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Into the Great Below: A Devotional to Inanna and Ereshkigal – Compiled by Galina Krasskova

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Categories: devotional, mesopotamian, underworld, Tags:

into_the_great_belowIt’s full disclosure time yet again: I created the cover art for this devotional from Asphodel Press, and also contributed some internal illustrations. So, as ever, proceed with due caution as we venture into the world of potential bias and nepotism. With its eyes turned towards Mesopotamia, Into the Great Below is a change of theme for Asphodel Press and its usual, albeit by no means exclusive, focus on the Northern Tradition; although the names of many of the contributors, including that of editor Galina Krasskova, will be familiar from other Asphodel works. This is addressed in Krasskova’s foreword in which she identifies herself as Heathen but details her early magical history in the Fellowship of Isis where a mentor’s devotion to Inanna had a lasting influence on her ritual and devotional practice. This book, then, is considered by Krasskova to be the beginning of a repayment to Inanna, and to her sister, Ereshkigal.

Into the Great Below is divided into three sections: devotions to Inanna and Ereshkigal, a collection of rituals for both goddesses, and prayers to other Sumerian deities. Rebecca Buchanan provides the lion share of the prayers to Inanna and Ereshkigal, with short little vignettes addressing various aspects of both goddesses. Her work is joined by contributions from Elizabeth Vongvisith, Raven Kaldera, and others. Perhaps the strongest piece from this section is provided by the enigmatically anonymous J.D. with Katabasis, in which they detail an initiatory journey into the underworld, mirroring Inanna’s descent through seven dismembering tiers, before being remade and reborn by Ereshkigal. These themes of initiation and dismemberment naturally feature strongly in much of the material here, with devotees addressing Ereshkigal in particular as an initiatrix and spirit of transformation. Janet Munin, for example, takes the phrase “naked and bowed low” from The Descent of Inanna and slightly tweaks the interpretation of it, making it indicative of an act of humility and grace, rather than the result of being tortured and broken by the process of the underworld descent.   inannaposed

The second selection of prayers addresses deities from across the Sumerian pantheon, with the chance for the attention to shift in several cases to the male of the species. Lee Harrington has a poem to each of Ereshkigal’s husbands: first with a call to Gugulanna, the bull of heaven, and then with a song addressed to Ereshkigal but sung by her second husband, Nergal. A similar approach is taken by Raven Kaldera in Neti, where the poem is directed towards Ereshkigal in the voice of her titular servant and gatekeeper. Amongst the goddesses, Kaldera celebrates the warrior Ninshubur, while Elizabeth Vongvisith and Anya Kless both explore the intersection of Sumerian and Judaism with paeans to Lilith. Tiamat also receives some attention with poems from Dee Bellwether, Kira R. and an anonymous invocation previously published in Asphodel’s Pagan Book of Hours. Bellwether’s For Tiamatu is particular striking with its stark iteration of occasionally alliterative words celebrating Tiamat as an almost anti-cosmic Queen of Unmaking.

The final section of Into the Great Below features a relatively weighty five rituals for Inanna and Ereshkigal. Krasskova’s Dark Moon Rite of Ereshkigal is a lengthy, invocatory-heavy ritual that begins with quaternary calls, a call to the centre, and then an invocation to Ereshkigal herself. This is followed by an oracular portion and sequences involving a construction of a ritual box. Krasskova’s liturgy is well written, picturesque and evocative in its use of language; a quality that occurs in another of her rituals included here, The Sharing of the Me – a Ritual to the Goddess Inanna. Another lengthy rite is Kaldera’s The Descent of Inanna, which is exactly that, a ritual staging of the descent from the Enuma Elish in a mystery play read by two narrators.inannaring

Unlike some devotionals from Asphodel, in which essays are combined with rituals and poetry, the content of Into the Great Below has a focus on the poetic, with nothing in the way of lengthy articles. This is, perhaps, to be expected given the dearth of existing written material on these subjects without wandering into territories of unverified personal gnosis or academic minutiae. Despite the range of contributors, there is a certain similarity of tone and themes, with a feeling that everyone is coming from a similar place in the interpretation of Inanna and Ereshkigal, and the descent narrative in particular. Into the Great Below runs to 125 perfect bound paperback pages, with type set in the usual clean and functional standard of Asphodel publications. Space seems to be the enemy as all empty areas are filled with my illustrations, or an assortment of various, inconsistently rendered, archaeological images.

Published by Asphodel. ISBN 978-0-9825798-3-1

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

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Categories: folk, luciferian, sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

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

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

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

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

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

Timo_Ketola_sabat

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

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

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

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

Published by Three Hands Press.

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The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity – Edited by Per Faxneld and Jesper Aa. Petersen

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Categories: luciferian, sabbatic craft, satanism, witchcraft

Satanism in ModernityThis collection of writing about modern Satanism features some of the familiar names from Scandinavian esoteric academia (Kennet Granholm and editors Faxneld and Petersen), along with other contributors: Asbjørn Dyrendal, Eugene V. Gallagher, Fredrik Gregorius, Mikael Häll, Amina Lap, James R. Lewis, Ruben van Luijk, Jacob Senholt and Rafal Smoczynski. The brief sits rather comfortably with the nature of Faxneld and Granholm’s other writing, casting an academic gaze on a subject one assumes they have quite the personal interest in.

This is a four-part party of devils, divided broadly into segments that are pre-LaVey, LaVey, post-LaVey and, I guess, post-post-LaVey. That isn’t to say that entirely everything revolves around the bad doctor, just that in a discussion of modern Satanism, it’s impossible not to frame it without reference to his rather high profile ventures. It is, though, the areas with little or no connection to Anton LaVey that provide the most interest, particularly the three entries that make up the first section of precursors and currents. In these, three distinctive examples of early modern diabolism are considered: Mikael Häll explores ideas around Satanism and devilish sympathies in early modern Sweden, particularly at the verdant intersection between Christianity, folk belief and witchcraft. He highlights confessions in which a rather idiosyncratic belief system had developed in which God was believed to be caught in Hell, making the Devil a better object of devotion. Ruben van Luijk’s attention focuses all too briefly on the retroactively named Romantic Satanists of the nineteenth century, those writers and artists who, taking their cue from Milton, identified Satan as a sympathetic adversarial anti-hero who epitomised the character of the modern age: sex, science and liberty. Also in a literary vein is Per Faxneld’s thorough assessment of Stanislaw Przybyszewski, the Polish Symbolist writer who, Faxneld argues, can be considered the first person to ever formulate a coherent system of Satanic thought.

In the second section of The Devil’s Party, the attention turns to Anton LaVey and several authors take a microscopic approach to the so-called Black Pope, casting a magnifying glass over various sections on his writing and philosophy. Amina Lap’s Categorizing Modern Satanism places LaVey’s brand of Satanism within the milieu of the emerging New Age and positions it as comparable to the Human Potential Movement and thus an example of the self-spirituality so in vogue at the time. With LaVey’s more misanthropic tendencies predicating Ayn Rand and Ragnar Redbeard over Abraham Maslow, it’s hard not to think of LaVeyan Satanism, with all its self-serving human potential given flight, as The Secret, With Horns. In Sources, Sects, and Scripture, Eugene Gallagher analyses The Book of Satan from LaVey’s Satanic Bible, in particular the elements one could charitably say were ‘borrowed’ from Ragnar Redbeard’s social Darwinist rant Might is Right. Gallagher diverges in opinion from people such as Michael Aquino and Chris Matthews who have seen LaVey’s borrowing as mere plagiarism, and instead tries to present it as an act of savvy editing, casting LaVey as more remixing trickster than content-starved huckster. Suffice to say, this assessment doesn’t convince and the meticulously documented changes that LaVey made do not come across as the significant acts of redaction criticism the author would have us believe they are. Asbjørn Dyrendal concludes this purgatory in the mind of LaVey with Hidden Persuaders and Invisible Wars, a consideration of the strange intersections LaVey had with conspiracy thinking: on the one hand mocking the mindset that abandoned control to the machinations of an imagined Kennedy-killing invisible hand, but at the same time, paranoically railing against forces of conformity whether they be church, state or television commercials.

The book’s third section, The Legacy of Dr. LaVey: The Satanic Mileu Today, brings together three disparate pieces, connected only through their rather dry survey/data analysis approach. James R. Lewis turns to statistics from his own Satanism Surveys to look at how Satanists identify themselves in terms of conversion narratives, assessing the ‘coming home’ claim, common to both Satanism and Paganism, in which practitioners are born, not made. Jesper Petersen takes a different anthropological approach, considering the spirit of transgression (and in turn, sanitisation) in modern Satanism, while Rafal Smoxzynski summarises the discursive strategies of Polish rationalist Satanists associated with the satan.pl website.

Finally, in the fourth section, matters move out of the gravitationally heavy orbit of LaVey with a consideration of Satanism in a post-LaVeyan world. Kennet Granholm initiates this with a discussion of the problematic and limited nature of the term ‘Satanism,’ especially when it comes to dealing with paths that aren’t nominally Satanic, but share a similar ethos or even occupy the same subcultural space. Granholm uses the Temple of Set as a perfect example of this quandary, being similar to the Church of Satan in so many ways, and often referred to as a Satanic organisation, even though their very name is used to differentiate themselves from Aquino’s previous affiliation. This is not a new area of thought for Granholm who expressed his dissatisfaction with the analytical usefulness of the term ‘Satanism’ as early as 2001, and in its place he proffers Left-Hand Path as a more appropriate category; one that is able to embrace various darkly-orientated paths rather than just those who have Satan at their thematic core. While Granholm’s semantic concerns are certainly interesting, his piece is more enjoyable for the condensed history and summary of the Temple of Set. It is by no means exhaustive, but as a potted history of the temple, it is quite delightful. The same can also be said for some of the other essays in this final section, all of which focus on groups or traditions at the periphery of the Church of Satan. Fredrik Gregorius’ Luciferian Witchcraft summarises this particular brand of witchcraft, prefacing it with Charles Leland’s Aradia material before moving on to brief considerations of the usual suspects: Paul Huson, Robert Cochrane and the Clan of Tubal-Cain (including its various descendants in the United Kingdom and the United States), Andrew Chumbley and the Sabbatic Craft, Michael Howard, and less usual, Michael Ford (but not the comparable Robin Artisson). For anyone familiar with the subject of Traditional Witchcraft, there won’t be anything new here, but as a brief primer, it’s fine. Jacob Senholt concludes this section, and the whole book, with Secret Identities in the Sinister Tradition, an overview of the Order of Nine Angles with a particular focus on the identification of the order’s leader Anton Long as David Myatt. Senholt suggests that Myatt’s forays into various fringe areas of politics and activism, in particular his conversion to Islam for several years, are examples of what the ONA call insight roles, with everything he has done being part of an ongoing Satanic imperative (rather than simply vacillations between various extreme causes).

In total, The Devil’s Party succeeds with its variety of voices casting a fairly broad thematic net. Although to continue this slightly mixed metaphor, there are areas where the netting does become tangled and the considerations of LaVey’s thoughts can be a slog to get through; not because of the quality of the writing but because of the way his dated, rationalist approach took all the fun out of Satanism. There are gaps that one would have liked to have seen filled in a look at Satanism in modernity. For example, it would have been interesting to have seen a consideration of Satanism and black metal (particularly because of the way the often theistic Satanism of black metal was positioned in opposition to LaVeyan Satanism). Similarly, a survey of LaVeyan Satanism since the death of LaVey would have been interesting, with total references to Peter Gilmour being, to put it mildly, slight. The quality of writing is high, formatting is clean, clear and functional.

Published by Oxford University Press. ISBN: 978-0-19-977924-6

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Panparadox – Vexior

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Categories: anticosmic, paganism, Tags:

panparadox-coverThis book published by Ixaxaar represents some of the oldest written material from Vexior whose more recent work includes Thursakyngi and before that, the Gullveigarbók released by Fall of Man. Panparadox was originally published in July 2009 and as such, it stands as a documentation of Vexior’s intellectual and metaphysical development, revealing a focus on the god Pan that within the very pages ventures into the darker Germanic territory the author is now better known for.

Given his other writing, it should come as no surprise that Vexior approaches Pan from an anti-cosmic perspective. Pan is seen through a prism that splinters him into various aspects. He is a spirit of Chaos, an infernal and manifold Luciferian force, and an adversarial spirit of pestilence. Vexior also identifies Pan with the folkloric figure of Grimalkin, seeing in this witchcat an image of Pan as unbound nature spirit. This section also contains a somewhat diverting section on Baphomet combining what seems to be the traditional depiction of this godform along with the idiosyncratic interpretation of the Order of Nine Angles (the Agios O Baphomet refrain is used here in an invocatory poem, for example). This appears as a diversion because it is only used as a relatively long preface to the final explanation that Pan and Baphomet share no relationship, other than a generic connection with knowledge; and, one presumes, their mutual corneolus appendages.

Arguably the core theme of this book is what Vexior sees as a relationship between Pan and Loki. Although he does not identify them as the same being, he does write of a vague connection between the two, with the idea of one cloaked within the other. It is this writing that seems to mark Vexior’s turn to the Lokean side as it were, because with it he provides some of most concentrated sections of this book, with the references to Pan left momentarily behind as he focuses almost entirely on Loki. This motif is resumed at the end of Panparadox with a concluding and previously unpublished chapter called The Flaming Nexus, in which Vexior provides an updated summary of some of the book’s content, specifically the intersection he sees between Pan and Loki. This initially takes the form of invocatory prose which then, unexpectedly, changes tone and voice and becomes more discursive.

Nopis sigil

The practical side of this book is presented in a section called Irissimum, which contains some basic ritual instructions with all the familiar magickal accoutrements along with invocations and the ceremonial calling of elemental quarters. Other than the addition of a pan flute as a ritual tool, there’s not too much here that differs from the usual Western magickal repertoire. Given the repeated use of the word ‘panic,’ it’s a shame more wasn’t given over to potential methods of using that sensation as a magickal technique. As one would expect with this kind of book, there’s a wealth of sigils, most notably the Nopis sigil of Pan that graces the cover, but also a variety of others representing Pan’s various attributes. There’s also a brief grimoire-like section listing the names of Pan’s various sons, each with their attendant sigil.

The credit for the formatting of Panparadox is attributed to both Vexior and Ixaxaar, and as a result, it has a distinctive look that differs from some of the more refined layout expected from this publisher. There is a certain heaviness to the typesetting, with the serif face of the body set with generous leading at a relatively large point size, and then with occasional words highlighted in a thick blackletter face. Adding to this dense typographic colour, is a lack of paragraph formatting on the larger sequences of text, with neither indents or returns used to provide any space. Panparadox is illustrated throughout with a range of images that add to the density on the page. The most successful of these are the full page, densely rendered, pen and ink illustrations of the various aspects of Pan by Chadwick Saint John. His distinctive style (and, indeed some of these images) will be familiar as album artwork to listeners of Vexior’s black metal band Arckanum.

Luciferian Pan in vex and scorn by Chadwick St. John

Given the dimensions of both the book and its typeface, as well as the wealth of images, Panparadox makes for a quick read. The writing is for the most part broken into brief sub chapters that are never very long and never dwell too long on the subject. As evidenced by the strange little Baphomet chapter, there’s a lack of focus in some of this writing, with the book flitting briefly from one topic to another. When compared to his more recent works, it is clear that Vexior’s writing has improved since this first foray, with some of the familiar pitfalls encountered by speakers of English as a second language raising their clumsy head from time to time.

The regular edition of Panparadox comes in run of 430 hand-numbered copies, with a page count of 208 pages. It is a clothbound, small octavo sized hardcover, with the Nopis sigil foiled in silver on the cover, and silver text on the spine. For an Ixaxaar publication, this is a modest presentation but one perhaps befitting the slightness and more archival nature of this work. A leatherbound edition was also available, but as one would expect, that sold out in advance.

Published by Ixaxaar.

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The Serpent Siddur of the Nachash El Acher – Matthew Wightman

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Categories: anticosmic, Tags:

serpentsiddur-coverI always find the title of this book from Aeon Sophia Press a little confusing. Is it The Serpent Siddur of the Nachash El Acher, as it appears on the cover, or is it Lyrics of Lilith, Songs of Samael, as it appears on the spine and the internal title pages? If it is both, then which comes first, which is the main title and which is the sub? Either way, this book is a siddur, in that it is largely a collection of prayers and devotional formulas directed to Nachash El Acher, the serpentine god of the Other Side, otherwise known by the portmanteau of Samaelilith.

Matthew Wightman writes very much from an anti-cosmic perspective and if you’ve read some of the other reviews on this site before, you’ll know that I have something of a disconnect with that most metal and misanthropic of metaphysical mind-sets. My misgivings are by no means assuaged when the opening line of the first chapter bleakly informs us that: “Existence is trauma.” A cheery start, to be sure.

Although Wightman is clearly and admittedly indebted to the Temple of the Black Light and their 218 current, he marks a divergence with their philosophy, talking of a realisation that he had which effectively means that the Temple just aren’t anti-cosmic enough. The crux of the issue is that in the qliphothic sorcery of the Temple of the Black Light, the Qliphoth is seen to be in anti-cosmic opposition to the Sephiroth and everything else on the dayside. Wightman, on the other hand, now sees the Qliphoth as part of a ruse, an agency of disinformation if you will, with the denizens of the Sitra Achra merely reinforcing, by their actions and their nature, a narrative that has been dictated by the Demiurge. Both the dayside and the nightside, these two opposing forces, are therefore, in actuality what makes up the Cosmos, so for Wightman, a true anti-cosmic force needs to be found elsewhere. Instead, Wightman turns his affections to the concept of Ain or Impossibility, seeking a return to the Ayin or Void, and attributing this same desire as the fundamental modus operandi of the Serpent. Wightman describes these ideas as being part of a Current 61, the Current of Ain and the Nachash El Acher, which he describes as even more “anti-cosmic than those that have come before it.” It does comes across a little like misanthropic hipsterism, evoking an image of duelling denizens of some qliphothic Shoreditch questioning each other’s commitment to an obscure band: “I believe in more dissolution into more nothingness than you do.” “Oh yeah, well my rejection of existence is so rejecty that I reject the rejection of existence.” And so forth.

As a disinterested party, these qabbalistic metaphysics can get a bit overwhelming and it’s hard to quiet the inner sceptic who sees it all as pointless speculation about concepts that are just made up anyway. Of course, that’s the nature of any belief system for which there is barely, if any, empirical evidence, but it seems particularly obvious here where so much time is given over to elaborate concepts and conclusions based ultimately on a matter of opinion and a little too much pondering.

This anti-cosmic worldview permeates much of The Serpent Siddur of the Nachash El Acher but the lion share of the book is given over to prayers and rituals, rather than theory. These prayers are recited using several ritual props borrowed from Judaism and Christianity and reoriented to a serpentine focus: a Serpentine Prayer Shawl (made from both linen and wool just to get the Demiurge really miffed that his instructions in Deuteronomy are being flouted; talk about sticking it to the man), Serpentine Phylacteries (with the original Judaic scrolls burnt and the ashes placed back in the tefillin) and a Serpentine Rosary. The prayers themselves are very long with the evening meditation running to sixteen pages, while the Serpent Sermon is comparatively short at only nine pages. On the blessedly shorter side of things are a Hymn to Qayin and songs for each day of the week, as well as a listing of thirteen principles, and prayers for prosperity and for the close of service. There are also meditations for before bed, for morning, and for afternoon, as well as prayers for before and after meals, and a series of prayers and invocations for the spirits of the twelve Qliphoth; although, given the earlier dismissal of the nightside of the Tree of Life as part of the Demiurgic problem, it’s not really explained what they’re doing there.

There’s a certain repetition of themes across this liturgy with much cursing of the Demiurge, praising of the Serpent and a total dissing of the Clayborn; boo, really hate those guys. The negativity of it all gets a bit much for my tender sensibilities and the constant blasphemy against the Demiurge and remarks about what a big meanie he is wears thin very early on. Similarly, the repeated mutterings about the Clayborn ends up making you feel like you’re on an Alex Jones website with people complaining about the Sheeple that just won’t wake up.

serpentsiddur-sigil

The second half of The Serpent Siddur of the Nachash El Acher is, at least in the regular version that I have, bound as a separate book and acts as expanded appendix to the hymnal of the first half. This is a collection of essays, some previously published, as well as an interview with Wightman conducted by Aeon Sophia Press, in which he is able to elaborate more fully on some of the cosmological and metaphysical concepts that are considered only briefly in the first volume. The essays are presented, as far I can tell, as they were originally printed and have not been updated and edited for this collection; something they may have benefited from. For example, in the first two essays, written in 2012 and 2013, Wightman refers to what he calls the Ain Sof Choshek by the name of Tiamat, which stands out somewhat incongruously within a sea of qabbalistic Hebrew, but in a later essay (and in the first volume of the siddur) he adopts the appropriately Hebrew name Tanninim as the result of a discussion with the Temple of the Black Light. What this lack of retroactive editing means is that Wightman allows you to effectively track his changes, revealing the evolution of his thought process. Jesus, for example, goes from being someone to be completely despised in an earlier essay to being seen within a more sanguine worldview in which he is a time bomb double agent whose sacrifice is used to disrupt the Demiurge and their plans.

Across both volumes, Wightman writes very well, presumably benefiting from his theological studies at Yale. Having edited a previous Ixaxaar title, he obviously has a thorough grasp of his subject. The content is largely proofed well and the only time things really go awry is when biblical turns of phrase get the better of Wightman and yoke is, one assumes, mistakenly rendered as yolk, with the phrase “the yolk of the Demiurge was around my neck” bringing to mind some rather sticky cosmological culinary accident.

serpentsiddur-gate

Both volumes of The Serpent Siddur of the Nachash El Acher feature occasional full page images by Patrick Larabee in his trademark, slightly naïve style. The type is set cleanly throughout, with chapters beginning with dropcaps in the blackletter Killigrew font that is something of an Aeon Sophia Press trademark. Chapter titles, meanwhile, are rendered as small caps in de rigueur Trajan Pro. The two volumes are bound in cloth, black for the first volume and red for the second, with the title rendered in gold foil lettering on the front of the first volume, and a sigil based on a Penrose triangle on the covers of both. Part one has the Lyrics of Lilith, Songs of Samael title running along its spine, but part two doesn’t have anything, making it infuriatingly anonymous when sitting in a bookshelf. It seems a missed opportunity that an attempt wasn’t made to connect the two volumes together, maybe with some treatment that could spread across both spines whilst still working when viewed in isolation. This regular version is sold-out from the publisher but a deluxe leather bound edition, limited to 50 copies, is, at the time of writing, still available.

For anyone who resonates with this kind of blasphemous, transgressive anti-cosmic Satanism, this book will be a valuable addition to their library. For others, it may mine those veins too frequently, and the negative anti-existence talk could begin to grate. While it lacks the ritual rigour and internal complexity/consistency of N.A.A. 218’s similar writings published by Ixaxaar, it does have an enthusiasm that may appeal to some.

Published by Aeon Sophia Press.

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The Leaper Between – Andrew D. Chumbley

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Categories: folk, sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

leaper_coverSubtitled with the suitably archaic and verbose legend “An Historical Study of the Toad-Bone Amulet; its Forms, Functions and Praxis in Popular Magic,” this small volume is an unabridged version of a study by Andrew Chumbley that first appeared in Michael Howard’s The Cauldron magazine in 2001 and has otherwise been long available online. As the subtitle indicates, this study looks at a ritual procedure in which a toad was flensed within an ant nest and then its bones set to float in a stream. When one of the bones separated itself from its companions and floated upstream, this could be caught and then used variously to control animals or as a love charm. The Leaper Between acts as something of a companion to One – The Grimoire of the Golden Toad, Chumbley’s harder to find and considerably more poetic consideration of the same theme. While that grimoire presents poetry, ritual texts and Chumbley’s personal experiences with the toad ritual, this book has a more purely historical grounding, providing an exhaustive survey of its use down through the centuries.

The toad ritual is first reported by the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder in his encyclopaedic Naturalis Historia, although it presumably represents a folk practice that had been extant for some time. Chumbley documents the spread of this ritual within magickal literature, dependant first on Pliny’s pivotal and well regarded work, and then, in turn, influenced by its appearance in the much later but equally pivotal Books of Occult Philosophy by the German occultist Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. As with the account in Pliny’s work, the presence of the toad ritual in the books of Agrippa may have compounded an existing and extant folk practice, rather than introducing it whole cloth to local workers of magick.

In chapter three, Chumbley notes a marked change in the use of the toad ritual some time during the late 18th or early 19th century, where the procedure was increasingly used specifically as a method of magickal initiation. This change is particularly seen in East Anglian cunning-craft, but as Chumbley documents, is found in other accounts of solitary initiation into witchcraft.  In this iteration of the ritual, the finding of the toadbone can cause the Devil to appear, in some cases competing for possession of the charm, and in the process, he confers on the potential witch their powers. The use of the ritual appears to have given rise to a sub-categorisation within the roles of witchcraft, with practitioners being known as Toad Witches or Toad Men. Chumbley concludes with a consideration of the intersection between the toad ritual and equine themed secret societies such as the Horseman’s Word.

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The Leaper Between has been released as a trade paperback version and in two sold out hardcover editions: deluxe hardcover in full Japanese bookcloth with a gilt toad device and art paper endsheets, limited to 231 copies, and the special hardcover in full black goat with gilt toad device and deluxe hand marbled endpapers, limited to 77 copies. In its trade paperback form, The Leaper Between works out as perhaps the cheapest book ever published by Three Hands Press, although even then it’s a little expensive given the slight nature of the content and its mere 66 chapbook size pages. It’s still lovely to have the contents in the formal settings of a proper book, instead of old copies of The Cauldron or a PDF set in Times New Roman. Chumbley’s writing is, of course, very able and devoid of the flowery and esoteric verbiage found in his more mystically-orientated writing.

Published by Three Hands Press.

 

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Secrets of a Faery Landscape – Coleston Brown

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Categories: faery

Secrets of a Faery Landscape coverSubtitled New Light on the Glastonbury Zodiac, this book has as its focus the series of natural and constructed earthworks surrounding Glastonbury, Somerset, discovered in 1925 by Katherine Maltwood. The first figure she found was a leonine form, which emerged out of the hills and hollows outlined on a surveyor’s map of the area, and other less impressive shapes soon followed. These she identified as representations of different constellations, although some might say that a few of the designs resemble not so much constellations as they do amorphous splats; I, for example, might say that.

In this work, Coleston Brown is less concerned with recapitulating Maltwood’s discovery and instead attempts to use the forms with more of a metaphysical focus. In this investigation, Brown is aided and abetted by Jessie Skillen who provides the cover image and a smattering of internal illustrations rendered in pencil. Her style is very much what you would expect to find in a new age shop in Glastonbury, all wisp and whimsy and it does act as an able companion to Brown’s themes.

While obviously indebted to Maltwood and her discovery of the figures at Glastonbury, Brown stresses early on where the two of them diverge. Maltwood’s identification of the figures with the conventional classical zodiac (something continued by almost everyone that has subsequently considered them) is seen as a somewhat limiting action and the result, Brown says, of her attempts to seek validation from academic authorities of the day. Brown does see the designs at Glastonbury as having a stellar component, but one that reaches beyond the confines of the ecliptic, with the figures having much more of the faery about them than the zodiac. For Brown, then, the figures represent Thirteen Dreamers, great faery figures that lie across the land and are simultaneously represented in the stars. It is within these earthy forms that the stars sleep when night turns to day and the sky’s nocturnal inhabitants pass into the underworld; or UnderRealm as Brown insists on calling it. This theme is something hinted at in Maltwood’s early works when she variously refers to the Glastonbury figures as Nature Gods, Star Giants and Giant Cosmic Deities.

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So instead of identifying the shapes by their classical zodiac names, Brown list these Thirteen Dreamers as the Quest, the Queen, the King, the Radiant Child, the Faery Boat, the Havens, the Sisterhood, the Faery Cat, the Stone/Sigils, the Horned One, the Swan, the Faery Fish and the Well of Stars. Various patterns of interaction between these Dreamers can be identified, with them being divided into triunes of animals, artefacts, guardians and a royal family comprised of queen, king and child. These Dreamers can be related to various elements of Celtic mythology, the Faery Fish is the Salmon of Knowledge, for example, while the Sisterhood are the nine women whose breath keeps the fire beneath the Cauldron of Inspiration lit.

Brown uses the Glastonbury figures to cast a wider thematic net within which a number of motifs can also be considered. The wild hunt led by Gwynn ap Nudd, for example, is discussed in the way it partakes of the same matrix of liminal imagery as the star enclosure with its themes of seasonal interactions between this world and the other. Similarly, Brown touches on the persistent references to the star enclosure as a cauldron, creating an interesting image in which the historical flooding of the Somerset Levels suggests a filling cauldron with the water rising to different levels around the various Dreamer earthworks. Brown identifies this tidal flooding as a powerful illustration of an interaction between the underworld and the land, with the water rising up through streams and wells, bringing with it the chthonic energy from below the ground.

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Brown has a final chapter talking about stellar alignments and the concept of the birth of a Radiant Faery Child, whatever that is (and linking it with the somewhat overstated galactic alignment of 2012), and then it’s all over a little too quickly. At 132 pages, including glossary and index, and with text rendered in a rather large point size, Secrets of a Faery Landscape is a brisk read and one that practically ends at page 86 when it gives way to annotated illustrations and diagrams to make or reiterate previous points. This abrupt end is a little disappointing, as most of the preceding writing feels like a preamble to a practical application that never comes. There is an appendix, written several years earlier, on working with sacred places that can be applied to the locations of the Thirteen Dreamers, but it feels strange that this content wasn’t more fully integrated into the main body.

Published by Green Fire Publishing. ISBN 9780986591228

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Ast Ma Ion – Eos Tar Nixet – Edgar Kerval

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Categories: nightside, typhonian

astmaioncoverSubtitled a Practical Grimoire of Qliphothic Sorcery, this book is a succinct journey through the qlipha by Edgar Kerval, aided and abetted by contributions from familiar faces like Asenath Mason, Hagen von Tulien, and Sean Woodward. Mason provides an extensive introduction to the concept of the Qliphoth, while von Tulien and Woodward lend their illustrative talents. S. Ben Qayin is also on hand to add his skills as the editor of the text.

Kerval writes that the journey he presents here is the culmination of four years of magickal work with the Qliphoth. As part of this experience, he encountered various phenomena that give their names to the title of this book. Ast Ma Ion was a vast region full of labyrinths that appear to act as zones of power and gateways through which access can be granted to qliphothic vibrations. Eos Tar Nixet, on the other hand, is the name of a toad-shaped seal, which, when broken, creates a connection between the practitioner’s subconscious and the hole of the Void, creating a secret pathway to the Qliphoth that is different to accessing them through the non-sphere of Daath. What that means in terms of the techniques presented in this book is unclear, as the procedures don’t seem to make many references to Ast Ma Ion and Eos Tar Nixet in their instructions for each qlipha.

The rest of the book is devoted to the qlipha themselves, with each one prefaced with paintings by Sean Woodward and a seal by Hagen von Tulien. Within the book itself, Woodward’s paintings are rendered in black and white, but they are repeated in full colour in an accompanying series of separate cards, making them a good option for those wishing to use his images as points of focus. Following an explanation of each qlipha and ritual instructions, each section then concludes with a sigil for the respective qlipha, this time created by Kerval himself in his trademark spindly and mirrored style that carries with it echoes of the vévés found in vodou.

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For anyone familiar with the Qliphoth, the descriptions of each qlipha won’t present anything too new or unfamiliar. Each has its characteristics described, a little exegesis on its nature and correspondences, before leading on to a practical exercise for working with that sphere. These exercises differ for each of the qlipha, without too much of a formulaic template of “cast this sigil, says these words, hope stuff happens, rinse and repeat nine more times.” Instead, for example, the exercise for A’rab Zaraq employs two black mirrors that create a nexus within which the spirit of the qlipha manifests; Golachab’s ritual incorporates autoerotic techniques, while the ritual for Ghagiel involves walking a spiral pattern.

The section for the final qlipha, Thaumiel, adds an additional layer of complexity, introducing the idea of seven vibrational shadows known as the masks of Thaumiel. Each of these masks is represented by a vévé-style sigil and a short poem summarising their attributes. As with elsewhere throughout this book, going through these poems feels a little like you’re reading song titles from Kerval’s ritual ambient project Emme Ya. There’s a profusion of words from his idiosyncratic lexicon, with much talk of primigenia, primal atavisms, and quintessences.

Despite coming in at 114 pages, Ast Ma Ion – Eos Tar Nixet is a quick read due to the rather large point size of the body type and the healthy population of sigils and other full page illustrations. Ast Ma Ion – Eos Tar Nixet has been bound by Kerval himself, an intimidating task to be sure, and it comes in faux leather, with cover sigil and spine text in silver, and black end papers. It holds together well, almost too well, as the tight binding and the conservative size of the gutters (with no allowance given for creep) means that the pages never open as fully as one would like; and holding a spread open long enough to read both pages can lead to finger fatigue.

Accompanying this release is a CD of music by Emme Ya called Qliphothic Emanations, a suite of six tracks intended to be an accompaniment to the nightside journey outlined in the book. These pieces are to the usual high standard of Emme Ya, with a track called Ast Ma Ion – Eos Tar Nixet being particularly evocative; and with its lovely Andean pan pipes coming across as a remarkably fresh sound in the world of ritual ambient.

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Ast Ma Ion – Eos Tar has been released in two editions, the standard Sinister Flame edition of 100 copies, and the deluxe Primal Shadow edition of just 11 long-sold-out copies, which comes in a cloth and calfskin traycase.

Published by Ophiolatreia Press.

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Abraxas: International Journal of Esoteric Studies, Issue Five

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Categories: magick, paganism, thelema, Tags:

Abraxas FivePublished by the incomparable Fulgur, Abraxas is perhaps the glossiest and grandest of all the current esoteric journals. It has a super large format, 180 glossy pages, many full colour and full page plates and a sturdy binding. It’s a weighty, slightly cumbersome read that requires retiring to a good reading nook; no in-transit snatching of moments with this one. Abraxas also has a noticeably quick turnaround as far as occult journals go: after writing the above start to what I thought was the review of the latest issue, another issue has since been released, as well as a simultaneously issued volume in their special issue series.

Maybe it suggests that I spend too much time reading the kind of publications that delight in the glamorous dark but there is something of a dry quality to the Abraxas style. The white space, the glossy stock, and the overall tone gives a sense of art gallery austerity. You can see why Abraxas bears the grand subtitle of the international journal of esoteric studies, rather than, say, something less restrained. This is by no means a value judgement, just an interesting point of differentiation.

The content of Abraxas runs the gamut of matters esoteric, but there is a noticeable emphasis on artistic endeavours. Even an interview with Michael Bertiaux is framed within the context of his art, rather than as just an author and occultist. There is often a balance throughout this issue between historical and modern artists, with the symbolist and surrealist art movements of the first part of the twentieth century acting as obvious touchstones for both the contributors to Abraxas and the contemporary artists that are profiled. The surrealist Victor Brauner is considered by Jon Graham, while Randall Morris interviews Bea Kwan Lim, whose delicate combination of ephemeral washes and lines occasionally recalls Marjorie Cameron’s occult artwork. Ken Henson presents a survey of the life and work of John Augustus Knapp, perhaps best known for his illustrations to Manly P. Hall’s Secret Teachings of All Ages, while Pam Grossman interviews contemporary Greek-born, New York-based esoteric artist Panos Tsagaris. This emphasis on art is underlined by the many full page and full colour plates that feature throughout, some as accompaniments to interviews and articles, and some as standalone pieces. The largest of these are a twelve page suite of full colour images, La Villa dei Misteri, by Arrington de Dionyso in a naïve style reminiscent of Matisse or the wide-eyed stares of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Perhaps the most intriguing feature on art is Sasha Chaitow’s essay on the life and work of Joséphin Péladan, founder of the Salon de la Rose + Croix, a subject for which it seems precious little information is available. Chaitow is well equipped to write this piece, having considered Péladan in her PhD thesis and written extensively about him elsewhere, and she presents the sâr and his work with a certain pronounced affection. Chaitow concludes her essay with her own artwork, Bené-Satan, a pencil on paper illustration of Lucifer as he is described in Péladan’s 1888 novel Istar.

Elsewhere, further away from the fields of art, Olivia Robertson is memorialised by Caroline Wise in a rather touching tribute to the founder of the Fellowship of Isis, accompanied by some lovely photographs by both Wise and Celia Thomas. In The (Not Entirely) Lost ‘Art of the Apothecary,’ Ioannis Marathakis exhaustively explores the process and constituents of Abramelin Oil, tracing it back to similar anointing oils detailed in biblical texts, while Stephanie Spoto gives a brief history of the use of spirits in European occultism, from Neoplatonism through to John Dee.

To go with its high production values, Abraxas features a consistently high standard of writing, with most pieces featuring extensive and comprehensive citing of references. The reader’s interest in the various subjects may vary and it’s certainly not a cover to cover or a single-sitting read. Rather, one feels inclined to jump from the more appealing contributions, making a promise to return to the others later. Abraxas comes as a regular edition sewn paperback of 180 full colour 290 x 232mm pages for £15.00. There is also a hardback edition of 300 copies for £50.00, with a gold-stamped design by Panos Tsagaris and a custom-fitted dust jacket; not to mention, an original, signed and hand-numbered print by Bea Kwan Lim.

Published by Fulgur.

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Apocalyptic Witchcraft – Peter Grey

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Categories: witchcraft, Tags:

Apocalyptic Witchcraft - Bibliotheque Rouge edition coverScarlet Imprint describes Peter Grey’s Apocalyptic Witchcraft as “neither a how-to book, nor a history, rather it is a magical vision of the Art in its entirety.” While it may not be a history in the Edward Gibbon sense, there are certainly historical threads the run throughout this work, woven together with others of equal parts philosophy, polemic and prose. Early in the piece, Grey notes that while he is informed by academia, he is not intending to write an academic text; and as a result, references are not cited in text but listed as a general reading list for each chapter. Instead, he takes a cue from Robert Graves in seeing poetry and fiction as a profound expression of the mysteries of the goddess, with the work of various writers providing a lens through which she can be revealed. And so, the names Ted Hughes, Peter Redgrove and Penelope Shuttle, and indeed, Graves himself, appear as frequent touchstones throughout this work. For Grey, Redgrove and Shuttle managed to tap into the essence of witchcraft: in particular a focus on menstruation and the use of dreams for magickal exploration. Hughes, in turn, celebrated the devil in the devi, the visceral qualities of the goddess of witchcraft who is nature personified in all its forms; something that Graves with his gentle, romantic sensibilities could not do.

Grey claims that his own voice in Apocalyptic Witchcraft is one that eschews archaic, ermine-trimmed language. Commendable sentiments, indeed, as my distain in these reviews for occultic jibba jabba will attest. Grey does do himself a disservice with this statement, though, because throughout the book he speaks with an engaging and mellifluous tone that if not ermine-trimmed is trimmed with, well, something. He archly flings words around rather beautifully and due to his enthusiasm, the writing is, fast-paced and almost, dare I say it, poetic.

Although most of the Apocalyptic Witchcraft’s content is comprised of chapters of prose that are broken up with excerpts from a poem for Inanna, the book initially takes a while to settle down, adopting numerous formats in its opening pages. It begins with an initial preamble laying out many of the core themes that are later revisited in depth, followed by a 33 point Manifesto of Apocalyptic Witchcraft, and then somewhat jarringly, a poetic travelogue called She is Without. This telling of a visit to a Mediterranean island reveals itself to be, not Shirley Valentine on Mykanos as one almost begins to expect, but rather an anti-tourist exploration of the island of Patmos, the site associated with John’s reception of the Book of Revelations. It is here, in the cave of the apocalypse, that Grey frames his own vision, a new song of an apocalyptic witchcraft that is inimically set against the 2000 year old revelation of John.

As one would perhaps expect from something that is essentially a polemic or manifesto, Apocalyptic Witchcraft is high on rhetoric but low on details. Throughout, for example, Grey makes a distinction between conventional modern pagan witchcraft (a rubric under which he includes both Wicca and Traditional Witchcraft) and his vision for an apocalyptic witchcraft. He sees elements of the former as assimilationist, whereas the latter is eternally rebellious and outside the mainstream; with witchcraft as a belief system that, he argues, has always been adversarial, standing against the clergy and the inquisitor, both medieval and modern. Quite what that means on a practical level is not explained. While there is talk of a philosophical alignment with direct action groups such as the Earth Liberation Front and the amorphous Anonymous, there is no explanation of how this could be pragmatically incorporated into witchcraft beyond unexplained metaphors of Grand Sabbats and tooth and claw.

But maybe that’s not the point, and it’s certainly not the intention, as Grey and Scarlet Imprint makes clear with their initial insistent definitions of what the book is and what it is not. Instead, Apocalyptic Witchcraft is to be read as an inspirational text. Ideas are introduced, celebrated with Grey’s often ecstatic prose, but frequently viewed from a grand distance, leaving the reader to take up the elements and run with them. This parallels Grey poetic inspirators, whose words, by their very nature, provide a vision but one that is by no means spelt out.   Apocalyptic Witchcraft - Of the Doves edition

Apocalyptic Witchcraft is available in multiple versions: the Bibliothèque Rouge paperback edition, reviewed by scrooge here, with its black card binding and white ink on the cover; a now sold out Of the Crows fine edition bound in full hammered gold hand-grained morocco; and a standard hardbound Of the Doves edition bound in black linen cloth stamped with white dove devices to front and rear, embossed grey endpapers, and a dust jacket. The formatting of Apocalyptic Witchcraft is attractive and rarefied. The columns are given large 3cm margins on all sides and the type is set in a smaller than usual point size with generous, but not excessive, leading. The result, given the tall and thin columns, is an archaic quality that suits the content of the book but without any sense of it being overly telegraphed.

Published by Scarlet Imprint. ISBN 978-0-9574492-9-9

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