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Ouroboros: A Grimoire Paperback – June 14, 2017
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Pre-order today
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Rather than trying to describe magic through the pseudo-intellectual narcissism of “probability enhancement” or mathematics, or by trying to resurrect the mouldering idea of “imaginary friends” or spirits, Ray Sherwin restates his assumptions beautifully through art, poetry, and music. It parallels Lionel Snell’s latest offering, which seems to say that Art is best used to describe magic, while Science is used only to find out what works. It appears, sadly, that the reverse is the more commonly held practice. Many magicians are obsessed with describing a tangible, “real” mechanism for magic, possibly to appear more credible in an age of Scientism. The author, however, unapologetically uses the irrational to describe the indescribable.
The dogma espoused by some popular bloggers today who call themselves chaos magicians is hilarious in its duplicity. At once touting the theory to “use whatever works,” while at the same time pushing for a concrete view of metaphysical certainties. People just love telling others what is true and what isn’t. It makes them feel superior. It sets up a hierarchy of knowledge and it shows, once again, just what the author faced when trying to set up a non-hierarchical group. You will find no this-is-the-way-it-is philosophies in Ray’s writings. You will find no Protestant literalism of the type that Christians and Grimoiric Puritans are so fond. From the multitude of cultures (Egyptian, Greek, Jewish, Christian, etc.) in ancient Alexandria combining their gods and methods (cultural appropriation my ass) to the constantly changing and evolving spirit lists, tools and elements of the grimoires, it is beyond obvious that the entirety of the magical tradition has been one long chaos experiment. “Nothing is true, it’s all about control,” as Mr. Sherwin would say.
Maybe guru-magic is for you. It can be comforting to follow a confiden(ce)t man who lays down the truth eloquently so that all you have to do is follow the recipe. For myself, I enjoy neither following nor leading. Happily, Ray Sherwin shows that there are others that feel the same way. Here be dragons!
The book is very nicely presented in large format with large print, except for the notes which are average size rather than too tiny to read as is often the problem with notes. There are several full colour pictures, including both photographs and some impressive artwork created by the author's wife, Lorraine Sherwin.
The first chapter is very personal to the author, expressing his thoughts and disappointments concerning a magical Order that he co-founded in the 1970s and subsequent disagreements with early members over business dealings, approach to magical group structure and the inevitable devolution of the Order, which even the other co-founder has described as "effectively defunct."
Sherwin pulls no punches in his criticism of hierarchy and authority politics, and also makes a good point that any group, be it Christian, occult, political or whatever, will attract some dodgy characters. Having spent two years attending meetings of the group in question, I found some of the references to criminal activity both unsettling and thought provoking.
What do I really know about an international membership of a group I only experienced for two years, out of forty years of the group's existence, and the inevitable changes in dynamics as people come and go? How can I know what is and isn't true in second or third hand information from different countries? Veracity of facts is further clouded by a sad little man in England who was effectively excommunicated in 2003 and subsequently began spreading deliberately false and vile accusations against the Order, his exes, the people who barred him from rejoining (which included his exes), his publisher and even friends who had supported him and his own mother because they would not enable him in his efforts to try to bring the Order into disrepute or to vilify his exes. At last count the sad little man was self-publishing books telling people he was important, something that had become an obsession for him.
In my first hand experience of the group, strict rules of legality were followed; no one under 18 allowed to attend meetings in any capacity etc. A little digging revealed that one person had done time for a drug related offence and I know the story about the dog to be true, having heard it from the dog owner himself. I only met two people out of several dozen that I had any reason to suspect were dodgy in any way; the dog owner and the sad little man.
The strength of the book is the poetry and the notes that follow, which contain gems of insight in typical Sherwin articulacy;
"I do not describe myself as an atheist or, worse, an agnostic. To define myself by what I am not would be an absurdity."
Some classic Sherwin poetry is included, including The Druid's Knot and The Singing Tadpole, the latter of which I still have on an old cassette, read by Ray Sherwin with appropriate music in the background. He also gives the YouTube address to hear this recording, which is well worth a listen.
Again, the notes help clarify some of the references for those who might not be familiar with the occult significance of the salmon or the legend of Finn McCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill).
This is not what you would call an instructional book of magic and the autobiographical chapter may only be of pertinence to those who were involved in chaos magic in the late 1970s and 1980s in England, but it is an attractive volume and the poetry is of a deep, mystical nature that is rare to find in this age of instant magic and short attention spans. With only 500 copies of the paperback to be printed, it is likely to be coveted by collectors of obscure occult works in future.