A review of The Testament of Cyprian the Mage
by Al Cummins
¶ The Testament of Cyprian the Mage is the final part in the Encyclopædia Goetica series by Jake Stratton-Kent. It is at once a remarkable conclusion to this series, and an outstanding work in its own right. It is a two-volume set that analyses grimoires, acting as both a reader and commentary on such texts. Yet it also appears, in a comely form of course, as somewhat grimoiric itself. It is also a book that cites peer-reviewed research, eruditely synthesising and contributing to academic discourse, and bequeaths a veritable trove of a bibliography. It stresses the importance of personal eschatology, totems, spellwork and agreements when interacting with spirits in serious magical praxis. It spins from gods of time to the spirits of the decans to demonic kings and queens to sylphs and gnomes through geographically diverse and ideologically distinguished occult philosophies and practices. Such an exploration is remarkably nimble-footed, and leads us treasure-seeking to magical lore concerning plants, animals, and folk.
The author reveals that the Testament of Cyprian can be read as the treasure search between the grimoire study of The True Grimoire and the argo-ride through ancient Greece (and a modern necromancy) of the Geosophia. It starts with an ancient spirit catalogue, tracing roots down to the powers and myths of time, the dead, stars, and markings. Petitioning its namesake, Cyprian of Antioch, brings to light these ancestral rhizomatics of Old and New World traditions, in a manner that itself seems both time-honoured and innovative. Those who see those two approaches – of the “rooted” and the “branching” – as mutually exclusive will almost certainly struggle with this text and the sanguine approach that enlivens it.
The book stars several lesser known grimoires, including Liber Sacer, Liber Hermetis and the Comte de Gabalis as well as the Testament of Solomon and the Confessions of Cyprian. Throughout, Stratton-Kent widens and refines his exploratory practice of forging links and parallels in the mythopœia of grimoires, folk magic, and spirits. He emphasises the place of healing, warding, and disease in historical magic. He does this alongside highlighting the centrality of astrology to both the theory and practice of magic: pursued especially through considerations of timing, talismanic materials, and animistic approaches.
Attentive deliberation on spirit hierarchies and families forms a central thread. The Three Chiefs of the Grimorium Verum and elsewhere are further located in historical practice. In his insightful consideration of the Demonic Kings (not to mention the Queens!) – who have lain surprisingly understudied in occult discourse – Stratton-Kent has wrought an especially useful resource and inspiration for those looking to work more spirit-centred grimoire magic. This is especially true for those called to spiritwork which does not primarily involve antagonistically threatening and extorting with monotheistic names, but instead seeks to work with elementary, celestial and chthonic spirits within their own family-lines and hierarchies, and by their own customs and traditions. This is TCM’s vision of the majesty of the Demonic Regents, offering approaches to respectfully working with the figures of authority that the spirits themselves respect, not the belligerent bindings and inimical exorcisms of medieval approaches. Indeed, in its study of the grimoires, The Testament of Cyprian offers particular assistance by deepening understanding of earlier ancient pantheistic contexts. It is a book perhaps especially for (as the author addresses, when extolling the Comte de Gabalis): those researching and practicing grimoire magic; still more so to all seeking less negative and polarised views of spirits within general Western magical practice. (Testament, II, p. 169).
Practice is enriched by research, and all serious study of history is necromantic. This book stands at the crossroads of responsible scholarship and committed practice. A brief tour of some of the book’s ideas and insights elucidates the midnight work done at this crossroads. The Testament of Cyprian contends that the decan images or faces of Agrippa et al were originally stellar deities and/or their subordinate daimones. Thus study of the decans – another sadly understudied area of Western magic history – is not only appropriate, but perhaps critical, in considering the spirits of the catalogues of the grimoires themselves. The emphasis on astrology is not simply a tangential or auxiliary focus for this book in its apprehension of working with spirits: it palpably demonstrates their further interrelations.
TCM also contains dedicated efforts to respond – with the solemnity and awareness it deserves – to the implications of the rather commonplace notions that the demons of early modern ‘Solomonic Goetia’ were once pagan gods. Such notions are often exemplified by following the historicity of the demon Astaroth to lead us back, in some form or another, to a divinity – usually Astarte. In the course of reconciling stars, goddesses, and devils, Stratton-Kent also militates against continuing to draw rigid differences between low and high magic, between sorcery and eschatology, between goetia and theurgy – locating and musing on particular similarity between theurgic conjunction and goetic pacting. The pact as text is also illuminated in a context of the more calligraphic dimensions of image magic (especially for astrological spiritwork) in the study of stoicheia: marks, characteres, not merely symbolising or sympathetically corresponding with a spirit, but actually considered the presence of the spirit. Again, an appreciation of New World traditions (particularly of the pontos of Quimbanda) proves fruitful for this inquiry and for more practicable options for the enterprising modern goetic magician.
Each of these ideas deserved to be expanded upon and examined in their own right, and even at two sturdy and beautifully bound constellated volumes, The Testament of Cyprian has only so much room. Stratton-Kent has certainly developed his craft of carving keys from radical skeletons, offering the bare powerful bones in this ossuary box of a necromantic treatise. Like the grimoires themselves, this is a charting of and rubric for spirit-work, and it won’t do your conjuring for you. It is a book that ultimately can best be utilised in practical application: yet, as a good instructor should, it both shares garnered knowledge and conversation, and rewards the practitioner’s initiative. While certainly not a beginner’s manual, this work can clearly serve practitioners of many different traditions and experiences as a reference, a guide, and an inspiration.
The Testament of Cyprian is for doing Western magical spiritwork, while challenging what Western magical traditions might think they are with a fistful of the graveyard dirt in which their ancestry actually lies rooted. In concluding The Encyclopædia Goetica, it renews the series’ explicit vow to help to: lift our occult revival to the status of a living tradition; serving and being served by our own gods and spirits. (Geosophia, I, p. 118)
As the conclusion of this three-part encyclopaedia, it is (I hope) useful to speak apropos of and to the place of TCM in this infernal trinity. Chatting with a shaman and spiritworker friend generally about Stratton-Kent’s work on goetia, they quipped: It’s like Jurassic Park, right? With the frog DNA of hoodoo filling in the missing sections to revive Greek necromancy? This analogy appeals somewhat – and not only because, hopefully, life does indeed find a way – especially when we acknowledge that there is no appropriating or homogenising Traditional American Hoodoo, but rather tracing and utilising a common ancestral hydra body of spiritual and practical root-working from various historical necks of folk magic manifestation. One might even ponder, given the exchanges between Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Hellenes after all, how Greek is Ancient Greek anyway…
But this dinosaur analogy belies an important distinction. Stratton-Kent’s goetic magick is not a reconstructionist endeavour: he is not breeding Hellenistic raptors. Rather, it is more of a daimonic cartography – dealing in the spirit catalogues of beastfolk and stargods, hellions and familiars, and charting the jungles through which things both new and atavistic have been breeding and stalking. In drawing and invoking these places – especially the cemetery, the crossroads, the wilderness – it can be thought of as a re-animating of mythic space, unearthing the crossings and convergences of legendary journeys and destinations, the precious silt of forgotten river nymphs, the processional paths up to the cave-mouths of half-remembered sibyls. These are the walking temples of powerful spirits across human time, and a modern necromancy such as this goetia is, in every sense, vital to connecting and reconnecting these song-lines and crossroads.
Stratton-Kent’s encyclopaedia is an interlocutor of the works of Typhon, S/He who mothers zoomorphic chimeras. And this, after all, is the breathwork of history, the inhale and exhale of the fateful scissors of Atropos: traditions marrying and dismembering one another, kissing cousin cultures and long silences around the dinner table. The attention to the spirits over formal systems with which to engage with them is notable, and Cyprian’s testament of this necromancy adumbrates this utility of the grimoires: as a means to the multiplicities of the spirits themselves, to their varieties and strengths of interrelations, their wisdoms and mysteries, left to us in the palimpsest bleedthrough and chimeric cut-up of goetic heraldry. This heraldry draws from the astrological, the chthonic, the living, the totemic. It speaketh in a hoarse voice.
This is also to say Stratton-Kent is not attempting to take solo credit for such synthesising of a freshly ensanguinated tradition of goetic sorcery. He is one of many mages pointing out conjunctions of a starry sky, and we would be quite frankly daft to merely stare dumbly at their fingers. A new Great Synthesis is already occurring, one not seen since (funnily enough) the very periods the Encyclopædia Goetica is examining. This is not a po-mo mashup, no Frankenstein’s hipster. It is the dead speaking out and over one another in tangents, in-jokes, and expletives.
And you know people, they talk – atop characters, across borders, outside of time and bookshops. Occultists are far from an exception. Their magpie eyes dart for what works wonders: from Chaldean adoptions to boosted sacred words to sharing the commonalities of offerings of light and libations. The Old and the New Worlds too are talking, and their conversation is spoken with a grammar of myth and ritual and in a tongue of skulls and blood, flowers and springs. The Encyclopædia Goetica, now standing complete, can be seen to flense the flesh of garbled historiography from the cool strong bones of a necromantic tradition and to dress and set new lights to illuminate them. To bring something better and truer of our dead to a one world cauldronwealth. This is JSK’s contribution: not a syllabus, but the tools and the means to make and consecrate our own tools, with tales and techniques backed by legions of spirits and millennia of efficacy.
Stratton-Kent has watered a mandrake with roots that cradle the bones of the dead – roots that snake from the depths of soils lived and loved, ancient and modern. From the cast hydra’s teeth of his goetic triptych, a harvest is finally upon us. From above the timely firmament, beneath the volcanic earth, and across the wine-dark seas, a shriek has gone out. And when the dead rise, which side do you expect to be on?