In his introduction, F. Barrabbas challenges the reader to “write from scratch a complete system of ritual magick.” His goal, in this first volume of the series, is to provide a solid foundation for the reader to use on their quest to write an entirely new, personal system of ritual magick. In that same introduction, however, the author makes it clear that he expects you to have worked through his book, The Disciple’s Guide to Ritual Magick, before tackling this one. Throughout this volume, reference after reference after reference is made to this previous work, so much so that information is frequently omitted, referring the reader to The Disciple’s Guide instead. Not having read the previous work, I found myself frustrated at the gaping holes that lack of familiarity left me.
My second struggle with the work came in the writing style itself. Let me be clear - I was pleased that this avoided the step-by-step, lead by the nose down the path, 101-type of work. Barrabbas was more theoretical, more philosophical in laying out his groundwork. Too often, though, it appeared that this was written once, from beginning to end, with little revision before publication. I found instances of bad grammar, redundant explanations in multiple chapters, and occasionally direct contradictions. (For example, on page 165 he states, “The following section is a brief comparison between the two systems of tracking and the cycle of initiation, demonstrating in what manner they are alike.” This was followed immediately by the heading, “Contrast Between Tracking and the Cycle of Initiation.” So, are they alike, or contrasting?)
Not to mention the occasional odd leap of reasoning. (“A single terminated wand with a phallic tip is an obvious representation of the masculine creative power, representing that the magician has the ability to create as both an agent of the masculine and feminine forces.” p. 32) I’m afraid I’m just not clear on how the latter follows the former. And these inconsistencies send up red flags for me. They leave me with a distinct lack of confidence in the material, and a distrust of my own ability to distinguish the valuable information from the random statements.
The narrative style seemed more a presentation of “this is what I do” than anything else. Which, admittedly, is reasonable. When asking someone to be utterly original and not take anything presented to them as rote, one shouldn’t then proceed to tell them how to think. I did find myself reminded of a quote from the film A Mighty Wind, however. “Our beliefs are fairly commonplace and simple to understand. Humankind is simply materialized color operating on the 49th vibration. You would make that conclusion walking down the street or going to the store.” Some of Barrabbas’ statements come across pretty much like that.
Even with these shortcomings, I suspect there is a lifetime of research and experience behind the ideas presented here. A full chapter is dedicated to comparing the 22 cycles outlined by Joseph Campbell as part of the hero’s journey to the 22 cards of the Major Arcana in the tarot. As I read that chapter, I admired the thought and consideration he put into it. I didn’t necessarily agree with some of his choices, but the work was clearly there to support his ideas. Then he showed himself to be rather out of touch by explaining the feminine variant on this cycle, which at one point hinged significantly on the woman having experienced the birth process. Many women either cannot or choose not to have children (I am one of them). By his reasoning, then, they cannot fully experience this cycle of initiation.
One final example of the kind of inconsistency in his presentation. He concludes the book with an exploration of the Five Mystery Systems. After listing their short descriptions, he writes, “As you can see, I did not pick five as an arbitrary number of the mysteries. I truly believe that there are five mysteries found in the rediscovered pagan religious traditions.” That’s it? Nothing more? It’s not arbitrary because it’s what he believes? I could think of a dozen better reasons to support this.
Interspersed periodically in the text are tables, charts and graphics intended to illustrate his ideas more clearly. Unfortunately, they were not particularly helpful, in some cases simply due to size and blurry cut-and-paste results. Oh, there are nuggets of good and useful instruction tucked into the book here and there, but they are surrounded by questionable information.
If you have read The Disciple’s Guide to Ritual Magick, and it resonated with you, I suspect this book will be an appropriate follow-up for the next leg on your spiritual journey. Without that starting point, however, this particular volume is not worth the effort.
As a point of interest, I found two other reviews of this book online. One absolutely raved about it, the other completely panned it. I think your decision would best be made based on other works you may have read by Frater Barrabbas.
~review by KatSai
Author: Frater Barrabbas
Megalithica Books, 2008
pp. 200, $21.99