujería also describe themselves as “inheriting” the daemon while paying homage to specific guardian spirits in order to access a whole host of other spirits.

In one of the more interesting conversations with Baphomet, this Nephilim spirit tells Twyman about a board game called Ageio, the predecessor of chess, which describes the names of squares in the game. The names are in a foreign language, in which Baphomet said was in a long-lost and dead ancient language of Aryan. The Aryans originate in India. In another session, Cain reveals he was once a sorcerer-king of Eden that actually instigated the flood of Noah, which is the same event as the fall of Atlantis, as well as the fall of Eden. He did this because he wanted to destroy a rival lineage of warrior-kings that descended from his twin brother Abel called the “Dohir Kings.” Other fascinating details involve Cain as being one of the faces of the Black Sun, trapped in the underworld or hell. In the way Tracy describes Cain’s imprisonment in the underworld is quite interesting.

Moreover, Tracy Twyman supposedly contacted Jesus using the Ouija board. Jesus told her that the Dohir kings of the antediluvian world hid Noah’s Ark at a well. This Ark appears be a cube, and referred to as the New Jerusalem in Revelation, which is similar to the idea of the philosopher’s alchemical stone. Then there’s the other, black cube of Saturn, reflected in the hell, which is basically the same as the Kabba Stone of Islam and Foundation Stone of Jerusalem. Her discussion with Baphomet on the Apocalypse is particularly intriguing and fascinating as well and seem to confirm many stories and prophecies of the bible–that’s if you want to take it all seriously or literally. Tracy, in the last chapter, writes that Cain is trapped in the abyss, but is still, somehow “fed” by God.

Cain indicated that he fed on this “gum” to maintain his semblance of life. He said that God sends “BIRDS” down to feed him this stuff. Remember what Plutarch wrote of Saturn sleeping on his island: “… Birds fly down from the rock, which are ordained [by Jupiter] to carry ambrosia to him,” just as doves carry ambrosia to the Olympian gods. “Gum,” by the way, is a word that is traced back to Sumer, where, according to Stephen Bertman’s Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, it was called “shim‐gam‐gam‐ma.” Now compare Cain’s story about himself, and Plutarch’s story about how Saturn is nourished, with how Wolfram von Eschenbach’s says that the “Grail stone” of the hidden “Grail kingdom” received its nourishment, which it then had the ability to transmute into any kind of food that anyone in the kingdom desired, in abundant supply. Remember what is says in Parzival: that every year on Good Friday (the day Jesus’ blood was shed on the cross and fell onto the ground), a dove would come down from Heaven and places a small white wafer on the Grail stone, from which it got its power to produce food and other miracles in abundance out of nothing, including flesh.

The food from the stone is what gives everyone in the kingdom their perpetual youth (albeit with gray hair), and keeps the Fisher King alive despite continuously suffering from a grievous wound that acts up whenever Saturn is ascendant in the heavens. I assume that what is being implied here is that the blood of Christ is what feeds Saturn, the Stone, the King of underworld, and allows him to nourish the others who are there with him. Of course, this is what Jesus repeatedly offered to those who would follow him: the fruit of the “tree of life,” the “bread of heaven,” and the “living waters” to drink.

Perhaps these demons or spirits that exist inside human DNA also crave redemption through drinking the divine blood or heavenly DNA of Jesus, in order to prevent their ghastly fate in being thrown back into the abyss or the lake of fire. Or at least some do. According to many testimonies of exorcists, demons exist. I’m becoming more and more convinced that the beings responsible for the majority of paranormal phenomena we encounter on earth really are the fallen angels/archons. Humans exist as the spiritual battleground for souls. According to the Gospels, the devil and the fallen angels have reign over the earth, and they control/influence the major and minor events that take place here. Also, from my experiences and communications with the dark side, they genuinely despise Jesus. That’s the unifying theme I’ve noticed while communicating with spirits, in one form or another. They all hate Jesus. But if the bible is true, I can see why. Jesus was basically an otherworldly insurgent who infiltrated their territory, dethroned them, and weakened their influence, on this side of the fence. This is why those involved in Satanism particularly also hate and mock Jesus, as well.

Personally, I abandoned all secularist philosophies and became intently religious once I began dabbling and researching the occult, especially for the book Baphomet: The Temple Mystery Unveiled. It’s just sort of natural. You have an “oh shit” moment once you realize that it’s real. I had a lot of arm-chair knowledge about religion and the occult, but researching and doing are two entirely different beasts. Once you begin to put things into practice, you find out that it doesn’t really work the way that it’s portrayed in books and media. And perhaps Tracy realized this as well. In any case, I wholeheartedly recommend picking up Clock Shavings, because of its sheer uniqueness and authenticity of Tracy’s autobiographical account and discovery of the occult gnosis she’s gained with her seances. Expect more book reviews and book announcements in near future. Until next time. 

Book Review: Icons of Power: Ritual Practices in Late Antiquity

Icons of Power: Ritual Practices in Late Antiquity. By Naomi Janowitz. Magic in History Series. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002. xxviii + 161 pp. 

In Icons of Power: Ritual Practices In Late Antiquity, the author Naomi Janowitz explores the rich and dazzling power of ritual magic and theurgy throughout the ancient world in Jewish, Christian and Greek practices. She isn’t concerned with magic in general terms, but with specific practices of ancient cults, secret societies, Jewish and Christian mystics and Hermetic alchemists throughout the book such as chanting of heavenly liturgies to the utterance of barbarous, holy names, to the manipulation of magical amulets and the transformation of metals. I will quote specific passages in the book that jump out for my attention. In the first chapter, she makes it clear why magical practices were used in the first place, in the Introduction:

Some of these rituals presumed a vast cosmos with dizzying layers of heavens full of entourges of angels–the higher and farther away from earth and matter, the better. In this multiheavened cosmology, a trip upward was a means for traversing the cosmos and gaining access to the upper regions where the deity dwelt. Escape was the goal, escape from the bonds of earthly existence and life in the body, including fate, decay, and death.

In the first chapter, “Late Antique Theories of Efficacy”, Naomi goes on to describe these rituals (p. 1):

Paradoxically, rituals that claim to reveal divinity on earth can look to outsiders as if their purpose is to manipulate that same divine power. The difference is in the eye of the beholder. Similarly, distinguishing between the work of an angel and a daimon, between the work of good forces and evil forces is a subtle, if not impossible, task. (I am using the word “daimon” and not “demon” to emphasize that in Late Antiquity these beings were not always evil.)

Throughout the first chapter, Naomi makes some succinct observations in that Christians, Jews and Pagans all criticized one another as being secret practitioners of magic, in one form or another — whether it be the Jewish practice of fasting, Sabbath observance or animal sacrifice, or in that Christians practiced sorcery and Gnostic doctrines in a quasi-Masonic fashion, as Celsus writes in the True Doctrine:

Of associations some are public, and these are in accordance with the laws; others, again, secret, and maintained in violation of the laws; of this latter sort is Christianity. The Christians teach and practice their favorite doctrines in secret. They do this to some purpose, seeing they escape the penalty of death which is imminent; similar dangers were encountered by such men as Socrates for the sake of philosophy. Their “love-feasts” had their origin in the common danger, and are more binding than any oaths.

Such “love-feasts” are also heavily influenced by the cults of Dionysus and surrounding rumors of rapacious wine-fueled orgies of sex, murder and mayhem as Livy in Roman History exposes like a tabloid journalist.

Moving on, her discussion of theurgy brings up points that I’ve made in my previous post that touches on Iamblichus and Pophyry, when she writes (p. 5):

Rituals, Iamblichus explains, do not always make sense to humans, even to insiders, but they do make sense to the gods. The gods send down instructions to complete certain actions that look strange to humans but that “perfect” humans. These acts provide what the dialecticians lack in their investigation of divinity.

In her discussion of Iamblichus’s and Pophyry’s different stances on theurgy, she reveals that Iamblichus has much more negative view on such practices such as animating statues, earthly sympathies, idolatry and divination, which reveals his as Janowitz puts it “philosophical snobbery.” These are all merely human sciences while theurgy is not, but a “divine science.” This, I might add, is the same as Gnostic knowledge.

Janowitz also discusses Saint Augustine’s views on theurgy, which is the typical orthodox reaction against all forms of pagan “magic.” The orthodox believe that all magic, Right Hand Path or Left Hand Path, thaumaturgic or theurgic, is evil, because it relies on knowledge and the individual will rather than faith and God’s will. Theurgy for Augustine, is nothing but a clever con game of lying demons and attacks the heart of pagan ritual practice. Janowitz reveals that other Christian theologians like John Chrysostom advocated Christian rituals with words and prayers only.

Some magicians like Apollonius of Tyana did not even need prayers, sacrifices or even words to perform miracles, much like Jesus Christ, who relied entirely on his own innate divine powers while bringing down heaven to earth and driving out evil powers. Other philosophers and dialecticians like Plotinus dismissed external magical ritual and prayers altogether and ridiculed others, like the Gnostics for the sins of hissing, melodies, shrieks and barbarous magical chanting as well as telling myths of the fall of Sophia and the creation of the world and such. But Janowtiz also reveals that Plotinus himself only appears “rational” because he admits ignorance rather than engage in the telling of myths like the Gnostics do and his holy grail quest to be “god-like” and the realization of his “divine soul” is in actuality, irrational, by today’s materialist/secular standards. This is one of the better chapters in the book, IMHO. 

In Chapter 2, “The Divine name as Effective Language,” Jewish mysticism, the efficacy of words in the creation account of Genesis and the magical nation of the tetragrammaton YHWH is explored in great detail, with the “I am” proclamations and the like. She focuses more on Targums, rabbinic midrash and such to make her case. Janowitz rightly connects the creation of the world with the divine name itself, when she writes (p. 24):

The act of speaking created the world, and thereby the very possibility of speaking to the world. The “creativity” of all the other words and usages pales in comparison. All other creative speech is only secondary, reflected power that is dependent on the primal creative speech that established creation itself. Divine language sets the standard for creative power of language, and the most important word in the divine language is the name of the deity.

Janowitz also uses many instances in apocryphal works in how various Biblical patriarchs wielded the Divine Name like a sword in how King Solomon uses the Divine Name (Sabaoth specifically) to subdue and interrogate the demon Asmodeus with a magical ring as well as punishing the devil with the “fear of God” (The Testament of Solomon 24) or Moses, in killing an Egyptian with the Divine Name as described in Exodus Rabba 1.29. And yet the Divine Name could also reanimate life, such as the cases of medieval Kabbalists using it to raise the dead, or create a golem out of dead flesh or mud much like YHWH did with Adam in Genesis.

Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. – Job 1:21 (KJV)

Up next in Chapter 3, “Thinking With the Divine Name,” Janowitz explores the Christian interpretation of the Divine Name through the Catholic theologian Origen and Dionysus the Areopagite. In Origen, we find him defending the Christian usage of divine names against Celsus, especially when invoking Jesus Christ’s name to heal the sick and lame, cast out devils and perform other miracles as advocated in the New Testament. As Janowitz points out, Origen also refutes Celsus’s perennial sounding argument in that all the diverse names for God are universal and hence, refer to the same deity.

According to Origen, this argument was planted by daimons, who “attribute their own names to the Supreme God so that they may be worshiped as the Supreme God” (Exhortation to Martyrdom 46).

Janowitz goes on to discuss how the nature of the divine names in themselves are automatic and not restricted on the intention of the speaker, whether it be for good or ill such as prayer and studying and hearing holy scripture of both the NT and the OT vs. speaking a pagan god’s name like Zeus that would inadvertently summon a powerful daimon. The various names and prayers attributed to YHWH must be recited in Hebrew if they are to have any magical effect on the person, so says Origen. Origen also compares God’s proclamation of “Let there be light” of Genesis with the Prologue of the Gospel of John‘s “In the beginning was the word.” The “word” or Logos also has a creative faculty and is further expanded upon by later Gnostic and Valentinian texts and teachers like Theodotus, Ptolemy, and Heracleon’s rich and mystical commentaries. In fact, it is these Gnostic teachers that were the first to make extensive exegesis on Christian scripture, anticipating later Orthodox Catholic exegetes like Origen and Clement of Alexandria, who are simply reacting to much earlier tradition and smears it all as “heresy” and “heretics” (in reality they are the real heretics here). That’s the name of the Orthodox game, however. She does not mention any of these Gnostic figures but she does discuss Marcus the Magician in the next chapter.

Dionysus the Areopagite or Psuedo-Dionysus is a mysterious theological figure without a concrete identity who uses Neoplatonic cosmology and dresses it all up with Christian language. His take on the Divine Name is Apophatic (Negative Theology) in that God is so good and wonderful that He does not even have a name and is content in calling Him the “Nameless One.” This idea is very similar to how Gnostic texts like the Apocryphon of John describe God and the Pleroma in terms of what God isn’t. Hesitation in labeling Dionysus as a Gnostic, however, is quite strong in this case. Philo, Justin Martyr and the authors of the Corpus Hermeticum also make similar mystical statements. Dionysus also makes some fascinating comparisons between the Christian Eucharist and theurgy by insisting that those who partake of this Christian ritual are deified as a miracle from God.

In Chapter 4, “The Meaning of Letters: From Divine Name to Cosmic Sounds,” begins on building on the previous chapter. This is probably my favorite chapter. Here Janowitz discusses Marcus the Magician’s practices and secret knowledge that apparently he received from a female heavenly figure akin to Sophia as described by Irenaeus in Against the Heresies (1.14.1). Much of Marcus’s teachings expand upon on the Johannite Prologue of the Gospel of John and are also quite similar to Hebrew Kabbalist texts like the Book of Creation (Sefer Yetsira) which discuss the creation of the world through letters and numbersa comparison in which Janowitz explores in great detail. Although she does not mention this author, Andrei Orlav in Divine Scapegoats: Demonic Mimesis in Early Jewish Mysticism, makes similar but more in-depth arguments about Adoil from 2 Enoch being similar to the Word, in that they both jump-start the visible process of creation.

Marcus was also big on the practices of sacred geometry, gematria, and isospephia, all of which involve words and corresponding numbers, such as how Jesus Christ’s name equaling to 888, revealing the divine nature of his name and how it corresponds to the Ogdoad, the eighth realm of Sophia. Vowels for Marcus were also equated with the planets. The highest-level name is actually beyond mortal comprehension and cannot be uttered by mere humans. The next name that can be uttered, though is Jesus Christ. As mentioned by Irenaeus, a Gnostic Ophite practice also involves numbers in adding up the letters of names that equal less than 100 means that it is “material” and is thus lesser value. Anything more would obviously be more valuable. There’s a lot more to be said here, but reading the book would be the next best thing.

Chapter 5, “Using Names, Letters, and Praise: The Language of Ascent,” is mostly about ascension mysticism, in yet again, a Jewish context. In particular, Janowitz focuses on Hebrew hekhalot (palace) texts or merkabah (chariot) texts, which describe the heavenly realms, liturgies of the heavenly chorus, prays to call down angels such as the Prince of the Torah (i.e. Metatron), etc. The ancient accusation by Celsus that the Jews were “addicted to sorcery” and were “angel worshipers” is made clear in this chapter. The Books of Enoch depicts similar accounts where Enoch is taken a celestial tour of Heaven and Hell, respectively. She also compares these texts to the Mithras Liturgy, which also involves bodily transformation of a mortal into the immortal high heavens. Comparisons are also made to Celsus’ Ophites who show magical “symbols,” “seals,” or “icons” to the gatekeepers or archons as they pass through the levels of heaven as well as the Ascension of Isaiah, which tells a similar story. These symbols might be related to the various Gnostic amulets that feature mystical terms and images of “IAO” “Abrasax” and the like. Although she does not mention this text (she could have easily done so), the First Apocalypse of James is all about the ascent of the soul and the astral journey through the cosmic spheres and the confrontational dialogue with the archons.

Janowitz makes it clear that the heavenly ascent is done through the repetition of vowel sounds, divine names and heavenly liturgy (angelic cults envisioning being involved with the cherubim and seraphim singing praises to God) as discussed in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, of the Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls. To engage in such activities meant that the participant would become immortal by being granted the Divine Vision. Most convincing is her comparison with the Gnostic text Marsanes, with these Jewish texts. There are many hymns, silences, the invocation of names, and the vocalization of stringed vowels that only make sense in the context of theurgy.

Chapter Six, “Combining Words and Deeds Angelic Imprecations in the Book of Secrets,” continues on with Jewish mystical tradition; only this time, the focus is placed on a Jewish witchcraft text the Book of Secrets or the Book of Raziel. Janowitz rightfully compares it with the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM), as it has many practical spells — ranging everything from healing the sick, divining the future, influencing kings in your favor, binding yourself to a “great woman”, and speaking with the spirits, planets and stars. She has a very helpful table that lists all the spells in the book, too. Very nice. Instead of relying on demons or familiar spirits, the magician instead relies on angelic powers in legal oaths and pacts so that they may carry our your wishes and goals, which are often fueled by a personal and a financial drive for success.

Later in the chapter, Janowitz discusses how animal sacrifices in Judaism and other pagan religions are directed more towards lower spirits like the elementals, daimons and angels and not God, necessarily. This is why philosophers like Porphyry rejected animal sacrifice/the eating of meat and advocated vegetarianism because daimons or demons feed off of animal sacrifice. Origen and Celsus said the same thing where the daimons will even go as far as to steal a sacrifice made for a god or angel. It is interesting that both angels and demons are allured by the shed blood of the sacrifice — especially in context of both pagan Gentile sacrifice and Jewish-Israelite sacrifice as discussed by Origen in On the First Principles (1.8.1).

In fact, Jewish sacrifice is also very much intertwined with the “Divine Scapegoat” i.e. Azazel, who himself is a desert angelic demon or “serim”. Janowitz points out how many Rabbinic wizards throughout history have equated the sacrifice of a “scapegoat” for Azazel as a sacrifice to Satan, while we see Aaron in Leviticus 16:8 sacrifice “one” (a goat) for the Lord, and one for the “scapegoat” which is Azazel. Just as Jehovah makes a covenant or pact with Abraham and the children of Israel with shed blood, so does Azazel who also needs a contract, signed with blood with Israel as well. Although Janowitz does not mention this — stranger still, many church fathers throughout history have made several allusions and comparisons between Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and the fallen angel and prototype Baphomet, Azazel — a subject in which will be examined in a future post.

The last chapter, “Transformation by Deed Alone: The Case of Alchemy” takes a quite different turn than the rest of the book, which seems to be mostly concerned with Jewish magic. The transformation of metals and substances are focused on as she is mostly concerned with the Gnostic-Hermetist Zosimos’s writings. These writings are both allegorical as well literal in the sense that these ancient theories linked the ritual transformation of metals with the spiritual transformation of the adept himself: “By means of fire, the metal makes a dramatic progression upward to another type of existence, exactly as human bodies can” (p. 119). Sacrifices are also involved, but the sacrifice isn’t concerned with animals, but with the initiate himself. In Zosimos’s Visions, Zosimos falls asleep and dreams that he walks seven steps of fleshy mortification that leads to the krater or altar shaped bowl with boiling water of wisdom.

The priest being Zosimos, is both the sacrifice and the sacrificer, as he learns that “casting off the body’s coarseness, and, consecrated by necessity” means that the priest has become “spirit.” Various metals like copper and silver are applied to men as one copper man has “his eyes turned to blood and he vomited up all his flesh. And I saw him as a mutilated image of a little man and he was tearing at his flesh and falling away.” Such ghastly and hellish visions that come straight out of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser or Dante’s Inferno relate to the state of Nigredo, the judgement and descent of the soul into Hell or Hades. This stage of the Second Death is necessary if the metallic souls are to reach their most purified state — the state of spirit and Gold, which is the rebirth.

It all relates directly to rebirth as described in Corpus Hermeticum XIII (with the 12 tormentors of the zodiac which must be transcended), as well as the symbolic cup or krater of Knowledge in Corpus Hermeticum IV (where the enlightened ones immersed themselves in). 
He filled a great mixing bowl with it and sent it below, appointing a herald whom he commanded to make the following proclamation to human hearts: “Immerse yourself in the mixing bowl if your heart has the strength, if it believes you will rise up again to the one who sent the mixing bowl below, if it recognizes the purpose of your coming to be.” All those who heeded the proclamation and immersed themselves in mind participated in knowledge and became perfect people because they received mind.

Zosimos’s recipes of cooking and transforming metals illustrate as Janowitz writes, that there is no big enough gulf to separate the grossness of the flesh with the highest spirit of heaven. In our book Baphomet: The Temple Secret Unveiled, Tracy and I go into Zosimos’ literature and how it all relates to the Holy Grail and the bizarre and disturbing rituals of the Knights Templar as well.

Her “Concluding Note” chapter attempts to synthesize all of the materials addressed in the book. Her primary focus on Jewish temple ritual and domestic and consultant magic spells is apparent while the extraneous addition of Zosimos’s work is somewhat jarring and doesn’t exactly fit with the rest of the book. At the same time, it doesn’t necessarily detract from her work either. It would have served her case better if she had made more comparisons with Gnostic texts in comparison with all of the Jewish mystical traditions that she certainly succeeds in analyzing. In fact, Zosimos’s alchemical work may be successfully compared to many sections of the Apocryphon of John, a Sethian Gnostic text. It illustrates how much Hermetism and Gnosticism were more than likely part of the same milieu or tradition. In any case, Janowitz is successful in bringing all these diverse magical traditions of the ancient world together with a careful and analytical eye. I would have to concur with David Frankfurter’s concluding words in his review of Icons of Power:

While it may leave the reader craving more explanation, more thoroughness in the ideas, Icons of Power captures a fascinating element of late antique ritual speculation, in which certain words, written or spoken, were imagined as connected intrinsically to the Divine and therefore subject to efficacious manipulation or utterance.

In a future post, we will explore an even more controversial book, Jesus the Magician by Morton Smith.