book review: the brazen serpent by soror n.o.

When I received a request from the author’s husband to review The Brazen Serpent, I thought to myself, “Are they mad? These people must not know me at all…or…they are extremely confident in their work.” I am possibly the most brutal critic of anything remotely Hermetic in the entire occultosphere. The opinions of people never really matter where Abrahadabra – or reality – is concerned. While I didn’t expect to be handed something in the vein of Llewellyn trash, I presumed from the very outset that I would be delicately attempting not to club the book to death…too hard…they seemed like nice people.

After finishing the book, the most pressing arguments I have with the points found within are simply matters of the perspective and degree of the paths taken to those answers – similar in nature to the differences bhakti yoga versus jnana yoga. Given the advanced nature of the material within, this is very impressive. I do believe there is an objectively correct answer to all things that lies at the heart of all existence and beyond illusion, though that answer will shift in appearance from one path to another. So, while it is important that I get all of the final accounting correct right out of the gate, it isn’t so important that I agree with everyone else all of the time, since there is a lot of ground to cover between our current state and Completion itself, which is where we strive to maintain an asana at most of the time.

It is well worth the cost just to read the killer introduction. The book is authentic to its source. It’s written from the point of view of a female philosopher in the A.’.A.’. lineage. Although she already possesses a degree in philosophy, she is currently attending Manly P. Hall’s University of Philosophy in Los Angeles, which was founded in 1934. 

When I received the package from the couple’s L.A. home, I chuckled to myself. The return address had “R.H.K.” as the name. A few weeks earlier, I had a very successful invocation of Ra Hoor Khut, which had become the catalyst for an extensive series of acknowledgements from the god, woven throughout my life so prominently I couldn’t ignore it. It seemed like every other event in my life prior to the arrival of the package was some kind of joke involving Montu making a meme of my life. The initials are the first names and last name of the couple, which I found interesting. The author, Soror N.O. (Helen Kirkby,) is an American author and artist married to Russel Kirkby, another artist who has done a couple of really cool occult short films which m1thr0s and I had already enjoyed together a few years ago. 

The prominence of the couple’s relationship woven throughout their correspondence with me, the dedication and the flavor of the book, piqued my curiosity. While the book is written solely by Soror N.O., the couple seems to share many occult adventures together on their blog. It’s unusual to see couples working in the occult together, professionally, and this is always heartening to see, considering the rarity of our lifestyle. Last year, the month before TAI opened its doors to initiates, Ray Sherwin, the father of Chaos Magick, released Ouroboros: A Grimoire. The cover sports an illustration by his wife practitioner, and throughout the book he goes on to assert the primacy of couples’ work over any kind of coven.

This is not a new idea; the essence of the highest alchemical workings rests in the arms of a heterosexual monogamy, a dyadic monad: “Male, Female, Quintessential One;” as the ancient principle states. This isn’t meant to be a derisive snort at other ternary patterns; sexual pairings – the alchemical axiom merely emphasizes an alchemical law – forces of nature really couldn’t care less about one’s feelings or political sentiments. In other words, Yin and Yang will always be important to one another, in some special kinds of ways, and the variety of biological sex is not insignificant – it certainly can’t be politicized away either. (All of the arrangements of sexuality are merely bigrams and trigrams of various sorts, to the Mutational Alchemist. There is nothing emotional about it – not personally, and not objectively, and I try to keep contemporary politics out of my occultism.)

While the book isn’t written from the perspective of the couple whatsoever, and has a single author, it’s really hard to ignore the influence that a couple’s working brings to the table, as it is apparent in the writing, at least to me, and I’ve read a lot of occult titles. The book does nothing to overtly press this point – it cannot be classified as a true male-female working, although that’s simply an observation, not a judgement. I only mention it here due to the fact that it is unusual and makes the book more interesting to collectors. Both its quality and the fact that the author is a woman in a predominantly male dominated field – unchanged for the past 500 years or more – makes it an extremely attractive title for collectors. 

While not explicitly related to The Brazen Serpent, there are some special features involved in a couple’s working occult relationship. First it’s the Magus-Priestess dynamic, which is all important for major alchemical work. Despite the importance of Yin and Yang, or, perhaps because of their individual potency in the universal hierarchy of the so-called “ten thousand things” it’s unusual to find powerful and overt male-female workings. The history of such dates back to the dawn of Man. Famous examples of this include the legendary P’an Ku and Nu Kua of ancient Chung Kuo, who created mankind and invented marriage among other early stirrings of civilization; Pythagoras and Theano of Ancient Greece; and of course Nicolas and Perenelle Flamel who famously (although perhaps mythologically,) answered a question about his rumored alchemical gold creation by saying that he and his wife knew the secret and created it every night in their bedchambers.

“By now it should be clear that everything in magick is sexual. Did Siva fail to teach this to us? Mahakala?” – m1thr0s 729

Crowley himself, one gold standard occultists, produced two prominent male-female workings; Liber al Vel Legis with Rose in the Giza pyramid, and THOTH with Lady Frieda Harris. It’s primordial – Yin and Yang – and it carries with it the authority of those first two prime divisions. Yet this is a book written by a female, classically regarded as the embodiment of Understanding, which is bestowed upon her by the masculine, as she bestows upon him Wisdom. 

Before introducing readers to the book itself, I wanted to write more about Nephilim Press, since so little is known of them, generally speaking. There isn’t much, and they are tight lipped about it – and by tight lipped I mean they refused to provide any information – they told Mr. Kirkby to tell me to look on the web, where, there’s almost nothing. All I could get came from the ICANN info, which is almost always spoofed. They’re based in South Carolina and have asserted themselves as a high quality occult publisher and book store: focusing on quality information over mere vanity items with a limited number of printings. As many occultists have found out, these pricy grimoires can often be very disappointing, but the entirety of Nephilim’s offerings are priced at or below $50, which is incredibly affordable. At the time of this writing they updated their website with something a bit more helpful:

Our selection of occult literature covers topics ranging from Enochian magick, necromancy and black magic to Satanism, left hand path, divination, and so much more. We aim to find the best information, old and new, and make it available to you at competitive prices – Nephilim Press’s website

As one might expect, a title named after the English translation of Nachash will probably deal with matters pertaining to Hermetic Qabbalah, and from a fairly lofty vantage point. While I wasn’t quite sure these expectations would be met when I received The Brazen Serpent, as I didn’t bother reading the ad copy, I was soon happily finding myself shifting into a higher gear in order to apprehend the style of writing. 

For those who have partaken of the sacrament of entheogens alongside their theurgy and alchemy, or, for those who are naturally sensitive, the peculiarity of discussions pertaining to higher states of mind is very clearly delineated from all others. The experienced can discern when someone has been *out there* so to speak, so that all true explorers can recognize each other, even across very different cultural environs.  

While our goals at TAI are far removed from O.T.O. lineaged practitioners to ever find any broad common ground on any particular subject, this is not a judgement against the book. I found myself neither snorting with disgust nor confused about where the ideas in the book were coming from; they were firmly within the lineage the work claimed to be affiliated with; a passing mark in my estimation for any serious piece of occult literature.

Aesthetics

The physical book itself is very beautiful. You’ll never hear me complain about serpents, black and gold, ever. Still, even those occultists who prefer silver and black will find little to complain about here. It is not overdone, as is the case with so many occult grimoires.

Eggshell finish jet black leatherette, with bright gilting of the Nachash, or brazen serpent on the front, and the Sephiroth on the spine is understated and elegant. The end papers are matte black. The book does not fit into my Oberon leather book covers, being slightly too long, for those occultists who like to use them. The plain pages are cut smooth edge and there is no gilt edge. The book is graced with a black satin bookmark. It’s easy to handle and made for reading.

Initially I thought it was a reference book, a bit like a Sephiroth oriented 777. The introduction, as I have previously mentioned, is highly analytical and insightful. I could tell the author was speaking from her highest house. This is a difficult mental asana to achieve. I remarked to one of our members and students, Lugh, after the initial speed reading “It’s dealing with such lofty subjects I kinda have to be in the right frame of mind to read it;” to which he replied, “That’s a compliment if I ever heard one.” He wasn’t wrong, and I will say right now this is a book any serious student of the occult would want to have in their library as a regular touchstone of reference. It’s just one of those books written from such a lofty and cautious scholarly perspective, that reading this is a great way to see what is going on through the filters of another deep thinker. Any occultist uninterested in what is going on in the minds of other consciousness stars is not going to achieve much success.

It is not a book for neophytes, but neither is it inaccessible (at the very least one might want to memorize the Sephiroth before tackling the Brazen Serpent.) I was curious about where the tome actually stood in the classification scheme of occult literature. I read through it again, but not from cover to cover. Instead I thought of a Sephira or path I wanted to read about and flipped to that section. It worked – but it was of a very different flavor than most reference manuals. This is an abstract reference manual for advanced Hermetic Qabbalists coming from the A.’.A.’. lineage and Thelemic current. 

The Bad

I do not agree with all of the assertions made – a few, are outright wrong, but, I recognize that these statements are true to the classical A.’.A.’. and O.T.O. traditions, so this is only to be expected. We are not affiliated with O.T.O. and we are clearly set apart from their traditions in several significant ways.

It should be noted that The Brazen Serpent is not filial to Judaic Kabbalah, despite the fact that the author was influenced by Lurianic Kabbalah. Qlippoth are treated here – as they are treated in the A.’.A.’. tradition – as something which influences us and our world, constantly – clearly a Western Magick stance. By contrast, the Abrahadabra Institute does not recognize the Qlippoth as influencing anyone directly or anything in one’s path working.

The problems I have with O.TO. or various other A.’.A.’. lineages is not insignificant, and I should explain this somewhat…I have never witnessed anyone in my entire life solve very many of the real problems and mysteries facing us in regards to the physics of the Body of Light from the perspective of Hermetic Alchemy with the exception of m1thr0s 729. Knowing what I know today about the O.T.O. and their ilk, I am very suspicious of anything that comes out of their camps. What Viktor Blåsjö wrote on Christiaan Huygens and G.W. Leibniz’ discourse also applies to the Body of Light and its mastery – the only goddamned thing that we are interested in here and the only thing we are ever actually discussing when we talk about any of the subjects here at the Institute; 

“We don’t study nature because we refuse to admit value in abstract mathematics. We study nature because she has repeatedly proven herself to have excellent mathematical taste, which is more than can be said for the run-of-the-mill mathematicians who have to invent technical pseudo-problems because they can’t solve any real ones. “

– Viktor Blåsjö

What applies to math applies to Qabbalah. When anyone brings up some of the more decadent and ornate theories of Western Magick, such as the idea that there “is a tree and abyss in each sephira” or that we can interact with the Qlippoth, and they do not bring a valid argument apart from mere dogma or the guesswork of antiquity, I must politely decline to hop on board ‘Ye Olde Victorian Hoopla and Rumors About the Occult’ bandwagon. So I am cautious – yet the book is not so overloaded with Thelemic dogma that it is oppressive, or sycophantic in any way. That is a welcome reprieve from most modern Thelemic texts; usually only matched in quality by the old devil Crowley himself, who understood, perfectly well, the abomination that is dogma and flattery. I would be remiss, however, not to mention this important distinction between Abrahadabra doctrines and those of the author and her lineage. 

Another influence I noticed as I skimmed through the text is the Christianity, again, typical and to be expected from any O.T.O. or A.’.A.’. text – we’re talking about the same organizations that runs the Ecclesiastica Gnostica Catholica, and not a branch of Satanism. Angels, God, Lucifer and the Christian mythos feature prominently enough to be noticeable, and there is a very slight criticism of the left hand path. These ideas and their sources share very little in common with TAI – they simply don’t enter into our way of life or our value systems in any way, and there is a good reason for why we are are counted separately from the rest of the occult world. Some sinister oriented magicians will find the Christian influences heavy handed, but again, this is a typical example of Thelemic literature, and it never claims to be anything other than this.

Much the same kind of deist rhetoric will be found within Israel Regardie, Dion Fortune and Helen Blavatsky, all of which feature within the extensive bibliography of The Brazen Serpent.  The bibliography is concise and accurately represents the pedigree of the book and its author – it’s also a very useful reading list for occultists looking for their next book. The author and publisher advertise it as a Thelemic text with A.’.A.’. influences speaking on the subject of classic Hermetic Qabbalah in the Western mystery tradition, and this is exactly what it is. 

While the book’s contents are ordered neatly in the correct Sephira and path chronologies, this is where the consistency ends – don’t expect to find correspondences ala 777 or Duquette’s Understanding the Thoth Tarot, in a neat little table at the beginning of each section. When attributions are given they are mentioned in passing randomly, and where they have a semblance of consistency between sections, they are scattered in various places rather than being placed in a summary at the beginning of the section, for example the Gematria attributions and Hebrew letter are given but they are not in the same place each time. This limits the book very slightly as a reference manual, however, most experienced Qabbalists will have cheat sheet charts lying around anyways (and if you’re really nuts like us here at TAI they will be the size of an entire wall.) In the final assessment the book works just fine as a reference manual for advanced Qabbalistic theory in the A.’.A.’. and O.T.O. traditions. 

The Emperor is yet still placed at Teth, although concessions are made to his connection to Tzaddi. I do not agree with the argument here on the face of it, but that is a matter of personal experience and opinions based on that experience, and it is the official doctrine of The Abrahadabra Institute, as established by m1thr0s 729, that the Emperor is positioned at the path of Tzaddi. I personally have no problems with these discrepancies. We have always gone our own way and I expect others to do the same where they see fit. There’s more than one way to Completion, and being unable to recognize this would be incalculably stupid of us to presume.

Despite doctrinal conflicts with The Abrahadabra Institute’s lineage, I can safely assure anyone interested in The Brazen Serpent that they shall be richly rewarded delving into Soror N.O.’s thoughts here, especially if they are attracted to the A.’.A.’. and O.T.O. doctrines and methodology. It’s also a great primer for becoming familiar with the lineage without having to undergo the initiation itself, as it accurately represents A.’.A.’. material without any bold revisions. Anyone considering applying to the A.’.A.’. or O.T.O. would do well to review The Brazen Serpent first.  I for one greatly look forward to more titles from this author and would be happy to add her thoughts to my top shelf materials. 

Published by

izi

Succeeding m1thr0s 729 (Magister Ouroboros 729) izi is current guardian of the 418 current in this world. She upholds the young Nu Aeon tradition of Mutational Alchemy, a hybrid branch of Hermetic Alchemy developed by m1thr0s 729. Her current work to date includes the art and written analysis of The Mutational Alchemy Tarot, the development of Pentagrammaton (the 32 5-line binary structures unknown in the East) and the ongoing analysis of The Hidden Diamond Sutra.

Leave a Reply