A review and reflection of The Devil’s Dozen: Thirteen Craft Rites of The Old One by Gemma Gary
One should not judge a book by it’s cover, yet I am often guilty of such an act. How could anyone merely pass by this book without flipping through its pages, anxious to discover the mysteries contained within.
The aesthetics are striking. A small black tome, only slightly larger than a hand. The cover gleams with with a bronze shimmer that looks like fire when reflecting light. The front contains no title. Instead you’re greeted with an eerie image of a goat head with horns cradling a assemblage of shining candles. The spine of the book reveals the title and author, The Devil’s Dozen: Thirteen Craft Rites of the Old One by Gemma Gary.
To get past the first page of this book you will need to face your fears. With this book Gemma Gary attempts to reclaim the concept of the Devil, something I don’t think many contemporary witches would have the gumption or desire to do and I commend her bravery for attempting to do so.
Gemma Gary gives us not a book but a poetically beautiful instruction guide. Using traditional witchcraft and folklore practices as inspiration she has created thirteen unique rites. All with the intent to bring us closer to the Devil. You might be questioning why anyone would want to develop a personal relationship with such a sinister creature. Before delving deeper you need to first ask yourself some difficult questions. Who is the Devil? How has this character been defined by religious history? Are you able to look past preconceived notions and open your mind? Do you even want to open this pandora’s box or would you rather keep your concept of the Devil closed and contained in a box with all your other dark fears. Gemma gives us a helping hand by first making a distinction between Satan, a creation of the church, and the Devil, an embodiment not of evil but instead the protector of our personal power, sexual freedom, and desire.
This book is after all a call to action so philosophizing on concepts of Satan vs. The Devil will only get you so far. Gemma asks us to seek out into the wild to experience these ideas, not just merely read about them. To perform any of the rites in this book you need bravery. You will have to hold steadfast and push out any remaining Christian guilt that might try to creep in.
While I was not brought up Christian, I still faced her first request with trepidation. I stared at the words: Nema. Reve dna reve rof, yrolg ehy dna, rewop eht, modgnik eht si… She was asking me to read the Lord’s prayer backwards. I see why she wants us to do this. One must first undo any previous religious indoctrination in order to become an empty vessel and thus ready to take forth communion with a significantly different sort of deity.
It took me several days before I felt brave enough to do it. Christian guilt and fear still permeates our society to some extent and even I, a practicing Pagan for over 13 years, still felt the trepidation. What if my pagan beliefs are wrong? What if hell really does exist and this is the point where I cross that line? A whisper of fear beat a steady drum in my heart as I said the words slowly but carefully. I’ll admit it, the perversive nature of the act was exciting and afterward I greedily sped through the next pages, excited about what I might be asked to do next.
Each rite contains beautiful black and white artwork that sets the tone for the ritual. Gemma Gary begins with an explanation of the concepts and the historical context for the traditions and tools that will be used. She then proceeds to tell how to perform the ritual yourself, giving instructions on where to go, what (or what not) to wear, what tools to bring, and what to say for the ritual. The words she asks us to speak are dark and sensual poems that exemplify and enhance the experience. These unnerving rites are filled with dark dedications in churchyards, dances to raise the Devil’s power, conjurations to awaken the spirit, and full nights spent alone in the woods.
As I read each rite I couldn't help but wonder how many, if any, people have performed these rituals. I began to think about making a trip to the woods myself and which ritual I might choose to perform. One rite asks the witch to find a secluded old barn where one would not be disturbed and draw a pentacle on the surface of the ground. After laying five candles around the points of the star you disrobe and lay nude alone and unmoving for an entire night. Eventually the fear becomes ever more consuming until you enter a trance where your spirit leaves the body and merges with the spirit of the Old One, becoming a vessel for the powers and wisdom of the night’s mysteries.
I shivered with exhilaration considering what it would be like to perform such a ritual myself. I also questioned why I found this all so exciting. There’s a reason many people enjoy the perverse pleasure that comes with fear. It’s why we seek out scary movies and haunted houses. People like being scared because it makes them feel alive. It reminds us that we’re human in a society that too often tries to make us into robots.
Maybe this desire to feel human is part of why I was drawn to Paganism in the first place many years ago. A desire turn away from the cold city sidewalks of modernity and run back into the forest. A desire to feel the fear and exhilaration that comes with dancing round the fire under the stars.
Paganism is refreshingly unsanitized compared with the abrahamic religions that permeate our society. A catholic mass contains social norms and rigid procedures, all within a safe and enclosed space. An Esbat, by comparison, is wild and unstructured. You are not safe. You are in the woods with all of natures creatures, facing a night sky that reminds you how insignificant you are within the cosmos and by extension how much a miracle it is to be here in the first place. It makes the concept of reveling in our human desires not something unclean, but something religiously profound. Gemma Gary exalts these concepts and expands them to their height. She asks us to cultivate a relationship with our fear and in doing so develop a connection with the untamed spirit of The Old One.
The wild and raw power is out there for the taking. Gemma Gary implores us to be brave enough to seek it out.