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Fiddler’s Green: Peculiar Parish Magazine (Volume 2, number 2) and two leaflets

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Categories: art, folk

Fiddler's Green Woodcutter's Moon coverHere at Scriptus Recensera we have never reviewed a magazine twice, but provided with two leaflets by Fiddler’s Green, along with the most recent issue of the Fiddler’s Green Peculiar Parish Magazine itself, we couldn’t say no. So let’s begin with the two leaflets in question, Nine Defenses Against the Basilisk from Fiddler’s Green’s Clint Marsh and artist Alexis Berger, and Our Bogeys, Our Shelves, from Marsh and artist Jeff Hoke.

These leaflets act as a condensed form of everything embodied within Fiddler’s Green as a whole, and the magazine in particular, taking that finely crafted feel down from 50 or so letter-size pages to just twelve notebook-sized ones, bound in various types of lovely quality card. They retain all the characteristics and aesthetics of larger Fiddler’s Green publications and, if anything, seem to emphasise those qualities of small press quaintness and, indeed in the most positive way, tweeness. Each leaflet takes the type of extended meditation on a theme one might find within the pages of the magazine, but gives, by its very nature, a singular focus, notably with added illustration from select artists.

Nine Defenses Against the Basilisk spread

Originally published in the first issue of Fiddler’s Green, Nine Defenses Against the Basilisk approaches said creature as effectively a metaphor for anxiety and similar social disorders where those experiencing them may feel petrified immobile by its terrifying gaze. Marsh draws on ancient methods of dealing with the chimerical creature as a cipher for coping with anxiety, each accompanied with a dainty little illustration from Alexis Berger. There’s perhaps the most famous method, using a mirror, which is reinterpreted as reflecting on either the way in which people are wrong about you, or turning the mirror on yourself to see your role in whatever is happening. Similarly, the weasel, that eternal foe of the basilisk, is reimagined as the active mind, combating the oscitancy with creativity.

Fiddler's Green leaflets

With the subtitle The Magician’s Library as Mentor, Companion & Oracle, the focus of the second of the two leaflets here is fairly obvious, being a meditation on the power of the written word through techniques such as bibliomancy. With its punning title, Our Bogeys, Our Shelves speaks to a love of books, a sentiment frequently found in the parish of Fiddler’s Green and something which is highlighted here in Hoke’s accompanying illustrations, including a particularly charming one featuring Winnie the Pooh, Peter Rabbit and other friends from fiction.

Book illustration by Jeff Hoke

Turning to the Fiddler’s Green magazine itself, this latest issue, subtitled Woodcutter’s Moon, continues the past winning formula, combining musing on a variety of perpetually gentle and genteel topics, bundled within a consistent aesthetic that, more often than not, employs lines both hand drawn and etched. Cecil Williamson’s Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle provides an early focus here, with Lara C Cory giving a pleasant overview of the museum and introduces a related project curated by artist collective Folklore Tapes called The Art of Magic. Over thirty artists were invited to respond to a selection of Williamson’s idiosyncratic museum index cards, with the project culminating in an exhibition at the Horse Hospital in London. A survey of six of the pieces in this exhibition follows Cory’s main piece, providing images of each work, the inspirational source quote and an efficient and economical description of the final pieces.

Spread with work from the Art of Magic exhibition

This sense of a congenial meandering is continued into the next piece, Musings of an Urban Herb Hunter, written and illustrated by Johnny Decker Miller, who we have had cause to say nice things about in these pages before. Elsewhere, the wandering takes in the megaliths of Donegal with writer and illustrator Sean Fitzgerald, while Eldred Hieronymus Wormwood speculates delightfully on a mysterious green door deep in a labyrinthine bookshop in London. One final example of matters of spirit and place comes from Alan Cynic, who records folk and psych music as Kitchen Cynics. Cynic discusses the legend of Alexander Skene, the 18th century Wizard Laird of Skene, northern Scotland, who was once seen, so legend goes, conversing with the devil by his coachman Kilgour. Along with Grey Malkin on mellotron and electric guitar, Kitchen Cynics have written and recorded the song Kilgour’s Tale based on this scene, and it accompanies this issue of Fiddler’s Green as a lovely flexi disc.

 Spread with article and flexidisc from Alan Cynic (Kitchen Cynics and Grey Malkin)

While Fiddler’s Green is always heavy on the words, there are often sections that take a more specifically visual focus, and in the case of this issue it is found in a showcase of work by Nataša Ilin?i?. Based in Edinburg, Ilin?i? has a style in which divine and semi-divine figures are often the focus, and this is true of the work here, with excerpts from her new book A Compendium of Witches, featuring portraits and personal stories of 29 witches from around the world. Reproduced here in black and white, rather than their rich, earthy palette, this glimpse still shows the strength of Ilin?i?’s style, creating figures with personality and power.

 Spread with work by Nataša Ilin?i?

As ever, the layout in Fiddler’s Green is exceptional, with its three-column format awash in archaic flourishes, and where even the adverts from other businesses and services seem to belong, so often integrated into the entire aesthetic. Fiddler’s Green is published occasionally by Wonderella Printed and can, along with their other exquisite publications, be ordered from Fiddlers Green.


The soundtrack from this review is the album Ferndancers by Kitchen Cynics

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Telesmata: New Images of the Sabbatic Mysterium – Daniel Schulke

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Categories: art, sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

Telesmata catalogue coverHeld in November of 2018, in Mortlake and Company’s Seattle gallery space, Telesmata was an exhibition of work by Daniel Schulke, with its subject matter encapsulated in the subtitle promising new images of the Sabbatic Mysterium. The catalogue of the exhibition is presented in a 180 by 250mm, perfect bound format, with a substantial page count of 48. It should be noted that not all of the images shown in Telesmata are featured in this catalogue, but they are available in an online gallery on the Mortlake and Company website.

My first encounter with Schulke’s artwork was in the icon-like images of his Viridarium Umbris: The Pleasure Garden of Shadow, all high contrast black and white tones, with forms both human and arboreal featuring prominently. The most obvious continuation of this work is Daimonic Intelligence of the Mandrake, an oil on canvas work, used on the posters for the exhibition, which reprises an image found, rendered in lines of ink, in the opening pages of Viridarium Umbris. On a whole, though, that pen and ink style is absent from the work of Telesmata but there are familiarly-formed figures, and naturally, the themes remain the same.

Daniel Schulke - Daimonic Intelligence of the Mandrake

It is oils that dominate here, with only two submissions in watercolour on paper (representing female and male sacrifices to the Sabbatic Egregore Ozzhazæl respectively). The themes of most of the paintings will resonate with anyone familiar with the Sabbatic strand of witchcraft, predominantly illustrating ritual formulae: figures swirl around the field that is The Blood Acre in one, the phallic arcanum of the Stone God is illustrated in another, while Eokharnast, the first horse, appears with a corporeal, humanoid projection in a painting from 2018.

Telesmata spread

Schulke works largely with flat plains, his figures often appearing against muted or entirely black backgrounds, but when they do appear in landscapes, they recall the work of Christos Beest with their sense of hermetic numinosity, heavy with import due to their isolation within the land. His female figures in particular recall those from Viridarium Umbris, all almond eyes and perpetual nubile nudity, but now enfleshed in painterly skin.

Daniel Schulke - Female Sacrifice unto Ozzhazael

Perhaps the most striking and evocative of the images presented here are ones in which Schulke has used plant-derived materials as the sole medium (with iron as a fixative). He explains that the works are entirely experimental, coming from meditations on the source plant, thereby creating an image of the plant’s spirit. Included in the catalogue are representations of the daimons for eucalyptus, walnut, oak and unspecified tannins, with each bearing arboreal faces within twisting, phantasmagorical forms that are decorated with voluted bark-like markings.

Daniel Schulke: Ink Daimon: Tannins

As its 48 pages suggest, this catalogue takes the opportunity to do more than simply document the work, and said work is preceded by a significant introduction from Schulke, and proceeded by another brief text on materials. In his introduction, Schulke talks of the way in which painting is a fundamentally magical act, creating images that are by their very nature occult, due to the way in which layers are built one upon the other, both revealing and concealing. For him, then, a magical image is a ritual object in an immediate sense, but also one that reflects an accumulation of knowledge and experience.

Telesmata's concluding third section, Substance

In the concluding third section, Substance,  Schulke underscores the magical process behind painting with a meditation on the way in which it alchemically blends together various ingredients, not just in the pigments, but in the material on which they are applied, creating a matrix of tree oils, resins, wood and linen fibre. He concludes this point with a brief herbal (and whatever the mineral equivalent would be), consisting of nineteen types of plants, stones and metals that can be used for painting.

Published by Three Hands Press in conjunction with Viatorium Press

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The Book of Q’ab iTz – David Herrerias

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Categories: art, sabbatic craft, Tags:

The Book of Q'ab iTz coverSince forming in 2018, Atramentous Press have quickly built a significant catalogue of releases, with this being their fourth title already. The Book of Q’ab iTz is one part magickal record, one part art portfolio, with the latter being what author David Herrerias is best known for. Mexico-born, Sweden-based Herrerias has created cover art in his distinctive wispy style of oils for black metal acts such as Irkallian Oracle, Akhlys and most spectacularly, Nightbringer, as well as featuring in occult publications from Three Hands Press, Anathema Publishing and others.

The Book of Q’ab iTz is divided into two sections: a written preamble that takes up a little under half of the work, and the Book of Q’ab iTz proper, which consists predominantly of illustrations by Herrerias. This latter section is, in turn, divided into two codices, presenting formulae of the Androgyne, and of the Xoëtic Alphabet respectively. The written preamble does two things: first, it presents an explanation of the modalities out of which the illustrative content emerged, with Herrerias describing his approach based on the Sabbatic Tradition as found in Andrew Chumbley’s Dragon Book of Essex, Qutub and Azoëtia. These are presented as either instructions to the reader, or as diary recollections of Herrerias’ own work. This preamble also  provides something of an explanation for the illustrations, with an exegesis, still somewhat veiled in obnubilating occult language, of the symbolism and the themes. Unfortunately, as all this written comment occurs in the first half of the book, it somewhat divorces it from the corresponding images, and the correlation between the two sections can be forgotten as you move forward (or subject to a constant flicking betwixt pages and the marking of places with fingers).

The Book of Q'ab iTz spread

The images of Codex I, Formula of the Androgyne, are presented in a variety of usually dense and detailed styles, with a heavy calligraphic element being perhaps the most common motif. Here, Herrerias writes in a lovely, florid hand, often layering the text over images, or otherwise creating dense surfaces of typographic colour. While hard to read, even if you do speak Spanish, the text from some of these images is translated and printed, without explanation, in a section before the main images. Other than this curlicued text, the artwork here contains as its main feature a prevailing theme of the corporeal, featuring a variety of human bodies and individual body parts, usually dissolving or evolving into various forms. Phalluses and multiple sets of breasts abound, including several appearances by the winged-penis that is the fascinum, featuring, sometimes overtly, others covertly, in a variety of images.

David Herrerias: The Book of Q'ab iTz spread

In Codex II, the images differ little in overall style, but there is an increasing emphasis on the incorporation of Mesoamerican motifs, with the usual pallet of western occult imagery being joined by figures that would not be out of place in Mayan codices. This relates to Herrerias’ integration of his Mexican cultural background incorporation into the Ophidian and Sabbatic path, with most notably the Tlacuache (Opposum) and the Tecolotl (Owl) featured throughout as significant totemic forces that mark the “moment of experiential ecstasy at the Witches’ Sabbat.” This is, perhaps, the most interesting element of The Book of Q’ab iTz as it provides a unique innovation of the array of symbols, and one that, if initially incongruous, begins to have a certain appeal.

David Herrerias: The Book of Q'ab iTz spread

While presenting a body of work that is consistently his own, Herrerias employs a variety of styles for which, in some cases, there are some clear touchstones and precedents. Chumbley seems the most obvious, in particular the use of facetted plains and jagged, eldritch tendrils that have always been evocative of Lovecraft’s references to unsettling non-Euclidian geometry. Austin Osman Spare also lends a pretty indelible mark on the work, most immediately with Herrerias’ use of intense self-portrait in which he stares out at the viewer, recalling the same gaze from Spare in a multitude of images. Similarly, a totemic painting comprised of three faces stacked one upon the other seems like an obvious riff on Spare’s Mind and Body from 1953, while anytime human figures merge and dissolve into amorphous shapes, or steles combine frontalist godforms, sigils and mystic letters, it’s hard not to think of Spare’s oeuvre.

The final selection of artwork in The Book of Q’ab iTz moves Herrerias away from the pen and brush and towards the lens, with a series of black and white photographs documenting the formula of the Xoëtic Alphabet. Each of these darkly-toned images is accompanied on the preceding page by a brief, if cryptic, explanation of each stage in the process.

David Herrerias: Formula of the Xoëtic Alphabet

Given the effort that has gone into a title like this, from the choice of stock to the quality of printing, not to mention the hours spent by Herrerias in creating the images, it’s a shame more of the same wasn’t applied to finessing the text. There are deficiency in both editing and proofing, with the lack of the former meaning you can have a single sentence that runs to seven lines, while the absence of the latter sees the conflation of ‘its’ for ‘it’s’ and general spelling and grammatical mistakes. While Herrerias does admirably for someone whose first language, one assumes, is not English (and some areas are better than others), it would have been a kindness to have a more rigorous editor to tighten the run-on sentences, lipo the other bits of literary flab, and keep the tenses making senses.

David Herrerias: The Book of Q'ab iTz spread

The Book of Q’ab iTz has been released by Atramentous Press in four editions: standard hardback, the Somatic special edition, the Telesmatic deluxe edition, and a trade paperback. The standard edition of 333 exemplars has a natural terracotta cover with central insignia and printed spine, binding approximately 120 pages of a weighty 150 gsm Munken Rough stock and natural heritage blue endpapers. The Somatic edition of 33 wraps the same in a goatskin cover, with gold foil insignias blocked to cover and rear, five foiled ribs on the spine, enclosed in a felt-lined cloth slipcase. Finally, the thirteen exemplar Telesmatic edition binds the above in polished goatskin cover, but houses it in a full leather solander box with a foil blocked title on the front and ribs to spine, and comes with a sigillic talisman by Herrerias on nagual-made paper from Mexico.

Published by Atramentous Press

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Sabat #3 and #4 – Edited by Elisabeth Krohn

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Categories: art, witchcraft

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

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

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

Sabat #3 spread with feature on April Graham

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

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

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

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

Sabat #3 spread with #letitgo feature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published by Sabat Magazine

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Zazen Sounds #5

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Categories: art, esotericism, magick, music

Zazen Sounds #5 coverZazen Sounds is both a record label and the name of this small sub-A5 magazine published by Acherontas V.Priest of the similarly named black metal band Acherontas, and the dark ambient project Shibalba. The magazine’s goal appears as a legend beneath the title on the cover, “serving the spiritual background of the art of music” and to this end it combines interviews with predominantly black metal musician and occult artists and publishers, plus a few articles about matters magickal.

Being my first encounter with this magazine, the thing that strikes you immediately about this fifth issue of Zazen Sounds is the look, which creates the chronometrically-disorienting feeling of reading a ‘zine from decades ago. While it may not have the physical cut-and-paste construction of yesteryear, there’s a rough and ready quality to the layout that all the digital tools of today haven’t corrected. Things are also really tight, but more about that later.

The bands featured in interviews here are an interesting bunch with different styles but some certain commonalities. It’s here that the old-zine feel is confirmed, with references to various Satanic and magickal groups known primarily for their time in the early-to-mid nineties, such as the Order of Nine Angle and the Order of the Left Hand Path. Just as some of the black metal aesthetics on display here don’t seem to have moved on much from that period, so these references to older magickal groups feel almost nostalgic for a simpler, and yet more mysterious time. This is affirmed when some of the artists, betraying their age, wax lyrical about the pre-internet days of tape trading and the returning of stamps, while lamenting some of the characteristics of the modern age.

This interview line-up consists of Lvcifyre from London, Germany’s Dysangelium, Finland’s Slave’s Mask and Iceland’s glorious Svartidauð, while the Greek-born/London-based Macabre Omen kind of get double-billing with Alexandros Antoniou interviewed twice, both as a member of Macrabre Omen and as his project The One. For the non-metal side of music, there’s an interview with Liesmaic of the delightful Deverills Nexion, which naturally sees some of those references to the ONA; and showing their roots in black metal, some de rigueur bemoaning of the genre’s current state compared to nineties glory days.

Zazen Sounds #5, Deverills Nexion spread

The language in some of the interviews is what you would, perhaps unfairly, expect from black metal bands, a little vainglorious, a little pompous, all caught in the bind of having to say things without coming across as too enthusiastic or risk having the little masks of occult obscuration fall. As a result, it’s something of a relief to take a break from the turgid prose with the first of the article contributions here, a piece on Voudon Gnostic oracular systems by Sean Woodward. This is a refreshingly well-written piece, though it does descend into a swamp of gematria words and values later on, which can make your eyes glaze over if you’re not that way inclined.

The other articles in this issue are an exploration of the German poet Stefan George by Cornelius Waldner, and two pieces that one could describe as discussions of personal process. In the first, When Reason Fails, the Soul Speaks, painter and illustrator David S. Herrerías, who may be familiar for work in both occult publications and on metal albums (with a book forthcoming from Atramentous Press), gives thoughts on art as a magickal method and a way of connecting to and exploring the unconscious. Meanwhile, Multi Layeredness by Tay Köllner Willardar Xul-Lux considers just that, the idea of layers as a principle that can be applied to either magick, music, or any other form of art.

In addition to the interviews with musicians, Zazen Sounds has interviews with Finnish record label The Sinister Flame, and with two Canadians, occult publishers and artists respectively. Gabriel McCaughry of Anathema Publishing talks largely about his exquisite publishing imprint (and a little about his black metal band Blight), while in the longest interview in the magazine at 13 pages, Chris Undirheimar of Blood and Fire Ritual Art covers, naturally, a variety of topics relating to his art, philosophy of life and working out. His rather spectacular painting Loki Thursakyndill also graces the cover and (in mirrored form) the back of this issue.

Zazen Sounds #5, Slave's Mask spread

The layout in Zazen Sounds doesn’t exactly make it conducive to reading, nor does it do the content justice. While titles and lead text are rendered nicely enough in an archaic serif face (all caps for the titles, italic for the lead), the body copy is crammed into fully justified, heavily-hyphenated columns of a monotonous and somewhat incongruous sans serif. Paragraphs are treated inconsistently, sometimes within the same section, and can have either a first line indent or no indent at all. Interviews suffer the worst as questions and answers sit snuggly next to each other, differentiated only by the bolding of the former, creating impenetrable walls of dense typographic colour. Also, some sections don’t end on their own page, and instead the remainder flows onto another page, making the following interview start up to a quarter of the way down. This contributes to everything feeling claustrophobic, and it doesn’t need to, as a little adjusting of the layout for more space, such as the removal of small or often redundant images, would have allowed things to breath. Then there’s a lack of attention to detail that sees a couple of images pixelated into illegibility, little to no proofing and editing on the contributions from non-native-English-speakers in particular, and one interview that accidentally repeats a page worth of questions and answers, woops. It’s a shame as this lack of rigour distracts from the content, and just a little polish would have helped live up to that noble aspiration of combining music, magic and art.

Zazen Sounds on Facebook

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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.

Published by Anathema Publishing

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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

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

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Categories: art, devotional, goddesses, magick, thelema, witchcraft, Tags:

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

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

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

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

Marjorie Cameron: Danse

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

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

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

Marjorie Cameron: Pan

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

Watercolour version of Pan

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

Pages from Cameron's diary

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

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

Published by Fulgur


Review Soundtrack: Gydja & Emme Ya – Apsinthion 

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Helvete: A Journal of Black Metal Theory – Issue 1: Incipit – Edited by Amelia Ishmael, Zareen Price, Aspasia Stephanou and Ben Woodard

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Categories: art, satanism, Tags:

We stray a little from the usual matters magickal with this review of the first issue of Punctum Book’s journal of black metal theory. Helvete is a collection that is, to my surprise, no means unique, with academic interest in black metal having previously found expression in several iterations of the Black Metal Theory Symposium, with those contributions anthologised in publications such as Hideous Gnosis and more recently Mors Mystica. Black metal must surely be unique amongst all of metal’s subgenres in attracting this kind of academic attention, and to some extent this is understandable with black metal’s caché of cool, or at the very least its memeability; were such a word real. No one, as far as I am aware, is out there writing academic theses on grindcore, or even comparable subgenres, in terms of longevity and quantity, like death or doom metal; which is a shame.

Given the wealth of material already, erm, symposiumed and published, one would assume that the entry level, what-is-black-metal type discussions in this field would have been published long ago, if at all, and that is indeed the case here, with contributors exploring rather specialised areas of black metal’s topography. With that said, the first contribution, Janet Silk’s Open a Vein, does contextualise her discussion of suicide and black metal by setting the scene with the suicide of Mayhem’s Per ‘Dead’ Ohlin, a moment she describes as the birth of black metal (an urbane albeit arguable and problematic claim). Silk prefaces much of her consideration of depressive suicidal black metal (which she atypically abbreviates as the less recognisable SBM) with a survey of suicide in philosophy, religion, and other cultures, touching on Mishima and the death-drive of early Christian martyrs and Islamic šuhada. She does this in a slightly unnervingly amoral way, with what can be read at the very least as an admirable detachment with no moral judgement cast, and perhaps at worst, as a tacit approval of, or admiration for, suicide’s destructive and nihilistic impulses. I, in turn, make no moral judgement on this editorial choice and just reiterate the disconcerting feeling that inescapably arises when reading content that seems to sensibly suggest suicide is a good option. When DSBM is then considered within this context, its themes and motivations are validated as part of this greater milieu and given gravitas and import, rather than dismissed as mere posturing or angst. Silk’s main touchstone here, other than Dead, is Sweden’s Shining, and Denmark’s cheerfully named Make a Change… Kill Yourself, so it is by no means a broad survey of the sub-subgenre that is DSBM. Even if it wasn’t intended as such, it feels like some areas have been missed: the suicide of Dissection’s Jon Nödtveidt and how the anticosmic philosophies of the Temple of the Black Light compare to the nihilism of the musicians that Silk does document; or the isolation that is inherent in so many DSBM acts being solo projects by secluded, socially-awkward multi-instrumentalists.

The esteemed Timothy Morton finds a good springboard for his talk of hyperobjects and dank ecology in Wolves in the Throne Room, whose status as arch conservationists provides the basis for much of his musings. Despite being the Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English at Rice University, Morton’s paean to Wolves in the Throne Room feels more like a creative writing exercise, or the worst kind of music review in the world. You know the kind? The kind that describes the scenes that the music paints in the reviewer’s mind, rather than just saying what it sounds like. Do you know what is also annoying? All the questions. What’s the deal with that? Morton jumps around like he’s over-caffeinated, pre-empting all his conclusions with questions to the mute audience. When are we? Where are we? Why a pool of death? Why indeed. This works well when it is used initially for musings on the open-ended ambiguity of the band name (whose throne room, who are the wolves, are they welcomed, or invaders, or are they the original occupants?), but when page after page is peppered with not-rhetorical-but-sounding-rhetorical questions, it begins to grate. In the end, the questions, and indeed the wolves in this here room for a throne, tend to fade in favour of what comes across as talking points from Morten’s previous and voluminous discussions of a dark ecology without nature, barely tethered to the discussion of the band.Black ink on paper works by Allen Linder

The most enjoyable contribution here comes from David Prescott-Steed with Frostbite on My Feet: Representations of Walking in Black Metal Visual Culture. Perhaps this is because it is a meditation on something so simple, and yet so quintessentially, but not obviously, black metal. After all, who can imagine a black metal musician in a car? Inconceivable.¹ Prescott-Steed explores the theme of walking from multiple angles, including the personal, where he talks of the experience of ‘blackened walking,’ his term for walking around the modern metropolis that is an Australian city, but listening to a headphone soundtrack of frosty cuts from Burzum, Gorgoroth and Mayhem. He incorporates Rey Chow’s analysis of the cultural politics of portable music into this, exploring the themes of incongruity and of the act of disappearing that is inherent in removing an awareness of one’s environs by imposing a personal soundtrack; a theme that, though Prescott-Steed doesn’t dwell on it, feeds back into black metal’s tortured relationship between the over and underground, between fame and infamy, elitism and the recherché.

Daniel Lukes’ Black Metal Machine is a survey of the industrial strain of black metal; cleverly acronymed as IBM. He begins with an extensive grounding in methodology and context, namechecking Deleuze and providing several literary precedents (Ballard and Vonnegut) that emphasise the dystopian, post-apocalyptic vision of the future, rather than a shiny chrome utopia. This he relates to the misanthropy of black metal, where the science fiction-tinged desolation of the future is but a slight twist of a standard black metal narrative of destruction and contempt for the world. As examples, Lukes considers Red Harvest (who get several pages devoted to them), Dødheimsgard, Arcturus and Spektr, while also briefly touching on Marduk as well as Impaled Nazarene’s themes of a comic and perverse Armageddon.

Joel Cotterell concludes this volume with a brief consideration of the motif of the dawn in black metal, using tracks from Primordial, Satyricon, Inquisition and Nazxul as exemplars. Cotterell argues that the concept of dawn in black metal has a Luciferian component, denoting the rise of Lucifer as the morning star. Whether this interpretation of a less than rosy fingered dawn can be consistently applied to the over 400 songs that they found on metalarchives.com with dawn in the title  is not addressed.

In addition to the written component, Helvete contains a section of black and white photographic plates curated by Amelia Ishmael and titled The night is no longer dead, it has a life of its own. The nine artists attempt to evoke black metal visually with an emphasis on obfuscation through texture, meaning that there’s nothing too obviously black metal here, with only two densely rendered black ink forms (care of Allen Linder, see above) and one foggy landscape. Some of these are more successful than others, with the gems being Gast Bouschet and Nadine Hilbert’s images of Grímsvötn in Iceland, darkened to the point of abstraction but animated with emanations of effusive light.

Gast Bouschet and Nadine Hilbert’s images of Grimsvötn

There are some persistent little quirks about this book that irritate and makes you wonder how, in the parlance of the genre, ‘true’™ it is. Norway looms large within the pages and it is referred to by multiple authors as the home of black metal; not second wave black metal but apparently black metal in general. In another case, black metal is referred to as being “for the most part, exclusively Western” with the gracious caveat that it has since inspired international contributions in the last twenty years (Colombia and Taiwan being presented as the examples of amazing outliers). This overlooks the non-Western bands, most notably from South America and Asia, that thirty and more years ago were contributing to and influencing black metal. That this point of Western-ness is made in attempt to prioritise Scandinavian aesthetics as the aesthetics of black metal seems indicative of the tendency to fetishize the Norwegian strain of black metal above all else; implicit in the journal title. And it is the specifically Norwegian variant, there’s even little acknowledgement of what emerged from Sweden and Finland at the same time, perhaps because it never produced those memeable moments like a Varg Vikerness smirk or Abbath’s gurning visage.

In all, the debut volume of Helvete makes for a brisk read with its 100 pages, but does whet the appetite for more of this here black metal theory.

Published by Punctum Books


¹ The image of Snorre Ruch and Vikerness driving from Bergen to Oslo on the night of 10 August 1993 has always seemed wildly incongruous to me.

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