Aleister Crowley

Although this novel lacks the cohesiveness of The Diary of a Drug Fiend, there are several amusing facets to it. Cyril Grey is a very Crowleyesque “magician” who persuades Lisa la Giuffria to bear the Moonchild. Feuding orders of magicians litter the scene and provide a great satire of many of the people in the Golden Dawn whom Crowley scorned. These bits of satire are reason enough to read the entire book, especially his description of William Butler Yeats, whom Crowley detested and felt was a horrible poet (horrible, despite the fact that Crowley himself wrote reams of truly bad poetry). Another interesting section provides insight into the use of correspondences in the practice of ritual magic. As Lisa gestates, she is surrounded with everything associated with the moon. “She lived almost entirely upon milk, and cream, and cheese soft-curdled and mild, with little crescent cakes made of rye with the whiteness of egg and cane sugar; as for meat, venison, as sacred to the huntress Artemis, was her only dish.” As might be expected for anyone with such a bland and unvaried diet, nothing much interesting happens to Miss la Giuffria, not that anything much could as Crowley insists on reminding us that women's minds are “mob rule.” To the general relief of the reader, the characters part and go their separate ways, which is about the only satisfying conclusion to this unresolved work. MM

Publisher: Weiser
Paperback: 336 pages

The Secret Medicine of the Pharaohs

Cornelius Stetter

This historical study deals with all facets of the medical field in ancient Egypt. Stetter discusses the societal role doctors played and their place in the Egyptian court. There is much information on the treatment of bodies after death including embalming, entombment and the corresponding myths that accompanied them. Mundane medical treatments including dentistry are also covered. Stetter describes how the ancient Egyptians viewed the body, their ideal of health and the medicines and unusual implements they used. All the information is fully annotated and primary sources are translated and quoted. With many color photographs, this book is an insightful historical study. MM

Publisher: Quintessence
Paperback: 184 pages

The Book of Splendours

Eliphas Levi

This book and its companion volume, The Great Secret, comprise the last works of Levi. Born Alphonse Luis Constant in 1810, Levi’s enthusiasm for religion and scholarly pursuits was so great that he entered the seminary at 25 to pursue the priesthood. Although ordained a deacon, he abandoned the goal of priesthood upon realizing his inability to accept celibacy. His career as a scholar and writer brought him greater notoriety as one of the architects of the 19th-century occult revival in France and England. His Dogme et Ritual de la Haute Magie and Histoire de la Magie inspired the work of countless other authors, including Waite’s turgid prose and Crowley’s humorous word-play. The Book of Splendours has as its first part Levi’s commentary on the Zohar, a 13th-century work of Jewish mysticism, by Moses de Leon. Levi effortlessly weaves into his narrative the Hiramic legend of masonry and Krishna. He continues the tradition of a syncretic view of the Kabbalah seen in earlier works of Mirandola and Ruechlin. That view of the Kabbalah, which blends Judaism, Christianity and the pantheons of several polytheistic systems, is perhaps now better known than the historical Kabbalah written of by Gershom Scholem and Moshe Idel. This book remains a lasting testament to Levi’s influence in shaping contemporary occultism. MM

Publisher: Weiser
Paperback: 191 pages

The Kabbala

Erich Bischoff

This reprint of the 1910 publication by Bischoff is one of the most concise and clear books on the Kabbalah. Written in a straightforward question-and-answer style, Bischoff outlines the history of Jewish mysticism from its legendary formation by Moses and its more realistic beginnings in the 1st century A.D. to its adoption by Christian Kabbalists during the Renaissance. Instead of dwelling on the Kabbalah’s more popular role in ritual magic, he discusses the different philosophic and theological strands of the Kabbalah and at what times they developed. The Sepher Yetzirah was written in the 9th or 10th century A.D., whereas Moses de Leon’s landmark mystical work the Zohar was written in the 13th century. The doctrine of the Sephiroth was promulgated by Rabbi Isaac the Blind in the year 1200. The notion of transmigration of souls is discussed and compared with Buddhist and Greek philosophy. These details do much to illustrate the slow and gradual development of Jewish mysticism. The last chapter outlines magic and the Kabbalah and is illustrated with many interesting magic squares and amulets. MM

Publisher: Newcastle
Paperback: 96 pages

The Spear of Destiny

Trevor Ravenscroft

Of the handful of books which cover the relationship between the occult and its influence on Nazi Germany, this one remains one of the most thoroughly entertaining accounts. The description of a desperate and frustrated young Adolf in Vienna gazing raptly at the Spear of Longinus at the Hofburg Museum between artistic bouts of creating kitschy, sentimental watercolors is priceless. Better still is his victorious re-entry into the city in order to claim the mystic relic, which supposedly was the spear which pierced Jesus’ side. And then there is the strange Thule Gesellschaft, the pseudo-magical order which Ravenscroft says initiated Hitler into the occult; Karl Haushofer’s strange brand of geopolitics; the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion; Himmler’s occult SS bureau; black magic-homeopathy and Wagnerian imagery aplenty. Yes, this book reads like a novel, or better yet like some Indiana Jones adventure, with Rudolph Steiner as its hero… Despite the overblown, gee-whiz quality of the book, it is an intriguing illustration of just how popular the idea of personal identification with race was before World War II. Ravenscroft’s fast-paced narrative does have a good bibliography, but don’t expect this to be a scholarly tome. MM

Publisher: Weiser
Paperback: 400 pages

The Archaic Revival: Speculations on Psychedelic Mushrooms, the Amazon, Virtual Reality, UFOs, Evolution, Shamanism, the Rebirth of the Goddess, and the End of History

Terence McKenna

“The mushroom states its own position very clearly. It says, 'I require the nervous system of a mammal. Do you have one handy?'”—The Archaic Revival.
Railing as he does against what he terms the “dominator” religion, McKenna might be amused to discover that he has much in common with Augustine of Hippo, especially in regard to the latter's Enchidirion. Both believe that your average Joe, working either in the fields or in the office, have neither the time nor the inclination to seek out those mystical experiences that transforms one's self. The answer for Augustine is the Catholic Church, which imparts a highly regulated organized religion to give benefit to even the most ill-equipped of mystics. For McKenna the answer is his “archaic revival” of shamanic methods using an equally regulated and organized method of ingesting psychedelic drugs. Of course, the application of drugs will no more lead to a person becoming a mystic than the application of a clarinet will lead to a nascent musician playing Carnegie Hall. This McKenna obviously realizes and therefore advocates the use of these drugs only in certain situations. He certainly frowns upon using his sacrament in any way that would be deemed “recreational” or even “fun.” Dosages recommended are so high, such as five dried grams of psilocybin mushrooms, that McKenna describes them as “ego flattening”—this is the only result worth pursuing in the application of these elicit hallucinogenic plants and chemicals. The most interesting part of the book is his first-hand research on the use of certain drugs employed in the Amazon basin. MM

Publisher: Harper San Francisco
Paperback: 267 pages

Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge

Terence McKenna

The thesis of Food of the Gods basically states that the psilocybin mushroom is the missing link in the evolution of human consciousness and the basis for all religions. The use of drugs is generally not discounted in the formation of ancient rites like those in Eleusis, but what is most frustrating in this book is McKenna's stubborn refusal to cite any primary historical sources in his text. Some of his conclusions lack the solid ground they need to survive. Some of his more specious ideas—such as, psilocybin mushrooms are from alien intelligences in outer space—can only be accepted as highly stylized metaphors. While McKenna claims to support only the use of plant drugs like the mushroom, etc., and disdains the use of chemical substances like LSD and MDMA, he still avidly advocates DMT. The same contradictory notions are also found in his contempt for all he terms “New Age” and for gurus. His belief that everyone should be self-reliant for their spirituality is commendable, but McKenna's self-styled “archaic revival,” with its embracing of the mother goddess and aliens from outer space, appears too much like the work of other New Age manqués for this reviewer’s comfort. MM

Publisher: Bantam
Paperback: 311 pages

Plant Intoxicants: A Classic Text on the Use of Mind-Altering Plants

Baron Ernst Von Bibra

This book, originally published in 1855, provides a wonderful glimpse into commonly used drugs before the era of mass drug hysteria either in the prohibition or the advocacy of drug use. Bibra was a Bavarian nobleman whose family fortunes were on the decline. He had written several books on chemistry and art history before traveling to South America. After his journey he wrote Plant Intoxicants and Travels in South America, becoming more famous for the latter work. Most of the intoxicants he covers are drugs used by people every day such as coffee, tea, Paraguayan tea (yerba maté), chocolate, guarana, betel nuts and tobacco. The illegal drugs most people associate with “plant intoxicants” fill up a smaller portion of the book, covering coca, hashish and opium as well as khat. The chapters on each of the substances provide scientific information on the plant and its effects as well as cultural examples of it use throughout the world and information on everyday plant intoxicants which many of us take for granted. MM

Publisher: Healing Arts
Paperback: 228 pages

Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers

Richard Evans Schultes and Albert Hoffman

This is an excellent survey of the historical and current use of hallucinogenic plants by indigenous people around the world. The first section of the book outlines the many different plants (far more than one might imagine) that are employed for their hallucinogenic properties, in order to heal or bring about altered states of consciousness in religious ceremonies. A complete plant lexicon is provided with color illustrations and also a geographic analog showing the regions where they can be found. Subsequent sections focus on specific plants such as the amanita mushroom and ayahuasca plant. Historical examples are given of the use of ergot and belladonna in Western Europe, among others. There are many contemporary examples such as the Fang cult of Bwiti who employ the iboga plant and the Kamsa tribe of Columbia use of the borrachero tree. The book is as insightful and entertaining as anthropology as it is as a study of hallucinogenic plants, and is lushly illustrated with plants, 3-D molecular models, photographs and maps. MM

Publisher: Healing Arts
Paperback: 192 pages

Pirate Utopias: Moorish Corsairs and European Renegadoes

Peter Lamborn Wilson

Imagine a world where, instead of being ruthless thieves of the high seas with no scruples, prone to carrying off others to work in bondage, pirates were rebellious sorts who consciously shunned the traditional European world with its stratified class system. This is the world Wilson depicts, and surprisingly it is ours. Wilson very successfully proves his case that pirates were consciously bucking the system. Pirates had their own Moorish republic of Sale, an Ottoman protectorate, where instead of having to languish like the downtrodden masses, they could rise to a position of wealth and prestige through their ability to survive. “In theory—and for the most part even in practice—a recruit rose up through the ranks at the rate of one every three years. If he survived long enough, he’d serve as commander in chief… All this had nothing to do with “merit” but with time served. The lowliest Albanian slaveboy or peasant lad from the Anatolian outback, and the outcast converted European captive sailor, could equally hope one day to participate in government—simply by staying alive and serving the ‘Corsair Republic’… “ Many pirate captives joined their captors, renounced their Christian faith and embraced Islam. Wilson supports his central thesis well with plenty of documentation, which includes many accounts from primary sources. This is a delightfully well-written gem of a history which pulls apart the pirate myth and reveals something new and wondrous. MM

Publisher: Autonomedia
Paperback: 208 pages