bITS 'N CHUNKS
Manly P Hall is an…interesting dude. You've probably heard of him even if you don't recognize his name as The Secret Teachings of All Ages is a pretty popular book in esoteric circles. Recently, it made news for being found on Osama Bin Laden's bookshelf. What does it mean? Probably nothing, it's not like we can ask.
There's not a ton of information out there about Hall except what he tells us himself, because his uhh "followers" *coughcult* meticulously scrub information about him to leave only the most glowing praise. So what you find on the internet is apologetics and his own prose. Surprisingly, one of the few negative thing present about him online are his kooky racial views. Probably because they're easily dismissed as products of his time (and I am not saying that we should). His relationships didn't seem too happy either, but those couldn't be his fault right? Right?
Anyway, other than being a St Germain-ish type figure, Mr. Hall was an educator first and foremost and a lot of his lectures are available online in audio format. I really love listening to the Wisdom series. There is a surprisingly good amount of practical business advice in there too, especially for those of you that work in a corporate office like I do. I don't care for/about spirituality but good advice is good advice.
The Secret Teachings is actually a very high level overview. And what exactly are all of the things? Literally everything that would pique a young mystic's interest. Hermeticism, Kabbalah, alchemy…all things. All ages.
It does feel like a sampler plate. In fact, the biggest drawback is that it is A LOT. But Manly takes a practical approach to it, too. It's not as condescending as some people we could mention right now nor is it terribly out there. In fact, it's very normal. If I were caught reading this book in public I'd be accused of something at worst, absolutely nothing at best.
Yes, an occult self-help book is exactly what you needed! It sounds gimmicky but Hall writes in a really accessible and objective manner. I prefer listening to specific lectures as his text is a bit dry and pushes the needle to purple, but I still recommend The Secret Teachings to people who think they want to get into certain secret practices but maybe have the wrong idea or no idea at all.
I read Malleus Maleficarum in junior high. I was obsessed with its lurid sexual details, feeding into my perverse desire for historical scandals and understanding European witchcraft trials. I read a lot of Kenneth Anger, too.
It also happened to line up with my school reading curriculum which also included The Crucible and Tituba of Salem Village and some other YA and historical pieces I don't really remember. I saw tantalizing excerpts referenced everywhere and I wasn't getting the information I craved so I just read the source.
In those days before the popularity of Google searching and ease of access, I would go get a book from a library. If it was a historical text, I tried to find one with lots of scholarly notation and contextual notes. Then I checked the year. So I got the biggest, thickest, most recent tome I could find and varied up my reading with checking out the notes.
Well, it was certainly lurid and frighteningly thorough. My fascination with the material turned to curiosity about witch trials themselves when it became obvious to me that a lot of these men in power had some wild imaginations and severe issues with women. Learning about patriarchy later on helped put this in context as I hadn't been quite exposed to feminist thought yet. But just from reading it became clear that in the age of enlightenment this ran deeper than just superstitious rural folk. I was able to learn about charlatans like Matthew Hopkins as well.
So, as it turned out Heinrich Kramer and quite possibly Jacob Sprenger were eyeball deep in misogyny and possibly out of their damn minds, but Malleus Maleficarum is still a good read for historical context and will probably set the stage to understand modern Wicca and paganism within feminist movements. If you don't care about that kind of thing, it's a good peek inside the very real, very lethal madness of the witch hunts in Europe and America. The content explains how to identify a witch, how to prosecute a witch, then tries to get fake deep and hashtag woke about why you should set about finding innocent women and killing them.
As for the sexual details my depraved mind was after, it was certainly no Mare or The Monk but it was about right for the level of scandal in that time. And hey, it caused moral panic for about two hundred years so there's that.
Not everyone back in The Day bought into this witch nonsense and quite a few people thought it was rigoddamneddiculous even then. Unfortunately, controversy has always sold in large amounts so no matter how much skeptical literature Malleus was lined with, there were (and probably still are, be honest) just enough people willing to be led along enough to go headlong flying off a damn slope.
So let me get this out of the way, and it may not mean much to you all but I hate Christopher Hitchens. He was a towering figure in my youth as a nonbeliever, but near the end of his life he ironically became as irrational and prejudiced as the very groups he attacked. He ended up representing everything wrong with new atheism/antitheism and nothing right; even Dawkins wasn't this goddamned ridiculous.
That being said, God Is Not Great is one of his last useful texts and one of the most useful texts in atheist literature. Of course, it's not occult literature nor does it discuss anything occult but it is a good resource on how to approach spiritual material. It's accessible, witty, and meant for aiding in the understanding of disbelief, not really to convert others. Reading this book helped me put a lot of things I was having trouble with into perspective, namely articulation and skepticism.
Growing up, I thought I had to have an excuse or reason for everything. When pressed about my nonbelief, I found often that I had no real answer other than "I just don't". Living in the Bible belt, people wanted answers. Was the trick to just not discuss it at all? No, people found out somehow. And I'm of the believe that you shouldn't have to hold your tongue. I couldn't recite a Bible verse after years of study and vacation bible school, and it was obvious. It's important to note the context as this was during a time when that kind of thing was very strange, unlike today where it's kind of ho-hum I feel.
The texts of Bertrand Russell and Thomas Paine were boring, dry, and most importantly not good enough. I was branded a Satanist, a Nihilist, an Agnostic, and "troubled". Christopher Hitchens helped me bring it back down to earth. I thought of my own trajectory to the point where I am now and it helped me realize that this was simply something innate for me. There comes a time when it's okay to question the things around you and you're free to go back or keep going forward. Hitchens also helped me realize why I tended to scoff at Eastern religions and philosophy as well; too many people in the west were trying to make them into a panacea for everything, substitute things that were culture bound because western religion was getting too contentious and boring. Like, I don't think people understand how contentious Buddhism is. I began to articulate my problems with organized and non-organized religions on a sociological level as well as philosophical, and I was finally able to successfully turn down all those church invites with no fuss.
God Is Not Great is not perfect, though. In its casualness, it really lacks the vigor of research and there are definitely times where Hitchens looks damned amateurish, notably his surface level understandings of Christianity versus Islam versus Judaism. And he clearly has a favorite target because that's what he's used to. Later, surprising few, it became Islam. Violently and disappointingly so at a terrible time. But with a few reservations for the controversial chapters, I still occasionally recommend the book for people trying to find their way or if you need help trying to articulate your atheism to others.
I love grimoires!
The first grimoire I ever read was The Lesser Key of Solomon, probably the most famous and most easily available. This and the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum are usually what is referenced when you see some deep knowledge of obscure demons. These also present a hierarchy of demons, descriptions of their facilities and legions they command, and usually some nice old timey engravings. More importantly, the Lesser Key presents how to summon demons and get them to do your bidding without dying horribly.
Look, if demons exist I really have to ask why they are so damn subservient to humans for petty shit. Wasn't that the whole point? Man, whatever. The Lesser Key sparked my fascination with sigils though, and to this day I like incorporating them into my work and personal life. I like specifically demonic sigils and ones to call upon angels as well.
So, let's say The Lesser Key is your introduction to Satanism and you get caught reading it. What do you do? Well, first I usually say it's a historical text. The odds of summoning real demons or angels are real low. If it helps, The Lesser Key is explicitly for ritual magic purposes and actually suggests regular uninitiated people shouldn't fuck around with the material too much. I think it's also important to mention that as an occult text, The Lesser Key is notorious for listing out demons and how to employ them but it engages with heavenly powers as well for a balance. There's a prayer book within it that coordinates hosts of angels with the zodiac and hours of the day for calling upon them. That doesn't get a lot of press because it's not as cool but I find it fascinating. It totally changes how one deals with the idea of good and evil and angel versus devil, and the perception of good and evil forces.
At the end of the day, it's just a book. A good one to read, but just a book nonetheless. But if you're interested in religious philosophy and ritual magic this is the place to start.
Some other cool ones to read. The Testament of Solomon shows King Solomon as a bad ass taking out demons left and right, and will show you how to likewise be a bad ass demon slayer if you so choose. But it's more of a thematic text than an instruction guide or manual.
Other grimoires I like are the books focusing on exorcism, especially if you'd ever like to see how exorcism really works. If Satanic ceremonial magic is not your thing, there are lot of useful grimoires on natural magic and prosperity. There are modern grimoires still being produced but I don't find them as vital as the ancient texts, and it seems to me most of them are in the Wiccan tradition of creating personal spell books so I skip 'em.
I love reading yuri or girls' love (I don’t really make the distinction between yuri & "softcore" shoujo-ai) manga, but I think it's fair to say a lot of it is very same-y. Yuri still trails behind yaoi/boys' love in popularity and profitability, so a lot of mangaka understandably keep whipping out the same tropes over and over to increase their profile and of course make money. The more experimental manga tend to be one-shots and often reserved for anthologies. And the experimental ones are free to get as…weird as weird can.
That's how I stumbled onto Mare a few years ago by one of my favorite yuri mangaka Morinaga Milk. Morinaga-san is really cool because her art is so feminine and delicate and she's largely unfettered by stereotypical yuri tropes, but she's not afraid of a little hentai. Even her works that kind of push that direction -- school girl lesbians for example -- usually have some subversive element to keep it from being the same ol' same ol'.
Morinaga-san is probably best known for Girl Friends, which is one of the best damn school girl romance dramas out there in the English speaking world, dare I say ever because I'm going there. Mare is an earlier work that looks to have been published in a highly specialized hentai magazine because it's pretty hardcore and there's demons.
Wait, what? Demons in my lesbian manga?
Well, yeah. And I say highly specialized because Morinaga-san incorporates some of the more obscure demons from Pseudomonarchia Daemonum and The Lesser Key of Solomon. The main character, Mea, is a powerful and amoral witch who hides out in a girls' school while feeding her pet beasties and summoning demons. While she's there, Mea inadvertently exposes some of the dark secrets of the school like co-ed affairs, abortions, even murder. Later on, there's a plot where another witch at the school challenges Mea but it ends too abruptly to even be satisfying.
So, Mare barely counts as a yuri manga because it really just involves Mea being rather loose with her sexuality and her attachment to her roommate/classmate, but it's definitely one of my favorite occult-themed manga. Themes of the occult in manga usually skew more towards the shounen or seinen demographic and, yeah, there's Judeo-Christian demons and long three volume fights but it never feels like substance. The works of Go Nagai (Devilman & Devilman Lady) keep my interest as well. And then there's the truly esoteric and nigh incomprehensible side, which would be something like Neon Genesis Evangelion. But despite the second half being a let-down, Mare just felt so substantive in the way that it accurately incorporated witchcraft, minor demons, sigils and invocations, and a smidge of social commentary. Then it, you know, goes to hell. But if you have the time, like ambiguous lesbian relationships, and cute evil little girls, check it out.
Ia! If you've come this far, you're either looking for weird or you know you've found it...