The Ancient Egyptian Prayerbook by Tamara Siuda

The Ancient Egyptian Prayerbook
Tamara L. Siuda
Stargazer Design, 2009
168 pages

Reviewed by Devo

Before I get into the bulk of this, I’d like to state that I have a bias – I don’t like reading prayers and hymns. They are alright if you’re using them to learn about a god or a ritual, but on a whole I don’t really get a lot out of reading prayers/hymns.

The setup of the book is pretty straightforward. Siuda discusses the basics of prayer – its uses, how you do it, etc. She then discusses some of the basics of Kemetic Orthodoxy practice and then goes into a listing of prayers for gods, goddesses, akhu (blessed dead), family uses, and children. The book also contains prayers for blessings, protection, and some heka (magic) basics as well as prayers for holidays and daily usage. The deity listings contain various epithets and stats on each deity- which is rounded out with a few prayers for each. Lastly, there is a basic calendar that you can utilize in your daily practice and the bibliography and index. The book is easy to read and quite short.

Due to the age of this book, I would be careful to place a lot of stock into the Kemetic Orthodoxy sections. This book was written with Kemetic Orthodoxy in mind – it is geared for members of that faith. However, because it is an older book, some things seem irrelevant now (in regards to Kemetic Orthodoxy) and it seems to me that the book could use an update for this particular section.
The thing I liked most about the Prayerbook was the listing of gods and some of their basic attributes. There are some things that she mentions in the Prayerbook that helps me to understand various references while on the Kemetic Orthodoxy website, and there are a couple of interesting facts/tidbits that I was unaware about that were nice to learn. In fact, I wish this section were longer, and more inclusive, so that I could learn more. This was the most helpful section for me.

What I don’t care for in the gods section is the hymns/litanies/etc. that followed each entry. It felt to me that these excerpts were exactly that – excerpts, and that there was a bigger something that was missing. I would have rather read the whole hymn/litany/etc or not at all. Not just three or four lines out of it. So for me, there was a disconnect.

On a whole, the book is okay. I personally don’t care for it, but it is interesting to see a bit where Kemetic Orthodoxy started. I personally don’t like that the book is insufficient as both a Kemeticism 101 book and as a prayerbook. I wanted something closer to Eternal Egypt where things are cited more thoroughly and explained better. I feel that the book could have benefitted if the author would have explained some of the symbolism behind the litanies and hymns because if you don’t understand that, then the whole point gets lost. Because of a lack of this added information, I really didn’t feel the book was of any use to me personally.

I would recommend reading the book if you want to get a better basis for Kemetic Orthodoxy or want a list of pre-made prayers that you can use, but otherwise, I don’t feel the book has much to offer a recon/independent Kemetic, unless you’re interested in the gods section.

Three pawprints out of five

Want to buy this book?

Secrets of the Lost Symbol by John Michael Greer

Secrets of the Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Guide to Secret Societies, Hidden Symbols & Mysticism
John Michael Greer
Llewellyn, 2009
230 pages

Remember a few years ago when Dan Brown was all the rage? His fiction introduced people to a hodgepodge of occult symbols and concepts–and as with anything that ends up tossed into the mainstream, there was a lot of incomplete information and juxtaposition of odd bedfellows. Granted, his works may not have done to magical lodges what the 1990s schlock The Craft did to Wicca, but it’s always a bit frustrating to see people getting only part of the story and little of the context.

And who better to disentangle the facts from the fluff than John Michael Greer? Secrets of the Lost Symbol, an answer to Brown’s The Lost Symbol, is sort of the pocket version of Greer’s well-received The New Encyclopedia of the Occult, which was itself an ambitious, thorough and well-researched overview of various ceremonial, magical and related traditions, symbols and other matters. While the casual curious might have found that particular work daunting in its scope, this distillation of entries that touch on the works of Brown and his ilk is a much more approachable book.

However, it’s not just for the magical “tourist”. Those who are well-versed in other magical traditions but new to more ceremonial traditions may find this to be a good way to broaden their understanding of esoterica. It also would make an excellent guide for students of covens and other teaching groups who want to offer more than just what their own tradition teaches. Writers may find it of use to be able to more accurately infuse their fiction with esoteric elements in a realistic manner, without having to immerse themselves entirely in a study of the occult. In fact, anyone who needs a quick, well-researched and well-written desk reference.

It’s also a good introduction to Greer’s writing in general. If you like this book, consider investing in The New Encyclopedia of the Occult at the very least. He definitely knows his stuff when it comes to magical orders, and is one of the best writers for reaching a variety of audiences.

Five pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

The Black Ship by Malphas

The Black Ship
Waning Moon, 2009
120 pages

Note: This is a guest review by Kirsten, who awesomely agreed to give me a hand with the last of the backlog of review copies.

Hello there, guest reviewer Kirsten, here.

I’d like to open by saying that this book, while barely more than a hundred pages (111, to be a bit more precise), is more of a daunting read than expected, probably not for those just starting out; there’s a level of familiarity with magical practice as a whole that is taken as a given, though no single background is assumed. This is dense stuff; a spare and nicely open-ended framework of a system, seemingly based in bits of a strange array of things that I’d never have guessed would work together, and may not for some; chaos magic, hints of Temple of Set and Order of the Trapezoid-type left hand path imagery, a take on Feri’s triplicate soul-system, ancestor traditions and Gnosticism. It’s a guide to a bare-bones framework that is both deeply weird, and one of the most grounded and levelheaded examples of a left-hand path that I’ve ever seen.

The Black Ship neatly avoids much of the anti-establishment posturing and oh-so-evil imagery prevalent in many books on left hand practices, though some of the terminology used is down those roads. Instead, it adheres to the idea that in order to do anything useful outside of yourself, you first have to have your house and your head in a good working order. And you are given tools with which to sort these out, sets of practices and meditations that are very, very simple, the kind of simple that could be very useful if you have the know-how and want to tweak it, though they work fine on their own as well.

There are some places where the author’s fervour about their purpose for the whole thing gets a bit…purple?…and muddies the clarity of the lesson in question. The exercises themselves are very clear and well-worded, but the author’s intended application can get strange. Not a bad thing, mind you; strange can rattle your head out of its well-worn paths, shift your modes of thinking a bit, but some might find the concept of specieswide evolution via mass magical intent a little off-putting. All of the pieces of practice I named are in the service of a very transhumanist, transformative philosophy, here, one that goes happily hand-in-hand with technology and even space travel.

My biggest qualm with this book is with one really very simple thing. There are repeated mentions of a ‘Pandemonium Mandala’, which diagram or shape is never given, or even described beyond a very vague sentence in the beginning, to the reader. This drove me absolutely nuts, because it is spoken of as something very important to meditate upon and use as symbolism. However, none of the problems here really intrude on the appreciation of a good, solid, left-hand-as-in-focusing-on-the-self-first set of works. Taken with a judicious application of salt, there’s a great set of tools here, even if you don’t want to work with them precisely as the book says.

Want to buy this book?

Arbatel translated by Joseph Peterson

Arbatel: Concerning the Magic of Ancients
Joseph Peterson (translator)
Ibis, 2009
128 pages

This is a guest review by Sannion, who graciously offered to help me clear out my review shelf as I’m on hiatus.

A while back, Lupa put out a request for guest reviewers to handle some of the overflow she’d gotten through her Pagan Book Reviews blog. Being the shameless book hound that I am, I answered the call and snatched up a couple choice titles to read in between my usual Greco-Egyptian fare. The choicest of the choice was undoubtedly Joseph Peterson’s new translation of Arbatel de magia veterum. Just holding the book in my hands was a pleasure. This is a handsomely designed volume by people who take pride in craftsmanship. The illustrations were lovely; the notes added much without being overwhelming; and the original Latin text was provided for comparison, something I always appreciate in a translation.

Although I had never read the Arbatel before, I’d read plenty about it. It’s one of the classic texts of Renaissance magic, influential in the development of the system of planetary or Olympic spirits so important in modern CM. Most of the passages I’d seen quoted from it were fairly dense and dry and a little difficult to follow. They also employed hopelessly archaic language. If ever a book was in need of a clear, concise, and modern translation – it was this one! (After all, the previous translation, from which most of the quotes I’d read had come, was done in the 17th century.)

And Peterson’s translation does not disappoint. He makes this important esoteric text come alive through his simple yet elegant prose. It almost gives one the impression that they’re sitting in at a lecture of learned scholars discussing magic, philosophy, religion and history. In fact, that was probably the most surprising thing about the Arbatel. Most of what I had read about it had led me to believe that the Arbatel was something along the lines of a philosophical grimoire. And there are parts of it like that, but mostly it seems concerned with Neoplatonic theology, providing an overview of the history of magic, and driving home sound ethical advice. In fact, a sizable portion of the aphorisms which make up the Arbatel are devoted to that last topic, which gives a very different impression of magic than many people often have. As Peterson points out in his introduction, throughout the text there are admonitions “to help our neighbors, be positive and grateful, and use time wisely. Above all, it teaches us to pay attention, looking for the wondrous and miraculous. In fact, to the author this virtually defines the magus.”

Peterson’s introduction was one of the most enjoyable parts of the book, and would almost be worth the price alone. He traces the history of Renaissance magic back to Late Antiquity and the Neoplatonists and Hermeticists, with a lengthy discussion on the preservation, use, and adaptation of these important texts. Although none of the information was new to me, considering my interests, I think he handled it well and I’d definitely recommend it to someone who was curious about authentic pagan survivals during this time period.

Of course, the Arbatel being a product of the Renaissance as it is, the “paganism” that it presents is of a very curious sort. There are nymphs, and daimones, and magical creatures and even gods and demigods as part of its cosmology – but these are all subordinate to the one true god of the Christians. The author may quote Homer and Hesiod as authorities on certain matters, but he defers to the Holy Scriptures above all else. Still, if you can manage to skim past the pious interjections, I think you’ll find a lot of genuine worth and historical curiosity in this text. I’m sure I’ll be reading it a couple more times.

Want to buy this book?