Review: The Testament of Cyprian the Mage

Recently I’ve been reading through the final offering in Jake Stratton-Kent’s “Encyclopedia Goetica” series, The Testament of Cyprian the Mage.  This work follows the True Grimoire (review here and here) and Geosophia (review and response).

This book moves the focus from the previous works on the Grimorium Verum and the Greek mythological and ritual tradition, moving to Iberia, the Americas, and the Middle East.   Stratton-Kent is seeking to move magical practice away from the dualistic model present in much ritual magic from the medieval period in which one calls upon God and the angels to compel demons.  Instead, he examines working with traditions in which one petitions superior spirits of the same hierarchy for the same effects.

To accomplish this, JSK explores the contents of a Sufurino edition of the Testament of Cyprian, most likely dating to the 19th century.  Using the purported author as a spiritual link to the past, he takes us back to the time of the historical Saint Cyprian to examine the magical works that someone of his time and place might consult.  Thus, we have excursions into theurgy, the magical papyri, the Testament of Solomon, Hermetic image magic, and decans.  He also proceeds through the work by Cyprian chapter-by chapter, with a few lacunae where it overlaps with an upcoming work from Joe Peterson.  As he does so, he highlights various aspects of the spirits and procedures within that reflect the views mentioned above, drawing upon necromancy, fairy lore, the four kings present in some medieval magic works, elementals, and the Quimbanda tradition.

One element that is definitely in favor of this particular volume is the bibliography. JSK has picked an absolutely top-notch list of reputable sources to make his arguments.   I have some misgivings about their uses, however.  What the book presents is a grand synthesis of various works, theologies, and ideas, as has been done by individuals such as Levi and Mathers.  As such, someone who incorporates it into their magical practice might find it valuable and evocative, but others will be skeptical as to how far such disparate sources can be stretched.  The following passage near the end (volume 2, p. 197):

The syncretism of Kimbanda associates rusalkis with Pomba Gira Rainha das Almas (Pomba Gira of Souls)…  Lilith is frequently paired with Asmodeus and related figures.  So too the precedent of Exu Lucifer’s pairing with Exu Pomba Gira (Klepoth) implies a similar relationship between the Lucifer of the grimoires and Astaroth.  Sibylia’s equivalence with Lamia (explored in Geosophia) and with Lilith is also echoed in Kimbanda’s syncretism.  The equivalent of Lamia in Kimbanda is Pomba Gira Maria Quiteria, that of Lamashtu, Pomba Gira Rainha da Kalunga.

Your reaction to that passage indicates how you are likely to feel about the Testament.

I am also skeptical as to his overall claim that spirits in the same hierarchy are an older development than spirits in opposition.   I think what would really be required here is an examination of the Mesopotamian anti-demon incantations.  These might not display the dualistic aspect, but it nonetheless engages with how much the demons are agents of the gods or independent operators (sometimes yes, sometimes no), with some interesting variations, such as the curious relationship between Lamashtu and Pazuzu.  Such material would have been available to the Hebrews during the Babylonian activity, and a slight Mesopotamian influence on the magical papyri is also present.  As such, I think that perhaps uncertain relationships between demonic spirits and the celestial hierarchy might pre-date dualistic cosmology, and that this might be a worthy topic to examine.

And yet… even if I have some concerns I really like a number of aspects of this book.  JSK is engaging with a number of interesting topics, ranging from incantations that call upon infernal forces to books of image magic to analyses of the Testament of Solomon and the kings of the four directions.   Due to his desire to cover a vast range of topics, we never get too in-depth with any one of these, but the reader can be referred to the bibliography.  Also, he is absolutely correct in pointing out just how much MacGregor Mathers (and Crowley and Waite, to a lesser degree), are responsible for the popular understanding of the grimoires, and how much of a complex phenomenon these simplified approaches have glossed over.

Overall, the book is probably most valuable for those interested in exploring the themes in JSK’s other works further, or those who aren’t too familiar with occult literature beyond the grimoires found in their bookstore’s occult section.  Fortunately, I think the paperback and ebook options move the work much closer to an affordable range for readers.

Published in: on May 26, 2014 at 4:14 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great review, thanks! Can you provide some information on the forthcoming work from Joseph H Peterson?

  2. […] recently seen two new books attributed to the third century bishop Cyprian.  The first was The Testament of Cyprian the Mage, which included a mostly complete translation of a Spanish work of ceremonial magic.  The second, […]

  3. late to the game here but correct me if I’m wrong… But in ancient mesopotamian magic, wouldn’t the demons being compelled by a divine figure be considered caco-daimonic? Or plainly stated, disease demons?
    Isn’t what Jake is putting forth is that the spirits of the grimoires, while demonized by Abrahamic traditions… Are not caco-daimonic but that they are elemental spirits of a sort? Certainly their described abilities don’t describe them all as plague demons, maybe at worst tricksters.
    So that would kind of put the ancient middle Eastern techniques of compulsion a bit out of context I would think.
    Of course I’m not calling the realm of spirits oh so friendly, I’m just saying they don’t all need to be approached as malevolent disease and plague demons.


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