Urbanomic, Falmouth UK, 2022
345 pp. Paper: $24.95 / £20.00
When books still came with warnings, this one might have had an inscription on the title page, something like “caveat lector; serpents slumber here,” for those intrepid readers that had been granted (or illicitly obtained) access to one of the secretive, dimly candle-lit libraries that housed it. These days, of course, one can locate entire esoteric collections within a two-minute google search, consume the Gardnerian Book of Shadows over breakfast and devour the O.T.O.’s key tenets on your commute (not that this would be of any practical use, as I argue elsewhere.  I took Revolutionary Demonology to Greece with me to read on holiday over Easter, one of the most potent ecological-cultural nexuses of the Gregorian calendar (along with the summer and winter solstices), marking the earth’s rebirth and renewed fertility after winter. If only I had taken the precaution of sealing it securely in my TSA-lockable case on arrival. My paranoid-critical-prone travel companion sneakily swiped my review copy and began reading before I’d emerged from my habitual post [over]work hangover-coma, inevitably kicking in like a taekwondo black belt as soon as a holiday starts. This act of unwarded reading heralded a series of serpentine coincidences: that very morning we discovered we had unwittingly booked our holiday at the mouth of hell where a demonic snake entity stands guard. The site of the ancient Lake of Lerna, entrance to Hades’ Underworld and lair of multi-headed serpent-squid chimera the Hydra, was just in the next village at Myloi. The bottomless lake of old has now dwindled to a shallow pool and remnants of marshland due to siltation caused by deforestation. There is nothing to mark the site, but a small church dedicated to Agios Demetrious is suggestive of a Christianised and masculinised Demeter, wife of Hades. The Hydra is a diminished power; like many ancient gods, she has lost her potency through ecological entropy and cultural shifts. It was perhaps that very diminishment of the ecological-cultural environment that saved us, as the affordances for demonic serpent manifestation were weakened; we escaped with only a soaking from a sudden and inexplicably localised thunderstorm.
Gruppo Di Nun’s Revolutionary Demonology resituates magic and magical practice within the de-anthropocentring posthuman project. It is a study of magic of the snaky variety, based on an understanding of the Kabbalistic tradition that magic is something that comes from outside of humans and is external to the human; at the same time, it is itself an occult text grounded in ritual practice. The ‘demonology’ of the title refers to this idea that magic is not a human technology. For Gruppo di Nun demonology is another name for hyperstition, which they do not define here but was coined by 90’s demon-summoning philosophical cult the Ccru and can be described as a kind of diabolical cybernetic fictioning machine. Like all occult rites, hyperstition operates at a subterranean level of connection, as a coincidence - intensifier or a vector of and for hyper-connection that has an effect on subjective realities: the poetic over-connection of forms and ideas within the text and its rituals exert an imaginative over-reading or infra-connecting influence outside the text. The Hydra is, like the Kabbalistic sefirot, a multi-headed or multi-dimensional entity. It also represents an aspect of the multiplicitous serpentine deity, a member of a broader and inexact tentacular typology - of beings that wriggle, slither, squirm, and writhe, that reject human uprightness and rectilinearity; whose bodies or appendages traverse curving, Gaussian vectors. Revolutionary Demonology includes worms and dragons among its serpents. It summons the Hydra’s Egyptian predecessor Apophis, a serpentine deity of the underworld, and the Babylonian sea dragon Tiamat, that it connects to other mythic ophidian entities such as the biblical sea monster Leviathan. In Gruppo di Nun’s cosmology Tiamat is The Worm, at sefirot number nine, the bottom-most downward-pointed tip of their redrawn Kabbalistic circuit.
Gruppo di Nun is the ostensibly Italian occult collective that author this meandering collection of essays, loosely gathered around the idea that the Kabbalistic snake as a nonhuman entity deeply unconcerned with human agendas [its ‘demonology’] has revolutionary potential. Who is this Gruppo di Nun? Any text that invokes the Ccru must be read with caution for potentially multiple layers of crypsis: subterfuge, camouflage, evasions. Online evidence of their existence should not be taken as proof. Are they a fictional entity, part of an elaborate and multi-layered hyperstitional ruse or deep fake plot? The essays by different members of the group are curiously similar in language and style; although they sometimes self-consciously disagree with each other, the collection reads like the work of a single author. This could also be an artefact of translation or the univocality of a cult that has established its own stylistic orthodoxy. The tortured, mystical sentences are pregnant with esoteric references hinting at multiple, hidden meanings available to the initiate: in the third chapter, ‘Catastrophic Astrology’ by ‘LT’ we find that “cast out at the edge of our known universe, like a ritual scapegoat venturing into the desert, the Black Sun responds with an invasion of fiery comets from the sky, because there is no real outside to store its excess - it is life itself that is being sacrificed” (p. 41), evoking alchemical metaphor and a Ccru-like despairing Lovecraftian hyperbole that is all-pervasive. Phrases like “However frustrating, insubstantial, insane, or laughable all of this may be, there is only this fatality, this concordance between the unravelling of the real and the dissolution of the world. And if there were any teleology, it would only be the passage from a vague foreboding of doom to a scream full of horror” (‘CK’, p. 171), or, “It is clearly the work of an angst-ridden teenager, angry at the world and at himself, locked in his isolated room writing clumsy anathemas; but at the same time, paradoxically, it is a rigorous treatise on a higher form of black physics, a deeper and more disturbing form of entropy” (p. 254) by ‘EM’, occur throughout.
Whoever they are, Gruppo di Nun (in English, ‘group of nine,’ like the nine sefirot of GdN’s alternative Kabbalistic diagram but also Nun for an Egyptian chaos god) is careful to make clear that their Demonology is intended in opposition to occult fascism. They explain that their collective is forged in opposition to an historic Italian fascist occult (in particular against Evola‘s fascist Italian esoteric collective Gruppo Di Ur founded in the late 1920s), a context that is presumably intensely felt in Italy even today. Their own Kabbalistic glyph is not explained beyond its sefirot (the spheres that represent the Kabbalah’s different aspects, dimensions, or levels), named for serpentine, feminine demonic entities. It omits the traditional Kabbalistic numerological interplay of binaries, triads, and quads to manifest in purely base-3 form, as three overlapping, downward-pointing triangles within three circles, inverting Gruppo Di Ur’s upward-pointing, suprematist triangle of triangles. GdN redeploy the magical terminology of left- and right-handed paths for left- and right-wing corollaries, viewing these opposing factions as two sides in an occult war. The right-hand path, based on a rigidly hierarchical Kabbalistic diagram ruled by the crown sefirot (Kether) from the top down, is their adversary. They follow Ccru in proposing an organic understanding of the Kabbalah as a recursive, cybernetic machine, a “fluid form that can be shaped and transformed, provided one is open to being transformed in return” (p. 14). Their argument that a cybernetic Kabbalah can counter fascist hierarchies is in danger of being undermined by the binaries they set up here, from the left-right corollaries to their Ourobouros whose “ritual decapitation… brings forth duality” (p. 37). Changes to the cybernetic operating system - a complex machine embedded in and inseparable from its environment - are effected not through binary opposition but through both multiple, often small and distributed differences, and by finding the leverage points that can produce larger shifts; like the Hydra, whose decapitation birthing two new heads adds to its multiplicity rather than duality.
The main new intervention this Demonology makes into Kabbalistic and hyperstitioning practice is in its female serpents’ multiple, distributed manifestations and the potential of a serpentine Kabbalah. She takes many shapes throughout the text, but is framed as the “ancient barren dragon, torn apart to give birth to the world,” (p4) who, in a worm-like capacity for division and regrowth, is prophesied here to “come crawling back from the depths to bring the abyss upon the Earth” (p6). Gliding across territory already smoothed by Ccru’s Sadie Plant and this volume’s editor Amy Ireland, she is Ourobouros as female disruptor, as zero - the other of “one,” that manifests infinity in its form and behaviour (any division by zero returns infinity, while its form is also circularly infinite). GdN’s Kabbalistic diagram itself is snake-like in its groundedness, its lack of an ‘up;’ there is sadly no explanation of how this was devised. It is hard to tell where hyperstitional ritual ends and speculative theory begins here; indeed, the method propounded suggests there is no divide at all.
Part I sketches the ‘Principles of Revolutionary Demonology’, from its basis in an ecological-cybernetic understanding of love as “the thermodynamic property of bodies that attracts them to their death” in the second chapter, ‘Dogma’ (p. 24), and a genealogy of ophidian demonology in ‘Catastrophic Astrology.’ Part I ends on an apparent non sequitur with ‘Spectral Materialism,’ a twisty path through a quantum mechanics of the atomistic realm of Chemistry, to suggest poetic, occult [tenuous] alchemical-Lovecraftian-Kabbalistic infra-connections between Lovecraftian god Azazoth and alchemical substance Azoth. Here, “in chemical systems, matter reveals its own necessarily undulatory nature, which manifests itself to the experimenter via its spectral properties” (p. 77). Azazoth and Azoth, it reveals, connect via verbal contraction, colour and, finally, the snake or circular Ourobouros as metaphor for alchemical process.
Where the third chapter takes a slitheringly scenic route to its prey Part II, ‘Notes on Gothic Insurrection,’ is a diversion of Leviathan proportions. It largely consists of an in-group debate for those who are interested in the differences between various kinds of accelerationism, reactionaryism and neoreaction. This is perhaps a necessary clarification of position, but it is lengthily bogged down in a counteroffensive concerned with political minutiae and critiques of obscure right-wing thinkers. The thrust of its gothic insurrectionary argument - a successor to Mark Fisher’s gothic flatline construct - that uses death metal as a model for opposing the disenfranchised masculinist politics of the “alt-right” and neoreaction is the conceptual innovation here, at the expense of the headline ophidian revolution: the snake disappears and a black metal crow flies in.
Part III, ‘Nigredo’, curves back around to and develops on several themes trailed in Part I, that of the alchemical state and stage of blackness (called nigredo) and - interconnectedly - depression. The final chapter interweaves ideas from a contested psychological theory of ‘depressive realism’ that suggests the depressed have a “special access” to reality, making them “pessimistic oracles” (p161). This sums up the psychological-magical operating effect of the book, further clarified and contextualised in Amy Ireland’s lucid Afterword. Its very human preoccupations with politics and emotions somewhat belie the demonic nonhuman revolution it aspires to; it is unclear whether this is an inevitable human failure or simply a stage on the path to masochistic embrace of a nihilistic, nonhuman, snake-demon future.
This book is an esoteric text, in the sense that it is aimed at initiates: those with knowledge either of magic and Kabbalistic traditions or the Ccru. Like many occult and academic texts, the depth of the reader’s prior knowledge gate-keeps the level of access; all the more so as many of its claims are implied to be already understood and sources go un-cited. It is also a fan fiction, extending the potential of Ccru’s hyperstitional work and applying its methodologies to the contemporary left, through the figure of the serpent. In this, it will appeal to occult revolutionaries, Ccru groupies, snake worshippers and demon summoners everywhere. Its generous poetic density of ideas, imagery and references can be enjoyed on an aesthetic level, and will also appeal to artists embracing witchcraft and occult ritual as part of their practice. Gruppo Di Nun’s stated aim of using the Kabbalistic diagram as a cybernetic snake demon summoning grid to radically subvert occult hierarchies is not fully followed through. Their serpentine rituals and thought are defined in a symmetrical opposition to fascist thought and ritual, often simply opposing through inversion. The cyclical and regenerative potential of their cybernetic serpentine demonology is undermined by the binary polarity inherent to the occult war they claim to wage, represented in their version of a Kabbalistic diagram as a dihedrally inverted mirror of Evola’s fascist one. This is hinted at in the wider text, through the snake: its sliding, slithering presence; the occult coincidence-intensifiers of the text’s coiling, curving, twisting, looping poetics and content. The text’s snaking form and style is overladen with convoluted dialectics, presumably intentionally messy and cryptic, full of statements that leave dichotomous paradoxes hanging unexplained. As an edition of collected writings this is inevitably more fragmented and less coherent than an original volume, however it is disappointing that by inverting rather than truly disrupting, it misses the very opportunity it opens up, to move beyond human hierarchies. Nevertheless, it does offer the intriguing proposal of using its mythical snakes to create non-anthropomorphic and -centric ritual practices. This book lays significant laterally undulating groundwork for further investigation of ritual practice and mystical thought to summon snaky demonic entities and decentre the human; reader, consider yourself warned.
“Crow Black’ (2021), in Darkness at Noon exhibition catalogue, p. 32: https://www.contemporarybritishpainting.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Darkness-at-noon-full-catalogue.pdf.