Reviews & Interviews

Book Review – Russian Black Magic: The Beliefs and Practices of Heretics and Blasphemers by Natasha Helvin

Book Review

Russian Black Magic

The Beliefs and Practices of Heretics and Blasphemers by Natasha Helvin

176 Pages

 

 

I didn’t really know what to make of this book when I received it – I don’t really believe in the reality of “black” magic – or “white” magic, for that matter – magic is magic! – and I don’t care about the practices of so-called “heretics and blasphemers” – where I’m from, spiritually, “heretics and blasphemers” are simply those who do not adhere to the orthodox view, whatever it may be. Which would include me. So although I read it eagerly – I love anything about Russian culture – I also read it with a skeptical mind. An open mind – but a skeptical one. But of course – I am a natural skeptic!

I have to say that I was quite pleasantly surprised. There is a wealth of knowledge in this book. The author, Natasha Helvin, uses the language of the Christian Orthodox oppressor to describe the ancient pagan religion that existed in Russia long before the advent of Christianity. Now – I could be a hard-ass and dismiss this book because of this language. But, if I did that, I would be the one losing out! The more I read, the more I loved this book. Believe me, it’s one I will be returning to again and again – even if it’s not exactly my spiritual path – there’s just so much information in this slender volume.

Natasha Helvin is the author of Russian Black Magic; it is her second published book. Her website is here: https://www.worldofconjuring.com/ She doesn’t seem to have a Facebook page or a Twitter presence. She has author pages on Scribner’s website and on Goodreads. If you look for her books on Amazon.com, you will also find other books on Slavic paganism (as well as beer mugs).

Helvin writes that “The ancient religion of Slavic paganism was heavily related to the forces of nature. By worshiping the primordial deity, a person could touch the mysteries of the universe and control the forces of nature.” (Helvin, 20). This is true, I believe, for all the pre-Christian pagan religions. I think this is what attracts modern people to pagan religions. The idea that you will be able to “touch the mysteries of the universe and control the forces of nature” – whether or not you are ever able to do so.

She continues, “Black magic as a full-fledged system of witchcraft was created at the time of the dual faith, after the violent baptism of the Kievan Rus. Belobog and Chernobog kept the world balanced: the white god Belobog of light and sun was the counterpart of the dark and cursed god Chernobog. These gods were on equal footing until Russia was forcibly baptized into the Christian faith. Then Chernobog became a demon with horns and hooves…” (Helvin, 20). Notice that this did not just happen in Russia but everywhere Christianity went. The old gods were turned into demons with “horns and hooves”.

Chapter Three, “The Demonic Pantheon” reads like a fairy tale. Although anyone who is familiar with the Bible – or Milton – will recognize many of the main characters, many other players are purely Russian. And they are great personalities! Who cannot recognize “Nucky Thompson” from “Boardwalk Empire” in the demon of lust and debauchery, Prince Enoch? As I was reading about him, I was thinking, this is not a coincidence! “He tries to seduce as many people as possible into sinful deeds in the dark, sometimes driving them into insanity and death.” (Helvin, 31). And Princess Death – is she not Santa Muerte by another name? I was instantly attracted to her.

The home of the demons sounds fabulous – who wouldn’t want to live there? Heaven sounds horribly boring – you’re just going to be nourishing God and eventually absorbed by him – not exactly what we’ve been promised – you know, the streets of gold and reunion with all our loved ones and happiness forever. I think I might rather have a luxurious abode in hell, instead. But it looks like we’re all food for one kind of god or another. On page 38, Helvin spells out what demons in which circle of hell feed upon which kind of people – suicides, drunkards, gluttons, people who died in fires, or who drowned, etc. – so it looks like the Russian cosmology is pretty strict concerning this kind of thing. After we die, our souls are all food for some kind of god – be it demon or angel. It’s all how we lived our life or how we were fated to die. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of reincarnation.

Chapter Four deals more closely with the Russian Black Magic view of cosmology. It’s utterly fascinating. Unlike the Abrahamic religions, which teach little children that “God” – Jehovah, Yahweh or Allah – was lonely and created “man” in his “own image” so he could “love” him, Black Magic says that God created man for his own “personal needs” (Helvin, 40). Helvin writes that God thinks of and treats humans “the same way we think of laboratory moneys of beef cattle – the former used for medical experiments and the latter slaughtered without remorse.” (Helvin, 40).

According to Black Magic, God created Adam and Eve so they would produce “obedient progeny” (Helvin, 41). But Aspid, one of the rebel angels, in the guise of a snake, told Eve the truth about why she and Adam were created – to created souls for God to eat – so Adam and Eve hid from God. They weren’t hiding their nakedness, like the Bible says – they were just hiding. Wouldn’t you hide from the person who had lied to you? Who was going to breed you like dogs, like cattle?

The other big part of this story is that Aspid taught Eve how to orgasm. Once she was having sex for fun, she taught Adam how much fun he could have too. God hated this! Apparently, souls created in “lust” are tainted and God won’t accept them. So he banished them from Paradise. A different spin on a story we all know. Or we thought we knew!

Later in this chapter, Helvin discusses Russian Black Magic, Paganism, and Modern Satanism. This discussion starts on page 46 and it’s an important discussion. When I first became interested in women’s spirituality, paganism, and Wicca in the late 1980’s, one of the things I heard over and over again was that “Goddess religion” was not Satanism and that Satanism was a “corruption” of Christianity or even an invention of the Church – a by-product of the Inquisition. However, this is not quite true. While it is true that both the Orthodox Catholic and Protestant churches propagandized the image of the horned and hooved Devil for their own purposes, this image had been around for thousands of years, just not perhaps as the personification of Evil. However, I do agree with Helvin that “The worship of the dark gods has always existed and is widespread.” (Helvin, 46). Quite honestly, this only makes sense when you consider human nature.

She asserts that both Satanism and Paganism share many commonalities, due to “the essence of their worldviews”. (Helvin, 48). One of the most important aspect that they have in common, according to Helvin, is that they honor their deities as opposed to worshiping them. “Worship contradicts the essence of Satanism…to worship someone is to insult him; it is better to honor him. Pagans honor their gods.” (Helvin, 48). However, the Abrahamic gods all demand worship.

Another commonality are fun ceremonies and rituals. This has always been true, long before the advent of Christianity. There are entire sections of the Old Testament that are nothing more than bitch sessions against the local pagan community and their parties in the groves. And we all know what fun-loving people the Puritans were! No singing, no dancing, no plays, no games, no nothing! I wouldn’t last a minute with those people. Another thing is that Pagans and Satanists do not proselytize. When is the last time you answered your door to someone handing out pamphlets with information about “Satan, My Lord and Master”? Or “Welcome to the World of Odin and Frigg.” It just doesn’t happen.

Helvin goes on to comment that, “Most important, Satanism and paganism are not religions in the literal sense of the word. Religion necessarily involves worshiping someone. In this case, the more correct term is worldview.” (Helvin, 52). Quite honestly, that makes a whole lot of sense.

The main thing about both Paganism and Satanism is freedom. Satan and his demons rebelled against God and they live on the outer reaches of hell but they’re free. That’s an important thing to remember. “The authentic pagan does not care what others think of him. His inherent free will allows him to take any position with inner conviction. If he believes that his worldview is right, and his actions are necessary, he is entitled to think and act as he sees fit. Unlike believers in monotheistic religions, he is not rigidly tied to the rules of God and society.” (Helvin, 47).

The next section of the book is spellwork. There’s the usual stuff you read but so much more – things I had never heard of before – or twists on old wives’ tales that really sent chills up my back! The bit about roosters! And cemetery magic! I have always loved cemeteries and have spent a lot of time in them. But it’s never occurred to me to do any kind of a spell in a cemetery. Reading through the spells, I was picturing them in my mind and I thought – has she ever done this? To me, they read like something in a novel. I was actually thinking about how I could work one into a novel. I don’t have a reason to work any of these spells. What can I say? I just don’t. But they’re so cool!

Church magic actually makes more sense to me but I was raised Roman Catholic and of course, I’ve spent more hours than I can count in church. The thing is, you don’t see candles in churches anymore. Those large banks of candles, where you could light one and put in some coins and then pray – those are all gone. Maybe they still exist in the Greek and Roman Orthodox Churches. I don’t know – I should make a visit to one of those churches and find out. Still, these are righteous spells and I am sure some will be quite useful someday. And maybe one of these spells will be useful to you, dear reader.

All in all, I can’t recommend this book enough. I want to read Natasha Helvin’s other published book, Slavic Witchcraft: Old World Conjuring Spells and Folklore, and I’m looking forward to her next book, Ancestral Witch. I hope all of you reading this review find her books at your local library, favorite bookseller or at Amazon.com. Or wherever you conjure up your favorite reading materials!

Brightest Blessings!

References

Helvin, Natasha. Russian Black Magic: The Beliefs and Practices of Heretics and Blasphemers. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 2019.

https://www.worldofconjuring.com/

 

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About the Author:

Polly MacDavid lives in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change, since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has three cats who all help her with her magic.

Her philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan but she gets along with a few of the masculine deities. She loves to cook and she is a Bills fan.

She blogs at silverapplequeen.wordpress.com. She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a novel about sex, drugs and recovery.