Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Book of Azazel: The Grimoire of the Damned by E. A. Koetting

Nephilim Press 2012. 184 Pages. Octavo. Black and White Illustrations. Text in black & red.

Available in two editions:

Limited edition: Cloth-bound hardcover. Limited to 666 copies. Sold out at publisher.

Special Reserve edition: Full leather. Limited to 77 copies. Sold out at publisher.

The Book of Azazel is a quick but fascinating read. In some ways it reminds me of earlier grimoires in that it includes first-hand accounts from the author, including ritual preparation, magical results, and his relationship with spirits. Rather than being a simple laundry list of spells or tables of correspondences, the author includes a great deal of objective analysis of his workings. I found this to be remarkably refreshing. It is fairly common for occult authors to mention their magical successes and failures, and leave it at that -- like some kind of score card. Less commonly do authors dig deeper and analyze the mechanics behind their results to get a bigger picture of what is actually going on.

Mr. Koetting keeps a very open mind when discussing his relationship with spirits, particularly the spirit Azazel. I have found it is often temping for practitioners to become somewhat narrow-sighted when developing a relationship with a particular spirit. Some allow the spirit to become such a monumental part of their life that they slowly become slavish worshipers or begin to form unhealthy and parasitic bonds. The author comes close to the latter, but wisely steps away from the precipice before it is too late. This is most likely due to the authors experience and his overall philosophy regarding magic. Mr. Koetting appears to be from the "All is mind" school of thought. I believe this is a healthy perspective, as it allows the practitioner a clear and objective view of how he/she is linked to the cosmos; ergo, what seems to be outside phenomena may actually be a representation of an inner process. In contrast, those who believe in literal & external angels and demons are thereby forced to react to them within a literal framework. This can be somewhat limiting and problematic, to say the least.

The author wisely chooses to keep the concept of what is "real" very ambiguous. Mr. Koetting states, "The demon is given form by the ritual of evocation, and such a form is dictated by processes running as an undercurrent in the human consciousness." He believes, "there is no difference between the imaginal and the real, or the spiritual and the physical."

The Book of Azazel is in many ways a memoir detailing Mr. Koetting's dealings with the spirit Azazel, in particular the pact he made with said spirit. Like most memoirs, it includes a fair amount of personal details about the author's life and experiences. He presents his communication with Azazel in a particularly novel way: Throughout the book Azazel's words are printed in red. This lends a bit of a dramatic flair that seems perfectly suited for the tone and format of this work. Mr. Koetting describes the communication as being received telepathically, an almost instant impression on his mind of what the spirit is saying. I have heard numerous magicians describe spirit communication in a very similar way. Often words and images are flashed upon the mind in a brilliant instant, sometimes before the question is even finished, as if the spirit exists independent of time (which is likely the case). Some of Azazel's remarks are lengthy, so I can only assume the author is paraphrasing the spirit at times, unless he has a remarkable memory.

The midsection of the book, "The Grimoire of Legions", includes a list of demons along with their respective sigils. These are the spirits who work under Azazel and are divided between three houses: Anatel, Retzael, and Malkash. One part of the book that stands out in particular is the author's comment regarding how earlier grimoires seem to reflect the class structure of the times. For example, various demons have titles like 'Duke', 'Prince' or 'Knight'. Obviously this is an artifact of the Medieval mind, a hierarchical system that would have been familiar to them. The author postulates that said titles may not be very accurate -- more of a quaint relic -- as many believe that spirits operate within a dimension (or psyche) completely unlike our physical world. Thus societal constructs and terms like 'Archduke' seem ridiculous to the modern mind when applied to the realm of spirit. One can see similar hierarchies in Enochian magic. A modern practitioner may want to consider looking at spirits as being more fractal in nature -- each minor spirit containing all the information of the whole -- rather than a literal chain of command. The author, understanding this and seeking clarification, asks Azazel, "Explain the Infernal Hierarchy to me." 

Azazel responds, "The Infernal Hierarchy is as follows: The Operator; and everything else in existence."

This is a very post-modern perspective. It follows one of the main tenets behind Quantum Physics, that the observer is the key to decoding the universe so that it may be experienced or understood either intuitively or physically.

In the latter part of the work the author includes a number of ritual for working with demons listed and methods for preparing one's body for working with spirits. The author includes a number of personal accounts where he describes trying a number of mind-body exercise techniques. Some worked well for him, others not. He concludes that Ashtanga Yoga was the best method for him to prepare his body for direct spirit contact. 

The final section includes a series of evocation techniques designed to make spirits visible. By "visible" the author means in the 'mind's eye' or through the assistance of thick incense and imaginal thinking. As many reading this will know, this is an age-old technique. The theory is that entities can use the smoke to enshroud their forms (or energy fields) making them slightly visible. Parapsychologists use a similar technique using Van de Graff generators to super-charge a room with ambient energy to theoretically provide energy for an apparition to manifest -- ghost fuel, one might say. 

The other theory is that forms are seen via the brain's imaginative power, a process called 'matrixing' -- basically interpreting recognizable shapes in clouds. Either way, it is a valuable method for tapping into one's subconscious, or Jung's idea of collective unconsciousness.

Now for the book itself:

In this review I will be commenting on the 'Special Reserve Edition'. This edition is the first deluxe edition published by Nephilim Press. While is it a relatively modest production, it is nevertheless an impressive start for the publishing house. Subsequent deluxe editions from Nephilim Press have been even more impressive, such as the Funerary Templar edition of Keys of Ocat by S. Connolly, which is beautifully bound and includes a bag of bones for divination.  

The Book of Azazel is bound in full black leather (bonded leather, I believe). The leather is very smooth, with only the faintest grain, lending a very sleek and contemporary presentation. It has no noticeable scent. The cover is appropriately blocked in gold with the symbol known as "The Goetic Circle of Pacts", aka, "The Circle of Demonic Pacts" from The Grand Grimoire. Unfortunately, the spine is left blank and without title or publishers mark, a feature I feel would have benefited the book greatly. When one has a number of books on their shelf with blank spines it becomes difficult to locate particular works. It should be noted that subsequent deluxe editions from Nephilim Press have included titles on their spines. Endpapers are solid black, as are the head/tail bands. The book includes a red ribbon bookmark. Pages are light cream colored (a nice shade that is easy on the eye) and of moderate weight. Type is clear and sharp, including the aforementioned red text. Stamped limitation number.

Now for the most interesting and unique part of this book...  

From the publisher:

"The internals of the Special Reserve Edition are the same as the Limited edition but there is also something extra. Information has been distributed throughout the pages of the book that is invisible to the human eye. It can be seen, but the owners of the book will have to figure out how to view it. This was done for two reasons. The information is hidden to prevent those who would try to use it without truly understanding its power from causing harm to themselves and, as this book is talismanic, to prevent the book itself from being corrupted by “things” that would seek to use its inherent power against the owner."

Indeed there is hidden information within this book. Read below to find out how it can be accessed. Or if you prefer to discover the book's secrets on your own stop reading here.

*spoiler alert*

Additional information has been cleverly added to The Book of Azazel through the use of invisible ink that can only be seen under a black light. Each copy has a dozen or so pages spaced throughout the book containing hand-drawn astrological symbols, Hebrew letters, and various sigils. Some appear to be planetary hours for evocation. Others I will leave to the reader to decipher their meaning. I should note that because of the ghostly nature of the ink, some symbols can be a little difficult to read.

Black light box (short and long wave)
I used a black light box (see above photo), but any black light should do the trick. My apologies for the poor quality of the low-light images.

In conclusion, The Book of Azazel is a striking example of a post-modern grimoire. It is my hope that elements of this book will serve as a model for other contemporary works of magic, particularly the willingness to experiment and attempt something that has never been done within occult publishing. The use of invisible ink is truly a wonderful idea. It continues a long tradition of hiding knowledge in plain sight. In the past, secret knowledge was protected via intentional blinds or coded within symbolic imagery. Today we have invisible ink to hide it from the eyes of the profane. I hope this book inspires other writers and publishers to push boundaries and experiment with what the 21st century has to offer.