I recently was offered the opportunity to review Mark Alan Smith’s new book The Red King, the sequel to The Queen of Hell, published by Ixaxaar earlier this month. This book was given to me with the understanding that I will give it a fair and unbiased review and the author was adamant that I am to be as critical as I want in my reviewing. Thus in no way did this color my perception of the book or this review.
Like I did with the last one I’d like to break up my review into a brief overview, commentary about the book itself, and my personal experiences with it.
The Red King is the second volume describing Mark Alan Smith’s Primal Craft, a form of Traditional Witchcraft which was first described in last years release of Queen of Hell. As Hekate was the focus of the first volume, Lucifer is the star of this show and the book primarily describes Lucifer’s role in Witchcraft as an initiator on Hekate’s path. When I say Witchcraft, don’t think that your going to find spells for love, money, or power here (though you might find some for revenge). This is a manual of soul metamorphosis, alchemy pure and simple, where your soul is the base material and elevation to the right to stand with the Gods as equals is the gold you seek. The goal of this work is to obtain the three crowns of divinity with the purpose of soul evolution in mind. The first book detailed how to obtain the crown of Hekate, and this book continues the quest for the second crown with Lucifer’s aid. As such most of the rites within focus on attuning one’s soul frequency to Lucifer’s current and seeking the aid of those under him, in this case many of the demons from both the Grimiore Verum and the Goetia.
I think of this work very much like special forces combat training for the spirit. Each rite detailed within has the ultimate goal of fortifying the subtle body and granting you further keys to access higher realms of power and personal gnosis. It is highly experiential and rigorous in it’s methods. In the old analogy that there are many paths to the summit of the mountain, the path this book details takes the tunnels under and through that mountain, what the author calls the Draconian Paths. You will find no white light platitudes here, but it is an equally valid pathway to the goal of ones spiritual development for those who are called to this less traveled path. It literally feels as if the author is mapping new territory, revealing pathways to ascension that may have been there all along yet hidden from mankind. Suffice to say it’s powerful stuff and will not be to everyone’s taste. Those who do resonate with that sort of thing, this will be just what your looking for.
Let me be clear that this is a book of gnosis. It is the authors own gnosis brought to light through possession and communion with the Gods in question. Therefore, lore hounds looking for historical depictions of Hekate or Lucifer should step away from the book now, because that is not what you will find. That does not make it wrong, it just means that it is a book derived from gnosis and should be read under that knowledge. If that’s not your thing, I’d probably skip it as you will just be frustrated. However, those who have read the first book will know this already and be right at home. Once again, as in the previous volume the authors passion for his material is evident and infectious. I would advise one to throw away your preconceived notions and give the book a read through with open eyes. I think you’ll be surprised on what you come away with.
Once again, as was the case with Queen of Hell, the book itself is physically gorgeous as can be expected of an Ixaxaar title. It’s bound in shimmering blue cloth with a golden Seal of Lucifer on the cover. Like the first book, each one is talismanic, meaning that it has been ritually consecrated individually and it shows. It feels sacred. The inside is filed with beautiful sigils (many more than the first) and the artwork is honestly breathtaking at times. Images of Lucifer and those under his dominion jump off the pages in strategic places. It genuinely feels like a true book of magic should feel. It would be right at home in a collectors book shelf, though I think that would be kind of a waste. This book is meant to be read and experienced, not gather dust. It’s also very thick, being quite a bit longer than the previous volume, and according to Ixaxaar’s website the largest book they have ever put out. Again, like the first, it is limited to a one time only print run of 999 copies.
The book picks up where Queen of Hell left off. The previous volume started off at a more or less beginning to intermediate level and eventually escalated to an advanced pace by the end. The Red King starts off with the advanced pace established in Queen of Hell right off the bat, assuming that you have done the work in the previous book. In this way it is a true sequel. A few basics are re-touched upon and then it’s off to the Work at hand. There is a sense of no-nonsense here, indeed almost a sense of urgency as the authors gnosis is revealed on the pages. The first chapter has rituals which I believe can be performed by anyone, however you will hit a point in the book where your not going to get anything further out of it unless you’ve done the work presented in QoH. Unless you’ve obtained the first crown there is no point in questing for the second.
The book starts by unveiling more of the mythology established in the first, detailing the rise of Hekate and Lucifer from the ancient Atlantean currents. That’s right, I said Atlantis, though not in the crystal toting, dolphin loving way you’ve come to expect the word to be associated with. Smith’s mythology of Atlantis is indeed primal and epic in scope. I won’t give too much away but I think you will be in for a surprise in reading this material. After offering a more thorough fleshing out of the authors gnosis-derived history of the Witchgods and the altered soul path of the human race you brought right into the meat of the work.
Next is a ritual designed to attune yourself to the energy of Lucifer (or any of the three Witchgods) to begin performing the work at hand. This ritual focuses on the Third Eye of Lucifer which is then imprinted upon your soul and allows you to accept an even great intensity of his energy in the forthcoming work. This is very much an initiation ritual, as the Rite of the Torchbearer was in Queen of Hell. It is to be performed under the open sky and is absolutely beautiful in it’s presentation. You will then be introduced to Surgat, the keybearer from which you will obtain the (quite literal) keys to continue the work of Lucifer.
From here the book introduces you to the 4 demon princes. This is basically an augmentation to the Cloak of Hekate ritual found in QoH and the 4 princes are called up at each direction to serve as guardians and to regulate and increase the flow energy in the circle. This adds and builds upon the Cloak of Hekate ritual making it more complete. The author also give instructions for creating sigils that further open the doorways to the 4 gates at each direction as well as a primary pentacle to tie the energy coming from those gates together and focus it within the circle. This is one of my favorite parts of the book. I personally thought the Cloak of Hekate felt a bit incomplete as presented, and this addition really makes the circle pop. Furthermore the act of creating the sigils is just plain fun!
The book is divided into six sections, known as the Books of Lucifer (compared to three sections in The Queen of Hell, to give a sense of scale). I think it would go beyond the scope of this review to go in depth to each one so I will give a more general review. Most of the content within is heavily weighted toward ritual and invocation. I have one word to describe this content, elegance. No matter what your take on the specific gnosis or material presented there is no denying that once again Mr.Smith’s invocational style is pure poetry and his rituals are very elegantly constructed. The explanatory material in between the rituals can be a bit dense at times however. It’s almost oracular in its presentation and sometimes just as cryptic. I’m guessing this is due to the translation from his gnosis to the page, but it often leaves you having to re-read a passage several times before it makes much sense. Once it does make sense it will click and generate an Ah-Ha moment, but don’t expect to go ripping through the book come away understanding it all. This will take a slow steady pace and multiple readings. I also very much get the feeling that parts of it you wont understand until you are simply ready or have absorbed enough of Lucifer’s gnosis yourself, no matter how many times you re-read it. It’s just the nature of the work.
Throughout the material you will be taken on a journey of meeting spirit allies, gaining keys, and traversing otherworldly terrain, and forging your own spirit in the flames of Lucifer ultimately leading you to the goal of being ready to receive the second crown of divinity, in this case Lucifer’s crown.
The author many times describes Lucifer as being the master of the Empyrean, Infernal, and Cosmic realms,and he does indeed expound upon his roles as such however, as in the previous book, it seems to focus more heavily on his roles in the infernal realms. This may give some individuals pause as the subject material can be a bit on the dark side. One particular ritual necessitates the use of a real human skull (not fake or animals skull) to house an unforgiven spirit called up from the infernal realms. You will also be dealing with various entities labeled as demonic, obtain the Horned Gods familiar, and be meeting with the 4 horsemen before the end of your experiences with the book. The book also continues the work started in Queen of Hell in working with dragons and draconic allies, in this case producing a sword imbued with a draconic spirit to guard your temple. It short, it’s damn awesome stuff! Hekate also makes frequent appearances and is by no means absent in this work. There is certainly enough here to push anyone’s Witch-Buttons! However, I think many people may be put off by this. If you are not someone who is comfortable with darker sides of magic I can say right now this will not be your cup of tea.
The book also makes use of materials that can be hard to obtain. Obsidian and crystal spheres, human skulls, a full length mirror, and swords are all things you can expect to seek out and obtain.You will also be crafting and painting your own set of gateway sigils and pentacle as well as various other seals necessary to the work. In short, your going to be expected to get your hands dirty! This isn’t arm chair witchcraft, It’s heavily focused on the doing.
However all are used with a sense of purpose and style that feel right at home in the ritual they belong to and don’t seem superfluous in the least. If anything it reflects the seriousness of the work at hand. I think these things also keep dabblers at bay. Only someone who is serious in their efforts is going to get much out this book. It’s not one that you can expect to try a few things out of and then toss aside or synchronize into your existing practice. It will take much trial and true dedication to reach the states described in this work and it’s not going to happen in a short period of time either. Considering the scope and what you could potentially get out of the book, I’d consider it a bargain.
My Own Experience
In this section I’d like to give my own personal experiences with Mr.smiths work. Please keep in mind that it is MY experience. Yours will vary. The formal book review ends above. Here’s my place to wax philosophically about my own opinions.
I was thrilled to have a chance to review the book. My experience with it was very much like what I had with Queen of Hell. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of it, coming at if from a more neo-pagan mindset, but I kept feeling drawn back to it again and again. I can’t help but come away from it excited.
Since my initial review of Queen of Hell, I’ve been working through the material as presented. I can honestly say without trepidation that The Rite of the Torchbearer which is contained in QoH kicked my butt and changed my life fundamentally forever. This is a grandiose statement to make but it’s not drama or bravado, but in fact the truth. Its not something I want to go into detail about in a public forum, but my life did indeed change profoundly as a result of this working. I’ve come to very much respect his work, just based on results alone.
I don’t believe this is material that synchronizes with other systems very well. It does present a very unique way of viewing both Hekate and Lucifer. When I work with either in this system as opposed to other systems they have a very different energy to them. It’s named Primal Craft for a reason because I get the sense this work taps into very primal aspects of both, aspects I’m not historically used to working with. This is not to say they are different beings, but simply large enough to have different aspects and Mr.Smith tunes into these very specific aspects of them. I’ve ultimately made a completely separate altar for my workings with QoH that I only use with these books and am better off for it. The one time I tried to mix it with another system I got a case of severe astral backlash that left me out of sorts for a week and was quite unpleasant. The system does well on it’s own and does not need sprucing up. For those such inclined you could make it your entire practice. It’s a self contained system. My own opinion is that the book can be worked along side whatever your own personal path is, but don’t seek to mix and match here.
Ultimately the benefits of working the Primal Craft will spill out into your other work but they don’t need to be directly inter-connected. The work presented within is not meant to be dabbled with or taken lightly. It is literally a work to be undertaken over a lifetime.
I’ve had the opportunity to correspond with the author a bit and I can say that he is every bit as genuine and passionate about his work in correspondence as he is in his books. In terms of his gnosis, it rings true with me. Many times I found myself nodding in excitement as he talked about a bit of gnosis that I myself have received from Hekate or Lucifer (such as adding the 4 demons princes to the Cloak of Hekate, and using a skull through which to evoke Lucifer). Having your own gnosis confirmed is a powerful thing and leads me to believe he is on to something here. Although much is laid out in the books in detail, I daresay they will serve as very powerful catalyst for your own gnosis, and I get the feeling this is intended and perhaps their greatest benefit.
I’ve personally decided to wait to engage the majority of the work in The Red King until I’ve finished the path laid out in The Queen of Hell, which I have not yet completed. I think to do so before one is ready is foolish at best, and I’m just not ready for the work in The Red King yet. I’m working through the first chapter but don’t plan to go beyond that for awhile. I have noticed that just reading through it, and then going back and reading QoH, sheds a whole lot of light on QoH and answers questions I had about the book. In that respect it is very useful. It fills in blanks and gives a greater back story. Also I believe that working with the 4 gates and 4 princes as described in the first chapter really helps flesh out the Cloak of Hekate and will aid you in your work with QoH. Even if you don’t plan to attempt the rituals for some time, it is worth getting if you intend to work past QoH at any time.
Ive had quite a few people privately ask me about the dark aspects of the book. I feel it would be remiss of me to gloss over this so here is my take on it. First of all keep in mind that it is an Ixaxaar title. This mission of Ixaxaar caters to darker titles, it’s what they do. The work does deal with entities that are considered by the majority to be demons. Lucifer is portrayed in more of a demonic light. If that kind of thing upsets you, then I can’t in good conscience recommend the book to you. I don’t think a lot of neo-pagans are going to comfortable with it. It’s also not exactly the group to which it is aimed either. Despite the dark tone it never comes across to me as “darkness for the sake of darkness” or “spookier than thou” (a personal pet-peeve of mine) in my personal opinion, and the interactions with “demonic” forces are approached almost in a comrade like fashion, never in the harsh dominion over thee evocational style historically found in ceremonial magic texts.
My own take on it is this: This is a title of traditional witchcraft. Although there are many branches of TW (being the umbrella term that it is), in my mind TW is a post-Christian phenomenon. I personally see no problem incorporating Judeo-Christian concepts into my witchery. People do it all the time. I practice hoodoo and work with Jesus and the angels often. I don’t have a bias against working with the opposite side too. I’m also an ex-Satanist, which is something I’ve made no attempt to hide. This has given me the benefit of shedding any squeamishness in working with the darker stuff. Your mileage will vary. I personally like a balance between the two. I continue to explore the more Empyrean aspects of both Lucifer and Hekate on my own terms.
Bottom line if your looking for historical representations of Hekate and Lucifer, or have any problem with the darker side of magic this will be one to pass on. These are not the droids you are looking for. However, if you liked QoH, or are interested in others gnosis of Lucifer you will love this book and I recommend getting it before it’s sold out. Even if your not ready for the majority of the work within yet, like me, you’ll want to read it now and have it available to you for when you are ready, keeping in mind that it is a limited print run and there will be no second edition. I liked the Queen of Hell personally. I liked The Red King even better.
You can listen to Mark’s Witchtalk interview regarding this book here.