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The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages – Robert Bartlett

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Categories: middle ages

The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages coverThis book compiles a series of Wiles Lectures presented in 2006 at Queen’s University of Belfast by historian and medievalist Robert Bartlett. The lecture series was founded in 1953 by Janet Boyd of Craigavad, County Down, in memory of her father, Thomas S. Wiles, and are sponsored by the university and published (often in extended and modified form) by Cambridge University Press. Despite running to 170 pages, The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages feels concise, which is perhaps to be expected given its lecture transcript format, and also because the last 22 pages consist of the bibliography and index. With just four chapters, Bartlett presents the information here as clearly defined considerations of medieval embodiments of the supernatural, each lecture building, for the most part, upon the last.

The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages is very much about definitions and Bartlett provides a thorough consideration of this in the first section, The Boundaries of the Supernatural. Here, he discusses how what could be defined as supernatural occupied a minute space in medieval thought, mediated, as it was, through the idea of nature and by extension, what was considered natural, being of god. If god made all things, the thinking went, then very few things, whether they be angels, demons, or showers of fish, could be considered supernatural, that is, beyond or outside his remit. Indeed, the distinction was not necessarily between the natural of god and the supernatural that was not of god, but, as defined by the 12th century theologian Peter Lombard, between those things that were comprehendible, in that they occurred naturally (naturaliter), following their seminal cause that had been established by god, and those things that were beyond nature (praeter naturam). Things defined as beyond nature were only so because their cause was unknown to humanity, though it was assumed that this still derived from god, who alone understood their cause and purpose. Bartlett tracks these lines of thought from Lombard to Thomas Aquinas and later into the writings of figures like William of Auvergne, where the discussion turns to the use of miracles and magic. Here, in a remarkably pragmatic interpretation, magic was not miraculous or supernatural, and instead, natural magic was simply a branch of natural science, in which natural processes, ordained by god, were just sped up.

The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle spread with triple-headed trinity

This focus on definitions can make The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages very methodical and clinical, and one could even say, given the subject matter, dull; though mileage may vary as to whether it’s so dull that you might wish, as one reader on goodbooks.com suggests, to have your eyes gouged out with a teaspoon rather than having to pick it up again. This does mean that the focus on specific supernatural, monstrous or aberrant elements from the Middle Ages is rather limited, but there are far better books from the hoard of medieval scholarship that provide exactly what this title lacks. With that said, for what it is, a non-specific overview of the miraculous in the Middle Ages, the book makes an interesting if detached read, well-written by Bartlett, who presents his information in a perfunctory manner, divorced from more obvious theoretical models.

The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle spread

The more specific examples of the supernatural are considered in the second and third chapters, taking the form of eclipses and the dog-headed cynocephali. The discussion of eclipses and their view in medieval superstition and science, though, comes as part of a broader consideration of the belief in a mechanical universe that predates Newton’s popularisation of the idea. In The Machine of this World, Bartlett isn’t seeking to prove that an idea of anything approaching Newtonian physics existed in the Middle Ages, but simply that there were some mechanistic principles that were seen as playing a role in the medieval world view. Overwhelming examples are pretty thin on the ground, other than the predictive nature of eclipses, and Bartlett spends more of this chapter enunciating various understandings of the world and their theological implications, such as the globe’s division into the northern hemisphere and its unreachable southern counterpart.

The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle spread with page from The Treatise of the Spheres by John of Sacrobosco

For fans of medieval monstrosity, Dogs and Dog-Heads turns to the cynocephali, one of several races that, based on the unblinking acceptance of the authority of classical figures such as Pliny and Herodotus, were believed to exist somewhere else in the world. The existence of these races and the lack thereof proved so fundamental to changing views of the world, with the 14th century explorer Giovanni de’ Marignolli enquiring fruitlessly after them in India, only to pithily remark that it was he who was in turn asked as to whether he knew of such creature. The Other always being where one is not.

Bartlett’s concluding chapter seems the furthest from expectations of supernatural medieval marvels with a lecture dedicated entirely to the work of the 13th century philosopher Roger Bacon. While there are supernatural elements within this discussion, most notably the incongruous but inevitable intersection visible in a man of empirical science who still believed in and speculated on the imminent arrival of the Antichrist, this chapter feels like a standalone biography of Bacon somewhat shoe-horned into the series.

The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle spread with page from Aberdeen University Library Ms. 24

The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages is illustrated throughout with various images drawn from medieval manuscripts. In all, it makes for a brief, sober and pragmatic read that works best when seen as a presentation of a broad picture, rather than a consideration of specifics.

Published by Cambridge University Press

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Minóy – Edited by Joseph Nechvatal

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Categories: art, music

Minóy cover (image by Maya Eidolon)Published in 2014 by the Punctum Books imprint Dead Letter Office (home to “work that either has gone “nowhere” or will likely go nowhere”), this is a suitably appropriate paean to prolific sound artist and noise musician Stanley Keith Bowsza, better known as Minóy. A significant figure in the mail art and noise scene of the 1980s, Minóy produced over a hundred works before abandoning music in the early 1990s. Following his death in 2010, the collection of Minóy master tapes was entrusted to musician, past collaborator and long-time fan PBK (Phillip B. Klingler) who now curates the reissuing of these releases via Bandcamp.

Being a Dead Letter Office release, Minóy is not a long work and is comprised of essays almost entirely by editor Joseph Nechvatal, with the exception of one by Amber Sabri. Sabri’s piece is a prelude, in turn, to the visual component of Minóy, featuring a selection of images she took of Bowsza in the 2000s. This creates an interesting contrast, as Nechvatal’s writing is frequently dense and academic, while Sabri’s memoir is, by its nature, more personal and informal, and her images provide the only visual evidence within of the book’s subject.

Nechvatal kicks things off with the gloriously verbose title that is The Saturated Superimposed Agency of Minóy, which provides a thorough biography of Minóy and his work, before descending into considerably more philosophical territory. He draws attention to the echoes of La Monte Young in Minóy’s use of length as a compositional technique, arguing that the extended length allows deep subjective perceptions of the present moment to come to consciousness, thereby offering “a sonically ontological vision of the world as superimposition, one that shows us in place inside of a saturated world.” This idea of noise in general and Minóy’s in particular as a queer-like force that acts in resistance to conformity and mundanity, is one that permeates Nechvatal’s writing here. He doesn’t employ the lexicon of queer theory, though, using instead his own language of hypernoise theory, often referring to the ability of Minóy’s music to create an interplay of the human and the nonhuman.

Nechvatal concludes The Saturated Superimposed Agency of Minóy with an addendum in which he provides reviews of a mere eight of Minóy’s works, culled from a variety of sources and writers, principally Sound Choice but also Lowlife and Option magazines. For those unfamiliar with Minóy’s output, these give a sense of the soundworlds he was creating, and more importantly, how they were perceived by his contemporaries.

Image from Minóy as Haint as King Lear by Maya Eidolon

In Whatever Happened to the Man Named Minóy? Sabri writes a memoir of the man she knew, not as Minóy but as My Life as A Haint. By becoming a haint, a term used in the vernacular of the southern United States to refer to a ghost, apparition or lost soul, Bowsza drew a line under the Minóy that had obsessively created music for a decade and instead, now largely bed-ridden with physical and mental illness, turned to digital art as a form of expression. There’s something in the use of the word haint that evokes Mishima’s description of slipping through life as a ghost, sitting on the outside and divorced from convention. This is evidenced in Bowsza’s work as both Minóy and as Haint, and his personal life, in which he was divorced from confines both societal and temporal, with persistent agoraphobia and a tendency to sleep little and work long (sometimes staying awake for days on end in manic marathons of creativity).

Sabri’s photo essay, credited to her glorious pseudonym Maya Eidolon and created in collaboration with Bowsza and his partner Stuart Hass, is tortuously called Minóy as Haint as King Lear and shows Minóy/Haint as Shakespeare’s titular character in 60 black and white images, presented two to a page. Framed horizontally and largely with only head and shoulders showing, the images convey a sense of psychotic ferocity, with Bowsza moving in and out of great washes of long-shutter speed blur, abstracting into clouds of movement until briefly emerging again, as if from water, with recognisable, anguished features. While the images convey in strict representational terms of sign and signifier what one would expect the whirl psychosis to look like given form, there are other questions here, concerned primarily with identity and its loss. Sabri’s title conveys this with its cast of three characters, and within these images the trinity of Minóy, Haint and Lear all appear to be asking Lear’s own question: “Does any here know me? This is not Lear. Does Lear walk thus? Speak thus? Where are his eyes? Either his notion weakens, or his discernings are lethargied – Sleeping or waking? Ha! Sure ’tis not so! Who is it that can tell me who I am?” Nechvatal’s response to Sabri’s images makes similar observations, arguing that rather than seeing Bowsza’s performance for the camera as “a descent into the thick eerie nonhuman,” it is instead an illustration of “a very specific way of living mad in the intensified flow of superimposed becoming” before tying the ferocity of the images back to the musical leitmotifs of Minóy: “we can almost hear in these images his Lear-like scream into an unbounded white noise.”

Image from Minóy as Haint as King Lear by Maya Eidolon

As befits Minóy’s elongated musical forms, Nechvatal continues his own musing on Minóy with an addendum, The Obscurity of Minóy, which, it transpires, is but the first of several afterwords. Like the never-ending ending to the cinematic incarnation of Return of the King, this continues with the amusingly-acknowledged After After Words of The Aesthetics of an Obscure Monster Sacré and the After After After Words of Hyper Noise Aesthetics. Indeed, these after (after after) words from Nechvatal take up more space than his main contribution, allowing him to take flight with his philosophical notions of noise.

Now we must turn to the de rigueur justification for reviewing a book on a noise musician on a site ostensibly concerned with occult titles. While there is little in Minóy’s themes, both musical and titular, that suggest the magickal or the mystical, it is the response to this music that offers almost inevitably an interpretation arcane and anagogic. PBK’s documented enthusiasm for Minóy’s work after first hearing it has something of the religious and ecstatic about it, memorialised here with his description of it as “dream-like, nightmare-like, but also sometimes spiritual.” Similarly, Nechvatal’s use of philosophical and theoretical models inevitably leads to language that is redolent of the exploration of the unconscious and the internal, of intersections betwixt the mundane and the mystical. Like PBK’s description of Minóy’s music as both nightmarish and spiritual, Nechvatal frequently invokes the figure of the monstre sacré, using it a description of Minóy himself, and often of noise music in general.

Image from Minóy as Haint as King Lear by Maya Eidolon

If there is a voice that’s missed here it’s that of PBK, whose recently adopted role of Minóy archivist and legacy documenter has made him a significant player in the current revival of interest in his oeuvre. While PBK is heard here and there, variously quoted and paraphrased in Nechvatal’s pieces, there is nothing of whole cloth by him here, which seems a shame.

A similarly-titled album was released to coincide with the Minóy book, featuring nine compositions from between 1985 and 1993. Drawn from recently discovered archival material, the selection was made by Nechvatal, in collaboration with PBK, with the latter remastering the tracks. Given the long-form nature of much of Minóy’s work, PBK and Nechvatal had the difficult task of finding complete works that were varied enough and short enough to fits on a single CD and still be representative of his music. The CD version of Minóy is still available at time of writing but a fittingly limited edition cassette run is sold out.

Published by Dead Letter Office/Punctum Books

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The Hidden Adept & the Inward Vision – R.J. Stewart

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Categories: esotericism

The Hidden Adept & the Inward Vision coverThe title of this book by R.J. Stewart doesn’t give much away with regard to its contents, so it is the verbose subtitle that we have to rely on to find that it tells the “story of Ronald Heaver, Polly Wood and the Sanctuary of Avalon.” Admittedly, that’s only slightly more informative unless you know who Ronald Heaver and Polly Wood were. What is presented here is intended to fill in that knowledge gap, providing a history of Heaver and Wood and also presenting a few bits from Heaver himself as an appendix half the book.

Before getting into the content of The Hidden Adept & the Inward Vision, one is struck by the formatting, which does not do the work any favours, being poorly presented and thereby creating issues in accessibility and comprehension. All text is typeset in fully-justified paragraphs of an incongruously generic and modern sans-serif that, as is characteristic of such a face, doesn’t aide readability. Subheadings are in a bolded variation of the same sans-serif and buttressed above and below not with considered spacing but by full paragraph returns, while titles are also presented in the same face and point size, but in uppercase (except for instances where they’ve been mistakenly left lowercase). The result, as one would expect, is an intimidating and impenetrable sameness, with zero hierarchy, and no anchors for the eye to latch on to. Indeed, one of the only instances of difference breaking up the homogeneity is when the line spacing of the body copy suddenly jumps or shrinks, sometimes within the same chapter.

Spread with larger leading

This dire formatting, along with the very humble and pink-hued cover, would appear to be the result of The Hidden Adept & the Inward Vision being effectively self-published by Stewart’s own imprint, with none of the checks and balances, or design flair, that one would expect from a dedicated publishing house. Unfortunately, this lack of editorial control in the formatting is paralleled in the content itself, which initially feels aimless and all over the place, lacking a clear narrative or structure. The start is notably hesitant and piecemeal, without any simple introduction that would give the reader and idea about who Heaver was and why he might be important. Even when Stewart gives a breakdown of the major stages of Heaver’s life, and a numbered listing of his inner themes, this hidden adept seems fittingly illusive, like you’ve joined a conversation halfway through. In addition, this use of numbered paragraphs, a device that Stewart employs several times, helps only make the book feel disjointed, when incorporating the information into coherent sentences and paragraphs would have assisted in flow and attendant comprehension.

The erratic quality of the formatting and editing perhaps betrays the very desultory nature of the book’s content, with Stewart drawing on but a few personal encounters with Heaver and general summary of the facts for the first 52 pages and otherwise relying on documents written by Heaver for much of the remaining pages. These are drawn from a variety of sources including the archives of the Findhorn Foundation and rather than be summarised within the body or presented at the rear as appendices, they form entire chapters, uniformly formatted like Stewart’s own content, so it can be hard to tell at a glance where one starts and the other finishes; save for the clue that Heaver’s writing often has paragraphs unnecessarily bulleted with dashes. In all, this adds to a disjointed experience where the reader struggles to make sense of what is presented, adrift in a miasma of spasmodic content and minimal formatting.

Spread with smaller leading

When you do wrestle some sense from the combination of Stewart’s narrative and Heaver’s own writing, what emerges is the image of a man just a tinsy bit caught in a slip of ever-so-slightly self-aggrandising myth: a pilot in the Great War (taking his first solo flight after just over three hours of instruction, naturally. Woof!), later shot down in a dogfight with Manfred von Richtofen’s flying circus (though mercifully, there’s no claim that it was by the baron himself), and then, as an older gentlemen, someone with the ear of the highest echelons of government both military and diplomatic. He was suddenly paralysed a decade after the Great War, just as a newspaper described the General Strike as a paralysis that swept over the country. There’s no mention of how the headlines when the strike ended correlated with Heaver’s then physical condition, perhaps because ‘Strike ends but country inexplicably still paralysed and feeling a bit cranky but would love a cuppa and bacon sarnie, thanks Polly’ wouldn’t have made much sense. This idea of a grand mission permeates Heaver’s story, with the divinely-ordained fate of England intertwined with his as if he were some wounded Fisher King awaiting his inevitable healing (since despite being told by Sir Edward Farquhar Buzzard, future Physician-in-Ordinary to King George V, that he would never walk again, well, he sure showed ‘em. Doctors eh? What do they know?).

As the invocation of the Fisher King suggests, there are streams of Arthurian and Arimathean imagery that run through the Heaver story, including its very own grail-like quest with trips to Palestine and much deeds of derring-do. The object in question, the Thaumaturgal, was a jewel apparently handed down in a line of descent that included Melchizedek, John the Baptist, Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, and ultimately, Heaver, who travelled to Jerusalem and buried it in the Garden Tomb, a site favoured by some Protestants as the burial place of Jesus; only to have it make its way back to England, irony of ironies, after being discovered by the tomb’s caretaker whilst doing some cleaning. Heaver attached great significance to his placing of the Thaumaturgal at the Garden Tomb, and its subsequent perambulations, seeing it as an event foretold in Apocalyptic literature as the binding of Apollyon. All very exciting if suppositious stuff that with a little more coherent narrative could have turned into the kind of dashing occult memoir, dancing on the intersection between fact and fiction, worthy of psychic-detective era Andrew Collins or Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh.

Sidereal birth chart of Ronald Heaver

Other than these adventures, and aside from a brief mention of Heaver’s loose connection with the free energy device of Karl Schappeller (for bonus fortean points), The Hidden Adept & the Inward Vision largely concerns itself with various figures connected with Heaver and the general mythos surrounding Glastonbury as a spiritual locus. The latter concerns itself principally with the Arimathean aspect of the site, with Heaver’s mystically inclined Protestantism and British Israelitism finding simpatico with the claims of Glastonbury as the home to a pre-Rome incarnation of Christianity. As part of this, there’s a relaying of the minutiae of a feud between Heaver and Wellesley Tudor Pole (another Glastonbury spiritualist and grail-seeker), with the two cast as Protestant and Catholic sides in a millennium-old struggle over the location. This consideration of the Glastonbury ‘scene’ is also shored up with a full chapter biography of yet another figure, Dr. John Arthur Goodchild, someone whose at best minimal association with Heaver makes this section feel like a standalone essay.

The final section of note fulfils a promise made on the cover with an exploration of the Glastonbury Zodiac popularised by Katherine Maltwood, and Heaver’s connection to it, or opinion about it. This takes the form of a lengthy essay by Stewart originally published in 2008 and here revised and expanded to create its own distinct part of The Hidden Adept & the Inward Vision. The connection with Heaver rest on a small leaflet that he wrote on the subject, which Stewart quotes and dissects, paragraph by paragraph, stretching the material as far as it can go. Stewart uses this opportunity for a fairly comprehensive survey of the idea of the Glastonbury Zodiac, emphasising the mystic over the material, and making it something that must ultimately be experienced on the ground and within the place, rather than from a distance or, in the case of studying aerial photos, from above. The pamphlet by Heaver is by no means a substantial or profound piece of writing but Stewart tries to make it so by claiming that it was written using the ‘Language of the Initiates,’ where everything, no matter how mundane, is conveniently laden with import. Even antiquated and admittedly false ideas, like Somerset being given its name by Sumerian astronomer-architects five thousand years ago, are juggled to fit into some vague ancient truth that doesn’t need to be historically true because some other old weirdos had vaguely similar ideas at some point.

Things conclude with a description by Stewart of how he continues working in the spirit of Heaver and Wood, as well as an appendix of astrological charts for Heaver (himself a sidereal astrologer) and a selection of various images, some lower-res than others, related to Heaver directly and not-so-directly.

Image appendix with a drawing sketched by Fredrick Bligh Bond

The Hidden Adept & the Inward Vision has the beginnings of what could have been an interesting book had more attention been paid to it. Those instances in which Stewart strays from the meagre information about Heaver into broader discussions of the various mystics of Glastonbury hints at a book that, if it focused on that, could have been more cohesive, less directionless, and less hamstrung by the need to apotheosise his mentor. And it is allusions to Heaver as Stewart’s mentor that suggest another missed opportunity, such as when he tantalisingly mentions how direct statements from Heaver influenced not only his spiritual development but his significant trilogy of tellurian-faery books: The Underworld Initiation, Earth Light and Power Within the Land. There’s no explanation about what these statements were and how they impacted the material, resulting in perhaps what could be uncharitably read as an inordinate claim to spiritual descent. Despite enjoying Stewart’s other books for several decades, The Hidden Adept & the Inward Vision is disappointing and unsatisfying, arguably because it lacks the very clarity of his other works.

Published by R.J. Stewart Books

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Minerva Britanna – Henry Peacham

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Categories: alchemy, art, esotericism

Minerva Britanna coverIf you’re wondering what Henry Peacham’s Minerva Britanna is all about, a clue may, or may not, be found in the subtitle which describes it as “A Garden of Heroical Devices, Furnished and Adorned with Emblems and Impressas of Sundry Natures.” Minerva Britanna belongs to a category known as the emblem book in which allegorical illustrations (pictura) sit alongside a motto, usually in Latin (superscriptio), and an explanatory text ranging from a few lines of verse to pages of prose (subscriptio), creating complex patterns of often didactic signi?cation. The first emblem book, the sixteenth century Emblemata, first of its name, by Andrea Alciato, created a popular template and was followed by a raft of similar works over the following century, with Michael Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens being perhaps the most well-known of them. Peacham’s emblem book, published in 1612, 81 years after Alciato’s Emblemata, is reproduced in its entirety here, with little comment other than a several page introduction by Josephine McCarthy.

Peacham, in addition to being a draughtsman, player of tennis and falconer, could be described using the Artistotelian term graphice. Defined by Peacham himself in his Gentleman’s Exercise as someone who specialised in the “use of the pen in writing faire, drawing, painting, and the like,” it marked him as someone admirably able to execute both the written and illustrated aspects of Minerva Britanna. Consisting of 204 emblems, Minerva Britanna was an expansion on two earlier attempts at creating emblem books, one for King James and one for his son, both based on the king’s 1603 treatise on government Basilicon Doron. Though neither book was finished, 68 of the Basilicon Doron emblems found new life in the pages of Minerva Britanna.

Minerva Britanna emblems

McCarthy argues that whilst Minerva Britanna contains some elements of a Neoplatonist-type ascent, in which the soul aspires towards union with the ineffable, it is principally a text of faery magic, mixed with Elizabethan codes, Hermetic wisdom and kingly advice. For McCarthy, it is a book concerned with sacred kingship and its responsibilities, of the land and the sacred female power within it, something made clear with the title’s invocation of the goddesses Minerva and Britannia, matrons of wisdom and the land respectively. It is McCarthy’s contention that nineteenth century occultists, who have had an enduring influence on contemporary occultism, removed magic from the land, enclosing it in vaults and temples, and that the material in Minerva Britanna reflects a vision of magic truer to what was once common practice, one considerably more connected to the worlds of faery and the underworld. By using Minerva Britanna, practitioners are able to connect with this archaic strain of magic again, becoming reacquainted with the wildness, playfulness, puzzles and the shadow of the Faery Queene. Unfortunately, McCarthy doesn’t give any specific examples of emblems that may reflect this stream of faery magic or support her contention that Peacham was an initiate or at least a follower of its mysteries.

While this edition of Minerva Britanna is not presented as practical and complete workbook, McCarthy briefly offers several ways in which people can utilise Peacham’s emblems in magic. She suggests that the images can be used as a divination deck, divided into three main magical themes that facilitate connections with the sacred land, the faery realm and underworld prophecy. Following the book’s motto of Mente Videbor (‘by the mind I shall be seen’), McCarthy also describes using the emblems as persistent visual aids that then impinge on the subconscious in dreams or unexpected moments, sparking cathartic moments of recognition and realisation.

Minerva Britanna Mente Videbor

Although there are 204 emblems in Minerva Britanna they are by no means the sole creation of Peacham, denoting the derivative nature of the English strand of the emblem tradition as a whole. Eighty-four of the images draw from the works of such authors as Alciati himself, Theodore de Bèze, Joachim Camerarius, Camillo Camilli, Luca Contile, Paulo Giovio, Claude Paradin, Guillaume de La Perrière, Nikolaus Reusner, Cesare Ripa, Girolamo Ruscelli, Jacobus Typotius and Geoffrey Whitney, with fifteen based on Gerard de Jode’s engravings in Laurens van Haecht Goidtsenhoven’s  Mikrokosmos = Parvvs mvndvs from 1579. Unlike de Jode’s fine engravings, Pencham’s emblems were rendered as woodcuts (following composition cues from Camerarius, Camilli, Ruscelli and Typotius), substantially removing the subtlety found in the images of Mikrokosmos, but adding a simplicity and immediacy.

Minerva Britanna emblems

Lest this seem like an accusation of plagiarism as we understand it today, Peacham acknowledges his debt to his antecedents in his introduction, telling the reader that he has “imitated the best approved Authors in this kind: as Alciat, Sambucus, Iunius, Reusneru, and others…”. Just as translation was seen as potentially creating a new work (and Peacham free translated Goidtsenhoven’s text for the emblems that draw from Mikrokosmos), Peacham was adhering to Renaissance ideals of imitation which were divided, in ascending order of worth, into sequi (‘following’), imitari (‘imitating’) and aemulari (‘emulating’). While sequi more closely mirrors our definition of plagiarism, the aemulari of Peacham aims to not only follow the original but to transform and surpass it. For an in-depth discussion of this theme, see Mason Tung’s From Theory to Practice: A Study of the Theoretical Bases of Peacham’s Emblematic Art (1997).

Minerva Britanna emblems

The imagery in Peacham’s emblems is as diverse as his inspirations, ornately framed and usually staged within the same seemingly eternal landscape found in similar alchemical and hermetic illustrations. The occupants of these archetypal vistas are often animals or human figures, though in others, heraldic elements come to the fore and weapons, armour, scrolls, crests and disembodied limbs float without context in the air. As one would expect, the book’s cast of characters is largely drawn from classical mythology and history, with Peacham acknowledging as his sources the Greek Anthology, the works of Horace, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Pliny’s Natural History and Aesop’s Fables. There are also nods to figures contemporary with Peacham and a few moments that can be interpreted as being indebted to Edmund Spenser’s conception of fairyland in The Faerie Queene; such as the Shadie Wood of Una replicated in the Nulli penetrabilis emblem, with its “uncouth pathes, and hidden waies unknown… by banks of Acheron.” Spenser’s work has much of the emblem about it with its layers of allegory and rhetoric, as well as the poet’s ability to succinctly describe scenes and characters in a comparable manner. Despite this minor intersection between Peacham and Spenser, and other than the Arcadian gloss that is sometimes given to visions of the fae, there is little amongst the imagery of Minerva Britanna that seems obviously faery.

The subscriptio that follow each picture, consistently presented as two verses ending in a couplet, creates a verbal interplay with the preceding iconic elements. Whether the interplay is integrative or diversive, the two elements are intended to work as one, strengthening each other, with the ‘moral’ then being drawn in the final couplet or lines, like a punchline or the last line of a proto-meme.

Minerva Britanna dedication

It is worth noting that Minerva Britanna is in the public domain and several complete, high resolution scans are available on archive.org. While McCarthy’s introduction makes for interesting reading, its brevity does not make it indispensable, and so the real value of this edition is for those who want printed versions of the work, rather than a PDF. The emblems here have been digitally restored for reprinting by Michael Sheppard who performs an admirable job, removing the background texture of the original manuscript but leaving the lines clear and sharp, and unmarred by too much contrast. This edition of Minerva Britanna mirrors the original’s dedication to King James’ son Henry, the Prince of Wales, with a dedication to the current holder of that title who is described as “HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, King in Waiting, and beloved of the Faery Queene.”

Published by Quareia Publishing

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Left-Handed Blows: Writing on Sound 1993-2009 – Bruce Russell

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Categories: hermeticism, music

Left-Handed Blows coverThe copy of Left-Handed Blows that sits before this reviewer has an interesting provenance, having been withdrawn from the library of a tertiary institution I used to work at. Quite who there would have ordered a book by the Dead C.’s Bruce Russell is hard to fathom, as the music department at this institution, both teaching staff and students, could hardly be said to have adventurous tastes. And the pristine, un-issued state of this book suggests that any optimism of usage by whoever ordered or requested it was severely misplaced, and it held no interest for a demographic for whom Sgt. Pepper’s was probably a bit too weird.

Consisting of material on sound and its role in culture written over sixteen years, Left-Handed Blows compiles essays, liner notes, catalogue contributions, as well as most of the previously published content of the Russell-edited Logopandocy: The Journal of Vain Erudition, published by Ekskubalauron Press. Anyone familiar with Russell’s work will not be surprised to see a collection such as this reviewed amongst our usual selection of occult books, as his work has always had a stream of esotericism, qabalah and Hermeticism running through it, right down to the choice of Corpus Hermeticum as a record label name. And it is musings along these themes that provide the most interesting readings amongst these pages.

Left-Handed Blows title page

Russell begins with a dense and lengthy essay that bears the same title as this book, establishing theory and methodology and drawing on a variety of principally Marxist figures such as Guy Debord and György Lukács to discuss the idea of improvisation and its resulting improvised sound work (AKA noise) as not only a critique of music, but a form that perpetually critiques its own existence by its very method of creation. This theoretical investigation is intended by Russell to provide a prism through which the subsequent writings are viewed, though he warns the reader against expecting any coherent theory, choosing instead to refer to the various bits of content as ‘gilded splinters.’

As is perhaps typical of their origin in Logopandocy, some of the contributions here have a distinctly zine-like feel to them, such as the free noise manifesto What is free? from 1994, a ten point (with multiple subpoints) declaration originally published in the legendary Bananafish and then reprinted in Logopandocy. Another list is found in Contra-Fludd/contra-Kepler, presenting ten theses extolling the disharmony of the spheres, where noise and improvisation is set in opposition to the mechanistic vision of the music of the spheres, freeing humanity to make music no longer celestial but human. Adorably, what are brief, usually one-sentence statements actually run to four pages due to the extensive footnotes that rise towards these ten theses like a threatening tide of small point-size information; providing a thorough background to the references to Pythagoras, Robert Fludd, Johannes Kepler and the like. Finally, another numbered list is found in Russell’s notes towards an epistemology of tape music, Time under the rule of the commodity, which concludes by stating that by foregrounding the medium and its method of operation, tape music makes destruction and human choice central to art.

Left-Handed Blows footnotes

Three of the contributions here take the form of interviews or conversations, allowing for a consideration of many of the themes featured elsewhere in these pages but in an informal and, well, conversational manner. The more conventional of these is an interview by Marco Fusinato for Axe magazine in which Russell describes performance process in practical terms, detailing his different approaches in the Dead C. and A Handful of Dust, as well as providing information about the Lyttelton circle of musicians and his labels Xpressway and Corpus Hermeticum. It is the most rock musician-like interview here, and the other two focus more acutely on the theoretical. In a dialogue with Alastair Galbraith, a frequent collaborator with Russel as one half of A Handful of Dust, the two muse on improvisation and its virtues, with Galbraith approaching the metaphysical by describing how randomness opens realms within which the very randomness creates its own melodies, almost as a sentient spirit operating on those who are open to its influence. Improvisation, structure and randomness is also considered in a 1993 conversation with Russell led by Danny Butt, now Associate Director (Research) at Victoria College of the Arts but also a one-time member of Flies Inside The Sun and one half of Tanaka-Nixon Meeting with Michael Morley. Here the conversation turns to Russell’s interest in neo-Platonism, Hermeticism and the philosophia naturalis of Fludd and others, not as a conscious metaphysical justification for, as he describes it, “this kind of din,” but as an unintended intersection betwixt musical praxis and philosophical truths. Russell reveals a love and sympathy for the worldviews professed by these archaic predecessors, ones which fell quickly away with the emergence of the materialistic materialism of Cartesian thought and the various aspects of Newtonianism that inform the modern scientific paradigm. While he doesn’t subscribe to these older ideas in their entirety, he laments the now lost holistic principles and attendant concepts of the macrocosm and microcosm, seeking to develop a dialogue between the worlds of then and now.

In To think is to speculate with images, Russell details another intersection of his praxis with Hermeticism in a discussion of the search for a reformed philosophical language that would replicate the universal and presumably divine language spoken in Eden before the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel. For Russell, the way in which Giordano Bruno, and subsequently Fludd, designated post-Babel languages as less capable of “communicating a profound level of intersubjective meaning than images” mirrors his belief in improvisation. The use of improvisation, he argues, is closer to real, direct communication, whereas the rules of academic musical tradition create impediments to this lingua adamic-like flow between musician and listener with the use of premeditation and intellectual mediation.

Left-Handed Blows photography by Bruce Russell

Not all the writings here directly concern Russell’s own music, and there are liner notes for several releases by Ralf Wehowsky as well as considerations of two of Russell’s fellow New Zealanders: Douglas Lilburn and Campbell Kneale of Birchville Cat Motel. In a piece I remember reading in The Wire in 2005, Russell reviews the then freshly-released complete electronic works of Lilburn, arguably New Zealand’s greatest composer, and someone he memorably describes as wearing an acrylic sweater and looking like his uncle. Russell’s discussion of Kneale, meanwhile, is from the liner notes to the Birchville Cat Motel album Gunpowder Temple of Heaven, whose hallucinatory slabs of noise are given a religious analogue: the massive drones of metal pipe organs, the cavernous acoustics of cathedrals, the walls of Jericho succumbing to Joshua’s barrage of sounding trumpet.

The writings in Left-Handed Blows are never long, providing easily digested little excursion into particular areas of Russell’s interest, but with each running to usually three pages or more, they are always complete and fully realised. Russell’s ability to draw from Marxist philosophy, various strands of occultism, as well as music both conventional and atypical provides the collection with diverse frames of reference that makes you feel smarter just for reading it.

Left-Handed Blows spread

Funded by Creative New Zealand and supported by the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, Left-Handed Blows was designed by Warren Olds and sub-edited by Gwynneth Porter. It is bound in a rich brown card with full-page French flaps, and the title and author foiled in gold on both the front and rear covers. Double-sided end-papers feature full page black and white photographs by Russell, providing the book’s only visual accompaniment.

Published by Clouds


The soundtrack for this review is The Dead C: Vain, Erudite and Stupid: Selected Works 1987?-?2005  

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The Fenris Wolf 9 – Edited by Vanessa Sinclair & Carl Abrahamsson

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Categories: art, chaos, esotericism, hermeticism

The Fenris Wolf 9 coverAdorned with stunning, numinous cover art by Val Denham, this is the latest issue of Carl Abrahamsson’s irregularly published esoteric journal and contains material from the 2016 Psychoanalysis, Art & the Occult conference held at the Candid Arts Centre in London. The Fenris Wolf has come a long way from its first issues, as evidenced by a much-loved copy of the third volume from 1993 in the shelves at Scriptus Recensera: its blue perfect-bound spine now sun-faded to a yellowy grey, pages printed with somewhat erratic toner integrity, and images reproduced with very noticeable halftone dots, as was the style of the time.

As one would expect given the title of the conference, this issue of The Fenris Wolf has a particular focus on the intersection between psychoanalysis and the occult, with art being often the child thereof. Visual artist and writer, Katelan Foisy, kicks things off with an invocation to the spirits and history of the host city, documenting everything in its history, starting with the Roman founding of Londinium, although ending abruptly in the 1960s, as if anything that happened after Swinging London didn’t amount to much. The first essay, Art as Alchemy, proper brings art to the fore with folk musician Sharron Kraus discussing the cliché of the tortured artist, and questioning whether there’s any truth to that conceit. One such alchemical artist is John Balance of Coil, who is considered here by Graham Duff, not for his musical works but rather his considerably lesser known paintings and drawings. This is an affectionate and generous survey of Balance’s, how do you say, naïve oeuvre, with Duff importing a lot of intent and meaning to what in many cases are doodles of, well, doodles.

The Fenris Wolf 9 spread with work by John Balance

Given the subject matter, two names that spring up repeatedly within the pages of this volume are Sigmund Freud and Austin Osman Spare, with Carl Jung and David Bowie along for the de rigueur ride. The contrast between the dogmatically pragmatic Freud and the mystical Jung is something mentioned across contributions, with Gary Lachman asking in title and body, Was Freud Afraid of the Occult, and Steven Reisner covering similar ground in On the Dance of the Occult and Unconscious in Freud. Meanwhile, in matters of the spiritual and artistic, Spare is a natural touchstone for Balance in Duff’s piece on him, and he can also be found name-checked throughout this volume. The largest consideration of AOS, though, comes from Robert Ansell of Fulgur Press in Androgyny, Biology and Latent Memory, in which he conversationally talks of themes of the androgyne within Spare’s works, drawing from individual pieces, as well as most notably, The Focus of Life.

The Fenris Wolf 9 spread with work by Austin Osman Spare

The line-up of the Psychoanalysis, Art & the Occult conference, as befits its title, drew on artists, occultists and psychologists; with some lucky presenters like editor Vanessa Sinclair going for the trifecta. Perhaps the most, how you say, clinical account comes from Ingo Lambrecht whose Wairua: Following Shamanic Contours hits closest to this reviewer’s geographical location. Lambrecht discusses the use of Te Whare Tapa Wha as a M?ori model for mental health in which the wharenui of the title is comprised of four supporting cornerstones: tinana (physical), hinengaro (mental), wh?nau (family) and wairua (spirit). Wairua is defined here as being an abyss of unmanifested potential comparable to the Ain Soph in Kabbalah, the notion of Zen, and the Via Negativa of Meister Eckhart. Lambrecht shows how a model such as Te Whare Tapa Wha can sit alongside a more materialist psychological one, allowing for an acknowledgement of the sacred and unheimlich. It is worth noting that this is not the only consideration of things from an Aotearoa perspective and artist Charlotte Rodgers in her Stripped to the Core suggests that growing up in a then-isolated New Zealand gave her a magickal edge of sorts.

The Fenris Wolf 9 spread

The more satisfying contributions in The Fenris Wolf 9 are less the considerations of psychology and psychoanalysis and rather those that focus on art and how that intersects with the latter. This is particularly so in instances where artists consider their own work. In a far too brief piece, ending just as you expect it to go further, Ken Henson discusses what as he refers to as the American Occult Revival in his work, connecting his own processes with nineteenth century mesmerism and spiritualism; though it is largely only a singular piece of work, Miss Maude Fealy as Hekate, that he considers in these far too brief pages. In her Proclaim Present Time Over, Val Denham describes how dreams influence her life and work, both visual and aural, presenting the process, as intimated by the William Burroughs and Brion Gysin inspired title, as a magickal act that draws creativity from the subconscious. This is something also explored by Katelan Foisy and Vanessa Sinclair, who are similarly indebted to Burroughs and Gysin and in particular the use of techniques, such as cut-ups, that tap into magickal creativity by disrupting linear time and narrative. Though it is hard to always tell for sure which of the two collaborators are speaking, Sinclair appears to begin first, giving a thorough discussion of the use of cut-ups, emphasising a psychological paradigm concerned with memory as befits her doctorate in psychology, while Foisy takes a more biographical route, describing a series of events and synchronicities concerning the channelling of Burroughs through creative outputs.

The Fenris Wolf 9 spread with work by Malcolm McNeill

This combination of magickal techniques that incorporate the horological and oneiric makes a claim for the preeminent experiential expression of the occult within these pages, drawing on a heady mix of influences from Burroughs, Gysin and Spare. This makes The Fenris Wolf 9 feel very, well, Fenris Wolf, pulling on the same TOPY, chaos magick, Beats and counter cultural strings that can be seen in the journal’s earlier issues. In addition to the examples provided by Sinclair and Foisy, the use of cut-ups reoccur in Fred Yee’s self-evidently-titled Cut-up as Egregore, Oracle and Flirtation Device, in which he namechecks Sinclair and Foisy as teachers and inspiration, reiterating many of their points and techniques. Similarly, the use of dreams already explored by Denham is appraised again by Derek M Elmore, in what is inevitably another consideration of Spare with Dreams and the Neither-Neither. Here, Elmore looks at the themes of love, sex, obsession, unconscious, dreams and death, comparing Spare’s conceptions of them with those in the published works of Freud.

The Fenris Wolf 9 spread

The ninth volume of The Fenris Wolf is a weighty tome at just under 250 pages, with type set in a small point size serif face, surrounded by large margins and a fairly generous footer. Predominantly text-based, in-body illustrations are limited to a few examples where appropriate, while a section of full page images provide examples of the work of Balance, Henson and Malcolm McNeill. Writing quality is overall high, with the dryness of some contributions (and the tiresome spectre of Freud) being offset by the more interesting, chaos and Beats-flavoured ones.

Published by Trapart

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Witchcraft & Secret Societies of Rural England – Nigel Pennick

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Categories: folk, witchcraft, Tags:

Witchcraft & Secret Societies of Rural England coverSubtitled The Magic of Toadmen, Plough Witches, Mummers, and Bonesmen, this recent volume by Nigel Pennick is a new edition of a work previously released in 2011 with the lovely, but considerably more circumspect, title of In Field and Fen. Always the documenter of esoterically-tinged folk practices, Pennick is well-equipped to explore an area that has seen increased interest in recent years as occult practitioners search for evidence of archaic antecedents with just the right sulphurous whiff of dark glamour. The toadmen and bonesmen of the subtitle fit this brief particularly well, but to think there is a corresponding overemphasis on them within these pages does the book a disservice. Instead, as often with Pennick’s work (such as the recently reviewed Runic Lore and Legend: Wyrdstaves of Old Northumbria), there is an emphasis here on place and its spirit, and despite the broadness of the title’s reference to “Rural England,” the genii locorum are ones largely from a specific area of East England: Cambridgeshire.

Pennick defines this approach from the beginning, initiating it with an introduction in which he describes the 1968 demolition of a weather-board barn on a Cambridge street, removed to make way for the inexorable creep of urbanisation and disregard for anything not associated with Cambridge as a university town; despite the barn being several hundreds of years old and dating from a period when every aspect of the building was handcrafted by artisans. This ennui, this sense of loss and affection for the past, is something that permeates Witchcraft & Secret Societies of Rural England, not in an overwhelming, pedantic or self-righteous way, but as a guiding principle and modus operandi.

Witchcraft & Secret Societies of Rural England spread

The emphasis on the spirit of place and the rural world of yesteryear means that what occurs within these pages is a lot less magical and considerably less to do with specific witchcraft than the title would suggest. The first major section, for example, is a lengthy discussion of drovers and the fairs to which they would drive cattle, with Pennick giving a thorough history from a rather mundane, purely historical perspective. It is only at the end of this exhaustive section that this grounding comes into line with the promise of the book’s title and Pennick discusses the use of fraternal initiation and various ritual symbols amongst such groups of people. This is an admirable way to do it, providing complete context, rather than just jumping to the juicy occult bits.

Witchcraft & Secret Societies of Rural England spread

Though not as detailed as his information on drovers, Pennick does likewise with various other groups of tradespeople who developed their own esoterically-tinged secret societies: horsemen, gardeners, millers and shoemakers. Each of these shared certain similarities, including the idea of a word or words that provided the initiate with power and expertise in their field, with the Horsemen’s Word being the most famous. Another element often found amongst these societies is the esoteric use of a special bone, usually from a toad, which empowered the user (giving horsemen, for example, their control over horses) and the procurement of which facilitated their initiation into their trade’s secret society.

Pennick shows how the complex of symbols and associations built up around each of these trades spread beyond the rites and formulas practised secretly by these societies and into society as a whole. He documents events such as Plough Monday where ploughmen would participate in public activities of begging and disruption, dragging a plough in a riotous procession whilst dressed in costumes, faces painted piebald or red with ochre, led by a cross-dressed plough witch. In some situations, young men who had never participated in Plough Monday processions were designated as ‘colts,’ and would pull the plough as if they were horses, with a man with a whip driving these ponyboys on. This inversion of the world through performance and signifiers of alterity was extended into social activism, where the same techniques (guises, face painting, unruly processions and cross-dressing) were used to protest against harsh working conditions, insufficient wages and other injustices. The Rebecca Riots in 19th century Wales, for example, were in protest against exorbitant toll charges and saw tollgates attacked at night by gangs, often crossed-dressed as women, each led by a captain who was designated Rebecca, with the rioters considered her daughters.

Witchcraft & Secret Societies of Rural England spread with chapter title

In the later sections of Witchcraft & Secret Societies of Rural England things move on to areas of specific witchery as Pennick turns to the Nameless Arte, a term used to apply to East Anglian magic as practiced by the trade secret societies and by cunning men, witches, wise women and quacks. Here, Pennick documents some familiar witchy figures, such as Daddy Witch, Old Mother Redcap, Jabez Few, Cunning Murrell and, of course, the classic George Pickingill.

Save for brief diversions into the theme of the devil in various folk practices and an outline of magical tools, Witchcraft & Secret Societies of Rural England ends by once again returning to the concept of place. First, Pennick discusses geomancy and spirits within the land, before exploring the intersections in the land between magic, spirit and farming, where the harvest and its resulting straw was loaded with significance.

Witchcraft & Secret Societies of Rural England spread

Throughout, Pennick writes with the level of aptitude and confidence you would expect of someone who has been doing this as long as he has. Primary sources such as local histories and almanacs are often quoted and listed in body, though some of the more esoteric aspects, like ritual formulae and procedures, appear without citation and seem to be less in the public record. Despite his clear passion for his topic, Pennick presents his information is a largely dispassionate way, with the work coming across as one of history, rather than an exemplar of a personally-invested occult system seeking validation in folk traditions.

Text design and layout have been handled to the usual high Inner Traditions standard by Debbie Glogover and Priscilla Baker respectively, with the body rendered in the perpetually popular Garamond and twinned, as ever, with subheadings in Gill Sans. Titles, including that on the cover, are in Nathan Williams’ Heirloom Artcraft face, which has some lovely though unspecific hint of archaisms about it, with none of the typical distressing to suggest age, but with some delightful inverted horns on the serifs.

Published by Destiny Books

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The Shamanic Way of the Bee – Simon Buxton

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The Shamanic Way of the Bee cover Simon Buxton’s 2004 book The Shamanic Way of the Bee doesn’t do itself many favours coming out of the blocks, bearing the faintly ridiculous subtitle of Ancient Wisdom and Healing Practices of the Bee Masters and having a back cover blurb that injudiciously states that “bee shamanism may well be the most ancient and enigmatic branch of shamanism.” Putting aside images of little bee-shaped ascended masters, buzzing amiably around in darling striped robes and cassocks, The Shamanic Way of the Bee describes a form of what could be called shamanism in which honey plays a pivotal role as a curative and spiritual tool; and something to which an even deeper meaning is hinted at in the cover blurb when it describes magico-sexual ‘nektars’ that promote longevity and ecstasy – ooh, matron.

At its heart, this is a spiritual memoir, rather than a practical workbook, and what Buxton presents here comes entirely in the form of a biography from which any application must be gleaned by the reader themselves. It begins when, as a nine year old living in Austria, young Buxton was cured of a near-fatal bout of encephalitis by a neighbour; a, would you believe, former university professor who had lectured for nearly half a century and travelled to the farthest corners of the worlds, lived with the simple ethnics and learnt their mysterious ways. To reuse a catchphrase from a previous review, thrilling Boy’s Own stuff. Despite this convenient pedigree, Herr Professor, as the young Buxton called him, features little here, as the family moved on soon after the miraculous curing of their son, and eventually said son returned to England. Over a decade later, Buxton met another wise, old and well-travelled man, a beekeeper by the name of Bridge who provided the introduction to what occurs in this book.

Buxton describes how, after encountering Bridge the Bee Master by chance, he entered into an apprenticeship with him, being given the name Twig and introduced to what is described as the conveniently alliterative Path of Pollen. While the apprenticeship began with simple lessons drawing from the lives of bees and the hive, honey and mead, things evolved in complexity until Buxton underwent an initiatory incubation brought on by the venom of bee stings, creating visions in which he became a drone within a hive. This then led to encounters in the real world with the Bee Mistress and her six bee priestesses called Melissae, and ultimately to a discussion of the ten nektars they produce – based wholesale on the idea of the ten kalas from tantra, as popularised within this circle of occultdom by Uncle Kenneth. Then Buxton had to kill a deer by suffocating it with pollen – as you do.

If this all seems too amazing to be true, it is. As documented in reviews on Amazon.com and Goodreads by Ross Heaven (another Destiny/Inner Traditions author with a plethora of his own books on themes shamanic, and who apparently ghost wrote this for Buxton), The Shamanic Way of the Bee contains significant sections plagiarised from works by P.L Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins. While it would have been endearing to see a magical nanny practically perfect in every way pop up in the book’s scenes, it’s a lesser known work by Travers that provided Buxton with some of his apian wisdom. A student of Gurdjieff and an associate of George Russell, Travers had a passion for mythology which she expressed in articles for Parabola magazine,  and which were then collected as the book What the Bee Knows – Reflections on Myth Symbol and Story. Where Travers mentions listening to a radio reporter who was describing the ceremonies of an African tribe at the end of their lunar or solar year, Buxton turns this into a story he heard as a child, though remarkably his recall is perfect, repeating phrases word for word from her account. And it’s not just Buxton who cribs from What the Bee Knows  because he has Bridge apparently dipping into his own copy on the sly before dropping some knowledge, often phrase for phrase. His first lecture has a lengthy section that wholesale copies and pastes, with only very minor edits, a section from Travers on bee etymology and of the act of be(e)-ing, presenting her words as his own, even describing how his eyes bore into Buxton as he totally ripped her off and in her words intoned: “It is a matter, merely, of listening.”

Spread with text plagiarised from P.L Travers' What the Bee Knows

What is staggering about this is just how shameless it is, with Buxton copying Travers right down to her phrasing and punctuation, not even giving the appearance of paraphrasing. Of course, even paraphrasing would be problematic, as these drops of honeyed wisdom are meant to be coming from a wise Bee Master, who one would hope is not sitting there sneaking peeks at his well-thumbed copy of What the Bee Knows. Amusingly, Buxton ruminates on how remarkable it was just how much he could recall from Bridge’s lectures, a technique the learned Bee Master also possessed and had taught himself. Yes, quite remarkable.

Naturally, if you’re going to put the words of others into the mouth of your mysterious white shaman beekeeper, why stop at Travers, and indeed, secret bee shaman information apparently collected by Bridge on his great white professor expeditions to darkest Australia and South America can be found in standard ethnographic literature. In one case, Buxton mentions that Bridge worked with the Kayapo of the Amazon, appearing to quote the old beekeeper when he talks of Bep-kororoti, a powerful shaman “who was taken into the sky in a flash of lightning.” A little researching shows that this first-hand information is just extracted from Keeping of Stingless Bees by the Kayapo’ Indians of Brazil, a paper by Darrell A. Posey in a 1982 volume of the Journal of Ethnobiology, and the quote marks should be around the words of Posey, not the fictitious Bridge.

Spread with more text plagiarised from P.L Travers' What the Bee Knows

It’s quite fun to grab an excerpt from The Shamanic Way of the Bee, especially if it’s something apparently said directly by Bridge, and see where it came from. When Bridge sometime in the late 1980s told Buxton that “The history of Mead is as long, rich, and captivating as the beverage itself” he apparently had a time-travelling web browser open and was reading verbatim from a website in the year 2000. This is a website that, strangely enough, also has the words to a verse that according to Buxton, Bridge had just spontaneously spoken in celebration of mead while doing a lively jig; a verse which the website naturally credits to its author (Howell, Clerk to the Privy Council, in 1640), while Bridge and Buxton, of course, do not. For the record, this website, since changed but preserved in its 2000 state by archive.org’s WaybackMachine, is that of Sky River Brewing, whose history of mead proved popular and, in addition to having several paragraphs swiped by Buxton and his mead-toasting beekeeper, has been replicated in various states across the internet, usually by other meaderies who, unlike Buxton, often credit their source. Once again, the shamelessness and audacity here is staggering. While you can imagine Buxton feeling safe cribbing from a little-read book by Travers, it takes a certain level of brazen temerity, not to mention recklessness, to grab several paragraphs of some well-travelled web content, leave it largely unaltered and claim it as your own.

It’s all a little embarrassing for Inner Traditions who still market this book as a genuine account, with nary a nod to the plagiarism. Not to mention poor Professor Stuart Harrop of the University of Kent who provides a foreword, Ashé Journal who apparently awarded the title the 2005 Ashé Journal Book Award, and Tori Amos who sits atop the cover of the book testifying that after reading it, she felt she “had been initiated into the ancient feminine mystery of sacred sexuality.”

Even without this plagiarism, there’s much that sets off the ole bovine excrement detector within the pages of The Shamanic Way of the Bee; or outside too, if you count Buxton doing his Robson Green impression in the author photo on the back cover. Bridge and the eerily similar Herr Professor before him are both bog-standard wise old men tropes: enigmatic, venerable and well-travelled with a twinkle in their eye and a subtle hint of power, equal parts Dumbledore-Gandalf-Kenobi-Merlin-Miyagi and, of course, Don Juan Matus. Buxton, meanwhile, plays the part of the standard earnest but gormless initiate to a T, soaking up knowledge while gazing in wide-eyed, Castenada-style admiration. Even Buxton’s diminutive title of Twig recalls the youthful Arthur being called Wart as he is trained by Merlyn in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. Similarly, the Mellisae are the kind of thing you would expect from pellucid male wish-fulfilment fantasy, all remembered in exquisite, clinical, autopsy-like detail: there’s the raven-haired, dark-skinned Vivienne who is comically and without a trace of self-awareness (or self-preservation) referred to as “a true daughter of Egypt;” then there’s Devorah of the perfect proportions and full hips which are “emphasized by their strong, easy swing when she moved around the table.”

The Shamanic Way of the Bee somewhat trails off after a few more gruelling trials, bacchic rituals and cavorting with the Melissae, ending with the death of Bridge. Ultimately it doesn’t provide much insight into what this most ancient and enigmatic branch of shamanism features, other than bees are cool and there’s sexy bee priestesses out there happy to help young guys become, I don’t know, better beekeepers.

Spread with chapter title

The Shamanic Way of the Bee features a cover design by frequent Inner Traditions hand Cynthia Ryan Coad, with the title and a bee motif drop-shadowed in a banderole above a honeycomb pattern. The interior was typeset by Rachel J. Goldenberg with everything, both body and titles, in a single-weight Weiss serif face, giving the copy an ever-so-slightly more ornate feeling than would come from your usual choice of serif. The first page of each chapter reprises the honeycomb pattern seen on the cover as a slightly overwhelming background image, shot through with a feathered gradient behind some of the text for a smidgen more readability.

Published by Destiny Books

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The Cult of the Black Cube – Arthur Moros

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Categories: classical, esotericism, hellenic, Tags:

The Cult of the Black Cube coverA quick survey of Scriptus Recensera’s hallowed halls shows that Saturn has a certain degree of popularity within this here occult milieu, with our shelves bearing several books both by, and about, the Fraternitas Saturni, along with two Saturnian titles from Aeon Sophia Press, Moshe Idel’s Saturn’s Jews: On the Witches’ Sabbat and Sabbateanism and now this volume from Theion Publishing. In some ways, The Cult of the Black Cube takes things back to basics with a general overview of matters Saturnine, with an overview of various incarnations of what Dr. Arthur Moros broadly refers to as the Saturnine deity, followed by theory and a little practicum.

But first, after an introduction from Frater U.:.D.:., Moros begins with a personal anecdote, giving his life story, from being crippled and having his spine damaged in high school, to nascent explorations of academia, to a dramatic Roman-style necromantic invocation, and finally a dream encounter with a black creature of pulsing energy that led to a miraculous curing of all ills and the beginning of a journey along the path this book reveals. Given that the name of the good doctor is a pseudonym, and the biography is without significant markers of time or space (save for a reference to an unspecified Ivy League school), this account feels like it is caught in a slip of myth. This is then compounded with Theion Publishing reporting that Moros died soon after delivering this manuscript to them, his body found exotically “in the land of Kush” where he, like some Lovecraftian or Rider Haggard hero, “never afraid of adventure and risk, investigated ancient traces of the Saturnian Cultus. Contact had been lost for days until his body was found. The cause of death remains unknown.” Thrilling Boy’s Own stuff.

Full-page colour painting of the black cube by Erica Frevel

Moros begins his consideration of the various iterations of the Saturnine deity not, as one might expect, in ancient Greece, but in the later world of Medieval Islam, where the form is that of the spirit Zuhal; perhaps familiar as the planetary spirit Zazel from grimoires like Clavicula Salomonis; or an award-winning American erotic film from 1996, apparently – the more you know. For his depiction of Zuhal, Moros draws largely from the third to fourth century text Nabatean Agriculture (Kitab al-falaha al-nabatiya), credited to a writer named Qûtâmä, and translated into Arabic at the beginning of the tenth century by the polymath Ibn Wahshiyya. It’s worth noting that, for whatever reason, Moros presents Wahshiyya as the text’s author throughout, never once giving credence to, or mentioning, his longstanding identification as only its translator. Zuhal shares many of the characteristics common to classical depictions of Saturn: death, decay, the persistence of time, and most importantly from an aesthetic perspective, a range of appealing stygian symbols: black stone, black sand, black man. The content of Nabatean Agriculture flows neatly into that of The Picatrix and considerably lesser known texts like Kitab al-Ustuwwatas, which provide still further details to the Arab world’s vision of the Saturnine deity.

The Cult of the Black Cube spread

Following a fairly thorough sojourn in the Greek and Latin climes of Cronos and Saturn, Moros takes an easterly turn and heads to India, which he identifies as the only place that the Saturnine cult has “survived since ancient times.” Here, ?ani shares many of the characteristics of his classical and Arab counterparts, something that likely developed alongside the other elements of Jyotisha or Hindu astrology in the centuries after the arrival of Greek astrology in India with Alexander the Great. He is slow like the passage of the planet, and associated with the colour black, the metal iron and suitably piceous animals such as crows.

With this anthropological exploration out of the way, Moros turns theoretical with the book’s second section, Saturnine Gnosis, which includes an analysis and interpretation of the Saturnine deity and an outline of what constitutes the Saturnine Path. Moros begins this with a broad discussion of spiritual paths, in which he throws shade at occult teachers who claim to be able to teach you how to become a deity whilst physically incarnate (a living god, if you will), yet are strangely unable to direct their own lives… *zing.* Dismissive of attempts to reframe spirits and gods as archetypes or aspects of the self, Moros argues that the consistent appearance of the Saturnine deity within a variety of cultures is because they are real, an “actual deity (or planetary intelligence, or power) with which various cultures have made contact.” As for the reason for pursuing the Saturnine Path, Moros lightly touches on the ebony elephant in the room that is asking why anyone would want to interact with such a malign and negative deity, highlighting the antinomian element behind this act, acknowledging that in siding with the exiled, wounded and marginalised, one is backing a dark horse, “but that dark horse is definitely in the race.” Initiation into this Saturnine current has, according to Moros, two main rewards: access to the gnosis that flows from the Saturnine deity, and the ability to draw on the power and emanations of Saturn’s Black Cube to work magic.

The Cult of the Black Cube spread with images of Saturn

The practical side of this path is then laid out in the book’s third and final section, and follows some fairly familiar guidelines. The ritual space is what one would expect without even looking: it’s black, the ritual accoutrements include any of the symbols associated with the various iterations of the Saturnine deity, and the shrine is treated as a living thing that grows in power. Daily devotions play a role here, and the space, once established, should begin to aid the flow of Saturnian gnosis. Along with the devotional aspect, the example of ritual work includes a self-initiation, a rite for aide in oracular matters, rites using a black cube and chains respectively, and several rites to summon Saturn, based on the templates from The Picatrix and Nabatean Agriculture.

At 175 pages, The Cult of the Black Cube succeeds at what it is: a concise introduction to working with the Saturnine deity, providing enough mythology to give you a grounding in their character, and enough basic ritual elements to start devotional practice. Moros writes capably and confidently, free of error, and while there’s little in the way of in-text citing, it is clear where most information comes from, and these, both source texts and scholarly reflections, are referenced in an annotated bibliography at the rear.

The Cult of the Black Cube spread

Layout and typesetting in The Cult of the Black Cube is by Jessica Grote in a functional style, with body text in paragraphs of a fully-justified serif, subtitles in Fredrick Nader’s Amerika face, and titles (and the whole contents page, for some reason) in Casady & Greene’s middling script face CalligraphyFLF. Illustrations are largely limited to in-body images depicting the various incarnations of the Saturnine deity, with the exception of an evocative full-page colour painting of the black cube by Erica Frevel that acts as something of a prelude to what follows.

The Cult of the Black Cube comes in two editions, standard and auric, both printed on 115gsm wood-free high quality Lessebo Design paper, and several black and white illustrations throughout. The standard cloth hardcover edition is limited to 720 copies and is bound in blue-grey fine cloth, with a silver Saturn sigil debossed on the front, lettering in silver on the spine, and Surbalin moiré endpapers. The 52 hand-numbered copies of the sold out Auric Edition were fully hand-bound in Saturnine black leather, with a sigilised and embossed lead plate, individually consecrated to the deity, embedded on the front.

Published by Theion Publishing

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Infernal Geometry and the Left-Hand Path – Tony Chappell

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Infernal Geometry and the Left-Hand Path coverIn his recently-reviewed History of the Rune-Gild, Stephen Flowers tells how his interest in the Church of Satan was originally piqued by enigmatic references in their literature to the nine angles. This interest was then extended to the Temple of Set, which Flower joined, and whose founder, Michael Aquino, had originally written the Ceremony of the Nine Angles that was included in Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Rituals. Flowers would rise to become the grand master of the Temple of Set’s inner Order of the Trapezoid, and now, several decades later, both he and Aquino bookend this book from the current grand master of the Order of the Trapezoid, Toby Chappell, providing foreword and afterword respectively to a thorough exploration of what the subtitle refers to as “the magical system of the Nine Angles.”

As this initial cast of characters suggests, this is a book that considers ideas from the Church of Satan and the Temple of Set, but it goes beyond this to touch on the geometry of Pythagoras, runic symbolism, as well as the mysticism of the Germanic revival (such as that of Karl Maria Wiligut), and the weird literature of Howard Philip Lovecraft, Frank Belknap and related authors. Indeed, Lovecraft and his genre of cosmic horror looms large within these pages, with the Church of Satan’s Ceremony of the Nine Angles, which acts as a frequent reference throughout the book, being an invocation of the entities from his eldritch cosmology.

These nine angles are represented visually here by an isosceles trapezoid within which sits an slightly irregular inverted pentagram, its two uppermost points touching the top corners of the trapezoid, and its horizontal line sitting just above the quadrilateral’s lower line, through which the lower tip of the pentagram breaks. The angles nine are, thus, found at the four points of the trapezoid and the five points of the pentagram, and each of these is assigned a keyword or concept so that the design forms a psychocosm comparable to the qabbalistic tree of life or the septenary Tree of Wyrd. These keywords map out the stages of a journey that can be applied to anything, be it magic, cosmology or the creation of a piece of art, beginning with chaos, ending with perfection, and along the way meeting order, understanding, being, creation, sleep, awakening and re-creation. In this way, and as noted by Chappell in discussing other uses of the number nine and mystical geometry, this infernal set of nine angle resembles the enneagram popularised by Gurdjieff as a model of human psychological types and processes; though, it must be said, that the nine-pointed star-esque enneagram, despite looking like its bottom has fallen out, is more aesthetically pleasing than the awkward pentagram and trapezoid combo used here.

Infernal Geometry chapter title and nine angles overview

For someone who never found trapezoids all that magickally appealing (come on, it’s a slopey rectangle, go tetrahedrons!), there was always the suspicion that the shape and the extra five angles needed to make up the nine angles had been picked somewhat arbitrarily, and therefore any attempt to assign meaning to it was effectively occult reverse engineering. If that’s the case, then well done Mr Chappell, as Infernal Geometry and the Left-Hand Path spends a lot of time shoring up the significance of the nine angles, and uses the work of previous grandmasters of the Order of the Trapezoid (Aquino, Flowers and Patricia Hardy) as the theoretical grounding.

One of the book’s first deeper considerations of the angles and their keywords returns once more to the Ceremony of the Nine Angles and assigns to the four angles of the trapezoid the big four of Lovecraftian cosmology: Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep and Shub-Niggurath. This does give one pause because this means they signify respectively the stages of chaos, order, understanding and being, when surely it should just be chaos, chaos, chaos and even more chaos but with goats. Obviously, this is a somewhat dated bone to pick, considering the Ceremony of the Nine Angles was published in 1972, but the image here (and in a lot of subsequent Lovecraft-inspired occultism) of the Old Gods as spooky but largely benevolent gods who can be invoked for one’s self-improvement, flies in the face of Lovecraft’s vision for his creations. When the Outer Gods and Great Old Ones are often depicted as having the kind of disregard for humanity that a mammoth would have for a flea, it takes some wilful misreading of Lovecraft to turn them into beings who can, in the case of Yog-Sothoth, be asked to “guide us through the night of thy creation, that we may behold the Bond of the Angles and the promise of thy will.” At best, Lovecraft’s Chthulhu mythos seems a better fit for an anti-cosmic system, in which the only reason any adherent would address them is so that the cosmos and all creation can disintegrate into a gibbering mass of madness and non-being.

Infernal Geometry R’lyehian alphabet

This bone-picking has to be pushed aside, though, as Lovecraftian-inspired cosmology and Aquino’s interpretation of it plays a significant role in the contents of the book; so much so that it could almost have been mentioned in the title. And it is Aquino’s Ceremony of the Nine Angles, along with his Call to Cthulhu and LaVey’s Die Elektrischen Vorspiele, that form the lion’s share of the content here, with Chappell providing perhaps too thorough an analysis of the three rites, constantly returning to them as the touchstones of this angular magic. Along with this is a restatement of the principles of satanic magic as put forth by LaVey in The Satanic Bible and The Satanic Rituals, and so, for anyone with some experience in this here occult milieu, things can feel very familiar, and just a little dated, with this canonisation of magical theory from the 1970s.

Infernal geometry ritual instructions

When it comes to examples of angular ritual work separate from the three ritual prototypes, things are remarkably conventional. Despite all the talk of the angles as a unique system, and the promise in Lovecraft’s fiction of a different, reality-distorting approach to ritual, what is presented here is the same old stuff. Yes, there’s now enneadic symbolism to employ, instead of, say, a standard calling of quarters, but otherwise it’s just the usual stuff: light some candles, draw some symbols, say some things, oh, and sit on a throne. Said symbols, geometric shapes representing each angle and referred to as signs of the nine angles, are inconsistent in weight and appearance, as are another set of nine figures that are designated as seals of the angles rather than signs. Neither set are particularly appealing aesthetically, feeling awkward and unremarkable, and certainly unworthy of the sense of mystery felt by Robert Blake in The Haunter of the Dark. One could sympathetically say that this lack of appeal fulfils the brief of the Lovecraftian angles being strange and unsettling (because the lack of design consistency unsettles this reviewer) but really it feels like a missed opportunity. While yes, Lovecraft, despite wishful thinking to the contrary, had the benefit of writing fiction with all the license that provides, no one in occultism seems to have quite managed to replicate his ideas of geometry that has an indefinable wrongness that allows space and time itself to open up. The ritual chambers used here, based on the original Church of Satan instructions from the 1970s, for example, basically specify no curved surfaces as the extent of angular concerns (and I can’t imagine that many ritual spaces are overflowing with such anyway), rather than anything like the mind and time-altering non-Euclidean geometry explored by the witch Keziah Mason in The Dreams in the Witch House.

Signs of the angles

Chappell writes with a capable and effortless-style throughout Infernal Geometry and the Left-Hand Path, using a measured delivery that often belies the occult nature of the subject material.  It does feel longer than it should be, with the main content alone, sans appendices, running to over 240 pages. Part of this is due to a degree of repetition and recapping, with angular seals, and the trapezoid and trapezoid-pentagram combo being printed in multiple instances, ritual refrains repeated in full across multiple rituals, and main points in the body text being restated for the sake of a little too much thoroughness.

Infernal Geometry and the Left-Hand Path concludes with a substantial series of appendices, six in all, providing significant source documents, as well as the first complete publication of an aesthetically pleasing R’lyehian alphabet, created in 1992 by a knight of the Order of the Trapezoid, Sir Tmythos. The other appendices provide something of a hoard of angular mysticism, with several key texts that precede Chappell’s meisterwerk from the hands of Aquino, Flowers and Hardy. Aquino provides two pieces: an article on Lovecraftian ritual and his version of a Lovecraftian language, with a handy glossary (originally printed in the weird fiction zine Nyctalops), and a commentary on the seal of the nine angles and the symbolism of each angle (published in May 1988 in Runes, the private journal of the Order of the Trapezoid). These elements are also explored, first by Flowers in an article from the March 1998 issue of Runes, and by Hardy in a piece called Keystone from 1992. Meanwhile, Flowers’ contribution, also from Runes and previously republished in his anthology Black Runa, is The Alchemy of Yggdrasil in which he first discusses elemental concepts in northern cosmology and creation before relating these to the idea of angular magic.

Seals of the angles

For those wondering if, with all this talk of nine angles, the similarly named Order thereof gets a mention, the answer is no; which is perhaps to be expected given the contentious exchanges between Aquino and the ONA’s Anton Long in the 1990s. However, with the second chapter’s   discussion of various instances of enneadic symbolism from other mystical traditions, the absence of any mention of, for example, the Order of Nine Angle’s Rite of Nine Angles seems a significant omission. With that said, there’s something a little thrilling about seeing a book like this, with Satanism and Setianism mentioned so nonchalantly on the rear cover blurb (let alone within the pages themselves), published by a relatively mainstream publisher like Inner Traditions. It’s not this specific publisher’s first foray into darkness, with Flowers’ Lords of the Left Hand Path being perhaps the first and best example, and similarly, the main titles of the Church of Satan were obviously available as Avon’s mass market paperbacks before this. The professionally presented works of Inner Traditions seem a respectable step up from the insular world of preach-to-the-choir occult publishing, though, and Chappell joins the ranks of Flowers and Don Webb as published Setian authors of note, thereby highlighting the Temple of Set as an occult order that can get authoritative and fairly rigorous works published and made available to a broad market. Mmmm, that’s good dialectics.

Text design and layout for Inner Traditions are once again expertly handled by Debbie Glogover who uses the now seemingly standard combination of Garamond and Gill Sans for body and subtitles respectively. Titles are in Adam Ladd’s lovely hand-drawn serif face Botany, while Tide Sans by Kyle Wayne Benson gets a tiny shout out for its subtle use in chapter numbers

Published by Inner Traditions


The soundtrack for this review is Lustmord – The Place Where the Black Stars Hang, one of several dark ambient works suggested as a ritual soundtrack by Chappell.

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