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

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Categories: folk, germanic

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Troll Inside You spread

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

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

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

Published by Punctum Books.

Published by Punctum Books.

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Welsh Witches – Richard Suggett

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Categories: folk, witchcraft

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

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

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

Triskelion design by Carolyn Hamilton-Giles

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

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

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

Verso and recto pages in spread, typesetting by Joseph Uccello

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

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

Welsh Witches spread with images

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

Published by Atramentous Press

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Masks of Misrule – Nigel Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

Nigel Jackson: Horned God

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

Nigel Jackson: Misrule

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

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

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

Published by Capall Bann

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Call of the Horned Piper – Nigel Aldcroft Jackson

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Categories: folk, luciferian, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

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

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

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

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

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

Hela by Nigel Jackson

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

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

Image by Nigel Jackson

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

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

Published by Capall Bann

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Angurgapi: The Witch-hunts in Iceland – Magnús Rafnsson

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Categories: folk, germanic, grimoire, runes, witchcraft

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

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

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

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

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

Spread with image of the codex Lbs. 143 8vo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published by Strandagaldur

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Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways – Gemma Gary

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Categories: folk, witchcraft

Here at Scriptus Recensera there’s no shortage of reviews of Troy Books, erm, books. This comes largely down to matters practical: they are both affordable and desirable, with even the standard editions being presented in an attractive, cloth-bound format with embossed cover designs, and beautifully formatted and illustrated within. They’re also easy to review since they are eminently readable, consistently professional and usually devoid of the kind of errors so typical of occult publishing. As such, though, when it comes time to read and review Gemma Gary’s Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways, one wonders how differently this will fare amongst not just other previously reviewed Troy Books books, but also amongst Gary’s other written works.

Traditional Witchcraft, with its somewhat generic title amongst a veritable sea of Traditional Witchcraft books, can at least make a claim to being one of the originals of the current crop, first published ten years ago in 2008, with this being the third edition from 2015, following a revised second edition in 2011. In the intervening years, Gary’s skills have grown as a writer, becoming someone who I find admirably effortless to read. This isn’t always the case here, with occasionally tortuous phrasing, peculiar usages of semicolons, and the odd run-on sentence which you can’t imagine encountering today.

Traditional Witchcraft provides something of a template to other books that have subsequently come from Gary and Troy Books. There’s an overwhelming emphasis on folklore, which is naturally for the most part specific to Cornwall. While there is a substantial bibliography at the back of the book, there is zero citing within the body, so all of this lore comes across, intentionally or not, as personal, experiential knowledge. That said, it is interesting to review the bibliography to get a sense of where things have presumably come from. It is divided into folklore and broader witchcraft sections, with the former featuring a surfeit of works from Kelvin Jones’ Oakmagic Publications, while the latter has a healthy nod to Capall Bann’s triumvirate of Jackson/Howard/Pearson.

This grounding in folklore, including a welcomed consideration of the Bucca, gives way to a thorough introduction to Gary’s Cornish system of witchcraft, which takes up the rest of book’s two thirds. For anyone familiar with traditional witchcraft, there won’t be anything here that’s entirely unfamiliar or revelatory, but it is consistently given that little Cornish flavour. Gary begins by introducing the tools of cunning, at the forefront of which is the staff, which she describes as being as important to traditional witchcraft as the athame is to Wicca. This assemblage of accoutrements also includes a knife, cup, bowl, cauldron, sweeping tools, various types of stones, necklaces, and noise makers such as drums and wind roarers. Gary provides a brief description of each of these and then information on empowering them with a technique called hooding.

Gary then explores the cosmological setting of Cornish magic in The Witches’ Compass, using that rubric to outline a system in which the quarters are imagined as four roads emanating from the axial circle. Each road is associated with a particular form of intent, and with it a range of correspondences including seasons, elements and familiar spirits. These roads are worked with a Compass Rite in which a compass round is drawn and then walked before the specific magical act begins. Gary then provides an outline of the Troyl Hood, a procedure that is used to close any rite or workings.

With the emphasis in Traditional Witchcraft of matters folkloric, there is a significant section on witchcraft as a trade, with an exploration of charms and practical magic. This begins with a brief preamble of the types of employment a witch might find before detailing various planetary virtues and their associated powders, oils and incenses. Then follows a wide selection of charms for all kinds of sympathetic magic, the kinds of things that will be familiar from any type of folklore collection, utilising familiar simultaneously mundane and exotic ingredients like horse shoes, dead toads and knots. Gary rounds things off with what any witchcraft book needs, a survey of the ritual year, but this isn’t so much your standard Imbolcs and Beltanes, and instead have a Cornish twist, with the quartenal Furry Nights of Allantide, Candlemas, May’s Eve and Guldize being joined by the summer zenith of Golowan and the midwinter solstice of Montol. These are each presented with an explanation and then an example of a corresponding ritual.Coming to the conclusion of Traditional Witchcraft, Gary ends with a beginning and provides a chapter on initiation, with a wide ranging discussion of its history and precedents, before providing a ritual for solo initiation into her Ros an Bucca hearth.

At over 200 pages, Traditional Witchcraft is a solid introduction to Gary’s oeuvre and Cornish witchcraft in particular, free of much in the way of artifice or pretension. The Bucca looms large within its pages (and on the cover of the paperback edition), while there are also tantalising mentions of Ankow, the Cornish personification of death who is here seen as a Hela-like hag of death and transformation. Interestingly, snakes also figure largely in the contents of Traditional Witchcraft, something that is perhaps not often found in similar contexts and something which adds a certain appeal for this reviewer. Gary repeatedly refers to the idea of igneus snakes as expressions of tellurian power that can be drawn up from the earth and into the body in a kundalini-like manner.

As is the Troy Books style, Traditional Witchcraft is illustrated throughout with Gary’s unmistakeable hand, though her trademark stippled stylings still seems somewhat inchoate here, and she explores a variety of other techniques; one even looking reminiscent of Daniel Schulke’s atavistic, two tone botanical considerations in Viridarium Umbris. Joining these full page and interstitial illustrations is a large collection of photographic plates by Jane Cox, either showcasing relics of note, or documenting practical acts of magic.

Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways is available in two editions, a generic paperback version and a hardback edition. The hardback is presented in a claret red binding, with black end-papers, black and red head and tail bands and with silver foil blocking to the front and spine. In addition to these two available editions there were also a special limited edition (bound in green cloth with a unique image blocked in copper foil on the cover), a fine limited edition and a special fine edition. The fine edition, limited to 25 copies, was hand bound in scarlet hand finished goat leather with gold foil blocking to the front and spine, marbled end papers, red head and tail bands and marker ribbon, enclosed in a lined slipcase covered in red library Buckram cloth. Finally, the five exemplars of the special fine edition were hand bound in dark green fine hand polished and finished goat leather, with hand tooled raised labyrinth design on the front and gold foil blocking to the spine, with marbled end papers, capped spine ends, and gold marker ribbon, enclosed in a lined slipcase covered in green library Buckram cloth.

The title is also available as a four-CD audio book, created in conjunction with Circle of Spears Productions and read by actress and voice artiste Tracey Norman.

Published by Troy Books

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The Devil’s Plantation: East Anglian Lore, Witchcraft & Folk-Magic – Nigel G. Pearson

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Categories: folk, witchcraft

The title of Nigel G. Pearson’s The Devil’s Plantation speaks to a concept also known as the Devil’s Holt, Halieman’s Ley, or Guidman’s Croft, in which a section of a field, often a triangular corner, was set aside, left unploughed and allowed to become infested with weeds. More pertinently, the title is also that of a manual of magic reputedly owned by a witch from 19th century Horseheath, Cambridgeshire. This now lost volume is believed to have been a collection of East Anglian lore and magic.

For those expecting the grimoire of its namesake, The Devil’s Plantation doesn’t attempt in any way to fulfil that expectation, and instead focuses at first on the East Anglian folklore, providing examples of various kinds of spirits, including the Good Folk, followed by a chapter on meremaidens, giants and spectral hounds. In this way, The Devil’s Plantation resembles Gemma Gary’s The Black Toad, also published by Troy Books, in that it’s something of an encyclopaedic collection of folklore, albeit largely lacking the kind of fastidious referencing one might expect of an encyclopaedia. The data is presented expertly, but there’s sometimes precious little information given as to its source, be it previously published works, first hand anecdotes collected by the author, or, and without evidence to the contrary one must inevitably allow for the uncharitable possibility, things entirely made up by the author. Some sources are explicitly mentioned, and so for example, several sequential quotes appear from Holinshed’s Chronicles, but this section is inconsistently preceded by a discussion in which there is a direct quote from some unspecified and unreferenced source. There is a brief bibliography and further reading section at the conclusion of the book, but there is often no direct citing of these as references within the body. One could argue that this isn’t intended to be an academic book, rigorously adhering to Chicago or APA style guides, but a little consistent contextual context would be nice when presenting facts, and especially quotes.

Things turn from matters folkloric to matters witchy in the next three chapters: Characters of Craft, Speak of the Devil…, and Witch Ways. The first of these surveys exactly that, presenting brief biographies of various witches drawn from trial records and folklore collections. This is a cast of colourful characters with evocative names such as Mother Lakeland, Old Winter, Jabez Few, and Daddy Witch (alleged owner of the original Devil’s Plantation). The chronology in these profiles gradually moves forward until the narrative becomes one that concerns itself with modern witchcraft, embracing figures from living memory (though still caught in the slip of myth) such as Monica English, Lois Bourne, and their intersection with Gardnerian craft. In some ways, this period is of more interest and intrigue than that of hundreds of years ago, with the modern era of witchcraft having a certain appeal in the way it functions as a myth in the making.

Speak of the Devil… is a less directly witchy diversion into the folkloric appearance of the Devil in East Anglia, full of the usual Devil as builder type stories familiar from folklore, but Pearson uses these to segue into a how these and similar tales relate to witchcraft and in particular the role of the Black Man. Finally, in Witch Ways, Pearson presents a survey of the admittedly limited examples of recorded techniques of East Anglian witchcraft. Despite this caveat, there are a variety of techniques presented here, incorporating things such as the now familiar toad rite (given in both Horseman’s Word and witch versions), ways of communing with the dead, and various forms of sympathetic magic. Again, there’s an inconsistency to how the provenance of these are presented, with some given chapter and verse, source and all, but others, even when there’s a block quote, not being referenced.

Things begin to wrap up with Green Ways, a brief little herbal documenting various popular East Anglian herbs and concoctions, before the longer Folk Ways explores several techniques of principally sympathetic and apotropaic magic which, as is acknowledged, are as witchy as they are folky. The final section, Three Crowns & Several Halos, is effectively a paean to East Anglia, with a consideration of local saints within that currently beloved intersection known as dual faith observance. Pearson states as undeniable that the lives and myths of these saints have intertwined with the energies and spirits of East Anglia, becoming part of its magical tapestry along with the other beings that preceded them. The biographies that follow of saints Felix, Fursey, Botolph, Ethelreda, Withburga, Edmund and Walstan don’t provide too many examples of their magical application, or anything unique beyond the usual stuff of Golden Legend, save for a final paragraph in each. That is left for a closing consideration on working with saints in general where Pearson gives a few brief pointers concerning building a devotional practice.

Pearson’s writing style throughout is competent and coherent, making for an easy, effortless read. As with similar books, the regional emphasis provides a much welcomed focus, though there is a certainly little that isn’t familiar, both witchcraft and folklore wise, from broader considerations; and for anyone with a passing knowledge of this subject, there won’t be too many surprises or revelations.

The Devil’s Plantation is presented in Royal octavo format, with 272 pages, plus 16 pages of photographic plates, and line drawings and figures by Gemma Gary throughout. Never one to skimp on the editions, Troy Books has four options: a paperback edition with a matt laminated cover and 80gsm white paper stock; the fancy-enough-for-this-reviewer standard hardback edition with a blue cloth binding, gold foil blocking to the front and spine, 80gsm white paper stock, starkly vibrant buttermilk coloured endpapers, and black head and tail bands. Then, in the sold out department, there’s the limited special edition of 300 hand-numbered examples, bound in dark brown recycled leather fibres, with gold foil blocking to the front and spine, light brown end papers, and black head and tail bands. And finally, the fine edition limited to fifteen hand-numbered exemplars, in a full black goat leather hand binding with inset dark blue goat leather shield panel with a blind embossed boarder and dark blue title panel on the spine, silver foil blocking to the front and spine and hand marbled end papers – plus a buckram slip-case with blind embossing to the front.

Published by Troy Books

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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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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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