Thursday, 7 March 2013

Apocalyptic Witchcraft

Apocalyptic Witchcraft, the new book from Peter Grey at Scarlet Imprint is an important book. I think it is worth stating this at the beginning. I will go further and say this is the most significant book on modern witchcraft (or rather witchcraft) I have ever read. As stated before, I write very few reviews (due to the nature of my role as a bookseller) but it is no coincidence that the two reviews on this blog are for Scarlet Imprint titles. Scarlet Imprint are publishers with intent. Peter Grey and Alkistis Dimech have an agenda and, as popular conception has it, that makes them dangerous.

Apocalyptic Witchcraft is a book about witchcraft, but not the narrow, urbanized and ghettoized witchcraft that we seem to have backed ourselves into. This is about the witchcraft of the blasted heath and mountain, the open spaces we physically and figuratively once occupied. It is a re-envisioning and more importantly a re-affirmation of witchcraft itself. It is also a book that I find very hard to review in the traditional sense. I feel impelled to describe my reaction to reading the book rather than a detailed critique of it, both the content and the presentation of the text elicit (for me at least) an entirely subjective, visceral response. After all, this is our witchcraft, something we must all have opinions on, many of us tied to particular traditions and myth patterns. But how often do we think about what witchcraft is, where it comes from and what is its purpose? I believe this work answers those questions. I believe it answers them in such a way that it cuts you to the marrow. It is eloquent, fearsome, ecstatic and above all unapologetic. Peter Grey has the intuition of a poet, which is vital in unlocking the mysteries of the subject matter. The language he uses is elegant, steeped in poetry and metaphor - but do not confuse this with the arch, needlessly esoteric Blackadder style English that plagues some recent works on the subject - this is the poetry of experience, raw and immediate.

The book is structured as a series of connected essays, punctuated by 10 beautiful hymns to Inanna. Although a couple of the essays have been presented as stand alone works, the author asks you to approach the book strictly in order, which is highly recommended on first reading. Having read the book twice I can now dip into individual essays, which is equally rewarding (for example “The Cup, The Cross and The Cave” is simply the best essay on dreams, dream control and dream sovereignty I’ve read). The book begins by defining Apocalyptic Witchcraft, swiftly followed by a 33 point Manifesto. This is an early indication that the author is clearly placing witchcraft in a political context. If your idea of witchcraft is that it is an escape from the harshness of the modern world to some imagined past then the first two chapters alone should be required reading. (In another era, that manifesto would be typed out, gestetnered and distributed By Any Means Necessary). After a brief account of a trip to Patmos (to the site where John wrote Revelations, a key text in understanding the thrust of the author’s thesis) the next few essays tackle dreaming, or rather incubation, the power of poetry as evocation and the true nature of the Devil as mask of the Goddess. The following three essays offer a compelling and revelatory account of the Witches Sabbat, the Wild Hunt and the very nature of witchcraft itself. I’ve not gone into detail as to the exact nature of these revelations (Well I actually did, but I deleted them on re-reading). At this point my words become clumsy, inarticulate, my feelings my own. All I can say is that I connected, this book tore into me. The mysteries of witchcraft are women’s mysteries; lunar, sanguine and sexual. This much may be intuited. But the true nature of the Sabbat and The Wild Hunt have always eluded me. To my mind Peter Grey has both delineated and enfleshed these events as living, tangible experiences. Now is the time for reclamation.

The book ends with an exhortation to action and my exhortation is for you to read this book. At the time of writing I have not yet seen another review. Hopefully as more reviews are forthcoming and the book is widely read there will be much discussion. It may not be a comfortable read for all, but I believe the author has been very careful not to decry other people’s traditions. There are many paths to the Sabbat. To some it may seem like this work should be a culmination, something Scarlet Imprint have been building up to, a lifetime’s practice and experience distilled into a final statement on the subject. From the brief conversations I have had with the author I know for certain that this is just the beginning. This is the year of the witch. This is the year of the witchcraft. I am dancing in my skull. Hic Rhodus, Hic Salta!