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Infernal Geometry and the Left-Hand Path – Tony Chappell

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Categories: esotericism, magick, satanism, Tags:

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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The Visions of the Pylons – J. Daniel Gunther

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Categories: egyptian, thelema

The Visions of the Pylons coverGloriously subtitled A Magical Record of Exploration in the Starry Abode, J. Daniel Gunther’s Visions of the Pylons is a record of magical workings undertaken in the mid-1970s by the author and his scribe, Richard Gernon. The pylons in questions are twelve underworld gates, delineated in The Book of Pylons (or Book of Gates), an Ancient Egyptian funerary text that describes the nocturnal journey of a soul into the next world. This passage through the Duant mirrors the nightly underworld journey of the sun, with each gate marking an hour in this long night of the soul. Each of these gates is associated with a different goddess (whose characteristics the deceased must recognise), thus making the text and its journey a fitting initiatory narrative.

For Gunther, the pylons are not simply an Egyptian system, but relate to other psychocosms and magickal worldviews employed in Western occultism, in particular the Qabbalah. During his initial exploration of the system Gunther tentatively identified the first four pylons as the final four sephiroth of the Qabbalistic Tree of Life, but following a suggestion by his then A.:.A.:. instructor, Marcelo Ramos Motta, he reimagined them as the quarternal elemental gates of the single sephira of Malkuth. In a continuation of this correspondence, Gunther would subsequently identify the next three pylons as the sephira of Yesod, Hod and Netzach. It is worth noting that this is not simply a case of like-for-like sympathies between the two systems, and instead, Gunther integrates the two, arguing that the pylons contain internal gateways that provide ingress to the higher planes of the Tree of Life (as well as the thirty aethyrs of Enochian magick) without the use of the traditional pathways between spheres.

Visions of the Pylons colour plates

The record here is an incomplete journey through the pylons, as only seven of the twelve are explored (though two are scryed twice), with Gunther at the time not being permitted to enter the final five; save, he says, for a “fleeting glimpse of the Hold Bridal Chamber (Tiphereth).” He does, though, provide the means to enter all of them and this, the practical side of things, forms a substantial series of appendices, the contents of which are otherwise barely touched on in the preceding recounting of the pylon visions. Each of the guardians is given a sigil, derived from a 5×5 grid composed of phonetic renderings of the Egyptian hieroglyphic alphabet, with the design emerging from connecting the consonants of the name; as one would when using planetary magic squares for a similar purpose. This can lead to some pleasing sigils but also, given vagaries of name length and the placement of the letters in the grid, some rather less than pleasing ones; yes, I’m looking at you, Yethy-ma-eiri-fa, go home, you’re drunk. Each sigil, along with the hieroglyphic version of the guardian’s name, is to be inscribed on a wax pantacle, much as one would in following Crowley’s instructions in Liber A, and this object becomes the focus for exploration of that pylon. This exploration follows a fairly standard Thelema-tinged Western magic approach: corners are invoked, signs of the crux asanta, adoration and silence are made, a sacrament of saffron cakes and honey milk is partaken off (recipe included), and visions ensue; with seer and scribe breaking the respective pantacle in half at the conclusion.

Visions of the Pylons sigil construction

The incongruity in the ritual elements is carried over to Gunther’s record of the visions themselves, where the imagery and the language itself feels more European than Egyptian, save for the occasional appearance of familiar Egyptian entities and iconography. Due to the appeal of the archaic tones of the King James translation of the Bible, the language used here is closer to a facsimile of seventeenth century English than anything one can imagine being spoken by an Egyptian deity; something which Gunther does acknowledge. Similarly, in matters of imagery, angels abound as well as a veritable cornucopia of Western esotericism worthy of Uncle Al’s own magpie-like tendencies: Greek mythology, tarot symbolism, bits of Enochian here, a little I Ching there, Hebrew Hebrew everywhere. Despite giving their names in the creation of the sigils used to enter these gates, the traditional guardians of these pylons don’t seem to play a significant or overwhelmingly identifiable role in these visions, giving way to a more general melange of Thelemic motifs.

Like peeking into someone’s dream journal, it often feels slightly intrusive to read the accounts of other people’s magical visions, especially if you subscribe to the psychological model and see it all as the workings of the unconscious and subconscious; and less graciously, perhaps even the conscious. There is an element of that here, but in general, the visions for each pylon are so suffused with portentous statements, complex imagery and the occasional flourish of gematria that if one was to unsympathetically dismiss this as all someone’s active imagination, you’d still have to give them top marks for effort. All of this imagery is fully footnoted, with Gunther providing a constant and thorough commentary on the meaning and symbolism of everything encountered.

Visions of the Pylons chapter title page

The seventeenth century-style English permeating these visions does become tiresome, with both seer and entities constantly employing its forms, and verily, there doth be a multitude of thous all up in this domicile. This reaches its sublimely ridiculous zenith in the vision of the third pylon where an angel sends your mind reeling by asking the tortuous “knowest thou not that thou art verily the word itself.” Um, sure, whatever you say, guy. This is something which highlights another tendency here, where these astral entities often ask rhetorical questions and unanswered hypophora, as if they themselves are not sure about their own esoteric soup, and are constantly looking for affirmation; yet never pause long enough for an answer. “Hath not the Fire of our Father licked up the offerings upon the stone?” Um, yes, I guess so. “Who hath decreed that the waters should be wormwood to poison the bowels of the sea?” Don’t look at me, it was like that when I got here. “Hath not the head of the Bull been taken to appease the thirst of the Lady of the Sea?” Um *looks sideways*, yeah, absolutely it has. “Hath not the 81 been expanded to the Hawk-headed Lord of Strength and Silence?” Hang on, *checks notes* oh yes, that was mentioned at the last stakeholder’s meeting by Tina from Sales.

Visions of the Pylons page with footnotes and tarot image

As a record of a very particular kind of magickal journey and its attendant cosmology, Visions of the Pylons, irrespective of the snark, makes for an interesting read. Those expecting a straightforward Egyptian experience reflecting the journey through the underworld as recorded in the original Book of Gates will be disappointed, as that iconography and narrative is largely absent. There’s no solar barque, no explicit sequences of the traveller assuming the various neter god forms, and no direct encounters with the guardian goddesses of each hour.

Visions of the Pylons page with Hermanubis image

Visions of the Pylons has been released as a hardback bound in blue cloth with the sigil of the A.:.A.:. debossed on the cover. This is wrapped in a dust jacket with cover art by Nancy Wasserman, featuring a depiction of the solar barque in the underworld, based on a scene from the Book of Gates in the tomb of Ramses I, with the sun god standing at the centre of the boat, bull-headed like Khnum, and the serpent Apep in the waters below.

Book design and layout is by James Wasserman’s Studio 31 with body set in a standard roman serif face but with all dialogue rendered in a different, ever-so-slightly condensed, humanist serif. Other than sigils and the like, Visions of the Pylons is peppered with images, used to illustrate the interpretation of vision elements, including a selection of atu from the Thoth deck, and various photos or drawings of god forms. These vary in quality from perfect line drawings of the Egyptian gods, to rather less satisfying illustrations or photographs whose lo-res origins are betrayed by artefacts and jagged or blurry lines. There are also a series of glossy colour plates showing the relationship between the various pylons and the sephiroth, as well as a black and white plate opening the book with a depiction of Gunther as The Magician, created in pen and ink by Australian artist Robert Buratti (secretly commissioned by Giuseppe Zappia).

Published by Ibis Press

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Queen of Hell – Mark Alan Smith

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Categories: classical, goetia, grimoire, nightside, witchcraft, Tags:

Queen of Hell coverOriginally published in 2010 by Ixaxaar, Mark Alan Smith’s Queen of Hell is here released as a Nightside edition via his own Primal Craft imprint, acting as the first instalment in a reissue of his Trident of Witchcraft trilogy. On the most immediate level, Queen of Hell looks like everything you want in an occult publication: bound in a luxurious green velvet cloth, sigils on the front and reverse covers foiled in gold, blackletter title on the spine (also in gold, naturally), and said spine with a substantial, tome-worthy width of three centimetres. Plus, a matching green cloth bookmark, huzzah!

The queen of hell of the title is Hekate (henceforth Hecate, in deference to Smith’s spelling) but the Hecate within these pages bears only a passing resemblance to the goddess of classical Greek and Roman sources, and appears, instead, as the figure of the book’s title, a diabolical queen of hell and witchcraft of the most glamorously demonic kind. Largely unmoored from her classical origins, Hecate here instead exists within a more qliphothic cosmology and goetic pantheon; something that is made clear from the first page of the first chapter where her throne is said to be beyond Kether and its corresponding qliphah Thaumiel, and with her envisioned as a primordial first goddess, the highest tip of the initiating power or trident of witchcraft, and the queen not only of hell but of heaven and earth. While this has little parallel with the traditional image of Hecate, it must be said that divorced from the specific nomenclature of the qliphoth, it does recall her appearance in the Chaldean Oracles in which she is a grand cosmic force, the lightning-receiving womb and formless fire of the aneidon pur, visible throughout the cosmos.

Queen of Hell spread with sigils of Lucifer

Despite the qliphothic decoration, it is fundamentally a form of witchcraft that is presented here, made none more clearer than in the next chapter and its listing of some familiar ritual implements: athame, wand, chalice, pentacle, sword, salt, etc. Smith gives his own dark veneer of interpretation to these, though, with the wand as the staff of the Dark Lord, the chalice as the grail that is the emerald of Lucifer fallen from on high, and multiple references to Atlantis, which in Smith’s cosmology acts as an ur-culture for his pantheon and its tradition.

This demonic side comes to the fore fairly on when Smith provides an overview of his core pantheon, headed, naturally, by Hecate and followed by the two other points of this Trident of Witchcraft: Lucifer and Belial (subjects of their own books in this trilogy as the titular Red King and Crown Prince of the Sabbat respectively). Somewhat reminiscent of the legend of Diana and Aradia as recorded by Charles Leland, Lucifer is defined as the son and brother of Hecate, a dark solar form of the horned god of witchcraft. Belial, meanwhile, is conflated with Beelzebub and identified as the ruler of the qliphah Ghagiel and as a darker twin of Lucifer, thereby being described by Hecate as “the spawn of my spawn.” Rather than create new sigils for Lucifer and Belial in an already crowded sigil market, Smith relies on the classics and draws from grimoires. And instead of picking just one sigil, he presents the various variations from the Grand Grimoire, the Grimorium Verum, and the Lemegeton. Each is said to be a separate junction belonging to its spirit, though some are given more significance than others, such as, for example, the familiar and more aesthetically-pleasing Grimoirium Verum sigil for Lucifer, which, as its form suggests, is said to be the gateway to the City of Pyramids.

Queen of Hell spread

Beyond this primary trinity of powers, Smith list a range of lesser spirits, once again mixing demonology with the occasional nod to Greek mythology. Thus, sitting quite happily alongside goetic spirits like Surgat and Lucifuge Rofocal are the fate-spinning trio of the Moirai, the Hadean daimon Eurynomos, and the hound Cerberus. Like Hecate (their sister in this telling), the three Moirai, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, are contextualised within a qliphothic framework, and given an abode in the qliphah of Sathariel from which they also access Gamaliel for works of dark moon magick. Similarly, Eurynomos dwells in Belial’s qliphah of Ghagiel, while Cerberus is associated with Daath and the initiatory great Abyss.

As the cast of characters and their areas of influence attest, there is, unsurprisingly, a distinctively dark hue to the content of Queen of Hell, with everything cast within a grimly glamorous aesthetic of moons and serpents, horns and blood, stars and fire. The language of the rites and evocations echoes this, employing a rich, descriptive lexicon in service of a suitably gothic liturgy. It’s not entirely tenebrous, though, and Smith embraces Hecate’s role as queen of heaven as much of hell by having one invocation of a force from the Empyrean realm, with the Archangel Michael called upon as an initiatory force, ultimately merging with Lucifer within the practitioner, the two acting effectively as classic shoulder angels and devils.

Smith writes with a style that is no-nonsense with little room for handholding, deferring to no authority other than that of his own tradition. In some cases, it seems to be assumed that you have gleamed all that needs to be gleamed in the discussion of a particular technique, often presented in its core theory rather than step-by-step instructions, and then you’re on your own if you weren’t paying attention. There’s nothing wrong with such an approach, as it ensures focus and emphasises the experiential, with each incremental step building one ‘pon t’other.

Queen of Hell spread with Evocation of the Witch Gods

Summoning in a broadly goetic style plays a large part in the magical arsenal here (with some major tweaks, as one would expect, with less of the cajoling and threatening), with all of the previously mentioned cast, as well as a broad range of other beings, having invocations. But there are also little things that bring this primal craft back to its witchy underpinnings. There’s a discussion of core techniques of malefica, the use of familiars, a brief diversion into the now almost de rigueur toad rite, as well as the employment of totemic witch bottles (here called spirit pots) to house egregores, and in a continuation of the theme but on a larger scale, the use of cauldrons as a gateway between worlds.

Queen of Hell concludes with a second part, defined as its own self-contained Book of the Inner Sanctum (though the first part of the book is not given a comparable heading), in which the focus moves away from the practical sorcery of the first half and into the astral. The Inner Sanctum of the title encompasses the highest powers and gnosis in the Primal Craft system, and these are accessed with a series of considerably and increasingly more complex and involved rituals, incorporating a variation of the aforementioned toad bone rite, as well as a series of other workings that have less of a familiar witchy pedigree. It is this section which underpins the general impression generated by Queen of Hell, in that what is presented here is a complex, thorough system that, should it and its aesthetics appeal to you, has a lot to work with.

Queen of Hell is illustrated in a style similar to all Primal Craft titles, with sigils rendered as chunky, somewhat-angular, heavy-weighted vector forms, while illustrations are full page glossy plates that have some hand-drawn elements but are also heavy on post-processing, with blurred Photoshop-rendered flames, smoke and clouds. The most striking of these is a portrait of Hecate in which she eerily resembles Carice van Houten as the Lady Melisandre from Game of Thrones, with the ruins of some building ablaze in the background.

Queen of Hell spread with full page image of Hecate

Typesetting in Queen of Hell is rather utilitarian, with the body in a slightly too large serif face, with subtitles in a bold variation of the same, and chapter titles all-caps in another serif face, Garamond. This is set as fully-justified paragraphs, within conservative left, right and top margins, creating a somewhat cramped feeling. Paper stock is heavier than usual, sitting between 130 and 140 gsm, and having an almost card-like quality, which may account for a few places where the binding seems to have suffered.

This Nightside edition of Queen of Hell was released in a now sold-out edition of 500, featuring double thickness endpapers, and handbound in an emerald Lynel Fur that retains the green of the Ixaxaar edition, but with a new sigil foiled in gold on the cover. Sigils within and other artwork have been recreated and enhanced, the promotional blurb tells us, by the D’via Roja Group (though both context and even the powers of Google make it hard to tell who or what this group are).

Published by Primal Craft

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Fiddler’s Green: Peculiar Parish Magazine (Volume 2, number 2) and two leaflets

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Categories: art, folk

Fiddler's Green Woodcutter's Moon coverHere at Scriptus Recensera we have never reviewed a magazine twice, but provided with two leaflets by Fiddler’s Green, along with the most recent issue of the Fiddler’s Green Peculiar Parish Magazine itself, we couldn’t say no. So let’s begin with the two leaflets in question, Nine Defenses Against the Basilisk from Fiddler’s Green’s Clint Marsh and artist Alexis Berger, and Our Bogeys, Our Shelves, from Marsh and artist Jeff Hoke.

These leaflets act as a condensed form of everything embodied within Fiddler’s Green as a whole, and the magazine in particular, taking that finely crafted feel down from 50 or so letter-size pages to just twelve notebook-sized ones, bound in various types of lovely quality card. They retain all the characteristics and aesthetics of larger Fiddler’s Green publications and, if anything, seem to emphasise those qualities of small press quaintness and, indeed in the most positive way, tweeness. Each leaflet takes the type of extended meditation on a theme one might find within the pages of the magazine, but gives, by its very nature, a singular focus, notably with added illustration from select artists.

Nine Defenses Against the Basilisk spread

Originally published in the first issue of Fiddler’s Green, Nine Defenses Against the Basilisk approaches said creature as effectively a metaphor for anxiety and similar social disorders where those experiencing them may feel petrified immobile by its terrifying gaze. Marsh draws on ancient methods of dealing with the chimerical creature as a cipher for coping with anxiety, each accompanied with a dainty little illustration from Alexis Berger. There’s perhaps the most famous method, using a mirror, which is reinterpreted as reflecting on either the way in which people are wrong about you, or turning the mirror on yourself to see your role in whatever is happening. Similarly, the weasel, that eternal foe of the basilisk, is reimagined as the active mind, combating the oscitancy with creativity.

Fiddler's Green leaflets

With the subtitle The Magician’s Library as Mentor, Companion & Oracle, the focus of the second of the two leaflets here is fairly obvious, being a meditation on the power of the written word through techniques such as bibliomancy. With its punning title, Our Bogeys, Our Shelves speaks to a love of books, a sentiment frequently found in the parish of Fiddler’s Green and something which is highlighted here in Hoke’s accompanying illustrations, including a particularly charming one featuring Winnie the Pooh, Peter Rabbit and other friends from fiction.

Book illustration by Jeff Hoke

Turning to the Fiddler’s Green magazine itself, this latest issue, subtitled Woodcutter’s Moon, continues the past winning formula, combining musing on a variety of perpetually gentle and genteel topics, bundled within a consistent aesthetic that, more often than not, employs lines both hand drawn and etched. Cecil Williamson’s Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle provides an early focus here, with Lara C Cory giving a pleasant overview of the museum and introduces a related project curated by artist collective Folklore Tapes called The Art of Magic. Over thirty artists were invited to respond to a selection of Williamson’s idiosyncratic museum index cards, with the project culminating in an exhibition at the Horse Hospital in London. A survey of six of the pieces in this exhibition follows Cory’s main piece, providing images of each work, the inspirational source quote and an efficient and economical description of the final pieces.

Spread with work from the Art of Magic exhibition

This sense of a congenial meandering is continued into the next piece, Musings of an Urban Herb Hunter, written and illustrated by Johnny Decker Miller, who we have had cause to say nice things about in these pages before. Elsewhere, the wandering takes in the megaliths of Donegal with writer and illustrator Sean Fitzgerald, while Eldred Hieronymus Wormwood speculates delightfully on a mysterious green door deep in a labyrinthine bookshop in London. One final example of matters of spirit and place comes from Alan Cynic, who records folk and psych music as Kitchen Cynics. Cynic discusses the legend of Alexander Skene, the 18th century Wizard Laird of Skene, northern Scotland, who was once seen, so legend goes, conversing with the devil by his coachman Kilgour. Along with Grey Malkin on mellotron and electric guitar, Kitchen Cynics have written and recorded the song Kilgour’s Tale based on this scene, and it accompanies this issue of Fiddler’s Green as a lovely flexi disc.

 Spread with article and flexidisc from Alan Cynic (Kitchen Cynics and Grey Malkin)

While Fiddler’s Green is always heavy on the words, there are often sections that take a more specifically visual focus, and in the case of this issue it is found in a showcase of work by Nataša Ilincic. Based in Edinburg, Ilincic has a style in which divine and semi-divine figures are often the focus, and this is true of the work here, with excerpts from her new book A Compendium of Witches, featuring portraits and personal stories of 29 witches from around the world. Reproduced here in black and white, rather than their rich, earthy palette, this glimpse still shows the strength of Ilincic’s style, creating figures with personality and power.

 Spread with work by Nataša Ilincic

As ever, the layout in Fiddler’s Green is exceptional, with its three-column format awash in archaic flourishes, and where even the adverts from other businesses and services seem to belong, so often integrated into the entire aesthetic. Fiddler’s Green is published occasionally by Wonderella Printed and can, along with their other exquisite publications, be ordered from Fiddlers Green.


The soundtrack from this review is the album Ferndancers by Kitchen Cynics

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Treading the Mill: Workings in Traditional Witchcraft – Nigel G. Pearson

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Categories: folk, witchcraft, Tags:

Treading the Mill coverThis volume from the lovely people at Troy Books is a 2016 expanded reissue of Nigel G. Pearson’s Treading the Mill – Practical Craft Working in Modern Traditional Witchcraft, a book that was originally released in 2007 by Capall Bann. With its rough-looking cover (disembodied, low opacity heads floating over a murky woodland), that particular incarnation has never moved beyond the ‘Inspired by your views’ list on Amazon, simply because yes, you really should judge a book by its cover. So, if nothing else, this Troy Books edition wins for having a lovely new cover to judge, care of the inimitable Gemma Gary.

In the company of this new cover is a new chapter, as well as a new introduction (and the original one too), along with revised text throughout the whole book, photographic plates from Pearson, and a smattering of internal images by Gary (largely as chapter headers). In his new introduction, Pearson notes that, in a sad loss for those oenologically-inclined, he has removed a chapter on the mysteries of the cup (with accompanying guide to winemaking), which is replaced in this edition with one on the creation and use of magical incenses.

The first chapter, as one would expect, concerns the creation of space and takes that very act, hallowing the compass, as its title. It’s a broader discussion than just that one rite though, and the rubric allows for a wider consideration of the basic toolkit of Traditional Witchcraft: covering of tools, the opening and dismissing of the compass, the calling and honouring of the directions, and a closing statement and thanksgiving. As this list suggests, this hallowing of the compass incorporates many ritual elements and tools that will be familiar to anyone that has encountered entries from this milieu before, but it also includes slightly atypical elements, in particular a guided pathworking for determining individual directional correspondences.

Treading the Mill page spread

Pearson writes effortlessly with a straightforward style that is without artifice, but which, as evidenced by the book’s 260 page length, is notably more detailed and elongated than one might expect for a title such as this. There isn’t necessarily any flab or undue verbosity to the writing, it just runs long, with Pearson taking his time to ease out points, often informally addressing the reader with hypophora; where a more concise writer might simply bullet, note it, ship it. For example, he provides two lengthy examples of procedures for compass hallowing, each filled with little asides and a conversational tone for what could easily be the driest of instructions. It’s impossible and unnecessary to attach a value judgement to this, as it is not bad writing or wrong writing, but simply the style and something for which time must be allowed when reading.

Treading the Mill, proceeds as one would expect of a title like this, covering many bases familiar, including wand creation (with a brief attendant consideration of the magical properties of various native British trees), spellcrafting (incorporating a variety of techniques under the rubric of natural magic, including herbs, potion and lotions), and the aforementioned section on incense and olfactory magic. Each of these receives a full and thorough chapter, with Pearson each time providing a little introductory theory and history, followed by broad advice, and then more specific recipes or listing of properties. It’s important to note that for all the thoroughness, Pearson doesn’t give much in the way of rituals, formulae or recipes that must be followed by rote, instead offering a general framework and enough information for the practitioner to work out their own specific approach. The reason for this may be gleaned in the prelude to the section on spellcrafting where Pearson states that the efficacy of a spell lies within the person performing it, rather than the spell itself.

Image by Gemma Gary

The acknowledged so-called low magic of the preceding chapters then gives way to a different emphasis with Entering the Twilyte, in which the focus is not on sympathetic magic but more on transvection and others examples of travelling in spirit. Pearson makes a distinction between the spirit travelling of the Craft and the full-on possessive states of voudon, or the heightened sensations of ecstatic religions, presenting instead something with a more sedate aura, where awareness and control is maintained. Like the compass hallowing at the start, this involves a fair bit of guided pathworking and visualisation, which Pearson acknowledges is looked down upon by some traditional witches but which is, he says, just “good old-fashioned Witch magic” that has been part of his own training, and used by other traditional crafters, past and present. And for those who think they are unable to visualise anything, he’s got one word for you: “piffle.”

The final two chapters of Treading the Mill turn to the beings encountered, first with what are defined as spirits, and then with the powers or gods. Spirits is a broad definition that runs from environmental genii locorum such as land wights and sea spirits, to familiars and fetches, all the way to the Almighty Dead and the Elven and Faerie Folk. Pearson provides a veritable bestiary of these various creatures, and for some, includes ways of working with them: a rite for communing with your fetch, or a guided pathworking to visit the ancestors, for example.

Treading the Mill page spread with photograph plate

For the gods, Pearson makes the point straight out of the gate that traditional witchcraft is not a nature-based fertility religion like its ignominious sibling Wicca, and so the gods of this system, while having associations with nature and the land, are seen as more cosmic forces that, to render it poetically, “have their being in the realms of the stars and the dark space beyond and between them.” These deities are not given names in this system (though Pearson acknowledges that they have analogues in some mythologies and that those names are used by some practitioners), but instead have broad titles that describe their roles. For the male there are the King of the Wildwood, the Lord of the Mound, and the Master of Light, while the female is the Witch Goddess who is both the Great Queen and the Black Goddess. For each of these, Pearson provides a thorough description, along with little rites and workings for connecting with them.  

While inevitably there’s not a lot of revelations in Treading the Mill, with it covering territory that multiple authors have explored (and will continue to do so), Pearson presents it all as a cohesive, internally consistent system. His thoroughness, while making it longer than other such tomes, works to its advantage, giving the reader a carefully considered and complete window into this version of traditional craft.

Treading the Mill page spread with chapter heading

There’s a comforting weight to Treading the Mill, with its 260 pages on a nice 90gsm stock, bound with solid coverboards. The formatting within adds to that feeling of stability, with its deft and confident layout, providing nothing sensational but rather a clear and clean look with just the right amount of witchy archaisms. It is this, and the content itself, that makes Treading the Mill sit effortlessly on the shelf in the company of other Troy Book titles from the likes of Gemma Gary and Corinne Boyer, with its scrappy Capall Bann beginnings all but forgotten.

As with many titles from Troy Books, Treading the Mill is available in a multitude of formats, from, at one end of the economic scale, a paperback edition with a gloss laminate, to, at the other, a fine edition of 15 hand bound examples in red goat leather with gold foil blocking to the front and spine, housed in a fully lined black library buckram slip-case, blind embossed to the front. In the middle range of affordability and availability is the standard hardback edition with red endpapers, bound in black with gold foil blocking on the spine, and wrapped in a buttermilk 120gsm matt dust jacket. A now sold out special edition of 250 hand-numbered copies was bound in black recycled leather fibres, with gold foil blocking to the front and spine, and red endpapers and head and tail bands. Finally, there’s the patented Troy Books Black Edition version: a limited hand-numbered edition of 250 in Royal format, 234 x 156mm, bound in black recycled leather fibres, with black foil blocking to the front and spine.

Published by Troy Books

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Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism – Algis Uždavinys

Categories: classical, esotericism, hellenic, hermeticism

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism coverIn the preface to Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism, Juan Acevedo, director of the publisher Matheson Trust, provides an initial outline of the work, being one in which, he says, Dr. Uždavinys’ intoxicated enthusiasm for his topic is tempered with a need to carry out exposition in a discursive and academic manner. It is a work which, would you believe, moves uneasily between the apophatic and the cataphatic, and we all know what kind of shenanigans that leads to. No? Alrighty then.

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism runs as a single, 99-page monograph, divided into 24 chapters or sections that are given titles in the contents page, but infuriatingly, not in the actual body. Without these appearing within the body, the journey that Uždavinys takes the reader on can feel a little unstructured, as he jumps from one topic to the other without preamble. Laborious though it is, it becomes helpful to flip back to the contents page when encountering a new chapter, just to give you a sense of what is coming; and even then, that sometimes helps little.

Its sub-100 pages belie this volume’s density, with Uždavinys employing a multi-layered, polymathical style of writing that crams the pages with as much information as possible and often seems to divert into detail. Conversely, though, Uždavinys avoids using any theoretical framework or providing definitions of terms, so his highly specialised lexicon can be intimidating for those not familiar with it. Contrary to the title, there’s not always a lot of Orpheus involved, and this is no clearer than in the first chapter which begins, sans Orpheus, with a discussion of madness as a melancholy-like gift of the gods that can be poetic, telestic or prophetic (poietike mania, telestike mania and mantike mania).

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism contents

Indeed, the roots that Uždavinys speaks of are more likely to be found in Egypt and more broadly, Mesopotamian, most notably Babylonia and Assyria. Even here, though, Platonism itself begins to lose its status as the focus of the text with Uždavinys spending an inordinate, though enjoyable, time considering the nature of prophecy and divine utterances in ancient Mesopotamia. These mantic experiences are explored exhaustively and range from the kind of channelled material generated by priests and priestesses standing within temples and embodying the gods, to local prophets who received messages from the gods involuntarily. This thorough exploration is divorced from what one would assume, given the title, is the focus of the book, and when Uždavinys does make reference to parallels in Greece he uses the rather less than satisfying, and possibly euphemistic, example of Pythagoras teaching from behind a curtain.

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism spread

That isn’t to say there isn’t any mention of Orpheus or Orphism here, and the following four sections explicitly bear his name in their titles. Given the scarcity of extant information about a mythic figure like Orpheus though, and the lack of definition Uždavinys gives in turn to Orphism, these sections are brief, considerably more so than those that precede and proceed them, before yet another tangent is enthusiastically and abruptly pursued.

To return to the introductory words of Juan Acevedo, whether Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism does indeed move uneasily between the apophatic and the cataphatic this reviewer cannot say for sure, but it does succeed in its inability to sit still, ensuring that little gems spark interest amongst the turmoil of Uždavinys’ generously-described “discursive manner.”

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism spread

With the expectation generated by the title ignored, what Uždavinys provides is an interesting consideration of a variety of matters of interest to the esotericist, whether it be prophecy, initiation, divine inspiration, cosmology and eschatological conceptions of the soul. That these are hidden away within Uždavinys’ somewhat desultory text may make the journey all the more satisfying.

Published by the Matheson Trust

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Pagan Anarchism – Christopher Scott Thompson

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Categories: paganism, witchcraft

Pagan Anarchism coverPublished by Gods and Radicals, this brief 100 page, nine chapter volume from Christopher Scott Thompson does what it says on the can: talks about paganism and anarchism. There has been of late a certain, if not wealth, then at least a healthy crop of titles addressing occultism, paganism and witchcraft in particular as expressions of political resistance and rebellion. There is, as Thompson acknowledges, Peter Grey’s Apocalyptic Witchcraft from 2013, and only a couple of months ago, David Salisbury’s Weiser-published Witchcraft Activism; not to mention elements of paganism and occultism touched on in Stockholm University Press’s Anarchism and Religion series. Thompson’s unique selling point here is its concern with, shall we say, classic anarchism, and with that, pretty classic witchcraft too. Indeed, despite the paganism in the title, and references to some broadly pagan society, it is more witchcraft that is considered here; which as dual faith observers are so wont to mention, may be pagan or not.

For Thompson, the one thing that brings paganism and anarchism together is another ‘ism,’ animism, arguing that it is this that provides the fundamental contradiction between pagan and capitalist world views. With that said, I’m sure some contrarian could argue that you can define oneself as a pagan without necessarily being an animist. One can, to use Thompson’s example, object to dumping poison in a river because you believe, as a pagan, that it is a sacred river, without necessarily believing that that sacrosanctity is a result of, or is imbued by, the river having agency and consciousness.

By way of introduction to this synthesis, Thompson provides succinct histories of both paganism and anarchism. For paganism, he begins with definitions per Ronald Hutton, touches on the feudal systems and power relationships of mediaeval Europe, before finally summarising the modern pagan revival with a fairly standard trajectory: Romanticism, Leland, Murray, Gardner, et al. On the anarchism side of things, Thompson again returns to Romanticism as a significant cultural alembic, noting an intersection between that most pagan of poets and author of The Masque of Anarchy, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the politically progressive family of his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Clearly familiar with his subject, Thompson then proceeds through the history of largely secular anarchism (Godwin, Proudhon, Stirnin, Bakunin, etc), but is also able to find those occasional instances of a pagan presence, such as founder of the Ancient Druid Order, militant labour organiser and anarchist communist George Watson MacGregor-Reid.

Pagan Anarchism spread

The way in which MacGregor-Reid was “ill at ease with the values and the limitations of contemporary civilization” (as historian Adam Stout put it), sums up the considerations here, and the precarious dance that Thompson must perform in advocating for what is essentially a future of the past, a step backwards to go forwards. He addresses such concerns, summarising various contemporary expressions of these theories and noting the problematic nature of the most extreme and anti-civilisation versions of environmental anarchism such as Deep Green Resistance; who, it must be said, end up sounding similar to the most fervent adherents of anti-cosmic ideas.

In one of the concluding chapters, Thompson presents his own theoretical, high idealised, vision of a future anarchist city, potentially hundreds of years following the fall of capitalisation. Everything is very nice, people presumably sing Kumbaya (Pagan Version) a lot, and there’s apparently no room for misanthropes, curmudgeons, loners, the social inept, or snarky reviewers of occult books, because “people aren’t alienated from each other, they live and work together in close proximity.” Sounds hideous.

Thompson uses the Rojava autonomous region in northeastern Syria as the closest extant analogy to this shining anarchist city on the hill, with the zone’s pluralistic democratic federalism, environmental sustainability and decentralisation sounding like the most progressive brand of anarchism.

The chapters of Pagan Anarchism are interspersed with single-page poems and prayers. These are part of a sliver of practical application that Thompson inserts within all the theory. There’s a little guide to bringing the magic back, as it’s described, with incense lighting, walking with intent, etc, while the appendix includes a basic pagan ritual, venerating the gods and the ancestors, and intended to be repeated at least once a month.

Pagan Anarchism spread

Printed by print-on-demand company Lightning Source, Pagan Anarchism runs to just under 100 pages and is perfect bound in a soft matte cover. It bears a striking collage by Ex Voto Fecit on the cover depicting Our Lady of Anarchy, and this is laid out by Li Pallas who has worked on other Gods and Radical titles. It is not clear who did the interior layout here, though, and it differs from that of other Gods and Radicals publications, which have a clear, functional look that doesn’t wow but is perfectly acceptable. Pagan Anarchism, though, seems a bit clunky.

Rather than the elegant Didot serif of the cover, the interior is all sans serif all the time. Copy is rendered in a larger-than-it-should-be serif more suited for display than body (high stroke contrast, a slanted bar in the ‘e’), with smaller-than-it-should-be leading that makes everything feel cramped and shouty; as are the pull quotes which are even bigger and even shoutier. Everything is indented, including, atypically, first paragraphs, while the first paragraphs of each chapter add drop words to this indent, each rendered in a large, all-caps, distressed stencil typeface, because, y’know, anarchy. This same Crass-esque face is used for chapter titles, sub headings and somewhat inexplicably and incongruously, for a full page excerpt from Charles Leland’s Aradia. In all, everything feels very crammed, and not even anarchic, despite the on-the-nose stencil face, while the tightly-spaced sans serif face of the body is only seditious and iconoclastic by not being conducive to reading.

Published by Gods and Radicals Press

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Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess – Idlu Lili Regulus

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Categories: devotional, goddesses, hellenic, Tags:

Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess coverHekate is a goddess with no shortage of books about her, and the shelves here at Scriptus Recensera do not want for her tomes, whether it’s Robert von Rudloff’s Hekate in Ancient Greek Religion, Sarah Iles Johnston’s Hekate Soteira or a veritable hoard of titles from Sorita d’Este and Avalonia Press. This isn’t even Ixaxaar’s first foray into Hekate’s world, stretching back to at least 2010 and Mark Alan Smith’s Queen of Hell. This surfeit of material is understandable given the wealth of classical source texts available concerning Hekate (clearly the deepest repository of data for any of the darker-hued goddesses), and also her aesthetics which have an almost innate appeal for those with, how you say, more cimmerian proclivities.

Now, after their recent release of Jack Grayle’s The Hekatæon, described by Ixaxaar as the first turning of a key to the kingdom of Hekate, a second key is turned with this book by the enigmatically named Idlu Lili Regulus. Originally released in Swedish in 2017 by Avgrund Förlag, Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess is a smaller volume than The Hekatæon, but has certain similarities due to its combination of theory and ritual.

Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess begins with little ceremony or preamble, diving straight into a discussion of Hekate’s ancestry and status as monogen?s, before expanding into a consideration of various mythical beings associated with her via birth or proximity. What one notices immediately is the surfeit of footnotes and citations, with primary sources and academic texts diligently cited at every utterance. Footnotes, meanwhile, are extensive, running to a paragraph normally, but occasionally stretching to half a page and in a few instances, almost an entire page.

Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess spread

This rigour makes for a satisfyingly academic feel, though it is one that provides moments of incongruity. While Regulus writes, for the most part, with a formal style befitting the citations and footnotes, they occasionally break into the more informal voice of a devotee. Thus, amid quotes from authorities ancient and modern, they will suddenly address you “the dear accursed reader” or wax effusively over a quote from Hesiod that causes their heart and being to “reverberate with its ancient, sacred and literally awe-inspiring tone.”

As this fervent tone suggests, Regulus does identify this book as a devotional, rather than an exhaustive or definitive treatment of Hekate, despite the thoroughness of the writing, citing and footnoting. What they choose to focus on, then, following the first chapter, are her associations with the moon and the underworld, and then things relevant to practical work with her: the plants associated with her, her many titles and names (predominantly drawn from the Greek Magical Papyri), and various documented classical examples of working with her.

Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess inner page with Hekate image by David Herrerias

Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess concludes with an appendix of rituals that build upon the historical evidence that precedes them. These begin with a basic crossroads initiation (part meditation, part visualisation) and a heavily footnoted invocation of several pages, drawing on text from PGM IV. The rest includes brief instructions for circle casting (in which, interestingly enough, Cayn/Cain as the witch father is invoked alongside Hekate), a love spell of attraction, a graveyard communion and a crossroads supper, as well as a devotional Hymn to Hekate. In keeping with the tone of the rest of the book, these aren’t simply instructions with a ritual recipe to follow, but include pages of supplementary information documenting historical precedents, and even more within the footnotes.

Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess spread with Magdalena Karlsson's Hekate Portal Icon

As one might expect given the publisher, there’s an element of anti-cosmic philosophy that occasionally rears its serpentine head, with Regulus, for example, regarding the famous Gigantomachy frieze from the Pergamon altar as a depiction of a factual attack by the anti-cosmic Titans against balanced cosmic order’s temporary reign. This is by no means pervasive, and Hekate herself isn’t gratuitously presented in anti-cosmic terms, but it is something that subtly informs what is presented here.

Regulus writes in a confident, sometimes strident, manner, weaving together the slightly academic with the demonstrably devotional, and using turns of phrase that belie the text’s non-English origins. There is no credit for the translation from the original Swedish but it is satisfactory in its execution. There are the occasional awkward sentences where, for example, the tense can slip, but not to a detrimental degree, and by no means as bad as some occult works from native English speakers.

Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess spread

Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess is laid out capably, with body in a clear and classic serif, sitting within generous but not excessive margins. Headers, both main and sub, are rendered in the all caps of a different, slightly irregular, serif face, while chapters begin with a fetching drop cap from the same blackletter face used for the cover and title page. There are, though, a few too many widows and orphans, and shorter quotes are too often separated into their own paragraphs, looking bitsy when buttressed above and below by paragraph spaces, even when they’re only a single or even partial sentence; whereas convention would have them incorporated into their preceding paragraph.

Illustrations in Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess are sparse with no in-body images of any kind and only a few full page illustrations, including glossy plates with an image of Hekate by the always reliable David Herrerias at the start, and a painting by Magdalena Karlsson, Hekate Portal Icon, leading the ritual appendix.

The regular edition of Hekate: The Crossroads’ Dark Goddess runs to 480 copies and is bound in green cloth with title and an image of Hekate (a familiar Hekataia with her depicted three-headed and multi-armed, holding a variety of implements) debossed in a hard-to-read-in-low-light purple. The book was also made available in a special edition of 70, housed in an amethyst-coloured slipcase with an image of Hekate-Zônodrakontis foiled in silver on the front and back. Also included in this edition is a medium-size art card with the image of Hekate by David Herrerias, measuring 26.6 by 20.7 cm and printed on high quality glossy cardboard.

Published by Ixaxaar

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Crafting the Arte of Tradition – Shani Oates

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Categories: folk, robert cochrane, witchcraft, Tags:

Crafting the Arte of Tradition coverAfter their first forays into occult publishing with the Pillars journal, Anathema Publishing presented their first stand-alone title with Crafting the Arte of Tradition by Shani Oates. Since then, at the time of writing, they have followed this up with two books by Craig Williams, one by Anathema owner Gabriel McCaughry, and two further titles from Oates. With an expanded paperback edition of Crafting the Arte of Tradition now available from Anathema, let’s get a review of the classic hardback original from 2016. Full disclosure time, I have had pieces published by Anathema Publishing in the past, and have worked for them as a copy editor. Will this have an effect on this review? Let’s find out.

Normally the reviews here at Scriptus Recensera leave the discussion of the book’s appearance to the end, but let’s switch that up and start off by judging this book by its cover. It’s beautiful. Brown where many occult publishers go black, Crafting the Arte of Tradition has a confident appearance, with a sigil blind debossed into the cloth cover, and the title and author in gilt on the spine creating a contrast with the russet tone. Inside the cover, the beauty continues, as McCaughry displays a deft and sophisticated hand when it comes to typography, with chapter titles simply but effectively rendered in a combination of different styles and cases; though I’m not sure what I think about the use of the attractive and meaningless pilcrow (¶) in subtitles. That said, the margins are a little snug, and with the full justification of type, this creates somewhat intimidating blocks of typographic colour that fill the pages; something that appears to have been rectified in the new paperback edition.

Images throughout Crafting the Arte of Tradition are used sparingly and effectively, with Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos providing starkly beautiful line drawings as both full page illustrations and as fillers and end pieces. These are unashamedly indebted to Aubrey Beardsley, but Vasconcelos makes the style her own, adding innovation rather than relying on slavish imitation. Her forms have a regal, Marjorie Cameron-style elegance, arrayed in fantastical costumes and robes, sprinkled with just the right touch of distance and distain.

Work by Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos

As for the written content, Crafting the Arte of Tradition is very much Oates to a T. She obviously loves to write, though sometimes without consideration for the reader: brevity is sacrificed on the altar of verbosity, and paragraphs run long, stretching to as much as half a page in some cases. Oates seems to have studied at the same writing school attended by Andrew Chumbley and Daniel Schulke, or at least taken a postgraduate paper there, as her writing, which has been straight forward enough in the past, is unnecessarily ornamented and tortuous.

Crafting the Arte of Tradition is arguably part of a recent trend towards a more, how you say, philosophical or analytical approach to witchcraft, instead of the tired rituals-n-recipes formula that has dominated that branch of occult publishing for over fifty years. Peter Grey’s Apocalyptic Witchcraft provided a precedent for this (though his approach is more poetic than academic), while The Witching-Other: Explorations & Meditations on the Existential Witch by Peter Hamilton-Giles is a more recent example. What that means in reality, though, can be that simple concepts are given an unnecessary veneer of complexity due to the use of repetition, and the employing of language that obfuscates, rather than reveals.

Insignia of the Clan of Tubal Cain

Despite being ostensibly an explication of the craft as viewed by Robert Cochrane’s Clan of Tubal Cain, it’s sometimes easy to forget this as for the first couple of chapters, one finds oneself lost in an Oatesian swirl, within which it can be hard to understand or determine a particular focus. This is not just because of Oates’ obtuse language, but the structure, wherein there is often no flow, and paragraphs can begin abruptly as non sequiturs, as if you dozed off a little and have been rudely jolted awake. It is not that the words are obscure or archaic, which they aren’t, but that the phrasing that ties them together is clumsy and circuitous, with tenses changing, and flow halting, overwhelmed by the attempt to sound grander, more authoritative or more arcane than is needed. Improper use of commas plays a large part here, with that little flick being often poorly and inexplicably placed, making for an even more difficult read, and for one in which the immersion for the reader is constantly being broken as you go “What? That’s not how commas work.” The most generous assessment would be to call this writing a stream of consciousness, with all its abrupt leaps and sentence fragments, but even then, a little wrangling of words would have done wonders to instil some sense of, well, sense.

Crafting the Arte of Tradition spread

This lack of comprehensibility is compounded by sloppy proofing and referencing where stray or repeated words litter sentences, and where in some cases, sources have been cut and pasted and then not edited for accuracy. In one particularly egregious example, what is clearly an OCRed source text is quoted, but has been so inattentively dealt with that two errors introduced in the text recognition process occur in its single sentence length: ‘the’ has been scanned and left as ‘I lie,’ while a salt pit called the Old Biat is instead referred to ‘Old Bin I.’ As it is, this quote is incorrectly attributed and cited. It is not, as is unhelpfully and vaguely claimed, from “an historian by the name of Nash” but from The History of the County Palatine of Chester by J. H. Hanshall. The reference to Nash comes from the secondary source used by Oates (A Glossary: Or, Collection of Words, Phrases, Names, and Allusions to Customs, Proverbs, &c., which Have Been Thought to Require Illustration, in the Works of English Authors, Particularly Shakespeare, and His Contemporaries by Robert Nares) which quotes both Nash (that would be Dr Treadway Russell Nash, 1724 – 1811, for those keeping score at home) and Hanshall in the same section, but in relation to clearly different facts. The title of Hanshall’s work, but not Hanshall himself, is then cited by Oates as the source, despite having just claimed that this statement is by “an historian by the name of Nash… famous for his summation of the festival,” with the source and page numbering clearly just being lifted from Nares’ referencing of Hanshall. The same citing of a secondary source as if ‘twere a first occurs in the following paragraph where Oates again uses the entry from Nares’ book in quoting from “another historian named Lysons” (that would be the Reverend Daniel Lysons in his Magna Britannia: Being a Concise Topographical Account of the Several Counties of Great Britain. Containing Cambridgeshire, and the County Palatine of Chester, Volume 2 from 1810). This source is duly cited by cutting and pasting the truncated, authorless-citation format employed by Hanshall, rather than going looking for the original publication by the Reverend Lysons.

The above is highlighted in excruciating detail not to score points or to shame, but out of disappointment. When a lot of effort has gone into a book like this, as the glowing first half of this review is testament to, it is a shame when poor scholarship comes through like that in such a pellucid manner; especially when the resources are available to so easily get it right (all three books are available on Google Books and are fully searchable). When one is presenting a tradition and using historical documents to back up its themes, surely accuracy matters, especially when weak work in one area can make the reader wary of the rest. And speaking of references, for whatever reason Cochrane is referred to throughout this book with his birth name of Roy Bowers, which means that when his articles are referenced, they’re now nonsensically cited as the work of one Mr Bowers, when that isn’t the name under which they were published.

Work by Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos

It is only in later chapters of Crafting the Arte of Tradition that clear points, albeit laboured, rather than well made, can be discerned, and that’s possibly only because it’s broken up by clear subtitles that indicate the subject area. Here, Oates discusses various tools of the craft, locations of power and various other symbols from folklore, myth and legend, but there’s still an unavoidable sense of aimlessness, with no clear direction and with the various thematic locales wandered into as if by accident.

So in summary, come for the prettiness, wade through the wooliness. Crafting the Arte of Tradition is presented as a 200 page hardcover octavo with gilt lettered bonded leather spine, matching blind stamped cloth boards, metallic endpapers, colour and black and white illustrations, and appendices. It is limited to 300 copies of which 280 are bound as the standard edition; the remaining twenty comprise the Fjölkunnig special edition and are bound in full leather, instead of cloth boards. In the hand, Crafting the Arte of Tradition feels very solid with its leather binding, brown cloth and the slightly heavier than usual weight of the pages within.

Published by Anathema Publishing

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Nightside of the Runes: Uthark, Adulruna, and the Gothic Cabbala – Thomas Karlsson

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Categories: germanic, nightside, qabalah, runes, Tags:

Nightside of the Runes coverOriginally released by Ouroboros Produktion in 2002 as Uthark: Nightside of the Runes, this book has had its title flipped, and its page count inflated, by Inner Traditions; a publishing house that is home to a surprising amount of runic content alongside more conventional metaphysical fare. To do this, Nightside of the Runes takes the original content of Uthark, and adds a second part based around the Adulruna, and Gothic Cabbala of the subtitle. The latter is Thomas Karlsson’s Adulrunan och den Götiska Kabbalan, a work previously available only in Swedish, German and Italian. And fun fact, the cover here more resembles that of the original edition of Adulrunan och den Götiska Kabbalan than it does Uthark: Nightside of the Runes.

The concept of the Uthark has its origins in the work of Swedish poet and runologist Sigurd Agrell, who argued that the runes should be ordered, not with Fehu at the start, but at the end, thus beginning with Uruz to make an uthark not a futhark. While there are a few examples of a sequential listing of runes in which they could begin with Uruz instead of Fehu, these may simply be errors or erosion, such as, most famously, the Kylver stone from Gotland, where a vertical line before the Uruz could be the remains of Fehu. Karlsson himself doesn’t labour much for the validity of the theory, saying that irrespective of how it is held, the Uthark is a magically potent version of the rune row that corresponds well with Old Norse language and myth.

Perhaps the most interesting application for the Uthark is in how it changes things numerologically, with the value of each rune moving one along when using a letter-to-number cipher, with, for example, Hagalaz becoming a more pleasing 8 and Nauthiz a fitting 9. On the other hand, confirmation bias, pareidolia and apophenia being what they are, you could probably work out some esoteric significance betwixt a rune and a certain value no matter what number it was assigned.

Nightside of the Runes spread with Uthark interpretations

Despite the title of this half of the book (and of the previous standalone edition), the Uthark doesn’t always play a huge role here, save for the occasional esoteric nugget that can be assigned to runes and the reshuffled aetts. Instead, this is a general rune magic primer, with everything you would expect in it: a section on the meaning and symbolism of each rune (and another variation of this same listing later on with meanings simplified for the purpose of divination), a brief guide to runic yoga in the style of Friedrich Marby, an exploration of the cosmology of the nine worlds, and a guide to ritual, including brief considerations of galdr and seiðr. The most notable innovation here is Karlsson’s presentation of the Uthark order of runes as a journey to Hel along the Helvegr, with each rune marking a stage on the journey, beginning with Uruz as a fitting gate to the underworld and ending with the less satisfying interpretation of Fehu as the magician in their state of completion.

The original body copy of Uthark has been edited for this release, tidying up and finessing the words here and there, but not going all out and altering Karlsson’s voice as it appears in the original, translated by Tommie Eriksson (whose name doesn’t seem to be credited in this new edition). As a result, the writing still comes across as the work of someone with English as a second language, though not horribly or unforgivably so. Phrasing can be a little awkward at times, and sentences are often short, abrupt eruptions, where another writer would have combined two or more of them together for greater flow.

Nightside of the Runes spread with labyrinths and ship grave meditations

Having previously read Uthark, but not Adulrunan och den Götiska Kabbalan, it is the latter that proves the most exciting part of the book to get to. Karlsson gives something of a prelude to this in the Uthark section with a brief chapter on runosophy and cabbala, which does introduce some redundancies when you get to Adulrunan proper. While the book’s first half is indebted to Sigurd Agrell, in the second half that role is performed by the Swedish antiquarian and polymath Johannes Bureus. Agrell and Bureus share certain similarities, despite the gulf of centuries, being figures possessed of a singular vision and unique interpretations of the northern mysteries. Both created innovations of the existing futharks, with Agrell’s one-place-along shuffling of the runes of the Elder Futhark having a parallel in the work of Bureus, who grouped the runes of the Younger Futhark into sets of five, and removed the inconvenient final sixteenth rune, Yr, to make a symmetrical three rows of five Adulrunes, as he called them.

Stephen Flowers provides prologues to both the Uthark and Adulrunan sections of this book, and also acts as the translator for the latter. His introduction to Adulruna is quite substantial, running to ten pages and providing what follows with a thorough context, highlighting the cultural and hermetic milieu from which Bureus, and the broader field of esoteric Gothicism (as Karlsson calls it), emerged. With Flowers providing the translation, The Adulruna and the Gothic Cabbala does feature a significant change in Karlsson’s voice from that of Uthark, lacking the staccato quality, with sentences now flowing longer and smoother.

Nightside of the Runes spread with Adulrunes chapter

The other noticeable difference is a considerably more academic approach, with the content here forming the basis of Karlsson’s 2010 doctoral thesis Götisk kabbala och runisk alkemi: Johannes Bureus och den götiska esoterismen. This is particularly evident in the first chapters of  The Adulruna and the Gothic Cabbala which consists of an academic literature review of Bureus and Gothicism in general, and is then followed by a citing-heavy chapter defining Western Esotericism and name-checking all the usual suspects (Dame Frances Yates, Antoine Faivre, Henrik Bogdan, Wouter Hanegraaff, Mercia Eliade etc.). This makes for two very different halves of a book, with the academic grounding of the second half contrasting strongly with the practical, hands-on enthusiasm of the first.

It is the hermetic influences that played a large role in what Bureus created, with esoteric Gothicism drawing on elements of alchemy, cabbala, astrology and ceremonial magic; including clear nods to figures who loom large within this pantheon such as Paracelsus and Dr John Dee. As such, Bureus makes a fitting role model for Karlsson, whose Dragon Rouge organisation has a similar eclectic approach, employing elements of cabbala, including the nightside, and goetia, but with a strong focus on indigenous Scandinavian traditions.

Nightside of the Runes spread with Bureus rune cross

Bureus’ system involves a dense, interwoven cosmology and a very specific nomenclature that is, to put it mildly, idiosyncratic; and Karlsson does an admirable job of documenting it thoroughly and as clearly as can be done with something as ornamented as it is. For example, Bureus posited a rather unique take on the Germanic pantheon in which, based on the runic formula of TOF, Thor was the preeminent god (an androgynous combination of feminine and masculine worshipped since “primeval times” as the “great invoker”), while Odin and Fröja were his children and messengers. This, as was the style of the time, then incorporated elements of mystical Christianity, with Fröja as the Holy Spirit and Odin as a version of Christ, the son of God, who descended into flesh and then returned, ascending to heaven, providing, as mediator, a process for others to follow. Bureus argued that this reflected a version of the philosophia perennis which had remained pristine in the north far longer than in the lands to the south. This incarnation was eventually corrupted when a wandering master of witchcraft and his wife assumed the names of Odin and Fröja. They received worship and turned this pure proto-Christianity into heathenry with its dreaded worship of wooden idols (and worst of all, changing the order of the formula to FTO, with Fröja now worshipped at the beginning of life, Thor during life itself, and Odin at old age and death).

Suffice to say, there’s not a lot of value to Bureus’ system if you’re purely pagan in orientation, or if you adhere to the archaeological record, with his conception of Germanic belief being, to put it diplomatically, highly speculative. But it is, if nothing else, fun. And that’s what makes Nightside of the Runes a worthy purchase, as it provides perhaps the most accessible and in depth information in English on Bureus’ convoluted cosmology and interpretation of the runes; as well, of course, as Agrell’s slightly less esoteric Uthark.

Adulruna sigil

Illustrations in Nightside of the Runes consist of the original line drawings from the original edition of Uthark in the first half, and an exhaustive collection of images from Bureus’ publications in the second. These are rendered in black and white with the contrast turned well up to remove any colour or texture of the original print material, thereby giving them a consistent weathered and arcane look.

Nightside of the Runes is available in Kindle and hardback versions, with the latter wrapped in a dustjacket over its black boards and the title foiled in silver on the spine. Layout is by Inner Traditions’ Debbie Glogover with the body in a dependable Garamond, and headings in a distressed Appareo that contrasts with the san-serif Gill Sans of the subheadings. Appareo is a nice touch with its almost-slab serifs and worn edges approximating the face used on the original edition of Adulrunan, and conveying less of the runic side of this book and more of a sense of the later gothic manuscript or grimoire. Continuing this style, each chapter heading incorporates a crop of the sun image from the book’s cover (originally from the title page of Bureus’ Svenska ABC boken medh runor), sitting above the title as a pleasing archway.

Published by Inner Traditions


Review Soundtrack: Therion – Gothic Kabbalah  (as with many Therion albums, Thomas Karlsson provided the lyrics to this album based on the work of Johannes Bureus)

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