Here’s one of the best essays I’ve read concerning the Azoëtia which I found online couple of years ago. For those who haven’t read it, enjoy
THE AZOETIA, Thoughts on the Grimoire, by Andrew Logan Montgomery.
The Modern Necronomicon
If you are a serious occultist, you’ve probably heard of the Azoetia already. For the more casual reader, let me give you some background. In May, 1992, British “cunning man” Andrew Chumbley self-published a new occult work in limited edition. By 2002, Azoetia: A Grimoire of the Sabbatic Craft, was ready for re-release in another, slightly more deluxe edition (the Sethos edition, named for the book’s “guardian daemon”). It was already by that time a sensation. In today’s esoteric market, everyone seems to want to imitate the late Anton LaVey, whose 1969 Satanic Bible was a mass market grimoire written for the Everyman. Aleister Crowley had attempted such a thing decades earlier, but his work proved too dense for the non-specialist. The Satanic Bible, by contrast, was a little paperback anyone could purchase, read, and then completely apprehend all the “secrets” of magic with. When LaVey published this book, it was a landmark. Since then, however, everyone under the sun has tried to do the same thing, flooding the world with mass market self-help mumbo jumbo. Most of these modern New Age books are to the medieval grimoires, or Crowley’s Equinox, what the Big Mac is to filet mignon; cheap, filling, but utterly lacking in substance.
Chumbley decided to go against the current. It is the oldest magical formula in the book: do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. Thus, the Azoetia was neither mass market nor for the Everyman. Chumbley’s esoteric group, the Cultus Sabbati, released the volume in a very limited number through a publisher (“Xoanon,”) specifically created for the purpose. The book was exceedingly rare, and possession of it suddenly put you in an elite club.
By 2004, it seemed as if everyone in the occult community had heard of the book, but few had every actually seen it. Like Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, it seemed quasi-legendary, an urban legend for modern Magicians. And then, the unthinkable happened. On his 37th birthday, Andrew Chumbley died of a sudden, severe asthma attack.
Another thing Magicians share in common with Artists is that death makes their work even more valuable. In Chumbley’s case, this was triply so. Not only had he died young, suddenly, and unexpectedly, the very date of his death had eerie occult significance. There is something weird—in the classic sense of the word—about dying on your birthday, particularly given Chumbley’s profession. Add to this the fact that the number 37 has tremendous qabbalistic significance; 37 is the number of the “Perfected Man,” the three divine Sephiroth of the Tree of Life balanced above the 7 manifest Sephiroth below the Abyss. In addition, 37 is the seed of all triple numbers. 37 x 3 = 111, 37 x 6 = 222, 37 x 9 = 333, and 37 x 18 = 666. These coincidences all coalesced, turning tragedy into a kind of frenzy. On the internet, people started to compare Chumbley to Lovecraft’s Abdul Alhazred, who penned the infamous Necronomicon before himself dying a mysterious death. The Azoetia was lifted from legend to myth. The result was a kind or viral marketing campaign. Copies of the Azoetia couldn’t be obtained for love or money.
Well…not exactly. People were willing to part with their precious Azoetias for absurd amounts of money…usually in the range of $1500 to $2500 US. Worse still, one was expected to shell out the cash sight unseen. If you went on Amazon to read “reviews” of the book, for example, no one seemed willing to talk about what it actually said. All you got was a bunch of scary hoodoo about the book being a “True Grimoire,” “not for the weak-hearted,” “a text only for the most serious student,” etc, etc. As I started to research the book, it became clear to me that most owners weren’t willing to divulge its contents mainly because it’s very mystery ensured its value. I began to wonder if anyone actually used it.
More fuel was added to the fire by the Cultus Sabbati themselves. In an age where every “secret,” “occult” order has a website and runs around constantly blabbing about it’s teachings and trying to recruit new members, the Cultus was truly closed. Few knew what they stood for, what they did, or how to get in. Possession of the Azoetia seemed to be the only glimpse inside a secret order that really was secret.
I had gotten my hands on Qutub, Chumbley’s second work, some time before and found it astounding. This made me only more determined to read the Azoetia. Reasoning there is no point calling yourself a magician if you can’t even conjure up a book, I sent out a sigil for it, Austin Spare style, and went about my business. About three months later a friend put me in touch with a young woman who had found religion and wanted to get rid of her “devil books” as quickly as possible. It turned out she had an Azoetia, and I picked it up for little over it’s original price. That was back in 2007. I’ve had to re-read and digest this extraordinary book for five years before feeling like I could start to discuss it.
But not all in one post. So here is the first of an eventual series of essays on the work.
A Book By Its Cover
The Sethos edition is indeed a handsome book. Hardbound with the very highest quality binding, the spine is stamped with the title, the publisher’s imprint, and a sigil that resembled the god Set crossed with a Spare-type sigil. This would be the mark of Sethos, no doubt. The cover bears a mandala-like magic circle, an eight-spoked wheel bearing 22 mystical letters, around the circumference of which are words of power in the same characters.
The title is itself provocative. “Azoth” was the Universal Solvent or Medicine of alchemy, the “quintessence” from which everything else was made. Lovecraft might have been inspired by this term when he created “Azathoth,” the mindless, nuclear chaos from which the universe emerged. In any case, Azoth plays a key role in the book, as we shall later see. “Goetia” (perhaps the source of the second half of the title) is the fabled medieval Lesser Key of Solomon, the grimoire of grimoires concerned with the evocation of fallen angels.The title Azoetia is suggestive of both the original essence of creation and the calling up of spirits. One might wish to translate it as “the calling of daemons from primal quintessence,” which given the contents of the book is not so radical an interpretation.
The first thing readers will wish to know is to what tradition does the Azoetia belong. Is it Wiccan? Satanic? Hermetic? Thelemic? Voodoo? Sufi? Chaotic? The answer, it seems, is “all of the above.”
“…it has been my endeavor,” the author writes in his introduction to the first edition, “to define those Principles underlying the many different paths of Magick and to unify them within the single body of a working grimoire…” It would seem, therefore, that the author is working from a Perennialist viewpoint, the assumption that there exists a universal truth or set of truths in all schools of magic and philosophy. He confirms this a few paragraphs later;“…all currents of Magick flow from a single fountain, and I, in drawing this Grimoire from my dreams, have hopefully filled a cup from a pure source…” For Chumbley, the dogmatic differences of occult traditions are veils, masks concealing a single, hidden source. The Azoetia is an attempt to tap directly into that source.
The skeptic might say that Chumbley is not so much as tapping into the primordial source of occult traditions as synthesizing a new one from diverse schools of thought. Either viewpoint is valid with regards to this text. The final point is that virtually any Magician, working from any tradition, could find in the pages ofAzoetia some portion of teachings or practices mirroring his or her own.
For example, despite consciously distancing himself from the modern schools of Wicca, Chumbley’s “Sabbatic Craft” shares a great deal in common with them (at least on the surface). This text is very much concerned with a God and a Goddess (the former embodying Death and the latter coming in triple forms). The working tools mirror those of Gardenarian or Alexandrian Wicca; the wand, a black handled Arthame (Athame), a white handled working knife, a Pentacle, a Cup, a Cord, a Circle, an Altar, etc. The opening ritual closely resembles Wiccan Circle Casting, and there is even a wheel of the year. However, elements from other traditions are clearly woven in here. A magical quill is included, which recalls the Peacock Angel Melek Taus (a key figure in Qutub). The altar is a double cube (more Hermetic than Wiccan). The temple includes a central pole, or “fetish-tree” which is nearly identical in function to those in voodoo honfours.
But all of this, the author asserts, is just set dressing, with little bearing on the truth of the text. A constant theme throughout the Azoetia is the reminder that all the tools, rituals, incantations, and even the text itself are just outward expressions of inner truths. Without getting too far ahead of myself, the last page of the Azoetia reads; HERE ENDETH THE GRIMOIRE AZOETIA…MISTAKE NOT THIS BOOK FOR THE WORDS UPON ITS PAGES. Chumbley earnestly wants us to understand that the grimoire, and all the tools, are physical representations of something else, something without form. For him, Magick is tool of working backwards from the trappings towards that inner source.
Again, back to the introduction; “…the Quintessence of Magick is not to be found by the combination of externals, but solely by the direct realisation of innate source. It is not to be discovered by system with system, belief with belief, or practice with practice; it is not found by uniting the “elements” in their temporally manifest forms. For beyond the Outer, beyond the dualistic and substantive manifestations of element with element, the Quintessence is already attained…when this Mystery is understood, the secret of the Azoth is revealed in truth…”
Like the Chaos Magicians, or to an extent Anton LaVey, Chumbley is telling us that the dogmatic elements of Magick are all mechanisms to tap into its noumenal source. Writing from this standpoint allows Chumbley to imbue his grimoire with a quality which transcends divisions of tradition. A Hermetic is going to read the Azoetia and say “Chumbley was really one of us.” But the Wiccan, the Satanist, and the Thelemite might all come to the same conclusion. Whether you feel that this is evidence of Chumbley’s “Quintessence,” or just a skilled job at integrating diverse forms and practices, is up to you.
The second edition of the Azoetia bears the name of the entity watching over it, and opens with a dedication to him. Chumbley explains “Sethos” as…“the Daimon of the Grimoire Azoetia; a noetic emanation of the Magical Quintessence; a mediator between Abel, Cain, and Seth, that is, between the Sacrificed Man of Clay (the Uninitiate Self), the Transformative Man of Fire (the Initiating and Becoming Self), and the Self-Transformed Man of Light (the Initiatic Self-existent One)…” p. 361
Chumbley is drawing on a bit of Gnosticism here. For the Gnostics, ideological rivals of the early Christian Church, the Hebrew God described in the Old Testament wasn’t the Good Guy at all, but rather the Villain. He and his angels were merely lesser emanations of the True Deity. The Gnostics called the false god Ialdabaoth, and explained that he had fashioned the world of matter as a prison to hold captive human souls (which were, in fact, tiny sparks of the True God). Ineffable, invisible, and intangible, the True Deity was far removed from the material world. He did not act directly, but only sent forth emanations. For some Gnostics, Jesus was just such an emanation, sent by the True God to liberate people from the captivity of false one.
While this may seem odd to the modern reader, it does explain a great deal of the Bible’s inconsistencies. Any objective reading of the text leads the reader to wonder how the jealous, vindictive, and murderous God of the Old Testament could possibly be the beneficent and compassionate one spoken of by Jesus. In addition, it explains the problem of suffering and evil a lot more efficiently than the more standard “blame-it-on-Lucifer” line. Regardless, this is what various Gnostic groups believed and taught down through the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd centuries, until the Christian Church got organized and started putting them out of business.
Now, if you reread the Bible with Gnosticism in mind, several things change. For example, in Eden, Ialbadaoth and his angelic cronies suddenly appear to be keeping Adam and Eve naked and stupid, like apes. Then along comes the serpent, who actually helps the couple by persuading them to rebel. He talks them into eating the fruit of knowledge and becoming self-aware. They stop being animals and start being human. For this reason, there was an entire Gnostic sect known as the Ophites (snake-worshippers).
But there was another Gnostic sect known as the Cainites. To understand why, we must consider the next biblical drama; Cain and Abel. Cain, the eldest son of Adam and Eve, is the first farmer and blacksmith. Abel is a herdsman. God (ie Ialbadoath) commands the two to make a sacrifice to Him. Cain sacrifices the finest fruits of the harvest. Abel slaughters an animal. As a result, God favors Abel’s sacrifice and scorns Cain’s. Message? This God wants blood. As a result, Cain murders his brother and as a result undergoes a mysterious transformation. Though sent into exile, he is somehow “marked” with a sign of God’s protection. If anyone tries to punish or murder Cain for his crime, they themselves will be punished by God. This is completely bizarre, given Yahweh’s “eye for an eye” mentality. Even more odd, in the wake of losing two sons, Eve conceives a new son, Seth.
Seth is a very curious figure in both Gnosticism and mystical Judaism. Many sects regarded Seth as an emanation of the True God. The line of Seth was called the “sons of God,” and believed to be holy. Adam is said to have given them the secrets of the Kabbalah, and many Gnostics belived that Seth—not Jesus—was the savior who would return at the end of time.
For Gnostics, Seth’s incarnation was made possible by Cain’s sacrifice. Abel was the first human being to die, and by killing him Cain had opened a path into the otherworld, a path along which the True God could send part of Itself into Ialbadaoth’s creation. Perhaps Yahweh couldn’t punish Cain because he somehow enjoyed the protection of the higher, true God.
With all this in mind, we are ready to tackle the dedication opening the Sethos edition of the Azoetia;
O Sethos! Rise up and remember!
Recall the Promise once stain’d in red upon the primal dust of the earth!
By baying dog and moon-beam, by lantern, stave, and upright stone,
Come fathom the starlit heights of Heaven in the Old Dew-pool of Cain.
Come ring the blood round with the Serpent, Come turn the skin of time,
Come pace about the corpse of Abel, here break the Fate of Mortal Man!
Here cast forth the Visions from Yesterday, from Tomorrow, unto Today.
Here open the way for the Crooked Path, for the Pathway forever to be!
O Sethos! Rise up and remember,
‘Til thy Namesake, the Man of Light, is born!
The Crooked Path is the one opened by the sacrifice of Abel, and it leads directly to the Azoth. And Cain—the first Magician—is held as the psychopomp, the opener of the way.
Now on one level, Abel is the Uninitiated Self, the normal, everyday mortal held captive by the system, subject to all the laws of nature and time. Cain is the Initiate who rebels against this, sacrificing his old life up in an effort to tear free from the bounds of time and space. And Seth is the Divine Self, the perfected being born from Cain’s sacrifice, the magician who completes his quest. We are seeing the old alchemical formula, solve et coagula, again.
In purely psychological terms, this myth reflects the fact that our lives and identities are hollow constructs, forced upon us by heredity, society, and experience. It urges us to murder these identities and to replace them with entirely self-created ones, to transform ourselves into who we want to be rather than who we’ve been told to be.
But on another level, Abel represents what Chumbley calls Zoa—the life force present in all human beings, analogous to the alchemical mercury. Cain is his darker twin, Azoa, the force of death equally present within us, analogous to salt. And Seth/os would be Azothos, the magical force that unites and transcends both, the divine fire analogous to sulfur. The work of the magician is to liberate himself from both the forces of life (with its pains, cravings, and instability) and death (with its limitation and finality). He must murder Abel and exile Cain, so that Seth (transcendence) might be born.
Aleister Crowley touched on all of this in his Book of Thoth, particularly with regards to the Trumps “Lovers” and “Art.” Another excellent source for further reading would be the writings of Julius Evola (the best being The Hermetic Tradtion).