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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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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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Songs for the Witch Woman – John W. Parsons & Marjorie Cameron

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Categories: art, devotional, magick, thelema, witchcraft

If you didn’t already know, your humble reviewer is quite the fan of Marjorie Cameron, with the Apsinthion collaboration between Gydja and Emme Ya giving aural form to much of her work and magickal cosmology. Songs for the Witch Woman is a collection of poetry by Jack Parsons, dedicated to Cameron, and illustrated throughout with her evocative imagery. Previously, as far as I’m aware, only publically and partially available in the September 1974 issue of the English Thelemic journal Sothis: A Magazine of the New Aeon, the thought of a release like this was very much a fevered Babalonian dream.

This version of Songs for the Witch Woman represents a typically exhaustive edition by Fulgur, with the poems, drawings and diary entries published together for the first time, along with a complete facsimile of the original 1950s notebooks, and contextual commentaries from William Breeze, George Pendle and Margaret Haines.

Parsons and Cameron’s currency has risen a lot of late, no doubt partially due to the two biographies on Parsons and Spencer Kansa’s one on Cameron. No longer quite that heretical fool that Crowleyan orthodoxy consciously or unconsciously attempted to paint him as, the father of American rocketry has now even had his life recently immortalised in the golden age of on-demand video; you can rest assured we won’t be watching that, of course.

The poems that comprise Songs for the Witch Woman were written by Parsons between 1946 and his death in 1952, and act as both a paean to Cameron, and an explication of the magickal cosmology they developed, the Witchcraft. Babalonian and sabbatic imagery abounds, with goats, horned moons, and voluptuousness up the wazoo. Parsons writes with a clear, evocative poetic style, with little baroque ornamentation and a pace and structure that means many of these poems could act as effective ritual accompaniments.

Marjorie Cameron: Danse

Against some of the poems, are twenty pen and ink images by Cameron, exhibiting a staggering control over line and form. Her style is entirely her own, all evocative economy of line and space, though there are obvious touchstones including Aubrey Beardsley’s stately royal figures, Egon Schiele’s jagged bodies, and somewhat prochronistically, Peter Chung’s aberrantly sensuous elongated flesh. Austin Spare could also be mentioned as a de rigueur comparison, with both artists sharing an interest in magickal bodies, though there’s a more angular and visceral quality to Cameron’s hand, rather than Spare’s ephemeral phantasmagorical forms.

Cameron’s minimalist skill is particularly evident in the images accompanying Aradia and Aztec where the amount of strokes needed to construct them can be counted on two hands. In others, Cameron, plays with the space on the page, in Autumn placing an obvious simulacrum of herself in the lower half of the page, with her hair rising up like flames into the space above her head. Something similar occurs in Passion Flowers, where the hair of a supine figure flows down and across the page, cascading from upper right to lower left.

Amongst the elongated female forms, of which there is an abundance, are images of Parsons, rendered unmistakable with Cameron’s economy and her evident ability as a caricaturist, able to distill someone’s essence into a few lines. Handsome and heavy-browed, he appears regal in the finely and confidently crafted images accompanying The Fool and Merlin, while his shock of dark hair is rendered matted in ink spatter amongst leaves and spider web in the qliphothic Neurosis. He can also be glimpsed in the ithyphallic eponym that accompanies Pan, or as the Sorcerer whose body seems to disintegrate amongst the stars he wields.

Marjorie Cameron: Pan

The digitised pages of the notebook are reproduced at 90% of their original size and include full page illustrations against some of the entries. In the case of some poems, such as Pan, this provides an additional image to illustrate the text, while others are the companions to previously unaccompanied poems. The style of these is less refined than Cameron’s black ink images, replacing the stark contrast of line and space with thicker strokes and washes of colour against the ecru background of the paper.

Watercolour version of Pan

The images and words of Songs for the Witch Woman are bookended with excerpts from Cameron’s diary, presented as both transcribed text and as the original handbook scans. Written a few months after the death of Parsons, the words were received as part of magickal workings, so for those inclined to adherancy and devotion, they have the status of holy writ (guilty). This is especially so when the digitised originals allow one to see Cameron’s hand, her script becoming larger and more emotive as pages past.

Pages from Cameron's diary

Songs for the Witch Woman is an invaluable resource, whether it be as simply a documentation of the work of Cameron and Parsons, or as a record useful for further research. Both the songs themselves and the entries from Cameron’s diary are rich in information and imagery ready for analysis, extraction or elaboration. Fulgur are to be commended for the thoroughness of their approach, with the large format and extensive scans of the original pages doing the work immense justice.

Songs for the Witch Woman is available in a limited edition hardback with 176 30.5cm x 24cm pages on 135gsm Italian paper, bound in blue cloth bearing the image used for Danse on the cover in black and a debossed silver moon on the back. It is completed with a dust-jacket bearing the first image from the original release on the front, and a reproduction of the words to Witch Woman on the reverse. The edition is limited to a fitting run of 1560 copies, 1390 of which are the regular edition, 156 of which are bound in quarter morocco leather, and fourteen of which are bound in full morocco.

Published by Fulgur

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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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Time, Fate and Spider Magic – Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule

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Categories: chaos, magick, nightside, witchcraft

Palindromically subtitled A Brief HIRStory of TimEmiT fo yrotSRTH feirB A, this book from Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule is a 2014 expanded and revised edition of a work originally released in 2006 through hir own iNSPiRALink imprint.

Time, Fate and Spider Magic contains many traits that will be familiar to people who have encountered Orryelle’s work before: a mythologically eclectic frame of reference, word play that wouldn’t hold up in etymological court but is fine for the firing of magickal connexions, and idiosyncratic spellINK and 4Maating; see what I did there? …I’m particularly proud of the second one. The closest analogy would be Kenneth Grant, with Orryelle’s use of far flung comparisons and mythological broadness recalling that of Uncle Ken, but with a lot less wallowing in the sewage of the qliphothic realms; such fun.

Like Orryelle’s own practise, Time, Fate and Spider Magic is indeed eclectic and just a little bit manic. It jumps polymathically from one subject to another, from this mythologeme to that. This is not a failing by any means, as it would perhaps be in the hands of a lesser writer and practitioner, and instead perfectly encapsulates Orryelle’s approach to magick.

The book is one half travelogue, one half exegesis, and just to be difficult, one half grimoire. It begins in the exegetical mode with Gate One, outlying a discussion of fate and time at the heart of which is the story of Oedipus. This reads less like a magickal treatise and more a philosophical reflection on fate and questions about its immutability. Over its significant length, 95 pages in all, it branches from the Oedipal basis into a broader discussion of fate and time, encompassing Greek and Egyptian mythology, Mayan time keeping, and ultimately, Thelema. This is interspersed occasionally with images of apropos atu from Orryelle’s Book of KAOS tarot, accompanied by their original explanatory text.

The second gate of Time, Fate and Spider Magic takes an arguably more magickal approach with what is largely an exploration of the concept of an arachnid goddess of fate, one part Greek Moirae and Hekate, one part Kali, and a little bit the Egyptian scorpion goddess Serket. Orryelle envisions this composite goddess as a grand creature of space and time, bridging dimensions and being associated with the twenty ninth qliphothic tunnel of Qulielfi, the Nightside reflex of the dayside path of the Moon connecting Netzach and Malkuth. This is borne out by a received text, The Book of the Spider, not to be confused, Orryelle is at pains to point out, with a similarly named tome mentioned by Grant otherwise known as Liber Okbish or Liber 29. Orryelle’s Book of the Spider has the spider goddess describe herself as dwelling in the spaces in-between, in the tunnels behind, in a lair that is the very tome she speaks from, “spiralling Qulielfi copper mindfire.”

Orryelle shows how these themes of the spider goddess and fate and time travel were given physical application through hir use of ritual theatre. Most notable of these are the labyrinthine structures created at festivals in the latter half of the nineties by hir Metamorphic Ritual Theatre Company; the imagery of which will be familiar to anyone that has followed Orryelle’s work over the last three decades. These were large, immersive structures in which visitors mingled with performers in an intersection of performance and praxis.

While gates one and two of Time, Fate and Spider Magic provide hints of ways in which the themes of the book could be ritually applied, this is made explicit in the third gate, with Orryelle providing several techniques. The first of these uses a web structure to effectively time travel between incarnations, both past and future; a concept based around the idea of the Guardian Angel being one’s future self. Orryelle also briefly touches on a system of pathworkings called the 8 Gates (consisting of mineral, plant, fungal, animal, human, inbetween, the black void and the white light), as well as techniques for using tarot for conjuration, rather than just divination. These procedures aren’t necessarily presented in a ritual and recipes format, and Orryelle weaves instruction together with anecdote and elaboration, describing situations in hir own experience where they were used.

The third gate is the briefest section of Time, Fate and Spider Magic and the remaining 90 pages are devoted to appendices of supporting information, diaries and texts. There’s a valuable exposition on mantra and mudra used in the preceding sections; a reproduction of the multi-page, densely-illustrated programme for a Metamorphic Ritual Theatre Company performance of Arachne Ascendant; and a full transcript of Orryelle’s Liber Qoph vel Hekate, a daily Lunar prayer that compliments Crowley’s solar Liber Resh vel Helios. The largest of these appendices is a documentation, photographs and all, of the 2003 incarnation of the Global Chakra Workings led around the world by Orryelle’s HermAphroditic ChAOrder of the Silver Dusk since 1999. If this account makes one aware of anything it’s the passage of time, as my recall of reading about these events soon after they happened seems so recent, not over a decade old.

As with most Avalonia titles, Time, Fate and Spider Magic has been manufactured by print-on-demand service Lightning Source, although unlike many of Avalonia’s books, this one comes in both a paperback and a limited hardback version. The hardback edition is bound in blue cloth with a full colour dustjacket, and the internal pages are printed on a not entirely sympathetic stock that is fairly light and brittle. Orryelle’s formatting and writing quirks, with words double-spaced for numinous effect, idiosyncratic spelling and use of more fonts than is usual, can make it hard to tell when something has been edited with intent, or whether it’s a genuine error, in the case, for example, a line in a paragraph being indented halfway through it.  

In all, Time, Fate and Spider Magic is an enjoyable, significant work. There has always been an enthusiasm and honesty to Orryelle’s writing and perspective, devoid of any occult obfuscation, and this is true here, particularly in the way so much is presented in biographical form. The extent of this winning way may be determined by how easily one forgives the lack of rigorous referencing, and the occasional unverifiable statement is allowed to float by with nary a neuronic niggle.

Perhaps ironically, Time, Fate and Spider Magic does seem to be a victim of its very theme, enduring the ravages and vicissitudes of time. Inevitably, any printed work begins to date as soon as pen is put to paper, or pixel to screen, and with the sense of superiority that comes in living in times future relative to when this was originally written, it’s hard not to look down on the naïve optimism of ye olde 2006; something that any 2014 revisions have not assuaged. As the anti-Grant, Orryelle is the kind of optimist who sees good times a’coming, and human advancement on the horizon, with grand shifts in consciousness and magickal magickness. Here, in the miserable dystopian world of 2018, it’s hard not to feel that optimism may have been misplaced.

Included in the hardback version is a DVD that includes the Loom of Lila ritual dance theatre, the Chaos Clock film, the 8 Gates pathworking and an audio adaption of The Book of the Spider. How much these elements are viewed compared to how often the book is read remains to be seen, being largely rough and ready piece, typical of both the time, the technology and Orryelle’s aesthetics.

Published by Avalonia.

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Lucifer: The Light of the Aeon – Written by Rebels. Edited by Diane Narraway

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Categories: devotional, luciferian, witchcraft

The popularity of Lucifer seems to be surging of late with the recent compendium The Luminous Stone: Lucifer in Western Esotericism from Three Hand Press, a similar anthological work on its way from Anathema Publishing, and, of course, Peter Grey’s significant 2015 opus Lucifer: Princeps; not to mention the surfeit of Lulu and Createspace generated tomes that fill your Amazon recommendations with their appalling cover art, clunky sigils and poor typeface choices. Black Moon Publishing’s foray into this tumescent Luciferian field brings together a vast array of contributors, sixteen in all, variously presenting essays, poems and a smattering of images.

The first section, Awakenings, compiles a multitude of contributions within a relatively slight space, mostly short, personal anecdotes outlining people’s occult journey’s within which Lucifer, in some form, has played a role. There are nine of these in all, and at the beginning they are largely interchangeable, with similar writing styles depicting similar journeys. There’s often an estrangement from organised religion, which is followed by an encounter with an, at first, ambiguous supernatural figure whose identity is later confirmed to be Lucifer.

Speaking, erm, personally, the personal anecdote has never done much for me as a contribution to devotionals like this. While I realise that this approach is, in some ways, the very definition of a devotional, it seems to lack something when that experience isn’t expanded upon, and given context within a greater anthropological or mythological framework. Otherwise, it remains just a personal testimony, the equivalent of a fireside ghost story, which the reader has to either accept or dismiss; and as a somewhat pragmatic reviewer of books about magickal shenanigans, my default setting is the latter.

The contributions in Awakenings are often short and it isn’t until the second section, Love, Light and Laughter, that one realises why this is, with many of the stories now picking up from where they left off. Proof, mayhaps, that I didn’t read the introduction too carefully. This is not an entirely satisfactory device, given that the somewhat interchangeable nature of the contributions makes it hard to keep track of where the narrative is up to. And then there’s the additional wrinkle of perhaps not really wanting to hear anything further from a particular contributor after the introduction they’ve made in Awakenings. Because of how integral this multiple section structure is, it is worth mentioning the names of the nine contributors who reappear in this capacity: Dianne Narraway, Geraldine Lambert, Laurie Pneumatikos, Sean Witt, Eirwen Morgan, Richard K. Page, Jaclyn Cherie, Rachel Summers and Teach Carter.

This format ultimately makes Lucifer: The Light of the Aeon something of a struggle to get through. Personal reflections of people’s experience with organised religion, and their all too similar awakening to their inner rebel, are just not engaging. On top of that, the rebellion feels rather entry level and earnest, with nothing truly transgressive or adversarial, and just an all too obvious kicking against the pricks of an equally dull brand of Christianity.

It is only when this personal formula is abandoned that things begin to pick up and there’s more of a sense of focus. In Angels and Daemons, the cast of authors take a more exegetical approach with various, less-anecdotal explanations of Lucifer. These do largely cover the same ground because there’s only so much ground to cover when it comes to exploring Lucifer’s source material. These contributions still suffer, though, from the book’s structural device, feeling piecemeal in some instances, while in others they’re cast adrift from the anecdotal context of the previous two sections.

The other issue that arises here is that the less than stellar quality of some of the writing, which may have been protected by the personal nature of the previous entries, is laid bare when broader ideas have to be presented. In one piece, non sequiturs abound, conclusions are questionable, and facts are fuzzy: there’s a nonsensical reference to “biblical gnostics,” whoever they’re supposed to be, and a lazy, or at least poorly articulated, claim that ‘gnostic’ means ‘knowledge,’ when obviously it’s ‘gnosis’ that means ‘knowledge,’ not the adjective form.

The remaining four sections continue this same formula of slices from various contributors, focusing successively on blood and fire (identified as two of Lucifer’s more famous associations), magick (with a variety of broad accounts of people’s personal approach to ritual praxis, followed in some instances with specific exercises), questions concerning Lucifer’s consort (straw poll suggesting most contributors don’t see him as having one), and what could be described as concluding thoughts and miscellany. Naturally, these various shards range in quality, with some of the writing coming across as if they were written as an obligatory assignment simply predicated by the theme of that section. This is particularly noticeable in the discussion over whether Lucifer has a consort, with many of the authors writing as if it’s the first time they’ve pondered the question, and therefore spending the length of their contribution thinking out loud in print, as they try to work it out.

In all, the writing in Lucifer: The Light of the Aeon appears to come from a very personal place. There are no half-hearted adherents here, with a sense of a great deal of affection and devotion being paid to Lucifer. Your mileage may vary as to what weight such sincerity carries for you, but based on the effusive reviews on Amazon, it certainly works for some people.

As with the previously reviewed Women of Babalon: A Howling of Women’s Voices, I have reservations about the trademark Black Moon Publishing style with its 8×10 dimensions and use of wide decorative borders on every page. The dimensions make the book unwieldy, cumbersome to hold, and not conducive to being read, especially with the additional weight that comes from being over 300 pages long. This length is, no doubt, exacerbated by said border, which, whilst appealing in an over-the-top gothic aesthetic sense, does limit the amount of words that can appear on the page. It also overwhelms the occasional graphic contributions, which could all benefit from being reproduced larger and free of the competing rococo.

Lucifer: The Light of the Aeon has a companion volume, Songs of the Black Flame, also published by Black Moon Publishing, with many of the authors featured here returning for what is largely a compilation of Lucifer-themed poetry and artwork.

Published by Black Moon Publishing

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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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The Luminous Stone: Lucifer in Western Esotericism – Edited by Michael Howard and Daniel A. Schulke

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Categories: luciferian, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

This compendium of essays on the role of Lucifer in Western Esotericism represents the last significant contribution to occult publishing by Michael Howard before his passing in 2016. In addition to his role as co-editor, he provides an essay and is joined by Frater U.:.D.:., Robert Fitzgerald, Ethan Doyle White, Fredrik Eytzinger, Richard Gavin, Raven Grimassi, Lee Morgan, and Madeline Ledespencer.

The Luminous Stone is the third entry in Three Hands Press’ Western Esotericism in Context series, following on from previous explorations of Babalon and Traditional Witchcraft. As with any compendium such as this, the most interesting contributions are ones that explore territory less travelled. Any consideration of the usual biblical or folkloric accounts, and the intersection thereof, are going to be pretty uninspiring, without much, if anything, new to offer. Mercifully, there are instead several explorations of completely alien territory. Such territories are ones in which the Luciferian spirit of inventiveness seems to have been fully embraced by its adherents, with each providing something of an idiosyncratic interpretation.

The occult scene of 19th century Paris as described by Madeline Ledespencer is a prime example of this, with Ledespencer showcasing two figures, L’Abbé Boullan and Maria de Naglowska, each with a Luciferian supra or subtext, but each with a unique take on it. After a less than stellar start from this volume’s first two contributors (English as a second language for one, and just a bit stilted for the other), Ledespencer’s piece is refreshingly well written, with an ebullient style that reads easily and conveys a sense of both the love and knowledge she has for her subject matter.

As one would expect from a Three Hands Press book, there’s the occasional nod to the Cultus Sabbati and the work of Andrew Chumbley. Robert Fitzgerald’s The Hidden Stone: Devotion, Lucifer and the High Sabbat uses the Cultus as an example of a modern witchcraft sodality with a particularly Luciferian anatomy, focussing, by way of example, on Chumbley’s rite A Lover’s Call to the Angel of Witchblood. Fitzgerald steps through the rite line by line in order to untangle its cosmology, making a little more sense of Chumbley’ picturesque prose. In a similar area, Ethan Doyle White considers the role of Lucifer in broader contemporary pagan witchcraft, tracing the tantalising mentions from the original witch trial records into the modern era and the various works of Doreen Valiente, Robert Cochrane, and the Farrars et al.

In Teachings of the Light, Michael Howard returns to material covered in his Book of Fallen Angels, a work that seems a significant touchstone for many of the authors included here. He describes his encounters with Madeline Montalban, and gives an overview of the system of Luciferian magic from her Order of the Morning Star. This provides a little more depth than his previous discussions of her system, placing it within the context of the occult milieu in which she existed and noting the connections, for example, with the Atlantean mythos of Dion Fortune and Gareth Knight.

A less recently seen but welcomed faceless face is Frater U.:.D.:., whose piece, the gloriously titled ‘Non Seviam’ as Ontological Paradigm, oh yes, begins dryly enough, discussing Lucifer’s antinomian qualities, before briefly taking a more interesting turn and considering him in relation to the Fraternitas Saturni; of which the frater has been a member for over thirty years. It is an instance like this, where an insight is provided into an organisation’s particular understanding of Lucifer, that provide some of the most satisfying content in this book; as is the case with the essays considering the Cultus Sabbati, or Madeline Montalban’s Order of the Morning Star.

The consistently disappointing Raven Grimassi keeps the disappointment consistent with Lucifer in the Lore of Old Italy, a clumsily written piece, full of sentence fragments, redundancies, spelling mistakes and non sequiturs, always meandering without any clear direction. As highlighted in a previous review, Grimassi’s grasp of history seems casual at best. In one case he refers to the “Middle Ages and Renaissance periods” (as if they were synonymous), but then uses an event from the 17th century as an example of his claim. Another contribution also somewhat disappointing in its lack of thorough proofing is The Latent Radiance, which opens this anthology: a single sentence runs breathlessly to seven lines, there are prochronistic references to inhabitants of Canaan between 1200 and 1000 BCE as ‘Jews,’ rather than the more accurate ‘Israelites,’ and everyone is hyperbolised as ‘renowned.’ It does use the word ‘sodality’ though, which seems to be the new ‘praxis,’ given its popularity in this volume (poor ‘praxis’ only gets a single look in).

The Luminous Stone features cover art by Francisco Divine Mania (with the rather gloriously Symbolist and Decadent-styled Garden), while the interior is punctuated occasionally with the black and white silhouetted images of Hagen von Tulien. It’s not always clear if von Tulien’s images relate to the essays that precede or proceed them, but they are as striking as ever. I’m particularly partial to the one that looks like an airline safety card, in which the hazard appears to be a sorcerous attack; the only option seems to be to panic.Slayer of Ignorance by Hagen von Tulien

Overall, The Luminous Stone is an enjoyable volume, if a little underwhelming. Its 150 pages fly by, and while there are some very good contributions, there’s less of a sense of this being as essential a read as, say, Hands of Apostasy was. There’s a few glaring spelling and formatting errors that are somewhat unexpected due to the usually high standards of Three Hands Press. Raven Grimassi’s piece is particularly prone to this, referring to ‘Gain Mysteries’ when surely ‘Grain’ is intended, and having St. Jerome miraculously turn into St. James between paragraphs. He’s not alone though, and in another essay, an explanatory note is incorporated, italic styling and all, into the Robbie Burns poem it is commenting upon. The best of these errata, due to its surreal qualities, is in Lee Morgan’s piece The Lucifer Moment, where he notes that the ubiquitous image of the Luciferic anti-hero means we are ready to see Lucifer in a new way “very shorty” …which certainly would be a startling new look for the Light Bearer; and indeed, one could argue that an encounter with a diminutive fallen angel would create that paradigm-shifting moment of Morgan’s title.

The Luminous Stone is available in a total run of 3049 copies: 2000 as a trade paperback, as well as a hardcover edition of 1000 copies bound in green cloth with colour dust jackets, and a deluxe edition of 49 copies quarter-bound in goat leather with hand-marbled endpapers. The paperback version, conveniently available via Amazon, features a stiff, weighty card for the cover and reverse, making for a tight binding that requires a little more effort than usual to keep the book open.

Published by Three Hands Press

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The Black Toad – Gemma Gary

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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

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