by Peter Grey
published by Scarlet Imprint
Hardback: £40, paperback: £15, e-book: £10. (with currency conversion and shipping, my paperback was $31.38)
One of the currents running through modern Western society is the idea that something is badly wrong. We may not be able to articulate it, or we may try to blame it on a convenient scapegoat, but anyone who’s paying attention understands that new iPhones every year can’t hide the fact that we are living in an age of decline. Peter Grey isn’t just tapped into this current, he’s got the floodgate wide open. His new book Apocalyptic Witchcraft is a direct response to our disconnection from and desecration of Nature.
I read Apocalyptic Witchcraft in one evening. While it is not easy reading, it is captivating reading. Lots of people see our problems – some even describe them well. There are far fewer who actually propose solutions. Grey’s solutions are drastic, hard and fluid… but they ring true.
This is a book of poetry and myth; it could even be called scripture. But it begins with a very rational problem statement:
Our culture laments what have we done wrong? It has no concept of sin, but it still knows that something is going dreadfully awry.
It is simple: Mankind has broken the covenant with nature.
Every apocalyptic prophecy ever made has failed. On the other hand, every empire that has ever risen has eventually fallen and the current Anglo-American empire will be no exception. Grey seems to understand this. In explaining his use of the term, he says:
In Christianity “apocalypse” is used by the world haters who argue for war, in the New Age as a panacea for those who long for ascension. I use it to awaken us from dream.
He goes on to say:
Welcome to the Apocalypse. This is the moment when we realise that the climate is broken. It’s all blood and roses from here on in. As witches we should prepare to fly on the wings of the storm.
The second chapter is “A Manifesto of Apocalyptic Witchcraft,” a list of thirty three propositions which clearly and succinctly make the points that will be developed poetically and ritually throughout the book. There are three that stood out to me:
1. If the land is poisoned then witchcraft must respond.
8. Witchcraft is the recourse of the dispossessed, the powerless, the hungry and the abused. It gives heart and tongue to stones and trees. It wears the rough skin of beasts. It turns on a civilisation that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
22. Witchcraft does not mistake myths for history, it harnesses them to transform the future.
Grey sees a sick society and he prescribes strong medicine – witchcraft. This is not the witchcraft of Samantha, Sabrina and Silver Ravenwolf. It’s not even the witchcraft of Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders. It’s the witchcraft that terrified medieval Europe and resulted in the judicial murder of thousands.
It’s easy – and tempting – to attack the historicity of witchcraft as presented in the infamous witch trials, the witchcraft in which the dreams of Apocalyptic Witchcraft are rooted. Such an attack would be largely right. It would also miss the whole point of the book. Our society is so dysfunctional and our relationship with Nature is so broken that a new approach is required, and a new approach requires new dreams. Grey asks:
How can we dream when our vocabulary of symbols has only the nuance of newspeak?
We plainly state that we will gain control of our dreaming.
First we must disconnect from the artificial vision of the spectacle.
If there was any doubt of Grey’s disdain for contemporary society, it was ended when he said “It is time that witchcraft paid the Devil his due.” If that line bothers you, I would remind you again that Apocalyptic Witchcraft is a book of poetry and dreams, not a book of science and history. Grey says “the Devil is a particularly European trickster myth … there is simply no such figure in Judaism.”
Our formerly-Christian, now thoroughly-materialist society sees the Devil in the wild, in rebellion against the established order, and in The Other. If the established order has poisoned our world (and it has) then rebelling against it is good and right and necessary. This is not Satanism, either of the horror movie variety or of the LaVeyian / Randian version. It does not seek to place the individual at the center of the universe. Rather, it seeks to restore the covenant with Nature. Grey sees the Devil as a strong symbol to overturn the established order and sees no reason why we shouldn’t appropriate it.
I swim in the same currents as Peter Grey and I’m inspired by Apocalyptic Witchcraft. Ultimately, though, I’m unwilling to go as far as he suggests. I’m committed to Gordon White’s concept of a salvage mission to fund the rescue mission. Beyond that, I know too many good Christians and Humanists and others who are doing the same thing – making a living within the system while learning to live outside the system. I’m reluctant to antagonize them… and I know all too well that calls for total commitment are usually ignored.
Besides, I’m already pledged to the Forest God and the Lady of the Waters. I’m too uptight to be much use to trickster gods.
Who should read Apocalyptic Witchcraft? Not beginners, that’s for sure – you need a basic knowledge of historical witchcraft to understand this book. And not anyone prone to literalism and pedantry – this is a book of dreams and poetry, of ritual and symbol. Its power is in its ability to show what can be, not what is. But for those who feel called to the sabbat, Apocalyptic Witchcraft shows how we can dance and fly, and perhaps, how we must.
I’ll end with another quote, one that describes the both possibility and the necessity of strong witchcraft:
The wild goddess has passed through the city of whoredom and has emerged intact as the witch on the heath. There was never one goddess of witchcraft, but rather a thousand Ishtars: mild white, blood red, lamp black. There can never be orthodoxy. We are simultaneously possessed, annihilated and forever outside of Time.
She is immanent.
She dwells within us.