Book Review: Raising Hell

December 15, 2009 by  
Filed under books, left hand path, mysticism, reviews

Book Review: Raising Hell

Kali Black
Megalithica Books (March 21, 2009)
ISBN: 978-1905713387
136 pages
Reviewer: Ian Vincent
StarStarStarStarNo star

This book is a spirited attempt to reclaim that most twisty and controversial of magical ideas, Black Magic — and is also a manual of what the author calls “Anarchashamanism.” The position taken could be broadly described as anti-capitalist, non-hierarchical (power-with rather than power-over), ecologically aware and rebellious without falling into the trap of simple knee-jerk opposition.

The three lines which preface the book sum up the author’s position nicely:

“Never sacrifice individuality for individualism.
Never sacrifice rebellion for contrariness.
Never sacrifice dignity for arrogance.”

The introduction gives a quick look at the history of the two key terms, Black Magic and Anarchism. I felt there was a touch of self-supporting bias to the history, especially in reference to the Satanism of the pre-revolutionary French Court (I don’t really think La Voisin was making “calculated protests” against the church, for example), but the author does freely admit that both black magic and anarchism lack a true unbroken tradition (and indeed says the same for all modern magic “trads,” which is refreshing).

Black’s angle on black magic (heh) is summed up well in this quote — after referencing the Voudon-inspired slave rebellion in Haiti, Black writes:

“This spirit of rebellion, freedom, independence and self-reliance is the very spirit of black magic. Times have changed, and the dominant religion is now capitalism.”

I think Black makes a better fist of explaining the difference between actual anarchism and the distorted public image of same than they do in trying to reclaim Black Magic — a key quote here describes anarchism as “the absence of rulers rather than the absence of order,” which is an important distinction most people outside of anarchist thought rarely consider.

I especially liked this line: “Maintaining a ‘spiritual’ dimension to one’s life in a critical and flexible manner provides an excellent defence against religion and ideology, whereas dogma of any kind does not.” Take that, Dawkins!

After the introduction, the book is in two parts. The first, “Guerrilla Warfare,” covers a set of basic techniques and observations. The second, “Guerrilla Mind Theatre,” covers more advanced exercises and goes deeper into Black’s model of Anarchashamanism.

The exercises given all emphasise personal, flexible, paradigm-shifting and idiosyncratic approaches and are applicable to all levels of practitioner. I did like seeing some of the less common ones, such as “make knots with intent.” I was also very glad to see the exercise “attend a variety of different religious services over an extended period,” especially backed up with provisos given for avoiding cult recruitment.

I loved the phrase “controlled superstition” as a descriptor for the magical mindset, and Black’s version of the multi-model approach (though not using the term). Black also covers such possibly controversial areas as sex-magic and entheogen use with intelligence and care. Like much else in the book, I found some of the positions taken on “culture” a bit strident (e.g. having a whole chapter on how veganism is the only moral and correct diet for a true magician, or saying that early religious conditioning is “. . . a weakness of character that is easily overcome”), but the point of view given is understandable and well expressed.

Part 2 kicks off with my absolute favourite chapter in the book, “Ancient and Mystical Secrets of Toontra.” Toontra, introduced in a suitably daft and po-faced manner, is working with cartoons (starting with a ‘toon version of yourself) as a visualisation/ projection tool. It’s a great idea, nicely explained. The emphasis that “not taking yourself seriously is one of the most important skills a magician must master” is a fine way to harness that spirit of Discordian silliness so often missing from modern praxis. There is also a very good sidebar on importance of earthing oneself to remove pompousness etc.: “In my experience, few things can earth you quite as well as scrubbing the toilet.” How true!

Next, Black takes a couple of chapters to define Anarchashamanism, beginning with a robust defence of the shamanic calling. Anarchashamanism is then defined thus: “. . . the development and practice of an organic and uniquely personal spirituality and the adoption of a Shamanic relationship with a community without creaing or imposing a power structure or hierarchy. Tough call.”

Rather than being a separate specialist in a community which looks to the shaman for spiritual insight, “the anarchashaman despecialises,” guiding the other people to their own spiritual insight rather than doing it for them. A fine idea, well delineated.

Black also makes a good point on the class-related aspects of modern spiritual guidance: “In the Western hierarchy of sanity people in positions of wealth, authority or power may legitimately receive unearthly guidance, and poor or working class people just get a choice between being labelled crazy or superstitious.” The Anarchashaman endeavours to empower others rather than imposing their ideas of who or what they should be — a wise position when dealing with spiritual and personal development, and here given as an antidote to existing hierarchies of belief and control.

A program of exercises is given next to develop this working style. I found a few problems here.

The first exercise is “Kill your TV.” Although I understand the impulse to divorce oneself from the corporate conditioning which often goes hand-in-hand with TV as a medium (and, like the author, I’ve read such works as “Four Arguments for the Abolition of Television”), it seems odd to pick on TV — especially as the author is perfectly comfortable to use memes and archetypes from film and animation. . . and mostly, the very same corporations that make TV shows also make films and ‘toons.

I’m also unsure of the wisdom of renaming mojo-bags as “bombs” and leaving them in public places. . .

A version of “High” magic, suitably adapted to the authors anarchic take, is then explored in some depth. There is a strong emphasis on the importance of developing your own style of ritual, the acquiring of useful and accurate self-knowledge, etc.

For example, on the subject of banishings, Black recognises their use, makes note of their hierarchical aspects, observes the artificiality of dividing the “mundane” from the “magical” world (I agree entirely here), says they don’t personally use ’em — but goes on to suggest that their use is to be decided by the individual, and then gives pretty good instructions for performing them if you should choose to do so.

At this point in the book the Black Magic elements are brought forward to a greater degree. Ritual is mostly described as being used for worship of Luciferian entities — ranging from classical Satanic forms to fictional villains/ antiheroes such as Riddick or the Alien Queen — and the summoning of demons.

If you’re going to do this . . . well, the advice given is lucid and useful (i.e. if you make a deal with a demon, be very careful with the small print) and it does cover the model where such entities are manifestations of one’s own self. It doesn’t have too much that’ll help you if the demons turn out to be actual independent entities (in terms of protection and banishing). This is, to put it, mildly a controversial area — so caveat emptor.

The last couple of chapters explore the nature of sacrifice, creation of initiation rites and ritual tools. As previously, these are discussed with intelligence and knowledge. I would have liked some kind of conclusion to be drawn at the end, tying the Anarchashamanic and black magic perspectives together further, but it’s not a crippling loss.

Overall, I think the take on black magic as such is a little too forgiving of the less friendly elements of the practice. Also, I don’t really think the book quite manages to reclaim “Black Magic” as a term (or actually spend all that much time trying to do so) — but Black does repurpose the phrase for their own use effectively.

The more strident and preachy passages are understandable in the context of the author and, if you agree with their position, they will no doubt inspire. If you’re critical of any absolutist position . . . less so. But there’s nothing wrong with taking a stance.

Conspicuous by their absence in a book about rebellious counter-hierarchical magic are any mentions whatsoever about self-defence, shielding, counterspells — any combat magic techniques at all. Not even the oft-suggested, “go and learn a martial art” hint, or even suggestions of how to combine magical approaches with other direct action. The assumption that one can oppose something using magic, but that your opponents would not use magic too, is a little naive — and odd considering the militaristic models used in first half. After all, in a sense this is a book of Tradecraft for magicians — which in the context of rebellion against the militarised, monopoly-of-violence state structures is apt, but does perhaps lead to a merely oppositional position (though the book to its credit often emphasises mere dualistic tussles aren’t the solution). I would have liked to see more, shall we say, practical applications given.

But for the most part, these are minor quibbles about a book which I found interesting, useful and entertaining to read.

4 stars out of 5 — one point given for Toontra alone!

Review ©2009 by Ian Vincent.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Ian Vincent was born in 1964 and is a lifelong student of the occult. He founded Athanor Consulting, a specialist paranormal protection consultancy, in 2002. He closed Athanor in 2009 to better focus on studying wider aspects of the Art. He blogs on magical theory.

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