And the serpent is riding
over the voice of the raven,
the Other God, to his spouse,
magic, in which Samael,
the Other God, becomes complete.
That’s the epigraph of Veneficium (out of print) by Daniel Schulke, Magister of the Cultus Sabbati. As Samael can be translated as the Poison of God, He, Samael, is regarded by Schulke as the Patron of the Poison Path, the use of poisons and entheogens (often the same plant) in magic and to achieve Gnosis. Poison also kills. It can kill you if you’re careless with it. You can use it to kill your enemies. One Latin word for witch is venefica/veneficus, “one who uses poisons”. The link between witchcraft and poisonous herbs is at least as old as Classical Greek literature. The name of one of Sophocles’s plays, of which only a fragment remains, is The Rootcutters. The Rootcutters means The Witches. Thus Samael is the perfect Patron not only of veneficium, but of witchcraft in general, which in Classical Greece was almost synonymous with root-cutting and poison-making. (Let the record state that it takes a bit of fudging to get the Poison of God from Samael’s name, סמאל. To get Poison of God you need to add a Yod: סמיאל. That’s probably pedantry on my part.)
If we take it at face value, this snippet tells us many things. Samael is the serpent, since the rise of the monotheisms perhaps the ultimate symbol of evil — the symbol of the Devil according to Christian exegesis of the Garden of Eden story. Samael is sometimes considered the original but forfeited or the real true name of Lucifer and/or Satan. He’s called the Leader of the Satans in Jewish lore. In that Jewish folklore however He is considered a powerful archangel in good standing with God, albeit he has many unpleasant duties to perform. He is basically a chief prosecutor and, I assume, enforcer. See the Book of Job. In Renaissance Hermeticism he is named as the archangel of the Sphere of Mars. Nowadays Kammael usually holds that position but some mages still conjure the Renaissance archangels of the Spheres by their older names, including Samael, when the going gets tough on a large scale and changes are necessary in the world at large, no matter how harshly they’ll be effected. —Basically, Samael is many things simultaneously to many people. Or is there simply more than one Samael? Duplicate angel names abound in the literature of magic. But I simply do not know the answer to that particular question.
The voice of the raven could possibly refer to A’arab Zaraq, the Qliphotic counterpart to Netzach, whose corresponding Planetary Sphere is that of Venus. Unbalanced, as all the Qliphoth are said to be (whether they exist on a separate tree or not: I tend to think they don’t as the usual Hebrew name for the so-called Tree of Death is the Sitra Ahra, meaning the Other Side, while Qliphoth itself means husks, shells, peels) — anyway, being an unbalanced image of Netzach A’arab Zaraq may mean unbridled lust, unbridled fertility and production — as of poisonous plants, for example, or as the global economy’s never-ending need to produce new goods for us to consume. The Sphere of Venus manifests the pleasures of life, enjoying which we can lose control of ourselves. Addiction of every kind is a good example of this. A’arab Zaraq means The Ravens of Dispersion. A good name for unbridled lust, appetite and addiction. —If you’re interested in such matters I highly recommend Thomas Karlsson’s Qabalah, Qliphoth and Goetic Magic.)
You Nightsiders out there know that A’arab Zaraq is said to be presided over by the demon Baal. But if Samael is an archangel, or if He deserves the title “The Other God”, then He can go any damned (or undamned) place He wants. Note I capitalize His name, as is my custom when writing about Powers with whom I have however small an acquaintance. (Those meetings must be dealt with another time in another post.)
But the voice of the raven probably doesn’t refer to A’arab Zaraq at all. In the epigraphic snippet from the Zohar above every reference is either to Samael or to His spouse. The voice of the raven thus becomes His spouse, magic. Now Samael’s spouse, it’s pretty much universally agreed, is Lilith. Perhaps magic stands metaphorically for Lilith, as a sail can refer to an entire ship. (Mystical and magical literature is everything but consistent, this might not be the case at all, but let’s go with it for now.) The Akkadian phrase Daughters of Lilith may refer to female demons or it may refer to witches, of whom Sumerian and Babylonian society had a great fear. Also, remember, Samael is named as Patron of the Poison Path, a form of witchcraft. The Zohar quote is talking about witchcraft, not genteel 1700s angel magic practiced by doctors and lawyers. —So let’s just substitute the word witchcraft.
Read thus Samael, the Poison of God, also known as the God of the Left Hand, becomes complete in witchcraft. Adopting a maybe heretical, maybe not, bit of the Christian mythos as Traditional Craft itself often does, we can go on to identify Samael as the Devil in His most potent manifestation. (He is called the Leader of the Satans, after all, at least in Jewish lore.)
We’re left with this — The Devil becomes complete in witchcraft.
Let’s turn it the other way around and ask, Does witchcraft only become complete in the Devil?
I ask this because Peter Grey in Apocalyptic Witchcraft, which I mentioned here, devotes an entire chapter to the thesis that, yes, witchcraft can only become complete if the Devil is there, at the Sabbat. And you’ve probably made a pact with Him even, Grey suggests. Devoted yourself to Him. As Grey writes:
The traditional formula is simple, kneeling with hair loose, praying aloud for his help. You do not need a book to tell you the words. They are within you. If you wish to place an intercessor between you and your desire, then a tradition already exists for you, it is called Christianity. Witchcraft simply removes the things which are obscuring our sight of the narrow path [The Devil reveals a narrow path into a dark wood, Grey has written on the previous page], and this agency, this game, is called the Devil (pp. 66-67).
Although I love reading and rereading Apocalyptic Witchcraft, it’s at this point that something within me says Wait just a minute. Is such an adversarial stance really necessary? Is it even possible that a group with such a stance might prevail in these admittedly perilous times, or is it all just a pipe dream? Still I’m conflicted. The world is headed, probably inescapably, toward drastic ecological and cultural changes. These changes will not be for the better. Thousands of species already wiped out, the rain forests still being cut down, oil spills every week it seems, barely enough fresh water for the current world population’s needs, drones and surveillance cameras proliferating, and things do indeed seem to be getting worse and not better, every day.
It makes me want to do something. It makes me angry. As I said, I’m conflicted. So the following clauses of “An Apocalyptic Witchcraft Manifesto” speak to me at a deep level. A level that responds Yes.
11 We call an end to the pretence [sic] of respectability.
12 We will not disarm ourselves.
13 The War is upon us.
—Part of me responds to this fierily with Yes. Yet still something deep inside also whispers Wait just a minute… Which voice am I going to listen to?
Let me state immediately that I harbor no prejudice against Satanists, Theistic Satanists, Demonolators, Luciferians, et al. I myself venerate Lilith, and from me at least She prefers the title Demoness over that of Goddess. I’m a votary of Quimbanda, honoring mighty spirits who are called the Devil and his wife.
But Lilith came to me, only a couple of days after I came out to myself as trans. Though I was afraid of Her for a long time, though I tried to drive Her away, She would always return — with comfort, solace and empowerment. She has proved unfailingly loyal to me and kind and wise.
—As for Quimbanda, Nicolas de Mattos Frisvold writes in the opening words of his magnificent work Pomba Gira and the Quimbanda of Mbùmba Nzila:
Quimbanda is largely understood as a black art because it is here that we find the cult of the devil and his wife. The red world of the devil’s spouse and mistress merges into his darkness as roaring laughter bursts from the pits of hell and mischievous acts are incessantly
That’s one way to do Quimbanda. But it’s not Frisvold’s way. It’s not Quimbanda de raiz, Quimbanda of the root. He states the pristine nature of Quimbanda on page two:
The spirit retinue of Quimbanda has much to give and can aid in maturing our understanding of the world, if we can only allow them to do so. Doing this invites challenges, for to take on the devil as one’s tutor will not make for a safe journey. They are hard and demanding teachers that at times perplex in their responses and actions as they seek work to heal the tormented human soul [italics mine].
I judge no one who practices a tradition of adversarial witchcraft. Good luck and more power to you. I do not however believe it is the only way. I also believe that the war Peter Grey declares in Article 13 of his Manifesto is one that all the practitioners of magic in the world can never win. We are too few. What then must we do? If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em? No, not exactly. —I believe the key is neither to go to war against the status quo, nor to be a slave to the status quo, i.e., to be a fully complicit member of it, but instead to master the status quo.
That sounds just as huge and hopeless as all out war, doesn’t it. But if we analyze our lives we can see how we can master the individual facets. Start with money.
Paraphrasing one of my teachers, it’s bad to serve money, to be a slave to money. Unless you take a course in survivalism and live in the woods for the rest of your life, you are complicit to some extent in the global economy that is ruining our world. Few of us are prepared to do completely without money, and making minimum wage at a coffee bar helps nothing — that leaves you a slave to your wage, a servant of money. And becoming the Monopoly Man and serving money that way by the endless accumulation of it solves nothing — that makes you the source of the problem. The solution is this: we must master money. We must know how money works, we must make money and more than just enough to get by, we must enjoy money, but never serve it. Make money do your bidding. Better the world a little with charitable donations or by giving your employees a living wage. There’s really no other way but just in these sorts of mastery, wisdom and good deeds.
Another example is the Internet. (TV is not an example: kill your TV or watch as little as possible.) Yes, the Internet immerses us in our civilization’s Borg-like hive mind, the words and images seep into millions of people, so some people say it would be better not to use or look at the Internet. —But just as with money, we do not have to be slaves to the Internet. We can master it. Look at the work of alternative news sources, the Web sabotages of Anonymous, the service that Wikileaks does us all by allowing us access to information that would otherwise be hidden by the establishment. It’s almost as difficult these days, because of our jobs, because of our desire to Skype with far-away loved ones, to abandon the Internet as it would be to abandon money. We must keep our critical faculties sharply honed and finely tuned to avoid becoming slaves to the memetics of the Web. But it can be done. What’s more, if you’re so inclined you can go on to master the internal workings of the Internet, to make it work for you and to work for the greater good.
There are countless more examples I could cite. But my thesis is this. —I believe declaring war against the status quo, the establishment, Western civilization, is a hopeless cause. And if we won, would we prove any better masters of civilization than the current ones? I doubt it. Instead, we must fight the hard fight of mastering each facet of our individual lives and then work both individually and in like-minded groups to make the world a better place.
I love Apocalyptic Witchcraft. It is a great read and a truly important book, idea-wise. But a flawed one, I believe.
Instead of magical war let us work to change and to better the world. Ultimately only as individuals can we do this. We must first change ourselves, then strive to change the world. We can make a difference. And if enough of us practitioners accomplish this lofty goal, we might turn magic into civilization’s trusted friend and helper and guide. I’m not positive that stranger things have happened. But like Fox Mulder, I want to believe.