Opus of the Parametamagus: an Antero Alli Wonderwork

I took a lot of notes during my first viewing of Antero Alli‘s “To Dream of Falling Upwards.” They mentioned the dreamlike opening, in which a woman walks a labyrinth, sits in the middle, is visited by a hummingbird, then sees a vulture flying by before we get to see the vulture eating. It looks up from its meal, looks toward the camera just long enough for the viewer to be reminded of Egyptian depictions of vultures, then we’re cut into the interior of the Thelemic Temple of Horus (Fra. Matthew, Templi Magus), with a shot of an Egyptian image of Ptah in the foreground, and a white marble Buddhist Parinirvana statue on a mantel behind. The characters are panned in, narration starts, and … welcome to the dream.

Little symbols flicker in and out and relate to other ones later (for example, there’s a dragonfly that takes over for the hummingbird, then hummingbirds come back). Recurring themes from “Paratheater” link acting with magic, like the passage where two characters carry on a clown act, looking a lot like Commedia del’Arte, and one has colored poms down his costume that look like he’s clowning around with chakra yoga. There’s a perfectly natural reminder of chopping wood and carrying water.

I’m not going to belabor or spoil the main plot line for you. Let’s just say it starts with a family and magical-order tragedy, pulls off a great descent into madness, and lands you sort of on your feet again (watch for the return scene, where James Wagner gives us a real overview of coming back after being shattered, while riding in the back seat of a car — how many actors would have botched this!) . Along the way, it comments on magic, magical orders, depicts sex magic in a very realistic way, and drops the veteran mages into a deeper place than they had ever been with the help of a local bruja.

The only spot where I popped out of my viewer’s trance was when Jack Mason, needing to get rid of the interloper, decides to call a hit man. Then I could be heard muttering “What kind of puny magus are you, anyway? Do you not even have a copy of Picatrix?”

Antero’s cinematography is wonderful. You can watch for details in the background, strange textures, interesting plays of light, and other things that an attentive person would notice in “real life.” Dialog is natural and not overblown. The music composition and collection by Sylvi Alli is lush, rich, amazing when you notice it and enchanting when you don’t, and perfect in every way for this film.

My magical friends will all love this, as will anyone with eyes and ears for poetry. Allow time and space for absorbing this film and digesting it afterwards.

You can buy the DVD, and many of Alli’s others, at the Vertical Pool site, for a nominal cost..While you’re there, check out the collection of Sylvi’s Music CDs, too.

I assumed that you didn’t need me to tell you about Antero; to a magician my age, he’s been “a friend of the family” for a very long time. Do explore his website, though.

[Complimentary review copy from the auteur gratefully acknowledged, opinions my own, your mileage may vary, etc.]

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Review of Peter Stockinger’s STARS AND STONES: An Astro-Magical Lapidary

Review copyright 2016 Freeman Presson, all rights reserved

Digging up the traditional lore of stones is hard as corundum. It’s scattered, fragmented, contradictory, and full of confusing terms. Having lost so much of it, the modern Western Magus-in-training can forget about it, try to get something useful out of New Age sources, or light up the Hermit’s lamp and research the old sources.

We’re not all suited for the latter course, though. Fortunately, like Stephen Skinner with correspondences and the magic of the PGM, Stockinger has created a tradition-based handbook for the use of gemstones with traditional astrology. This book has been a long time in the making, as I understand it, and I personally have been itching to see it since it was first announced.

I didn’t realize, until I got the book in my hands, that this does a lot more for Hermetic astro-mages than just add to the lore of what stones and metals to use for talismans. This gets into the lore of using the stones for healing, and for allowing us to acknowledge and work with the power of planets that are debilitated in our natal charts. You shouldn’t make talismans for those, but you can achieve the proper balance by wearing or carrying certain stones.

This has been a place where Indian Jyotish has an advantage over Western astrology, as India has its own similar lore, along with a lot of traditional puja (devotional practices) for the planets for various reasons. We can start to reconstruct this on a sound traditional footing now.

There is also a great deal of material about the therapeutic uses of stones, which I was extremely happy to see.

One of the vexing things about the old lore of stones (and plants) is the shifting nomenclature, which combined with the fragmentary nature of the texts, leaves us wondering in a lot of cases exactly what our sources mean. Does it mean garnet, or maybe granite? Should I play it safe and use pomegranate seeds instead? Should I take it all cum grano salis? This book, of course, does not solve every one of these problems, but it gives enough information that we can feel better forging ahead.

The book is illustrated throughout with medieval and Renaissance woodcuts and the author’s astrological charts for the various examples (you do want to see Ficino’s natal chart, yes?). It is structured as a complete handbook, with enough basic traditional astrology explained and tabulated that you can generally use this book by itself.

It’s a solidly made paperback with a beautiful cover design (I adore sans-serif fonts in applications like this), and high-contrast printing with decent page layouts that help to make it easy to use. It has appendices with extra tables, a glossary, selected bibliography, and index (my wife cracked me up when she first looked at the book: she started making love to the scholarly impedimenta).

If I had been asked for a pre-publication opinion, I would have only advised two things: the justifications of astrology as a worldview should have been either left out or made thorough and bullet-proof, and in that context, I would question David Conway’s choice of Thales as an exemplar of a materialist viewpoint, in his otherwise great Foreword. I think we can more usefully hang that on Mersenne, Descartes, and Laplace, among others (see my incomplete essay on the subject, which I will someday expand).

For some reason, I had had it in mind that this book was to be rather expensive, but I see that it is priced at £12.99 from Mandrake or US$19.99 from Amazon. Your excuses for not buying it are seeming rather thin, aren’t they?

Next up in reviews: a very special movie!

[Complimentary review copy from the publisher gratefully acknowledged, opinions my own, your mileage may vary, etc.]

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Each planet has a solar cycle (phase cycle), that is, the period from one solar conjunction to the next. The most obvious such cycle is that of the Moon. I’m going to start with the Moon and then consider how the cycles of other planets may differ. I am doing my own synthesis here, with regrets that I may have missed some opportunities to document the traditional sources of my considerations.
I think of the Moon and Mercury as messenger planets, much more so than the others. While Mercury devotes much of his attention to the upper spheres, it’s the Moon’s job to accumulate the sympatheia from all the other bodies and transmit the results to Earth (this is implied in Picatrix and probably many other sources).
The Moon accepts an influence from another planet by each aspect, and from the major stars primarily by conjunction. My hermeneutic idea is that these influences remain with the Moon, especially the most recent ones, until the dark moon (combustion). They are part of the Moon’s influence, conditioning her1 significations.
As the Solar influence increases, the other sympatheia  are transmuted, transmitted to the Sun; then as the Moon enters cazimi (perfect conjunction with the Solar disk), there is a window where those influences are loudly beamed to us, could we but hear them. After this, the second half of combustion is devoted to resetting the Moon to her pristine state, so that when we see the first crescent each month, in a sense we are truly looking at a “new” Moon.


This indicates that during the Dark Moon, it is more productive to do receptive, contemplative things. The Moon isn’t listening to you while she’s sunbathing!

Gary P. Caton has pointed out that the cycles of Mercury and Venus have a characteristic that the other planets do not share: the alternate inferior and superior conjunctions. He said that when Mercury enters superior conjunction, it is communicating more to the upper spheres, and at inferior conjunction, when it is between the Sun and Earth, more to Earth. Obviously, the planets from Mars on up do not have an inferior conjunction, and the Moon does not have a superior one. One of my projects is to test Gary’s idea. What I’m thinking about it now (and for all I know, he may agree with this) is that there is always some signal coming through to Earth, but it’s necessarily stronger at an inferior conjunction. This would normalize the traditional doctrine of cazimi with Gary’s promising idea without losing the virtues of either.
Next up: to consider how this plays with traditional significations of the phases of the Moon.

1. With all due respect to the traditions that have a male Moon (including my ancestral Cherokee), my intuitive read resonates more with male Sun/female Moon. I once asked a Yu’pik storyteller about this, since his people tell female Moon stories while the neighboring Inuit have a male Moon. He said they liked to give each other good-natured grief about having it wrong, and then go back to trading stories.

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Occult or Not?

Some recent online discussions, notably this one about Freemasonry, have resonated with a topic I’ve spent a lot of time on: the tides of intellectual fashion in how we think about our place in the Cosmos, and particularly about the traditional “occult” arts.

There’s been a basic disconnect going back to the Classical era, when Plato the Adept and Aristotle the Empiricist ground each other’s gears in Athens.


(Detail from “The School of Athens” by Raphael)

“Philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato,” but of course, there have been many challenging “footnotes,” of which the work of Aristotle was the first. In that challenge, it’s possible to see the outline of many of the later conflicts, which caused shifting tides of opinion which were reflected in major historical events.

Many of the philosophers that modernity knows as Neoplatonists adopted a very sensible compromise with Aristotle: they assigned his work as a qualifying curriculum for those who aspired to learn what the Divine Plato was really teaching. If you could master a certain amount of mathematics, logic, rhetoric, and ethics, then you were ready to engage in dialectic with the professors of Platonism, and maybe have some serious initiations along the way and ultimately have the experience of the Divine for yourself.

If you read the history of the Roman Church, you can see that its tides of dogma and apologetics were also footnotes, with many Church Fathers championing Aristotle, but insistent voices from the wings reminding them that, for all his virtues, Aristotle was, well, earthbound.

The Renaissance came to the West with the rediscovery and translation into Latin of the Platonic dialogues and the Corpus Hermeticum.

This would be about the same time as the first Tarot decks showed up. The popularity of alchemical and mystical emblem books was widespread, as a supplement to more prosaic forms of literature. This in fact explains how the Tarot ended up becoming a book of Hermetic wisdom, when most of the people designing decks were just making artistic follies out of the available material. For more on this fascinating topic, I refer you to Robert M. Place, who I believe has come as close as possible to cracking this particular code.

What this is pointing to is a duality in human thought and experience, between literal and symbolic thinking (what we used to refer to as left-brain vs. right-brain processing, before the brain laterality hypothesis got exploded). This is a dichotomy that produces certain kinds of blindness that tend to poison discourse. There aren’t that many people who are so symbolic-minded that they don’t process literal discourse well, although I have known some. The more common problem is that people get locked into literalism and devalue other modes of thought. This can be seen in religious zealotry, anti-religious zealotry, and scientism.

If you look at the history of the Rosicrucian movement and the subsequent Enlightenment and counter-Enlightenment tendencies1, for example, you can see that the original Rosicrucian literature, influenced by Humanism as well as the likes of Paracelsus, Dee, Kelley, Pico, Fludd, and Ficino, was a corrective to Christian dogmatism that contained a balance of spiritual and empirical elements. This sort of balance apparently isn’t stable, as the spiritual side tends to produce charlatans as prolifically as shaved ram’s horn produces asparagus2, and the empiricist over-correction led by the likes of Comte and Mersenne pushed the Hermetic sciences off the stage for about a century.

The same tendencies are obvious in the history of astrology. For that matter, occultists are still debating whether alchemical literature is just coded spiritual practice, or if there’s value in setting up a lab.

Today, we still need to cultivate our balance, and I see the so-called occult revival as playing an important role in that, at least until we swing too far the other way. We can’t have only Plato or only Aristotle, or only symbolism or only literalism, and remain healthy.

  1. I have not read all the source material on this yet, but I believe my overview is correct.
  2. Yes, that was an occultist in-joke.
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First Impressions are…

So,  I just got Robson’s The Fixed Stars and Constellations in Astrology,  since that seems to be the go-to book.

There are some statements in the Preface that make it abundantly clear that the author was not au courant with the science of his day (1923), so you might want to just skip the Preface on this one.

I see it also leaves out Alkaid, which is odd, since that’s a Behenian star. However, considering that the book covers 110 major stars, it’s not so surprising that something got left out.

Still,  it looks useful,  and will do until someone else writes a more authoritative book.

Just a Delphic selfie

Skeptical Frater is skeptical

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Looks like a cobweb blog,  doesn’t it? I got out of the book reviewing business because I was reading too many books that,  whatever their merits for someone else,  weren’t what I needed to be reading.

In the meantime,  I have been doing my own practice and study,  continuing to lead the monthly study group,  and so on.

This post is a teaser for a new direction coming soon: still magic,  but also lots of astrology content. At least until a comet wipes us out,  and while everyone else is dying of flooding,  cold,  or whatever,  the remaining astrologers die of irony…

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An Execration

Performed in due form by the Namen of Temple Zagduku before the shrines of Lilith, Inanna, Ereshkigal, Utu, Ea, and Ningishzida, on 2015-04-19 in an hour of Venus, appropriate for Inanna destroyer of mountains.

I don’t usually curse, although I have and probably will again, but if these walking turds aren’t worth a curse, then nothing is.

Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous

As I mentioned here (where I offered a “first effort” in this regard), today is World Heritage Day, when several people (including Galina Krasskova) have done formal rituals against the bastards who think their role upon earth is to destroy the history of the devotions of their ancestors. I will not say their name in my preamble statement here, because I think it is more effective to be silent about them whenever possible, and to reserve my saying of their name for the venom it deserves, which will be mustered below.

Execration of the Impious

May the poisonous spit of ten million cobras
be heaped upon the name of Daesh
and upon the heads and eyes and hearts
of everyone who masses under their banner.

May they who destroyed Nimrud and Hatra,
and who have threatened to bring low
the pyramidal jewels of Egypt’s crown
have their name ground…

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