Sunday, March 30, 2014

Black Magic Evocation of the Shem Ha Mephorash by G. de Laval

Aeon Sophia Press 2013. 246 pages. Octavo. Black and white illustrations with one page full-color. Text in black & red.

Available in three editions:

Standard Edition: Quarter leather and silk moire. Limited to 200 copies.

Deluxe Edition: Full leather. Limited to 50 copies.

Devotee Edition: Full goatskin. Limited to 23 copies (11 with custom wooden box, 12 without).

Black Magic Evocation of the Shem Ha Mephorash is published by a relatively new esoteric press, Aeon Sophia Press. In only a couple years their output has been tremendous, over 9 titles and two journals (The 13th Path forthcoming). I have spoken to the press' proprietor, Mr. Boomsma, on a number of occasions. He strikes me as a very earnest, enthusiastic, and dedicated person -- exactly what one needs to be in the small press. The press generally caters to so-called 'Left-Hand-Path' works, though the press has shown how wide this sub-genre can be by publishing works ranging from practical grimoires to qliphotic poetry. The title reviewed here falls into the former category.

Another note on Aeon Sophia Press before I continue with the review: Aeon Sophia Press has experienced some of the common problems that seem to plague the small press; namely, delays, mailing mishaps, printing/binding errors, etc. These are unfortunate setbacks that all small press publishers experience -- none are immune. Learning from experience, Mr. Boomsma has made some wise business decisions to prevent some of these trade hazards. He has recently decided to only accept pre-orders for books that are close to being in-stock. I must say, this is a bold and risky decision, as many (dare I say most) small presses fund their publications with money gathered though pre-orders, or at least partially. Of course this requires a significant investment on his part, a professional gamble, if you will.

His decision will likely reduce the waiting time for his customers significantly. Speedy delivery is one of the reasons Amazon is so successful. Unusually long waits & delays are the most common irritations I hear from readers. It is not uncommon to wait years for books to be published (books already paid for). In such cases customers are essentially offering interest-free loans to the press. Now, I know this is part of the trade and a mostly unavoidable, if unfortunate, consequence of small press publishing. However, many readers and collectors new to the small press world find it vexing, as many are used to the instant gratification that large mass-market publishers provide. They grow impatient having to wait for extended periods of time, and sometimes they cancel their orders out of frustration.

My advice to such people is to be patient. These are not assembly-line books (especially fine bindings), and if one believes in magical timing or fate, perhaps the reader was not meant to get the book immediately, but rather at a time better suited for the reader and more relevant to their current circumstances. For example, some years ago I received a book that had been significantly delayed -- almost a year, if I recall. After reading it I was thankful for the late arrival. You see, I had gleaned information from a book I had read just prior to this one that had widened my knowledge on a particular subject. The current book covered similar ground. Had I not read the earlier book first certain important elements of the current book would have been overlooked or misunderstood. I am sure many of you have had similar experiences. Sometimes the order in which we absorb knowledge is crucial.

Another example: there is a certain book (that shall go unnamed) that I pre-ordered over a year and a half ago. Rather than flood the publisher with emails about the book's status I instead wait patiently knowing the book will arrive when the time is right. There are plenty of other titles to read in the meantime. I have found over the years that this is how magical books work; they find their way into one's hands when they are most needed. Granted there are reasonable limits to how long one should wait. I once waited over four years for a certain title. I finally decided to use my payment as credit towards other titles from the press. The status of that particular book still remains in limbo over five years later. Yes, there have been publishers known to 'take the money and run', but this is very rare. Aeon Sophia Press has decided to side-step this problem altogether by selling in-stock (or nearly in-stock) books only. I hope this business model proves successful for them. It is certain to create happy and loyal customers.

Now onto the book...

Black Magic Evocation of the Shem Ha Mephorash is a practical guide for invoking/evoking the 72 angels of the Shem Ha Mephorash. The 72 angelic names are derived from the book of Exodus, chapter 14, verses 19-21. Each of the three passages contain 72 Hebrew letters totaling 216, the secret name of Creation. When arranged in three rows one can obtain the Hebrew trigrammatons for the 72 angels of the Shem Ha Mephorash. Each angel is an aspect of the greater whole, or specific "energy current", and has its own positive and negative counterparts, like different sides of the same coin. When working with the benefic angels one adds the suffix 'El' (אֵל - meaning 'might of God) or 'Yah' (יָה - meaning 'mercy of God') to create a five-lettered holy name. This work deals primarily with the malefic angels which are signified by their three-lettered names, sans the divine power attribute 'El' or 'Yah'. These are the qliphotic shells, the negative aspects of the angels of the Shem Ha Mephorash. This book is a compendium of those angels' attributes, seals, and various correspondences: planetary,elemental, numerical, magical timing, and tarot associations.

The work begins with Qabalistic commentary and an explanation of the Shem Ha Mephorash. This work is aimed at moderately experienced readers; beginners may find it difficult to follow.The author assumes the reader has some working knowledge of Qabalah and Hebrew. It follows with some personal commentary by the author regarding the nature of magic. I found this part particularly interesting, though I partly disagree with some of the author's opinions. For example, the author posits the book on one central premise, stating:
"Generally speaking, all magick is black. The entirety of our art is condemned in part and in whole by the entirety of orthodoxy. All magick is the domain of the Devil by definition."
To back up this claim the author supplies age-old quotes from the Bible (Deuteronomy 18:10), the Koran (Al Baqarah 102), and the Zohar (1:5) damning witches and necromancers for practicing magic. I find this statement rather odd and démodé. A few pages later the author states, "...all magick is diabolical." Surely we've moved beyond all this. Why allow the attitudes of ancient religious texts to define us today? I do not see how one can possibly benefit from allowing one's detractors to define who they are. Imagine if biologists referred to their work professionally as a anti-creationist research, because that is how they are sometimes stigmatized by many religious people. So why allow archaic attitudes to judge witches and magicians and characterize one's practice? Especially considering religious texts seem to be of two minds concerning this matter. Was it not three magi (magicians) who were present at the birth of Christ? They are seen as great and wise, not practitioners of black magic. To further illustrate biblical mixed messages regarding this matter, let us recount the story of Saul who drives out all the magicians and necromancers from Israel, yet later seeks out divinations from the Witch of Endor.

I realize we're dealing with biblical subject matter here. Therefore I was willing to view the work within that historic context, that is, from an early Judeo-Christian point of view, contradictory as it is. However, soon after the author begins using contemporary terminology and references modern theories, stating.
"...she then begins to charge the Hebrew name as a living egregore with the memetic energy she has collected from previous interaction with the angel. ...
 Not to mention modern adages of Chaos Magic and Thelema respectively,
"We together are on the left-hand-path where nothing is true and everything is permitted."
"Do As Thou Wilt, shall be the whole of the law."
So which is it? Are we to maintain a Judeo-Christian mindset and view biblical statements as, well, gospel -- that all magic is heresy, and angels are literal celestial beings? Or are we to approach magic from a contemporary mindset where angels are Jungian archetypes and post-modern thought-forms? If we are allowed to view magic through a modern lens, are we also allowed to disregard outmoded ideas, especially if "nothing is true and everything is permitted"? It appears so, as the author states, "creativity is encouraged" and terms "are not be mistaken for dogma". But if we're going down the path of Chaos Magic then all magic could just as easily be pink.

The author muddies the waters further by stating,
"Specifically speaking, there are different types of magical practice, and the term "Black Magick" is a term that is used in this book to denote a specific practice in contrast to other practices."
And this paradoxical statement,
"So to the advanced witch, the "black and "white" descriptors are irrelevant. There is only magick, raw black chaotic power of the untapped mind..." 
So magic is neither "black" nor "white"... but it's still black? Are we talking color or morality? Or is it the practice that denotes its moral polarity? This is a minor point, but you can see where this can get confusing. The author continues by providing an interesting categorization of magic which is as follows:

  • Aeonic Magic -- Magic involving time
  • Vampiric Magic -- Predatory magic 
  • Spherical Magic -- Astrological/Planetary Magic
  • Lunar Magic -- Magic involving the phases of the moon
  • Black Magic -- Imbalanced, destructive, & demonic magic
 I find the ways in which people choose to categorize, compartmentalize, and classify magic extremely interesting. One can understand a lot about how authors think by the way they break down magic into various 'schools'. For example, Paracelsus (1493-1541) divided up magic into six categories, collectively called the Artes Sapientiae (Arts of Wisdom), in his Philosophia sagax (1536):
  • Insignis Magica -- The interpretation of natural signs.
  • Magia Transfigurativa -- The magic of transformation and transmutation.
  • Magia Caracterialis -- The use of curative power-words and signs.
  • Gamaheos -- Carving astral constellations on precious stones to grant magical powers.
  • Altera in Alteram -- Crafting charms and talismans to heal or harm.
  • Ars Cabalistica -- The art of soul journeying, telepathy, scying, and psychometry.
Paracelsus saw all magic as natural forces which were not yet completely understood rather than the dominion of the Devil. 

Furthermore, Robert Fludd (1574-1637) divided magic into five types:
  • Natural Magic -- Dealing with the mystical properties of natural substances.
  • Mathematical Magic - What we call the sciences today.
  • Venific Magic - The crafting of potions, philters, and poisons.
  • Necromantic Magic - Pact making with goetic spirits and the spirits of the dead.
  • Thaumaturgic Magic - The art of illusion and deception.

The author continues with an interesting explanation about the difference between invocation and evocation. According to the author,
"In their angelic forms, the spirits are drawn down from realms of the super-conscious self, from the higher sephiroth into conscience interaction; this is called invocation and is a receptive art, similar to prayer or supplication."
"In their demonic forms, the spirits are drawn upwards towards interaction with the conscious mind from the realms of the subconscious and shadow self, the place of fears, phobias, unresolved conflict, and the gateways to the spheres of the qliphoth and the eleven hells thereof. This is known as evocation, drawing up, and is an active art, similar to exorcism whereby the spirits are adjured into obedience by the use of protective seals and talismans. An angel invoked has evoked the magickian. A demon evoked has invoked the magickian."
This is a slightly different definition than to what some may be accustomed. Generally speaking, most people see invocation as summoning spirits internally, such as taking on god-forms. In contrast, evocation is to summon a spirit externally, like into a magic circle. In Magic, Book 4, Crowley explains the difference as,
"To 'invoke' is to 'call in', just as to 'evoke' is to 'call forth'. This is the essential difference between the two branches of Magick. In invocation, the macrocosm floods the consciousness. In evocation, the magician, having become the macrocosm, creates a microcosm."

The author does a superb job in describing how to actually use the angels and their correspondences. This is something that is commonly lacking in many magic books; authors often supply the 'why' and 'what' but not the 'how'. G. de Laval explains exactly how each angel (both good and bad) has a corresponding planet, element, time, and tarot card. As an example the author uses the 35th spirit, KOUQEL/KUQ, (Qoph Vav Kaph -כוק) -- also the angelic name found on the cover of the book. KOUQEL cooresponds to 'Water of Mars', and the three tarot cards The Moon, Heirophant, and Wheel of Fortune. It can be assumed that KOUQEL was chosen specifically, as 35 reduces to eight, which represents success, money, power, and influence -- things all writers hope to achieve through their books. 

The book follows with suggestions on how to design one's altar, recommended ceremonial clothes, candles, tools, incense, etc. The rest of the book is devoted to each of the 72 individual spirits. This part, the majority of the book, is a feast of information. It is a goldmine for practitioners looking to work with the shadow side of the Shem Ha Mephorash. Extensive information is given on each spirit, as well as brilliant cross-cultural observations. For example, the author compares the three Ma'aloth spirits, led by HAQAMYAH, to the Germanic Valkyries and the Greek Furies. The Peniynim spirits, led by MENAQEL, representing feebleness associated with age, are compared to the Yoruban spirit Babalu-Aye, a powerful orisha often represented as a limping old man who walks with a cane. Both also have associations with illness, death, and resurrection.

The author provides a wealth of clear and useful tables in the book's appendices. These include: numerological, elemental, planetary, color, and herbal correspondences of the Shem Ha Mephorash; the Hebrew alphabet and each letters' tarot association; Planetary Demons; Demons of the Lunar Witching Week, Tables of Magical Months/Days/Weeks/Hours & a Weekly Table of Planetary Hours. The charts are well organized and designed, easy to understand, and include text in both black and red. The book concludes with a bibliography that will serve readers well if they would like to explore the subject further.

Now the book itself:

For this review I will be reviewing the Deluxe Edition. Unfortunately for me, the publisher decided to publish an even more lavish edition, the Devotee Edition (full goatkin and custom wooden box -- see pic below), after I had already ordered and received the Deluxe Edition. I saw little reason to own two copies of the same book. A similar situation occurred with Michael Cecchetelli's book, The Book of Abrasax. It is my hope that publishers will announce all planned editions at once or offer the option to upgrade one's copy by exchanging the lesser edition for the greater and paying the difference, so as to avoid customer disappointment.

Devotee Edition. Image Credit Aeon Sophia Press

The Deluxe Edition of Black Magic Evocation of the Shem Ha Mephorash is bound in full textured recycled leather (bonded leather) that has a soft & pleasant aroma -- what I can only describe as a mixture of musk and lavender. The boards are very hard and rigid lending an unexpected weight and toughness to the book. The cover sports the Conjuration Circle of the Three Witches of the Crossroads and the angelic name KUQ (Qoph Vav Kaph - כוק) stamped in silver leaf. The spine includes title, author, and press, also in silver leaf. Regrettably, the first 100 copies (out of 200) of the Standard Edition and all 50 copies of the Deluxe Editions are missing the head/tail bands due to a binder's error. This would have certainly made it a more attractive book. A ribbon place marker would have also been nice considering this is a book to be referenced and used in a ritual setting. A shame. Even so, it is a very alluring book nonetheless.

The book opens to endpapers marbled in gray, gold, and black. The pattern created on my copy is oddly appropriate. It looks like the murky surface of a stagnant and polluted pond -- the perfect look for a book concerned with the summoning of malformed and malignant spirits. The text size and margins are near perfect. The paper is bone white and has a satin-like texture. Its weight is just right (120 gr); not too thin, and not too rigid. Illustrations, seals, and tables are very crisp and sharp. I did not encounter a single typo.

Black Magic Evocation of the Shem Ha Mephorash is an essential grimoire for anyone looking to work with the dark half of the Shem. It should provide a lifetime of exploration. Congrats to author G. de Laval for the tremendous amount of research that went into this book.

*Note: Those looking for further works on the Shem Ha Mephorash may also want to consider picking up Nick Farrell's newest work, The Shem Grimoire. Some abominable typos aside (Saggitarious? Really, Mr. Farrell?), it is a great book.