Apr 2, 2013

Book review: E.A. Koetting: The Book of Azazel


I have begun a very fruitful collaboration with Nephilim Press this last year as you might already know, and part of my payment was agreed to be a book or two that would far exceed my budget. They were kind enough to save one such rare piece of book art and after doing about 70 or 80 illustrations, I’ve finally earned it. I waited in anticipation for it for about a year and although I knew it was far beyond my financial possibilities, I somehow knew I would have it in my hands and kept calm, working my way towards it.

There is another type of satisfaction when you truly earn something, especially a book, through hard work and lost nights in front of my computer, drawing, scanning, altering, admiring or destroying the result. You never question the amount of money you d spend on it, thinking about how many cheaper books or how many pairs of shoes would be the equivalent, you just know that this specific amount of work will earn you that specific book. The feeling that I got opening the box and unwrapping it from the bubble wrap was awesome. 

I knew that sooner or later a pirate pdf would pop up  on the web, but that could hardly be of any comfort. This is the last work that E.A. Koetting promised he wouldd pen down, and incidentally, the first work by him I would own in the original format. More than anything I appreciate the work one puts into books, so I did not want a cheap ride along in the pirate ship. 


I will start by saying that it is not the first book by him I ever read, and I could not count myself as a die-hard Koetting fan, but I do not have any prejudice against the author. I acknowledge his merit and am glad for his success, although i do not share all his ideas nor would I like to make his path my own. I started reading his works not as a right-hand-pather trying to find faults in one s left-hand-path ideology or as a light-side magician fighting against darkness, but as a perpetual student reading and informing himself of others successes or experiments in magic. Many people that know me and my faith-oriented nature often find my interest in all the branches of magic troubling, not being able to conceive a light-side mage reading books that would teach diabolical acts or deal with demonic magic. Well, magic is this, and it certainly is that, so I reject nothing. 

I read the book with an open mind and a keen interest and found some things that I wholeheartedly agreed with, things I clashed with and things that were not at all my way of thinking or things that i liked easily creeping in and settling themselves comfortably in my mind, making me wonder if he had convinced me, if the ideas were there all along or simply if it was a seduction technique of the author. It may be all three at once, what i can say is that this book is certainly seductive. It may convince a seasoned occultist to give it a try and it may blow a beginner s mind. When dealing with the occult, there is a great power in announcing philosophical truths that cannot be questioned, such as man s desire to have more than he needs or the necessity of compliance and service that must come before ultimate ruler-ship, mixed with the desirable process, in our case, that of the demonic pact. This technique is quite well-known, selling your product with someone else s product in order to gain trust. Grimoires are no different. Some  use previously known angels and demons to introduce new ideas or rituals, some use known rituals to introduce new hierarchies of spirits. Of the former category I can name The Ars Goetia and Ars Theurgia-Goetia, The Grimoire of Turiel and the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, while of the latter category, the Enochian materials of John Dee and Edward Kelly are the most widely known. 


Also, the idea of otherworldly authorship is not only old, but recurrent in magical books. Venerable ancestors such as Enoch, Ishmael, Moses, Hermes, Solomon and Cyprian have ”written” grimoires long after their deaths, angelic figures the likes of Raphael and Raziel have passed on secret knowledge to man in  the form of books and Honorius wrote his famous Liber Juratus under the guidance of the angel Hocroel, but books written by or inspired by demons were definitely missing. Outside of fictitious books such as the Necronomicon, inspired the the so-called Old Ones of the Cuthulu Mythos and the Delomelanicon, written by Lucifer himself, wellspring of the Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows from the work of novelist Arturo Perez Reverte, books revealed by demons missed from the Western Magical tradition. The closest thing we have to this is the Liber Byleth, a magical book quoted by Wierius in the description of the demonic king Byleth, but that has only been known in manuscript to but a handfull of experts that so far have not bothered to translate or transcribe it.  A grimoire inspired by a demon was definitely needed...

Why Azazel? I have no idea. Maybe because he is the demon of desolation, isolation, damnation and sin in the Old Testament and the major Promethean initiatory figure in the Book of Enoch. He would be the most fit character to lead the magician to total damnation and initiation into the dark arts.

The book is about liberation through utter damnation, the power that the destruction of the temporary constructs has over the feeling of one s true freedom.


 If in the beginning we are encouraged to find a system that responds to our needs and fits our demands and expectations, we later might feel constricted by this very system in our search for ultimate liberation. The idea is quite interesting, but is definitely not new. It may perplex students of a certain system, but all systems teach at one point or another renunciation. Death followed by rebirth is a constant in all initiatic traditions, reaching out of ancient Egypt and the ancient mystery tradition to our contemporary luciferian ideologies and Eastern teachings. From Osiris to Osho and from Prometheus to Jesus, all state that only through self-annihilation true spiritual insight can be gained.    

The style of the book varies greatly: sometimes is a manual of dark ritual  magic,  sometimes a course in self-discovery and oftentimes a journal or a confession as to a friend. The language tends to be dense, poetic and bombastic, a feature shown in other books by the same author, but that may be excusable and lend a personal note of his own work. What matters is that it brings three new things into the world of the grimoire. 

The first is the most obvious always, that is the grimoiric part itself, the catalogue of demons that Koetting claims he has called and worked with, referred to in the text as the commanders over the legions of Azazel, called Nethers. Might be an Egyptian reference, where the word Neter or Netjer usually designated a god. He gives the seals of 33 such creatures, organised in three categories or Houses, with powers, appearances and personal notes. 


The second thing he brings new to the table is the very concept of the demonic pact itself. Pushing the envelope as he likes to call it, the author does things that other ascertain as toxic and destructive, even to his own personal well-being. If the entire magical lore alluding to pacts shows them as being demonic traps in which the sorcerer might lose his soul an place himself among the damned, our author heeds not the warnings and goes out looking for it. While other sorcerers take great precautions not to be beguiled by the demon into signing a pact, he does precisely that, and lives to tell the tale, of course. 

The third thing being brought to the table is the author s intimate tails of gain and loss, destruction and recovery, anguish, retreat and freedom. I for one find it intriguing and interesting. It might be a technique meant to make the method more appealing to the suffering, the scarred, the shamed and the pariah, but I could not make such a statement with a content heart. Anyone who suffers and builds their life back is certainly worthy of anyone s respect, and anyone who would share it for an example with others, even more so. 

The book is a good read and an interesting account, beyond the precious style that aims to make something ordinary seem like a legendary feat. That is something I found a bit bothersome: the magician never simply looks into the smoke of the brazier, he always pierces through with his magical focused gaze in the bellowing smoke of scented copal rising forth from the great triangle of manifestation, bringing to existence the very substance and idea of smokingness itself. He does not merely step into a circle, but he commands his weakened body and exhausted mind forward into the sacred precinct of the temporary temple that is the circle of the pacts.(not actual quotes, sorry, but you get the picture). As curious as this style may be to the contemporary reader, this method of combining grimoiric magic and thrill-filled stories is not new either, and not a trademark of Koetting. Many works of magic begin with warnings to the reader, advices for the imprudent and curses for the ignorant, making the grimoire even more evil and even more impotant than it really is.

The Book of Azazel is an interesting read. I have no inclination nor time to see what exactly matches Crowley, Chumbley, Ford, Grant or Yogi Bear in what he writes because I had no time nor enough interest in the Left Hand Path to read them critically, so  will refrain from doing so and leave this task to other readers, more seasoned then myself in this area. 

The quality of the book itself is great, the binding is good but a bit too stiff for my taste, the cover is simple yet intriguing, keeping the cover and spine decoration to a bare minimum, the drawings are superbly executed (by Frater Akherra, whom I commend for his great work), the layout is great and the black and red text takes us back to the Middle Ages, where most such books were written with the same colors.

Glad to have one of the 33 copies. Ebay tells me that one such copy already reached the price of 1200 $. Not that I m selling.