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Distillatio – Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule

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Categories: alchemy, art, classical, esotericism, hermeticism, magick, tantra

Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule has already had one review this year here at Scriptus Recensera with Time, Fate and Spider Magic from Avalonia. While that work was largely a written one with elements of Orryelle’s art featured throughout, Distillatio is very much a complete showcase of their visual output in various mediums. As its name suggests, Distillatio represents said alchemical stage, and acts as a companion to the other parts of the process documented in Orryelle’s Tela Quadrivum series: Cojunctio, Coagula and Solve. The status of Distillatio as the final volume in this series and the culmination of the alchemical process is reflected in the design, with the book bound in a pure white cloth and wrapped in a weighty white dust jacket with the Cauda Pavonis or Peacock’s Tail in iridescent foil on the front and a similarly rendered fingerprint design on the back.

While the previous entries in the Tela Quadrivum series worked predominantly in black and white, with flecks of gold and silver, Distillatio takes the opportunity provided by the iridescence associated with its alchemical stage and runs with it. Colours, and in particular striking Melek Tausian-blues and a rich ruddy brown, dominate, with the book showcasing Orryelle’s ability as a painter in oils. Orryelle’s characteristic fleshy forms are given an added layer of depth and voluptuousness with the addition of oils, bringing with it a different sense of energy.

Like many of the line-drawn figures in occult art, Orryelle’s phantasmagorical forms usually have an ephemeral and chimerical feel, adrift in a timeless netherworld, but with the addition of oils, they become a lot more present, the line made flesh as it were. With this physicality comes two things, energy and permanence. In The Wild Hunt, participants in the Heljagd pour forth from the centre of the image, reaching across a tumultuous heaven in a furious motion that is mirrored below by the reaching branches of the World Tree. Their source at the centre, which in this case is the gutter of the two page spread, is a zoomorphic figure of Odin and Sleipnir interfused, disappearing into the liminal space created by the formatting of the book. Naturally evocative of Peter Nicolai Arbo’s Asgårdsreien painting from 1872, The Wild Hunt replaces Arbo’s classical forms with more tangible yet still fleetingly elven figures, whose ferocious, otherworldly speed is implicit within the flurry of brush strokes.

Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule: The Wild Hunt

The World Tree of the The Wild Hunt is a frequent motif within Distillatio, often assuming the same compositionally-central role, with its branches and roots emanating outwards, bringing with it various forms of life. In one, alchemical birds appear in its branches and surrounds: a bloody-breasted pelican feeding its young, a resplendent white eagle that forms the tree’s crown and is mirrored by the shadow of a black eagle in its root, while a peacock claims a branch as its own. Similarly in Cycle of Life, the tree sits at the centre of the only partially coloured and inked image, some of its limb anthropomorphised into grasping hands, while various animals and humanoid creatures emanate from it and circle around the frame as embodiments of Nature, red in tooth and claw.

Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule: Alchymic Birds on the World Tree

In more static images, Orryelle’s oil paint gives gravity and a luminous power to its subjects, such as the looming figure of Isis in Osiris Embalmed, or the apple-clasping Melek Taus adrift in a sea of peacock feathers and interstellar clouds in Melek Taus and the Path of Venus. Meanwhile, in With the Milk of a Gazelle, Hathor heals Hoor’s Eyes, an asomatous Egyptian landscape hosts Hathor, crowned effulgent, who heals the eyes of a contorted Horus that lies before her, his arms and legs twisted into uncomfortable reversal.

Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule: With the Milk of a Gazelle, Hathor heals Hoor’s Eyes

As evidenced by the variety of deities featured throughout the works, Distillatio is indicative of Orryelle’s eclectic mythological tastes, with the various divine stars being familiar to anyone who has encountered hir work before. This syncretic quality draws principally on Egyptian, Hindu and Germanic myth, with bits of Greek and Celtic thrown in, sometimes in the same image.

It isn’t only oil paintings that feature in Distillatio and Orryelle also includes a selection of his digital montages. Some of these incorporate elements of his paintings, such as St Michael And/As The Beast which blends the background of a painting with repeating photographic images of Orryelle as the titular and winged saint. There is something a little incongruous about the presence of these montages, and the incredible skill evident in the paintings is not necessarily always matched in their digital siblings. It feels like the book would have been no poorer had they been left out, allowing for the paintings alone to be a more solid and consistent body of work.

Explanations for the images are spread periodically throughout the book, appearing in explanatory blocks before or after several blocks of spreads. It’s not the most satisfactory way of presenting this information, requiring a lot of flicking backwards or forwards, but there’s not many other ways to do it. These legends to the legends are fairly pithy and provide an invaluable aid to understanding Orryelle’s multi-layered images. It is a shame the typography used here does not mirror the beauty of the images, with it all feeling very defaulty due to the body being set in generic Times, save for Orryelle’s typographically-inadvisable tendency to use a goody bag of other typefaces to highlight certain words. Subheadings are also subject to this, centered atop each section and appearing variously in Harrington, Stonehenge and the face that shall not be named; well, OK, suffice to say, I was not best pleased to see the Egyptian-related subtitles being in dreaded, stroke-bolded Papyrus.

Distillatio was made available in standard and deluxe editions, with the standard being 640 hand-numbered copies in white cloth with a white dust-jacket. The deluxe edition of 64 hand-numbered copies signed by the artist came in crushed white quarter morocco, stamped in black with top edge silver in a dust-jacket and slipcase.

Published by Fulgur

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Pillars: The Scalding of Sapientia – Edited, compiled and curated by G. McCaughry

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Categories: esotericism, hermeticism, luciferian, magick, robert cochrane, witchcraft

The Scalding of Sapientia is something of special issue of Anathema Publishing’s Pillars journal, which at time of writing has had three soft-cover issues in its first volume; all of which have since been compiled into a single, hardbound Perichoresis Edition. The Scalding of Sapientia sits outside this issue structure and goes straight for the hardcover, with a standalone clothbound volume wrapped in a 3/4 dusk jacket. This special edition finds its purpose in its theme, Lucifer as an exemplar of magickal consuetude, making it, along with previously reviewed books from Three Hands Press and Black Moon Publishing, part of a vigorous renaissance for the light bringer. It is Lucifer’s role as this light bringer that The Scalding of Sapientia concerns itself, casting its net wider than just a consideration of him as a mythic figure, and also exploring various themes of Luciferian wisdom, sacrifice and praxis, as well as other personifications of wisdom such as the Gnostic goddess Sophia.

The contributors to The Scalding of Sapientia are a varied bunch and amongst the fourteen writers there are only a few names that immediately leap out as recognisable: Shani Oates, Craig Williams, Carl Abrahamson, Johannes Nefastos and Anathema owner Gabriel McCaughry. Things do start off slowly too, beginning with Kogishsaga, a long poem by Nukshean of the Alaskan black metal band Skaltros. Preceded by a preamble itself several pages long, the poem, which provides the lyrics to a Skaltros album of the same name, runs to eleven pages. It is presented as somewhat intimidating blocks of text, bisected only by the individual song titles, rather than more easily digestible verses. As such, it’s one of those things where you go “Well, this is nice enough and all, but I’ll come back and finish this later after I’ve read the rest of the book.” Once one realises that these are black metal lyrics, the phrasing and intonation makes more sense, and if you like, you can try and follow along while listening to the album and its corvid vocal stylings; this reviewer lost track pretty quickly.

The allure of America’s Pacific Northwest and its other mountainous and arboraceous regions is something that comes through clearly in Nukshean’s Kogishsaga and the same is true of the following contribution from Paul Waggener of Wolves of Vinland and Operation Werewolf. Both Nukshean’s piece and Waggener’s Sacrifice: Discipline & the Great Work emphasis the virtue of tribulation and time spent alone in the wilderness, with Waggener’s approach being largely an excoriation of those that don’t follow such an approach.

Johnny Decker Miller: Durtro

The first piece here that truly piques the interest is Johnny Decker Miller’s The Dreadful Banquet. Subtitled Sacrifice, Luciferian Gnosis & the Sorcery of the Bone Trumpet, it explores various examples of wind instruments made of bone, in particular the kangling, the human thigh trumpet used in Tibetan Buddhism. Heavily indebted to the work of Andrew Chumbley, Miller relates this instrument, its aesthetics and use to Sabbatic Craft and witchcraft in general, highlighting how an atavistic ritual such as the Tibetan Chöd can have an equivalent in more Western climes.

It is these kind of pieces, merging research with suggestions of contemporary praxis, that are ultimately the most satisfying amongst the content of The Scalding of Sapientia. They stand in contrast to more philosophical musings about the nature of the left hand path, metaphysical cosmologies, or the virtues of living alone in a cabin in the woods; none of which feel anywhere as revolutionary or revelatory as the authors probably hope they do. At this point in contemporary occultism, pretty much everything has been said in those avenues, and given that publications such as these are directed towards the choir, there seems little benefit in expatiating them once again.

There is a strong emphasis within The Scalding of Sapientia on the experiential, of exteriorising the interior, and representing one’s personal approach to the acquisition of wisdom. Sometimes specific examples are given, and other times the practical side may be a little veiled, cloaked in philosophical speak or biographical accounts bordering on the hagiographic. In addition to the personal recollections in the aforementioned contributions from Nukshean and Paul Waggener, Craig Williams provides a succinct introduction to his Cult of Golgotha, while Camelia Elias talks of her relationship with Lucifer and of being a prodigious two year old reciting Mihai Eminescu’s poem Luceafarul. Likewise, Graeme de Villiers intersperses a dual observance mass for Our Lady of the Two Trees with a biography both magical and mundane, and Anathema-stalwart, Shani Oates writes a somewhat peregrinating paean to the entities she works with, beginning her narrative as a child who was often thought to be a changeling left by the Fey.

Spread including artwork by Adrian Baxter

From an aesthetic perspective, The Scalding of Sapientia is a delight. Elsewhere we’ve lauded the look of releases from Anathema and this seems to have reached its apex with this release, making them the producer of some of the most beautiful books in occult publishing. McCaughry has a wonderful typographic eye, working with a suite of faces and techniques that says multiple things: occult, classic, yet paradoxically modern. Along with that, there’s an admirable use of white space and hierarchy that assists in creating that sense of rarefied environs.

Then there’s the artwork featured throughout, which feels very curated, such is the quality, with nary a dud amongst them. Consisting of predominantly black and white images, as well as some muted and murky colour ones and a few photographs, the highlights are those such as Johnny Decker Miller illustrating his own essay, Chris Undirheimer’s eitr-tinged inks (above) and Adrian Baxter’s ikon-like botanicals. All three artists specialise in what you would hope for in contemporary occult illustration: delicately rendered fine lines and beautifully defined forms that are redolent of engravings. And skulls, always skulls. Also worthy of note is Robert W. Cook, who traffics in blackened drips and eldritch rhizomes, hued in a gloaming effulgency.

The Scalding of Sapientia was made available in two editions, a standard edition of 600 copies, and an artisanal Cutis Novis edition of a mere twelve exemplars. The standard edition consists of 208 pages on Cougar Natural 160M archive-quality paper, hardbound in a gorgeous Bamberger Kaliko metallic cranberry red bookcloth, with gold foil stamp on the spine and cover, and the sigil for this volume blind debossed on the back. Inside are Neenah Dark Brown endpapers with a burnished leather and finish, and the entire book is wrapped in the aforementioned 3/4 dusk jacket featuring the artwork Hortus Aureus by Denis Forkas Kostromitin. I’m not totally convinced by this partial dust jacket as it looks a little messy, with Kostromitin’s artwork not integrating with the gold foiled image by Undirheimer on the cloth front, and only the title on the spine bringing the two elements together.

The Cutis Novis edition is bound in a mottled, highly textured calfskin leather, with the sigil for The Scalding of Sapientia blind debossed on the front. The spine features raised nerves and the title and Pillars sigil foiled in gold, while the interior includes additional handmade endpapers. Included with each of the deluxe editions was a pine wood seal with the McCaughry-designed Scalding of Sapientia sigil burnt at knife point by Undirheimer and consecrated with the blood of both artists.

Published by Anathema Publishing

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Hermes in the Academy: Ten Years’ Study of Western Esotericism at the University of Amsterdam – Edited by Wouter J. Hanegraaf and Joyce Pijnenburg

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Categories: esotericism, hermeticism

Published in 2009, this volume commemorates the establishment ten years prior of a chair and centre of expertise for the study of Western esotericism at the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Amsterdam. While the writing in this anthology touches upon the wide gamut of Western esotericism including alchemy, hermeticism, and kabbalah, the first section is more pragmatic and concerns itself with the creation of the chair for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents, as documented by Roelof van den Broek, while Wouter J. Hanegraaff considers the state of esoteric studies in the academia of the late 1990s. The same is also true of some of the book’s other sections, in which the writings about writings have been categorised into sections of Studying Western Esotericism in Amsterdam and Western Esotericism in International Perspective.

The second section, Glimpses of Research, provides just that, with a selection of representative research pieces spanning the neoplatonism of the Italian Renaissance to twentieth century Danish esotericism and a few bits in between. It begins with a pure glimpse of research with an essay on the Byzantine philosopher George Gemistos, AKA Plethon (1355/1360-1452), but then, almost inextricably, things drift back to writing about writing about magic. The two following pieces Kocku von Stuckrad’s Astrologia Hermetica: Astrology, Western Culture, and the Academy, and Marco Pasi’s The Modernity of Occultism: Reflections on Some Crucial Aspects, both effectively concern themselves with how their fields have been, perhaps unfairly, perceived in academia. Stuckrad’s Astrologia Hermetica briefly surveys how astrology has in the past been treated with almost embarrassment, where studying its historical uses always had to be qualified with a disavowal in any literal belief in the ‘wretched subject.’ Pasi’s The Modernity of Occultism, on the other hand, addresses the perception of occultism as fundamentally reactionary and authoritarian, an image made glibly real by the stereotype of the elitist magician seeking unlimited power. Pasi turns this assumption, made principally by academics in the first half of the last century, on its head, highlighting how the growth in esotericism in the twentieth century undid many of these claims. Focussing in particular on the Theosophical Society and the Golden Dawn, Pasi shows that in regard to matters relating to gender, body and sexuality, the self, colonialism and religion, those strands of Anglo-American occultism, at least, were progressive and, he argues, anticipating rather than just being representative of broader societal change.

Things turn more personal and reflective in the third section of Hermes in the Academy with Studying Western Esotericism in Amsterdam, in which five writers each briefly reflect on their time in Amsterdam academia. There’s not much to these, each being over in a flash, but they’re charming little pieces, showing how the university attracted would-be hermetic academics from around the world.

And then everything wraps up with part the fourth, Western Esotericism in International Perspective, in which discussion turns once more explicitly to the chair at the University of Amsterdam with paeans from further afield, contextualising it within the greater milieu of occult academia Thus, Antoine Faivre, holder of the chair of History of Estoteric and Mystical Currents in Modern and Contemporary Europe at the École pratique des hautes études in Paris, speaks of the history of that particular chair dating back to 1964, and of its subsequent collaborations with its Amsterdam equivalent. Meanwhile, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, holder of the chair of Western Esotericism at the University of Exeter, focuses less on the Amsterdam chair with a lens turned instead to the study of Western esotericism in the United Kingdom, framed first within his own journey of study, before expanding on the achievements of the Exeter programme. Dame Frances Yates naturally looms large in this section and elsewhere in the book, with Allison P. Coudert, who studied under her, noting her important role as a legitimising force in the academic place of Hermeticism.

In all, Hermes in the Academy doesn’t entirely feel like it knows what it wants to be. The representative research often feels incongruous, lacking context alongside the reflections on the history of the chair and studying at the University of Amsterdam, and not feeling all that representative. Indeed, the brief little pieces from students in the third section are some of the most engaging contributions, and their mention of their specialist subjects areas are more intriguing than what is included here. As such it is the ‘writing about writing’ that becomes the most enjoyable part of this volume, with the various discussions about esoteric academia being more satisfying than the esotericism itself.

Published by Amsterdam University Press

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