As Hekatean circles grow larger and occult books more readily available, there seems to be no want for Hekate-related material. But the occult community is small and, well, witches and sorcerers and devotees make strange bedfellows, oh my.
The Athenæum Azostos seeks to illuminate the smaller society of Hekateans within the confines of the occult community through providing the most unrestrained, ungirt, and unbound experiential book reviews. In the case of Liber Khthonia, this mission and member bias is no different. We aim to review the book and not the author – based on writing style, research, content, and craft of the book itself. Do we all know of Jeff Cullen? Yes. Do we have anything beyond respectful and friendly acquaintanceship with him? Not at all. So, then, let’s dive right in.
Jeff Cullen’s Liber Khthonia reached Hekatean audiences at a time when new material, new books, new gnoses – were and are released every few months on the great Titan Goddess. This, in stark contrast to where seekers and devotees were ten years ago, can be viewed as both a blessing and a curse; we stand at Her Crossroads looking down either path. Is it good? Bad? Embodying the Liminality of both? Do these books honor Hekate? Are they accessible, reliable, and in-devotion-to? Workable? Approachable?
When Liber Khthonia was first received, the members of the Athenæum felt enthused to explore and practice a book that felt both low in magick and deeply personal. Cullen’s book seemed to embody the ectasis of witchcraft; he is well-known for his art, icons, and jewelry for Her. Now, whereas many Hekatean books focus solely on scholarly regurgitation, Cullen’s Liber Khthonia seemed to incorporate both personal praxis and studious research. It was apparent Cullen loves Hekate. It was even more apparent that he wanted to do right by Her in his debut book.
Contrary to what other reviewers have said, the quality of the book leaves something to be desired. The gilding was inconsistent, the cover a bit flimsy and easily-smudged, and the pages were thin. However, as it was funded via Kickstarter and self-published, these are all forgivable mistakes for a first book. Moreover, to keep costs down (Liber Khthonia being one of the more affordable occult hardcovers of 2021), it is likely the quality suffered just a bit in turn. It seems as though Cullen wanted to make the book available for all – an admirable trait and feat – and for that reason, the Athenæum cannot wholeheartedly knock him for this. The in-margin citations were creative, and yet, they left little room for those who dare to take notes in hardcovers. The editing was strong; but, it would have also been beneficial to have an outside/unbiased editor for overall flow and read. In the future, however, we would suggest purchasing the paperback edition.
The content, though, is where the real magick is. There is an effortless flow to the material: from introduction and history to Her cult (both ancient and modern), to tools, recipes, prayers, and rituals. Cullen touches all the appropriate bases when it comes to Hekate’s history, without being overly scholarly and semantic. Simply put, Liber Khthonia feels accessible and clear – for the neophyte witch and advanced sorcerer alike. Cullen’s relationship with Hekate (as viewed within the pages of Liber Khthonia) showcases witchcraft – which is a welcomed change from many previous works focusing on reconstructionism and/or ceremony alone. This should not and does not devalue the work in any way. It provides a more practical, get-your-hands-dirty, “work”-centric, folk magick stance. As mentioned above, there are dozens of books written for and about Hekate; there are few that combine verified and unverified personal gnoses in a humble and comprehensible way. Cullen’s bibliography is also impressive and adds to the overall experience. These sources are a great launching point for any new practitioner.
However, history and modern cults per Liber Khthonia aside, there are areas that left us, the readers, a bit bewildered. The Athenæum found ourselves having similar concerns and questions about Liber Khthonia as we read and worked through the material. One of these concerns that we would be remiss not to address is “Recipes for Sacred Incenses, Oils, and Potions.” Cullen seems to take on an undeniable “more is more” approach to the creation “of unguents, brews, potions, and mysterious bottles filled with dark ingredients” (p. 221). This theme is constant throughout the book; the rituals and rites themselves also embody an over-the-top selection and absurd amount of ingredients – some expensive, difficult to obtain, or questionable within the recipe or rite ascribed. In fact, some recipes would cost hundreds of dollars to create or perform. As experienced practitioners of the Poison Path, the Athenæum in no way turns its noses up at the inclusion of baneful and toxic herbs. What we do find concern with is the prescriptions of said herbs or ingredients, and how a neophyte may feel they need to follow the recipes verbatim – at detriment to their health and/or wallets. In Cullen’s own words: “The more you do, the better the connection.” (p. 155). One of the “more is more” inclusions is the creation of “The Sacred Vessel” (pp. 121-124). The ingredients listed, which number at dozens and dozens, include such rarities as “nine pearls… nine shark teeth… nine precious stones… human bone… artifacts from a shipwreck… and bones of a sea snake,” among many others. (See below for Athenæum member Poquis’s alteration and personal customization of the Einalian vessel.)
With that being said, the lore included in “Herbs, Roots, and Stones” was refreshing, as was the tedious attention given to caution (“A Witch’s Warning!” on page 13 being one) and notes of personal implementation and adjustment. The prayers were beautiful and sacred. The tools were comprehensive and inclusive. The rites and initiations felt truly accessible. There were even many other additions that emphasized Her roles and attributes: from “Other Gods” to “Anima Materia Magicae” to “Stones.” These indulgent and enjoyable sections were in no way exhaustive, but an exhaustive book on Hekate would take several volumes, no doubt. This book feels like a practical approach to truly “working” – and to truly “working” as a witch.
Although there is an abundance of recipes and rites, what is truly missing is the author’s personal experience performing these rites or creating these recipes. This is a book of witchcraft – the reader wants to know how the author, the witch, has found the experiences throughout his time in devotion to Hekate. We would have loved to hear about Jeff Cullen’s personal practices (or family practices). Furthermore, the book has many pieces of art that Cullen has created over the years of (and possibly for) the Goddess. But these pieces of art leave us wanting more… tell us why and how and when these arts were created! As readers, we would have loved to have seen photos of the vessels, the workings, the tools, and so on. Much care was put into writing about said vessels and workings – that is very obvious. It would have been welcomed to see them in action, in photo form – or even in his unique artwork style.
Liber Khthonia does, in many ways, fulfill a need within Hekatean communities. There has been a great division lately between those devoted to history and those working from a more practical starting point. There is a wave of reconstruction battling the current of ecstatic work; these wars do nothing to benefit the community or new seekers in the slightest. All-in-all, Liber Khthonia was an authentic and new approach to Hekatean Witchcraft. We would recommend this book to new witches and seekers (and advanced practitioners and sorcerers as well!), with the caveat that the recipes are a bit “extra.” Cullen embodies that of a modern magickal Renaissance man – he is adept in practical and folk magick, no doubt. By overlapping Hellenism with conjure, something unique (and much-needed) was created: Liber Khthonia. In the words of Cullen, “Let Hekate’s torches guide you and never let your Witch Flame burn out!”
Putting It Into Practice…
Hekate Einalian Vessel, pp. 122-124
Pictured first: The basic ingredients for the vessel, minus the herbs and plants. Various shells collected over the years, a silver coin and sand from a monumental beach/cave, as well as stones/crystals that felt “Einalian” to Poquis. Himalayan salt was also specifically selected due to its connection to ancient bodies of water. Cullen mentions creating a “heart” for the vessel; his version is a large clam shell filled with various ingredients and sealed with beeswax. Poquis’s vessel was a blue jar given to her, which added to the charm of building something grand without purchasing anything new. She topped the vessel with a hand-blown glass eye that represents the monsters of the deep.
Second photo: Hekate Einalia invocation, and harvesting the moss that was used for the incense recipe.
Third photo: In fumigating the vessel, Einalia incense was made using the recipe outlined in Liber Khthonia. Cullen suggests leaving the vessel in a dark place by the sea or under the kitchen/bathroom sink from New to Full Moon. Poquis decided to leave the vessel under her sink for a full cycle from Full Moon to Full Moon, as she associates the Full Moon energy with Einalia as her own personal gnosis.
Lustral Water, pp. 103-105
Poquis created two versions – Full Moon and Dark Moon Lustral Water. She followed Cullen’s instructions and saluted the Four Directions, using the prayer he wrote, minus the part about the Agalma (p. 91). She included her own hymn to bless the Lustral Water to make it more personal, and extinguished the flame in the bottle. Overall, a beloved experience and she will definitely continue to do this. The smoke split in two, but moved upward in perfect lines, and with this it was believed that the ritual had been acknowledged.
This review, as with all reviews, was developed by all members of Athenæum Azostos through multiple weeks of practical workings, research, and discussion as a submersive collective experience.
Learn how Athenæum Azostos weighs material for each experiential review via the Planetary Rubric. Our final score for this Review was 18 out of 21.
To learn more about Jeff Cullen and to purchase your very own copy of Liber Khthonia: A Contemporary Witchcraft and Devotional Tradition to Hekate, visit the links below.
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