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Howlings – Edited by Alkistis Dimech

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Categories: esotericism, goetia, grimoire, magick

Howlings coverBack when Scriptus Recensera launched, the Word document that forms the master copy of the reviews here (and which now runs to 110 pages) had a provisional list of headings, with the names of books to review. It still works like that, new review-worthy titles are added when they arrive and quickly, or eventually, the space beneath them is filled in as they are rapidly, or slowly, read. One title that has been there resolutely from the beginning, seeing its companions reviewed and sent down the pages of the file, is Scarlet Imprint’s Howlings, so let’s for lots of reasons I’m sure, and not just to finally put it to rest, review it exactly ten years after its release.

Howlings was Scarlet Imprint’s first anthology concerning grimoire-related writings, and it was later followed by the previously reviewed Diabolical. It bears the perfect name for such a title, seemingly ambiguous and modern (like some noise-rock duo… *pause for searching* well, what do you know, it’s a witch house producer from California), but referring appropriately to a seemingly contentious translation of goetia as ‘howling.’ The Goetia is just one of the grimoires explored by the multiplicious howling voices in the fourteen essays that make up the singular Howlings, along with The Picatrix, Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Michael Bertiaux’s The Voudon Gnostic Workbook, Aleister Crowley’s Liber 231, and Andrew Chumbley’s Qutub.

Fittingly, it is The Goetia that receives the most attention in Howlings, with a total of six essays addressing various aspects of the 17th century grimoire, featuring contributions from Paul Hughes-Barlow, Aleq Grai, David Rankine (who also later contributes a piece on Agrippa and magical squares), Peter Grey, and two from Thea Faye. In the first of her two pieces, Sex in the Circle, Faye considers aspects of gender in invocation, while in the second, and continuing with her largely practical approach, she addresses the trustworthiness of the various goetic spirits. Considering that in The Goetia there are 72 spirits available to practitioners, it’s interesting that one of them, Andromalius, finder of thieves and treasure, receives somewhat disproportionate attention here, being the focus of Hughes-Barlow’s piece, and also featuring heavily in Aleq Grai’s Tools of the Goetia, which includes a transcript of a ritual conversation with them.

Chimeric image from the internal title page

For those with more caliginous inclinations, Crowley’s qliphothic text Liber 231 receives attention from Krzysztof Azarewicz, Stafford Stone and Donald Tyson. Azarewicz broadly considers the text itself, while Tyson’s 49 page The Gates of Daath, the longest contribution in this anthology, is a wide-ranging consideration of sephiroth, qliphoth and their tarot attributions, particularly in regard, as one would expect, to the nullsphere of Daath. As he would later do in Diabolical, Stafford Stone’s contribution to things nightside are a selection of cards from his Nightside Tarot (Baratchial, Gargophias, Uriens and Niantiel), accompanied by brief battlefield notes, as he calls them, describing each of the featured atu and their perpetually symmetrical spirits.

Spread with plates for Stafford Stone's Gargophias, Uriens cards

One of the things that appeals about Howlings, and it is summed up in the subtitle to David Beth’s Bertiaux-themed Into the Meon essay, Approaching the Voudon Gnostic Workbook, is that feeling of a supremely personal interaction with the writer’s grimoire of choice. Where Howlings succeeds most is in those instances where the idea is one of encountering, exploring and experiencing a tome; something that appeals to the bibliophile in me. While writing should be rigorous without doubt, those qualities are enhanced here by the enthusiasm of the contributors, where the interaction with the grimoire is experiential, visceral and profound. At the same time, though, this approach doesn’t always work, and some of the essays reflecting on the author’s personal journey wither in comparison to those with more of an academic skill set. The latter succeeds is in those instances where the personal is combined with a clear, authoritative voice, and with stellar writing skills; something not always the case with so many contributors.

Scarlet Imprint’s Peter Grey fulfils the promise that a volume such as this offers with his perfectly titled The Stifling Air. Combining the personal with historical antecedents, Grey writes in a beautifully poetic manner that engages with its tone but doesn’t get too purple in its prose. His is a picturesque tribute to the ritual virtues of smoke and incense, beginning with a panegyric overview before considering various incenses individually and extensively. That sense of personal interaction is also evident in Jack Macbeth’s Getting to the Point, which acts as both paean and practicum for Chumbley’s poetic text Qutub. Macbeth writes affectionately of Chumbley’s relatively brief work, describing it as hypnotic, whirling and a “many layered exposition on the sorcerous arte.”

The formatting in Howlings is as lovely as one would expect from Scarlet Imprint, with type set at a small but readable serif face, framed by large margins and a generous footer. Given the multitude of contributors, there’s understandably variance in how images are presented, with sigils rendered differently in weight and style, but otherwise the quality is fine. The one exception is in the reproduction of two engravings by Albrecht Dürer, with Melancholia not as a sharp as it could be, while The Angle with the Key to the Bottomless Pit is unforgivably and surprisingly soft, murky and blurry.

Howlings page spread

Howlings was released in several editions, with the first being a limited and hand-numbered edition of 333 copies. The second edition consists of 666 copies but is confusingly numbered sequentially from 334 to 999, of which this reviewer’s copy (for those keeping score at home) is number 782. It has black endpapers, black and white illustrations, colour plates and is bound in turquoise cloth, with gilt titling to spine and an geometric Islamic design foiled over the entire front. Although, as with other Scarlet Imprint titles, this foiling has, with the passage of time, flaked and faded in places, despite the impeccable archival standards at Scriptus Recensera. Contact with the cover through the mere act of reading means that by the time you finish the book, the cover will have changed, appearing worn in those places  where your hands have rested. Feature or a bug, you decide.

Published by Scarlet Imprint

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Diabolical – Edited by Peter Grey & Alkistis Dimech

Categories: goetia, grimoire, magick, nightside

Diabolical coverDiabolical continues on from where Scarlet Imprint’s previous compilation of grimoire-related writings, Howlings, left off, but with the subject matter taking, as the title indicates, a decidedly darker twist. Twice the size of Howlings, this volume features contributions from, amongst others, Jake Stratton-Kent, Stafford Stone, Thomas Karlsson, Donald Tyson, Kyle Fite, and Johnny Jakobsson, and as with most compendiums, there’s a combination here of the good, the bad and the ugly.

In many ways, the study of grimoires is a celebration of books themselves and John J Coughlin’s The Binding of Black Venus is a delightful, albeit regrettably short, read that gives an insight into the process of book binding as a talismanic process. Coughlin’s paean to the printed word, of that thrill that arises when coming across a new arcane volume, will resonate with any bibliophile and a similar theme is mined in greater depth by Kyle Fite. In Orisons of the Oblique, Fite surveys and celebrates the modern creation of grimoires, highlighting the problem that is inherent in the genre, where pretenders to the throne of Philosopher Kings, as he calls them, create less than satisfying tomes, while others will actually grasp something numinous. With occult publications, the reader needs to differentiate between authentic works that reflect a genuine inspired praxis and those that with all their sigils, obfuscation for the sake of obfuscation, and purple prose are the result of self-deception at best. The pull of having some sigil-embossed tome with your name on it, shot through with breathless claims of ancient traditions and veiled mysteries, seems a strong one. Despite the quality of Scarlet Imprint, this same distinction can be made with the contributors to this volume. There are academic considerations that are well written and thoroughly referenced, and then there are laughable ones that seem one step removed from the scrawlings of teenage diabolists. Maybe it’s just me, but an elaborate procedure for making a pact with “The Devil” and one for a ritual of self-sacrifice comes across as silly, all the more so when you realise that despite all the authoritative and turgid tenebrous talk, it’s ultimately theoretical because you know the author has never done it.

Lengthy essays dominate Diabolical, with varying degrees of success. In Hidden Treasure: Taufer Books of Old Europe, Erik de Pauw looks at the various magickal books that straddle the line between grimoire and folk magic, but he lacks focus in his writing and infuriates with his casual turns of phrase. It’s quite jarring to be told “yes, you read that right” or asked “you’re not a witch, are you?” The longest piece in Diabolical is provided by Johnny Jakobsson with Le Grand Grimoire: Pacta Conventa Daemoniorum, in which he thoroughly analyses the Grand Grimoire/ Le Veritable Dragon Rogue and its invokations and spirits, including notes on textual variants between different editions. Unlike his contribution to Clavis One, Jakobsson hasn’t borrowed Kenneth Grant’s dictionary and instead writes clearly and eruditely, although at 44 pages, the obsessive attention to detail begins to tire. Donald Tyson’s lengthy Dimensional Gateways is a far reaching discussion of otherworlds (everything from the sephira to the realms of faery) and more specifically to the gateways between them. Tyson’s writing is a joy to read and he brings together various cultural and literary threads with a deft, knowledgeable hand.

Several of Diabolical’s contributions consider encounters with specific demons. Jake Stratton-Kent gives a personal account of dealing with the Grimorium Verum spirit Nebiros, giving enough detail to provide fairly thorough Thelema-infused ritual instructions. Mark Smith’s demon of choice is Belial, Humberto Maggi’s is Phenex, while Krzystof Azarewicz considers Bartzabel from a personal as well as historical context (famously invoked by Crowley in 1910 and then later by Jack Parsons, who sent him off in pursuit of Ron Hubbard). While these pieces deal with the potentially ludicrous invoking of supernatural entities, the material is refreshingly presented in a rather matter-of-fact way, with none of the fanciful boasting or hyperbole that lesser writers might succumb to. For whatever reason, this contrasts strongly, to the ultimate benefit of this volume, with the previously mentioned guide to chatting with The Devil.

Most of the grimoires that are referenced in Diabolical are the classics of goetic magick, but one contemporary volume is Andrew Chumbley’s Qutub. Already considered by Jack Macbeth in Howlings, this time it’s the turn of Mark Smith. As with Macbeth’s review, this is very much a personal reflection, describing the power that Chumbley’s slight work has and detailing how Smith uses the text in an annual ritual. Another parallel with Howlings is provided by Stafford Stone who once again contributes some full colour plates of his Nightside Tarot (Shalicu and Characith, for those keeping count, as well as Ace of Serpents and Two of Stones). Other art plates come from Johnny Jakobsson, Thomas Karlsson, and Kyle Fite; all acting as visual accompaniment to their written contributions.

Lucifuge

Diabolical is not short on practical advice, and in addition to the procedures that can be gleaned from some of the previously discussed accounts, there is Aaron Leitch’s quite invaluable consideration of Abramelin magic and in particular the use of magic squares from that system. Thomas Karlsson’s contribution is a brief guide to creating a Saturnian ritual, with a comprehensive list of correspondences.

In all, Diabolical is a valuable work. There are some less than successful pieces but these are overshadowed by a stable of competent and in some cases, dazzling, writers. Bound in red cloth, and beautifully formatted with wide margins and a lovely serif typeface, this edition is limited to 999 exemplars. A fine bound edition of quarter black goat, marbled boards, consecrated host, gilded edges, and slipcase is, of course, long sold out.

Published by Scarlet Imprint.

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