M. A. SMITH. THE WAY OF SACRIFICE, vols. I & II.
The rise of contemporary witchcraft is, by itself, a very interesting field of study. No longer relegated to the fringe element of society, today the word witch is synonymous with power, mystery, and sensuality, and has been largely divorced from the archetypal crone of pagan tradition. In Western occult societies, it is no surprise that the Hellenistic goddess Hecate has returned to a prominence not seen since Roman times. A popular figure in classical times, Hecate was the deity associated with magic, night, the three worlds (celestial, terrestrial, infernal), and was often syncretized with other goddesses, exemplified in the PGM. Today, several authors and enthusiasts have found a sympathetic figure in Hecate, and engaged in research into the classical practices of her cult. This has lead to the establishment of occult communities that follow traditional Hellenistic practices, which may be adapted to local legal and social norms to a greater or lesser extent. The records of Hecate’s cult are spare, but the surviving accounts indicate that animal sacrifice was a regular part of her worship, often involving black or dark-colored animals, which is consistent with the worship of other chthonic deities. As animal sacrifice is considered problematic by some contemporary pagan groups, such ritual practices may be proscribed or discouraged by authorities of Hecate-centered groups. Nevertheless, several contemporary authors (Sorita D’Este, Tara Sanchez) have taken pains to carefully document and discuss the practices of the Hecate cults of antiquity, while suggesting alternate rituals for Hecatean worship. Hecate enjoys a vibrant and diverse cult today, and boasts a range of devotional books which reflect a contemporary understanding of classical practice.
One notable exception to this literary generalization is the work of Mark Alan Smith. Like the aforementioned authors, Smith is considered to be a prominent contemporary devotee of Hecate. However, apart from the primacy of Hecate in his work, there ends the similarity between Smith and his contemporaries. Rather than embracing the Hellenic or Hellenistic understanding of Hekate as a deity, and in lieu of devising modern practices based on ancient texts, Smith articulated an entirely new system called “Primal Craft”. Primal Craft, he explains, is not a recreation of ancient texts or cultic practices, but is actually the religious system of the lost city of Atlantis. The British author states in his interviews and books that he does not hold himself to be the creator or source of the tradition, but rather the prophet or vessel through which the teachings of Hecate and her associate deities are given in successive revelation. The inaugural volumes (Queen of Hell, The Red King, and The Scorpion God) are described by Smith as “grimoires”, and contain prayers, incantations, doctrines, and a general cosmology which places Hecate at the center of all existence. While the initial trilogy does indeed contain many practices that are familiar, Smith explains this in that the medieval occult tradition (and its classical antecedents) are said to be the fragments of the original Atlantean lore. While Smith admits that Egyptian, Hellenistic, and Jewish occult traditions may contain much of value, he contends that their own value is secondary (at best) to the tradition being revealed through his pen. So, while one might find such medieval ceremonies as the “Toad Rite” in Queen of Hell, it is understood to have been an Atlantean tradition, which was passed down through oral or written tradition, and hence not a practice which he has borrowed from medieval texts.
The overall purpose of the Primal Craft system is to bring the devotee into union with Hecate, through spiritual evolution and subsequent ascension of the soul. This is a lengthy process, and Smith is more concerned with providing the reader with a wide range of practices, rather than a monolithic set of devotional steps which must be followed in sequence. Smith’s work also differs from other contemporary systems in that it encourages the practitioner to descend to Atlantis (now a chthonic realm) as a necessary waypoint on the stellar ascent. This journey is perilous, as Atlantis itself is a very dangerous spiritual realm, and so each book contains multiple warnings on how the practitioner needs to be adequately prepared before moving to the more advanced teachings. While anyone can purchase any book from the Primal Craft site, one is discouraged from simply purchasing (e.g.) the third or fourth book and “diving in”, without performing certain practices contained in earlier volumes. In other words, caveat lector.
In The Altar of Sacrifice [AoS], its sequel volume, The Witchblood Grail [TWBG], Mark Alan Smith begins a new series of works, entitled The Way of Sacrifice. The title of the first volume of this series, and the series itself, reminds the reader that one of the notable elements of Primal Craft is the emphasis on blood sacrifice as an integral (not merely important) aspect of the spiritual path. Where other practicing magicians in the Western tradition tend to shy away from sacrifice, Smith explains in a matter-of-fact way that it is a necessary as a devotional practice. As with other occult traditions, Primal Craft demands the blood of its practitioner as a common ritual offering. The approach towards animal sacrifice is cautious in tone, and there is no evident enthusiasm for bloodshed in any of the earlier works of this tradition. As early as his first monograph (Queen of Hell), Smith begins to lay the guidelines of sacrificial practice, stressing that it is not a requisite act for many practitioners. The aforementioned Toad Rite does make use of a toad corpse, but the practitioner is told to find a deceased (not living) toad as part of the rite. The Altar of Sacrifice, however, shows a mark shift in terms of orientation towards this practice of sacrifice, and this is continued in The Witchblood Grail. This is not usually sacrifice as an ends (as in Islam or Hinduism), but rather sacrifice as a part of some larger ritual. Smith, for example, goes to great pains to explain the construction of elaborate temple complexes, such as the Temple of Four Pillars of Fire (AoS pp. 198-285), or the Temple of Sepheranz (TWBG pp. 191-211) which require animal sacrifices. Animals are not to suffer, but the gods and spirits of Atlantis demand the blood and energy of the sacrificial souls (Smith explains), and this cannot be substituted with some lesser gift or substitution. This is made clear in The Altar of Sacrifice, which states in the introductory pages that “The act of sacrifice is performed with the utmost honour to the Gods and spirits of the Arte who will, on occasion, demand this” (p. 17). Where other traditions might substitute wine for blood, that is not the case in the Primal Craft tradition.
Much more problematic is the theme of human sacrifice, which Smith begins to treat within these two volumes. Where animal sacrifice is legal in some parts of the world, human sacrifice is not. Yet Smith does not shy away from discussing such themes, and states (e.g.) in TWBG:
“Although some rites may not be performed within this Aeon, they remain significant and are an important part of the Knowledge and Power of the Totality of the All; the Great Knowledge of Gods. The knowledge of the black rites is as intrinsic to this Arte as devotion to the Gods themselves. The rituals, returned from the Atlantean realm, are restored and laid bare so that this rich and powerful gnosis, the sacred rituals of Atlantean Witch Priests, their gateways and rites of passage to the realms of the Gods, are no-longer lost to us” (118).
“Rites of human sacrifice, returned through direct spiritual contact, are detailed within this tome as part of the Knowledge of the Totality of the All. Their power is very real, it is not suggested that these rites be practiced” (13).
It is clear, here, that the emphasis is not placed on performing the rite, but rather on the knowledge that they were performed in Atlantis. Yet this appears to be the closest that Smith comes to a disclaimer – that “it is not suggested” that such practices be done, and that there is no assurance that “some rites” will not be performed, only that not all are possible. The reader, then, is left in the tricky place of deciding which practices are still good and proper for this current age, or the years to come. One might well ask why the disclaimer is not more clearly stated, but as Smith has stated in his other books, these are not considered to be works of his own making, but received revelations from deities outside of creation. Human concerns like logic or political correctness would be entirely irrelevant to such entities, and so equally unexpected in a text that accepts such entities as its source. Yet to be fair, Smith writes also that “The Way of the Bloodless Path is as valid and noble as the Way of Sacrifice when beheld by the Eyes of the Gods. The choice is between the individual and the [deities of the] Trident” (p.18). The reader must somehow decide or judge whether they are meant to practice the way of sacrifice, or whether this is not the path for them – and if not, to what extent they will be able to make use of the teachings found in the Primal Craft tradition.
Equally important in the development of this new series (The Way of Sacrifice) is the emphasis on prophecy. Smith stresses in interviews that the Atlantean current is being returned for reasons that are related to the state of the planet itself, rather than humans per se. Somewhat like the Christian “Book of Revelation”, The Altar of Sacrifice and The Witchblood Grail contain Smith’s apocalyptic visions of the end of this age, in which Belial and Sepheranz take physical form on earth, and tremendous natural upheavals take place. The work of the Primal Craft tradition is proposed as a mediating force, capable of prevent such catastrophe, but only if one or more practitioners are able to undergo the ritual acts cataloged by Smith, and the list of practices he details across both books is extensive. Most interesting is his interpretation of Atlantis and its cultural (and religious) practices, which are detailed with care and attention to detail. It is evident from Smith’s writing that he is genuinely concerned with the creation of a sacred text, and prophetic discourse is very much a part of the tradition which is unfolding through his work.
The Altar of Sacrifice and The Witchblood Grail may be useful to students of classical myth and religion, as they contain a range of Hellenistic and Abrahamic elements, which Smith adapts expertly to create a new vision of the ancient world. Yet while Smith’s vocabulary echoes these religious traditions, his overall understanding of Atlantis is original – a rare feature, as most contemporary esoteric texts tend to repeat or borrow heavily from the medieval grimoire genre. Where other authors on Hellenistic esotericism often struggle to give new or creative interpretations to traditional texts, Smith entirely eschews traditional paradigms, and avoids using historical incantations or rites. It should be stressed that much of Smith’s later works (especially TWBG) makes use of adult themes, and that these texts are not suitable for students prior to college or university level courses. Art, bookbinding, and typesetting in both texts are all very high quality, making these texts more appropriate for the library or private researcher than for classroom use. At the time of writing this review, Smith has stated categorically that he does not find electronic versions of his books to properly convey the spirit of the Primal Craft tradition, as he considers the media to be an important component of the message. As the hardcopies are limited edition, digital versions are to be hoped for, though it is likely that the subsequent volumes will remain hardcopy with Primal Craft press.
M. A. Smith, The Altar of Sacrifice. The Way of Sacrifice I. Malaga: Primal Craft Publishing, 2014.
M. A. Smith, The Witchblood Grail. The Way of Sacrifice II. Malaga: Primal Craft Publishing, 2015.
Prof. C. R. Monette
About the author:
Dr. Connell R. Monette is Associate Professor of Religion in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and Mohammed VI Library Associate Director at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. He also holds a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies from University of Toronto. His major areas of research are medieval religion and literature. Prof. Monette is the author of several books including The Medieval Hero and Mysticisim in the 21st Cenury - both of which are available from Sirius Academic Press.
The books reviewed by Prof. Monette can be acquired through the Primal Craft website www.primalcraft.com or through the following purchase links below:
The Altar of Sacrifice:
The Witchblood Grail:
In the Shadow of the Trident,