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The Troll Inside You: Paranormal Activity in the Medieval North – Ármann Jakobsson

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Categories: folk, germanic

The Troll Inside You coverÁrmann Jakobsson is Professor of Medieval Icelandic Literature at Háskóli Íslands/the University of Iceland and has been, as an oft-repeated bio tells it, a postman, a high school teacher, a journalist and critic, a reality TV star and a political activist. Trolls loom large in Ármann’s work, with the 2015/2016 writing of this book coming as the result of eight years working with the subject. It is the product of a research project, Encounters with the Paranormal, which included collaborations with Ásdís Egilsdóttir, Torfi H. Tulinius, Terry Gunnell and Stephen Mitchell, as well as eight doctoral students, and three masters students who wrote their theses within the parametres of the project.

Ármann makes it clear from the start that the understanding of the troll, like the troll itself, is a shifting and intangible one – something intrinsic to the troll as a figure of ambiguity and otherness, whose only definable and immutable characteristic is that, due to their eldritch nature, they are to be feared. This resistance to definition, an opposition to any particularly constricting taxonomy, comes from the fact that trolls appear across the centuries in a multiplicity of forms: as ghosts or spirits, as supernatural but corporeal creatures (a categorisation that in itself can be broken down into still further categories), and as nominally human practitioners of sorcery. It is as if, as Ármann pithily notes, the more difficult it becomes to name or classify a monster, the greater the power it wields.

Whilst Ármann draws on Örvar-Odds saga and other sagas of the Icelanders for his initial discussion of trollish ambiguity, for his first thorough literature review he turns to the little known Bergbúa þáttr, whose singular tale tells of an encounter in a cave, sometime after the kristnitaka, between two men and the barely defined, forever ambiguous, bergbúa of the title. Although low on the usage of the specific word ‘troll,’ this story provides a showcase of all the themes Ármann has already identified: liminality, the unheimlich and of boundaries and intersections between worlds, be they human and the paranormal, a Christian present and a heathen past, and at its most obvious and symbolic level, the cave’s interior and exterior.

This idea of troll space is explored further in subsequent chapters, as is the idea of trollspeak, with Ármann citing one example in which the mundanity of the speaking of trolls (not the expected grunts or howls) exacerbates their otherness, upending expectations, and with it, the world itself. Speech and language does figure largely throughout this book, and Ármann builds on his original discussion of the vagaries of the word ‘troll’ with a return to matters epistemological and a meditation of the vocabulary of the paranormal and its intersection with the occult. This is an area fraught with difficulty, and therefore ripe for analysis, because as Ármann notes, the essential nature of the occult is to remain hidden (a quality implicit in the very name), and therefore ambiguous and subject to doubt and uncertainty.

These explorations of language, and of the ambiguity of the figures it tries to define and make sense of, highlights that The Troll Inside You isn’t a study of trolls and their studiously cited source texts; for that there’s John Lindow’s concise Trolls: An Unnatural History, as well as previous writing by Ármann. Instead, the troll is effectively used as a liminal gatekeeper, with its uncanny characteristics and resistance to definition providing a lens through which broader musings on perception and otherness in the Medieval North can be discussed.

As always, Ármann writes in an engaging and enjoyable style, completely immersed in the language of academia’s modalities, but without overuse of that particular lexicon. While there’s a place for the convoluted styles of a Morton or Butler, it’s not here, and it doesn’t seem to be part of Ármann’s personality. Instead, he’s more interested in connecting with the reader with a clear, informed voice that is authoritative but by no means fustian. He also shows an arch sense of humour, such as an abrupt fourth-wall-breaking coda which he subtitles archaically as “Coda: In Which the Audience is Unexpectedly Addressed,” producing a truly laugh-out-loud moment.

The Troll Inside You spread

The structure of The Troll Inside You assists its readability with often brisk (though annoyingly unnumbered) chapters that act as perfectly digestible little chunks of trollish goodness. Similarly, from a technical perspective, the type is set matter-of-factly and competently in an atypical slab serif that ensures readability but has a modern touch.

The end to The Troll Inside You sneaks up quickly on you, as the pure content finishes abruptly and early at the 163rd of its total 240 pages, with the rest of the book consisting of endnotes and an index. As the page count evinces, these endnotes are extensive and feature considerable elaboration, rather than simple citations or qualifications. Some run to half a page, with a small point size at that, so for those who interest is piqued, there’s a lot of adjunct material to dive into, and a lot of flicking to the end section as you read.

In their short seven years, Punctum Books have amassed an amazing collection of cover art, some full of whimsy, some with great contemporary design, and some that are just straight-up beautiful (yes, I’m looking at you, Visceral: Essays on Illness Not as Metaphor). I’m not sure where the cover of The Troll Inside You sits in relation to those. With the subtitle rendered like a stamp, there was obviously an attempt to play on a more contemporary idea of paranormal investigations (if we can called the X-Files and its aesthetic antecedents contemporary), rather than something distinctly medieval Scandinavian or academic. This, in turn, sits rather incongruously with the main title which is rendered in a geometric face with the counters filled in; a questionable typographic trend whose peak was some ten years hence. It’s all very aberrant, and dissociative, which, mayhaps, allows one to go “Aha, that’s what we were going for all along.”

Published by Punctum Books.

Published by Punctum Books.

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Welsh Witches – Richard Suggett

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Categories: folk, witchcraft

Welsh Witches coverThis, the second book released by the fledgling Atramentous Press, is subtitled “Narratives of Witchcraft and Magic from 16th and 17th Century” and presents exactly that. While other titles from Atramentous have had a philosophical emphasis, this book is focussed on matters practical, providing a thorough documentation of its very particular subject matter.

Welsh Witches is a combination of disquisition and documentation, with one part of the book providing a survey of witchcraft in Wales, and the other presenting court records and pre-trial transcripts verbatim. Establishing the book’s credentials, everyone’s favourite pagan academic uncle, Ronald Hutton, introduces Welsh Witches with a foreword in which he highlights that the documents presented here allow us to hear the voices of those accused of witchcraft, and their accusers, albeit meditated by the method of recording as court proceedings, and as translations into English of Welsh oral examinations. Hutton notes that few witchcraft pre-trial proceedings from Britain have survived (in Essex, for example, where over 450 suspects were indicted, the documents were entirely discarded), and that the Welsh examples are therefore the earliest such records still extant.

Suggett works as a Senior Investigator of Historic Buildings at The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales in Aberystwyth, and is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the Learned Society of Wales and the Society of Antiquaries of London. He is also the author of the 2005 work A History of Magic and Witchcraft in Wales, and so, as you would expect, there’s no problem with the quality of the writing or the analysis here. He begins with a summary of Welsh witchcraft, both broadly and in detail, providing many examples, all beautifully and mercifully annotated with citations. This is a richly drawn image, with multiple examples to draw from, and Suggett gently and expertly corrals the information with his insights. In some ways, it is a humble picture here, there are no grand sabbats or nights on the Welsh equivalent of Bald Mountain, and the accusations of witchcraft are embedded within a mundane setting, seemingly themselves part of that mundanity.

Triskelion design by Carolyn Hamilton-Giles

In the second section, the trial of Gwen ferch Ellis, a woman from Betws-yn-Rhose convicted and hung for witchcraft in 1594, is singled out and presented in detail as a revealing illustration of sixteenth century popular magic. It also, Suggett notes, provides example of connections with some Elizabethan writers on demonology. Suggett presents Gwen’s tale with a compelling, readable manner, and notes that her life would have been one of historical obscurity were it not for the details provided by court records. He draws attention to a charm which, upon request, Gwen recited to the bishop examining her, and highlights the way it combined nominally Christian elements, such as addressing the trinity, and appealing for Christ’s intercession, with features that would have been alien to both Protestant and Catholic ears. There is an atypical appeal to the three Marys, and to three consecrated (and unexplained) altars, as well as a multidirectional call to guard against predation from above and below the wind and the ground, at the centre of the world or anywhere in the world, from the ‘wolf of a man’ and from Satan, the ‘evil thing of hell.’

The rest of the book, two thirds of its total length, is then made up of transcripts of pre-trial and trial documents. These begin with the earliest legal reference in Wales with the 1502-1503 case against Thomas Wyrriot, who, aiming high, had hired a witch from Bristol, Margaret Hackett, to destroy the Bishop of St David’s, Pembrokeshire. There are sixteen cases in all, including various crimes such as consorting with faeries, image magic, and that old favourite, detecting a thief with charmed cheese (that’s using charmed cheese for the detecting, not for detecting a thief in possession of a charmed cheese). It ends in 1699 with the case against Dorcas Heddin, the last prosecution for witchcraft heard at the Court of Great Sessions, in a case with elements otherwise missing from Welsh tradition: a long-standing relationship with the devil as the man in black and demons exchanges of drops of blood. For each record, Suggett provides a helpful summary of the case, giving context and unwrapping some of the narrative obscured by archaic language, before thoroughly documenting every, erm, document.

Welsh Witches endears itself with its seriousness. It is not a book for practitioners, set in a slip of myth, with all the risks to accuracy that that entails, but is instead a serious work of history, no matter how quotidian. The verbatim trial and pre-trial records provide a valuable resource for reference, even if they are not the most obvious thing to read purely for pleasure in their entirety, given their archaic spelling and phrasing which has been retained.

Verso and recto pages in spread, typesetting by Joseph Uccello

Aesthetically, Welsh Witches is gorgeous, even in its standard edition. Bound in a blue cloth, it features what has already become the standard Atramentous style, with a verdant ornamental design from Carolyn Hamilton-Giles on the cover, spine and rear. This is debossed and foiled in black, with the title, author and a central leporidaen triskelion foiled in silver. A similar approach is found on the back, with the Atramentous logo foiled in silver amongst the black-foiled filigree, while title, author and an ornamental device on the spine are all in gold. Hamilton-Giles’ illustrative work regrettably does not feature inside the book, but the typesetting by Joseph Uccello is worth noting. Uccello displays a deft hand, with a clean, serif style used throughout for both body and display, although running titles are rendered in a heavy, somewhat incongruous blackletter face that I’m not sure about. Section title pages are nicely designed with a combination of Roman and Italic styles and an ornamental element, but these defy convention by occurring on verso rather than recto pages in the spread, making them less effective as titles and somewhat jarring in their positioning. Annoyingly, since this happens on the first title, all it would have taken is to recto that one page, and all the subsequent title pages would have bumped along onto the opposite side of the spread.

Due to its very nature, Welsh Witches is textually dense with nothing in the way of in-body illustrations. Instead, two of the sections end with several pages of relevant images. Printed on the same stock as the rest of the book, rather than as glossy plates, these are facsimiles of court documents (such as the arraignment for Gwen ferch Ellis below), excerpts from other documents, or current photographs of pertinent locations.

Welsh Witches spread with images

Welsh Witches is available in a standard edition and a now sold out deluxe edition. The standard edition of 777 copies consist of 250 pages, hardbound in buckram cloth with two colour foiling, natural wibalin endpapers and a bookmark ribbon. The deluxe edition of 13 copies was bound in full navy blue goat skin, two colour foil block to front and rear, gold foil to spine, charcoal grey Strathmore Grandee endpapers, and a book ribbon. It was housed in a navy suedal slipcase covered in black cloth.

Published by Atramentous Press

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Masks of Misrule – Nigel Jackson

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Categories: folk, luciferian, qayin, robert cochrane, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

Masks of Misrule coverEarlier this year we reviewed Nigel Jackson’s Call of the Horned Piper, and let’s just say we’ve got the Jackson bug as we return to another of his books released by the nice, but aesthetically questionable, folks at Capall Bann. In Masks of Misrule, Jackson turns his focus to the horned god of witchcraft, a figure he identifies as having roots at far back as the Palaeolithic era. The horned god, as detailed by Jackson and by Michael Howard in his foreword, is at his core a simple hunter deity, but beyond that he is more, being a multiplicious cosmic god of life and death, of boundaries and their crossings, of the night and the furious wild.

The chapters of Masks of Misrule delineate how this horned god can be viewed, drawing threads from across both time and distance. As the White Stag of Anwynn he is a Celto-Arthurian god of the forests, seen in figures as diverse as Cernunnos, the Breton St. Cornely, and the one-eyed guardian of the wood in The Mabinogion. He is leader of the Wild Hunt, the verdant Green Man, and the Saturnalian, goat-horned Christmas fool. And finally, he is the man in black, the lord of the sabbat and the hidden father.

Jackson also uses the horned god as a gateway that facilitates broader discussions of the themes of traditional witchcraft. Identifying the skull and crossbones as a persistent craft symbol of the horned god as Lord of the Red Skull, for example, allows Jackson to divert into a wide-ranging discussion of skull and skeletal symbology, bringing together examples from across the world, before returning to witchcraft in particular with toadsmen rituals and intimations of the Rose Beyond the Grave. Similarly, the discussion of the horned god as the man in black and master of the sabbat allows for a broader discussion of the sabbat and its symbolism, along with ritual accoutrements such as the obviously relevant stang.  The Rose Beyond the Grace

It is in the consideration of the horned god as master of the sabbat that we first see what separates a work like Masks of Misrule from the more typical witchcraft books, be they practical or historical. This is especially noticeable given conventional attempts to create distance from anything with the sulphuric whiff of diabolism; something that has been part and parcel of the history of modern witchcraft since the beginning, and remain largely unabated today. Still, it’s something that, despite the preponderance of horns on the cover of this book and others by Jackson and his colleagues, may go under the radar until you dive deeper into the pages. In the case of Masks of Misrule, this diving and discovery happens to its fullest extent late in the piece, when things get very specific and the book concludes with discussions of Lucifer, Qayin and Azazel.

Nigel Jackson: Horned God

As the Masks of Misrule title suggests, there’s much here that discusses the horned god as a figure of disruption, disorder, and naturally, panic and pandemonium. Jackson highlights the role of the horned god as overseer of times when liminality reigns, when the formula becomes one of ritual reversal, reflecting a greater cosmic rescission, a literal annulment when the world and the cosmos threatens to return to its primordial state, the sacred void of Ur-Khaos. In this regard, Jackson also incorporates Loki, highlighting his role as both mischief maker and the destructive Dark Fire-Lord of Misrule; while also mentioning that tantalising hint, as per Bill Liddell, about Loki being venerated by some East Anglian covens.

Nigel Jackson: Misrule

Throughout Masks of Misrule, Jackson writes clearly and competently, dropping bite-size chunks of information, almost always, as is the style, free of the specific citing of references. In additional to the encyclopaedic content of Masks of Misrule, Jackson does occasionally provide his own asides, bringing the threads together through an expositional voice that is authoritative and invested. There’s a sense that this isn’t theoretical for him, nor something that he has regurgitated from elsewhere, despite various touchstones, such as Robert Cochrane Clan of Tubal Cain and Andrew Chumbley’s Sabbatic Craft, being obvious. As in other Capall Bann books, proofing could be better and Jackson conflates ‘it’s’ with ‘its’ – but he does it with such consistency that it almost becomes endearing. It is the allure of the dark and diabolic that makes Masks of Misrule appealing, and ensures that it feels exceptional, with the diabolic interpretation feeling a lot more tangible than the usual nameless and bland presentation of the male principle. While darkening it up is something that has become increasingly popular when discussing witchcraft (as the surfeit of goat-faced traditional witchcraft books testifies), Masks of Misrule, feels like one of the originators, backed up with a wealth of knowledge that imitators may be lacking.

Masks of Misrule is once again illustrated throughout with Jackson’s own images, presented in a combination of heavy woodcut styled designs and finer, more illustrative works. These are, as ever, one of the highlights of the book, with a sense of mystery and numinosity, and just the right amount of sigils and, to use the vernacular of King Missile, mystical shit.

But as is also often the case with Capall Bann titles, the external appearance of Masks of Misrule does the work a huge disservice, so much so that judging this book by its cover would surely mean most people pass it by. One of Jackson’s beautiful hand drawn images is cut out and coloured in Photoshop and then placed unsympathetically over Photoshop-generated clouds and an ambiguous landscape that appears to have been generated with the Photoshop liquefy tool, but which gives the impression of Bryce 3D generated water (just needs some random geometric forms floating in the air). Meanwhile, the incongruous typeface of the book title has been attacked with text effects, featuring bevel and emboss, gradients and textures; as well as a little errant vertical line down the right hand side. And finally, as in other Capall Bann books, proofing could be better and Jackson conflates ‘it’s’ with ‘its’ – but he does it with such consistency that it almost becomes endearing.

Published by Capall Bann

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Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana – Storm Constantine

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Categories: chaos, grimoire, magick

Grimoire Dehara coverAs an unrepentant bibliophile, it is both a blessing and a curse that there are so many wonderful (and not so wonderful) books out there that must be read. One area that always takes a back seat is fiction, and so despite having a few of her titles in the shelves here at the hallowed halls of Scriptus Recensera, we’ve never had the pleasure of diving into the worlds of Storm Constantine.

Perhaps the work for which she is best known, her Wraeththu series, had its first instalment in 1987 with The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit and has continued into this decade; although Constantine wrote her earliest Wraeththu tales a decade earlier in 1973. The Wraeththu are very much a race for today, a post-apocalyptic, hermaphroditic species that evolved from humanity and are divided into tribes. Androgynous and sensual, they seem to be cut from the same cloth as Anne Rice’s fey and elegant vampires, or Poppy Z. Brite’s queer outsiders.

With Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana, Constantine takes the system of magic used in the Wraeththu universe and fleshes it out for real world application. In a subculture of made-up magical systems, with people desperately trying to claim mysterious provenance for their fictions, what better than a system that is unashamedly fictional? As such, and as Constantine notes, Grimoire Dehara follows a chaos magick template of pop culture sorcery, creating new thought-forms with that slightly scientific, partly Jungian bent of any Chaoate. This is borne out by the resources at the end of the book, with two books by Phil Hine being the only other titles namechecked amongst those from Constantine herself and her collaborator Taylor Ellwood. There are also bonus points for the musical recommendations here, with Constantine suggesting Ephemeral from Synaesthesia and two albums by Steve Roach (The Magnificent Void and with Byron Metcalf, The Serpent’s Lair). Fine tastes and something that makes for a great reviewing accompaniment.

The gods of the Wraeththu are the Dehara of the grimoire’s title, with the principle deities being Aruhani (dehar of sex and procreation, life and death), Agave (warrior dehar of fire), Lunil (dehar of the Moon, love and spirituality) and Miyacala (dehar of inception, magic and wisdom). In addition there are elemental and seasonal deities called dehara vegrandis, and egregore forms created for specific and limited purposes called dehara demitto. Given the grimoire’s title, the dehara not unexpectedly form the focus of much of this book, with Constantine introducing each of them with descriptions and sigils, which she also does for their respective etheric nayati (temple or ritual space with descriptions and their sigils for them). With these are full page illustrations of each dehara, all evocative, beautiful and mysterious. Later in the book, Constantine returns to the dehara once more, providing further information along with extensive invocations and guided visualisations for each; and repeating the full page illustrations, which I’m not too sure about.

The dehara Aruhani

Having not read any of the Wraeththu novels before, one feels one’s self at a slight disadvantage when it comes to the terminology and names. There is an alienness to the language, that makes it hard to remember which term means what. This is due to it not necessarily having any resemblance to touchstones such as the Romance or Germanic languages, those two most common families for European ears. If anything, it bears a superficial resemblance to Eastern Polynesian languages like Hawaiian, with distinctly Polynesian phonemes appearing in words such as kaimana, rehuna and aruhani. At the same time, a preponderance of the letter ‘j’ and a ‘hahn’ sound in other words draws a comparison with Hindi; while in some cases, English portmanteaus occur, incorporating terms such as ‘tides,’ and somewhat breaking the feeling of exotic otherness. Suffice to say, the seven page glossary at the back proves a frequently frequented friend in the early stages of reading as one acclimatises to the new terminology.

At 200 pages, Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana presents an impressively rich and detailed system that builds gradually in complexity. For anyone familiar with contemporary magic, and in particular the techniques associated with its Chaos forms, there won’t be much here that is, at its core, unfamiliar, with the innovation coming from how it’s integrated into the Wraeththu mythos and paradigm. And, as one would expect of a system quite consciously created with all the benefit of several thousand years of precedents, there are certain near universal themes that are given a Wraeththu twist. Agmara, for example, is the name given to breath, both the breath of the divine and the breath of the practitioner, which like prana in Hinduism, or the Force in Star Wars, is an all-permeating, universal energy, that is a powerful ally. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. But I digress.

Page spread with image of Aghama

The system begins with an initiation with a particularly Wraeththu spin, being a visualisation based on what in the novels is called Inception, where a human is transformed into a Wraeththu through the infusion of their blood. In the initiation ceremony, called a Harhune, the practitioner imagines themselves transforming into the androgynous har body, creating an ethereal body that is then used for any subsequent majhahns (rituals). Following on from this initiation, Constantine presents a series of exercises and procedures that could be broadly said to involve ritual breathing, visualisations and pathworkings, and light work. Practitioners add to their ethereal arsenal with the creation of their own hienama (an egregoric teacher), the building of an etheric nayati ritual space, and the development of minor Deharan magical entities for specific purposes.

In addition to this more personal work, Constantine provides evidence of her world building with Arotahar, a harish Wheel of the Year, that incorporates a grand seasonal mythologem redolent of European harvest rites for dying and resurrecting gods, and features eight arojhahns (festivals) across the year. Each arojhahn has invocations, rituals and visualisations associated with it, making this section, along with dedicated sections working with the dehara, the lion’s share of the grimoire. For those willing to embrace the mythos and modality, there’s a lot to do, with a full ritual year to follow, and the pantheon of the main dehara creating a comprehensive set of entities to engage with.

Olga Ulanova: Feybraihatide Arojhahn

Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana is thoroughly illustrated throughout with images of the various dehara and their attributes. Created by Olga Ulanova, they in some ways make the book, providing a very clear visual sense of what the dehara look like and explicating the whole Wraeththu aesthetic. The images often have an icon-like quality to them, something engendered by the use of an Art Noveau style, with Alphonse Mucha being a particularly obvious reference; as is often the case. No slavish imitation, though, these are beautifully rendered in simple clear lines, with the figures sometimes set against clear space, but more often against decorative, esoterically-evocative backgrounds and frames, occasionally suggesting, to my eyes, stellar cartography. As devotional objects, these would work effectively in any Deharan praxis, such is their strength as numinous images.

The first version of Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana was first released in 2005 as a hardback edition, with this second edition from 2011 being a trade paperback. Constantine has since followed up Kaimana with two sequels to this grimoire, both in collaboration with Taylor Ellwood: the second book Ulani 2016, and the third, Nahir Nuri, in 2017. Both sequels are available in hardcover and paperback versions, with a new limited edition hardcover version of Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana also being released to match its scions.

Published by Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press

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The Witching-Other: Explorations & Meditations on the Existential Witch – Peter Hamilton-Giles

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Categories: esotericism, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

The Witching-Other coverPeter Hamilton-Giles may be best known for his previous books published by Three Hands Press, The Afflicted Mirror and The Baron Citadel. He is also the instigator and co-founder, so the bio goes, of the Dragon’s Column, the body of initiates whose material is featured, albeit in edited form, in Andrew Chumbleys’ Dragon Book of Essex. With The Witching-Other: Explorations & Meditations on the Existential Witch, Hamilton-Giles and his wife Carolyn, who, fun fact, also comprise the doom metal duo Pombagira, have inaugurated their own imprint, Atramentous Press, marking this birth with a statement of intent in both writing style and aesthetics. In matters aesthetical, Atramentous come out of the gates with a very clear look, presenting this book, its sequel, and another title about Welsh witches, in a distinct, ornamented style, all filigree and not so much shadow.

Meanwhile, in matters of writing, as the title suggests, The Witching-Other: Explorations & Meditations on the Existential Witch has lofty ambitions and attempts to address the figure of the witch from a theory-heavy, methodology-driven academic perspective. What that means is that various aspects of the witch, and as an embodiment of alterity in particular, are considered in dense, somewhat tortuous language that is as vermicular as the book’s ornamented cover design.

Hamilton-Giles appears to write with a thesaurus in hand, never using a simple word or phrasing when a more cumbersome one can be found. One almost begins to think it’s intended as a parody of academic writing, a social experiment to see if anyone is willing to risk looking stupid by saying they can’t follow the incomprehensible; a wager worth making in the image-conscious world of occultism where no one wants to look either uninitiated or unintelligent. It’s not just that there is an abundance of words from the academic lexicon, it’s that their meaning is sometimes lost through their very concatenation, where the in-between-words stringing them together can be overwhelmed by their grandiloquent companions. Structure can be awkward as words large and small jostle to get meaning across, while sentences can be so elongated and circumlocutory that the initial tense is changed or the preposition altered by the time you get to the end of it. Then there are words that don’t seem to mean what they’re thought to mean. Can anything (although in this case we’re talking about “the meeting of the physical and the metaphysical”) imbibe “the perceptual horizon with the continuity concept.”? How does one imbibe a perceptual horizon, let alone with the continuity concept?

The Witching Other dustjacket

Interestingly enough, given Hamilton-Giles’ background in grindcore (he was a member of early Earache Records band Unseen Terror), if the phrasing reminds of anything it’s the medical textbook song titles and lyrics of the band Carcass, in which obscure and technical words were admirably combined, but not always in the most natural way: descanting the insalubrious, or lavaging expectorate of lysergide composition, for example.

The Witching-Other is not perpetually impenetrable, and one finds oneself stumbling into areas where lucidity momentarily reigns, in which the words are still big, but the narrative is clearer and more consistent. This is particularly noticeable where the dizzying first chapter, which shares its title with the book as a whole, gives way to the second, the relatively more digestible Esoteric Hermeneutics and the Witching-Other. The difference between the two chapters is marked, with the periphrastic quality dropping right away, and yet, perversely, the previously applied rules of thumb for punctuation changing to a less rigorous application. Similarly, the tone palpably shifts from the disquisitional voice of the first chapter to a more conversational one in which Hamilton-Giles suddenly starts engaging the reader with hypophoras, asking them theoretical questions.

The Witching-Other is a book you want to like. Who, to use my very own hypophora, doesn’t like a bit of heavy theory with their witchcraft? Not me, that’s who. At the same time, though, who has time for wilfully obtuse writing if there is a point to be made? Especially if that obtuseness runs the risk of descending into incomprehensibility if the unwieldy words get crazy and go into people’s houses at night and wreck up the place. Perhaps, the intent was to follow Gilles Deleuze’s advice in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia and “Bring something incomprehensible into the world!” It’s an interesting indication of what reading The Witching-Other is like that the thought of then turning to some Deleuze, Judith Butler or Jacques Derrida promises to be a soothing, effortlessly light read.

Image by Carolyn Hamilton-Giles

As the first book published by Atramentous Press there are a few layout wrinkles that seem to have been ironed out in a subsequent book, but not in the sequel to this volume where the styling has been reprised. The most obvious and jarring is the, how you say, reverse indents, where whole paragraphs are indented, except for the first line. This creates a disconcerting sensation and does negatively affect readability, with one’s eyes wandering across the page devoid of the anchors provided by the conventions of layout. On top of that, paragraphs are fully justified and so hyphenation is naturally turned on to avoid text rivers. But the settings applied here are rather conservative and words are hyphenated at as little as two letters, resulting in ladders of hyphens throughout paragraphs, engendering a stuttering, segmented experience for the reader. Both choices are particularly problematic given the sesquipedalian nature of Hamilton-Giles’ writing, where formatting should be assisting comprehension, not compounding any amphibolousness. All of these design choices are strange as there is otherwise a nice, sophisticated feel to the rest of the typography from Joseph Uccello. If the goal was, though, to disorientate through typography as much as through language, then mission accomplished, consider me discombobulated.

Spread of pages

The Witching-Other was released in a standard edition of 891 copies and a deluxe limited edition of 15. The standard edition features 160 100 gram Munken Print Cream pages with Napura endpapers, a ribbon, and is bound in a dark green cloth with the Atramentous logo debossed on the cover. It is wrapped in an evergreen colourset dust jacket, with designs in red and gold foil, though some of the gold is already flaking or was never completely applied on the rear of this copy. The sold out deluxe edition was hand bound with burgundy calf, with the designs from the standard edition’s dust jacket blocked in gold on the front, back and spine. With marble edging on the pagers and marbled endpapers, it is contained within a solander box with the Atramentous logo blocked in gold foil on the front. In addition, the deluxe edition came with a limited print of Carolyn Hamilton-Giles’ illustration, signed by the artist and printed on good quality card.

Published by Atramentous Press.

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Call of the Horned Piper – Nigel Aldcroft Jackson

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Categories: folk, luciferian, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

Call of the Horned Piper coverIt is sometimes hard to keep track of the various Nigel Jackson, Michael Howard and Evan John Jones titles released on Capall Bann. There’s not a lot of them necessarily, but the titles are somewhat interchangeable, and the covers are similar, if not in style then at least in theme (you’d better believe there’ll be horns on there). That’s not a criticism per se, simply a recognition that Jackson and his colleagues mine a very particular seam

After struggling through a fair amount of poor occult writing, where authors either can’t write or overreach whilst trying to sound more esoteric or more academic, reading Jackson here is something of a relief. Sure, he habitually types ‘it’s’ when he means ‘its’ but besides that most unforgivable of sins, he can actually write, creating a flowing narrative that is easy to read and at the same time, sophisticated and erudite. In some instances, he shows a particularly refined ability for the picturesque, with the first chapter beginning with a theoretical scenario of a witch preparing for transvection, written in a beautifully descriptive way.

In other instances though, as is the style of the book, Jackson just presents information in something of a fact-dump manner; albeit still well written. This kind of data (instances of witch accounts or folklore examples for the most part), will be largely familiar to anyone from these circles of traditional craft, which may be why there’s such a dearth of citing of sources. While the common knowledge nature of these facts makes this lacking of references slightly forgivable, one does find little gems that makes one wish for a place to go for more information – like the brief remark that Swedish witches preferred to use magpie forms when shapeshifting…. oooh, tell me more.Charivari image by Nigel Jackson

Call of the Horned Piper is divided into short, unnumbered chapters addressing various witchcraft themes, and these are grouped in the contents section into broad, unnamed segments that the reader won’t necessarily notice when reading the book from start to finish. In the first, Jackson considers what one could define as the sabbat and the wild hunt, emphasising the goddess lead versions of the Heljagd under Holda, Hela and Herodias, before moving on to her male counterpart, the Horned Master. This acts as a fulfilment of a statement of intent that Jackson makes at the start of the book, placing the witch’s ride at the centre of the image of the witch, with the broomstick being the preeminent symbol of this topology. By drawing together myriad threads provided by sabbat transvection and various other supernatural journeys, taken by either practitioners or deities, Jackson highlights the way in which this shamanic mystery with thousands of years of provenance lies at the core of Traditional Craft.

Later, Jackson incorporates other far flung strands of folklore, such as even werewolves and vampirism, showing how, in the footsteps of Carlo Ginzburg and Éva Pócs, these seemingly less esoteric aspects of legend play into the image of supernatural, shamanic-style journeys. Indeed, one could say that Jackson provides an entry level version of theories by Ginzburg, Pócs and the later Emma Wilby, heavy on examples but light on detail, and from a more hands-on, personally involved and less academic perspective.

Hela by Nigel Jackson

Jackson concludes Call of the Horned Piper with a practical section, providing information on tools and hallowing the witches compass, as well as a guided visualisation, Mysterium Sabbati: Riding on the Witch Way. There’s not a lot here but as a core toolkit it suffices and the theory and lore that precedes it contains enough information for practitioners to fill in the gaps and develop their own rituals in a Traditional Craft mould.

In all, Call of the Horned Piper has much to recommend it. It contains a wealth of information that can lead to more indepth investigation when you track down the uncited sources, and it comes from a specifically endemic place, with Jackson clearly providing the bones to existing modalities. Of specific personal appeal is the way in which Hela appears throughout the book, particularly in Her guises as a witch goddess of the underworld, with Jackson making several references to her.

Image by Nigel Jackson

Call of the Horned Piper is illustrated throughout by Jackson himself, which, as Gemma Gary does in her books, adds an additional layer of interest, omneity and authenticity. Jackson employs a variety of styles, largely differentiated by the weight of stroke. There’s woodcut (or woodcut-styled, it’s hard to tell) images, high in contrast as is the nature of the medium, and then there’s detailed, fine-line ink drawings. While there’s a certain rustic charm to the woodcuts (and I’m particularly fond of the image of Hela), it is their more intricate siblings that really appeal. These recall some of the work of Andrew Chumbley or Daniel Schulke, with icons that are beautifully archaic, festooned with hand written text and more mystical sigils than you can shake a stick at. Unfortunately, their effectiveness is lessened by repeated use, with some of the images reappearing throughout the book at various sizes as unnecessary fillers. Jackson’s fine line pictures also include more illustrative images, such as his stunning Fraw Holt, which I recall on the cover of an issue of The Cauldron so many years ago. In these, Jackson renders fey figures with an imperial distance and acerose features, in a timeless, evocative style that seems weighted with meaning.

The, how you say, roughness of Capall Bann productions has been noted before here at Scriptus Recensera, and Call of the Horned Piper is no exception. The book title on the spine is so large that it seeps onto the front and back covers, as does the Capall Bann logo, while the title on the cover is off-centre. The typeface choice and treatment on the cover leaves something to be desired, as does the orange gradient, which makes the book look prematurely sun faded. The image on the front, a striking woodcut by Jackson, is treated unsympathetically, askew within an unattractive white frame, with a dotted magenta trim line visible around the edge for some reason.

Published by Capall Bann

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Visual Magick – Jan Fries

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Categories: chaos, germanic, magick, shamanism

Visual Magick coverSubtitled A Manual of Freestyle Shamanism, Visual Magick from Jan Fries is something of a modern classic, first published in 1992 after beginning as a small treatise privately circulated amongst occultists. Despite the subtitle, there’s not a lot of explicitly shamanic content within Visual Magick, be it in the strictly etymological sense of the Tungusic word, or the core shamanism of the Michael Harner variety, or even the shamanism of new age stores, all dreamcatchers, crystals and war bonnets. Instead, if it’s core anything, Visual Magick is core Fries-brand chaos magick; apt as this was Fries’ first published work.

Visual Magick begins without preamble (save for a preface by Mike Ingalls), diving head first into the first chapter on sigil magick. This is fairly standard post-Spare sigil fare, which sounds a little unfair and dismissive, but is not intended as such. Using the analogue of a seed, Fries presents a basic but thorough guide to creation of sigils using several techniques including bindletters, automatic drawings, and magical squares. Then he offers a guide to activating and empowering them, which bleeds into the second chapter under the heading of The Ritual. In both, Fries writes in his trademark honest and conversational style, presenting the techniques matter-of-factly, listing personal preferences without prejudice but ultimately leaving things up to the reader to find what works for them. Indeed, this attitude makes ‘freestyle’ the more important word from the book’s subtitle, as it epitomises Fries’ approach: modern, eclectic, versatile, and not beholden to any historic precedent, with a touch of humour and honesty where needed.

Fries continues exploring other not particularly or obviously shamanic techniques including automatic drawing and writing, visualisations and a little bit about sex magick, primarily in its use in empowering sigils. Later he discusses creative hallucinations, zoomorphic transformation and shapeshifting, and mandalas, in which he presents a variation of his own using plant matter rather than the usual sand or paint. Throughout, Fries’ emphasis is on the pragmatic, backed up with a largely psychological model. For him, entities are just projections of the subconscious, and interactions with them are a way of accessing this deep mind. Fries does allow others the grace to believe entities to be whatever they wish, but even in this regard he ultimately comes back to the idea of them being, as part of what he calls the ‘all-self,’ ways to connect with the individual self.

Jan Fries: Loki

This utilitarian approach means that Visual Magick often comes across as more of a self-help or motivational book, rather than a traditional magickal tome or grimoire. The argument here is that when you strip away all the artifice of magick, then that’s what you’ve got at a fundamental level: processes and a worldview that are intended to improve you as a person, give you insights, and get shit done. As a result, there’s a lot of talk of the subconscious, of perception, of analysing behavioural patterns. It’s effectively a primer that shows the science behind magick, much as chaos magick was doing at the time; though Fries does dismiss it as a then current magickal trend, despite the shared techniques and approach.

Filing under ‘some reviewers are never happy,’ long-time readers of Scriptus Recensera will know that pragmatism rules here, but Fries’ approach runs the risk of being too much of a good thing and one finds oneself longing for a touch of old fashioned occult glamour, a little mumbo? Perhaps. Jumbo? Perhaps not. Effectively, it takes some of the fun out of magick, and replaces it with the psychological model, which may have an appeal for some readers but has limited mileage with this one. With its revealing of the seams of magick, though, it does underline how anything in the book can be adapted to a more personally-satisfying paradigm and how, in the end, a ritual, a godform or an entire belief system is just something made up by someone, somewhere, sometime.

As is the case with all of his books, Visual Magick is illustrated throughout with Fries’ trademark illustrations, previous recipients of glowing commentary here at Scriptus Recensera. Atavistic line drawings combining humanoid forms and nature, they are in some way the most shamanic thing in the book, having an energy and numinosity so evocative of reaching out across worlds.

Jan Fries: Access to a Tree

Visual Magick has the same layout styling of other Jan Fries books published by Mandrake of Oxford, meaning that it looks better than a lot of Mandrake book. It’s not necessarily amazing, but there’s a clear design hierarchy, a suitable amount of space and no glaring errors. All of Fries’ trademark illustrations are rendered crisp and clear, except for one which, by misadventure or design, is pixelated, its black lines turned jagged like a scene from an 8bit video game; which is somewhat apropos as its shaman subject looks like a hero from a 1980s side-scrolling platformer.

Published by Mandrake of Oxford.

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Angurgapi: The Witch-hunts in Iceland – Magnús Rafnsson

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Categories: folk, germanic, grimoire, runes, witchcraft

Angurgapi coverIn 2002, Strandagaldur, also known as the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík, Iceland, hosted the Exhibition of Sorcery and Witchcraft, which one assumes evolved into or contributed to the museum’s permanent exhibition. Shortly after the opening it became evident that there was a need for a short book on Icelandic sorcery and witchcraft, one that reflected the questions asked of museum staff by visitors Icelandic and foreign; especially given the dearth of texts on the subject outside of academia. Angurgapi: The Witch-hunts in Iceland is exactly that. It is by no means a survey of the museum’s collection, for which there is now a catalogue, and instead gives a pithy and concise survey of Icelandic witchcraft, using the framing device of witch-hunts to delve a little deeper in places.

It is, though, the witch-hunts in Iceland that the book devotes much of its space to, beginning with a summary of several notable early cases. What immediately becomes clear is that contrary to the continental stereotype, it was men who received the most convictions for sorcery in Iceland, and not just any men but men of the cloth. In many cases, accusations of witchcraft seems to have gone hand in hand with clerical infidelity, with Rafnsson presenting several examples of priests who were accused of witchcraft as well as fathering children or engaging in adultery or sexual assault. Even Gottskálk Nikulásson, the last Catholic Bishop of Hólar from 1496 to 1520 (who had multiple mistresses and sired at least three children), was thought to be a sorcerer, and the author of an infamous grimoire called Rauðskinna.

One exception to this template, indeed its polar opposite, was Jón Guðmundsson the Learned, who, as his name suggests, was something of a 16th-century Icelandic Renaissance man, being a writer, artist, sculptor, and an observer and documenter of nature. He ran afoul of the authorities when he criticised the murder of a group of Basque whalers in the Westfjords, and this ultimately led to accusations of witchcraft when a book he had written was used as evidence of diabolism. Jón admitted to writing the now lost volume and defended it as a book of healing without any evil purpose. While the image of Jón as a polymath with inclinations towards natural philosophy would seemingly make authorship of a grimoire unlikely, a listing of the book’s sections preserved in court documents reveals not herbal cures, but spells of the type found in other black books: charms against elves, madness and fire, or spells for providing victory in war or against storms at sea, amongst others.

Spread including pages from Lbs. 1235, 8vo written by Jón Guðmundsson the Learned

It is these types of grimoires and their attendant spells and charms that figure largely in the Icelandic accounts of witchcraft, rather than the transvection, sabbats and other diabolical congregations of their continental colleagues. As Rafnsson notes, almost a third of the Icelandic witchcraft trials centre on the possession of grimoires and other examples of rendered magical staves, charms or sigils. While many of these have been destroyed (with court records documenting two instances of a punishment in which the guilty party was made to inhale the smoke of the burning pages), what has survived presents various interesting themes: a juxtaposition in references to pagan and Christian deities, the combination of continental influences with entirely indigenous elements such as magical staves, and the role played by copying in transmitting this information down through the years.

Spread with image of the codex Lbs. 143 8vo

What comes through clearly in the various accounts of witch trials is the sense of paranoia and fear prevalent at the time, where accusations of witchcraft often appear to be acts of self-preservation, where the accuser, even sheriffs and priests, could themselves easily become the accused. There is also a sense of disproportionate punishment, where admission of knowing and using a simple non-malicious charm could lead to exile or death. With some relief for the reader, Rafnsson does document the change in beliefs and values as society progressed, past cases were reassessed and found wanting (though small comfort to those who had been executed), and, as happened elsewhere, those who made accusations of witchcraft were increasingly more likely to be convicted for wasting the court’s time, rather than seeing their neighbours pilloried.

After a heart felt memoriam noting the loss of life and humiliation experienced by those accused of witchcraft, Angurgapi concludes with a little travelogue of the Icelandic witch-hunts, devoting four pages to various notable locations, each presented with a photo and a brief explanation. These help provide context to some of the accounts that have preceded it.

Rafnsson writes throughout Angurgapi in a clear, no-nonsense manner that is an effortless joy to read. Without much adornment, the facts are presented in a matter of fact but sympathetic manner that is surprisingly engaging. As such, Angurgapi achieves what it set out to do, providing a brief but by no means superficial survey of a topic for which there is still little thorough documentation of.

Spread including an image of AM 434d, 12mo, a grimoire measuring only 8x8.5cm

Angurgapi runs to a mere 85 pages but feels weightier due to the hardcover binding and wrap-around glossy cover (went a little overboard on the old Photoshop Texture filter there, folks). Inside, the pages are also glossy and colour images abound. These include beautiful scans of original manuscripts, principally spreads from grimoires, sourced from the National Library in Reykjavík. Text is formatted cleanly and confidently, albeit in nothing but humble Times, and there are little nice touches, like the overly large page numbers rendered in an uncial face. There is one reservation with the layout though, with the text alternating between three styling choices: body, block text and image captions. The block text, usually an addendum to something in the main text, are set in a grey box and styled at the same point size as the body, but with less, rather than more, of an indent. In some cases running to several pages long, they often awkwardly interrupt the main body and aren’t successfully identified as secondary in hierarchy. The same is true of image captions, which are rendered in an italicised face only a few point sizes smaller than the body, meaning that despite being centred and placed in relation to their respective image, the eye often reads them as if they are a continuation of the main text.

Since the release of Angurgapi in 2002, Strandagaldur have expanded their publishing, releasing the aforementioned catalogue, as well as various archival publications of grimoires: Tvær galdraskræður, a bilingual bringing together of two manuscripts, Lbs 2413 8vo and Lbs 764 8vo (aka Leyniletursskræðan); Lbs. 143,8vo (aka Galdrakver) as a two book boxset featuring a facsimile in one and translation in multiple languages in the other; and a complete facsimile edition of the galdrabók Rún with translation. All thoroughly recommended.

Published by Strandagaldur

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The Edda as Key to the Coming Age – Peryt Shou, translated by Stephen E. Flowers

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Categories: esotericism, germanic, runes

The Edda as Key to the Coming Age coverOriginally published in 1920 and presented here in a 2004 translation from Rûna Raven Press, The Edda as Key to the Coming Age by Peryt Shou is something of a classic of early 20th century German rune magic. As Flower’s notes in his introduction, Shou’s book provides context to some of his own work as presented in Rune Might: Secret Practices of the German Rune Magicians published by Llewellyn in 1989. In this, he provided a survey of the various strains of last century German runo-mysticism, including that of Shou as well as the contributions of Guido von List, Friedrich Marby, and of course Karl Maria Wiligut. In Rune Might, the influence of Shou on Flowers was clear, and the publication of this source text puts flesh on those bones.

Shou’s cosmology as presented here represents a syncretism of rune mysticism with esoteric Christianity, seeing the cosmic Christ as an analogue of Wuotan, who he describes as the prehistoric Christ of the German folk. Shou is certainly not unique in this concept, as evidenced by far older precedents like the runestone from Jelling, Denmark, in which Christ appears not crucified but hung, entwined with foliage on a tree, in an echo of Odin’s hanging from the World Tree. Indeed, Shou takes this idea of a Germanification of Christianity as mythically central to his system, describing a stark break between the Christianity of Roman Catholicism and a vigorous Germanic Christianity; a break that occurred at the very point of the crucifixion. For him, Christ’s death marked the end of Catholic Christianity as a valid system, at which point Germanic Christianity began and Christ awoke on the World Tree, descending alive as Wuotan.

Central to this cosmology is the idea of Need, which seems to occupy positions both negative, comparable to desire in Buddhism and therefore the cause of suffering, and positive, as a force of will that provides the operations and indeed the whole system, with its impetus and energy. This concept of Need naturally relates to the rune Nauthiz, but Shou takes this further, seeing it encoded within the ‘N’ in the INRI acronym placed above the crucified Christ, and therefore a key to understanding that moment where Christ proper transformed into Christ-Wuotan. Shou associates this moment with Odin’s hanging on the World Tree as recorded in Hávamál, drawing attention to the idea that on the ninth night, screaming, he grasped the runes with Need.

This intersection between the crucifixion of Christ and the hanging of Odin forms the basis of the main ritual Shou presents in this work, the Ritual of the Ninth Night. This ritual is a combination of special postures, visualisations and voice work that is redolent of the rune vibration and runic yoga of Shou’s contemporaries, and the core principles will be fairly familiar to anyone that has encountered occultism within the last century. In a series of procedures over several days or weeks, depending on one’s sense of progress, the practitioner gradually builds connections with cosmic energies, building an aethyric form that replicates the body of Christ-Wuotan. As the Tabernaculum Hermetis, this Adam Kadmon-like figure contains within it all the runes as vibratory symbols.

Tabernaculum Hermetis

The nomenclature Shou uses to describe his system has an endearing retro-futurist technological quality to it, making it, in retrospect, feel slightly cyberpunk or evocative of the technomages of Babylon Five. In the Ninth Night ritual, the practitioner imagines themselves as a cosmic antenna, drawing on radio waves from the divine, and even entreating these forces to awaken the network within; drawing an explicit analogy between this mystical proto-internet and the instruction made by Jesus to his disciples to cast their nets. In concert with this surprisingly contemporary terminology is a lexicon that feels much more of its Theosophy-inspired time, filled with ideas of planetary energies and ascended masters, such as the Hermes-Brotherhood who appear to literally live on the planet Mercury. In a particularly intriguing moment, Shou refers to another priesthood on Mercury called the Wolves of the Sun who are hostile to Wuotan, and who obviously provide the template for the idea of the predatory wolves Fenrir, Hati and Skoll. Combined, these two strains of language and paradigms make for an appealing modality, a little old fashioned, a little futuristic, a little pagan and a little Christian.

Ninth Night

One of the most interesting aspects of reading The Edda as Key to the Coming Age is considering its status as a historical and prophetic document, aided and abetted by the hindsight of nearly 100 years. With the book being written in the aftermath of the First World War and long before the rise of National Socialism (although part of the nationalist rebirth, and its sometimes problematic racism, from which it would draw), it is hard not to identify that most tumultuous period two decades then hence as the coming age Shou speaks of. This is certainly true when he says that the Germanic people are destined for destruction, something he ties to what he defines as an outdated definition of race, albeit to be reborn for the greater global good. Alternatively, it must be asked, is this still an age that is yet to come.

The Edda as Key to the Coming Age is a slim volume at only 57 pages. Shou, as translated by Flowers, writes with enthusiasm but also with the unchecked anthropology of yesteryear, where the etymology is often wishful and there’s very little citing of academic sources with an often inescapable feeling that some things could be several steps removed from the original material. There’s also a certain degree of repetition, despite the low page count, with the basic premise of Christ-Odin/crucified-hung repeated in several variations as Shou attempts to make his point in a largely poetic way. As an archival document, this is an important resource, and despite the repetition, a genuine joy to read; something abetted by that little bit of crazy that are the cosmic, early 20th century occultism elements.

Published by Rûna Raven Press and since reprinted by Lodestar.

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Distillatio – Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule

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Categories: alchemy, art, classical, esotericism, hermeticism, magick, tantra

Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule has already had one review this year here at Scriptus Recensera with Time, Fate and Spider Magic from Avalonia. While that work was largely a written one with elements of Orryelle’s art featured throughout, Distillatio is very much a complete showcase of their visual output in various mediums. As its name suggests, Distillatio represents said alchemical stage, and acts as a companion to the other parts of the process documented in Orryelle’s Tela Quadrivum series: Cojunctio, Coagula and Solve. The status of Distillatio as the final volume in this series and the culmination of the alchemical process is reflected in the design, with the book bound in a pure white cloth and wrapped in a weighty white dust jacket with the Cauda Pavonis or Peacock’s Tail in iridescent foil on the front and a similarly rendered fingerprint design on the back.

While the previous entries in the Tela Quadrivum series worked predominantly in black and white, with flecks of gold and silver, Distillatio takes the opportunity provided by the iridescence associated with its alchemical stage and runs with it. Colours, and in particular striking Melek Tausian-blues and a rich ruddy brown, dominate, with the book showcasing Orryelle’s ability as a painter in oils. Orryelle’s characteristic fleshy forms are given an added layer of depth and voluptuousness with the addition of oils, bringing with it a different sense of energy.

Like many of the line-drawn figures in occult art, Orryelle’s phantasmagorical forms usually have an ephemeral and chimerical feel, adrift in a timeless netherworld, but with the addition of oils, they become a lot more present, the line made flesh as it were. With this physicality comes two things, energy and permanence. In The Wild Hunt, participants in the Heljagd pour forth from the centre of the image, reaching across a tumultuous heaven in a furious motion that is mirrored below by the reaching branches of the World Tree. Their source at the centre, which in this case is the gutter of the two page spread, is a zoomorphic figure of Odin and Sleipnir interfused, disappearing into the liminal space created by the formatting of the book. Naturally evocative of Peter Nicolai Arbo’s Asgårdsreien painting from 1872, The Wild Hunt replaces Arbo’s classical forms with more tangible yet still fleetingly elven figures, whose ferocious, otherworldly speed is implicit within the flurry of brush strokes.

Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule: The Wild Hunt

The World Tree of the The Wild Hunt is a frequent motif within Distillatio, often assuming the same compositionally-central role, with its branches and roots emanating outwards, bringing with it various forms of life. In one, alchemical birds appear in its branches and surrounds: a bloody-breasted pelican feeding its young, a resplendent white eagle that forms the tree’s crown and is mirrored by the shadow of a black eagle in its root, while a peacock claims a branch as its own. Similarly in Cycle of Life, the tree sits at the centre of the only partially coloured and inked image, some of its limb anthropomorphised into grasping hands, while various animals and humanoid creatures emanate from it and circle around the frame as embodiments of Nature, red in tooth and claw.

Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule: Alchymic Birds on the World Tree

In more static images, Orryelle’s oil paint gives gravity and a luminous power to its subjects, such as the looming figure of Isis in Osiris Embalmed, or the apple-clasping Melek Taus adrift in a sea of peacock feathers and interstellar clouds in Melek Taus and the Path of Venus. Meanwhile, in With the Milk of a Gazelle, Hathor heals Hoor’s Eyes, an asomatous Egyptian landscape hosts Hathor, crowned effulgent, who heals the eyes of a contorted Horus that lies before her, his arms and legs twisted into uncomfortable reversal.

Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule: With the Milk of a Gazelle, Hathor heals Hoor’s Eyes

As evidenced by the variety of deities featured throughout the works, Distillatio is indicative of Orryelle’s eclectic mythological tastes, with the various divine stars being familiar to anyone who has encountered hir work before. This syncretic quality draws principally on Egyptian, Hindu and Germanic myth, with bits of Greek and Celtic thrown in, sometimes in the same image.

It isn’t only oil paintings that feature in Distillatio and Orryelle also includes a selection of his digital montages. Some of these incorporate elements of his paintings, such as St Michael And/As The Beast which blends the background of a painting with repeating photographic images of Orryelle as the titular and winged saint. There is something a little incongruous about the presence of these montages, and the incredible skill evident in the paintings is not necessarily always matched in their digital siblings. It feels like the book would have been no poorer had they been left out, allowing for the paintings alone to be a more solid and consistent body of work.

Explanations for the images are spread periodically throughout the book, appearing in explanatory blocks before or after several blocks of spreads. It’s not the most satisfactory way of presenting this information, requiring a lot of flicking backwards or forwards, but there’s not many other ways to do it. These legends to the legends are fairly pithy and provide an invaluable aid to understanding Orryelle’s multi-layered images. It is a shame the typography used here does not mirror the beauty of the images, with it all feeling very defaulty due to the body being set in generic Times, save for Orryelle’s typographically-inadvisable tendency to use a goody bag of other typefaces to highlight certain words. Subheadings are also subject to this, centered atop each section and appearing variously in Harrington, Stonehenge and the face that shall not be named; well, OK, suffice to say, I was not best pleased to see the Egyptian-related subtitles being in dreaded, stroke-bolded Papyrus.

Distillatio was made available in standard and deluxe editions, with the standard being 640 hand-numbered copies in white cloth with a white dust-jacket. The deluxe edition of 64 hand-numbered copies signed by the artist came in crushed white quarter morocco, stamped in black with top edge silver in a dust-jacket and slipcase.

Published by Fulgur

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