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Naga Magick: The Wisdom of the Serpent Lords – Denny Sargent

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Categories: magick, tantra

Naga Magick: The Wisdom of the Serpent Lords by Denny Sargent gets points right out of the gate for being a first as far as the theme goes. Rather than dealing with roads more travelled and their familiar pantheons, Sargent has focused on the nagas, the serpentine race of beings found in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. For contrarians and eternal rebels such as this reviewer, there’s a certain charm to this, highlighting, as it does, the cool and unknown, the adversarial and misunderstood, the allure of the darkly glamorous.

The naga are largely defined by Sargent in this manner. They are beings who seem to predate the more familiar pantheons of the Indian subcontinent, sitting in a twilight world between asuras and suras, comparable to the fey folk of Western Europe or the Orishas of Santeria. As serpent beings, the naga have associations with water and the underworld, with wisdom, healing and fertility, making them a perfect fit for those with ophidian predilections.

Naga Magick is divided into two sections: theory and praxis. In the first, and briefer, of the two Sargent gives an overview of what little is known about the naga. In a manner he himself describes as rambling, Sargent presents the naga as figures who are more familiar from folk tradition and legend, rather than grand myth. They are not necessarily the dark serpentine creatures one might expect to find within some of the more kvlt and grim areas of the occult milieu, having more of those folk characteristics that means they are to be warily respected and petitioned like the fickle fey folk of Europe.

Sargent uses the nagas to create a model of a magickal universe in which there are four Naga Dikpala, guardians of the four directions (Utarmansa Naga, Bindusara Naga, Madaka Naga, Elapatra Naga, Mahanaga), along with eight further naga lords (Anata Naga, Takshaka Naga, Vasuki Naga, Padmaka Naga, Kulika Naga, Karkotaka Naga, Sankapala Naga and Mahapadma Naga). In addition, this system’s grounding in tantra enables naga cosmology to be integrated with the concept of the Red Goddess, Shri Kundalini, and she provides the centre, the point where the eight lords converge in the naga’s underworld realm of Bhogavati. This is the union of Naga and Nagi, of Shakti and Shiva, and her veiled appearances ensures that the Red Goddess, Lalita, Tvarita Devi, Tripurasundhari, has a pivotal role in the system presented by Sargent.

When it comes to matters magickal, the central approach of the book is not a true reconstructionist one, as there doesn’t seem much to reconstruct. Sargent candidly acknowledges that there is not much that can be gleamed from historical sources in the way of naga traditions and rituals. Instead, his technique is to incorporate what little information there is into a framework that draws on established, often folk-based, traditions, with a modern Hermetic-Tantric flourish that is grounded in his experience with the Nath system of Shri Gurudev Mahendranath. Consequently, although this is by no means a Nath book, it feels as if that system inevitably informs much of what is presented here, with specific terminology, such as the euphonious ‘zonule,’ dropping in, sometimes a little incongruously here and there.

Due to this use of familiar techniques, there is a certain, well, familiarity to the magickal methods presented here. From a recognisably western perspective, the four guardian nagas each have images and seals associated with them, as well as corresponding invocations to be used in concert. A more easterly approach is found with the use of mudra, pranayama, yoga and other tools of the Naga Sadhana. All techniques converge to varying degrees in the assortment of workings and spells, culminating in a grand Naga puja. This major ritual is intended for use during the great naga festival, or for any other significant work, and is based on a Nepalese rite recorded in Jean Philippe Vogel’s 1926 Indian Serpent-lore Or The N?gas in Hindu Legend and Art (something of a fortuitous source for Sergent).  This is a length rite, taking 35 pages to effectively close the book in a procedure that invokes all twelve naga, Dikpala and lords, and ultimately Shri Kundalini, with some beautifully written liturgy.

On the whole, what Sargent has presented here is a convincing, self-contained magickal system. It has a cosmology that, while not as fully fleshed out as something with a grand mythology available to it, makes the most of what information is available, and interprets it into a logical magickal paradigm. Sargent writes in something of a conversational tone, often pre-empting imagined questions from the reader, and speaking in a personal, informal manner. This helps assuage any quibbles one might have about the less than thorough or historically rigorous information in the book, with the evident caveats provided by his methods and motivations laid bare.

While Sargent, one assumes, knows his stuff when it comes to matters naga and Hindu, there’s at least one moment where the information about other cultures is a little off. He refers to the World Serpent of Germanic mythology as Surtr, which, if one was to be charitable, could be a little known, but rather appealing, esoteric interpretation, but is more likely to be just a flub. This isn’t necessarily an errant naming not picked up in proofing, as the reference is made twice. As is always the unfortunate case in situations like these, it can somewhat undermine one’s overall confidence in the book.

Published by The Original Falcon Press

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Lost Envoy: The Tarot Deck of Austin Osman Spare – Edited by Jonathan Allen

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Categories: art, chaos, tarot

Lost Envoy coverThe prospect of a long lost tarot deck designed by Austin Osman Spare is a tantalising one, and for this reader at least, guaranteed a rush to the Strange Attractor Press preorder page. Once it was finally released and it turned up in the mail I had made it all the way to the “what the hel is this package” phase.

If the thought of a Spare-designed tarot deck makes you imagine classic Sparean images, all crisp phantasmagorical lines against a white background, then temper your expectations. The look of the cards is a denser one than that, with the style, while obviously in Spare’s hand, being more traditional, and made heavier with a thorough use of watercolour washes on both figures and backgrounds. The deck is also arguably more traditional than either Crowley’s Book of Thoth, or anything one might expect from the proto-Chaote that is Spare, with the Major Arcana images obviously drawing, for the most part, on the atu of the Tarot de Marseille and its antecedents. The Minor Arcana, on the other hands, reveals the cartomantic roots of Spare’s praxis, adopting the suits of traditional playing cards and adding four court cards of queen, king, knight and knave to each set. Perhaps the strongest diversion from convention, though, is the text heavy nature of the hands, with Spare scrawling interpretations and instructions at the foot and head of each card, reflecting the orientation of the reading.

But first, the provenance of this deck and why it was lost. To the latter question first, it wasn’t so much lost, and instead has been sitting quite contentedly for over 70 years in the collection of the Magic Circle, the famed London organisation for those magicians of the stage, and not the ritual chamber, variety. Editor Jonathan Allen, a curator at the Magic Circle museum, rediscovered the archived deck in 2013 and this volume reproducing the cards and featuring commentary from a number of essayists, provides the first broad exposure of Spare’s tarot.

The written contributions in Lost Envoy take two forms: archival documentation and analysis. The former includes Spare’s Mind to Mind and How, by a Sorcerer and Arthur Ivey’s Tarot Cards and a Pack in The Magic Circle Museum from the November 1969 issue of the Magic Circle’s in-house magazine The Magic Circular. Spare’s essay is an unpublished submission for the long running London Mystery Magazine, and provides a practical guide to cartomancy as well as giving a sense of the methods behind the creation of this deck. Ivey’s brief essay uses half of its two page length as a history of the tarot which prefaces an all too brief description of Spare’s tarot, creating a museum catalogue entry as it were.

Given that the two documents provide the only extant historical information about Spare’s tarot and his methods, they are referenced extensively in the accompanying essays, creating something of a sense of déjà vu. This is exacerbated by the ultimately limited amount of things that can be said about Spare’s tarot, meaning that many of the same points are familiarly made across multiple essays. Both Helen Farley and Gavin Semple’s contributions cover the provenance of the deck and Spare’s nascent involvement in the occult milieu of Victorian London, each then followed with a little analysis of some of the cards and their characteristics. A more focused consideration of the cards themselves is provided by Phil Baker’s His Own Arcana, with his points ably reinforced with the inclusion of full colour images of the trumps and full bleed plates of details.

The Deputation by Sally O’Reilly takes a different approach from its companions, with an imagined encounter between Spare and his friend, the suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst. Spare and Pankhurst sit and engage in witty banter about his cards, with her queries allowing him to provide the explanatory exegesis. It’s a diversion whose mileage may vary depending on one’s patience for the conceit of words put into the mouths of historical figures; especially given that their tone and mores are inevitably predicated by the lens of today.

The final essay comes from Alan Moore who, with A Cartomantic Mirror, provides a pretty exhaustive tarot reading of the meaning and intention of Spare’s deck using, and it gets pretty damn meta here, Crowley and Harris’ Thoth deck. Again, no expense has been spared and the cards drawn from the Crowley/Harris deck are reproduced here in full colour, with some key atu each given a page to themselves.

The essays take up only half of this volume’s 336 pages and the remainder is comprised of reproductions of Spare’s cards. These are presented first as full pages reproductions of each of the major and minor arcana, and then followed by six examples of the various coloured card backs. For extra thoroughness, the cards are then presented again in a concordance that transcribes all of the textual data found on the cards, one page for each, along with a listing of marginal links that tie one card to another, and meticulous footnotes providing still further information. Between some of these individual pages are full colour folded inserts of some of the cards, showing the way in which Spare graphically linked the designs together across multiple spreads. This is one of those things that reveals the attention to detail that has gone into producing this volume, with an almost unnecessarily thorough presentation of the data.

Lost Envoy has been designed by Fraser Muggeridge studio, with a cover that appears a strange, jarring melange of geometric colour until one realises, as this late junction, that it shows a cascade of Spare’s multi-coloured card backs. The book is bound with, apparently, a period binding common to many of the volumes found in The Magic Circle library, with a gold deboss of Spare’s autographic bird’s head sigil (no, not the cool vulture one, the one that looks like Montgomery Burns). The text formatting inside the book is not entirely satisfying, with the body copy rendered in a far too modern sans serif typeface which isn’t conducive to reading and gives the impression, false though it may be, of text being dumped in from a Word document with Calibri set to default. With this are awfully snug header and footer margins, due to the page numbering being put on the outer edge, which again, and contrary to the intent, feels like the default settings in a Word doc, rather than something carefully designed. Otherwise, a lot of effort has gone into the production of this book, with the cover text debossed (and the aforementioned sigil debossed and foiled too), a beautifully raised emboss on the inside cover page bearing the Magic Circle logo, not to mention the preponderance of colour prints and the inserted replicas of cards.

With its repeated representation of the cards in Spare’s deck in both graphic and textural forms, it’s clear that the intent of this book is one of complete and thorough documentation, in which the cards are presented in the best possible light for posterity. Whether anyone is going to read the transcribed page for each card isn’t the point, and this reviewer certainly didn’t. Instead the point is that it’s there should one need it. In this way, the essay content is almost secondary, and it is the cards themselves that tell the story.

Lost Envoy was made available in two editions: a standard hardback edition still available with 336pp pages, fully illustrated in colour, with over 200 images. And a now sold out numbered and debossed edition of 300 copies, with fold-out sections.

Published by Strange Attractor Press

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Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism – Daniel A. Schulke

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Categories: folk, sabbatic craft

Daniel Schulke’s body of written work has often reflected his role as verdelet of the Cultus Sabbati, with a frequent focus on matters botanical, most notably with the significant volumes Viridarium Umbris and Veneficium: Magic, Witchcraft and the Poison Path. This is a theme that is continued with Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism, albeit in a slimmer, more digestible format than those weightier esoteric tomes.

Presented as a trade paperback of a little over 130 pages, the lion’s share of this book explores plant mysticism through the thirteen pathways of the title. In addition to this, as testified by the subtitle And Other Homilies on Botanical Magic, are three standalone but obviously related essays, one of which is previously published. The book appears to be something of a harbinger of Schulke’s long-gestating but imminently forthcoming Arcana Viridia (The Green Mysteries), a tome he has been working on for 25 years.

Schulke defines the thirteen pathways as philosophical routes to the mystery, each presupposing a spiritual and philosophical stance and also a momentum; make of that what ye will. Given the brevity of this book at 144 pages, the description for each pathway is equally and expectedly brief. They are, for the most part, free of much in the way of practical exercises or application, and instead present core philosophies that are associated with each path, allowing the practitioner to do their own thing within the framework. Thus, the opening Pathway of the Virgin is associated with the concept of Katharsis and has a theme of beginnings with ideas of preparation, providing effectively a botanical take on the grade of the neophyte. Similarly, the penultimate Pathway of Embodiment, Ensomátosis, makes a fitting denouement, concerning itself with the making the plant mysteries flesh, of focusing oneself and one’s work on particular plants to create a complete magical symbiosis with it.

These thirteen pathways lead, in turn, to a set of thirteen gardens: little imagined zonules, each embodying a particular theme. These gardens can be reached by one or more pathways, and a single pathway may, we are told, perambulate multiple gardens. These gardens are more vividly illustrated than their preceding pathways, with Schulke using his rich lexicon to create detailed, slightly disorientating vignettes of rare plants, verdant foliage, decrepit follies and hallucinatory scents; places in which a sense of mystery lies around every turn.

Like the pathways that led to them, the theoretical nature of these gardens, with their brief descriptions and lack of explicit practical exercises, means that one finds oneself flicking through them pretty quickly: “name of the garden, check… list of plants in said garden, check… concept associated with garden, check… ummm… I probably should be taking more of this in…” *turns page* It’s something of a relief, then, to get to the three considerably more long-form essays that conclude this book, giving something meatier (of the plant-based variety, that is) to sink one’s teeth into.

Each of these essays can be said to be concerned with the transmission and reception of plant-related knowledge. The first, Transmission of Esoteric Plant Knowledge in the Twenty-First Century, was reviewed previously in its appearance in Verdant Gnosis: Cultivating the Green Path Volume 2 and provides an overview of various methods of receiving plant-related knowledge, with both a survey of historical examples and proposals for several future models. For Occult Herbalism: Ethos, Praxis, and Spirit-Congress, as would be expected, Schulke breaks down occult use of plants into the three categories of the title. The theme spirit congress is continued into the third essay, The Green Intercessor, where Schulke considers the idea of the esoteric knowledge of plants being revealed by supranatural entities, such as fallen angels, faeries and the spirit helpers of some North American shamanic practitioners.In all, Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism ultimately feels like what it almost certainly is, a taster of what is to come. As a little subset of what one assumes is in Arcana Viridia it’s a nice enough tincture of information, but one that the reader can breeze through without much sticking to the cerebral walls.

Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism is available in three editions: a trade paperback, a hardcover edition with a dust jacket of 1200 copies, and a sold out deluxe edition of 28 hand numbered copies quarter-bound in brown goatskin and autumn marbled paper.

Published by Three Hands Press.

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Lucifer: The Light of the Aeon – Written by Rebels. Edited by Diane Narraway

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Categories: devotional, luciferian, witchcraft

The popularity of Lucifer seems to be surging of late with the recent compendium The Luminous Stone: Lucifer in Western Esotericism from Three Hand Press, a similar anthological work on its way from Anathema Publishing, and, of course, Peter Grey’s significant 2015 opus Lucifer: Princeps; not to mention the surfeit of Lulu and Createspace generated tomes that fill your Amazon recommendations with their appalling cover art, clunky sigils and poor typeface choices. Black Moon Publishing’s foray into this tumescent Luciferian field brings together a vast array of contributors, sixteen in all, variously presenting essays, poems and a smattering of images.

The first section, Awakenings, compiles a multitude of contributions within a relatively slight space, mostly short, personal anecdotes outlining people’s occult journey’s within which Lucifer, in some form, has played a role. There are nine of these in all, and at the beginning they are largely interchangeable, with similar writing styles depicting similar journeys. There’s often an estrangement from organised religion, which is followed by an encounter with an, at first, ambiguous supernatural figure whose identity is later confirmed to be Lucifer.

Speaking, erm, personally, the personal anecdote has never done much for me as a contribution to devotionals like this. While I realise that this approach is, in some ways, the very definition of a devotional, it seems to lack something when that experience isn’t expanded upon, and given context within a greater anthropological or mythological framework. Otherwise, it remains just a personal testimony, the equivalent of a fireside ghost story, which the reader has to either accept or dismiss; and as a somewhat pragmatic reviewer of books about magickal shenanigans, my default setting is the latter.

The contributions in Awakenings are often short and it isn’t until the second section, Love, Light and Laughter, that one realises why this is, with many of the stories now picking up from where they left off. Proof, mayhaps, that I didn’t read the introduction too carefully. This is not an entirely satisfactory device, given that the somewhat interchangeable nature of the contributions makes it hard to keep track of where the narrative is up to. And then there’s the additional wrinkle of perhaps not really wanting to hear anything further from a particular contributor after the introduction they’ve made in Awakenings. Because of how integral this multiple section structure is, it is worth mentioning the names of the nine contributors who reappear in this capacity: Dianne Narraway, Geraldine Lambert, Laurie Pneumatikos, Sean Witt, Eirwen Morgan, Richard K. Page, Jaclyn Cherie, Rachel Summers and Teach Carter.

This format ultimately makes Lucifer: The Light of the Aeon something of a struggle to get through. Personal reflections of people’s experience with organised religion, and their all too similar awakening to their inner rebel, are just not engaging. On top of that, the rebellion feels rather entry level and earnest, with nothing truly transgressive or adversarial, and just an all too obvious kicking against the pricks of an equally dull brand of Christianity.

It is only when this personal formula is abandoned that things begin to pick up and there’s more of a sense of focus. In Angels and Daemons, the cast of authors take a more exegetical approach with various, less-anecdotal explanations of Lucifer. These do largely cover the same ground because there’s only so much ground to cover when it comes to exploring Lucifer’s source material. These contributions still suffer, though, from the book’s structural device, feeling piecemeal in some instances, while in others they’re cast adrift from the anecdotal context of the previous two sections.

The other issue that arises here is that the less than stellar quality of some of the writing, which may have been protected by the personal nature of the previous entries, is laid bare when broader ideas have to be presented. In one piece, non sequiturs abound, conclusions are questionable, and facts are fuzzy: there’s a nonsensical reference to “biblical gnostics,” whoever they’re supposed to be, and a lazy, or at least poorly articulated, claim that ‘gnostic’ means ‘knowledge,’ when obviously it’s ‘gnosis’ that means ‘knowledge,’ not the adjective form.

The remaining four sections continue this same formula of slices from various contributors, focusing successively on blood and fire (identified as two of Lucifer’s more famous associations), magick (with a variety of broad accounts of people’s personal approach to ritual praxis, followed in some instances with specific exercises), questions concerning Lucifer’s consort (straw poll suggesting most contributors don’t see him as having one), and what could be described as concluding thoughts and miscellany. Naturally, these various shards range in quality, with some of the writing coming across as if they were written as an obligatory assignment simply predicated by the theme of that section. This is particularly noticeable in the discussion over whether Lucifer has a consort, with many of the authors writing as if it’s the first time they’ve pondered the question, and therefore spending the length of their contribution thinking out loud in print, as they try to work it out.

In all, the writing in Lucifer: The Light of the Aeon appears to come from a very personal place. There are no half-hearted adherents here, with a sense of a great deal of affection and devotion being paid to Lucifer. Your mileage may vary as to what weight such sincerity carries for you, but based on the effusive reviews on Amazon, it certainly works for some people.

As with the previously reviewed Women of Babalon: A Howling of Women’s Voices, I have reservations about the trademark Black Moon Publishing style with its 8×10 dimensions and use of wide decorative borders on every page. The dimensions make the book unwieldy, cumbersome to hold, and not conducive to being read, especially with the additional weight that comes from being over 300 pages long. This length is, no doubt, exacerbated by said border, which, whilst appealing in an over-the-top gothic aesthetic sense, does limit the amount of words that can appear on the page. It also overwhelms the occasional graphic contributions, which could all benefit from being reproduced larger and free of the competing rococo.

Lucifer: The Light of the Aeon has a companion volume, Songs of the Black Flame, also published by Black Moon Publishing, with many of the authors featured here returning for what is largely a compilation of Lucifer-themed poetry and artwork.

Published by Black Moon Publishing

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Plants of the Devil – Corinne Boyer

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Categories: folk, sabbatic craft, satanism, witchcraft

With Daniel Schulke’s recent Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism and his forthcoming Arcana Viridia: the Green Mysteries, Three Hands Press seems to have something of a botanical focus of late, and Corinne Boyer adds to that with her Plants of the Devil. Having previously released Under the Witching Tree: A Folk Grimoire of Tree Lore and Practicum through Troy Books, it’s pretty clear where Boyer’s interests lie, and this makes a good fit with the current emphasis of Three Hands Press.

Rather than treading a familiar path through a witch’s garden with all its usual botanical suspects, Boyer’s focus is specifically on the garden of the devil, that is, plants that in folklore have an association with the devil, whether they be connected directly with witchcraft and maleficia, or not. This can sometimes be a minor connection, with one, perhaps little known, folk name having a diabolical variant, amongst many others. Inevitably, this can feel a little circumstantial, but Boyer sees a profundity in these names, assuring us that even if this connection seems trivial, it isn’t for students of the deeper mystery.

As a trade paperback of some 160 pages, Plants of the Devil is a relatively slim volume. It is divided into chapters that categorise the devil’s plants into broad areas of focus: painful or poisonous plants that bear his name, plants that were ill-omened or unlucky, plants that were used against him, and plants that were used to invoke him. Boyer writes effortlessly, with a capable tone that is free of too much in the way of convoluted occult writing; albeit occasionally a little too generous with the commas – rich, indeed, for me to say, yes.

Artwork by Marzena AblewskaThe content of Plants of the Devil is quite encyclopaedic in nature, in that the consideration of each plant provides something of an info dump, harvested from a variety of sources. These sources, all correctly and meticulously cited, are often encyclopaedias and guides in themselves, and what this means is that the gems of information they provide are often without much in the way of context; a context which may well have been lacking in their original entry too. It is a minor quibble, but what this means is that there is no way to tell the value of a particular belief about a plant, or a quality attributed to it. One poorly remembered and potentially misrecorded anecdote, or all out lie, from a singular source long dead, could be sitting alongside a genuine and widely held belief. There’s probably no way to remedy this unintended equivalency, and it is just something that one finds oneself noticing as one goes through the book.

Illustrations in Plants of the Devil are provided by Marzena Ablewska, whose work can be simply described as voluptuous. These, for the most part, take the form of full page, pen and ink illustrations that are densely populated with a surfeit of both plant, human and reptilian forms; all delightfully sensuous and corporeal in their intertwining tableaus. Her work, so redolent of Hans Baldung, makes for a power evocation of the spirit of witchcraft and the transgressive feminine; and a fitting compliment to Boyer’s words.

Artwork by Marzena Ablewska

Due to its unique focus, Plants of the Devil, makes for a satisfying meditation on diabolus est hortus, with both the relative brevity of the work, and Ablewska’s illustrations, helping to tighten the lens still further. It is beautifully presented, with a competent layout style that has a hint of the archaic about it without telegraphing it too much or being overbearing.

Plants of the Devil is available in a variety of formats, the most humble of which is a trade paperback version with colour cover, as humbly reviewed here, and available from sellers such as Amazon. More exciting are the limited standard hardcover with colour dust jacket of 1000 copies, a deluxe edition in quarter red pigskin and slipcase, limited to 41 hand-numbered copies, and a super special edition in full red pigskin and slipcase, limited to 17 hand-numbered copies.

Published by Three Hands Press

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Fiddler’s Green: Peculiar Parish Magazine (Volume 1, numbers 3 and 4)

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Categories: art, folk, witchcraft

I must admit to being unaware of Fiddler’s Green before receiving copies from publisher Clint Marsh, but one look at these two issues and it was a “where have you been all my life” type thing. Fiddler’s Green is described as “art and magic for tea-drinking anarchists, convivial conjurors and closeted optimists,an appealing cadre to be a part of, even if my tea-drinking is minimal at best. This brief is perfectly reflected in the style, illustration and formatting, with a look that is evocative of something one could imagine sitting alongside Jimmy Cauty’s Lord of the Rings poster, or the work of Hapshash and the Coloured Coat; indebted as it is, like them, to the stylings of Art Nouveau and the pen and ink drawings of Arthur Rackham.

If there’s one word to describe Fiddler’s Green, it’s ‘delightful.’ The small press feel, the whiff of a village newsletter, the smack of leather on willow… you get the idea. Each of the issues is a saddle-stitched, stapled magazine of 35-45 letter-sized pages, bound in a muted green coloured card, with everything rendered in black and white, save for the foiled title on the cover.

Editor Clint Marsh presumably provides much of the written content here, with a handful of the contributions being uncredited. These are often reflective musings based around little themes: bibliophilia, artistic process, creative thinking – all things one could enthusiastically support and subscribe to the newsletter thereof.

In addition to these credited and uncredited contributions, and alongside writings from authors unknown at least to me, there are a couple of familiar faces. Timothy Renner of Stone Breath provides illustrations to a piece by Kenneth MacKriell in the fourth issue, while Daniel Schulke contributes a eulogy to Michael Howard in number 3. Indeed, Schulke and Three Hands Press never seems that far away, with the imprint, amongst others, punctuating the volumes with adverts. The formatting also has a similar aesthetic to many of Three Hands Press titles, with that beloved combination of woodcuts and archaic typefaces.

There’s no persistent theme to Fiddler’s Green, other than a fulfilment of the broad and charming mission statement. There are elements of witchcraft and folk magic, but by no means in an all-pervasive manner. There’s a certain reflective and philosophical attitude, but again this doesn’t dominate. And there’s a palpable sense of spirit of place and landscape. In all, it perhaps lives up to that othertimely aura that permeates from cover to cover, redolent of Victorian and fin de siècle journals, fitting written companions for salon and parlour.

Each issue concludes with a couple of regular features: letters to the editor (usually pretty unanimous praise for previous issues) and a review section. In the third issue, the reviews are something of a revelation, focusing predominantly on zines and other small press outputs, an area I feel woefully unaware of. In the fourth, it is books attract the reviewer’s attention with a certain degree of crossover with the content and themes found here at Scriptus Recensera.

Fiddler’s Green is published occasionally by Wonderella Printed and can, along with other exquisite publications, be ordered from www.fiddlersgreenzine.com/shop

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The Luminous Stone: Lucifer in Western Esotericism – Edited by Michael Howard and Daniel A. Schulke

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Categories: luciferian, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

This compendium of essays on the role of Lucifer in Western Esotericism represents the last significant contribution to occult publishing by Michael Howard before his passing in 2016. In addition to his role as co-editor, he provides an essay and is joined by Frater U.:.D.:., Robert Fitzgerald, Ethan Doyle White, Fredrik Eytzinger, Richard Gavin, Raven Grimassi, Lee Morgan, and Madeline Ledespencer.

The Luminous Stone is the third entry in Three Hands Press’ Western Esotericism in Context series, following on from previous explorations of Babalon and Traditional Witchcraft. As with any compendium such as this, the most interesting contributions are ones that explore territory less travelled. Any consideration of the usual biblical or folkloric accounts, and the intersection thereof, are going to be pretty uninspiring, without much, if anything, new to offer. Mercifully, there are instead several explorations of completely alien territory. Such territories are ones in which the Luciferian spirit of inventiveness seems to have been fully embraced by its adherents, with each providing something of an idiosyncratic interpretation.

The occult scene of 19th century Paris as described by Madeline Ledespencer is a prime example of this, with Ledespencer showcasing two figures, L’Abbé Boullan and Maria de Naglowska, each with a Luciferian supra or subtext, but each with a unique take on it. After a less than stellar start from this volume’s first two contributors (English as a second language for one, and just a bit stilted for the other), Ledespencer’s piece is refreshingly well written, with an ebullient style that reads easily and conveys a sense of both the love and knowledge she has for her subject matter.

As one would expect from a Three Hands Press book, there’s the occasional nod to the Cultus Sabbati and the work of Andrew Chumbley. Robert Fitzgerald’s The Hidden Stone: Devotion, Lucifer and the High Sabbat uses the Cultus as an example of a modern witchcraft sodality with a particularly Luciferian anatomy, focussing, by way of example, on Chumbley’s rite A Lover’s Call to the Angel of Witchblood. Fitzgerald steps through the rite line by line in order to untangle its cosmology, making a little more sense of Chumbley’ picturesque prose. In a similar area, Ethan Doyle White considers the role of Lucifer in broader contemporary pagan witchcraft, tracing the tantalising mentions from the original witch trial records into the modern era and the various works of Doreen Valiente, Robert Cochrane, and the Farrars et al.

In Teachings of the Light, Michael Howard returns to material covered in his Book of Fallen Angels, a work that seems a significant touchstone for many of the authors included here. He describes his encounters with Madeline Montalban, and gives an overview of the system of Luciferian magic from her Order of the Morning Star. This provides a little more depth than his previous discussions of her system, placing it within the context of the occult milieu in which she existed and noting the connections, for example, with the Atlantean mythos of Dion Fortune and Gareth Knight.

A less recently seen but welcomed faceless face is Frater U.:.D.:., whose piece, the gloriously titled ‘Non Seviam’ as Ontological Paradigm, oh yes, begins dryly enough, discussing Lucifer’s antinomian qualities, before briefly taking a more interesting turn and considering him in relation to the Fraternitas Saturni; of which the frater has been a member for over thirty years. It is an instance like this, where an insight is provided into an organisation’s particular understanding of Lucifer, that provide some of the most satisfying content in this book; as is the case with the essays considering the Cultus Sabbati, or Madeline Montalban’s Order of the Morning Star.

The consistently disappointing Raven Grimassi keeps the disappointment consistent with Lucifer in the Lore of Old Italy, a clumsily written piece, full of sentence fragments, redundancies, spelling mistakes and non sequiturs, always meandering without any clear direction. As highlighted in a previous review, Grimassi’s grasp of history seems casual at best. In one case he refers to the “Middle Ages and Renaissance periods” (as if they were synonymous), but then uses an event from the 17th century as an example of his claim. Another contribution also somewhat disappointing in its lack of thorough proofing is The Latent Radiance, which opens this anthology: a single sentence runs breathlessly to seven lines, there are prochronistic references to inhabitants of Canaan between 1200 and 1000 BCE as ‘Jews,’ rather than the more accurate ‘Israelites,’ and everyone is hyperbolised as ‘renowned.’ It does use the word ‘sodality’ though, which seems to be the new ‘praxis,’ given its popularity in this volume (poor ‘praxis’ only gets a single look in).

The Luminous Stone features cover art by Francisco Divine Mania (with the rather gloriously Symbolist and Decadent-styled Garden), while the interior is punctuated occasionally with the black and white silhouetted images of Hagen von Tulien. It’s not always clear if von Tulien’s images relate to the essays that precede or proceed them, but they are as striking as ever. I’m particularly partial to the one that looks like an airline safety card, in which the hazard appears to be a sorcerous attack; the only option seems to be to panic.Slayer of Ignorance by Hagen von Tulien

Overall, The Luminous Stone is an enjoyable volume, if a little underwhelming. Its 150 pages fly by, and while there are some very good contributions, there’s less of a sense of this being as essential a read as, say, Hands of Apostasy was. There’s a few glaring spelling and formatting errors that are somewhat unexpected due to the usually high standards of Three Hands Press. Raven Grimassi’s piece is particularly prone to this, referring to ‘Gain Mysteries’ when surely ‘Grain’ is intended, and having St. Jerome miraculously turn into St. James between paragraphs. He’s not alone though, and in another essay, an explanatory note is incorporated, italic styling and all, into the Robbie Burns poem it is commenting upon. The best of these errata, due to its surreal qualities, is in Lee Morgan’s piece The Lucifer Moment, where he notes that the ubiquitous image of the Luciferic anti-hero means we are ready to see Lucifer in a new way “very shorty” …which certainly would be a startling new look for the Light Bearer; and indeed, one could argue that an encounter with a diminutive fallen angel would create that paradigm-shifting moment of Morgan’s title.

The Luminous Stone is available in a total run of 3049 copies: 2000 as a trade paperback, as well as a hardcover edition of 1000 copies bound in green cloth with colour dust jackets, and a deluxe edition of 49 copies quarter-bound in goat leather with hand-marbled endpapers. The paperback version, conveniently available via Amazon, features a stiff, weighty card for the cover and reverse, making for a tight binding that requires a little more effort than usual to keep the book open.

Published by Three Hands Press

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Gwenevere and the Round Table – Wendy Berg

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Categories: faery

This book by Wendy Berg addresses a conspicuously little known figure from Arthurian legend, presenting Queen Gwenevere, not as a mere adjunct to more familiar figures, but effectively as a central character around which many of the events revolve. In so doing, she becomes an initiatrix and guide in a series of workings that the reader can undertake.

At the outset, Berg addresses what can be described as the problem of Gwenevere, in that despite her fame, there is little extant information about her. This absence of evidence effectively plays into Berg’s core idea: that the reason Gwenevere is mysterious is because she ultimately embodies a mystery. Berg argues that Gwenevere’s minimal but unique roles point to her being, not a human, but a faery, for whom the marriage to Arthur is one of interaction between two realms, re-enacting the rituals of sacred kingship. Her subsequent appearances in legends, in which she is often abducted or goes into exile, fit this role too, with the idea being that in these instances she once again provides an interaction between the faery and human worlds.

This is an idea Berg has explored before in her theory-based book Red Tree, White Tree, but here there is more of a focus on practical application, and on the Round Table, which Berg notes has frequent associations with Gwenevere. It is the dowry she brings from Lyonesse, and its return is demanded by a mysterious knight following her death. For Berg, the table is a symbol of the relationship between the worlds of human and fae, and a template for both the order formed around it, and a mystery school attendant to this order. As a faery queen, and the realm’s ambassador, Gwenevere was the prime interpreter of the table’s wisdom, and initiator of the knights into its mysteries.

Berg’s discussion of her Gwenevere theory takes up but one chapter of the book and the rest is an exploration of a magickal system largely based around the division into four faery kingdoms, at the centre of which is a fifth realm, Listenois, the Grail Kingdom. These kingdoms, some more familiar than others, are Lyonesse in the east, Sorelois is in the south, Gorre in the west, and Oriande in the north. Each realm is attributed different characteristics, and progressed through one at a time, each imparting a new lesson.

Berg’s system is low on ritual or artifice and is instead composed almost entirely of guided pathworkings. These use an initial journey to the table as a device through which the other realms can be explored, effectively providing a hub world that the player seeker logs into, receives missions from Gwenevere, before departing to the other worlds and ultimately returning to the hub.

In addition to these general exploration of the faery kingdoms, Berg presents a couple of other techniques, integrated with these journeys but unique enough to stand out on their own. The first is a meditation on colour as a way of connecting with the faery, in which the participant is taught to appreciate a range of colours and to ‘see’ them through faery eyes. The second is a fairly successful system of astral magic where the constellations are used as an empowered guide to Arthurian cosmology. These constellations provide another take on the idea of the Round Table, a wheel of stellar arrays circling the night sky and representing various scenes or characters from Arthurian legend. In concert with this is the creation of a Book of Stars, documenting the journey through the constellations.

When it comes to a magickal system connected with faery and heavily dependent on guided pathworkings, it is inevitable for one’s mind to drift to the work of RJ Stewart. There is an element of this here, but there are some other noticeable styles that one could uncharitably call new age. There’s a lot of talk of consciousness and vibrations, and while there’s nothing wrong with those concepts, the nomenclature has an undeniable whiff of crystal shops and reiki readings. Another element that occurs periodically, and somewhat expectedly given the associations with grail mysticism, is a faery interpretation, shall we say, of Christianity, with a pathworking featuring a vision of the White Christ. This connects with another obvious touchstone, the writer Gareth Knight, with Berg often using his terminology and referring to an Atlantean Tradition that underlies both the faery and grail mysteries here.

As a largely mystical workbook, there’s not a huge amount of academic discussion here, with often only cursory consideration of Arthurian sources or any discursive analysis. And while this is to be expected given the format, it does lead to jarring moments that cause one to pause and wish a more thorough approach had been taken to make for a more convincing argument. Berg often draws from diverse Arthurian sources to build her core concept, but nowhere does she mention the question, let alone suggest an answer, as to how these disparate authors, divided by both time and geography, could have glommed onto some secret truth about Gwenevere and the fae. These sources are not some holy writ that has, at the very least, a pretence of originating from a singular culture or belief system. Instead, they are the works of a diverse group of authors who, one would pragmatically argue, were only interested in telling stories. One could argue otherwise and handwave with hints at some mystical link that Arthurian writers have that taps into mysterious realms of the fae, or something, but because this isn’t done, quibbles like this are more glaring than they need to be.

Similarly, throughout the book there’s an almost disingenuous presentation of information where the lack of thoroughness effectively becomes lying by omission. In discussing what she describes as the faery kingdom of Oriande, and its ruler Madaglan and his sister Jandree, Berg fails to mention that the two could just as easily be seen as Saracens, given that in the chansons de geste the word Oriandes, so redolent of ‘Orient,’ refers to Saracen women, while Oriande is the name of a Saracen town. This is even more likely given that Madaglan and Jandree are shown as being theologically at odds with Arthur and his court, rejecting his New Law in favour of their Old Law, for which Islam is surely intended. This doesn’t invalidate Berg’s argument, indeed, one could argue that the status of Muslims as the penultimate symbol of The Other in courtly literature made them an effective gloss for the equally Other(worldly) faery. But because such a caveat is not made, and given that the source for the idea of Oriande as a kingdom, faery or not, is just one text, the Perlesvaus, one finds oneself becoming something of a cynical reader (well, moreso, right kids?).

It is this kind of thing that means when Berg relays the story of another adversarial knight, Meleagant, son of the King of Gorre, you find yourself running off to fact check against a copy of Lancelot, le Chevalier de la Charrette. Berg has Meleagant refer to a group of nobles he has held hostage as “human prisoners,” thereby highlighting a stark racial distinction between the apparently faery knight and his captives. But Chrétien de Troyes uses no such term, simply referring to them as “knights, ladies, and damsels who belong to thy dominion and household.” While there is a case to be made for Meleagant being more than just a human adversary, given the distinctly otherworldly characteristics of the kingdom of Gorre, it seems deceitful to present this, not as an interpretation, but as something detailed verbatim in Chrétien’s story. This, unfortunately, is a pretty common technique here: mention the source, relay the story as if you’re telling it as it appears in said source, sprinkle liberally with usage of the word ‘faery’ not in said source.

As a workbook there’s a pleasing completeness to the system presented by Berg. It has a coherent structure engendered by both the Round Table and the faery kingdoms, even if I have reservations about the historical and literary rigour given to said realms. The system and its results feel very personal-growth orientated, using that type of nomenclature, rather than the usual veiled occult references to unspecified wisdom. The book is competently laid out in the manner one expects from Skylight Press, with a pleasing typographic hierarchy,

Published by Skylight Press

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The Black Toad – Gemma Gary

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Categories: folk, witchcraft

Contrary to what one might expect from the title and the talismanic cover of this book, this volume is not an exploration of the toad rite, or all that much to do with toads at all. Instead, the title marks this out as something of an annotated grimoire, a West Country Black Pullet as it were, collecting magic and charms from that area of England. While much of Gemma Gary’s work presents a system of witchcraft that speaks to a living, breathing, tradition, this is work is more of a documentary, free of much comment or integration into a broader system.

One of the specific focuses of this book is what is referred to as dual faith observance, the way in which the practices of witchcraft and magic were not always, or at all, pagan, and instead were contextualised within the prevailing Judaeo-Christian paradigm of the time. Michael Howard makes mention of this in his introduction, and Gary does likewise in hers. What this means on a practical level is that many of the longer charms included in this work incorporate biblical psalms which might sit somewhat incongruously for people more familiar, and comfortable, with the idea of witchcraft as entirely a continuation or revival of ancient pagan religion.

The Black Toad is divided into three main sections, each dedicated to a different Old Mother: Red-Cap, Green-Cap and Black Cap. The first of these, Old Mother Red-Cap, is a compendium of charms and spells. These spells address relatively common concerns of folk magic, protection and the healing of physical ailments, with a preponderance of methods for dealing with warts, perhaps not quite the scourge now that it evidently once used to be. The charms in the second half of this section incorporate magic squares into their formulae, including familiar ones such as MILON and NASI, suggesting some passing knowledge of The Book of Abramelin or similar texts, while the words of the famous SATOR square are expanded into a longer invocation used to attain anything you desire. All of these charms and spells are presented without comment, and without any referencing or specific provenance, so it is unclear as to whether they come from a single written source, what time they date from, or how widely they were used.

Old Mother Green-Cap, as its name suggests, focuses on matters botanical, beginning with a brief survey of various plants and their magical and medicinal properties; though principally the latter. These are followed by sections on various ways in which specific plants can be used: as infusions of virtue, as protective plant charms, as plant charms for love, for animals, and in a general curative capacity. Here, naturally, if Old Mother Red-Cap’s methods of dealing with those troublesome and persistent warts proved less than efficacious, there are plant-based options available to you using Groundsel or Gooseberry.

In the final mother, she of the Black-Cap, the focus turns to maleficia, with Gary prefacing the section by referring to the Double Ways practitioners of Cornish and West Country witchcraft, in which one’s status as black or white is entirely dependent on what the client expects of you. This section is, thus, comprised of various spells and formula of opposition and attack. There are spells with a focus on sympathetic magic, using footprints as the focus of attack and control, and the intriguing method called the Ill-Wishing Bag. Old Mother Black-Cap also provides an opportunity to turn to the more darkly-dyed side of the Double Ways, with a discussion of the role in West Country witchcraft of the Old One of Many Names: the Bucca Dhu, Old Nick, the Black God, the Devil. With this is also a brief consideration of the black toad of the book’s title, which is described as having the most inextricable and symbiotic relationship with West Country witchcraft of all the theriomorphous entities of witchlore. Gary makes a distinction between the West Country toad witch and the perhaps more familiar toad doctors, who would cruelly use batrachian body parts in their charms, as well as the equally-lethal initiatory use of the toad in East Anglian practices. Instead the relationship, which appears to act as an overall philosophy for West Country witchcraft, is a symbiotic one, better represented in the image of witch and beloved familiar.

As a whole, The Black Toad is devoid of much in the way of an editorial voice, indeed it lacks much of a distinctive voice at all, seeming to shift tone, manner and vocabulary at times, as if some of the spells have been taken verbatim from their source. Information is presented in a brief, matter of fact manner, and it is only in the final Black-Cap section that a more expansive tone makes a welcomed appearance, allowing for elaboration and analysis. It is here, in the discussion of the Old One with its accompanying paean to toads, that one gets a sense of Gary’s true voice, with the emergence of her writing style that is always a joy to read.

As with all of Gary’s books, The Black Toad is copiously illustrated in her trademark style of line and stipple. These range from beautifully rendered little page fillers, with a surfeit of skulls and other magical accoutrements, to full page, chapter-prefacing illustrations. As ever, these are beautifully rendered and make the perfect visual accompaniment to Gary’s subject matter: suggesting elements both archaic and hands-on, but with an unmistakeably modern touch. In addition to these, there are several pages of photographic plates by Jane Cox, documenting, for the most part, various magical objects, predominantly from the author’s personal collection or the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft.

Published by Troy Books

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Serpent Songs – Curated by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold

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Categories: folk, robert cochrane, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

Serpent Songs coverIn my mind, I always find this book from Scarlet Imprint occupying the same mental space as Hands of Apostasy from Three Hands Press. Both are compendiums of essays on various witchcraft topics, with a focus on what is referred to as traditional witchcraft. And both take themselves pretty seriously.

One comes to expect much of a muchness when encountering collections such as these, with the usual range of suspects and the usual familiar topics. Like Hands of Apostasy, though, Serpent Songs delivers in regard to both the diversity of matters considered, and the breadth of contributors. While there are some familiar, and by no means unwelcome, faces, there are also writers that may not have had much published before, if at all. That doesn’t mean that the writing is sub-par, in fact, the very opposite. Edited by Peter Grey and sub-edited by Troy Chambers, Serpent Songs hangs together cohesively, despite the disparate contributors. There’s a rigour to the text, evidence of the dedication that Scarlet Imprint pour into their publications, with no sign of those common occult writing pitfalls: poor spelling, poor grammar and poor sentence construction; all of which have been, one assumes, expunged by the very welcomed red pens of Grey and Chambers.

This exploration of witchy paths less travelled results in a broad itinerary that, in addition to sojourns in the usual locales, includes stops in Sweden, the Balkans, and the Basque region. There are actually two contributions that deal with Basque witchcraft, and welcomed contributions they are too, as it remains an area for which precious little of worth has been written. In Lezekoak, Arkaitz Urbeltz provides what is effectively a primer on Basque witchcraft, introducing the goddess Mari, her lover and son, Akerbeltz the Black Goat of the Sabbath, and the adversarial figure of Etsai.  The second contributions, But the House of my Father will Stand, comes from Xabier Bakaikoa Urbeltz, who, like Arkaitz Urbeltz, is described as “a sorgin from one of the few remaining houses of Traditional Craft in Euskalerria;” it’s a small world. Urbeltz the Second’s piece, as its subtitles informs us, explores the concept of etxe or house in Basque witchcraft, both as a metaphorical concept and a tangible symbol of Basque culture. The etxe becomes a living entity, something of an alchemical egregore, comprised of the physical house (etxe, salt), the property (etxeondo, sulphur) and the inhabitants (etxekoak, mercury).  Diablo Basquo by Childerico

Elsewhere on this trotting of witchy globes, Johannes Gårdbäck of Sweden gives a hands-on, introduction to Trolldom. He uses an anecdote of a consultation with a couple troubled by a spirit as a device with which to explain his techniques, and give a solid understanding of the paradigm and terminology with which he works. Gårdbäck’s approach is refreshingly pragmatic, with little sense of pretence or occult smoke and mirrors; unless lack of pretence is one of those smoky mirrors… we’re through the looking glass here, people.

Some of the more familiar names here deliver to their usual high standard, with the trifecta of Gemma Gary, Shani Oates and Sarah Anne Lawless doing what they do best. Gary’s essay and brief ritual, The Witch’s Cross, doesn’t necessarily cover much new ground, being a meditation on some familiar tropes of witchcraft and the lure of sites of liminality, but it’s done with such a beautifully rendered, poetic narrative that you don’t mind. The same is somewhat true for Lawless who in Mysteries of Beast, Blood and Bone, covers exactly that. It’s something of a familiar area for the ever sanguineous Lawless but her writing is always a joy to read and fair reeks of her subject matter, such is the unpretentious delight she obviously takes in it. And Oates writes, true to form, in her part stream of consciousness, part exegesis, part what the hel is this about manner, where you just buckle yourself in and see where it goes. It is, if nothing else, an intelligible journey, so you forgive a little disorientation here and there.Astride the Hedge by Gemma Gary

Elsewhere, Stuart Inman and Janes Sparkes take the reader across the Atlantic for a look at the 1734 Tradition, an always interesting diversion in what is quite an exhaustive piece, documenting influences and confluences, mythos and ways of working. Steve Patterson goes matters Cornish with an exhaustive consideration of the Bucca, while Richard Parkinson considers the intersection between exorcism and the cunning arts in post-reformation England, where the lack of Catholic clergy left a hole in the market and job opportunity for versatile former exorcists. For once in matters of witchcraft traditional, the Andrew Chumbley vault has nothing to directly offer posthumously, but he does make an appearance via Anne Morris’ But to Assist the Soul’s Interior Revolution, an analysis of Chumbley’s art as representative of the idea that art born of magical practice expresses secret iconography. As with Jimmy Elwing’s piece in Hands of Apostasy, it’s always interesting to read takes on Chumbley, sometimes more so than reading Chumbley’s arcane prose itself, and this is the case here, with Morris taking a rather academic approach to frame and understand his artwork.

With sixteen contributions, one could reasonably wager there’s something for everyone here. Not all of it is gold, some a tarnished silver or shameful bronze, but this is largely a matter of personal taste, rather than anything inherently wrong with the quality of the writing or the ideas put forward. The cultural diversity provides interest, preventing that feeling of wallowing forever in issues of Folklore, and listening to the Incredible String Band, in Bocastle; fun though that may be.

Serpent Songs comes in two editions: a Sylvan edition of 750 exemplars, bound in olive cloth, and a Serpentine edition of 64, hand-bound in verdant goatskin. Title, publisher and a dual snake motif are rendered on the spine and cover in gold, but as with most Scarlet Imprint books in my possession, this has started to flake and fade, being perhaps not entirely enamoured with the cloth binding into which it has been imprinted. End papers are black with a serpentine wave pattern rendered in copper or a muted gold, while the internal pages are a creamy, and gloriously heavy, stock; so heavy in fact that you find yourself checking the page numbers each time you turn the page as it feels like you’ve grabbed two. The type is set with initials in Paris Verand and the body fully justified in a small Satyr face that might be too tiny for some readers but which is just right for me. This is all formatted with the generous margins that give that trademark Scarlet Imprint refined and archaic look. Splendid.

Published by Scarlet Imprint.

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