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Qliphoth Esoteric Publication Opus 1: The Awakening (Atavistic Path) – Edited by Edgar Kerval

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Categories: nightside, qabalah, typhonian, Tags:

Qliphoth coverReleased in 2012, Qliphoth Esoteric Publication Opus 1 is arguably one of the first journals in the current glut of darkly-hued occult publishing. Edited by Edgar Kerval and here published by Aeon Sophia Press, Qliphoth would have something of an itinerant life, moving betwixt publishing houses. A second volume would be released in a more conventional occult-book format by Aeon Sophia Press, before Nephilim Press took up the mantle for a time, with still later volumes being released by Kerval’s own publishing imprint.

There is a wide range of both contributors and topics in this first volume, embracing themes of the nightside, voudon, hoodoo, general sorcery and even a little bit of syncretisation of Loki with Azatoth (by which is meant HP Lovecraft’s Azathoth, not the similarly h-deficient Swedish black/death metal band from Uddevalla, or, for that matter, the death metal band from Stockholm – Satan bless you, Encyclopaedia Metallum). From the contributors, there’s a few new names as well as some familiar ones, such as Sean Woodward, Kyle Fite, Aion 131 (whose poem Tua-Set is an excerpt from his Liber Phoenix), Orryelle Defenestrate Bascule (with their nightside notes, some of which also appeared in Anathema’s Pillars journal), and Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold (in a lengthy piece on antinomian sorcery).

Amongst many of the contributions there’s a palpable sense of a giddy delight in darkness and shadow, of a youthful enthusiasm for what the authors hope is transgressive and original, but which old timers might find either sweet or irritating. This is particularly exacerbated by the perhaps unwise inclusion of author photos in some pieces. Formatted into their respective essay as if they’re an integral illustration, fingers contorted into significant gestures, their fresh faces glare out at the reader as if to say “Occultism, it’z serious bidness.” Bless.

The earnestness may account for the roughness in some of the writing, all pleonastic phrasing and reckless disregard for proofing. The consistently spellcheck-averse Daemon Barzai opens a piece on Gamaliel (presumably the qlipha and not the first century leader of the Sanhedrin, but he doesn’t say) by referring to it as the dark side of the moon and redundantly describing it as having an intimate relationship with, wait for it, “the dark side of the moon,” – that is very intimate, onanistically so. What follows are a series of guided meditations in which naked beautiful ladies are only outnumbered by the comedic triumphs of muddled and cruelly unedited English: “Opposite you appeared Lilith. Her body is naked but it is difficult to see her face. Her hairs are red as fire.” So, how many hairs? I’m thinking just two or three for pure comedy gold. “Come a dark mist and go out three black dogs that to be with a woman that wearing a black dress, she has a crown with jewels. His presence commands respect.” Yes, I imagine it does.

There’s other questionable writing, such as The Science of Magic by S. Ben Qayin, although saying that it’s written by him is a bit of stretch. Incapable of paraphrasing, he quotes extensively from a few sources, with some of the quotes running to as much as half a page. As these are not formatted any differently from the main body, the reader will assume that Qayin has written a lengthy, erudite piece, but his own writing only occurs as smatterings between these verbatim quotes, poorly tying completely unrelated themes together with logical fallacies. This approach reaches its surreally ridiculous zenith when he quotes himself in order to promote his Volubilis ex Chaosium book; one wonders how many pages of quotes that must contain.

But these failures are not necessarily the rule and there are a few diamonds amongst the rough, mainly coming from the more grizzled of the contributors. Sean Woodward uses a, one assumes, fictional narrative in a meditation on the Hoo Queen,  with the narrator exploring the coastal town of Blackmouth in search of this Shadow Queen of Sirius. Though it lacks much in the way of cosmic horror (though there is a sense of the cosmos), there’s an unavoidable sense of Lovecraft here, with the lone narrator, a stranger in a strange town, visiting a place whose name alone is redolent of Lovecraft’s Innsmouth. There’s a similar focus of hoodoo  from a name as familiar as that of Sean Woodward, Kyle Fite, who in the past has pursued the fictional narrative as occult lesson, but here has a more straight forward essay. Like Woodward’s contribution, Becoming Hoodoo is very much in the shadow of Michael Bertiaux, discussing the first section of The Voudon Gnostic Workbook, and its guide to becoming a hoodoo, which Fite argues is not the exemplar of low magic that it seems, but is instead a guide to a profound and deep theosis.

Kyle Fite - Gran Bois

Given the title of the journal, the qliphoth does loom rather large throughout this first volume. In addition to Barzai’s error-ridden piece on Gamaliel and Orryelle’s nightside notes (in which they briefly detail their exploration of the tunnels of Set, accompanied by darkly-reproduced paintings of the same), there’s a working with the tunnel of Malkunofat from Andi Moon and Sarah Price.

Of personal interest to me is Ljossal Lodursson’s Loki and Azatoth – Lords of Fire and Chaos, in which he compares Loki’s disruptive, maddening and ultimately transformative quality with Lovecraft’s madness-inducing Outer God. He calls this composite figure Azaloke (presumably a play on references to Loki as Asa-Loki), and defines him in fairly anticosmic terms as an alchemical-chaotic symbiote that destroys the kingdom of all creation. The potentially alchemical etymology of Azathoth’s name, with its echoes of the universal solvent Azoth, provides Lodursson with a way of categorising Loki, via his progeny and his relationship with Gulveig, into red, black, purple and green azoths. Lodursson describes his long experiences working with Loki and presents a series of runes received from him: a bindrune called Lokekvisa, and then a set of eleven Hjärta Rúnar, divided into three aetts of creation, destruction and chaos; though those of a mathematical bent will quickly note that these aetts don’t have the traditional eight characters each, and instead group the runes into sets of five, four and three. These Hjärta Rúnar each have a name and properties assigned to them, and resemble traditional runes in some cases, but not all, so there’s a certain inconsistency to their style.

Azaloke

As one of the first, if not the first, publications from Aeon Sophia Press, the design and formatting of Qliphoth leaves a lot to be desired and is nowhere near the consistently high standards that the publishing house now has. The book has an oversized magazine size, which despite its light weight and soft cover makes for a cumbersome read. Text is formatted into dual columns for the most part, but in some cases, this inexplicably becomes a single, full-page column in the middle of an essay, which, given the width of the page, makes the line length intolerable for reading. In an inescapable feeling of layout-by-Microsoft-Word, the body copy is rendered in a point size too large, and the same face and size is used for captions, biographies, references and even adverts, all of which bleed into one. Distorted images abound, whether they be vertically stretched, as seems to happen more often than not with photographs, or pixelated or soft in several instances of graphic elements. This is particularly egregious when it comes to some striking images by Hagen von Tulien, where the impact of his crisp, presumably vector lines, is rendered null due to pixelated reproduction. The image quality encapsulates the problems with this first issue of Qliphoth, indicative of a lack of refinement and attention to detail that is mirrored in the minimal layout, the non-existent proofing and a certain dearth of quality control when it comes to contributors. All of which tends to overshadow the elements that are good.

Hagen von Tulien: Elemental Emergence (looking significantly less pixelated than it does in print)

As is Kerval’s style, this issue of Qliphoth was accompanied by a CD of ritual music, mainly consisting of tracks by his musical guise Emma Ya, but with also a piece from Sean Woodward as his project Gothick, and the track Orpheus’ Lament from the combined talents of Orryelle, Kestral Knox and Amordios Gobblyn-Smyth. My second-hand version of the journal didn’t include the CD, but you can imagine what it sounds like, and many of the Emme Ya tracks are available online, scattered across a variety of other releases.

Published by Aeon Sophia Press


Review Soundtrack: Emme Ya – Erotognosis (Voices From The Void)

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Howlings – Edited by Alkistis Dimech

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Categories: esotericism, goetia, grimoire, magick, Tags:

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

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

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

Chimeric image from the internal title page

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

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

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

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

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

Howlings page spread

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

Published by Scarlet Imprint

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The Serpent Tongue: Liber 187 – Jake Stratton-Kent

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Categories: esotericism, qabalah, Tags:

The Serpent Tongue coverAs its subtitle A Workbook of English Qaballa suggests, this compact tome from Jake Stratton-Kent is a work detailing a system of English qabalah, both as a type of gematria and as a hands-on system of magic. By English Qaballa we mean a variation of conventional qabalah but one in which the English letters of the alphabet, rather than Hebrew, are assigned numeric values. Though he is enigmatically low on details, Stratton-Kent describes this system as having been discovered by a here-unnamed magical group in November 1976. The group had previously ritualised their intention to do so and details of theirs discovery were published in five issues of The New Equinox / British Journal of Magick. It provided a fulfilment to the promise made in Liber AL vel legis, verse 2:55: “Thou shalt obtain the order & value of the English Alphabet, thou shalt find new symbols to attribute them unto.”

In this English Qaballa (an idiosyncratic spelling variant chosen at the time because it was otherwise not in use), the gematria doesn’t make use of a direct monoalphabetic substitution cipher, as occurs with the Mispar Hechrachi system in Hebrew. Stratton-Kent notes that this entry-level attempt proved unsatisfactory, and it, along with other dead-ends, were ritually immolated. The successful solution instead used the number 11 as a key, counting on along the alphabet at intervals of eleven and assigning the monoalphabetic substitution to this new order of letters. Thus the value 1 was associated with the letter A, 2 with L, 3 with W and then, cycling through the alphabet again, 4 with H, and so forth until all 24 values were assigned to a unique letter.

For those familiar with Stratton-Kent’s social media presence, it may be of interest to know that he writes with the same, recognisable voice. It is a voice whose tone and manner is somewhat arch and acerbic, not suffering fools gladly, and throwing in words like ‘absurd’ multiple times to refer to opinions he does not share. Conversely, though, there is a certain informality to Stratton-Kent’s tone, a pragmatism that allows him to be upfront about the vagaries and vicissitude of qabalah in particular and occultism in general.

The air of a polemic bordering on the vituperative suffuses the first section of The Serpent Tongue, a lengthy introduction in which Stratton-Kent argues against the pre-eminence given in contemporary occultism to Hebrew, especially as it pertains to qabalah. He contends that qabalah as a system is indebted to the cosmopolitan milieu that preceded its development, in particular the strain of Jewish Gnosticism seen in Merkabah mysticism, within which Greek Neoplatonism was the wielder of the greatest influence. This invective is used to argue against the primacy given to Hebrew in the Western Tradition, and to make the case that, in the words of Umberto Eco, the idea of Hebrew as the primal language from which all others descended is a ‘crusty old myth;’ – a quote that Stratton-Kent appears so enamoured with that he repeats it later.

With the introductory case made for the validity of an English qabalah, part one follows with chapters on various qabalistic qualities of Liber AL, most notably the famous cipher found at II.76: 4 6 3 8 ABK 2 4 ALGMOR 3 Y X 24 89 RPSTOVAL. This underlines Stratton-Kent’s approach here, which is very much grounded in Thelema, with the gematria often being used to proffer evidence of the veracity of Crowley’s transmission, or to at least provide greater insight into its cosmology and symbolism.  Crowley’s oeuvre returns the favour in kind, being used to add the mythos and liturgy from which the English Qaballa can draw its proofs.

A page spread from The Serpent Tongue

Stratton-Kent provides plenty of ways to work with English Qaballa, not just for gematrial investigations of esoteric themes and motifs, but in practical ritual and sorcery. There’s a consideration of magick squares, but perhaps of the most interest are the various systems he presents for creating barbarous names, magickally encoded language devised with increasing degrees of complexity.

Qabalah and gematria often feel like coding and programming: if you don’t have a particular aptitude for it, it’s all a bit impenetrable, or at the very least intimidating. There’s nothing too byzantine here, but the various permutations of numbers and equations can make your eyes glaze over after a while. Ever the skeptic, I’m never sure what to think of gematria and there’s always that suggestion of confirmation bias. I mean, sure the value of the five vowels in English Qaballa is 73, which is the value of MANTRA, POWER, RUNES, GIANT, all great stuff to be sure, especially the rune power of giants, am I right? But, then, it’s presumably also the value of NURSE and RATMAN and a variety of other less numinous words… so all hail Nurse Ratman, lord of the vowels, I guess?

Despite its small size, and in saying that, it does run to over 200 pages, The Serpent Tongue is a dense work with a rigorous internal consistency and a lot for readers to employ in their practice. Stratton-Kent’s writing is to be commended, keeping it erudite but still frequently informal and irreverent, with occasional splash of snark.

Published by Hadean Press

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The Troll Inside You: Paranormal Activity in the Medieval North – Ármann Jakobsson

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Categories: folk, germanic, Tags:

The Troll Inside You coverÁrmann Jakobsson is Professor of Medieval Icelandic Literature at Háskóli Íslands/the University of Iceland and has been, as an oft-repeated bio tells it, a postman, a high school teacher, a journalist and critic, a reality TV star and a political activist. Trolls loom large in Ármann’s work, with the 2015/2016 writing of this book coming as the result of eight years working with the subject. It is the product of a research project, Encounters with the Paranormal, which included collaborations with Ásdís Egilsdóttir, Torfi H. Tulinius, Terry Gunnell and Stephen Mitchell, as well as eight doctoral students, and three masters students who wrote their theses within the parametres of the project.

Ármann makes it clear from the start that the understanding of the troll, like the troll itself, is a shifting and intangible one – something intrinsic to the troll as a figure of ambiguity and otherness, whose only definable and immutable characteristic is that, due to their eldritch nature, they are to be feared. This resistance to definition, an opposition to any particularly constricting taxonomy, comes from the fact that trolls appear across the centuries in a multiplicity of forms: as ghosts or spirits, as supernatural but corporeal creatures (a categorisation that in itself can be broken down into still further categories), and as nominally human practitioners of sorcery. It is as if, as Ármann pithily notes, the more difficult it becomes to name or classify a monster, the greater the power it wields.

Whilst Ármann draws on Örvar-Odds saga and other sagas of the Icelanders for his initial discussion of trollish ambiguity, for his first thorough literature review he turns to the little known Bergbúa þáttr, whose singular tale tells of an encounter in a cave, sometime after the kristnitaka, between two men and the barely defined, forever ambiguous, bergbúa of the title. Although low on the usage of the specific word ‘troll,’ this story provides a showcase of all the themes Ármann has already identified: liminality, the unheimlich and of boundaries and intersections between worlds, be they human and the paranormal, a Christian present and a heathen past, and at its most obvious and symbolic level, the cave’s interior and exterior.

This idea of troll space is explored further in subsequent chapters, as is the idea of trollspeak, with Ármann citing one example in which the mundanity of the speaking of trolls (not the expected grunts or howls) exacerbates their otherness, upending expectations, and with it, the world itself. Speech and language does figure largely throughout this book, and Ármann builds on his original discussion of the vagaries of the word ‘troll’ with a return to matters epistemological and a meditation of the vocabulary of the paranormal and its intersection with the occult. This is an area fraught with difficulty, and therefore ripe for analysis, because as Ármann notes, the essential nature of the occult is to remain hidden (a quality implicit in the very name), and therefore ambiguous and subject to doubt and uncertainty.

These explorations of language, and of the ambiguity of the figures it tries to define and make sense of, highlights that The Troll Inside You isn’t a study of trolls and their studiously cited source texts; for that there’s John Lindow’s concise Trolls: An Unnatural History, as well as previous writing by Ármann. Instead, the troll is effectively used as a liminal gatekeeper, with its uncanny characteristics and resistance to definition providing a lens through which broader musings on perception and otherness in the Medieval North can be discussed.

As always, Ármann writes in an engaging and enjoyable style, completely immersed in the language of academia’s modalities, but without overuse of that particular lexicon. While there’s a place for the convoluted styles of a Morton or Butler, it’s not here, and it doesn’t seem to be part of Ármann’s personality. Instead, he’s more interested in connecting with the reader with a clear, informed voice that is authoritative but by no means fustian. He also shows an arch sense of humour, such as an abrupt fourth-wall-breaking coda which he subtitles archaically as “Coda: In Which the Audience is Unexpectedly Addressed,” producing a truly laugh-out-loud moment.

The Troll Inside You spread

The structure of The Troll Inside You assists its readability with often brisk (though annoyingly unnumbered) chapters that act as perfectly digestible little chunks of trollish goodness. Similarly, from a technical perspective, the type is set matter-of-factly and competently in an atypical slab serif that ensures readability but has a modern touch.

The end to The Troll Inside You sneaks up quickly on you, as the pure content finishes abruptly and early at the 163rd of its total 240 pages, with the rest of the book consisting of endnotes and an index. As the page count evinces, these endnotes are extensive and feature considerable elaboration, rather than simple citations or qualifications. Some run to half a page, with a small point size at that, so for those who interest is piqued, there’s a lot of adjunct material to dive into, and a lot of flicking to the end section as you read.

In their short seven years, Punctum Books have amassed an amazing collection of cover art, some full of whimsy, some with great contemporary design, and some that are just straight-up beautiful (yes, I’m looking at you, Visceral: Essays on Illness Not as Metaphor). I’m not sure where the cover of The Troll Inside You sits in relation to those. With the subtitle rendered like a stamp, there was obviously an attempt to play on a more contemporary idea of paranormal investigations (if we can called the X-Files and its aesthetic antecedents contemporary), rather than something distinctly medieval Scandinavian or academic. This, in turn, sits rather incongruously with the main title which is rendered in a geometric face with the counters filled in; a questionable typographic trend whose peak was some ten years hence. It’s all very aberrant, and dissociative, which, mayhaps, allows one to go “Aha, that’s what we were going for all along.”

Published by Punctum Books.

Published by Punctum Books.

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Welsh Witches – Richard Suggett

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Categories: folk, witchcraft, Tags:

Welsh Witches coverThis, the second book released by the fledgling Atramentous Press, is subtitled “Narratives of Witchcraft and Magic from 16th and 17th Century” and presents exactly that. While other titles from Atramentous have had a philosophical emphasis, this book is focussed on matters practical, providing a thorough documentation of its very particular subject matter.

Welsh Witches is a combination of disquisition and documentation, with one part of the book providing a survey of witchcraft in Wales, and the other presenting court records and pre-trial transcripts verbatim. Establishing the book’s credentials, everyone’s favourite pagan academic uncle, Ronald Hutton, introduces Welsh Witches with a foreword in which he highlights that the documents presented here allow us to hear the voices of those accused of witchcraft, and their accusers, albeit meditated by the method of recording as court proceedings, and as translations into English of Welsh oral examinations. Hutton notes that few witchcraft pre-trial proceedings from Britain have survived (in Essex, for example, where over 450 suspects were indicted, the documents were entirely discarded), and that the Welsh examples are therefore the earliest such records still extant.

Suggett works as a Senior Investigator of Historic Buildings at The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales in Aberystwyth, and is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the Learned Society of Wales and the Society of Antiquaries of London. He is also the author of the 2005 work A History of Magic and Witchcraft in Wales, and so, as you would expect, there’s no problem with the quality of the writing or the analysis here. He begins with a summary of Welsh witchcraft, both broadly and in detail, providing many examples, all beautifully and mercifully annotated with citations. This is a richly drawn image, with multiple examples to draw from, and Suggett gently and expertly corrals the information with his insights. In some ways, it is a humble picture here, there are no grand sabbats or nights on the Welsh equivalent of Bald Mountain, and the accusations of witchcraft are embedded within a mundane setting, seemingly themselves part of that mundanity.

Triskelion design by Carolyn Hamilton-Giles

In the second section, the trial of Gwen ferch Ellis, a woman from Betws-yn-Rhose convicted and hung for witchcraft in 1594, is singled out and presented in detail as a revealing illustration of sixteenth century popular magic. It also, Suggett notes, provides example of connections with some Elizabethan writers on demonology. Suggett presents Gwen’s tale with a compelling, readable manner, and notes that her life would have been one of historical obscurity were it not for the details provided by court records. He draws attention to a charm which, upon request, Gwen recited to the bishop examining her, and highlights the way it combined nominally Christian elements, such as addressing the trinity, and appealing for Christ’s intercession, with features that would have been alien to both Protestant and Catholic ears. There is an atypical appeal to the three Marys, and to three consecrated (and unexplained) altars, as well as a multidirectional call to guard against predation from above and below the wind and the ground, at the centre of the world or anywhere in the world, from the ‘wolf of a man’ and from Satan, the ‘evil thing of hell.’

The rest of the book, two thirds of its total length, is then made up of transcripts of pre-trial and trial documents. These begin with the earliest legal reference in Wales with the 1502-1503 case against Thomas Wyrriot, who, aiming high, had hired a witch from Bristol, Margaret Hackett, to destroy the Bishop of St David’s, Pembrokeshire. There are sixteen cases in all, including various crimes such as consorting with faeries, image magic, and that old favourite, detecting a thief with charmed cheese (that’s using charmed cheese for the detecting, not for detecting a thief in possession of a charmed cheese). It ends in 1699 with the case against Dorcas Heddin, the last prosecution for witchcraft heard at the Court of Great Sessions, in a case with elements otherwise missing from Welsh tradition: a long-standing relationship with the devil as the man in black and demons exchanges of drops of blood. For each record, Suggett provides a helpful summary of the case, giving context and unwrapping some of the narrative obscured by archaic language, before thoroughly documenting every, erm, document.

Welsh Witches endears itself with its seriousness. It is not a book for practitioners, set in a slip of myth, with all the risks to accuracy that that entails, but is instead a serious work of history, no matter how quotidian. The verbatim trial and pre-trial records provide a valuable resource for reference, even if they are not the most obvious thing to read purely for pleasure in their entirety, given their archaic spelling and phrasing which has been retained.

Verso and recto pages in spread, typesetting by Joseph Uccello

Aesthetically, Welsh Witches is gorgeous, even in its standard edition. Bound in a blue cloth, it features what has already become the standard Atramentous style, with a verdant ornamental design from Carolyn Hamilton-Giles on the cover, spine and rear. This is debossed and foiled in black, with the title, author and a central leporidaen triskelion foiled in silver. A similar approach is found on the back, with the Atramentous logo foiled in silver amongst the black-foiled filigree, while title, author and an ornamental device on the spine are all in gold. Hamilton-Giles’ illustrative work regrettably does not feature inside the book, but the typesetting by Joseph Uccello is worth noting. Uccello displays a deft hand, with a clean, serif style used throughout for both body and display, although running titles are rendered in a heavy, somewhat incongruous blackletter face that I’m not sure about. Section title pages are nicely designed with a combination of Roman and Italic styles and an ornamental element, but these defy convention by occurring on verso rather than recto pages in the spread, making them less effective as titles and somewhat jarring in their positioning. Annoyingly, since this happens on the first title, all it would have taken is to recto that one page, and all the subsequent title pages would have bumped along onto the opposite side of the spread.

Due to its very nature, Welsh Witches is textually dense with nothing in the way of in-body illustrations. Instead, two of the sections end with several pages of relevant images. Printed on the same stock as the rest of the book, rather than as glossy plates, these are facsimiles of court documents (such as the arraignment for Gwen ferch Ellis below), excerpts from other documents, or current photographs of pertinent locations.

Welsh Witches spread with images

Welsh Witches is available in a standard edition and a now sold out deluxe edition. The standard edition of 777 copies consist of 250 pages, hardbound in buckram cloth with two colour foiling, natural wibalin endpapers and a bookmark ribbon. The deluxe edition of 13 copies was bound in full navy blue goat skin, two colour foil block to front and rear, gold foil to spine, charcoal grey Strathmore Grandee endpapers, and a book ribbon. It was housed in a navy suedal slipcase covered in black cloth.

Published by Atramentous Press

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Masks of Misrule – Nigel Jackson

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Categories: folk, luciferian, qayin, robert cochrane, sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

Masks of Misrule coverEarlier this year we reviewed Nigel Jackson’s Call of the Horned Piper, and let’s just say we’ve got the Jackson bug as we return to another of his books released by the nice, but aesthetically questionable, folks at Capall Bann. In Masks of Misrule, Jackson turns his focus to the horned god of witchcraft, a figure he identifies as having roots at far back as the Palaeolithic era. The horned god, as detailed by Jackson and by Michael Howard in his foreword, is at his core a simple hunter deity, but beyond that he is more, being a multiplicious cosmic god of life and death, of boundaries and their crossings, of the night and the furious wild.

The chapters of Masks of Misrule delineate how this horned god can be viewed, drawing threads from across both time and distance. As the White Stag of Anwynn he is a Celto-Arthurian god of the forests, seen in figures as diverse as Cernunnos, the Breton St. Cornely, and the one-eyed guardian of the wood in The Mabinogion. He is leader of the Wild Hunt, the verdant Green Man, and the Saturnalian, goat-horned Christmas fool. And finally, he is the man in black, the lord of the sabbat and the hidden father.

Jackson also uses the horned god as a gateway that facilitates broader discussions of the themes of traditional witchcraft. Identifying the skull and crossbones as a persistent craft symbol of the horned god as Lord of the Red Skull, for example, allows Jackson to divert into a wide-ranging discussion of skull and skeletal symbology, bringing together examples from across the world, before returning to witchcraft in particular with toadsmen rituals and intimations of the Rose Beyond the Grave. Similarly, the discussion of the horned god as the man in black and master of the sabbat allows for a broader discussion of the sabbat and its symbolism, along with ritual accoutrements such as the obviously relevant stang.  The Rose Beyond the Grace

It is in the consideration of the horned god as master of the sabbat that we first see what separates a work like Masks of Misrule from the more typical witchcraft books, be they practical or historical. This is especially noticeable given conventional attempts to create distance from anything with the sulphuric whiff of diabolism; something that has been part and parcel of the history of modern witchcraft since the beginning, and remain largely unabated today. Still, it’s something that, despite the preponderance of horns on the cover of this book and others by Jackson and his colleagues, may go under the radar until you dive deeper into the pages. In the case of Masks of Misrule, this diving and discovery happens to its fullest extent late in the piece, when things get very specific and the book concludes with discussions of Lucifer, Qayin and Azazel.

Nigel Jackson: Horned God

As the Masks of Misrule title suggests, there’s much here that discusses the horned god as a figure of disruption, disorder, and naturally, panic and pandemonium. Jackson highlights the role of the horned god as overseer of times when liminality reigns, when the formula becomes one of ritual reversal, reflecting a greater cosmic rescission, a literal annulment when the world and the cosmos threatens to return to its primordial state, the sacred void of Ur-Khaos. In this regard, Jackson also incorporates Loki, highlighting his role as both mischief maker and the destructive Dark Fire-Lord of Misrule; while also mentioning that tantalising hint, as per Bill Liddell, about Loki being venerated by some East Anglian covens.

Nigel Jackson: Misrule

Throughout Masks of Misrule, Jackson writes clearly and competently, dropping bite-size chunks of information, almost always, as is the style, free of the specific citing of references. In additional to the encyclopaedic content of Masks of Misrule, Jackson does occasionally provide his own asides, bringing the threads together through an expositional voice that is authoritative and invested. There’s a sense that this isn’t theoretical for him, nor something that he has regurgitated from elsewhere, despite various touchstones, such as Robert Cochrane Clan of Tubal Cain and Andrew Chumbley’s Sabbatic Craft, being obvious.

It is the allure of the dark and diabolic that makes Masks of Misrule appealing, and ensures that it feels exceptional, with the diabolic interpretation feeling a lot more tangible than the usual nameless and bland presentation of the male principle. While darkening it up is something that has become increasingly popular when discussing witchcraft (as the surfeit of goat-faced traditional witchcraft books testifies), Masks of Misrule, feels like one of the originators, backed up with a wealth of knowledge that imitators may be lacking.

Masks of Misrule is once again illustrated throughout with Jackson’s own images, presented in a combination of heavy woodcut styled designs and finer, more illustrative works. These are, as ever, one of the highlights of the book, with a sense of mystery and numinosity, and just the right amount of sigils and, to use the vernacular of King Missile, mystical shit.

But as is also often the case with Capall Bann titles, the external appearance of Masks of Misrule does the work a huge disservice, so much so that judging this book by its cover would surely mean most people pass it by. One of Jackson’s beautiful hand drawn images is cut out and coloured in Photoshop and then placed unsympathetically over Photoshop-generated clouds and an ambiguous landscape that appears to have been generated with the Photoshop liquefy tool, but which gives the impression of Bryce 3D generated water (just needs some random geometric forms floating in the air). Meanwhile, the incongruous typeface of the book title has been attacked with text effects, featuring bevel and emboss, gradients and textures; as well as a little errant vertical line down the right hand side. And finally, as in other Capall Bann books, proofing could be better and Jackson conflates ‘it’s’ with ‘its’ – but he does it with such consistency that it almost becomes endearing.

Published by Capall Bann

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Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana – Storm Constantine

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Categories: chaos, grimoire, magick

Grimoire Dehara coverAs an unrepentant bibliophile, it is both a blessing and a curse that there are so many wonderful (and not so wonderful) books out there that must be read. One area that always takes a back seat is fiction, and so despite having a few of her titles in the shelves here at the hallowed halls of Scriptus Recensera, we’ve never had the pleasure of diving into the worlds of Storm Constantine.

Perhaps the work for which she is best known, her Wraeththu series, had its first instalment in 1987 with The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit and has continued into this decade; although Constantine wrote her earliest Wraeththu tales a decade earlier in 1973. The Wraeththu are very much a race for today, a post-apocalyptic, hermaphroditic species that evolved from humanity and are divided into tribes. Androgynous and sensual, they seem to be cut from the same cloth as Anne Rice’s fey and elegant vampires, or Poppy Z. Brite’s queer outsiders.

With Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana, Constantine takes the system of magic used in the Wraeththu universe and fleshes it out for real world application. In a subculture of made-up magical systems, with people desperately trying to claim mysterious provenance for their fictions, what better than a system that is unashamedly fictional? As such, and as Constantine notes, Grimoire Dehara follows a chaos magick template of pop culture sorcery, creating new thought-forms with that slightly scientific, partly Jungian bent of any Chaoate. This is borne out by the resources at the end of the book, with two books by Phil Hine being the only other titles namechecked amongst those from Constantine herself and her collaborator Taylor Ellwood. There are also bonus points for the musical recommendations here, with Constantine suggesting Ephemeral from Synaesthesia and two albums by Steve Roach (The Magnificent Void and with Byron Metcalf, The Serpent’s Lair). Fine tastes and something that makes for a great reviewing accompaniment.

The gods of the Wraeththu are the Dehara of the grimoire’s title, with the principle deities being Aruhani (dehar of sex and procreation, life and death), Agave (warrior dehar of fire), Lunil (dehar of the Moon, love and spirituality) and Miyacala (dehar of inception, magic and wisdom). In addition there are elemental and seasonal deities called dehara vegrandis, and egregore forms created for specific and limited purposes called dehara demitto. Given the grimoire’s title, the dehara not unexpectedly form the focus of much of this book, with Constantine introducing each of them with descriptions and sigils, which she also does for their respective etheric nayati (temple or ritual space with descriptions and their sigils for them). With these are full page illustrations of each dehara, all evocative, beautiful and mysterious. Later in the book, Constantine returns to the dehara once more, providing further information along with extensive invocations and guided visualisations for each; and repeating the full page illustrations, which I’m not too sure about.

The dehara Aruhani

Having not read any of the Wraeththu novels before, one feels one’s self at a slight disadvantage when it comes to the terminology and names. There is an alienness to the language, that makes it hard to remember which term means what. This is due to it not necessarily having any resemblance to touchstones such as the Romance or Germanic languages, those two most common families for European ears. If anything, it bears a superficial resemblance to Eastern Polynesian languages like Hawaiian, with distinctly Polynesian phonemes appearing in words such as kaimana, rehuna and aruhani. At the same time, a preponderance of the letter ‘j’ and a ‘hahn’ sound in other words draws a comparison with Hindi; while in some cases, English portmanteaus occur, incorporating terms such as ‘tides,’ and somewhat breaking the feeling of exotic otherness. Suffice to say, the seven page glossary at the back proves a frequently frequented friend in the early stages of reading as one acclimatises to the new terminology.

At 200 pages, Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana presents an impressively rich and detailed system that builds gradually in complexity. For anyone familiar with contemporary magic, and in particular the techniques associated with its Chaos forms, there won’t be much here that is, at its core, unfamiliar, with the innovation coming from how it’s integrated into the Wraeththu mythos and paradigm. And, as one would expect of a system quite consciously created with all the benefit of several thousand years of precedents, there are certain near universal themes that are given a Wraeththu twist. Agmara, for example, is the name given to breath, both the breath of the divine and the breath of the practitioner, which like prana in Hinduism, or the Force in Star Wars, is an all-permeating, universal energy, that is a powerful ally. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. But I digress.

Page spread with image of Aghama

The system begins with an initiation with a particularly Wraeththu spin, being a visualisation based on what in the novels is called Inception, where a human is transformed into a Wraeththu through the infusion of their blood. In the initiation ceremony, called a Harhune, the practitioner imagines themselves transforming into the androgynous har body, creating an ethereal body that is then used for any subsequent majhahns (rituals). Following on from this initiation, Constantine presents a series of exercises and procedures that could be broadly said to involve ritual breathing, visualisations and pathworkings, and light work. Practitioners add to their ethereal arsenal with the creation of their own hienama (an egregoric teacher), the building of an etheric nayati ritual space, and the development of minor Deharan magical entities for specific purposes.

In addition to this more personal work, Constantine provides evidence of her world building with Arotahar, a harish Wheel of the Year, that incorporates a grand seasonal mythologem redolent of European harvest rites for dying and resurrecting gods, and features eight arojhahns (festivals) across the year. Each arojhahn has invocations, rituals and visualisations associated with it, making this section, along with dedicated sections working with the dehara, the lion’s share of the grimoire. For those willing to embrace the mythos and modality, there’s a lot to do, with a full ritual year to follow, and the pantheon of the main dehara creating a comprehensive set of entities to engage with.

Olga Ulanova: Feybraihatide Arojhahn

Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana is thoroughly illustrated throughout with images of the various dehara and their attributes. Created by Olga Ulanova, they in some ways make the book, providing a very clear visual sense of what the dehara look like and explicating the whole Wraeththu aesthetic. The images often have an icon-like quality to them, something engendered by the use of an Art Noveau style, with Alphonse Mucha being a particularly obvious reference; as is often the case. No slavish imitation, though, these are beautifully rendered in simple clear lines, with the figures sometimes set against clear space, but more often against decorative, esoterically-evocative backgrounds and frames, occasionally suggesting, to my eyes, stellar cartography. As devotional objects, these would work effectively in any Deharan praxis, such is their strength as numinous images.

The first version of Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana was first released in 2005 as a hardback edition, with this second edition from 2011 being a trade paperback. Constantine has since followed up Kaimana with two sequels to this grimoire, both in collaboration with Taylor Ellwood: the second book Ulani 2016, and the third, Nahir Nuri, in 2017. Both sequels are available in hardcover and paperback versions, with a new limited edition hardcover version of Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana also being released to match its scions.

Published by Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press


Review Soundtrack: Steve Roach & Byron Metcalf – The Serpent’s Lair

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The Witching-Other: Explorations & Meditations on the Existential Witch – Peter Hamilton-Giles

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Categories: esotericism, sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

The Witching-Other coverPeter Hamilton-Giles may be best known for his previous books published by Three Hands Press, The Afflicted Mirror and The Baron Citadel. He is also the instigator and co-founder, so the bio goes, of the Dragon’s Column, the body of initiates whose material is featured, albeit in edited form, in Andrew Chumbleys’ Dragon Book of Essex. With The Witching-Other: Explorations & Meditations on the Existential Witch, Hamilton-Giles and his wife Carolyn, who, fun fact, also comprise the doom metal duo Pombagira, have inaugurated their own imprint, Atramentous Press, marking this birth with a statement of intent in both writing style and aesthetics. In matters aesthetical, Atramentous come out of the gates with a very clear look, presenting this book, its sequel, and another title about Welsh witches, in a distinct, ornamented style, all filigree and not so much shadow.

Meanwhile, in matters of writing, as the title suggests, The Witching-Other: Explorations & Meditations on the Existential Witch has lofty ambitions and attempts to address the figure of the witch from a theory-heavy, methodology-driven academic perspective. What that means is that various aspects of the witch, and as an embodiment of alterity in particular, are considered in dense, somewhat tortuous language that is as vermicular as the book’s ornamented cover design.

Hamilton-Giles appears to write with a thesaurus in hand, never using a simple word or phrasing when a more cumbersome one can be found. One almost begins to think it’s intended as a parody of academic writing, a social experiment to see if anyone is willing to risk looking stupid by saying they can’t follow the incomprehensible; a wager worth making in the image-conscious world of occultism where no one wants to look either uninitiated or unintelligent. It’s not just that there is an abundance of words from the academic lexicon, it’s that their meaning is sometimes lost through their very concatenation, where the in-between-words stringing them together can be overwhelmed by their grandiloquent companions. Structure can be awkward as words large and small jostle to get meaning across, while sentences can be so elongated and circumlocutory that the initial tense is changed or the preposition altered by the time you get to the end of it. Then there are words that don’t seem to mean what they’re thought to mean. Can anything (although in this case we’re talking about “the meeting of the physical and the metaphysical”) imbibe “the perceptual horizon with the continuity concept.”? How does one imbibe a perceptual horizon, let alone with the continuity concept?

The Witching Other dustjacket

Interestingly enough, given Hamilton-Giles’ background in grindcore (he was a member of early Earache Records band Unseen Terror), if the phrasing reminds of anything it’s the medical textbook song titles and lyrics of the band Carcass, in which obscure and technical words were admirably combined, but not always in the most natural way: descanting the insalubrious, or lavaging expectorate of lysergide composition, for example.

The Witching-Other is not perpetually impenetrable, and one finds oneself stumbling into areas where lucidity momentarily reigns, in which the words are still big, but the narrative is clearer and more consistent. This is particularly noticeable where the dizzying first chapter, which shares its title with the book as a whole, gives way to the second, the relatively more digestible Esoteric Hermeneutics and the Witching-Other. The difference between the two chapters is marked, with the periphrastic quality dropping right away, and yet, perversely, the previously applied rules of thumb for punctuation changing to a less rigorous application. Similarly, the tone palpably shifts from the disquisitional voice of the first chapter to a more conversational one in which Hamilton-Giles suddenly starts engaging the reader with hypophoras, asking them theoretical questions.

The Witching-Other is a book you want to like. Who, to use my very own hypophora, doesn’t like a bit of heavy theory with their witchcraft? Not me, that’s who. At the same time, though, who has time for wilfully obtuse writing if there is a point to be made? Especially if that obtuseness runs the risk of descending into incomprehensibility if the unwieldy words get crazy and go into people’s houses at night and wreck up the place. Perhaps, the intent was to follow Gilles Deleuze’s advice in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia and “Bring something incomprehensible into the world!” It’s an interesting indication of what reading The Witching-Other is like that the thought of then turning to some Deleuze, Judith Butler or Jacques Derrida promises to be a soothing, effortlessly light read.

Image by Carolyn Hamilton-Giles

As the first book published by Atramentous Press there are a few layout wrinkles that seem to have been ironed out in a subsequent book, but not in the sequel to this volume where the styling has been reprised. The most obvious and jarring is the, how you say, reverse indents, where whole paragraphs are indented, except for the first line. This creates a disconcerting sensation and does negatively affect readability, with one’s eyes wandering across the page devoid of the anchors provided by the conventions of layout. On top of that, paragraphs are fully justified and so hyphenation is naturally turned on to avoid text rivers. But the settings applied here are rather conservative and words are hyphenated at as little as two letters, resulting in ladders of hyphens throughout paragraphs, engendering a stuttering, segmented experience for the reader. Both choices are particularly problematic given the sesquipedalian nature of Hamilton-Giles’ writing, where formatting should be assisting comprehension, not compounding any amphibolousness. All of these design choices are strange as there is otherwise a nice, sophisticated feel to the rest of the typography from Joseph Uccello. If the goal was, though, to disorientate through typography as much as through language, then mission accomplished, consider me discombobulated.

Spread of pages

The Witching-Other was released in a standard edition of 891 copies and a deluxe limited edition of 15. The standard edition features 160 100 gram Munken Print Cream pages with Napura endpapers, a ribbon, and is bound in a dark green cloth with the Atramentous logo debossed on the cover. It is wrapped in an evergreen colourset dust jacket, with designs in red and gold foil, though some of the gold is already flaking or was never completely applied on the rear of this copy. The sold out deluxe edition was hand bound with burgundy calf, with the designs from the standard edition’s dust jacket blocked in gold on the front, back and spine. With marble edging on the pagers and marbled endpapers, it is contained within a solander box with the Atramentous logo blocked in gold foil on the front. In addition, the deluxe edition came with a limited print of Carolyn Hamilton-Giles’ illustration, signed by the artist and printed on good quality card.

Published by Atramentous Press.

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Call of the Horned Piper – Nigel Aldcroft Jackson

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

Call of the Horned Piper coverIt is sometimes hard to keep track of the various Nigel Jackson, Michael Howard and Evan John Jones titles released on Capall Bann. There’s not a lot of them necessarily, but the titles are somewhat interchangeable, and the covers are similar, if not in style then at least in theme (you’d better believe there’ll be horns on there). That’s not a criticism per se, simply a recognition that Jackson and his colleagues mine a very particular seam

After struggling through a fair amount of poor occult writing, where authors either can’t write or overreach whilst trying to sound more esoteric or more academic, reading Jackson here is something of a relief. Sure, he habitually types ‘it’s’ when he means ‘its’ but besides that most unforgivable of sins, he can actually write, creating a flowing narrative that is easy to read and at the same time, sophisticated and erudite. In some instances, he shows a particularly refined ability for the picturesque, with the first chapter beginning with a theoretical scenario of a witch preparing for transvection, written in a beautifully descriptive way.

In other instances though, as is the style of the book, Jackson just presents information in something of a fact-dump manner; albeit still well written. This kind of data (instances of witch accounts or folklore examples for the most part), will be largely familiar to anyone from these circles of traditional craft, which may be why there’s such a dearth of citing of sources. While the common knowledge nature of these facts makes this lacking of references slightly forgivable, one does find little gems that makes one wish for a place to go for more information – like the brief remark that Swedish witches preferred to use magpie forms when shapeshifting…. oooh, tell me more.Charivari image by Nigel Jackson

Call of the Horned Piper is divided into short, unnumbered chapters addressing various witchcraft themes, and these are grouped in the contents section into broad, unnamed segments that the reader won’t necessarily notice when reading the book from start to finish. In the first, Jackson considers what one could define as the sabbat and the wild hunt, emphasising the goddess lead versions of the Heljagd under Holda, Hela and Herodias, before moving on to her male counterpart, the Horned Master. This acts as a fulfilment of a statement of intent that Jackson makes at the start of the book, placing the witch’s ride at the centre of the image of the witch, with the broomstick being the preeminent symbol of this topology. By drawing together myriad threads provided by sabbat transvection and various other supernatural journeys, taken by either practitioners or deities, Jackson highlights the way in which this shamanic mystery with thousands of years of provenance lies at the core of Traditional Craft.

Later, Jackson incorporates other far flung strands of folklore, such as even werewolves and vampirism, showing how, in the footsteps of Carlo Ginzburg and Éva Pócs, these seemingly less esoteric aspects of legend play into the image of supernatural, shamanic-style journeys. Indeed, one could say that Jackson provides an entry level version of theories by Ginzburg, Pócs and the later Emma Wilby, heavy on examples but light on detail, and from a more hands-on, personally involved and less academic perspective.

Hela by Nigel Jackson

Jackson concludes Call of the Horned Piper with a practical section, providing information on tools and hallowing the witches compass, as well as a guided visualisation, Mysterium Sabbati: Riding on the Witch Way. There’s not a lot here but as a core toolkit it suffices and the theory and lore that precedes it contains enough information for practitioners to fill in the gaps and develop their own rituals in a Traditional Craft mould.

In all, Call of the Horned Piper has much to recommend it. It contains a wealth of information that can lead to more indepth investigation when you track down the uncited sources, and it comes from a specifically endemic place, with Jackson clearly providing the bones to existing modalities. Of specific personal appeal is the way in which Hela appears throughout the book, particularly in Her guises as a witch goddess of the underworld, with Jackson making several references to her.

Image by Nigel Jackson

Call of the Horned Piper is illustrated throughout by Jackson himself, which, as Gemma Gary does in her books, adds an additional layer of interest, omneity and authenticity. Jackson employs a variety of styles, largely differentiated by the weight of stroke. There’s woodcut (or woodcut-styled, it’s hard to tell) images, high in contrast as is the nature of the medium, and then there’s detailed, fine-line ink drawings. While there’s a certain rustic charm to the woodcuts (and I’m particularly fond of the image of Hela), it is their more intricate siblings that really appeal. These recall some of the work of Andrew Chumbley or Daniel Schulke, with icons that are beautifully archaic, festooned with hand written text and more mystical sigils than you can shake a stick at. Unfortunately, their effectiveness is lessened by repeated use, with some of the images reappearing throughout the book at various sizes as unnecessary fillers. Jackson’s fine line pictures also include more illustrative images, such as his stunning Fraw Holt, which I recall on the cover of an issue of The Cauldron so many years ago. In these, Jackson renders fey figures with an imperial distance and acerose features, in a timeless, evocative style that seems weighted with meaning.

The, how you say, roughness of Capall Bann productions has been noted before here at Scriptus Recensera, and Call of the Horned Piper is no exception. The book title on the spine is so large that it seeps onto the front and back covers, as does the Capall Bann logo, while the title on the cover is off-centre. The typeface choice and treatment on the cover leaves something to be desired, as does the orange gradient, which makes the book look prematurely sun faded. The image on the front, a striking woodcut by Jackson, is treated unsympathetically, askew within an unattractive white frame, with a dotted magenta trim line visible around the edge for some reason.

Published by Capall Bann

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Visual Magick – Jan Fries

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Categories: chaos, germanic, magick, shamanism, Tags:

Visual Magick coverSubtitled A Manual of Freestyle Shamanism, Visual Magick from Jan Fries is something of a modern classic, first published in 1992 after beginning as a small treatise privately circulated amongst occultists. Despite the subtitle, there’s not a lot of explicitly shamanic content within Visual Magick, be it in the strictly etymological sense of the Tungusic word, or the core shamanism of the Michael Harner variety, or even the shamanism of new age stores, all dreamcatchers, crystals and war bonnets. Instead, if it’s core anything, Visual Magick is core Fries-brand chaos magick; apt as this was Fries’ first published work.

Visual Magick begins without preamble (save for a preface by Mike Ingalls), diving head first into the first chapter on sigil magick. This is fairly standard post-Spare sigil fare, which sounds a little unfair and dismissive, but is not intended as such. Using the analogue of a seed, Fries presents a basic but thorough guide to creation of sigils using several techniques including bindletters, automatic drawings, and magical squares. Then he offers a guide to activating and empowering them, which bleeds into the second chapter under the heading of The Ritual. In both, Fries writes in his trademark honest and conversational style, presenting the techniques matter-of-factly, listing personal preferences without prejudice but ultimately leaving things up to the reader to find what works for them. Indeed, this attitude makes ‘freestyle’ the more important word from the book’s subtitle, as it epitomises Fries’ approach: modern, eclectic, versatile, and not beholden to any historic precedent, with a touch of humour and honesty where needed.

Fries continues exploring other not particularly or obviously shamanic techniques including automatic drawing and writing, visualisations and a little bit about sex magick, primarily in its use in empowering sigils. Later he discusses creative hallucinations, zoomorphic transformation and shapeshifting, and mandalas, in which he presents a variation of his own using plant matter rather than the usual sand or paint. Throughout, Fries’ emphasis is on the pragmatic, backed up with a largely psychological model. For him, entities are just projections of the subconscious, and interactions with them are a way of accessing this deep mind. Fries does allow others the grace to believe entities to be whatever they wish, but even in this regard he ultimately comes back to the idea of them being, as part of what he calls the ‘all-self,’ ways to connect with the individual self.

Jan Fries: Loki

This utilitarian approach means that Visual Magick often comes across as more of a self-help or motivational book, rather than a traditional magickal tome or grimoire. The argument here is that when you strip away all the artifice of magick, then that’s what you’ve got at a fundamental level: processes and a worldview that are intended to improve you as a person, give you insights, and get shit done. As a result, there’s a lot of talk of the subconscious, of perception, of analysing behavioural patterns. It’s effectively a primer that shows the science behind magick, much as chaos magick was doing at the time; though Fries does dismiss it as a then current magickal trend, despite the shared techniques and approach.

Filing under ‘some reviewers are never happy,’ long-time readers of Scriptus Recensera will know that pragmatism rules here, but Fries’ approach runs the risk of being too much of a good thing and one finds oneself longing for a touch of old fashioned occult glamour, a little mumbo? Perhaps. Jumbo? Perhaps not. Effectively, it takes some of the fun out of magick, and replaces it with the psychological model, which may have an appeal for some readers but has limited mileage with this one. With its revealing of the seams of magick, though, it does underline how anything in the book can be adapted to a more personally-satisfying paradigm and how, in the end, a ritual, a godform or an entire belief system is just something made up by someone, somewhere, sometime.

As is the case with all of his books, Visual Magick is illustrated throughout with Fries’ trademark illustrations, previous recipients of glowing commentary here at Scriptus Recensera. Atavistic line drawings combining humanoid forms and nature, they are in some way the most shamanic thing in the book, having an energy and numinosity so evocative of reaching out across worlds.

Jan Fries: Access to a Tree

Visual Magick has the same layout styling of other Jan Fries books published by Mandrake of Oxford, meaning that it looks better than a lot of Mandrake book. It’s not necessarily amazing, but there’s a clear design hierarchy, a suitable amount of space and no glaring errors. All of Fries’ trademark illustrations are rendered crisp and clear, except for one which, by misadventure or design, is pixelated, its black lines turned jagged like a scene from an 8bit video game; which is somewhat apropos as its shaman subject looks like a hero from a 1980s side-scrolling platformer.

Published by Mandrake of Oxford.

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