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Remembering the Lamp of Thoth

Last year fellow Treadwells-regular Ed Gauntlett lent me his collection of a classic British occult magazine, The Lamp of Thoth. In many ways, The Lamp of Thoth (LOT) was a significant milestone in the history of my own interest in the occult, and reading through the old issues – finding favourite snippets of writing I hadn’t seen for some twenty-odd years cast me into a wave of nostalgia and reflection.

Published throughout the 1980s by the Sorceror’s Apprentice, the LOT was by eclectic, sometimes provocative, and above all, contemporary, providing a glimpse into current events and concerns in the occult/pagan scene of that period. Its contents ranged through every possible permutation of esoteric thought at the time, and in addition to the articles which might range from Abramelin to Chaos Magic. It also featured “contact ads”, Aunt Sally’s often ascerbic “problem page,” and something which the few other ‘zines of the time lacked – a sense of humour, expressed through cartoons such as Dave Brown & Dave Lee’s Arthur Micklethwaite: Yorkshire Zen Master and the continuing adventures of Arfur Wizard “the Mill-Hill magician”.

The Yorkshire Zen MasterWhen I first became interested in the occult in the late 1970s I read anything and everything I could get hold of from my local library, which wasn’t very extensive, and was dominated by the writings of Madame Blavatsky. Inevitably perhaps, the first esoteric society I made contact with, was the Theosophical Society, and I went along to their Leeds lodge for the first time in 1978. There I fell into conversation with another attendee (the only other person present under the age of 50) and he pointed me in the direction of The Sorceror’s Apprentice in Burley Lodge Road – the first occult shop I ever visited. The “shop” with its blacked-out windows and visored door, had from the outside, a forbidding air, tinged with the kind of backstreet seediness associated at that time with sex shops. Soon I was a regular, visiting as often as I could and spending my student grant on acquiring a library. And it was in the SA one afternoon that I picked up a copy of The Lamp of Thoth.

It was through the Lamp of Thoth that I slowly gained an entry into the wider world of the British occult scene – indeed, until I began to hang out at the SA coffee shop – a lock-up across the road which held a table, a couple of benches and a coffee machine) where Sorcerer’s regulars could gather and discourse learnedly about matters esoteric – and read each new magazine, I didn’t have much awareness that there was an occult scene past the books I’d been reading. It was through the Sorcerer’s and the LOT that I first found out about the local pagan moot scene. It was through the “contact ads” in the LOT that I took a leap of faith and made contact with the Wiccan coven into which I was (eventually) initiated into, and the LOT was the first “occult” magazine that I began writing for. I received a very encouraging letter from LOT editor Chris Bray following an early article entitled “On the Dark Night of the Soul” which was published in LOT Vol 2 no.6. This early article can be found all over the web (for example, here) although it is now, through that strange processes by which articles make the leap from paper to digital, attributed to one Fra. Apfelmann, who originally transcribed it or uploaded it. This has been, I admit, a minor annoyance, so it was good to have the original magazine in which this article appeared to hand, so I could scan it.

The LOT was also an influence when Rodney Orpheus and I started to publish Pagan News in the late 1980s. Like the LOT, we wanted Pagan News to be eclectic, and not bound by any sense of there being a divide between pagans and occultists for example. Another feature of the LOT which I certainly was influenced by was “Golem’s Gossip”. “Golem” seemed to know everyone of note, and for me, part of the fun of reading the latest misdeeds to befall various luminaries was beginning to gain some degree of familiarity with those being lampooned. Golem’s Gossip ranged between reporting on various spats between Thelemites (particularly groups with a “T” in their acroynm) – for example in Volume 2 no.4 Golem reported on how a member of one such order was detained before London magistrates for possession of electronic incendiary devices – apparently there was some plot to destroy books in a warehouse belonging to Routledge Keegan and Paul. The column also kept readers updated on the activities of fundamentalist Christian groups, media abuse and various occult-oriented scams.

Golem and the LOT also shed much-needed light on more serious incidents – such as the very public declaration of one Barbara Brandolini (“spiritual leader and high priestess of the Church of the Silver Blade”) that she was going to purchase a chapel in the tiny village of Heptonstall and turn it into a “pagan temple” – a scheme which didn’t do pagans any favours at all. However, the most outrageous scandal reported by the LOT (to my mind) was the Galadriel Affair. From the first issue of the LOT, there was a regular contributor writing about various aspects of Witchcraft under the pen name of “Galadriel”. Galadriel’s first article basically pointed out that for the most part, “modern wicthcraft” was mostly made up – but that there was a hereditary tradition of which Galadrial was an iniitate. This article drew counter-responses from both Raymond Buckland and Alex Sanders. Undeterred, Galadriel followed trhough with an article in issue 3 of LOT claiming that those of the “hereditary clans” do advocate cursing enemies, and even more controversially in issue 4, with the claim that Galadriel’s clan practice both animal sacrifice (at feast times) and human sacrifice (actually a ritual form of voluntary suicide). This was strong stuff, particularly when you consider that this was 1981.

In 1982 the infamous (and now thankfully defunct) The News of the World newspaper ran a series “exposing” various British occultists as “Devil Worshippers” and so forth. In the 1980s, being “exposed” in the press as an “evil occultist” could well result in losing one’s job, having one’s windows broken, and lengthy public harassment. “The News of the World” was generally regarded as “the enemy” by many pagans and occultists. In LOT vol. II no.4 there appeared an article written by Stewart Farrar entitled “WHY GALADRIEL MUST GO” in which he makes a number of interesting statements about the News of the World exposes – and the role that he and his wife Janet played in them. It seems that the Farrars were so concerned about Galadriel’s articles in the LOT – the argument being that they were “bringing the Craft into disrepute” that they co-operated with the News of the World’s “sting” operation when the paper approached them for information about “Black Magicians” and in particular, assisted two journalists to gain the confidence of a couple whom they believed to be responsible for the Galadriel articles, by giving the journalists a letter of introduction, so they could pass themselves off as “genuine seekers” and asking the couple to extend Craft hospitality to them. Farrar claims in the article that he acted in this way not only for the good of the Craft in general, but at the behest of a number of “responsible Craft leaders and senior occult figures” (who needless to say, remained anonymous) and closed with:

Without toning down or apologising for our beliefs in any way, we must present a true image of the Craft, in all its multiform variety but essential unity. Anyone who muddies the waters must be netted – and fast.

The next few issues of the LOT saw a flurry of letters and strong editorial comment condemning Stewart Farrar’s actions – and Galadriel’s column continued to appear. None of the “Craft leaders” or “senior occult figures” that Farrar claimed to have the support of stepped forwards. If nothing else, this incident shows how much Paganism has changed over the last thirty years or so – were such a thing to happen nowadays one can easily imagine the furore that would explode across the Pagan blogosphere. Despite Farrar’s appeal to “unity” the Galadriel Affair highlighted the deep divisions in the UK occult scene – and the power of spokespersons acting on behalf of others. It was a pattern that was to repeat itself in the late 1980s with the onset of the “Satanic Child Abuse” moral panic, which also saw various occult authors – notably Gerald Suster – being “exposed” in The News of the World. (see here for a scan of Suster’s own account of the incident from Talking Stick magazine).

One comment

  1. Joel Biroco
    Posted February 4th 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    I too have fond memories of ‘Lamp of Thoth’, it had all that pettiness and backstabbing that of course everyone finds such a joy in the occult. It was always wonderful to hear of the downfalls of this occult leader or that, the pure ridiculous crankiness of it all. It was like having the ‘The Beano’ all over again. The sudden desires to join a sex magick cult, the ‘what if I became an occult leader myself’ trip. It was through reading ‘Lamp of Thoth’ that I realised there was a whole subculture ripe to have the piss ripped out of it. Thank you ‘Lamp of Thoth’, you were an inspiration.