Categotry Archives: folk

folk

by

Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism – Daniel A. Schulke

No comments yet

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.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

Plants of the Devil – Corinne Boyer

No comments yet

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

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

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

No comments yet

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

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

The Black Toad – Gemma Gary

No comments yet

Categories: folk, witchcraft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published by Troy Books

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

Serpent Songs – Curated by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold

No comments yet

Categories: folk, robert cochrane, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published by Scarlet Imprint.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

The Tomb of Marie Laveau in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 – Carolyn Morrow Long

No comments yet

Categories: folk

tombofmarielaveaucoverIt’s hard to imagine that a book about a single tomb would be a very long one, and that is certainly the case here, with this work stretching to just 120 pages, half of which consists of endnotes and an appendix. The tomb in question, known as the Widow Paris Tomb, is that of Marie Catherine Laveau, famed as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. As the introduction notes, earlier versions of this text have previously appeared in an online incarnation at knowlouisiana.org, and in print through New Orleans Genesis, the quarterly journal of the Genealogical Research Society of New Orleans.

Carolyn Morrow Long has written about Marie Laveau before, but this smaller volume doesn’t provide much about her specifically, instead using the device of her tomb to look at her various family members and descendants. There is a brief introduction to Laveau early on, with an attendant and equally brief summary of New Orleans Voudou. Both of these set the scene and provide context for the devotional use of the tomb, which in the past has been festooned with X marks from supplicants.

The Widow Paris Tomb does not just contain the body of Laveau and has been the place of rest for 84 people in total. This is possible due to the nature of New Orleans tombs, in which the structures can house the bodies of multiple internees, with the bones of earlier occupants being pushed to the back or into a lower vault after a period of decomposition when more room is needed. If one believes in the power of the blessed dead, this makes for a powerful magickal image, with the idea of all these bones and their attendant spirits, housed within these compact, battery-like domiciles.

This image, appealing as it is, doesn’t quite hold up with what is presented here, though, due to the way in which the book studiously documents each of the internees, meaning that these blessed dead quickly becoming the mundane dead. Long exhaustively explores records to give a history for each person said to be interned within the Widow Paris Tomb, and given the funereal capacity in question, one promptly begins to lose track of the many names.

As a small book about such a specific subject, there’s not much more that can be said about The Tomb of Marie Laveau in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. It very much is what it is: a book detailing a grave and its occupants. It is well written, with a geeky embracing of cemetery and other public records, but this minutiae is more digestible when summarised, rather than painstakingly documented. From these summaries, one is reminded of the high mortality rate of yesteryear, with so many children dying of ailments that are longer fatal, or in some cases, heard of today. Number one take away fun fact: some internees were renters, whose bodies were only meant to stay in the tomb for a year but invariably ended up becoming permanent residents.

Published by LeftHandPress, a division of Black Moon Publishing, LLC, and printed by Lightning Source, The Tomb of Marie Laveau in St. Louis Cemetery No.  is competently laid out with black and white photos scattered throughout.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

Verdant Gnosis: Cultivating the Green Path Volume 2 – Edited by Catamara Rosarium, Marcus McCoy & Jenn Zhart, PhD

No comments yet

Categories: folk

verdantgnosisvol2_coverSub-subtitled “Selections from the Viridis Genii Symposium,” this work from Rubedo Press does exactly that, compiling written contributions from various speakers at the 2016 Viridis Genii symposium. As a sequel to a similar compilation from the inaugural event in 2015, Volume 2 builds upon a successful formula: specialised considerations of various plants or their application, which presupposes a certain level of expertise or familiarity; although this volume is sadly absent the spectacular illustrations by Maxine Miller that graced its predecessor.

Dan Riegler of Apothecary’s Garden provides an introduction that acts as an opening address. It gives a sense of where things might head in this volume, with something of a new age, blossoming consciousness, righting the wrongs against the earth type of vibe, rather than anything slightly grimmer and more path of poisons that the more darker inclined amongst us might prefer. Mr Veneficium himself, Daniel Schulke, puts things back on track, though, with the opening piece, Transmission of Esoteric Plant Knowledge in the Twenty-First Century, an excerpt from his recent Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism. As the characteristically verbose title suggests, it is by no means entirely concerned with poisonous plants, instead providing an overview of various methods of receiving plant-related knowledge. Schulke surveys historical examples of this communication and proposes several future models.

Whilst Schulke’s consideration is a broad one, most of the contributions here are focused on a particular plant, or a rather specific category. Corinne Boyer considers funerary trees with a consideration of trees associated with death from across a range of cultures, followed by some suggestions for practical application. Jesse Hathaway Diaz’s Man-Dragon, Man-Root and the Witch looks at mandrake and its analogue ginseng, with an emphasis more on the latter than the former.

A strong experiential focus is found in John Keyes’ Devil’s Club: Sacred Cascadian Medicine, in which he discusses the Oplopanax horridus of the title, a large understory shrub endemic to North America’s Pacific Northwest. Despite its use by indigenous peoples including the Tlingit and Haida, Keye forgoes much reference to them to avoid any suggestions of cultural appropriation, and instead refers to his own practice. This results in a largely anecdotal piece, but one which reads well and is without too much in the way of hyperbole and claims of cure-alls; more about such things imminently.

Elsewhere, Karl Feret presents a general discussion about the mystical properties of trees, emphasising the importance of choosing the symbolically appropriate species for particular magical working or intent; something he feels is lacking emphasis in much ritual work. A similar area is considered by Jenn Zahrt whose sympathetic correspondences are of the astrological variety, discussing how particular planets rule particular plants. Perhaps the most intriguing title in this collection is Urtica Dioica’s On the Importance of Keeping a Poison Garden, although he tempers the excitement in the first sentence, removing my vision of a cottage immersed in belladonna, hemlock and foxglove. Instead, the poisons are entheogens, poisonous in the sense that they will kill the ego, but mercifully, other than san pedro, the few plants considered here are none of the usual suspects, preferring instead reed canary grass and prairie mimosa.

viridisgenii

Given the theme with which this book concerns itself, sitting at that intersection between mysticism and science, there are inevitably areas where scientific rigour loses out to either unverified personal gnosis (which is fine in matters mystical), or the rather less forgivable unverified statements of unsubstantiated fact. One piece on Baltic amber begins to grate with its woolly thinking, gratuitous claims and references to scientific studies that aren’t actually referenced (if you’re going to call on the authority of the scientific model, then at least cite in an academic manner). History is treated in a broad, cavalier attitude with the ancient Chinese included in a list of peoples who prized and used Baltic Amber before the Common Era, suggesting that the Amber Road that transported amber from North Baltic seas to the Mediterranean must have had a couple of lesser known and really, really, really, long scenic routes. The most egregious thing, though, is a bald statement that, whilst studying at Kraków University, the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus wrote a graduate thesis “on Baltic amber’s potent healing properties.” This is a staggering claim, given that Copernicus, one of the fathers of the Scientific Revolution, was studying astronomy at Kraków, not new age woo, and it is a claim for which no reference is given and no corroboration can be found. The only online instances of the claim are the author’s own version of this article and a similar one by another author who has either copied substantially from this piece, or is the victim of this author’s cribbing. Naturally, by the time the miraculous health benefits of amber are up for discussion, the ship of credibility has well and truly sailed and the bovine excrement detector starts flashing at claims that “Baltic amber has been verified scientifically as an adaptogen.” Of course, there’s no citing of when this verification occurred, let alone any explanation as to how something can be scientifically verified as a thing that itself is hardly an accepted scientific principle. What next? Something scientifically verified as a potent homeopathic remedy?

This might seem a bit harsh, especially given that this is a book that also includes discussions of astrology and talking to plants. But there’s a difference between that kind of magickal paradigm-building (where it’s all wibbly wobbly, wistical mystical stuff) and matters that are slightly more tangible, like life-threatening diseases. It is deeply problematic, irresponsible and intellectually dishonest to present amber as a miraculous panacea capable of seemingly treating everything, including multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. Got a baby with epilepsy or colic? Sling some powered amber under their tongue. Oh, and amber can also apparently act as a “protective shield from radiation” which is pretty awesome; so much nicer and more natural than those cumbersome suits. And then, following a snide, and thoroughly predictable, aside about pharmaceutical companies not creating new antibiotics because they’re too busy with their cool and profitable Viagras and Zolofts, Baltic amber tincture is confidentially predicted to play a role in the future, fighting antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Extraordinary claims one and all, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, of which there is none here; not even of the next to useless anecdotal variety.

This excursion into uncritical amber woo highlights the problem inherent in this field, and, one supposes, in occultism in general. When it comes to matters quantifiable, one is better to err on the side of credible data, lest one looks like a fool. This is particularly true when we are dealing with constituent materials that are, shall we say, made from Teh Science. Of all areas of mysticism, this is one in which the tools and materials can be defined, understood and measured in a scientific manner, as can their effects; or not, as in the case of geriatric tree resin. To throw that model aside in preference of wishful thinking and recycled website claims is to leave oneself, and one’s associates, open to ridicule. This is the case here, where this less than stellar contribution ultimately tarnishes the whole book, reflecting poorly on the editorial decision to include it in all its irresponsible glory.

Verdant Gnosis: Cultivating the Green Path Volume 2 comes as a functional, perfect-bound paperback of 165 pages.

Published by Rubedo Press

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

The Devil’s Dozen: Thirteen Craft Rites of The Old One – Gemma Gary

No comments yet

Categories: folk, luciferian, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

Devil's Dozen coverThis beautifully presented and compact little book brings together, as the title suggests, thirteen rites for the Old One. And, as also indicated by this title, the cover image and the abundance of horns throughout the book, this Old One is most unashamedly the Devil of folklore, viewed through the lens of Traditional Witchcraft. Distinct from the church’s concept of Satan, this Devil still presides over evil, but these are the perceived evils of personal freedom, indulgence and ecstasy. He is, as Gemma Gary explains in her introduction, the bearer of forbidden gifts, the opener of the Way Betwixt, and the old spirit of the land.

Gary is at pains to point out that these rituals make no claim to any great antiquity or hereditary descent, but rather draw on extant themes that are well documented in the folk record. There is, naturally, a focus on matters Cornish, with several dealing with the Bucca, and these rites act as a concise adjunct to much of the material found in Gary’s more explicative Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways. This book is not without its own explications, though, and each ritual is preceded by a brief explanation providing its context and attendant folklore. Gary defines these thirteen as rites of vision, dedication, initiation, consecration, empowerment, protection, illumination, union, transformation, devotion and sacred compact.

It is a sacred compact to the Devil as the Man in Black or Dark Man that acts as the first rite in this collection, establishing a relationship and setting the scene for that which is to come later. This is a simple procedure, effectively an elaborated statement of intent that is preceded by a little ritual structure (thrice utterance of the Lord’s Prayer backwards in a remote location), and followed by a period of reflection during which the Man in Black may manifest in some manner. This compact is indicative of Gary’s ritual style: fairly succinct with some nicely written liturgy. There’s not much in the way of obscure ingredients, elaborate correspondences, complicated formula or extended periods of time, with the rites having more of a feel of hedgewitch pragmatism. The only temporal imperatives are fairly standard things like midnight and during a full moon, while the ingredients and tools list tends to speak to things that anyone embracing the aesthetics of Traditional Witchcraft will end up acquiring (if only too look cool in their altar photos on Facebook): iron nails, an iron knife, a scourge, horned skulls, dragon’s blood incense and a stang. Circles abound in these rituals, as does the use of mill treading as a way to generate power and there is a general feeling of getting out amongst it, with hands dirty from soil and the soot of flaming torches.

gemmagary_thelightbetwixt

It is the written word in which Gary excels, with her incantations having an archaic quality that doesn’t wrap itself up in arcane complexity (or misapplication), and instead flows with a degree of authenticity. This is aided by the occasional use of rhymed couplets and alternate rhymes, which gives some of the words a folky familiarity, as if they’ve been overheard in playgrounds for centuries; obviously those would be rather spooky playgrounds.

At 187 x 114mm, The Devil’s Dozen is a small volume that has a diary-like quality to it, fitting comfortably in a single hand or handbag for easy transportation to ritual locales. Its slight width does lead to rather snug gutters that do require the book to be splayed wide in order to catch everything and having the, one supposes unintentional, side effect of a sense of bibliographic intimacy as one spreads and peers in.

gemma_goat

As with most if not all of Gary’s books, The Devil’s Dozen is illustrated by the author herself in her trademark stippled style of pen and ink. These are usually found as full-page preludes to the various rites, while a veritable study of horned skulls is dotted throughout the work as fillers. In addition to these in-body illustrations, there is a selection of black and white plates by Jane Cox, providing a photographic record of some of the procedures contained herein, along with various apposite images of witchcraft-related accoutrements.

gemma_circleofskulls

The Devil’s Dozen is published in four editions, each consisting of 160 pages, along with eight black and white photo plates. In addition to a regular paperback version, there is a hardback incarnation which attains a pretty nice level of quality for what is the affordable standard edition with its 80gsm cream paper stock, black case binding, copper foil blocking on the front image and the spine, hunter green endpapers, and green and black head and tail bands. There are two special editions, the 300 hand-numbered Special Edition bound in dark, grained green recycled leather fibres, with the cover and spine elements in blocked in gold foil, green end papers and green and black head and tail bands. The even more luxurious Special Fine Edition is suitably limited to 13 sold out hand-numbered copies in full black goat leather binding with a gold border and a blind embossed thicket of branches on the bevelled front board, inset with a high quality glass goat’s eye cabochon. This is further housed in a full goat leather solander box, blocked in gold and lined.

Published by Troy Books.

devils-dozen-superfine

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

Craft of the Untamed: An Inspired Vision of Traditional Witchcraft – Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold

No comments yet

Categories: faery, folk, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

craftoftheuntamedThere is no shortage of books about Traditional Witchcraft upon the shelves in the Scriptus Recensera library, filled as it is with worthy contributions from Michael Howard, Gemma Gary, Shani Oates, Andrew Chumbley, Nigel Jackson and others. And that’s not to mention the works of the pretenders and imitators that haven’t been granted access to these hallowed halls. The question that arises, then, is whether Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold is able to bring anything new to the table. Frisvold certainly seems to think so, cutting my musings off at the pass and making his case early on for one major point of difference: a focus not just on the British and Scandinavian sources for witches, but on the parallels that are to be found in Italy and even further afield in South American expressions of magic, especially those connected with African diasporic religions. Thus, a consideration of the crossroad in witchcraft inevitably makes a brief detour into the comparable symbolism in Yoruba belief and Vodou, facilitating a full circle of motifs when ‘the kingdom’ from the Cult of Exu finds an analogue in the Witches’ Sabbath.

Frisvold makes another distinction at the outset, noting that similar books are often highly eclectic in their approach, uncritically embracing myths and legends, with an attendant use of etymology and epistemology. However, there is often little to differentiate what is presented in this book with the style of, say, Michael Howard, Nigel Jackson and Shani Oates, three authors who, to my mind, have often written with an encyclopaedic, info-dump approach that embraces folklore, legend, myth and etymology in a rather broad manner. Frisvold’s sources are a little different from those of Howard, Jackson and Oates, though there are certainly some common ones; and titles from Cappall Bann do make a significant contribution to the bibliography. Instead, Frisvold draws heavily on material from Hermeticism and the Western Tradition, with an obvious and fairly frequently fondled touchstone being found in Cornelius Agrippa.

There is a utilitarian approach to the writing here with a conversational tone that precludes much in the way of scene setting or background exposition when information is presented. Frisvold obviously knows his stuff (except perhaps for the bit about Robert Johnson dying at the crossroads, wahhh?), so there’s no feeling of him skimping on the details out of ignorance, and while you don’t need to over explain things to an occult audience (where a certain familiarity with the material is expected), it still feels like more context could be provided before the nuggets of knowledge are dropped. The brevity of Frisvold’s writing is also evident in a lack of transitional phrases tying paragraphs together, with ideas often being abruptly introduced as if they have no immediate relation, to the subjects that have gone before. This leads to a jarring effect when blocks of information appear, if only briefly, as if they are non sequiturs, barren of any relation to the wider discussion.

This slight lack of focus bleeds into the chapters, which, although given clear titles and themes, don’t necessarily reflect an obvious flow throughout the book; suggesting, although I have no evidence to corroborate it, that they started as individual essays. These chapters cover off various areas of witchcraft, with the first one being the aforementioned consideration of the symbolism of the crossroads. Chapter two, Solomonic Magic, is a wide-ranging slightly unfocused discussion that covers more than what its title would suggest, lurching from grimoire magic, to folk concepts of the Devil, to liminal Roman and Etruscan deities and ultimately to inverted crosses. The focus is tightened a little more in a discussion of blood and ancestry in systems of witchcraft and, inevitably, beyond. Arguably the most successful chapter is one in which the gaze lingers on a central theme for longer with a consideration of the Witches’ Sabbath and the traditions surrounding the Mount of Venus. I am rather partial to the emphasis Frisvold gives to Hela, focusing on Her role as an initiatory goddess of witchcraft and the underworld, addressing Her as “Ninefold Mother, Hel, Herodias, Holda. Queen of Elphame, Queen of Venus’ mount.”

Many of the chapters conclude with a practical activity that put into action what has just been discussed. Thus, a chapter that could be broadly said to be concerned with sympathetic magick concludes with a series of brief malefic spells, such as a poppet charm for harm and healing, and a procedure for creating a mojo bag for protection. In the chapter on the Witches’ Sabbath, instructions are given for a rite of transvection using flying ointments, while the consideration of blood ties is concluded with a procedure for feeding the ancestors

audreymelobeardsley

Each chapter in Craft of the Untamed is prefaced with a black and white illustration by Audrey Melo, who also provides the painting that features on the cover. The reproduction of these internal illustration varies widely in quality, with everything from acceptable to quite pixelated, to goodness me, they’ve put pixels in their pixels so they can pixel when they pixel. These images are also wildly inconsistent in style, with Melo having no discernible look of her own and instead riffing on the aesthetics of various familiar esoteric artists. There’s a few atavistic Austin Osman Spare motifs, a fairly convincing Aubrey Beardsley pastiche, and a couple of images that are an obvious tribute to the unknown artists of a thousand wishful metal album covers scrawled across a thousand school exercise books. One image takes Brian Froud as its inspiration and by inspiration I mean that at its centre is one of his rather distinctive characters, economically traced, without credit.

Craft of the Untamed is better formatted than many Mandrake of Oxford titles, with none of the cramped styling that is usually found amongst their books. In place of it, though, and proving I’m never satisfied, is an overly generous leading that almost approaches double line spacing in depth and which, although allowing things to breathe, does result in just 30 lines of text on a page. This count is reduced even more when the style is applied to what ends up being rather spaced out invokations that can’t help but be read in a stilted, broken tone worthy of William Shatner. There’s an unfortunately typical lack of attention to detail in the formatting and proofing: chapter headings can’t decide if they’re meant to be bolded or not, the first page of each chapter flaunts convention and includes the header with the book’s author and title in it (as do all other pages, regardless of the content), and there’s a reckless disregard for punctuation, with a surfeit of missing, redundant or misplaced commas.

With its overgenerous leading, Craft of the Untamed makes for what feels like a slimmer volume than its tally of 180 pages would suggest. When this is twinned with Frisvold’s brisk style of writing, the reader can find themselves skipping quickly through the pages. As an overview of some of witchcraft’s themes, Craft of the Untamed meets its brief, and the point of difference, largely unpromised at the start, is a tendency to relate these to Western Occultism and Hermeticism, with Frisvold’s affiliation as a Traditionalist occasionally coming through via this approach.

Published by Mandrake of Oxford

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

Hands of Apostasy – Edited by Michael Howard and Daniel A. Schulke

4 comments

Categories: folk, luciferian, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

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

With eighteen authors contributing to this collection, there’s a wealth of viewpoints and writing styles, with both sides of the Atlantic getting some coverage, and styles both academic and anecdotal being featured. By accident or design, North America gets the early focus with Douglas McIlwain talking briefly about his stateside family tradition, while Cory Thomas Hutcheson’s Killing the Moon is a thorough investigation of witchcraft lore from the mid-to-southern Appalachians. The lunacide of the title (and its solar analogue) is an initiatory ritual element found throughout the south, ranging from the Appalachians to the Ozarks. A focus on folk practices is found elsewhere in this volume, with David Rankine considering the influence of witchcraft and natural magic on the grimoire tradition (a reversal of the common narrative of low witchcraft borrowing from high magic), while Gary St. Michael Nottingham covers similar  territory with a survey of conjure-charms from the Welsh Marches. As with Rankine’s essay, Nottingham shows an interaction between the grimoire tradition and folk magic, documenting the source texts from which various charms would have been sourced.

There are several essays that take a more conceptual, rather than practical or documentary, approach, using themes from traditional witchcraft as lenses through which a greater philosophical picture can be explored. Most notable of these is the longest essay here at 45 pages, Martin Duffy’s The Cauldron of Pure Descent, which considers that magical accoutrement most firmly associated witches, the cauldron. Given the length of his essay, Duffy is able to, if you’ll pardon the obvious, throw many things into the pot, creating a thorough exploration that embraces not just witchcraft but Palo Mayombe, alchemy, and various strands of mythology. In The Man in Black, Gemma Gary considers the devil in witchcraft, although less as the horned master of Sabbaths and more as the enigmatic stranger encountered by witches in times of need and moments of isolation and reflection. Michael Howard’s Waking the Dead almost rivals Duffy’s length with its consideration of necromancy which begins somewhat encyclopaedically, rather than discursive, before finding its feet towards the end when Howard assimilates the assiduously assembled information into a sabbatic craft context.

Andrew Chumbley does rather well contribution-wise for someone who passed on in 2004, providing two pieces, The Magic of History: Some Considerations and Origins and Rationales of Modern Witch Cults. As their titles suggest, both are broad in their concerns, rather than specific, briefly surveying the history of modern witchcraft and the intersection with Chumbley’s own sabbatic craft brand of traditional witchcraft. Also participating from beyond this mortal veil is Cecil Williamson, founder of the Museum of Witchcraft, whose rather short article looks at two little known magical techniques, moon-raking and the ritual of the shroud. This slight essay previously appeared in The Cauldron, and is prefaced with a preamble by that magazine’s editor, Michael Howard, which is only one page shorter than Williamson’s actual words.

As one would expect, the sabbatic craft makes a significant contribution to this volume, with Chumbley’s two pieces being joined by The Blasphemy of Things Unseen by Daniel Schulke. Schulke writes in his usual florid style, embellishing his words with archaic flourishes in a meditation on the role of night, darkness, secrecy and the void in witchcraft and specifically the sabbatic cultus. But the most interesting exploration of Chumbley’s oeuvre comes from Jimmy Elwing with Where the Three Roads Meet. Subtitled Sabbatic Witchcraft and Oneiric Praxis in the Writings of Andrew Chumbley, this is an admirably sanguine and removed biography of Chumbley, providing a meticulous analysis of the themes in his writing; and one of the highlights of this compendium.

Timo_Ketola_sabat

Elsewhere, Radomir Ristic’s Unchain the Devil considers Serbian witchcraft and seems to act as a teaser for their full book Witchcraft and Sorcery of the Balkans now available from Three Hands Press. Levannah Morgan’s Mirror, Moon and Tides is the only purely experiential piece here, clearly and authoritatively explaining their personally grounded techniques of mirror magic with little need to recourse to the authority of either tradition or the academy.

There is a certain rigour to most of the material here, whether it’s deference to academia with a thorough embracing of citing and referencing, or less thoroughly, an explicit identification of experiential knowledge or tradition. The same cannot be said for the rather anomalous contribution from Raven Grimassi, who plays to type and writes with the broad and speculative strokes one would expect of a Llewellyn author. His piece, Pharmakeute, is typical of Llewellyn woolly thinking, full of unreferenced references to unspecified ancient times and unspecified ancient ancestors; a precedent set in the first sentence which boldly and broadly states “ancient writings depict the witch as living among the herb-clad hills” – which writings, which witch, which herb-clad hills? In an amateur attempt at anthropological psychology, Grimassi speculates that a magical worldview may have been influenced by the ancestral experiences of living in forests – these ancestors and their wooded location remain unidentified, adrift in some imagined olden days, distant from all the other unspecified ancients who can’t have had a magical worldview because they lived on hills, plains, mountains, in caves, by river and lakeside and, I don’t know, maybe anywhere that wasn’t a potentially lethal forest. While discussing mandrakes, Grimassi wonders if the idea that mandrake had to be harvested using a dog pulling on the plant (lest the harvester be killed in the process) was created by witches in order to discourage laypeople from effectively raiding their stash. Yeah, cool story bro, except that the technique has a significant pedigree dating back to at least the first century CE where the Romano-Jewish historian Josephus made the first written mention of a presumably well extant belief. I guess some ancient witch from the olden days must have been playing a long game and dropped the skinny to Titus Flavius so he could spread the word on their behalf.

With its diverse collection of writers and subject matter, there’s something in Hands of Apostasy for everyone; well, everyone interested in traditional witchcraft that is – if you’re after something on fly fishing this may be less useful. The highlights are definitely Martin Duffy’s exhaustive consideration of the cauldron and Jimmy Elwing’s analysis of Andrew Chumbley. The low lights go without saying.

Hands of Apostasy comes in standard hardcover edition of 1000 copies, in full pewter book cloth, with a glossy fully colour dust jacket. The internal pages are made of a stark, not entirely attractive white stock and the text is formatted in a capable, functional style. Almost all of the nineteen articles are prefaced with illustrations by Finnish engraver Timo Ketola, whose finely rendered volumetric style provides the book with a cohesive, slightly timeless style that is, given his background, just a tiny bit evocative of metal aesthetics. A limited special edition of 63 copies in quarter goat with corners, hand marbled endpaper, and slipcase, is now, of course, sold out.

Published by Three Hands Press.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
1 2