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Sacramental Theurgy for Witches, by Frater Barrabbas

Sacramental Theurgy for Witches: Advanced Liturgy Revealed, by Frater Barrabbas
Crossed Crow Books, 1959883267, 250 pages, February 2024

In the Digital Age, witchcraft has become more popular and accessible to the public than ever before. Social media is a hot conduit for witches to spread information and personal gnosis through posts and video shorts, leading to the rise of practitioners who are sometimes referred to by the derogatory term “Tiktok witches,” because the quality and validity of this bite-sized content is often questionable. These days, it seems that witchcraft can be whatever a person who identifies as a witch believes it to be. A lot of witches, perhaps due to religious trauma from monotheism, are squeamish about applying the word religion to their craft, and many focus on self-deification, with a tendency to see spirits as archetypal forces they can activate within their psyches rather than as real, conscious entities with personal agendas of their own. If every person who identifies as a witch gets to make up their own definition of what witchcraft is, claim godhood by their own right, and discard the foundational teachings just for the sake of rebellion, then I feel there is a risk of clashing egos compromising the structural integrity of witchcraft as a spiritual path.

In this era of self-serving pop culture witchcraft, it’s refreshing to come across a book that both grounds readers with the religious roots of modern witchcraft and advances them to the next level. In Sacramental Theurgy for Witches: Advanced Liturgy Revealed, author Frater Barrabbas, who has over forty years of experience as a practicing ritual magician and is “an elder and lineage holder in the Alexandrian tradition of Witchcraft,”1 offers a solid foundation, taking readers back to basics while still leaving plenty of wiggle room for creativity, personal gnosis, and experimentation.

His lore blends the theurgical practices of pagan magicians and Neoplatonic philosophers with the magical rites of Catholicism, which feels deliciously blasphemous, and brings to mind the myth of witches attending Black Mass, even though no sacraments are stolen from the Church or defiled. Frater Barrabbas claims that he has “appropriated what is no longer sanctioned or used by the Catholic church,” such as the Tridentine Mass, “and resurrected and transformed them to the service of Witchcraft liturgy and magic.”2 He proposes “that Witches and Pagans can repurpose the tools and beliefs that were once an important part of the Catholic faith from a completely modern Pagan magical perspective.”3

I love Frater Barrabbas’s incorporation of Catholic elements because I see the vast pantheon of saints as thinly veiled paganism, and I occasionally work with saints that I believe were originally pagan deities appropriated by the Church. I also take mischievous delight in rewording phrases from Christian prayers in blasphemous ways. For example, I might bless a ritual implement on my altar with the menstrual blood of Lilith instead of the blood of Jesus. I feel that a little bit of inversion and blasphemy in one’s witchcraft can be a wonderful way to break the chains of traumatic religious programming from childhood.

I was raised by a charismatic Christian, and have found that incorporating Judeo-Christian elements into my practice has helped heal my own religious trauma. By disowning monotheism, it became a part of my shadow self, so to deny that aspect of my spiritual heritage did not bring me to a place of wholeness. Initially, I wanted nothing to do with anything even remotely Christian and focused only on working with pagan spirits. But over the years (and it has taken many years of conscious effort to work through my religious trauma), I have gradually welcomed a few angels, saints, and even the Devil into my practice.

I was initially drawn to Sacramental Theurgy for Witches because I prefer a traditional approach to witchcraft. While I don’t strictly follow any specific tradition, my current practice is more strongly influenced by Robert Cochrane’s Traditional Witchcraft than Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca, and I love that Frater Barrabbas incorporates the use of traditional ritual tools, such as the besom of spirit flight and the stang, a forked staff that is iron-shod like a steed for Otherworld travels, which is an implement derived specifically from Cochrane’s craft.

Theurgy is a crucial element of this book, which Frater Barrabbas defines as “a magical operation that induces the Deity to perform a paranormal operation to benefit an individual or a group or to refrain or block an occurrence that would cause harm.”4

“Witchcraft Theurgy consists of two distinct categories,” Frater Barrabbas says, which are “sacramental magic and magical Mystery rites,” and the book is divided into two parts to cover these practices.5

Sacramental magic encompasses workings that bring the witch into union with a chosen deity, such as rites of transubstantiation, statue animation, and godhead personification. Magical mystery rites align the witch with the cycles of nature through the observation of lunar phases and seasonal rituals. In the chapter on “Lunar Mystery and Moon Magic,”6 I appreciate that Frater Barrabbas emphasizes the uniqueness of each Full Moon from an astrological perspective. There is also a chapter on establishing a sacred grove outside, if one is blessed with a private outdoor space that can be dedicated to the gods. The theme of honoring divinity made manifest in nature is complemented by beautiful illustrations, many of which depict the various guises of the Horned God as naked men with horned animal heads.

Frater Barrabbas analyzes the theurgic practice of godhead assumption in witchcraft, in which a priestess or priest becomes a vessel, or medium, for a deity. The most well-known example of this practice is the classic rite of Drawing Down the Moon. One of the potential risks of godhead assumption is ego inflation, in which the vessel over-identifies with the deity beyond the scope of the rite, and Frater Barrabbas suggests that this can be prevented by working with a specific deity with a very distinct personality rather than being vague and calling upon an amorphous archetypal figure. He refers to the vessel as a medium, emphasizing the fact that they are channeling a specific spirit, not an aspect of themselves. I appreciate him addressing this hazard of divine possession because I’ve noticed there is a tendency to obsess over personal power and self-deification in the occult community, which I consider to be dangerously delusional. I have the traditional perspective that a witch’s power comes from spirit allies, not the ego. I feel like this attitude keeps me grounded and protects my sanity.

In one’s personal practice, godhead assumption can be used to work magic by channeling the power of the deity through oneself. For example, when the witch temporarily becomes the embodiment of a deity during a ritual, they become a mouthpiece for that deity, granting the witch greater authority, because it is not the witch speaking the spells, but the higher power of the channeled deity speaking through them. In Chapter Six, titled “Art and Ordeal of Deity Personification,” Frater Barrabbas instructs the reader on how to proceed with the “Witch’s Ordeal of Godhead Union.”7 Godhead assumption requires intense dedication and an intimate relationship with a specific deity. The devotional practices of sacramental theurgy create alchemical transformations within the witch that lead to “union with the One,”8 a choice of words reminiscent of the language people use when talking about coming into union with their true love, soul mate, twin flame, or whatever term of endearment they have for their ideal romantic partner.

“This ordeal is a magical love spell that you are going to cast on your God, and it will powerfully affect both you and your deity,”9 Frater Barrabbas says.

Self-love is an important part of this process. Just as one would take good care of themselves to attract a mate, the witch is instructed to become an object of desire for their deity by bathing often and beautifying themselves with fine clothes, jewelry, makeup, and sweet perfumes.
I love this approach to godhead assumption because I’m fascinated with the biblical story of the Watchers descending from heaven and mating with mortal women, which can be interpreted as symbolizing the Holy Guardian Angel uniting with the witch as a divine lover. This also brings to mind the ancient concept of having a God Spouse, in which a priest or priestess becomes symbolically wedded to the god they serve. One of my favorite examples of this comes from Greek mythology, in which the Cretan princess Ariadne, the Lady of the Labyrinth and half-sister of the Minotaur, marries the bull-headed god Dionysos. After helping the hero Theseus slay the Minotaur, Ariadne flees Crete with him, but he abandons her on the island of Naxos, where she is rescued by the god Dionysos and made immortal through her union with him.

I personally believe that the New Age concept of going on a Twin Flame journey, which entails seeking union with one’s Divine Masculine or Divine Feminine counterpart embodied in an unavailable human partner, is a corruption of the idea of a God Spouse. Before Ariadne married Dionysos, she was heartbroken and left deserted on an island by the hero Theseus, and heartbreak can be a major catalyst for inner transformation and seeking a higher love with a divine counterpart.

Frater Barrabbas explores the possibility of “a sexual encounter with an embodied deity”10 in rituals of sacred sexuality, such as the Great Rite, which “is used to confer upon an initiate the third degree of a consecrated priest or priestess,”11 which is the highest degree in British Traditional Witchcraft. He also conscientiously addresses the importance of taking precautions regarding the safety and well-being of those practicing sacred sexuality, which must always honor mutual consent.

I appreciated the occasional personal anecdotes Frater Barrabbas shares that humanize the experience of being a witch. For example, before revealing a ritual titled “Erotic Mass of the Fourfold Goddess,”12 he tells the story behind it, and it really impacted me emotionally. He relates how this rite was revealed to him by deceptive coven leaders who claimed it was an ancient secret ritual. “What I found out later was that this beautiful and supposedly ancient ritual had been completely made up by the leaders of my group and passed off as legitimate lore to the members,” he says. “Since those times, these same leaders left the Craft in the early 80s and became ardent fundamentalist Christians who targeted Witches and Pagans, telling the public that we were merely dupes of Satan.”13 He shares this ritual with readers because he doesn’t feel oath-bound to keep it secret, considering its true origins.

I’m a solitary practitioner and I’ve never been in a coven, so the group rituals he shares in the book are beautifully written and inspiring, but will not be of practical use for me. One reason why I’ve never been in a coven is that most of the people I’ve met who have shown an interest in witchcraft lack commitment and sincerity. It’s a passing phase to them, and they can easily turn back to monotheism. It’s even more astounding to me, that in the author’s experience, these traitors were elders in his tradition.

I really resonated with this passage because it reminded me of times in my life when I felt betrayed by romantic partners, friends, and family, who either pretended to be accepting of my practice, or once identified as witches themselves, and then went back to Christianity and completely turned on me, condemning me as a devil worshiper and calling my gods demons. It hurt me deeply, but I think these experiences can be blessings in disguise, because tests of faith can deepen commitment.

In an initiatory vision I received well over a decade ago, I had a sexual encounter with the Horned God in the guise of Cernunnos. I remember vividly that it happened on a Winter Solstice. That night, I felt a strong calling from the spirit world to cast a circle and go into a trance, though I didn’t know why. During this impromptu ritual, I had a vivid vision of being in a vibrant green forest drenched in sunlight, and an erect Cernunnos approached me. I was so surprised by what was happening that it shocked me out of trance, and I immediately became afraid that the Christians were right, and witches really do have sex with the Devil. I identified as Wiccan at the time and up until that point I had denied the existence of the Devil, as did most, if not all Wiccans, probably due to the Satanic Panic, but this experience shifted my perspective and caused me to reevaluate my entire belief system. I had reached a dead end with Wicca, and my spirit allies were guiding me to Traditional Witchcraft. It took me several years to unravel the
religious conditioning of my childhood and I gradually understood that this experience was an initiation into the mysteries of the Horned God as the folkloric Devil, who is a shapeshifting spirit of nature, and not the personification of absolute evil. Embracing the title of devil worshipper helped me to do necessary shadow work for my personal and spiritual growth.

Sacramental Theurgy for Witches is not for the faint of heart or those who think of witchcraft as a passing phase. It’s for serious devotees who have established their own consistent practice over the course of many years and wish to deepen their relationship with the divine by not only becoming a medium for their chosen deity, but by elevating their relationship with their god to a sacred romance, and love is the greatest mystery of all. By weaving together the seemingly disparate threads of multiple traditions, and integrating their wisdom into his own lore, Frater Barrabbas promotes a sense of wholeness, rather than separation, in witchcraft. This book will be a wonderful resource for those looking to reconcile Christianity and other traditions with their practice.

Theurgy: Theory & Practice, by P.D. Newman

Theurgy: Theory & Practice: The Mysteries of the Ascent to the Divine, by P.D. Newman
Inner Tradition, 164411836X, 224 pages, December 2023

Theurgy is a Neoplatonic form of ritual magic in which the practitioner seeks mystical union with a divine being. The term theurgy, which means “to work with deity”1 in Greek, was first coined in the Chaldæan Oracles, a fragmented collection of dactylic hexameter verses, written in Homeric Greek, that were believed to have been channeled directly from the gods by either Julian the Chaldæan, or his son, Julian the Theurgist, during the late second century CE.

In Theurgy: Theory & Practice: The Mysteries of the Ascent to the Divine, author P.D. Newman, who has practiced theurgy for over two decades and is also a member of both the Masonic Fraternity and the Society of Rosicrucians, supplies a solid scholarly background on the development of theurgical practices. Even though the Chaldæan Oracles are the fundamental text on theurgy, he argues that the practice itself can be traced all the way back to Homeric times. 

In Part I, he demonstrates how the ancient Greek version of shamans, called iatromanteia (“healer-seers”), and the Presocratic philosophers laid the foundation for theurgical practices.

“Theurgy,” Newman explains, “is a process of anabasis or magical ascent whereby practitioners, such as the Neoplatonists…achieved henosis or mystical union with a deity, the Demiurge or the One,” while katabasis is “a dreamy descent to the domain of the dead and to the dark goddess who rules over that realm.”2

Plato and his followers aspired to ascend through the planetary spheres and unite with the One, the paternal Monad, using theurgical practices, while their predecessors, the iatromanteia (“healer-seers”) and Presocratic philosophers, sought Underworld descent, or katabasis, and union with the terrifying goddess that ruled there.

“For the Platonists, katabasis was understood as the descent of the soul into a body upon incarnation,” Newman says. “Hades, additionally, was allegorized and viewed as the very world that we, as embodied beings, inhabit.”3

In Plato’s teachings, the body (soma) is a grave (sema), and a prison for the soul. Plato’s famous “Allegory of the Cave” in the Republic demonstrates how the focus of theurgical practices shifted from the Underworld to the heavens. “The goal of the theurgist is not unlike that of the prisoner in the cave—to escape the sensible world of duality and penetrate the realm of ultimate, unitive reality above,” Newman says.4

I was fascinated to learn that the Sicilian stratovolcano Mount Etna was believed to be an entrance to Hades, and sacrifices to the goddess of the Underworld were thrown into the mouth of this fiery cauldron. According to legend, the iatromantis (healer-seer) Empedocles threw himself into the volcano to prove his divinity, and it erupted, vomiting out a single bronze sandal. Through self-immolation, Empedocles achieved henosis (mystical union) with the goddess Hecate. A single bronze sandal is one of her attributes as the Lady of Tartaros in the Papyri Graecae Magicae, and the Greeks associated bronze with the Underworld. This was a profound insight for me because I didn’t know that Hecate was associated with volcanoes, and this explains her fiery epithets. 

Part II explores possible theurgic elements in Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. In Chapter 6, titled “Porphyry’s On the Cave of the Nymphs,” Newman demonstrates how philosophers often saw Odysseus as a spiritual hero, on a path of return to his celestial abode. For example, he says the Pythagoreans interpreted the song of the sirens to be the music of the celestial spheres, which is so beautiful it has the power to “lift the soul in its theurgic ascent to the Good,”5 and the Neopythagorean philosopher Numenius of Apamea saw “Odysseus as escaping genesis, the realm of ‘becoming,’ symbolized by the waters of Poseidon.”6

I loved this chapter, and the passages about Witch Queen Circe really blew my mind. According to the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry of Tyre, Circe symbolizes the cycle of metensomatosis, or reincarnation, in which eternal souls change bodies like clothes. Aiaia, the island over which she rules, is part of the land of the dead. Bewitched by the pleasures of the flesh, Odysseus’s men drink the witch’s brew and are reborn as beasts. Only Odysseus himself, who is on a path of ascension, is immune to her powers. Now that my perspective has been shifted to view the Odyssey as the tale of a hero’s apotheosis, I will never read it the same way again. 

Part III, titled “Theurgic Telestikē,” analyzes the practice of animating cult statues. This section was the most relevant for me because I have written my own rituals to awaken my deity statues in the past and I am looking to incorporate more traditional methods of doing so in order to infuse my rituals with historical authenticity. I also recently wrote a ritual to enliven a scrying mirror for Lilith, because in Jewish folklore she was believed to inhabit mirrors. One passage in particular really resonated with my intention, in which Newman quotes Plotinus, who compared the consecrated cult statue to “a mirror able to catch some image of it.”7 

In order to animate the statue, a sympathetic link is created with “theurgic talismans called synthēmata (tokens) and symbola (symbols),”8 which are similar to the planetary correspondences assigned to plants, animals, and minerals in natural magic. However, there is more to statue vivification than simply following a list of correspondences recognized by the intellect. Rather, the tokens and symbols help the theurgist align with the deity by making their divine essence become conscious, or awakened, within themselves, especially if they have psychoactive properties that alter one’s consciousness. For example, in fragment 224 of the Chaldæan Oracles, the goddess Hecate instructs the theurgist to animate her statue with wild rue, or Syrian rue, an entheogenic plant that the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder associated with vision, which is still burned today in the Middle East to repel the evil eye.

My devotion to Hecate inspired me to learn more about theurgy because of her exalted status in the Chaldæan Oracles, in which she is referred to as the World Soul, or at least she is according to my copy, translated by Ruth Majercik. Before reading this book, I wasn’t aware that there is conflicting scholarship about whether or not this epithet applies to her, and I was surprised to find that Newman presents the argument that Hecate is not herself the anima mundi, or World Soul, because her position in the Chaldæan hierarchy is too elevated.

“Indeed…in the Oracles, Hecate is said to be the cause of soul—but not soul itself, “Newman says. “Rather, Hecate is acknowledged as a goddess of liminality who exists in the space between two realms, such as she served when acting in the role of psychopomp for Persephone in the Eleusinian mysteries.”9

In an initiatory dream I received over a decade ago, Hecate stabbed me in my right side with her dagger and pomegranate juice flowed from the wound. “You are Persephone,” she said. Several years later, the dream made more sense to me when I read Fragment 51 of The Chaldean Oracles: “Around the hollow of her right flank a great stream of the primordially-generated Soul gushes forth in abundance, totally ensouling light, fire, ether, worlds.”10 If Hecate is so elevated that she transcends the epithet of World Soul, then I wonder if perhaps her lowest aspect, the maiden Persephone, should in fact hold that title.

Theurgy: Theory & Practice is an astounding work that combines shamanism, various schools of Greek philosophy, and theurgical praxis that can be integrated by modern occultists. The many branches of Greek philosophy can be an overwhelming topic to explore, but Newman does an excellent job of diluting the common theurgical elements, and a wealth of information is condensed into under 200 pages. Both modern theurgists and devotees of Hecate will appreciate this work, especially if they are interested in learning more about her significance in the Chaldæan Oracles.