Sexual feeling is really the root of all ethics, and no doubt of aestheticism and religion.
The sublimest virtues, even the sacrifice of self, may spring from sexual life, which, however, on account of its sensual power, may easily degenerate into the lowest passion and basest vice.
Love unbridled is a volcano that burns down and lays waste all around it; it is an abyss that devours all honour, substance and health.109
Thus at its core sexuality is as pure as atomic energy: it can be used for peaceful purposes, or for creating weapons. The irony lies in the fact that it may sometimes be necessary to have an atomic bomb, i.e., that for the species to survive a means of protection is often required. This is the basis of Tantra, which sees sexuality as a metaphor, as the creative process, as a means of uniting with the divine, and as a means of acquiring occult powers. It is also as good a description as any of the double nature of Set in the Egyptian context, and why Set is associated with sexual ritual and magic by Grant.
While many of the rituals of the Yezidi are largely secret to which outsiders are rarely, if ever, invited there is still no evidence that they engage in sexual ceremonies or elaborate, Tantric-style magical procedures. They may satisfy the requirements of Crowley and Grant that they represent a connection with ancient Sumer and with the worship of the Old God, Shaitan or Set, and while such may be romanticized projections by orientalist observers what is to be respected is that they have not abandoned their faith, even under dire oppression by a host of hostile entities. They maintain their ritual purity, their sacred calendar,
their beliefs, and their rites in the face of Iraqi, Russian, Muslim and even Kurdish opposition. They refuse to intermarry, or to accept outsiders into their religion, a religion that is identified not only with their beliefs but with their ethnicity as well. It is the mere fact of their existence that has intrigued and excited European and American occultists, for here is a clan whose religion is so far removed from anything else in the region as to appear bizarre to outsiders and who claim an origin in the vanished civilization of Sumer … and who worship a god that some insist is the Dark Lord himself.
On November 1st, 1907, there had come to the New Orleans police a frantic summons from the swamp and lagoon country to the south. The squatters there, mostly primitive but good-natured descendants of Lafitte’s men, were in the grip of stark terror from an unknown thing which had stolen upon them in the night. It was voodoo, apparently, but voodoo of a more terrible sort than they had ever known. … There were insane shouts and harrowing screams, soul- chilling chants and dancing devil-flames; and, the frightened messenger added, the people could stand it no more.
—H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”
Also the mantras and spells; the obeah and the wanga; the work of the wand and the work of the sword; these he shall learn and teach. (AL I:37).
When we discuss the Yezidis, we are faced with very little accurate and reliable information and a lot of speculation. When we come to the Afro- Caribbean aspect of the Necronomicon Gnosis, we are in a somewhat different position.
While Haitian Vodun (commonly spelled “voodoo”) was just as vulnerable a hundred years ago to wild speculation and hysteria as the “devil worshipping” Yezidis, we have a greater store of solid information and documentation about Vodun and other Afro-Caribbean religions due to the intense interest shown by anthropologists and historians of religion in recent years. In addition, the presence of African-origin populations in the Caribbean and large communities of Afro-Caribbean origin in the United States has made Western access to these cultures easier than it is where the Yezidi clans are concerned, since the homelands and central shrines of the latter are scattered largely through the Middle East and Central Asia in war zones and areas hostile to outsiders.
Vodun, Santeria, Palo Mayombe, and Lukumi share some elements in common with the Yezidis. They do not have a written scripture, per se. They frequently have been confused with devil worship. And they represent a survival of ancient forms of religious experience, in this case from Africa: a continent that they share with Egypt.
They have also been exploited to some extent by non-African occultists who see in their rituals methodologies of magical practice and the acquisition of altered states of consciousness that lead to greater spiritual power and abilities, especially when re-interpreted within European and American (i.e., non-African) contexts. Probably the premier exponent of this type of synthesis is Michael Bertiaux, an important source for Grant.
Bertiaux came to the attention of the broader occult community in the United States through his massive, 600+ page Voudon Gnostic Workbook (New York: Magickal Childe, 1998), but prior to the book’s publication he was already a subject of Grant’s Typhonian Trilogies. The first mention of Bertiaux and his unique form of Thelemic-Gnostic-Vodun appears in two chapters of Grant’s Cults of the Shadow (1975) which explain Bertiaux’s system in terms that are both Thelemic and Lovecraftian. Indeed, Bertiaux deliberately uses terminology and ideas from Lovecraft in his occult work, as well as terms and concepts that are uniquely his own. But Grant’s initial fascination with Bertiaux’s work seems to be the fact that both he and Bertiaux explored the “nightside” of the Tree of Life, the realm of the Dark Lord. In Bertiaux’s case, he connected the Dark Side of the Tree with some of the Vodun cults and practices that would be considered “black magic” in contemporary parlance. This, coupled with the Crowley and Lovecraft references in Bertiaux, ignited a stream of consciousness in Grant that would heavily influence his later work. Bertiaux acknowledged the importance of sexual ritual, including Tantra, and associated it with various types of Afro-Caribbean practice, and all within a Thelemic context. This was the Obeah and the Wanga, the missing elements from the Thelemic arsenal of occult methods and systems.
Obeah is a form of Afro-Caribbean magic, what is sometimes called “hoodoo” in the South. The practice as it is known today has its origins in Jamaica and consists mostly of casting spells as opposed to the more religious aspects of Haitian Vodun. There is evidence that the term comes from an Ashanti word—obayifo—meaning “witch” or “wizard” or even “vampire.”110 Thus it has a negative connotation. Wanga (sometimes spelled ouanga) on the other hand refers specifically to a small bag used to hold charms, sometimes worn around the neck or kept in a safe place, similar to the Native American “medicine bag” except that the latter is usually worn or carried by the medicine man only, whereas the wanga may be prepared for anyone to wear and usually for a specific purpose, such as
love, money, health, etc. and dedicated to a specific loa (lwa): one of the Afro-Caribbean gods. However, both obeah and wanga are sometimes used as terms denoting Afro-Caribbean occultism in general. Wanga is sometimes thought to refer specifically to works of “black” or negative magic.111
What, then, is the meaning or intent behind the exhortation in the Book of the Law that one should “learn and teach” the “obeah and the wanga”? Why did Aiwaz use these terms and avoid using, for instance, “Voodoo and Santeria”?
The two latter are religions which have internally-consistent cosmologies, pantheons, and rituals. Obeah and wanga are somewhat looser in their definitions, but more importantly, do not refer to religious dogmas per se but to the practical side of religion, that is, magic. Obeah and wanga are occult methods used by Afro-Caribbean spiritual specialists and this is what would have been important to the author of the Book of the Law. After all, the infamous Chapter Three makes it clear that all previous religions are “black.”
However, as we have seen, the consensus of opinion seems to be that both obeah and wanga are “black arts” themselves. That is, they are concerned with what Kabbalists would consider the darker, or nightside, aspect of the Tree of Life and may be associated with the qlippoth: the shattered shards of creation that are tantamount to demons. And the connective tissue to all of this is the focus of both Grant and Bertiaux on the sexual aspect of these dark mysteries. This is an obvious direction for occultists who represent the most transgressive of their breed, for the “white” magician is usually thought of as being—if not celibate, then— more chaste than the average person, devoting his or her time and energy to good works, speaking with angels, and yearning for union with the divine: leading a life that would be considered conventionally moral and blameless. There is no mixing of the sexes in this type of occultism, or if there is it is within the religiously sanctioned confines of matrimony.
One only has to remember that the congregations in synagogues and mosques are separated by gender; that even Vedic practice in India keeps the sexes apart as much as possible. Christianity can be seen as an exception to this rule, and it is worthwhile to remember that the earliest Christian rituals known to the outside world took the form of the agape, or love-feast. These gender-mixed congregations would meet in secret (often
in catacombs or cemeteries) due to their persecution by the state and by other religious authorities. Thus, Christianity could be considered the Satanism of its day.
When the genders are brought together in magical rituals, there is always the possibility that a sexual current will run through the group particularly in the heightened (almost romantic) atmosphere of a ceremony that is conducted secretly, in candle-light, with billowing clouds of perfumes and incenses, specially-designed robes in appropriate colors and materials, and so forth. One form of transgression—occult ritual—implies every other form, including the sexual; in addition, the appropriation of spiritual power away or apart from normative, socially-sanctioned priesthoods can be intoxicating.
In the rites of Haitian Vodun, the above conditions are exceeded through the use of a battery of drums and at times other musical instruments. In these rituals the focus is on the human body as the “horse” to be ridden by the gods in a form of divine possession. At such times, the individual person is no longer “present” as an ego or superego in his or her own physical form but has been momentarily dislodged by one of the lwa. The possessed person’s body undergoes a subtle—or sometimes not so subtle— transformation as the personality of Erzulie (the goddess of love and passion) or perhaps of Baron Samedi de la Cimitiere (the god who controls access to the Underworld) or any of the many other gods who take over and cause the possessed person to walk and act in accordance with the characteristics of the particular lwa.
Oddly, these things are not discussed in the Voudon Gnostic Workbook of Michael Bertiaux. While it does treat of the many varieties of Haitian lwa it does not focus on the rites most commonly associated with Haitian Vodun, such as the rituals that take place in the peristyle and hounfort. Instead, Bertiaux treats the Haitian material the way that Crowley treats the Egyptian: as data to be incorporated into rituals and spiritual methodologies more familiar to Western European occult practice. In the case of Bertiaux and his Gnostic Vodun, it is a syncretism of a syncretism.
From a post-modernist perspective, of course, this is hideous: an outrage against the original material, an exploitation of an indigenous culture’s spirituality. But that is true of all magic. Magic is, by its very nature, a method and not a faith or a dogma. Its practices transcend the cultural because they are concerned with altered states of consciousness and not
with adherence to a particular Law or Tradition. This is how it was possible for Jewish mystics such as Shabbtai Z’vi or a Jakob Frank to “convert” to Islam and Christianity, respectively, and still maintain their following and their reputation as advanced adepts. This is how it was possible for an Aleister Crowley to incorporate yoga and quasi-Tantric practices into his Thelema even though he was an Englishman who had received the Book of the Law in Cairo replete with Egyptian gods doing all the talking. In this context, the creative approach to spirituality of a Michael Bertiaux is entirely consistent. There is virtually no form of occultism in the western world that does not incorporate elements of “other” religions and “other” occult practices. The very liminality of occultism implies that “otherness” will be a constant, determining factor in its construction.
While Bertiaux includes material from diverse sources to amplify his version of “voodoo,” he is not alone in examining this Afro-Caribbean system through the lens of other cultures and religions. While a purist may insist on a strict “African” interpretation of Vodun—denying any syncretism involving other religions (such as Roman Catholicism) or other mystical or magical systems—twentieth-century Haitian writers on the subject frequently invoke Greek, Egyptian and even Jewish terms and concepts as a means of expanding upon the rituals and the legends that inform it. This approach is condemned by post-modern anthropologists and academics as inherently colonialist and racist: the projection of white, western insecurities about race, sexuality, and religion onto a captive, “savage” population. The fact that some native Haitian authors on the subject contribute to this approach does not make the controversy any clearer.
An early author who is sometimes cited in the literature is Arthur C. Holly. Writing in French under the pseudonym Her-Ra-Ma-El, his books are a melange of Biblical references, Christian concepts, Afro-centrism, and a minimum of actual information on Vodun. His Les daïmons du culte voudo112 is the most-referenced, but usually derisively. However, in a line often quoted, he does insist on a connection between Haitian Vodun and ancient Egyptian and Assyrian religion:
C’est en vain que les procédés hypocrites ou violents ont été mis en oeuvre pour envelopper des ténebres les phases brillants de
l’évolution mentale du Negre. Il est hors de conteste que l’antique civilisation Ethiopio-égypto-assyrienne doit etre inscrite à son compte.113
(“It is in vain that hypocritical or violent processes have been used to shroud in darkness the brilliance of the mental evolution of the Negro. It is beyond doubt that the ancient Ethiopian-Egyptian- Assyrian civilizaton must be credited to his account.”)
Il nous parait indiscutable que la tradition Voudo descend en ligne directe: du sacerdoce et des rites usités dans les temples d’Ethiopie et d’Egypte.114
(“It seems to us undeniable that the Voudo tradition descends in direct line from the priesthood and the rites used in the temples of Ethiopia and Egypt.”)
Holly called himself a “Haitian esotericist”115 and this is borne out by his lengthy and sometimes incomprehensible study of Vodun through the lens of a kind of Kabbalah in which each letter of the Latin alphabet possesses mystical meanings, so that an analysis of any word (including the names of Vodun lwa) can yield a warehouse full of secondary and tertiary meanings. His emphasis is on this system rather than on Vodun itself, rendering his book of interest only to those studying early twentieth- century Haitian Francophone occult philosophy.