I, Mogg Morgan continue my exploration.
So Crowley, lots of books written about him, biographies, lots of them done already, so not really much to say that hasn’t been said, though having said that, I can think of a few things that to my mind could still be explored, but that’s another story. John Moore managed to come up with a few new angles, lets start there. John Moore died a year or so back, so I thought I’d talk to his son Alistair about John’s research.
I asked Alistair to first tell me a little about himself, as I know people enjoy the personal touch, well I do anyway. Was he perhaps named after Crowley?
I’m John’s younger son (I have an older brother, Simon). I’m a freelance analyst and also a writer myself – I had a novel (The Release, Candy Jar Books) published in 2018. I grew up in London and studied Russian at Exeter University. As for being named after Crowley – people often ask, but my parents both assured me I wasn’t – my mother wanted to call me Alexander but finally they decided upon Alistair, the Scottish variant.
We are talking about your father whose untimely death robbed us of a chance to talk to him about his interesting books about Crowley. Before we get into would you like to share some personal reflections about your father.
With John being an intellectual I grew up surrounded by thousands of books. He introduced me to literature at a young age, so I read many of the Russian greats – Turgenev, Bulgakov, Dostoevsky. One of my favourite novels is Sanine, by a little-known writer called Artzibashev – my dad bought me an original hardback of this, I think dating back to when it was published in the early 20th century. Even Russian friends haven’t heard of the book or the writer, but it’s a fantastic novel, similar in some ways to Lermontov’s Hero of Our Time, with an antihero theme. John didn’t have any Russian ancestry btw, he was just a real fan of the literature.
Being exposed to all this led to me studying Russian, and definitely influenced me in my own path to becoming a writer. Dostoevsky was one of John’s favourite writers, and his favourite novel of Dostoevksy’s was The Devils. John was a philosopher, so he especially enjoyed novels dense with philosophical ideas, common with Dostoevsky.
John was a good father, perhaps not a typical dad, but then he wasn’t a typical person either. He could never have endured a life working in an office. Philosophy and ideas were central to his life, so it was inevitable I’d absorb these influences growing up, and I’m grateful for that. He left quite a legacy with his own writing, in print and online, much of which I am discovering now. His writing is packed with ideas, this is very apparent even in the accessible format of the graphic books on Crowley and Bulwer-Lytton.
We weren’t ready to lose him, and he certainly wasn’t ready to go – there was much more he wanted to do, to write, experience and live. I’m grateful I was able to play a part in the production of his two graphic books Crowley: A Beginners Guide and more recently Bulwer-Lytton: Occult Personality, helping get these ideas and visions of his into print – with your help, of course.
Tell us more about John and his interest in philosophy. One of his books is Aleister Crowley: A Modern Master so I’m guessing from this that he had some professional interest in the world of ideas, tell us something about that.
Definitely – philosophy was his world. As I mentioned he especially enjoyed philosophical novelists like Dostoevsky, and the world of ideas in general. His favourite philosopher was Nietzsche. He was a member of the Nietzsche Society and read several papers at their international conferences. In 2011, he published his own book on Nietzsche called Nietzsche – An Interpretation, which contains 10 of these papers. For many years he also ran and moderated an online Nietzsche discussion forum. He also admired Schopenhauer. One project he sadly never got to complete was a compendium of what he felt were the most significant philosophers, named A Trip Around Philosophy.
More specifically he was obviously interested in Crowley – do you know anything about how he got into that, was he a magician?
I don’t know too much about how and when he first got into Crowley, but he was an admirer of Crowley’s writings and personal philosophy, which as I understand it is tied into certain ideas like Nietzsche’s revolving around free will. To an extent I think it’s fair to say he subscribed to the creed of ‘Do What Thou Wilt’. As for being a practitioner – no, despite his interest in the occult and ideas relating to it, his interest and involvement there was intellectual only.
John’s Aleister Crowley: A Modern Master was his first book on the topic. How did this title come about ?
While a lot has been written about Crowley, I think John’s contributions to the field have been original. The reason for the title A Modern Master was that he felt Crowley’s ideas, rather than being only of their time, have relevance today in the modern age, perhaps more than ever. That’s one aim of the book – to explain how Crowley’s ideas are linked to modernity and current thought.
As for pitching previously – although he got very positive feedback both from Fontana for this book, and from Icon (graphic guide publishers) for Crowley: A Beginners Guide I know one barrier was that Crowley was seen as a bit of a risky subject, perhaps too controversial or unsavoury for some readers. John talks about the book in this video from 2009.
Can you summarise the book in a nutshell?
An argument for Crowley’s importance in the modern age, a defense of what has been criticised as the more contemptible side of Crowley’s character, an exploration of some of his creative achievements, and an attempt to render his ideas more accessible.
What do you think is the book’s essence ?
Without doubt John was one of Crowley’s biggest fans. While I’m sure he didn’t agree with everything Crowley said or did, he always felt Crowley deserved more recognition for his ideas and writings, so I think in large part the book is a defense of Crowley and his work.
Turning to John’s sequel to Aleister Crowley: A Modern Master, was Crowley: A Beginners Guide – very unusually in graphic book format, how did this project come about?
I believe the idea was originally suggested by a friend of John’s, a Sikh he worked with back in the eighties, who thought an illustrated graphic guide along the lines of Icon Books’ popular ‘Introducing’ series based on Crowley, could do well. It took John some time to get round to it, but when he got started on the text, I introduced him to John Higgins, an illustrator acquaintance of mine. John Higgins produced a great number of original ink drawings for the book, which I then combined with John’s text and some free-for-use imagery to produce formatted illustrated pages ready for publication by Mandrake.
It was an immensely fun project to work on, and I’m very proud of what we all created – a lovely little graphic guide filled with very entertaining artwork to accompany all the ideas inside it.
The format is unusual , why did he choose this, perhaps as an antidote to the normal heaviness of its topic?
Mainly accessibility. As you say there is a density of ideas there, but John wanted to open them up to as wide an audience as possible. That’s not to say it’s dumbed down – not at all. Although some Crowleyites might bristle at the ‘Beginners’ part of the title, it’s packed with content and exploration of his key ideas, influences and legacy. It just happens to be in a very novel and entertaining format. Beginners Guide has the potential to reach a wider audience than Modern Master, something like a primer.
John also wrote in similar format a book on Bulwer Lytton: Occult Personality – very unusual but neglected topic. There is a Crowley connection, I think I’m right that his esoteric novel Zanoni, made it onto Crowley’s reading list for all aspiring students of magick. But what’s the story behind this?
Again, the Bulwer book was something he’d been wanting to do for a while. John got to know Lytton’s great-great-great grandson Henry Lytton-Cobbold, and was an occasional guest at Knebworth House, the ancestral home of the Lyttons (and well known rock concert venue) after Henry came across an article on John’s website about Bulwer-Lytton.
John admired Bulwer-Lytton’s writing, feeling it was unfairly derided (I was myself surprised to hear that at one point, he was the best-known novelist in the English-speaking world). Again, with this book John aimed to explore and bring to a wider audience Bulwer-Lytton’s key role in esotericism, philosophy, and key cultural movements in the Victoria era, as well as showing the relevance of much of these ideas today. He talks about the book and the ideas in it here (filmed around late summer 2018 at the Canonbury pub in Islington).
The format of the book is similar to Beginners Guide, a graphic introduction. It contains a lot of artwork by John Higgins and another artist named Paul Campbell, a friend of my brother Simon.
John was already ill when he started work on this, so there was a little more urgency to the project. Happily he lived to see and enjoy the book’s publication.
Again, he opted for a very unusual, unique format – what do you think about that? Something I’ve noticed, I wonder if the magical people who mostly read this kind of stuff, are they open to this kind of graphic approach – they can be a bit serious, perhaps too much so?
I can’t claim to know these magical people well enough to know how serious they are, or they might feel about the approach! However, as with Crowley: A Beginners Guide I’d say that despite the format, designed to be accessible as well as original and entertaining, both books are packed with ideas and pretty rigorous explorations of both men and their ideas.
Even though I have no special interest in the occult or esotericism myself, I find Bulwer-Lytton: Occult Personality really educational, especially in regard to the Victorian era – religion, philosophy, antiquity, artistic movements and so on. It’s a bit like a springboard, making you want to go off and explore these topics in more depth.
As for humour, I think done properly it works well in these contexts as long as you don’t trivialise the subjects, and I think both the graphic guides get this balance right. A world without humour would be a depressing place indeed!
Thanks, you’ve been great, anything else you would like to add that you think I should have asked but forgot?
The last thing John published was this selection of his own poetry, 100 Poems, the earliest of which I think he wrote when he was 15. I recorded this interview with him talking about the book in April 2019, a couple of months before he died. Getting this collection out was important to him, and I know he’d be happy for it to get a mention here.
A lot more of John’s writing is online – his websites are here
http://www.mith.demon.co.uk (his main original site, up since the 90s)
For me, the story of Aleister Crowley’s moment of truth in Cairo 1904 is one of the most interesting in a lifetime graced by perhaps a half dozen such experiences. 1904 was the pivotal year in Crowley’s career, he was 29 years old and therefore well into what is popularly known as the “Saturn Return”. Difficult as it is to believe, Crowley had more or less given up on magick at this point in his life and concentrated on having a good time with what remained of his inheritance. I think we can surmise that he was disillusioned by his experiences as an unwanted member of the famous Victorian occult society we know as the Golden Dawn. Like any hierarchical organisation, internal reveries often blow things apart and in this case, the conflicts had ended in litigation and even, so it is said, deadly magical battles. Its autocratic master Samuel Liddell Macgregor-Mathers said to be overwhelmed by megalomania, locked in conflict with other former friends but also wannabe masters and mistresses. Crowley, still a relatively young upstart, had taken his chances with the boss. Significantly he had cut short his magical retreat in Scotland, for which he had obviously made lavish preparations – this was the famous Abramelin practice.
In the version he was following, the practice began on Jewish Passover and continued for six months. From a more recent and complete published version, we now know this should actually be 18months. In the 15th century, Abraham began his retreat at Easter (Jewish Passover) itself a very important ancient feast connected with demons and angels of death. These myths make use of doorways of one kind or another, the ancient Hebrews supposedly inscribing magick signs on their lintels, a signal for the angel of death to pass over the house.
It terminated on the old feast of Tabernacles or “Booths”. The modern interpretation tells us this was originally a reminder of the temporary dwellings used by the early Hebrews during their flight from Egypt.
Crowley’s short gambit with the Golden Dawn did not go well and he was either expelled or left the sanctuary under a cloud. As for The Book of Abramelin, the magical moment had passed and there was no point in returning to his house at Boleskine until the following Easter. So Crowley travelled to Mexico and as often happens, did not return for several years. When he did he was again distracted by his future wife Rose Kelly.
He eloped with and married Rose Kelly. It was for her patrician family, an unsuitable match, though he was a former family friend. Perhaps to escape the bad family vibe, they set out together on a world tour as a honeymoon. Their cruise ship arrived in Alexandra, a short hop from Cairo, where they planned some sightseeing in the fascinating metropolis. They no doubt took in the sites and the nightlife. Crowley, who already knew the city, having visited a few years earlier, paying a little baksheesh to the local family for special access to the pyramids at night, where in the King’s chamber, he was able to show off some of his old tricks, with a handy copy of the Goetia, which has a preliminary invocation taken from ancient Egyptian magical papyri.
The results cannot fail to have impressed Rose Kelly, who later, back in their lavish hotel room, no doubt having imbibed perhaps a little too much of the local Omar Khayyam vintage, fell into a light trance and said: “They are waiting for you”. I’m paraphrasing really, more accurate accounts are available I’m sure. Some say Crowley had prepared for all this on his visit a few years earlier, why else did he have the right magical books to hand. But key perhaps is that is was Passover in Cairo, the full moon and exactly the right time to restart another Egyptian originated ritual, that of Abramelin, who according to his medieval account, was a supreme ritual of the adepts in Upper Egypt, which he got after his failed quest through Europe in search of illumination.
Already experienced with the Abramelin system, Crowley seems to have used it to put himself in touch with his guardian daemon – Aiwass, an entity which some say was his own psyche. There is a famous photograph of Crowley posed with a magick book, a pentagram emblazoned on the front cover. What’s in the book, nothing other than his complete collection of magick squares neatly drawn during his preparation for the Abramelin practice!
The name of his angel lends itself to a bit of wordplay. Aiwass or “I Was” does indeed have a split personality, dictating a book that proposes entirely contradictory solutions to humanity’s problems viz “The Law of the Jungle” versus “AL True Ism”?
Snoo Wilson takes up the story some years later when Crowley, now reconciled with his revelation in Cairo, makes an attempt to found an alternative community, dedicated to the tenets dictated to him by those Egyptian spirits in Cairo. It was a brave attempt that eventually foundered due to its own internal conflicts, and the events outside the communards control, such as the rise of a fascist government in Italy, which was hostile to such alternative lifestyles. The Sicilian locals apparently had come to enjoy the presence of their purple priest and his followers.
Snoo Wilson who carved out a successful career as a playwright specialising in the tricky genre of black comedy used all his talents on the Crowley story. The result was a successful stage play which is novelised as “I, Crowley, almost the last confession of the beast 666”. These days, Crowley people are not noted for their sense of humour and not everyone is able to see the funny side of some of our pretensions. Which is odd, given how fond Crowley himself was of a good joke or an extended tongue in cheek romp. I’m pretty sure he would have enjoyed Snoo’s retelling of the end of the commune as much as anyone should. Remembering that one must first entertain before getting too serious. In the end, “I, Crowley” does all that, though it starts with a refutation of the accusation common in my hometown, that Crowley killed much loved Oxford student Raoul Loveday with a magick spell. Arthur Calder Marshall wrote that a hit squad was even sent from the Student Union to avenge the crime that never happened. The whole story is set out in this great act of what Snoo once called the “lesser form of magick” although he was again being ironic, there is nothing lesser about writing a good novel.
Part II of this essay
is about Aleister Crowley: A Beginner’s Guide …
There are many books on how to do magick, but not so many with stories about actually doing it and what happens.
NakedTantra lays bare the inner states of the two brave souls involved in this extended magical work.
An experiment, two people, two countries, one mind, experimenting in tantra meta-magick, cosmic astral travel to the land of no boundaries, looking for the doors of perception.
Of necessity the contents of this grimoire might be considered erotic. And, with that thought in mind, it might also be that the reader is occasionally aroused by our story as it progresses. Some might find this an unwanted intrusion, into what is otherwise an exploration of a magical world. Others we surmise, will take this in good part, accepting that, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. To those who do not share these sensibilities, and are unmoved by what you are about to read, we offer our sincerest apologies.
Mogg Morgan talks to MIRYAMDEVI & MINANATH, pseudonymous authors of NAKEDTANTRA
About The Authors
These are not their real-world names but neither are they false, they emerged in the dialogue. In real life, they both have experience in eastern and western magical styles.
You obviously have chosen to write under names other than those of your birth, which is not uncommon in magical publishing. The story of how you came by your writerly names is told in the book so I won’t spoil the surprise now. Even so, can you introduce yourself and say a little about what you do, your aims and objectives with your writing?
When I first met Miryamdevi she called herself a simple “cowgirl”, which immediately brought to mind the Gopi-maidens who trail after Krishna. But then I discovered she really likes Tom Robbins who wrote Even Cowgirls get the Blues. So there’s something in that, but also, what she says about growing up on a farm; she has a certain earthiness and salt of the earth strength.
Another thing that came up when we got into working with the archetype Babalon – who we, or could be Miryamdevi, worked out, is not some rare breed but is in every woman, Miryamdevi is in a very real sense: “Everywoman”.
My name Minanath literally means (lord of) fish, and it seemed appropriate somehow. It is the name of a Hindu magician/mystic from old times. Also known as Matsyendra, Macchendra, and others. His biography can be seen as mythic or real, depending on who you read. I like the version that he worked in the sea, probably as a fisherman, a fairly taboo or lowly profession in India. But somehow he had a revelation and put together much of the spiritual system we know as Tantra. Perhaps it was because of his humble status people applied the story of his getting the wisdom from a secret scroll, written by the god Shiva, and hidden in the belly of one of the fish he caught. Sometimes it is he who ends up in the fish. But sometimes I just think he learned stuff from people he met on the harbour, maybe mariners from distant lands, like Egypt and Greece.
Anyway, my name Minanath is a reference to that guy who lived a long time ago, not thousands of years but long enough. I think magical tantra started or reemerged in India at the same time when things were getting difficult for magicians in Egypt, with the rise of Christianity. To put it romantically, when the light of knowledge was being extinguished in Egypt and the Near East, the torch passed over to India.
Miriam (מִרְיָם Mir-yām) is described in the Hebrew Bible as the daughter of Amram and Jochebed and the sister of Moses and Aaron. She was a prophetess and first appears in the Book of Exodus.
It is all in the name actually, the name Miryam suggest the strong connection she had with the sea and water (Yam in Hebrew means sea and the very obvious Mer-Mir). In the Jewish tradition and culture, The Tambourine is widely associated with Miryam and her love for music. Within the circle of Jewish midwifery especially the Israeli ones, Miryam and her mom Jochbed were the first midwives of the Israelites. I relate to all of this as I was born near the sea, I love music and I’m a doula.
The name Miryam is very popular in my family but although all the Miryams’ are very strong women, most of them had very difficult and unhappy lives. When Minanath said that I have to choose a magickal name it didn’t take long for me to understand that I have the chance to take the name Miryam and turn it into a healing name that will heal a long ancestral line of ‘broken Miryams’. Miryam became MiryamDevi and as soon as I started to use it I felt the healing has begun.
Without giving too much away, are you able to say a little more about your family background, ie past and current – ie are you married, children, work – people like a little bit of personal stuff if you ok to share?
I was born in Israel and grew up on the family farm. My dad was a horse breeder so we had lots of horses, I love horses, I love all animals. In my early twenties, I moved to the UK. After my husband died I moved back to Israel. No children. When Mina and I met I was living in Israel. I’m an aromatherapist and a doula.
I always lived in the UK originally from Wales. Divorced with no children. I work in the world of books, selling and occasionally writing them.
Naked Tantra is rather a striking title – can you say that a bit more about that, what does it signify?
The word Naked in this particular connotation – NakedTantra, signifies the naked truth of our practices. NakedTantra is a very intimate and personal book that reveals some secrets about ourselves and the way we do things. When Mina came out with the name NakedTantra I thought it is the perfect name for the book which reveals so much about us. It feels like we are standing naked in front of the reader.
Miryamdevi said it really, although of course, in the first part of the book there is an account of Miryamdevi’s initiation, which like mine a few years back, and like many initiations, requires some nudity as an act of love and trust. There is a fair amount of nakedness in our book. But mostly really it’s what for us is the naked truth – revealing things as we see them. It may not be true for everyone but it is true for us. Perhaps like those energy bars that have no additives, that’s us, pure and honest, as much as it is possible for anyone to remove the mask and record what they did.
Well, that’s the Naked aspect covered. Can you explain something about the Tantrik aspect of the story? Most of our readers will have a general idea of what it means but I think, as there are so many misconceptions, it would be good if you could say what exactly you mean in this context?
Tantra, yes, a massive subject to talk about… The way I see it, it’s all about cycles within cycles, relationships, the balance between physicality and spirituality, SivaSakti and Lingam-Yoni, Yoni-Lingam, Lingam-Lingam, Yoni-Yoni, whatever.. you cannot do all this without some Serpent Power. I think Mina is the person to ask about Tantra for a clearer answer 🙂
What Miryam said is really good. Miryam always has a very down to earth way of expressing things, hopefully, you noticed that in the book. But technically, Tantra is a South Asian, Indian subcontinental esoteric tradition. Like the term Yoga, I think you could translate Tantra with the western term magic, but not everyone will agree and we probably need to argue that more.
In the book Naked Tantra, you list many songs and poems, some of which you wrote or translated yourselves. Are music and poetry very special to you, can you say a little bit about that, why it is so special?
I love music. Music is a big part of my life and there’s always something playing in the background especially when I cook or clean the house, I’ll have the radio on and will sing along and dance to my favourite tunes. I also make lots of playlists. I have playlists that will suit any mood at any time and any day, I’ve got a good ear for mixing tunes and songs and fancy myself as a secret DJ. Music helps me write. It took me ages to write chapter one, I knew what I wanted to say but the words didn’t come out. One day I was listening to the Ganesha mantra and immediately I knew what to write, so I sat down and wrote chapter one. If you read that chapter you’ll see that there are few mantras which are linked to each other, each mantra was like a key that when played the words just came out flowingly without stopping. Poetry is also very special, when Mina and I met we were living in different countries and as we both like to write as much as we like to talk we found ourselves corresponding on a daily basis via emails. Sometimes situations in life can be very lyrical and when I sit down to write about it the words flow out of me in a lyrical rhythm, a poem of sorts some may say. Separation, longing and Karessa can turn one into an enthusiastic poet.
Miryamdevi is the DJ. I like her style. I think we are a little part of a long tradition of mystics such as the troubadours, the Tamil Siddhas, the Bauls etc. Sometimes called courtly love, where the frisson created between two lovers, who are often separated, either by societal rules or physical distance and then their inner fantasies, their emotional energy is sublimated and channelled into poetry and storytelling. So one way or another we did a lot of writing, we still do. We do our magic, as described in the book, and we dream and write, and write and dream. We just hope our readers will enjoy the things we say, be entertained. As they say, first entertain, then educate.
Is the journey in your book, the kind of rituals you describe, would that be for everyone, a beginner or is it only for the expert?
The journey is for anyone that resonates with our story, and the way we practice and dream.
Aleister Crowley, who turned up in our narrative, wrote or channelled “The Law is for All.” So yes, it’s for all. His magick was quite complex but also simple. Some like to talk about elites and special secrets they have, but it’s all out there already really. If it was all so secret we wouldn’t be writing a book about it, and in the tradition, there are thousands of old tantric texts in libraries, why did they write them if not to be read? I suppose the only qualification is the ability to read, understand, dream, do, and become.
What do you think other explorers of this genre would make your work? There are a lot of books already out there, what is it you think you bring to the table that is new?
As I said earlier, the book is about very personal and intimate work. Some might like it and some won’t. Some might say that we lifted the veil of Isis too far … for those, I’ll say “perhaps, but there again, she gives us life”.
Well, we’re not too sure about that. We hope they are entertained. I hope, if there is any shock, it will be of recognition. Some will perhaps question that what we have written, whether we are entitled to say it and whether what we experienced is appropriate. Almost every book these days seems to have to dismiss the connection between western sexual magick and the obscure secrets of real tantra, to dismiss other magicians’ ideas as new age. But then, in the end, these same people will carry on writing about tantra much as we do. So I think we are on the safe ground really, we can argue our corner. And in the end, does it matter? We are part of the same international community of magic that existed in India and Egypt in the past and is with us now. Mystical traditions cannot really be judged, or if they can, it is only by the results, ie pragmatically. Success is becoming.
Ps: I have to say that in the work, Miryamdevi really has, in my opinion, revealed some amazing insights into Jewish magick, something I’ve not seen anywhere before. Or put it this way, although Miryamdevi always denies any formal knowledge of Kabbalah, it just seems to be in her blood, to flow from her naturally. Which is what she says in the book at one moment – women just naturally receive and know these things. I don’t know if this is all women but definitely her.
That’s a lot of questions – can you try and summarise, in a nutshell, the enduring message of this book?
Follow your dreams.
Magic is complex but also simple. It is sometimes said that the gods created the world as a game, remembering how to play, that’s the thing.
Naked Tantra ends on a bit of a cliff-edge – without giving too much away, can you say what happened next in terms of what you are working on now?
Well, it seemed like the right place to stop, although the narrative obviously continues somehow and there are obviously some difficult moments ahead. The story comes to a natural climax, in more ways than one, when we break through our self imposed purdah and come together at a place of obvious power. What happens on the other side of the cliff-edge, that’s in part down to the readers.
What are we doing now? More experiments in the hyperreal – a ritual year and surprise surprise, some angelic conversations, though something very common although at the same time, ignored. It’s the old old story, people look for complexity when what they really need is staring them in the face.
Blaze through me
Seizing my soul
With Lightning claws
Blast me aflame
Broken bone in
I will not resist
Reach for me
Lift me in your gentle paws
Breath Warmth into
My quivering heart
Set me beside you
That I may share your strength
My I not fear love nor myself
Fill me with lust for life
Send me forth into this world
Armed with your wisdom
(attributed to Terence Duquesne,
was sorting through some old papers and found this – seems to be his style and handwriting but it is unsigned )
Was “Unusual votive offerings of Medinet Habu/Luxor”
The Sugar Lady of Luxor and the Lady of Spring. Now she dissolves into the earth, many years after she was brought from Luxor
The Story of the Sugar Lady
The 19th century excavation at Medinet Habu in its obsession with the monumental, stone architecture of the Ramesside period destroyed a great deal of the archaeology of later periods.(1) Libyan, Roman, Coptic and Islamic material was removed from the site and dumped, largely unrecorded. What we have lost in terms of knowledge of these later periods is incalculable. I am particularly interested in some of the inexpensive, votive offerings from all periods, as they reflect the personal piety of non elite local people. Medinet Habu continues to be a focus for local folk practices, especially connected with fertility. It’s interesting that locals continue to offer some of the same objects, including the votive beds, in connection with the birthday of the Muslim saint – Abu al-Hajjaj. It is a good example of “archaeological memory”, ultimately of the ancient Egyptian cult of Amun-Min, his consort Mut and their offspring, Khonsu.
Many of Amun-Min’s ithyphallic images escaped the chisels of later prudish iconoclasts. In ancient times, the god’s wife Mut came to visit Amun from her temple a few miles north of here at Karnak. This was the famous festival of Opet, a “hierosgamos” or “mystical marriage”. The tradition is very much alive amongst the Sufi and Ismailis of this part of Egypt. Every year the shops are full of little sugar statues, dyed pink or red with rose water, showing either the prophet or a local saint and his wife, although these days far less “rampant”. A friend explains: “‘Mawlid’ (moulid, مولد) means birthday, ‘al-nabi’ means the prophet, i.e. Muhammad. However, in many places there will also be mawlids celebrating the birthdays of various local Sufi saints such as the mawlid for Sidi Abu al-Hajjaj . Mawlid traditions go back more than a millenia, but a lot of Salafis regard them as a heretical innovation, so they’re controversial these days in some places. Nonetheless, throughout much of the Muslim world mawlids define the local ritual calendar, much as saints’ days do in strongly-Catholic parts of Europe.
[Further reading: Elizabeth Wickert, (2009) “Archaeological Memory the Leitmotifs of Ancient Egyptian Festival Tradition and Cultural Legacy in the Festival Tradition of Luxor: the mulid of Sidi Abu’l Hajjaj al-Uqsori and the Ancient ‘Feast of Opet’” JARCE 45]
“Such objects consists of small boxes of baked clay, usually about 22cm long, 12-14 cm wide ad 18-20 cm hight, but sometimes smaller. They are closed at the top and open at the bottom. Occasionally a latticework pattern is scratched or painted on the top, an indication that such objects are bed models. The front has short legs, and its lower edge is scalloped, obviously to represent fabric hanging down. It is ornamented with low relief, which was pressed in a mold and occasionally colored. Usually a bes figure is represented at either end and between them a nude woman in a boat. The representation on most of the specimens found in our excavations are of to different types. On type (fig 13 and Pl 6 G 1-2 [Cairo J 59845 and Chicago 14779]) show the nude woman seated on a cushion and playing a stringed instrument. In the bow, which is ornamented with a goose head and neck with necklace, stands a girl rowing with her arms stretched forward; the in the stern stands another girl, pushing with a pole which she holds pressed against her armpit. Between the figures are superimposed papyrus umbels. The other type :figure 14 and Pl 6G 3 [Chicago 14780} and 4) shows a simpler scene. The nude woman stands in the centre of the boat facing forward and holding a papyrus stalk at either side. Smaller fragments with similar scenes are shown in Plat 6 G 5 [Chicago 14827 & 6)” p12
These are nude female figures, usually lying on a bed, often with a pillow under the wigged head, occasionally with a child at the breast (eg Pl 6H ] Chicago 14603]). Obviously they were in some way associated with the marital relationship. As a rule the figure itself was pressed out of clay in a mold, and the rest was modelled by hand. These objects are from 12 – 22cm long and often decorated with red and white lines. Two limestone specimens are shown in Figure 12. That at the right, with a child alongside, is 25cm long; the fragments at the right, with a child at the breast, is 16.5cm wide. These figures were all found in debris of poor dwellings of the period 11th-8th centuries bc.
For more erotic magic from Egypt see Mogg Morgan, Seth and the Two Ways
(1) Uvo Holscher, The Excavation of Medinet Habu Vol V Post-Ramesside Remains Chicago 1954
Zar is the name of an exorcism dance tradition known most commonly from Egypt. The word is itself of obscure origin but most likely explanation is that it means a “visitation”. When western observers first encountered Zar in Egypt they described it as “black magic”:
“WITHIN only a comparatively short period of years,” says Professor Macdonald, “quite easily within thirty years, I should say — we have come to know that practically all through the Moslem world there is spread an observance exactly like the Black Mass in Christendom. That is to say, it is a profane parody of a sacred service. ..”
The heartland of Zar is modern Sudan, which was in the ancient world known as Nubia, the “land of gold”. The Nubians were famous as practitioners of sorcery. Sudanese people have in past been forcibly relocated all over the Middle East via the slave trade, thus there are different kinds of Zar, the most famous being Egypt Zar, but there are also branches all over the Mehreb, Morroccan (Gnawa), Libya, Algeria, and also Iran where they are known as the people of the air. Zar spirits can be Pagan, Muslim, Hindu, Christian or Jewish.
Initiations into the cult could be be “demonic” – that is one becomes an initiate because of encounter with a specific disease-spirit . One instinctively recognizes the musical signature of your first spirit. Depression is one of the most common triggers for Zar possession, something that, for example, commonly afflicts Egyptian women. From the Iranian branch we learn that there are in fact 72 different kinds of Zar spirit.
Masters of the Zar circle are known as Baba or Mama – father or a mother. They are experts in all the different Zar spirits, having been introduced to them by their first spirit initiator. These spirits are very similar to those from pharaonic Egypt – where they were known as the Akh or Akhw. These terms have been compared to Arabic Afarit, a kind of Djinn. Actually Djinn are fiery spirits whereas the Zar spirits often live under the earth in places such as caves or tombs.
A contact in Egypt, thinking I might help, told me about the problems experienced by his sister who would fall into a spontaneous possession trance that was catatonic. When her relatives spoke to her in this state and asked what she wanted, the spirit would reply “she wants a divorce.” The spirits are very practical and make a lot of sense in people’s lives. So the first question one should always put to such as spirit should be : “what do you want?”
Often part of the answer is a ceremony of some kind, which like much ancient folk ritual was ecstatic. The ceremony breaks many taboos and can involve alcohol, food, music and ecstatic dance in mixed company. It is important to have a blood sacrifice, usually a goat, whose blood will be offered to the spirits, while the human participants share the feast.
Wadôh wadêh ‘eni wadôh – yâ mamma / or Al La (Mogg Morgan author of Supernatural Assault in Ancient Egypt)
The Masters of Zar
Around 7 pm we were ready to go out to see the Masters of Zar that was showing at the El Dammah Theater, we couldn’t find the theater on the map, and weren’t sure about the address so we got Essmat to write the address and the name of the theater in Arabic so we can show it to the Taxi driver. Thanks to Essmat’s note, the Taxi driver could find the place which was tucked away at the back of a tiny ally. Inside, a very small theater, maybe enough room for about 50 people. There were not many people, only us and 4 other British tourists and about 10 locals.
At exactly eight o’clock three “mamas” enter. They are dressed in beautiful traditional dresses. The “crone” is dressed in royal blue, the “mother” dressed in black and the “younger” was dressed in red (the youngest probably in her fifties the oldest probably in her eighties). They started singing and chanting and one by one the other members of the group entered. They are drumming and chanting and building the rhythm into a very energetic trance beat which makes you want to get up and dance.
Four British guys are sitting in the front row and it doesn’t take long before one of them gets up and dances with the zar troops. The three mamas dance around him and it looks to me that they are guiding him into a deeper trance – they are circling and chanting around him dancing, hypnotising him, like they are putting a spell on him or maybe they are trying to break the spell that he’s been under…who knows?…
The atmosphere in the room is buzzing and I am sitting at the edge of my chair waiting for the right moment to get up and join in the magickal Zar circle. While thinking that, one of the Zar members approached me, he was a very handsome black man, very tall and looked like an Egyptian Pharaoh, all regal and beautiful in his white Galabia. He took my hand and lead me towards the dancers. As soon as we got into the circle the three mamas circled and danced around me, it felt like they are trying to show me something so I follow their moves which apparently was the right thing to do as the 2 older mamas moved on to dance with the 2 guys, and left me with the third one – The Black Mama, she showed me her moves which I followed and repeated. The rhythm and beat of the music grew faster and hypnotic, I could feel I’m going into trance. The eldest of the company, who I suspect was the leader, got closer and started to dance with me, while dancing together the rest of the company formed a dancing circle around us. The rhythm of the drums became faster and louder all smiling at me like they know something I don’t. I feel hypnotised, I dance the ancient dance with the company of wild Egyptian gypsies, the elder looked into my eyes, said something and smile and handed his drum over to me!
HE HANDED HIS DRUM TO ME!!!
I nearly fainted, this is the deepest shamanic initiation I know, holding THE DRUM in my hand I felt the buzz of its rhythm vibrating all over my body and in my heart. The three mamas are circling us and it feels to me that they are flying around us. I’m so excited and nervous at the same time, I can hear my drum completely out of tune, the “red mama” looked at me and with her eyes I can see her asking, “what are you doing woman? You are out of tune”! I gave her the drum back and thanked her of saving me from total embarrassment. From the corner of my eye I see the black prince leads Mina into the circle and before I knew it the “black mama” is taking me by the hand and Mina with her other hand and dances with both of us, everyone in the circle is cheering and dancing around us, the atmosphere is intoxicating, this is all a bit too much for me, I feel that I’m going to explode with joy, I need to sit down. I leave the circle feeling like I’m walking on clouds, feeling I am blessed.
The show’s going on for a little while longer, and once it’s finished I went to say goodbye to the three mamas. I get hugs and kisses from all of them, but it’s the Blue Mama, the eldest, she really got me. She gave me a big big hug, kissed both of my cheeks, looked into my eyes and said : “Habibty, Ya-Albi” ( “my darling, my beloved – my heart”), I was in tears. I kissed her back and thanked her.
For one long moment we were one, I was as one with her, I was a Zar.
Morgan is a name of illustrious pedigree, that means “born of the sea”. There is a legend in these parts that the inhabitants of a particular historic county in Wales (Cymri), were descendants of mer-people who moved inland from the nearby sea. Witchcraft has always had this strong connection with the sea, and something of the ocean’s undercurrents are strong among all the Cymri. The Morgan witches emerged in the ocean of story, as two new members of the ancient clan of witches began to weave their spell of words, and found they needed an authoritative author for the ideas that arose unbid in their souls.* Thus the Grimoire of the Morgan Witches drew its first breath. Less preposterous, lets just say they are two members of a little clan of witches who feel compelled to share their lesser magick here on this blog. * see NakedTantra: grimoire of a magical year.