Book Review: By Moonlight and Spirit Flight, by Michael Howard

Book Review: By Moonlight and Spirit Flight, by Michael Howard August 30, 2023

By Moonlight and Spirit Flight, by Mike Howard
By Moonlight and Spirit Flight, by Michael Howard (Three Hands Press, 2019)

First published in 2013, By Moonlight and Spirit Flight: The Praxis of the Otherworldly Journey to the Witches’ Sabbath was written by the traditional witch Michael Howard, forming a part of publisher Three Hands Press‘ ‘Occult Monograph’ series. The 2019 publication is, therefore, a second edition of this compact and thorough exposition of the witches’ sabbath.

The design of the book is of a standard one would expect from Three Hands Press, with good quality paper of a nice thickness, while featuring superb and atmospheric artwork by Californian artist and illustrator Benjamin A. Vierling. Vierling additionally provided extensive and high quality artwork throughout the long-anticipated encyclopaedic work by Daniel Schulke, The Green Mysteries: An Occult Herbarium, or ‘Granary of the Fauns’This review is of the 2019 second edition, softcover, limited to 1,700 copies. Despite this limited printing, obtaining a copy of the work was not difficult and Courtyard Books of Glastonbury, UK, provided quite adequately during a recent visit to peruse the bookshelves.

Pge Detail from By Moonlight and Spirit Flight.
By Moonlight and Spirit Flight, by Michael Howard (Three Hands Press, 2019)

Amongst those of us that have been frequenting the haunts of Traditional Witchcraft for a number of decades, Michael Howard is a mainstay of informative and reliable reading matter. Indeed, Howard is most well known for editing and producing the classic periodical The Cauldron, covering all things witchcraft, wicca and modern paganism between 1976 until Howard’s passing in 2015. Being a longstanding member of the broader witchcraft and esoteric community, Howard was acquainted with many of the principle players, or close associates thereof, and held a vast storehouse of experience and knowledge regarding the tradition and modern interpretations of witchcraft in particular. Having been a member of Madeline Montalban’s ‘Order of the Morningstar‘, Howard was a longtime adherent to the Luciferian spirit, which achieved a climax with the friendship of Andrew D. Chumbley [1]. It was Chumbley who introduced Howard to the Sabbatic current, culminating in the latter’s induction into the body of initiates known as the Cultus Sabbati [2].

Unsurprisingly, therefore, the flavour of the Sabbatic Tradition runs through By Moonlight and Spirit Flight. Indeed, Howard explains this influence clearly and concisely early on in the monograph, introducing us to the thoughts of Chumbley and credo of the Sabbatic Cultus within the first paragraphs – quoting directly from Chumbley’s essay ‘Provenance, Dream and Magistracy‘. This is further illustrated with the addition of a piece of Chumbley’s unique and inspired artwork for emphasis.

What proceeds is a delightful and succinct essay that explores the witches’ sabbath in all necessary detail, while remaining eminently readable. Through the course of this literary journey, the text moves adroitly from the early ideas and formation of the witches’ sabbath, through spirit flight, trance states, the unguentum sabbati (or flying ointment), various roots and herbs that might have contributed or otherwise facilitated transvection through oneiric reverie. Drawing from essential academic sources in the study of witchcraft and the witches’ sabbath, such as Carlos Ginzburg, Claude Lecouteux and Éva Pócs, a convincing theory is developed and matured through the discourse.

In the climactic final quarter of the book, the reader arrives at the apogee of the sabbath and the subject turns to suggestions of what might occur at this juncture. Finally, we return to the influences of Chumbley, Schulke and Fitzgerald and the Sabbatic Current of the witches’ sabbath. This naturally includes the impact of two modern magicians, artists and writers upon the subject: Kenneth Grant and Austin Osman Spare. Indeed, there is a good amount of discussion upon Spare’s recollections of his sabbatic encounters and works, including his induction into the cult through the witch Mrs Paterson.

Michael Howard was a stalwart of traditional Witchcraft, diligently drawing together streams of lore, mysticism and culture. With a diverse array of interests within the fields of esotericism, occult, folklore and magic, Howard nevertheless demonstrably kept his witchcraft predilection at the surface of this work. Through his previous books – The Pillars of Tubal Cain (with Nigel A. Jackson) [3] and The Book of Fallen Angels, which have become classic and much sought after texts – Howard established some core material for the burgeoning traditional witchcraft community of this era. The loss of Michael Howard has left a hole in the community that once was buttressed by his knowledge and experience, as well as diverse connections that made him a bridge between the early modern witches of the mid-twentieth century and those today. Indeed, in By Moonlight and Spirit Flight, Howard has a keen eye for the marrying of traditional, folkloric and historic material together with the current, modern expression and arcana of the witches’ sabbath.

This book is highly recommended for those interested in studying the history, lore and praxis of the witches’ sabbath, from one who had something worth saying – an increasing rarity in today’s internet-centric society – and a talent for being able to convey it in a readable manner.

Publishing detail from By Moonlight and Spirit Flight, by Michael Howard.



[1] Howard, Michael, The Book of Fallen Angels, (Milverton, Capall Bann, 2004), 5-15. [2] ibid. [3] Howard, Michael, Jackson, Nigel A., The Pillars of Tubal Cain, (Milverton, Capall Bann, 2000)
About Ian Chambers
Ian Chambers is a long-time practitioner of traditional forms of witchcraft and folk sorcery through the fields of magic, mysticism, philosophy and history. Ian has studied both solitary and with a few craft groups, taking a broad purview of the subject as a practitioner scholar. A selection of Ian's writings has appeared in various magazines, including The Cauldron, White Dragon, and The Hedgewytch, as well as more recent essays in The Enquiring Eye, and Coire Ansic. Ian's first book, The Witch Compass: Working with the Winds in Traditional Witchcraft was published by Llewellyn in 2022. You can read more about the author here.
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