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Via Tortuosa – Daniel A. Schulke & Robert Fitzgerald

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Categories: sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

Via Tortuosa coverReleased by Xoanon in 2018 with little fanfare (for example, other than an announcement of imminent release, there’s no presence on the publisher’s website), Via Tortuosa is an outline of Crooked Sorcery as defined by the Cultus Sabbati. While the practical side of this system can be found in at least two ritual-heavy tomes also published by Xoanon, Andrew Chumbley’s Azoëtia and his Dragon-Book of Essex, in many ways, Via Tortuosa feels like the background information and explanation that those two titles lack. While not necessarily an entry-level book by any means, having too specific and aberrant a nomenclature for one, it does give the impression of being an overview, an explication of themes that are otherwise usually taken as read.

With Schulke and Fitzgerald sharing authorship credits, it’s not clear who does what, but, being more familiar with the work of former rather than the latter, it’s fair to say that some sections have more of a Schulkian feel than others, particularly the introduction. Here, Schulke (one assumes) is in full flight, staking a claim for ownership of the Crooked Path phrase and flinging out familiar words from the Cultus Sabbati lexicon: your ‘recensions,’ ‘reifications’ and ‘modalities,’ plus some new ones. Congratulations in particular on ‘enspissation’ for which a Google search returns only two results: a bootleg PDF of Schulke’s own Veneficium, and a paper from 1988 discussing the primary culture of bovine mammary acini on a collagen matrix; though this review is probably providing a hit by the time you, dear reader, peruse it, go SEO!  Also, there’s ‘detritivores,’ which may or may not get slipped into future casual conversations; that’s going to take some applause-worthy work.

Via Tortuosa spread with second section, Adversus

Via Tortuosa is divided into three sections, with the middle of these being a single poem titled Adversus. The first section, Exegesis, consists of eight chapters outlining core principles, themes and concepts of the Crooked Path. These hit the beats one would expect to be hit, beginning with an explication of the path itself, here called the Backward Way in the chapter title, which as its twin names suggest, is defined by doctrines of inversion and transgression, with the idea of aberration being a key one from which all else follows. The sabbat itself is offered as exemplary of this, and with its evagination of Christian liturgy and ritual, is said to create a warping of usual psychic and sensorial states. It is not just the crooked manner of the path that is considered here, though, and subsequent chapters turn to more specifics, first with the idea of the Opposer, whose current intersects with the deepest strata of the Via Tortuosa, challenging those who would travel along it. The Crooked Path is also a multiplicious one, bifurcating at the liminal point that is the crossroads, becoming the Divided Way and the Path of Chance, and still further into paths of immediation, intention, creation, remedy and return, before resolving into the Crooked Circle.

Jim Dunk: title image for Exilic Wisdom chapter

Beyond the path itself, Via Tortuosa turns its attention to core elements from the Sabbatic Tradition’s cosmology: Cain (whose journey provides much of the ritual narrative here), the serpent in the garden of Eden, and the Black Man of the Sabbat. These are followed by a survey of several key ritual approaches, acting not as a full explication with any rituals to adhere to by rote, but a discussion of various ideas, including the use of familiars, congress with spirits, and ordeals of solitude that mirror Cain’s own ostracism.

Via Tortuosa spread

With the exception of a glossary and bibliography that follow, Via Tortuosa concludes with its third part, devoting a significant part of the book, 50 pages in all, to a collection of parables. These Parables of the Exiled are brief little stories in the vein of their gospel equivalent, presenting pithy tales, pregnant with crooked meaning and import. The most enjoyable of these apologues are stories involving the original exile, Cain (which add to sabbatic mythos surrounding him), while others are set in different historical locals and in that theoretical world of yester-century that seems equally home to Beedle the Bard’s Tale of the Three Brothers and the story of Puss in Boots. There are 24 of these in total, each largely playing into that core idea of inversion and transgression with their lessons being somewhat contrary to what Jesus delivered with the form.

Via Tortuosa is low on in-text illustrations, and other than one crossed stang-like full page image and a similar figure on the title page, the only graphic elements are nine images that sit above each chapter title. Created by James Dunk (presumably not the same Jim Dunk that used to tell people not to drink Molson lager), these have something of a welcome, atypical style, heavy on inky contrast and hard edges. Resembling the stelae or cartouche depictions of enthroned Egyptian gods, these figures have an atavistic quality, their totemic qualities emphasised in themes of decapitation and amputation, with otherness conveyed through a lack of limbs connecting hands to torso.

Jim Dunk: title image for The Opposer chapter

Via Tortuosa has been released with a total run of 559 copies, with 496 of these comprising the standard edition. Presented in crown octavo format, the standard edition is bound in a lovely metallic-flecked, deep red carmine cloth, with a serpentine design foiled in gold on the cover and rear, and the title and author names similarly blocked on the spine. This is wrapped in a letterpress-printed dust jacket that replicates the front and back serpent motif, slightly debossed on its heavy red card due to the printing method. The remaining 63 copies comprise a deluxe edition of 44 in quarter goatskin and slipcase, and a special edition of nineteen in full goatskin and slipcase.

Published by Xoanon

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The Language of the Corpse – Cody Dickerson

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Categories: folk, germanic, Tags:

Language of the Corpse coverBearing the subtitle The Power of the Cadaver in Germanic and Icelandic Sorcery, Cody Dickerson’s The Language of the Corpse is a short little treatise from Three Hands Press. Running to just 76 pages, undivided by chapters and with type set at a fairly large point size, it is an enjoyable one-sitting read that feels more like an extended essay or brisk thesis than a full book. This puts it in the company of another recent title from Three Hands Press, Richard Gavin’s The Moribund Portal, with which it shares a certain focus on matters of quietus.

As the title and subtitle make obvious, the subject in hand here is a corporeal one, concerning itself with both symbolic and actual use of human remains for metaphysical purposes. Dickerson frames this consideration with Óðinn, who as Valföðr and Hangadróttinn, makes a fitting embodiment of the themes of death and vital remains that follows. While he doesn’t feature prominently throughout the rest of the book, it’s clear with this introduction, and his return at the conclusion, that from Dickerson’s perspective, he oversees it all.

The Language of the Corpse spread

The book’s remit allow Dickerson to amble through a variety of related objects, predominantly associated with Western Europe and more specifically with Scandinavia, where reanimated corpses loom large as symbols of eldritch alterity. Indeed, if there’s one theme here it’s how the remains of the dead, be it an entire body or the singular hand of glory, provided a method of congress between this world and others. For example, those Iron Age people whose bodies have been found in peat bogs may have been victims not of just sacrifice (in itself a form of connecting with the divine) but of augury, with their intestines read for import and wisdom. As Dickerson eloquently puts it, the corpse then acts as an agent by which the living gain access to the wisdom of the gods, becoming “a symbol of the highest degree of exchange between man and the divine,” and thereby the greatest possible offering.

It is this sense of communication, of touching the divine, which can then be seen in the other examples that Dickerson draws on from across a substantial span of time and distance. Whether it’s figures sitting on burial mounds in saga literature, the necromancy of sixteenth and seventeenth century Icelandic sorcerers, or the belief in the apotropaic and sanative power of an executioner’s touch, there is a sense of death acting as a transmitter of power and knowledge, and for good as much as for ill.

The Language of the Corpse spread

There’s a certain familiarity that occurs in The Language of the Corpse, with little areas being covered that anyone immersed in this here milieu will, or should, have at least a passing awareness of due to their ubiquity. The intersection of mandrakes with this topology is the most obvious one, hitting all the usual talking points when discussing their connection with death and the gallows. Similarly, a brief foray into the idea of mumia, a protoplasmic cure-all made from human remains, echoes a similar survey of the subject from Daniel Schulke’s recently reviewed Veneficium.

Dickerson writes in a style that fits rather well with Three Hands Press. While not as ornate or antique as some of his companions, he nevertheless deftly employs a well-furnished lexicon and is able to dip into a conversational, but not too informal, turn of phrase when required to address the layreader. This is all, in turn, competently and thoroughly proofed, with no significant complaints from your humble reviewer.

The Language of the Corpse front design

The Language of the Corpse has been made available in three editions: a trade paperback, a hardcover edition of 1,000 copies with a dust jacket, and a deluxe edition with special endpapers and quarter leather binding. The dust jacket and paperback version features a collage designed by Bob Eames, based on The Physician from Hans Holbein’s The Dance of Death, while the front and back of the hardcover edition is debossed with a lovely floral skull motif, cruelly hidden by said dust jacket.

Published by Three Hands Press

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Sabat #3 and #4 – Edited by Elisabeth Krohn

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Categories: art, witchcraft

Sabat #3 coverSabat is a magazine irregularly published by creative director and editor Elisabeth Krohn. We’ve chosen to review two issues because the latest is a slightly atypical, harder to parse, volume that could be summarised in one or two paragraphs, whereas the previous issue from 2017 is a weightier work worthy of its own singular review.

The third volume of Sabat is referred to as the crone issue, and brings a natural end to the sequence of maiden and mother showcased in the previous two issues. This theme of the crone has a variety of interpretations, due to the substantial list of contributors across its 160 pages, with thirteen writers, twenty-two photographers and twelve artists. In matters of writing, standouts include contributions from Myroslava Hartmond, Pam Grossman, Sonya Vatomsky, and Gabriela Herstik.

Hartmond gives a brief account of the 1960s radical feminist group W.I.T.C.H. (an abbreviation of Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell, a name you can believe in) and their intersection between actual witches in a symbolic and to a lesser extent, theoretical sense; with the group’s manifesto describing witches as the “original guerrillas and resistance fighters against oppression.” Meanwhile, Grossman provides the most immediate discussion here of the crone in a broad mythological sense, identifying various figures who have appeared as crones from classical myth to Margaret Hamilton as the cinematic Wicked Witch of the West. In a delightful feint, she begins discussing Hekate (a figure not classically depicted as a crone, a popular modern pagan misconception), only to acknowledge this and suggest that this perceptual evolution of maiden to crone is as valid as anything set in the slip of myth.

Sabat #3 spread with feature on April Graham

As a focus on one particular crone, Vatomsky decodes the Slavic figure of Baba Yaga, depicting her as a figure of great power and agency, and arguing that characteristics such as these and others have been lost in her translation into the West. For that touch of pop culture, Herstik considers the women of the Addams family (Wednesday, Morticia and the supremely crone-ish Grandmama) as expressions of the divine feminine; ably illustrated by Vanessa Reyes in two full page ink drawings.

Interviews feature heavily in Sabat #3, with almost all of them beginning with the mantra-like inquiry ‘what does the word Witch mean to you?’ These straddle that divide/intersection of praxis and performance, with some focusing on practitioners (such as queer feminist witch and anti-ageist activist Dulcamara, or Blue Mountains witch April Graham), and others on artists working in jewellery, music and performance art. Sara Gewalt is a jeweller, sculptor and photographer studying, at time of writing, at Konstfack University, who has worked with bands such as Degial and Watain, but is here interviewed with a focus on her Totem necklaces of bone-shaped ceramic. Camille Ducellier is a French multimedia artist with a strong queer and feminist focus, principally working with film and sound. At the time of interview, she was beginning to adapt her sound piece La lune noire (based on the astrological idea of Lilith as a black moon and originally broadcast by France Culture, in 2016) into a full sound installation. Miki Aurora is a Vancouver based performance artist who describes herself as an “artist, filmmaker + occultist designing workings that fuse cyberfeminist theory with chaos practice,” and who uses the modalities of ritual for performance art pieces.Sabat #3 spread with interview with performance artist Miki Aurora

While Norway-born, London-based editor and founder Krohn provides creative direction and clearly has a singular vision, the art direction and its execution falls to designer Cleber Rafael de Campos; half a world away in Brazil for the first two issues, but back in London for the third. It is easy to see why the third issue of Sabat was awarded a silver placing at the 2018 European Design Awards, with its 164 pages that look very, how you say, designery. It’s also very witchy, but not always in the most conventional sense. No rustic gentleness here, no wispy filigree, but also, it must be said, no grim sabbatic tropes, no goats and stangs and other signifiers of Traditional Witchcraft with the capital T and the capital W.

What does dominate, though, is female imagery, with the female form appearing in a variety of situations, some more witchy than others, but always well executed. While there are some male photographers amongst the contributors here, there feels a distinct lack of the male gaze across the imagery. It is the photography that creates some of the most impact here, whether it’s the portraits of featured artists and practitioners, or the little fashion spreads and photographic essays that often seem unannounced and unexplained, and as such, are just effortlessly cool. It’s these that help Sabat feel different, giving it its import and focus, and makes it live up to the association with the #WitchesofInstagram hashtag.

Sabat #3 spread with #letitgo feature

Campos has an equally bold and contemporary design style, employing some core layout elements throughout Sabat but also changing things up with format-disrupting injections where necessary. Printed for the most part on a dull matte stock that gives everything just the right touch of gravitas and muted cool, this is broken up with glossy silver title pages featuring die-cut crescents and discs that provide windows backwards and forwards to other pages as the moon moves through its phases, punching holes through the text of the titles. This lunar sojourn reaches its culmination with a full moon, where graphic designer Dario Gracceva takes the typographic reins around the theme of #letitgo for several pages. In another case, the same silver pages are left without a lunar die cut, but images from the surrounding photo essay are lightly printed on them, appearing ghostly and making the page itself seem almost translucent. Elsewhere, subtle embossing (or debossing, depending on what side of the leaf you’re looking from) of text over images can be almost missed, but once discovered, enhance the tactile experience of Sabat.

Sabat #3 spread with photoshoot of Vivien James by Lolo Bates

With the trilogy of maiden, mother and crone completing with the third issue, the fourth volume of Sabat takes as its theme the elements and uses this as an opportunity to try a significantly different approach to its predecessors. Rather than the dense, perfect bound format of the previous issues, Sabat #4 consists of five large format posters and an unbound booklet of six A3 sheets folded to A4. The posters vary in size from A2 to a folded A1, with the styles feeling more like a work from a design annual, rather than anything overtly witchy. These are presented folded and held together by a string, with the individual A3 leaves of the booklet interspersed throughout.

Sabat #4 spread with large scale poster and unbound booklet leaf

The written content for Sabat #4 takes the form of five one page meditations on each of the elements, delivered by Myroslava Hartmond, Pam Grossman, Sonya Vatomsky, Kristian J. Solle and Sabina Stent; some of whose names will be familiar from previous issues. Given the format, the list of artists for this issue is equally short, and features Nikolai Diekmann, Anne Sophie Ryo, Anniinna Anna Amanda, Elisa Seitzinger, Maria Torres and Ossian Melin.

Sabat #4 spread with large scale poster and unbound booklet leaf

Maybe it shows a lack of imagination on my part, but I’m not sure what to do with it all. Do I disassemble it and try to find wall space to Blu Tack them to amongst a myriad of bookcases? Or, having at least read the written content, do I leave it as a somewhat unsatisfyingly unexplored, hard-to-store art portfolio, with, no matter where it ends up, the corners getting increasingly bent and worn; as is already beginning to happen. At the risk of sounding uncharacteristically plebeian, I just don’t get it, and when both issues cost the same price, I find myself happier holding something with the certainty of 160 beautifully designed, perfect bound pages.

Sabat #4 spread with large scale poster and unbound booklet leaf

Published by Sabat Magazine

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Of the Witches’ Pact with the Devil – Francesco Maria Guazzo

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Categories: sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

Of the Witches’ Pact with the Devil coverIn October of 2017, Three Hands Press in association with Mortlake and Company, presented Witch-Ikon, an exhibition featuring what was described as “contemporary imagery of witchcraft emergent from the occult, esoteric and fine art milieus,” with work by Marzena Ablewska-Lech, Tom Allen, Claudia Avila, Francisco D, Dolorosa de la Cruz, Rik Garrett, David Herrerias, Timo Ketola, Rory MacLean, Roberto Migliussi, Johnny Decker Miller, Liv Rainey-Smith, K Lenore Siner and Benjamin A. Vierling. In addition to a 48-page, full colour exhibition catalogue (not to mention a similarly-named publications of essays and art that is still forthcoming), Three Hands Press released this little volume and made it available at the gallery.

Of the Witches’ Pact with the Devil is an excerpt from the Montague Summers-directed translation of Francesco Maria Guazzo’s 17th century witch hunter’s manual Compendium Maleficarum; said here to be the seventh chapter of Book 1, but in all other versions consulted it was listed as Chapter VI. Whether it’s the sixth chapter or the seventh, as it titles suggests, this excerpt deals with one of those key moments of the sabbatic narrative, making it ripe with imagery, and one for which that imagery was given very real form with the accompanying legendary woodcuts that have graced the covers of a thousand black metal demo tapes.

Of the Witches’ Pact with the Devil chapter

Guazzo describes the pact between the witch and the devil as either expressed or tacit, with the former performed in the presence of the devil, and the latter as a written petition that may be submitted by a proxy if the supplicant is afraid to speak directly to their new master. Common to both forms are certain matters that Guazzo arranges under eleven headings, beginning with an initial denial of the Christian faith to facilitate the removal of the chrism and the rubbing off the mark of baptism, and ending with an oath to never accept the Eucharist, to destroy all other church relics and to proselytise for the devil.

Designed by Daniel A. Schulke with execution of type by Joseph Uccello, Of the Witches’ Pact with the Devil is printed in two-colour letterpress by Dependable Letterpress, giving the book some lovely tactile and olfactory qualities, with its subtle debossing of the body copy (still more pronounced in the titles, subtitles and images) and the whiff of inks. Uccello renders the body in a serif face that’s hard to pin down but has the right mix of readability and a hint of the archaic, while the page headers are in a lovely blackletter-style variant of the Espinosa Nova face. This rotunda style is also seen on the cover and is used for the in-body numbering of the stages of the witches’ pact, which are further offset from their companions by being printed in red. Proving, its versatility, the one drop cap in the copy uses an illuminated style of Espinosa Nova, while the crosses that dot the book as decorative ends are drawn from its glyph set. Five of the original woodcuts from Compendium Maleficarum are used as illustrations, including the infamous image of the osculum infame.

Of the Witches’ Pact with the Devil spread

Of the Witches’ Pact with the Devil is presented without comment (save for the original footnotes of the Summers translation), so it feels more like a curio or replica than a contemporary reification of praxis. This is something confirmed by the unique production, and its attention to detail. Unfortunately, the content has not been privy to the same eye, and it is an imperfect transcription, featuring a smattering of errata, with transposed letters, and missing or wrong words. It’s not rampant, but there’s enough of it for it to become noticeable and set you off looking for more.

French flap from Of the Witches’ Pact with the Devil

Of the Witches’ Pact with the Devil was made available in a softcover edition of 400 hand-numbered and hand-sewn copies, and a hardcover edition of 40 now sold out copies. Handbound by Klaus-Ullrich Rötzscher of Pettingell Bookbindery, the softcover is bound with a letterpress cover printed on brown card with French flaps, while the hardcover is in a full gilt leather cover with handmade endpapers. The French flaps of the softcover version featuring an image of the devil enthroned, extracted from one of the unused woodcuts, mirrored to face inwards on their respective flap, with a different Latin phrase beneath it; all with the same letterpress debossing of the cover and back elements.

Published by Three Hands Press

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Shamanic Journeying: A Beginner’s Guide – Sandra Ingerman

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Categories: shamanism

Shamanic Journeying coverSandra Ingerman is best known to this reviewer for her collaborations with ambient musician and percussionist Byron Metcalf, producing the album The Spirit of Healing and the standalone Winter Solstice track A Healing the Earth Journey with Dashmesh Khalsa also. In her introduction, Ingerman details her first encounter with shamanism in a workshop she took for nothing more than extra credit whilst studying at the California Institute of Integral Studies in 1980. The workshop was led by Michael Harner and it was this that introduced her to the concept of shamanic journeying. Since then, Ingerman has incorporated the practice with her background in psychotherapy, creating a method to expand consciousness, empower, and provide guidance.

At the outset, Ingerman makes it clear that she is not providing instruction on how to become as shaman as such, merely using a technique that, she says, is common to all forms of shamanism; or to quote directly, common “to all cultures,” as she rather recklessly claims. This is an idea drawn from Harner, and it’s clear that what Ingerman presents here is very much in his mould, with all the corners shaved off and made clean and presentable. As a result, the shamanism discussed here is shorn of any context or examples, and is assigned broad, universal principles in something of an essentialist, categorical manner. The shaman, then, comes across as the type of bland, clean and very vanilla spirit worker that might very well give workshops at the California Institute of Integral Studies. They “maintain harmony and balance in their communities” – whatever that means – and, by omission, presumably are never feared, never perform maleficia, and never kill or injure through magic or otherwise. Unsurprisingly, such malicious sorcery isn’t listed as one of the three common causes for illness in a shamanic worldview, which in rather contemporary parlance, are instead loss of power due to depression or illness, soul loss from a traumatic event, or spiritual blockages and negative energies that a client has taken on due to a loss of power or soul (which sounds pretty much like the first two anyway).

Shamanic Journeying spread

While the subtitle does mark this book as being for beginners, and it comes in at under 90 pages so there’s not a lot of space for elaboration, a real sense of what shamanism can entail, with actual anthropological examples, would have made its basic premise more convincing. Instead, the bovine excrement detector is constantly releasing a high pitch siren as time and time again what is being broadly described doesn’t ring true; not because the details are wrong but because there are so often no details.

Ingerman’s instructions are simply and straightforward, unburdened as they are by any referencing of sources or verifiable anecdotes. This suits the type of book it is, with everything refined and distilled down to a palatable set of guidelines. She describes how to travel to the lower, middle and upper worlds, and of encountering power animals and spirit guides; nomenclature which reveals the intended market (especially when she says it is common to have a unicorn or Pegasus as a power animal; alrighty then).  The technique here is effectively visualisation (of a type that while not guided, at least contains a fair dose of suggestion) with a percussive soundtrack, and it’s only said sound and the use of a broadly shamanic lexicon that makes it feel anything like shamanism. Indeed, the prevailing sense is that of it being nothing more than a therapeutic exercise that a psychotherapist might have a patient undergo as a creative imagination exercise.

Shamanic Journeying: A Beginner’s Guide comes with a CD featuring drumming for three journeys. Running to 12 minutes, 20 minutes and 30 minutes, these three tracks are simple, unadorned and effective drumming pieces, the first beginning with rattles and whistles, and the second featuring double-drumming.

Published by Sounds True.


Review soundtrack: Byron Metcalf and Sandra Ingerman – The Spirit of Healing

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Trolls: An Unnatural History – John Lindow

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Categories: folk, germanic

Trolls coverJohn Lindow, Professor Emeritus of Old Norse/Folklore at Berkeley, has a few significant academic contributions here on the Scriptus Recensera shelves, most notably his substantial Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Published by Reaktion Books, Trolls: An Unnatural History feels a little more public-facing, sitting alongside similar popular cultural history titles on the likes of dragons and other fantastic beasts. This is something suggested by the John Bauer painting from Bland tomtar och troll used on the cover, with its archetypal imagining of what a Swedish troll looks like, all immense hunched frame, large nose and shaggy hair. But there is more to trolls than this popular folk image, and as a result, there’s more to Trolls: An Unnatural History too.

While there is noticeably more consideration within these pages of the Bauer-like troll of folklore, and that figure, fittingly, looms large throughout, Lindow provides a thorough consideration of the first trolls, those of the earlier Old Norse sagas. In these sources, beginning with a poem by ninth century court poet Bragi Boddason, trolls are defined by their indefinability, being creatures that are described in a variety of sometimes contrary ways, with the only consistency being their designation as Other. These trolls, rather than being the bogeyish figures of later folklore, are closer to gods, being forces of nature and the alterior, often synonymous with giants and other broadly defined eldritch beings of death, the wild and the cosmological landscape.

Lindow shows that these characteristics, this liminal insolubility, is not something incongruous with later folklore depictions of trolls (just as the various uses of the name in modern parlance can be read as relating, in various ways and degrees, to its original inscrutable descriptions; perhaps with the exception of the Trolls of World of Warcraft, you come get da voodoo). Indeed, the inability to control by definition made the term a catch-all one that could be as easily applied to a range of supernatural creatures as it had been in the Viking Age.

Spread featuring images by Johan Fredrik Eckersberg and Peter Nikolai Arbo

Perhaps the most enjoyable section of Trolls: An Unnatural History is the somewhat awkwardly titled fourth chapter Fairy-tale Trolls and Trolls Illustrated, which begins, as indicated, with a discussion of the evolution of trolls stories from folklore into the more codified realm of fairy tales. This is then followed by a thorough survey of how these literary illustrations were complimented by actual illustrations, in the works of such artists as Johan Fredrik Eckersberg, Peter Nikolai Arbo, Otto Sinding, Erik Werenskiold and Theodor Kittelsen. While we are dealing with single artists with singular visions, these images are interesting because they presumably do represent the multiplicity of ways in which trolls were visualised in the mind of nineteenth century Scandinavians. Lindow tracks this evolution of thinking, showing how the unresolved imagery of Eckersberg (in which trolls are largely just wild men) and other illustrators was gradually distilled into a very particular visual language, as seen in the work of Werenskiold and Kittelsen, with the troll’s corporeal monstrosity writ large.

Lindow notes that Werenskiold’s work contains a style of illustration (which would come to dominate in that of Kittelsen and others), which sees trolls emerging from and merging with the environment, a “blending of trolls with the materiality of the landscape.” Werenskiold uses the same cross hatching for wood as he does for the trolls that appear in front of it, while Kittelsen’s trolls are often show in symbiosis with the forests from which they issue, with relatively tiny trees and grasses growing on their mossy heads and backs.

After a discussion of trolls in literature (Ibsen’s Peer Gynt being perhaps the most notable example), Lindow gives a survey of trolls from a broader cultural viewpoint, in particular as they are marketed to children. This allows for brief mentions of works by the likes of Tolkien, Rowling, as well as a discussion of the familiar diminutive troll dolls and their then nascent feature film. He then concludes with an epilogue for the digital age, focusing on the use of ‘troll’ as a designation in digital discourse, where the characteristics of the Viking Age troll as an unwelcome and disruptive force from the outside have been renewed with vigour.

Spread featuring an image by Theodor Kittelsen

Sources are not cited within the body of Trolls: An Unnatural History and instead, Lindow uses an area following the epilogue in which, in sections for each chapter, he discusses the various sources, providing them with either broad context or as specific recommendations. This is an interesting way to do it, giving the reader the opportunity to look thoroughly at the source material, but without distracting the flow of the body with footnote, endnotes, or goddess forbid, in text citations. This reflects Lindow’s writing style throughout, which is popular rather than academic and theoretical, engaging the reader with an erudite manner that is still approachable.

Trolls: An Unnatural History binds its 160 pages and dark grey endpapers in a red cloth, with the title and author foiled in gold on the spine. This is then wrapped in a glossy dust jacket with the aforementioned image by Bauer on the front. Images are featured throughout, particularly in the fourth chapter with its focus on visual depictions of trolls.

Published by Reaktion Books

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The Moribund Portal – Richard Gavin

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Categories: folk, germanic, tantra, witchcraft, Tags:

The Moribund Portal coverBearing the impressively arcane subtitle “Spectral Resonance and the Numen of the Gallows,” Richard Gavin’s The Moribund Portal is a meditation on the symbolism of the gallows, and its place in folklore, spiritism and occult philosophy. From the opening paragraph, The Moribund Portal reads like what you would expect from a Three Hands Press title, and certainly moreso than another recent release. This involves, if we dare coin the phrase, a Schulkian type of sentence structure, gloriously beginning the proceedings with “Sites of archaic tragedy, iniquity, or turmoil can server the living as stations of unique spirit function.” Yes, indeed.

Running to just 90 or so pages and undivided by chapters, save for a clearly defined epilogue, or even subheadings, The Moribund Portal feels more like an extended essay than a true book. It is, indeed, what the title says, a portal that is formed by the image of the gallows, but which uses this morbid focus as a means of moribund egress to explore a variety of related themes. Untethered by the structure and clear signposts provided by subheadings, there’s a feeling of the thematic focus swinging, like a gibbet hanging from a gallows tree, as topics move from one to the other. Thus, the occupant of the gallows proves an apt leaping off point, if you’ll pardon the allusion, leading to discussions of the hand of glory, mandrake, dreams, while touching variously on Cain, Germanic mysticism, tantra, and perhaps most intriguingly, given its uniqueness, Canadian folklore. Gavin uses two examples from the latter as rather significant talking points: a tale of an enigmatic hanging from York (now Toronto) and the Québécois folk legend of la Corriveau.

Despite its length, The Moribund Portal is not necessarily a brisk read, due to Gavin’s style of writing. He writes with a considered, grandiloquent and formal delivery, but does so expertly, without falling into the traps that lesser authors do when ambition outstrips ability. Instead, Gavin’s presents a masterclass in how to write 21st century occult style, combining academic phrasing, sophisticated occult terminology (your ‘numens’ and ‘sodalities’ but alas, no ‘praxis’) and just the right sprinklings of archaism. Never overdoing any of these elements, and thereby disappearing into black holes of meaningless, it’s all tied together with perfect punctuation. Writing in such a deliberate way is often, I find, its own form of proofing, as the careful concatenation of words requires constant revision. For this reason, or not, there’s little to complain about here with spelling and punctuation, especially compared to other recently reviewed titles; with only one noticeable spelling mistake really jumping out. The result is a read that feels sophisticated and knowledgeable, rather than someone trying their damnedest to sound erudite or attempting to use a lexicon not naturally their own (you know, most occult authors).

The Moribund Portal spread

The Moribund Portal features a stunning image by Benjamin A. Vierling as the cover, while the typesetting is by Joseph Uccello, both Three Hands Press stalwarts. Like the portal of the title which is reflected in the framing design on the cover, The Moribund Portal is an atypical 9.5 x 6 x 1.5 inches, with its narrow dimensions making it fit easily in one hand when closed. This smaller width does make the binding a little tight, especially given its sub-100 page length, so it’s one of those volume where a little more effort than usual is needed to turn the pages and hold them open, leading to fatigue and the occasional shaking of hands to dissipate the ache.

Three Hands Press have released The Moribund Portal in three editions: as a softcover trade paperback limited to 1,700 copies; a limited hardcover bound in gilt tyrian purple, of 500 hand-numbered copies; and as a deluxe hardcover edition of 22 hand-numbered copies in full purple Nigerian goat with marbled endpapers and slipcase

Published by Three Hands Press.

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Runic Lore & Legend: Wyrdstaves of Old Northumbria – Nigel Pennick

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Categories: germanic, runes, Tags:

Runic Lore & Legend: Wyrdstaves of Old Northumbria coverOriginally released in 2010 as the broadly titled Wyrdstaves of the North, this book from Nigel Pennick has now been rereleased in 2019 by the Inner Traditions imprint Destiny Books, with a new title that is even broader, but with a subtitle that is more specific. As this subtitle indicates, the focus here is on a version of the 29 runes Anglo-Saxon Futhark (itself an expansion of the 24 runes of the Elder Futhark) that around 800CE had four more runes added to it, thereby completing a fourth aett/airt with Calc, Cweorth and Stan, and one standalone final rune, Gar.

It’s impossible to overstate Pennick’s role and influence in contemporary runic magic, being something of the English counterpart to the American Stephen Flowers, with books by both authors sitting alongside each other in the shelves of Scriptus Recensera and surely many other occult libraries. While Pennick has dealt broadly with all manner of runes and other elements of paganism and folk traditions over the last forty years, the Anglo-Saxon Futhark and its Northumbrian variant is not something he has shied away from, and many of his books include its additional runes as a matter of course. With Runic Lore & Legend, this inclusion becomes a focus and Pennick contextualises the futhark within its Northumbrian locus, a site where various cultures and traditions intermingled.

Illuminated runes by Nigel Pennick

This context is substantial and consists of several preparatory chapters, rather than diving headfirst into the runes themselves. After a brief but comprehensive survey of Northumbria’s history of invasions and colonisations, Pennick turns to a considerable meditation on the place and space, discussing what he titles the spirit landscape of Northumbria. Here, he discusses various features of the land and how they would have been perceived and used as part of a metaphysical framework, and how this use evolved over time with the successive waves of colonisers. It’s an effective way to preface what follows, building a solid and palpable sense of place. This purlieu is contextualised still further in a spatial and horological sense with a chapter on Northumbrian geomancy, in which Pennick talks of the division of the landscape and the year into quarters and then eights. This isn’t something necessarily unique to Northumbria, or to Pennick’s writing for that matter, and reflects practices found throughout Germanic Europe, from which he draws examples by way of comparison.

The sections on the runes themselves, divided into chapters for each airt, uses a familiar pattern, with each rune (along with its name and core meaning) acting as a heading, followed by usually up to a page of explanation. These explanations give a synopsis drawing from rune poems, usually The Old English Rune Poem, naturally, along with examples from a concept’s mundane equivalent, suggestions of magical usage, and closing with tree and herb correspondents.

Runic Lore & Legend spread

Pennick concludes Runic Lore & Legend with several chapters investigating examples of the runes and their import in Northumbria and its legends. This effectively allows for a greater exploration of themes associated with a select few runes, as not all are covered. Up for a greater focus are Haegl and the symbolism of the number nine, along with the magical use of knots and knotwork patterns; Ing and various ideas associated with kingship, including divine kings and the Christian perpetuation of this concept of apotheosis with canonisation of saints; and Yr and a raft of associations with archery. The most significant one, in size as well as relevance to this reviewer, is a deep dive into serpent legends as a manifestation of the Ior rune and Iormungand.

Given the amount that Pennick has written on these subjects over the years, anyone familiar with his work will find certain areas that are, well, familiar. The explanation of each rune is particularly notable for this, with the symbolism consistent, as one would expect, and while the entries are not simply cut and pasted from Pennick’s previous publications, it’s clear that they provided the template for what is here, albeit with significant editing and rewriting that moves it beyond lazy regurgitation. The same is true with images, where there’s a return of some illustrations used in other Pennick books, such as his illuminated runes (which someone needs to digitise and turn into a font) and a rune circle with bird in flight, as seen on the cover of the classic Runic Astrology from 1990.

Runes and airts by Nigel Pennick

Runic Lore & Legend is laid out to the usual high standard of Inner Traditions/Destiny Books, with text design by Virginia Scott Bowman and layout by Debbie Glogover. The body is set in Garamond, all classic and eminently readable, contrasting nicely with the sans serif Avenir used for subheadings. Chapter headings use Mehmet Reha Tugcu’s dynamic Njord face, which also features prominently on the cover, providing a perfect modern type choice that suggests the angular nature of the runes without in any way feeling obvious. The chapter headings sit atop a gradient-feathered photograph of a contemporary runic bracteate, which if we were to be picky (what, moi?), features the 24 runes of the Elder Futhark and not the full and more appropriate Northumbrian compliment of 33. It should also be meanly mentioned that the designers don’t seem to have had access to a runic typeface with all of these 33 characters, as the rune faces used to head up each rune’s section are inconsistent, some crisp and angular, some distressed and some looking bespoke and hand drawn, all with a distractingly obvious variety of weights.

Photographs feature throughout as illustrations, often acting to document Northumbrian features of notes, such as runes in situ, and in one intriguing instance, a lupine doorknocker at a church in York, which Pennick suggests is a representation of Fenrir swallowing Odin. Twinned with these photographs are a selection of reproduced drawings and etching, drawn from a variety of sources and predominantly used to illustrate apropos scenes from folklore and legend.

Published by Destiny Books.

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The Wicked Shall Decay – A. D. Mercer

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Categories: folk, witchcraft

The Wicked Shall Decay coverThis is the second book by A. D. Mercer to be reviewed here at Scriptus Recensera, and he marks himself as a bit of the old polymath with this title, bearing little relation to the Enochian milieu of the past review, or the as yet unread survey of Armanen runes. Bearing the subtitle “Charms, Spells & Witchcraft of Old Britain,” it also has the faux archaic and comma-addled sub-subtitle “A gathering of historical enchantments against Foul Spirits & Maledictions. Compil’d, & with an introduction by A. D. Mercer.”

In said introduction, Mercer mentions the black books of Scandinavia that contain folk magic cures and charms, and laments the lack of extant British equivalents; despite there being tantalising titles for such lost tomes like The Devil’s Plantation and The Red Book of Appin. The Wicked Shall Decay seeks to rectify this by bringing together the kind of spells, charms and incantations that might have been in such a book, drawing on a variety of publications on British folklore from the nineteenth and twentieth century.

The spells and charms are grouped together into broad categories such as the healing of wounds, protection and defence, and dealing variously with witches, the devil and ghosts. In addition to simple spoken charms and formulas of sympathetic magic, there are some examples of sigil and magic square work that draws from the grimoire tradition. Each entry is preceded by a title (with inconsistent capitalisation and punctuation) and each ends, by way of reference, with a bracketed three letter code indicating the source text, and a number pointing to, one hopes, the particular page on which it appears. There are some 36 publications in the bibliography, making for a wide pool of resources to draw from; though some feature more heavily than others. Mercer points out that he avoided Reginald Scot’s The Discoverie of Witchcraft or direct trial records, finding the former too obvious, while in the latter, he argues, any spells or charms may have just been made up by prosecutors for the charge sheet.

When it comes to longer sections in his own words, the problems with Mercer’s writing, noted in the review of his Liber Coronzom, recur, and are cruelly abetted with insufficient proofing by Three Hands Press. He writes in a cumbersome, extended manner, producing sentences that run on, losing their tense in the breathless length. The writing is flabby and tautological, redundancies abound, and words are reused within sentences when a synonym would be tidier. Proofing is so careless that George Ewart Evans, for example, can be called Evans and Even in the same paragraph; with an improper use of a possessive apostrophe too for good measure.

Given this, the reader may be filled with a little dread when Mercer says in his introduction that while he has, for the most part, retained the spelling and grammar of entries for the sake of authenticity, in some he has modernised them to aid understanding. Perversely, this attempt at aiding understanding sometimes seems to replace the original writers’ proper placement of commas with Mercer’s misunderstanding of punctuation, in which he infuriatingly uses them to mark the beginning of interrupting words and expressions, but not the end. Due to the prevalence of persistently poor punctuation, the reader finds themselves on guard for other errors in the transcription, and these crop up more often than they should, with words missing from sentences, whole phrases introduced that weren’t in the original, and formatting errors like accidental paragraph returns or individual lines that are combined into one without adjusting the sentence case. Without a thorough review of all entries it would be disingenuous to say that this sort of thing is true of all the content, but the cross-referencing of just a few examples throws up problems. One finds oneself descending down rabbit holes of fact checking, when one little thing looks wrong, only to find that yes, this has been transcribed wrong, yes, that little bit of Latin didn’t ring true because they’ve lazily mistaken an ‘e’ for a ‘c,’ and yes, that author’s name was Oliver Madox Hueffer, not Olivier Maddox Hueffer.

The same is true of general accuracy in citation. In at least one case, the three letter reference code points to a publication that is not given that or any code in the bibliography (possibly because Mercer subsequently assigned separate codes to the book’s two volumes and didn’t update the body), while in another, the spell bears a code for a book that, despite having those three letters, doesn’t appear in the bibliography at all. Then there’s at least one instance in which the example doesn’t appear in the referenced publication, neither on the cited page or, it would seem, on any of its pages (and just for fun, ‘may’ is misspelt ‘many’ in this entry too), while in others, the reference is there, but on a different page; 87 instead of 67, for example. Finding some references in their sources can create even more consternation, such as several that are referenced from Oliver Madox Hueffer’s The Book of Witches. Here, Madox Hueffer is actually quoting Johann Weyer and in neither Madox Hueffer’s book, or in Weyer’s original is there any indication that what is being recorded is a charm from Britain; nor does Reginald Scot referencing Weyer in his The Discoverie of Witchcraft make them any more British.

The Wicked Shall Decay spread with poorly vectored witches

The 168 pages of The Wicked Shall Decay are printed in a two colour offset on heavy stock, with titles, subtitles, dropcaps and dividers in a lovely muted red and the body in black. It is illustrated throughout with what the promotional blurb generously describes as 31 woodcut illustrations. Some of the images may have begun life as woodcuts but most if not all have been automatically vectorised in a programme like Adobe Illustrator and the source material in many cases obviously wasn’t high enough quality to warrant it. Some are particularly bad and have no place being in print, such as a the above derivation of Two Witches Cooking up a Storm (the titlepage from Ulrich Molitor’s 1489 De Lamiis et Pythonicis Mulieribus) which is here rendered almost into abstract oblivion, the faces and bodies of the witches disintegrating into clumsy, laughable facets. And then there’s something which one assumes is a tree on page 92, or the brittle, piecemeal Rod of Asclepius on page 147, or two equally bad traces of an Abracadabra hexagram, which could have been effortlessly recreated from scratch by anyone worth their salt. As it is, there’s little case for using many of these images as their selection and placement is often arbitrary; and even in a case where it’s kind of apropos, why the Eye of Providence in a section on the Evil Eye? Also, the style, depending on the quality and provenance of the source image, varies widely, with weight and quality of trace inconsistent throughout.

The Wicked Shall Decay spread with appalling tree, or something

The Wicked Shall Decay is interesting as what is effectively a reference list. It provides a glimpse of a variety of spells and charms, but given the sloppy transcription and referencing you would never want to trust it without going back to the source. If nothing else, The Wicked Shall Decay gave this reviewer the opportunity to spend perhaps far too many hours looking through the very texts from which it draws.

The Wicked Shall Decay is available in three editions with a trade paperback, a standard hardcover in carmine cloth with two-colour embossed wraps, and a deluxe edition of 44 copies in full earthen full goatskin, with marbled endpapers and slipcase, bound by The Key Printing and Binding of Oakland.

Published by Three Hands Press.

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The Secret of the Runes – Guido von List

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Categories: germanic, runes, Tags:

The Secret of the Runes coverHere at Scriptus Recensera we have reviewed a number of books from the early 20th century Germanic runic revival, all translated by Stephen E. Flowers/Edred Thorsson. Now we turn to a work from arguably the granddaddy of them all, Austria’s Guido von List. List is pivotal to the runic revival because it was his system of Armanen runes (revealed to him during an eleven month period of temporary blindness), rather than the conventional Elder or Younger futharks, that came to dominate German runology. In addition to being adopted by most subsequent runologists of the period, the Armanen futhark became, according to Flowers, almost ‘traditional’ in the circles of German-speaking runic magic.

Das Geheimnis der Runen was originally published, as a periodical article in 1906, and then as a standalone publication in 1908. Exactly eighty years after that initial publication, this English translation by Flowers was released as The Secret of the Runes. Flowers opens the book with a substantial introduction, 40 pages in all, providing a comprehensive biography of List, as well as summaries of his system, his influences and his influence. This is a brisk, engaging read that documents List’s life in an amiable way, with Flowers conveying a fair bit of affection for Der Meister, as he calls him. Compared to the biography, the consideration of List’s influence and influencers is briefer, with the former quickly touching on key figures, including other runologists and members of the National Socialist leadership, but not delving too deeply into these. Amusingly, Flowers lists himself as a more recent example of a wearer of Listian influence, but does it by referring, with some third-person distance, to Edred Thorsson, as if he was a completely different person.

After a little introduction, Das Geheimnis der Runen proper begins with perhaps the book’s most accessible section and a now-typical listing of the runes, along with their attributes, a corresponding rune poem drawn from the Ljóðatal section of Hávamál, and a paragraph or so of explanation. While List follows convention in most cases, there are some idiosyncratic interpretations here, with Fehu, for example, being given associations with fire-generation and destruction, in addition to the usual wealth and cattle. Similarly, for Kaunaz he makes a primary interpretation of the rune as signifying the World Tree, seemingly placing greater emphasis on the somewhat incongruous sixth charm from the Ljóðatal rather than the etymology of the rune’s name.

Futhark spread

List follows his exploration of the Armanen Futharkh with an explication of his core theory in which the wisdom he was a conduit of had both a metaphysical and mundane expression. This employed a tripartite system that allowed three layers of meaning (based on the eternal cosmic law of entstehen-sein-vergehen zum neuen Entstehen/arising-being-passing away to arise anew) to be applied to almost anything, producing exoteric, esoteric and even more esoteric levels of meaning. This meant that certain Armanen principles ascended to influence Christianity, rather than be obliterated by the process of conversion, while a corresponding downward drift saw similar ideas encoded, in some manner, into folk customs. List’s particularly striking example of these is the way in which runic elements were incorporated into heraldry, not just with obvious images of runes and related symbols such as the fylfot, but even with simple geometric designs that he, at least, can discern as runeforms. In an illustration placed at the start of the book, List collects together a range of heraldic devices and shows how the simple division of the field on a shield could generate runic shapes, with, for example, a thurs rune being created with either (to use the nomenclature) a per bend with counter pile, or with a counter pile bend, or the inverted counter wedge bend. To this relatively simple device List can’t help extract (or assign) an additional symbolism perhaps never intended for four lines on a shield, seeing the first two designs as a phallic “uprising of life,” while the last in its inversion is a sunken thorn, “the death thorn.”

Runic symbols and title page spread

This section betrays the original status of Das Geheimnis der Runen as an essay because, despite its length and discursive nature, there are no chapters to break up what begins to read like a ramble. In List’s original publication, headers encapsulating the themes covered beneath them were featured on each page, but these are not included here, and without them, the length, despite the relative brevity, can feel interminable and the writing aimless. It’s why at the start List is talking about heraldry and then by the end he’s onto pastries, having passed hands, hair and breasts along the import-laden way.

Das Geheimnis der Runen is very much a book of its time. As a guide to List’s Armanen interpretation of the runes it does fine, and mileage may vary for the rest and its focuses on theory and his interpretation of folk custom and etymology. While the later provides evidence of his belief in a tripartite system that provided three layers of meaning, the linguistics don’t often ring true and seem naïve or fanciful; understandable given his dilettantish rather than rigorous involvement in the nascent field, and the way in which many of ideas were guided by his occult insights, for whatever they are worth. As always, though, given the lack of other works by List available in English, it remains an essential addition to the early 20th century runic revival section of anyone’s library.

Published by Destiny Books

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