Categotry Archives: alchemy

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Entering the Desert – Craig Williams

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Categories: alchemy, hermeticism, magick, Tags:

Entering the Desert cover, standard hardback editionAnathema Publishing has released several works by Craig Williams, but this was the first, a relatively slight text based on the idea of the working with the theme of the desert and the solitude of monasticism. As with some other reviews of Anathema titles, this one requires a slight caveat as your humble reviewer has an editing credit here, though in my defence, time marches so inexorably forward that I often don’t immediately recall the text ‘pon reading it.

What becomes immediately apparent in reading Entering the Desert is a decisive placement of its contents in opposition, setting it, as the saying goes, against the modern world. Williams lets little time pass between moments of decrying something wrong with modernity, be it the world in general or occultism in particular. This degree of vituperative invective gets a little tiresome rather quickly, and its earnestness grates in its self-congratulatory repetition, getting in the way of good narrative as there’s almost an unspoken expectation that the reader will be hooting and hollering at each sick burn. It’s like when someone first discovers that Christianity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, or that popular culture isn’t as cool as Hot Topic culture, or when Krusty the Clown became a tell-it-like-it-is stand-up comedian, except here the shibboleth is that nasty nasty modernity, boo, hiss.

Spread with a painting by David S. Herrerias

It is, though, this opposition to the modern that acts as the primary motivation for what is presented here, with the entering of the desert being a chance to literally get away from it all. The desert is idealised as a place of isolation from the modern world, the journey to which is, as the book’s subtitle renders it, a pilgrimage into the hinterlands of the soul. Conversely, though, this is but one of what Williams identifies as two deserts, with the individual’s internal Desert of the Soul contrasting with an outer desert of the collective environment and dreaded modernity. Williams is at pains to point out that using this iconography is not an escapist fantasy or just a simple visualisation (which would, no doubt, be oh so modern), but rather a less tangible mode of being, more of a telling-it-like-it-is in which “one ruthlessly examines and accepts all the ‘aspects of life.’”

Spread with graphics by David S. Herrerias

There is a practical side to all this detached examination, and in chapter two, The Cell, Williams expounds on the use of another location within this eremophilous topography. This cell is treated less as a theoretical locus than the wilderness itself, and Williams provides a broad guide to what you’re going to get up to on your lonesome.

Inevitably, what emerges here is clearly indebted to the desert fathers and mothers of the early church, at least in an aesthetic and general approach, even if the overlay is an antinomian, anti-modern, hyper-individualist one. Like those hermetic forebears, the practitioner seeks isolation from the greater world, but Williams hastens to add that there is none of the asceticism of the latter, in which the body and flesh is abhorred and mortified. Despite the preponderance of the world ‘gnostic’ there’s also none of classic Gnosticism’s distain for matter, incarnation and existence. Instead, the cell acts as a space within which to alchemically sacralise the flesh, awakening daemonic voices from within both the mind and the body. To do this, the gnostic hermit enters a unique time stream within the cell, and performs simple exercises of breathing, mediation, reading and dreamless sleep. This awakened Sacramental Vision then allows the devotee to view the desert of the world as a source of nourishment and empowerment, a reflection of the inner landscape of the Soul, and not as an existential threat.

Image that appears blind debossed on the cover of the standard hardback edition

The broad outline of the preceding chapters gets more specific in a section called The Desert Grimoire, which provides exactly that, a grimoire of rituals and verse that is described as a transmission from the deeper regions of the wilderness of the soul. The first item of note is an introduction to a heretofore unmentioned aspect of Williams’ system, a group of primordial and supra-spacetime intelligences called the Priests of Night, whose egress within the cell can be initiated through the cultivation of its atmosphere. Other rituals follow, including a multi-day vigil, an invocation, and a lovely desert liturgy. The Desert Grimoire concludes with a section of verses, two to a page, each accompanied by a sigil and all wrapped within an ornate border. These provide a reification of what has been presented elsewhere in the book, but simplified into, or veiled by, poetic language.

Sigils and texts from the Desert Grimoire

The typography in Entering the Desert is expertly executed in typical Anathema style by Gabriel McCaughry: the body set in a relatively large, fully justified serif face, with headings and quotes in a copper tint for an understated touch of visual interest. David S. Herrerias provides extensive illustrations throughout, with both paintings and pen and ink illustrations, including one painted image of the desert that acts as both the front and rear endpapers, spreading across verso and recto. The internal paintings largely follow the style of this endpapers landscape, with a sedate tableaux of muted yellow and brown tones, including a Sparesian portrait of Williams himself. The pen and ink images follow the style seen previously from Herrerias, including his previously-reviewed Book of Q’Ab-Itz, with amalgams of Andrew Chumbley-like facetted plains and jagged geometry, and spindly things breaking into space. His desolate aesthetic makes for a fitting companion to Williams’ theme, conveying the sense of an eremitic and uncanny touching of the beyond.

In all, Entering the Desert is a pleasing little tome that brings its theme together rather well in terms of written and graphic elements. At its core, it contains some rather simple or fundamental concepts, as one would expect when the matter is one of sitting alone in the desert with nothing but wraiths and strays for company, But Williams presents these in a considered, perhaps too considered, manner that patiently reiterates each theme or technique in what becomes almost its own devotional or meditative act.

Spread with a painting by David S. Herrerias

Entering the Desert was released in four editions: a paperback, along with hardback editions of standard, collector and artisanal; all three of which are now sold out. The paperback runs to 176 pages of Rolland Opaque Natural 140M quality paper, bound in a scuff-free velvet matte with a selective spot varnish on the cover. The standard hardback edition of 400 copies featured 160 pages on Royal Sundance paper, hardbound in Sierra Tan bookcloth, with the title foiled in metallic black foil stamp on the spine and slightly hard to parse phantasmagorical figures blind-debossed to both the front and rear covers.

The collector’s edition of 150 copies binds the pages in a Fiscagomma Agenda dark brown faux leather, with a different symbol to the standard edition stamped in bronze foil on the cover, and metallic bronze foiling to the spine, It comes with a hand-numbered book plate signed by the author. Finally, the artisanal Midnight Sun edition of twelve copies was hand bound in genuine buffalo leather, dyed midnight blue, with a symbol blind debossed and gold foil stamped on the front cover. With custom-made artisanal endpapers and raised nerves and gold foiling on the spine, the Midnight Sun edition was presented in a slipcase bearing handmade custom-dyed marbled paper so that each box looked slightly different to the other.

Each hardcover edition of Entering the Desert also came with a download code for a copy of a musico-mystical contribution from ritual/dark ambient projects Shibalba, Alone in the Hollow Garden and Nam-Khar. These five tracks (or vibrational rituals, as they’re called here), three from Shibalba and two from the collaboration of Alone in the Hollow Garden and Nam-Khar, were channelled specifically as a meditative sound support for Entering the Desert and do have a certain eremophilous quality, casting detailed percussive sounds, throat singing and the occasionally languid Orientalist figure against linear landscapes.

Published by Anathema Publishing


The soundtrack for this release is naturally the pieces created by Shibalba, Alone in the Hollow Garden and Nam-Kar for Entering the Desert. The tracks by  Alone in the Hollow Garden and Nam-Kar can be heard on the Alone in the Garden Bandcamp page.

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The Order of the Solar Temple: The Temple of Death – Edited by James R. Lewis

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Categories: alchemy, esotericism, hermeticism

The Order of the Solar Temple: The Temple of Death coverPart of Routledge’s New Religions series, this James R. Lewis-edited anthology brings together a variety of academic writers in discussion of the Switzerland and Quebec-based Order of the Solar Temple; along with a selection of Solar Temple documents, and some previously published articles edited anew here. As with the similarly named Solar Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis, there’s always something intriguing about the idea of magickal orders gone wrong, and things certainly went wrong for members of the Order of the Solar Temple. Formed in 1984, the Order of the Solar Temple came to the attention of the world ten years later when many of its members in both Europe and North America committed suicide or were murdered, while various order properties were set on fire.

Following an introduction by Lewis, things open with an archival piece by Jean-François Mayer from 1993, detailing the history of the various organisational guises, such as the exoteric Lausanne Club, that were associated with the more esoteric order, thereby placing it within a conventional new age milieu of healthy eating, homeopathy and Age of Aquarius earth changes; rather than the more hermetic and Templar-inspired incarnation the inner temple would later become. Naturally, there’s not much in what Mayer presents that foreshadows what would later occur with the Order of the Solar Temple (save for an unwittingly prescient note that the order, then so unknown, might prove of interest to later researchers), though when he describes members of the Lausanne Club innocently lighting a bonfire and dancing around it for St. John’s Day, one can’t help but think of the deadly role that fire would later play.

Considering its varied cast of contributors, The Order of the Solar Temple reads rather coherently, with each piece flowing into the next, building upon its predecessors by adding further details, but with very little in the way of redundancy; at least at the start. Mayer’s pre-1994 consideration of the order and its satellite clubs and groups is followed by Massimo Introvigne’s Ordeal by Fire: The Tragedy of the Solar Temple, which brings the narrative up to the events of 1994 with the first full recapping of what occurred. But Introvigne also prefaces this with a thorough history of the various Templar-inspired groups that preceded the Order of the Solar Temple, placing this side of the organisation within a stream of neo-Templarism and Freemasonry. With that said, though, the Order of the Solar Temple’s beliefs that do emerge throughout the book feel less like those of Templar-obsessed groups, with the usual combination of hermeticism, alchemy and Rosicrucianism, and rather a much more modern beast. Ascended masters, reincarnation and most dramatically of all, the transit to Sirius with members leaving behind their human bodies to assume new astral ‘solar bodies,’ speaks more to the post-Theosophy milieu of late-twentieth century New Age; just dressed up in white capes with red crosses, aided and abetted by a lot of sword waving.

Susan J. Palmer provides another fleshing out of the order’s inner intrigues by way of her Purity and Danger in the Solar Temple, which offers insights into some of the motivations and internal psychology of group members, all viewed through a sociological lens provided by the theories of the British anthropologist Mary Douglas. Douglas, whose work is alluded to in Palmer’s title, argued that the human body mirrors the collective body of a society and that in small and persecuted groups, any actual or perceived threat tends to be dealt with in purity rituals that govern the exits and entrances of the human body, enhancing the collective’s social control over the individual. This is a model that works rather well when applied to the insular and increasingly paranoid order, where control over bodies can be seen in the process of ‘defamilialisation,’ in which members were periodically endowed with new spiritual identities, previous incarnations whose past relationships or antipathies could have an effect on existing partnerships. The order’s affinity for a Gnostic-like asceticism and detachment from the body found its ultimate expression in the events of 1994, when the bodies of members were sloughed off in the final response to perceived external threats, and this attempt at purifying the body of the organisation was then compounded by the repeated use of fire to burn, to varying degrees of success, the corpses and order’s buildings.

John R. Hall and Philip Schuyler add to the discussion of the machinations within the order in The Mystical Apocalypse of the Solar Temple, a reprint of the fifth chapter of Hall’s Apocalypse Observed: Religious Movements and Violence in North America, Europe and Japan from 2000. As in that book, Hall and Schuyler show how the destructive end of a group like the Order of the Solar Temple cannot be simply attributed to the cliché of cult leaders with ulterior motives brainwashing the vulnerable; nor entirely to something inherently violent or destructive in a group’s beliefs. Rather, how society at large responds to this smaller microcosmic society plays a significant role, with the anti-cult hysteria generated by both the media and government departments exacerbating or even initiating conflict. Besides this premise, Hall and Schuyler’s contribution provides perhaps the most thorough recounting yet of the events leading up to 1994, whilst still managing to feel that it doesn’t excessively regurgitate or labour over details covered in previous chapters.

Jean-François Mayer provides another piece, The Dangers of Enlightenment: Apocalyptic Hopes and Anxieties in the Order of the Solar Temple, picking up from where his earlier pre-1994 essay left off, and now, with the benefit of hindsight, offers just that, hindsight, looking at some of the apocalyptic beliefs of the group and asking what signs there were of what later occurred. There’s a certain inevitable overlap of themes in the following Crises of Charismatic Authority and Millenarian Violence: The Case of the Order of the Solar Temple by John Walliss, where unlike Hall and Schuyler, he downplays the validity of any sense of persecution the order may have felt (relatively slight as it was), suggesting instead that the decision to perform the lethal transits was the result of crises of charismatic authority which, after defections and other waverings of order confidence, leaders Luc Jouret and Joseph Di Mambro sought to restore with an act of performative violence. As such, the transits can be seen as a final spectacular ritualistic gesture to the world, through which the order’s leaders tried to “reassert their authority over their followers and create some kind of legend for the order.”

Order of the Solar Temple ritual chamber

Henrik Bogdan, perhaps the only familiar name here from esoteric academia, explores a suitably occult theme in Death as Initiation: The Order of the Solar Temple and Rituals of Initiation, where he turns specifically to the initiatory rituals of Freemasonry. Bogdan gives a relatively thorough account of Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism, including basic rituals of the former, before ultimately bringing the discussion back to what he’s here for: how death is perceived in an initiatory manner within these types of groups, with specific reference to the Masonic legend of the murder of the master mason Hiram. This, in turn, leads to a consideration of some of the masonic-style rituals of the Order of the Solar Temple, each documented meticulously, with particular note being made of one in which the initiate is ominously taught that death is an illusion, a part of life, and one must be able to die in the profane world to be born into the cosmic world. While such language is by no means uncommon amongst metaphysical groups, Bogdan notes that the Order of the Solar Temple took it beyond the metaphorical with the transit becoming the ultimate ritual of initiation as members transformed into disincarnated Masters, creating a link between the worlds of men and the divine.

There’s the same sense of delving into occult roots in Sources of Doctrine in the Solar Temple by George D. Chryssides, though for someone with his credentials there’s a lot of minor and sloppy errors. There’s a belittling reference to Hatshepsut as an ‘Egyptian princess’ rather than as one of Egypt’s most successful pharaohs. Similarly, there’s a misrepresentation of Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled as a book that combines ancient Egyptian ideas with eastern spirituality, when the Egyptian section is but one small part of a wider consideration of various strands of Western occult traditions, alongside a history and critique of Christianity; a rookie mistake, perhaps, given the title, but really? Then there’s a strange reference to the Templar’s suppressing Catharism as their last crusade, which seems unlikely, given that it runs counter to their whole raison d’être as bankers and protectors of pilgrims to the Holy Land; and considering that what one could consider as one of their final campaigns was an unsuccessful one fighting off a Mamluk invasion on the other side of the continent in Armenia; followed by further losses of bases in the eastern Mediterranean. The most head scratching statement of all comes when Chryssides, or his editor, so poorly summarises one conspiracy theory about the Order of the Solar Temple that it inelegantly depicts extra-terrestrials building unexplained subterranean chambers (giving the reader the impression that he’s talking about ritual chambers used by the order in Switzerland, not in Nevada as the original theory has it; sigh, it’s a long story better summarised elsewhere in the book), with Jimmy Carter seemingly described at the time of the transits as the “then president”, who, with the CIA at his command, was responsible for the deaths as part of a cover-up.

At this point, things feel like they’ve reached Maximum Templar Saturation (a killer band name if ever there was one) and there can’t be much more to say. This certainly turns out to be the case with the final two essays not contributing much that hasn’t already been said. Marc Labelle’s The Ordre du Temple Solaire and the Quest for the Absolute is a muddled read with tense shifting relentlessly in a space riddled with non sequiturs and anacoluthon, reading as if it was translated from another language and not thoroughly proofed. Meanwhile, Sects, Media and the End of the World by Roland J. Campiche has little to say other than ‘media bad,’ an original sentiment to be sure.

The Order of the Solar Temple concludes with its appendix of order documents, beginning with a letter sent to 60 journalists, scholars, and government officials the morning after the fires in 1994. One part esoteric exegesis, one part paranoid invective against the order’s enemies, there’s a certainty in the words, but also a baffled desperation at the tribulations inflicted upon them by various external ne’er-do-wells. The second document here is for the Ritual for the Donning of the Talar and the Cross, referenced extensively in Bogdan’s essay, which provides an interesting insight into the order’s approach to ritual, part masonic fancy dress, part Catholic pomp and liturgy.

Published by Routledge.

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Minerva Britanna – Henry Peacham

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Categories: alchemy, art, esotericism

Minerva Britanna coverIf you’re wondering what Henry Peacham’s Minerva Britanna is all about, a clue may, or may not, be found in the subtitle which describes it as “A Garden of Heroical Devices, Furnished and Adorned with Emblems and Impressas of Sundry Natures.” Minerva Britanna belongs to a category known as the emblem book in which allegorical illustrations (pictura) sit alongside a motto, usually in Latin (superscriptio), and an explanatory text ranging from a few lines of verse to pages of prose (subscriptio), creating complex patterns of often didactic signi?cation. The first emblem book, the sixteenth century Emblemata, first of its name, by Andrea Alciato, created a popular template and was followed by a raft of similar works over the following century, with Michael Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens being perhaps the most well-known of them. Peacham’s emblem book, published in 1612, 81 years after Alciato’s Emblemata, is reproduced in its entirety here, with little comment other than a several page introduction by Josephine McCarthy.

Peacham, in addition to being a draughtsman, player of tennis and falconer, could be described using the Artistotelian term graphice. Defined by Peacham himself in his Gentleman’s Exercise as someone who specialised in the “use of the pen in writing faire, drawing, painting, and the like,” it marked him as someone admirably able to execute both the written and illustrated aspects of Minerva Britanna. Consisting of 204 emblems, Minerva Britanna was an expansion on two earlier attempts at creating emblem books, one for King James and one for his son, both based on the king’s 1603 treatise on government Basilicon Doron. Though neither book was finished, 68 of the Basilicon Doron emblems found new life in the pages of Minerva Britanna.

Minerva Britanna emblems

McCarthy argues that whilst Minerva Britanna contains some elements of a Neoplatonist-type ascent, in which the soul aspires towards union with the ineffable, it is principally a text of faery magic, mixed with Elizabethan codes, Hermetic wisdom and kingly advice. For McCarthy, it is a book concerned with sacred kingship and its responsibilities, of the land and the sacred female power within it, something made clear with the title’s invocation of the goddesses Minerva and Britannia, matrons of wisdom and the land respectively. It is McCarthy’s contention that nineteenth century occultists, who have had an enduring influence on contemporary occultism, removed magic from the land, enclosing it in vaults and temples, and that the material in Minerva Britanna reflects a vision of magic truer to what was once common practice, one considerably more connected to the worlds of faery and the underworld. By using Minerva Britanna, practitioners are able to connect with this archaic strain of magic again, becoming reacquainted with the wildness, playfulness, puzzles and the shadow of the Faery Queene. Unfortunately, McCarthy doesn’t give any specific examples of emblems that may reflect this stream of faery magic or support her contention that Peacham was an initiate or at least a follower of its mysteries.

While this edition of Minerva Britanna is not presented as practical and complete workbook, McCarthy briefly offers several ways in which people can utilise Peacham’s emblems in magic. She suggests that the images can be used as a divination deck, divided into three main magical themes that facilitate connections with the sacred land, the faery realm and underworld prophecy. Following the book’s motto of Mente Videbor (‘by the mind I shall be seen’), McCarthy also describes using the emblems as persistent visual aids that then impinge on the subconscious in dreams or unexpected moments, sparking cathartic moments of recognition and realisation.

Minerva Britanna Mente Videbor

Although there are 204 emblems in Minerva Britanna they are by no means the sole creation of Peacham, denoting the derivative nature of the English strand of the emblem tradition as a whole. Eighty-four of the images draw from the works of such authors as Alciati himself, Theodore de Bèze, Joachim Camerarius, Camillo Camilli, Luca Contile, Paulo Giovio, Claude Paradin, Guillaume de La Perrière, Nikolaus Reusner, Cesare Ripa, Girolamo Ruscelli, Jacobus Typotius and Geoffrey Whitney, with fifteen based on Gerard de Jode’s engravings in Laurens van Haecht Goidtsenhoven’s  Mikrokosmos = Parvvs mvndvs from 1579. Unlike de Jode’s fine engravings, Pencham’s emblems were rendered as woodcuts (following composition cues from Camerarius, Camilli, Ruscelli and Typotius), substantially removing the subtlety found in the images of Mikrokosmos, but adding a simplicity and immediacy.

Minerva Britanna emblems

Lest this seem like an accusation of plagiarism as we understand it today, Peacham acknowledges his debt to his antecedents in his introduction, telling the reader that he has “imitated the best approved Authors in this kind: as Alciat, Sambucus, Iunius, Reusneru, and others…”. Just as translation was seen as potentially creating a new work (and Peacham free translated Goidtsenhoven’s text for the emblems that draw from Mikrokosmos), Peacham was adhering to Renaissance ideals of imitation which were divided, in ascending order of worth, into sequi (‘following’), imitari (‘imitating’) and aemulari (‘emulating’). While sequi more closely mirrors our definition of plagiarism, the aemulari of Peacham aims to not only follow the original but to transform and surpass it. For an in-depth discussion of this theme, see Mason Tung’s From Theory to Practice: A Study of the Theoretical Bases of Peacham’s Emblematic Art (1997).

Minerva Britanna emblems

The imagery in Peacham’s emblems is as diverse as his inspirations, ornately framed and usually staged within the same seemingly eternal landscape found in similar alchemical and hermetic illustrations. The occupants of these archetypal vistas are often animals or human figures, though in others, heraldic elements come to the fore and weapons, armour, scrolls, crests and disembodied limbs float without context in the air. As one would expect, the book’s cast of characters is largely drawn from classical mythology and history, with Peacham acknowledging as his sources the Greek Anthology, the works of Horace, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Pliny’s Natural History and Aesop’s Fables. There are also nods to figures contemporary with Peacham and a few moments that can be interpreted as being indebted to Edmund Spenser’s conception of fairyland in The Faerie Queene; such as the Shadie Wood of Una replicated in the Nulli penetrabilis emblem, with its “uncouth pathes, and hidden waies unknown… by banks of Acheron.” Spenser’s work has much of the emblem about it with its layers of allegory and rhetoric, as well as the poet’s ability to succinctly describe scenes and characters in a comparable manner. Despite this minor intersection between Peacham and Spenser, and other than the Arcadian gloss that is sometimes given to visions of the fae, there is little amongst the imagery of Minerva Britanna that seems obviously faery.

The subscriptio that follow each picture, consistently presented as two verses ending in a couplet, creates a verbal interplay with the preceding iconic elements. Whether the interplay is integrative or diversive, the two elements are intended to work as one, strengthening each other, with the ‘moral’ then being drawn in the final couplet or lines, like a punchline or the last line of a proto-meme.

Minerva Britanna dedication

It is worth noting that Minerva Britanna is in the public domain and several complete, high resolution scans are available on archive.org. While McCarthy’s introduction makes for interesting reading, its brevity does not make it indispensable, and so the real value of this edition is for those who want printed versions of the work, rather than a PDF. The emblems here have been digitally restored for reprinting by Michael Sheppard who performs an admirable job, removing the background texture of the original manuscript but leaving the lines clear and sharp, and unmarred by too much contrast. This edition of Minerva Britanna mirrors the original’s dedication to King James’ son Henry, the Prince of Wales, with a dedication to the current holder of that title who is described as “HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, King in Waiting, and beloved of the Faery Queene.”

Published by Quareia Publishing

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(h)Auroræ – G. McCaughry

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Categories: alchemy, art, esotericism, hermeticism, luciferian, Tags:

(h)Auroræ coverGabriel McCaughry’s (h)Auroræ could be considered an inadvisable tome to review here at Scriptus Recensera because attentive readers will note that your faithful reviewer has a proofing credit in the opening pages. In my defence, your honour, the proofing was for only a section of the work, and the finished book is so much more, appearing unfamiliar and unrecognisable from the raw and partial pure-text draught I worked with; unless that’s just due to a poor memory… I don’t remember.

(h)Auroræ has an air of being McCaughry’s magnum opus, the sum result, from an aesthetic perspective, of all that he has done previously with his Anathema Publishing imprint. It’s gorgeously presented, intricately designed, with a poetic quality that is enigmatic and just a little bit impenetrable. At 304 pages and 5.25 x 8.5 inches dimensions, it feels substantial and weighty, the right size, texture and weight to convey a sense of significance and substance, fitting in your hands like a treasured tome, without being cumbersome. This aligns with statements McCaughry has made elsewhere, where he has talked of the magick inherent in books, and the profundity inherent in writing, producing and reading them.

(h)Auroræ is divided into three main sections or books, the first of which reprises the (h)Auroræ title and is itself comprised of five codices; plus a long, circumlocutory introduction from Shani Oates. Each codex consists of short stanzas of poetry, formatted in a fairly large italic face and almost always accompanied with an illustration on the respective facing page. McCaughry’s style of verse is, one could charitably say, brisk, sometimes running to as little as four lines, with an economy of words that nevertheless draws from a clearly defined lexicon. He declaims, rather than rhymes, using archaic turns of phrase and employing a wide array of imagery that references a variety of mythological and magickal sources, including Luciferianism, tantra, alchemy, the Ruba’iyat and Mandaeism. This cornucopia of culture and its recherché language choices makes for a somewhat abstruse encounter, where you can get a sense of what is being said, but like alchemical texts of old, you’re never sure if you’re quite getting it all.

Illustration by José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal

Book two of (h)Auroræ is titled Neoteric Heterodoxy and, for the most part, eschews the poetry format of its predecessor for a more discursive approach. Here, divided into three sections, McCaughry discusses various aspects of magickal theory and growth, with considerations of Gnosticism, doubt and truth, as well as the various forces, constructs and entities in his conception of a magickal cosmology: Lucifer, the Temple of LUh-hUR, the UmbraPlasma, the Monolith, the Quartz of Return, the Omni-Cipher, the Demiurge and the PCR or Prism Concrete Reality.

The third and final book of (h)Auroræ is called Anaphoras, Advent & Theurgia, and feels very much the conclusion, incorporating as it does various miscellanea and appendices. The lion’s share of this section takes the form of McCaughry’s account of the workings that form the basis of what is presented here, effectively his magickal diary fleshed out into a substantial narrative. He does not provide much in the way of explicit, point-by-point instructions, instead advocating for the ability of an adept to find their own tools and techniques; and emphasising the status of (h)Auroræ as a book of mysticism, rather than magick, with all the ritual rigmarole that the latter might entail. With that said, McCaughry’s magickal record is detailed enough that should one wish to emulate it, there is much to draw from.

Page spread

(h)Auroræ is profusely illustrated by José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal who almost deserves a co-author credit, such is both the impact and extent of his work. When almost every page within just the five codices of the (h)Auroræ section features an accompanying and presumably bespoke image, the amount of work is staggering; as is the cost, unless Sabogal severely undercharges for his work. There is an indefinable something about Sabogal’s illustrations, something that conveys an inherent sense of mystery and gnosis, but also somehow manages, with an apt turn of phrase, to keep silent.

Sabogal employs fine ink lines in a timeless manner that apes the look of traditional engraving, something that is reflected in the subject matter, where classical sculptures and equally sculptured bodies abound. In some instances, the lines of fine black ink are highlighted with striking washes of red, filling in spaces in some examples, and splattering across the image as blood in others.

Illustration by José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal

Helpfully and fittingly, Sabogal speaks to his role in the book in The Birds That Speak At Dawn, his own chapter at the conclusion of (h)Auroræ. Here, he describes his and McCaughry’s shared creative journey, but also provides an explicit overview of the entire book, highlighting its passage of transmutation that begins with death and putrefaction and proceeds through four other alchemical stages symbolised by birds. Sabogal talks of dreams in which he discovers strange books filled with mysterious emblems, and thanks to his work here he may have created just such an oneiric tome.

In addition to Sabogal’s illustrations, (h)Auroræ succeeds in matters aesthetical with McCaughry’s typesetting and layout, which compliments the graphic content and showcases the written. For anyone that has seen McCaughry’s hand in the layout of other Anathema publications, there will be much here that’s recognisable, with the return of some familiar treatments and typeface choices. McCaughry has an antique typographic style, especially noticeable in the frontispieces that synthesise a variety of faces, styles and sizes, all perfectly balanced in their hierarchy and not cluttered or messy. With that said, there’s no slavish beholding to archaisms here, but rather a classic timelessness that joins rarefied presentation with readability.

Illustration by José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal

(h)Auroræ was made available in three editions: a standard edition of 500 individually hand-numbered copies, a collector’s edition of approximately 125 copies, and an eleven copy artisanal Spume of Luna edition. The standard hardcover edition of (h)Auroræ measures 5.25 x 8.5 inches, with 304 Cougar Natural 160M archive-quality paper pages bound in a lovely metal-flecked Italian Tele Legatoria Bronze bookbinding cloth. A design on the front is foiled in gold, as is the title and author on the spine. The collector’s edition is the same as the standard edition but bound in Eurobound Black Flanders (bonded leather), with gold foiling on the spine and a more complex design on the cover, incorporating blind-debossed elements. The eleven copy Spume of Luna edition, individually hand-numbered, signed and glyphed by the author, is three-quarter-bound in genuine Black Galuchat Ray rawhide, and white cow leather with gold foil blocking on the cover, and a blind-deboss on the back cover. The interior features handmade endpapers, in addition to those used within the standard hardcover edition.

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The Blazing Dew of Stars – David Chaim Smith

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Categories: alchemy, art, esotericism, hermeticism, qabalah, Tags:

The Blazing Dew of Stars coverDavid Chaim Smith, as his bio runs, is an author and artist based on Long Island, New York. He gained a BFA in drawing from Rhode Island School of Design and graduated from Columbia University with a Masters in 1989. His principle medium is finely rendered and intensely detailed pencil, and that’s what you get here in this large-format book from Fulgur; his second with that press, following on from 2012’s The Sacrificial Universe.

The Blazing Dew of Stars presents David Chaim Smith’s take on qabalah, otherwise seen in titles such as 2015’s The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis and 2016’s The Awakening Ground: A Guide to Contemplative Mysticism (both from Inner Traditions). Where those books differ from The Blazing Dew of Stars is the focus on Chaim Smith’s artwork, often appearing here as full page plates, with adjunct smaller illustrations in the margins of facing pages. That doesn’t mean this book is without writing, in fact, it is quite text heavy, with Chaim Smith’s images appearing as adjuncts to his dense, periphrastic text. It’s just such text that forms the first, and image-free, chapter, Reaching Beyond God, 24 pages of circumlocutory writing with phrases like “systems that cultivate compassion mitigate the primitive reflexes of animal power that produce the psycho-emotive toxins of the human realm” or “Conceptuality can slowly learn to be able to abide within it, such that subtle abstract impressions can slowly take over, subsuming the momentum of perceptual formation into visionary registers.” As your eyes glaze over after page after page of this, you find yourself skipping forward, hoping to hit the pretty pictures sometime soon; the ligatures on the serif typeface are nice, though, if a little showy.

David Chaim Smith: Secret Gestation of the Gnosime

Chaim Smith presents what he refers to as kabbalistic contemplative alchemy, a system he calls Iy’yun; a Hebrew word, sans the glottal stop, meaning ‘contemplation.’ Iy’yun is pursued, in this case in particular, through linguistic and graphic constructions, with its inner life creating resonating layers, revealed within the illustrations here, and it is this that distils the dew of the title; a gnostic realisation which accumulates with wonder, beauty and astonishment. Or so the blurb goes. This takes the form in a manner of ways: exegetical sections, more practical exercises in which Chaim Smith’s images are a meditative focus, and other exercises in which the illustrations are but representations of the concept in hand.

The dense and theoretical first chapter opening The Blazing Dew of Stars is followed by one that reprises the title of the book as its own and is subtitled A Kavanah Meditation in Three Parts. This three part meditation is based on three chambers, each focussed on a divine name: AHYH, ALP LMD HY YVD MM, and YHVH/MTzPTz. Chaim Smith provides a thorough exegesis on the metaphysics behind the procedure, in which the dew of contemplation is brought forth, the blaze is set alight, and the practitioner becomes a primordial mirror, a “liquid display of transelemental morphosis,” no less. This is then followed by the exercise itself, in which the various letters are visualised doing their thing, and which is, in turn, depicted graphically in Chaim Smith’s accompanying pencil illustration.

David Chaim Smith: The Blazing Dew

The third chapter, Unfurling the Dream Fire, is the book’s largest and most visually impressive section, in which Chaim Smith conveys ideas through four different methods: two textual and two graphical. Each spread begins with a usually brief verse, set in a large italic face, and this is then expanded upon below it in the smaller text of technical notes, featuring definitions, correspondences, and numerological values. The ideas contained within the initial quote are distilled into small, relatively simple, seals that sit in the right margin of the right hand page of a spread, while the left page is taken up entirely by considerably more elaborate elucidations of the ideas as full page illustrations. The idea, says Chaim Smith, is that the contemplator is able to overlap and interpenetrate meaning using a variety of mental tools.

The full page formatting of the images in Unfurling the Dream Fire allows them to be seen in all their glory, and execution. They are densely rendered almost entirely in just pencil; something that you don’t necessarily notice until you are viewing them at this size, where the smudged layers of graphite used for shading or as background can look murky and less impressive than at first glance. With his images featuring an abundance of alembics and other glass vessels, as well as the roots, trunks and branches of mystical trees, the most obvious comparison of Chaim Smith’s work are alchemical illustrations; notably those that accompany the work of fifteenth century alchemist George Ripley, such as the scroll that bears his name. There’s a persistent sense of growth and fluidity, of amrita dripping from receptacles and homunculi growing in cucurbits. All of the elements are contained within often circular borders, as well as boundaries created by text, often repeating the lines of the initial verse, or evoking key words. The same four-fold format is also followed in a later section, The Enthroning of the Blaze.

David Chaim Smith: Unfurling the Dreamfire

Several other sections follow Unfurling the Dream Fire, largely text based but accompanied with the occasional full-page image, including some instances where the illustrations are inverted, giving the impression of scratchboard or chalk on a black board. One of these, Dead Dreams Awaken the Sleeping Bride, is effectively a guided visualisation, heavy on exegesis within the journey text, accompanied by a single full-page illustration. Meanwhile, The Intoxicating Nectar of Vision, a received text of ten numbered verses that runs parallel to the creation narrative of the opening of Genesis, and which, naturally, follows the style and nomenclature of the rest of The Blazing Dew of Stars. This is an argot full of words such as transcendence, perceptual matrices, resonances and magical continuums; all lexemes that in their disorientating concatenation are often teetering on the edge of a word salad abyss.

David Chaim Smith: The Metacartograph

The regular edition of The Blazing Dew of Stars consists of 913 copies, measuring 27cm square with 138 pages in total, and 14 full page drawings, 29 seals and vignettes and a two-page folding plate of The Metacartograph, a large format, colour inverted illustration that acts as an “overview map of creativity in the manifestation of phenomena,” if you will. This edition is bound in black cloth, with a matte finish black dustjacket. The deluxe edition of 88 author-signed copies was bound by hand in full black morocco with special tooling in silver gilt, blind pressed and silver filled front panel embellishment. It included the dust jacket of the standard edition but was housed in a special lined slipcase of premium black cloth.

Published by Fulgur

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Distillatio – Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule

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

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

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

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

Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule: The Wild Hunt

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

Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule: Alchymic Birds on the World Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published by Fulgur