Categotry Archives: esotericism

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The Fenris Wolf 9 – Edited by Vanessa Sinclair & Carl Abrahamsson

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Categories: art, chaos, esotericism, hermeticism

The Fenris Wolf 9 coverAdorned with stunning, numinous cover art by Val Denham, this is the latest issue of Carl Abrahamsson’s irregularly published esoteric journal and contains material from the 2016 Psychoanalysis, Art & the Occult conference held at the Candid Arts Centre in London. The Fenris Wolf has come a long way from its first issues, as evidenced by a much-loved copy of the third volume from 1993 in the shelves at Scriptus Recensera: its blue perfect-bound spine now sun-faded to a yellowy grey, pages printed with somewhat erratic toner integrity, and images reproduced with very noticeable halftone dots, as was the style of the time.

As one would expect given the title of the conference, this issue of The Fenris Wolf has a particular focus on the intersection between psychoanalysis and the occult, with art being often the child thereof. Visual artist and writer, Katelan Foisy, kicks things off with an invocation to the spirits and history of the host city, documenting everything in its history, starting with the Roman founding of Londinium, although ending abruptly in the 1960s, as if anything that happened after Swinging London didn’t amount to much. The first essay, Art as Alchemy, proper brings art to the fore with folk musician Sharron Kraus discussing the cliché of the tortured artist, and questioning whether there’s any truth to that conceit. One such alchemical artist is John Balance of Coil, who is considered here by Graham Duff, not for his musical works but rather his considerably lesser known paintings and drawings. This is an affectionate and generous survey of Balance’s, how do you say, naïve oeuvre, with Duff importing a lot of intent and meaning to what in many cases are doodles of, well, doodles.

The Fenris Wolf 9 spread with work by John Balance

Given the subject matter, two names that spring up repeatedly within the pages of this volume are Sigmund Freud and Austin Osman Spare, with Carl Jung and David Bowie along for the de rigueur ride. The contrast between the dogmatically pragmatic Freud and the mystical Jung is something mentioned across contributions, with Gary Lachman asking in title and body, Was Freud Afraid of the Occult, and Steven Reisner covering similar ground in On the Dance of the Occult and Unconscious in Freud. Meanwhile, in matters of the spiritual and artistic, Spare is a natural touchstone for Balance in Duff’s piece on him, and he can also be found name-checked throughout this volume. The largest consideration of AOS, though, comes from Robert Ansell of Fulgur Press in Androgyny, Biology and Latent Memory, in which he conversationally talks of themes of the androgyne within Spare’s works, drawing from individual pieces, as well as most notably, The Focus of Life.

The Fenris Wolf 9 spread with work by Austin Osman Spare

The line-up of the Psychoanalysis, Art & the Occult conference, as befits its title, drew on artists, occultists and psychologists; with some lucky presenters like editor Vanessa Sinclair going for the trifecta. Perhaps the most, how you say, clinical account comes from Ingo Lambrecht whose Wairua: Following Shamanic Contours hits closest to this reviewer’s geographical location. Lambrecht discusses the use of Te Whare Tapa Wha as a M?ori model for mental health in which the wharenui of the title is comprised of four supporting cornerstones: tinana (physical), hinengaro (mental), wh?nau (family) and wairua (spirit). Wairua is defined here as being an abyss of unmanifested potential comparable to the Ain Soph in Kabbalah, the notion of Zen, and the Via Negativa of Meister Eckhart. Lambrecht shows how a model such as Te Whare Tapa Wha can sit alongside a more materialist psychological one, allowing for an acknowledgement of the sacred and unheimlich. It is worth noting that this is not the only consideration of things from an Aotearoa perspective and artist Charlotte Rodgers in her Stripped to the Core suggests that growing up in a then-isolated New Zealand gave her a magickal edge of sorts.

The Fenris Wolf 9 spread

The more satisfying contributions in The Fenris Wolf 9 are less the considerations of psychology and psychoanalysis and rather those that focus on art and how that intersects with the latter. This is particularly so in instances where artists consider their own work. In a far too brief piece, ending just as you expect it to go further, Ken Henson discusses what as he refers to as the American Occult Revival in his work, connecting his own processes with nineteenth century mesmerism and spiritualism; though it is largely only a singular piece of work, Miss Maude Fealy as Hekate, that he considers in these far too brief pages. In her Proclaim Present Time Over, Val Denham describes how dreams influence her life and work, both visual and aural, presenting the process, as intimated by the William Burroughs and Brion Gysin inspired title, as a magickal act that draws creativity from the subconscious. This is something also explored by Katelan Foisy and Vanessa Sinclair, who are similarly indebted to Burroughs and Gysin and in particular the use of techniques, such as cut-ups, that tap into magickal creativity by disrupting linear time and narrative. Though it is hard to always tell for sure which of the two collaborators are speaking, Sinclair appears to begin first, giving a thorough discussion of the use of cut-ups, emphasising a psychological paradigm concerned with memory as befits her doctorate in psychology, while Foisy takes a more biographical route, describing a series of events and synchronicities concerning the channelling of Burroughs through creative outputs.

The Fenris Wolf 9 spread with work by Malcolm McNeill

This combination of magickal techniques that incorporate the horological and oneiric makes a claim for the preeminent experiential expression of the occult within these pages, drawing on a heady mix of influences from Burroughs, Gysin and Spare. This makes The Fenris Wolf 9 feel very, well, Fenris Wolf, pulling on the same TOPY, chaos magick, Beats and counter cultural strings that can be seen in the journal’s earlier issues. In addition to the examples provided by Sinclair and Foisy, the use of cut-ups reoccur in Fred Yee’s self-evidently-titled Cut-up as Egregore, Oracle and Flirtation Device, in which he namechecks Sinclair and Foisy as teachers and inspiration, reiterating many of their points and techniques. Similarly, the use of dreams already explored by Denham is appraised again by Derek M Elmore, in what is inevitably another consideration of Spare with Dreams and the Neither-Neither. Here, Elmore looks at the themes of love, sex, obsession, unconscious, dreams and death, comparing Spare’s conceptions of them with those in the published works of Freud.

The Fenris Wolf 9 spread

The ninth volume of The Fenris Wolf is a weighty tome at just under 250 pages, with type set in a small point size serif face, surrounded by large margins and a fairly generous footer. Predominantly text-based, in-body illustrations are limited to a few examples where appropriate, while a section of full page images provide examples of the work of Balance, Henson and Malcolm McNeill. Writing quality is overall high, with the dryness of some contributions (and the tiresome spectre of Freud) being offset by the more interesting, chaos and Beats-flavoured ones.

Published by Trapart

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The Cult of the Black Cube – Arthur Moros

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Categories: classical, esotericism, hellenic, Tags:

The Cult of the Black Cube coverA quick survey of Scriptus Recensera’s hallowed halls shows that Saturn has a certain degree of popularity within this here occult milieu, with our shelves bearing several books both by, and about, the Fraternitas Saturni, along with two Saturnian titles from Aeon Sophia Press, Moshe Idel’s Saturn’s Jews: On the Witches’ Sabbat and Sabbateanism and now this volume from Theion Publishing. In some ways, The Cult of the Black Cube takes things back to basics with a general overview of matters Saturnine, with an overview of various incarnations of what Dr. Arthur Moros broadly refers to as the Saturnine deity, followed by theory and a little practicum.

But first, after an introduction from Frater U.:.D.:., Moros begins with a personal anecdote, giving his life story, from being crippled and having his spine damaged in high school, to nascent explorations of academia, to a dramatic Roman-style necromantic invocation, and finally a dream encounter with a black creature of pulsing energy that led to a miraculous curing of all ills and the beginning of a journey along the path this book reveals. Given that the name of the good doctor is a pseudonym, and the biography is without significant markers of time or space (save for a reference to an unspecified Ivy League school), this account feels like it is caught in a slip of myth. This is then compounded with Theion Publishing reporting that Moros died soon after delivering this manuscript to them, his body found exotically “in the land of Kush” where he, like some Lovecraftian or Rider Haggard hero, “never afraid of adventure and risk, investigated ancient traces of the Saturnian Cultus. Contact had been lost for days until his body was found. The cause of death remains unknown.” Thrilling Boy’s Own stuff.

Full-page colour painting of the black cube by Erica Frevel

Moros begins his consideration of the various iterations of the Saturnine deity not, as one might expect, in ancient Greece, but in the later world of Medieval Islam, where the form is that of the spirit Zuhal; perhaps familiar as the planetary spirit Zazel from grimoires like Clavicula Salomonis; or an award-winning American erotic film from 1996, apparently – the more you know. For his depiction of Zuhal, Moros draws largely from the third to fourth century text Nabatean Agriculture (Kitab al-falaha al-nabatiya), credited to a writer named Qûtâmä, and translated into Arabic at the beginning of the tenth century by the polymath Ibn Wahshiyya. It’s worth noting that, for whatever reason, Moros presents Wahshiyya as the text’s author throughout, never once giving credence to, or mentioning, his longstanding identification as only its translator. Zuhal shares many of the characteristics common to classical depictions of Saturn: death, decay, the persistence of time, and most importantly from an aesthetic perspective, a range of appealing stygian symbols: black stone, black sand, black man. The content of Nabatean Agriculture flows neatly into that of The Picatrix and considerably lesser known texts like Kitab al-Ustuwwatas, which provide still further details to the Arab world’s vision of the Saturnine deity.

The Cult of the Black Cube spread

Following a fairly thorough sojourn in the Greek and Latin climes of Cronos and Saturn, Moros takes an easterly turn and heads to India, which he identifies as the only place that the Saturnine cult has “survived since ancient times.” Here, ?ani shares many of the characteristics of his classical and Arab counterparts, something that likely developed alongside the other elements of Jyotisha or Hindu astrology in the centuries after the arrival of Greek astrology in India with Alexander the Great. He is slow like the passage of the planet, and associated with the colour black, the metal iron and suitably piceous animals such as crows.

With this anthropological exploration out of the way, Moros turns theoretical with the book’s second section, Saturnine Gnosis, which includes an analysis and interpretation of the Saturnine deity and an outline of what constitutes the Saturnine Path. Moros begins this with a broad discussion of spiritual paths, in which he throws shade at occult teachers who claim to be able to teach you how to become a deity whilst physically incarnate (a living god, if you will), yet are strangely unable to direct their own lives… *zing.* Dismissive of attempts to reframe spirits and gods as archetypes or aspects of the self, Moros argues that the consistent appearance of the Saturnine deity within a variety of cultures is because they are real, an “actual deity (or planetary intelligence, or power) with which various cultures have made contact.” As for the reason for pursuing the Saturnine Path, Moros lightly touches on the ebony elephant in the room that is asking why anyone would want to interact with such a malign and negative deity, highlighting the antinomian element behind this act, acknowledging that in siding with the exiled, wounded and marginalised, one is backing a dark horse, “but that dark horse is definitely in the race.” Initiation into this Saturnine current has, according to Moros, two main rewards: access to the gnosis that flows from the Saturnine deity, and the ability to draw on the power and emanations of Saturn’s Black Cube to work magic.

The Cult of the Black Cube spread with images of Saturn

The practical side of this path is then laid out in the book’s third and final section, and follows some fairly familiar guidelines. The ritual space is what one would expect without even looking: it’s black, the ritual accoutrements include any of the symbols associated with the various iterations of the Saturnine deity, and the shrine is treated as a living thing that grows in power. Daily devotions play a role here, and the space, once established, should begin to aid the flow of Saturnian gnosis. Along with the devotional aspect, the example of ritual work includes a self-initiation, a rite for aide in oracular matters, rites using a black cube and chains respectively, and several rites to summon Saturn, based on the templates from The Picatrix and Nabatean Agriculture.

At 175 pages, The Cult of the Black Cube succeeds at what it is: a concise introduction to working with the Saturnine deity, providing enough mythology to give you a grounding in their character, and enough basic ritual elements to start devotional practice. Moros writes capably and confidently, free of error, and while there’s little in the way of in-text citing, it is clear where most information comes from, and these, both source texts and scholarly reflections, are referenced in an annotated bibliography at the rear.

The Cult of the Black Cube spread

Layout and typesetting in The Cult of the Black Cube is by Jessica Grote in a functional style, with body text in paragraphs of a fully-justified serif, subtitles in Fredrick Nader’s Amerika face, and titles (and the whole contents page, for some reason) in Casady & Greene’s middling script face CalligraphyFLF. Illustrations are largely limited to in-body images depicting the various incarnations of the Saturnine deity, with the exception of an evocative full-page colour painting of the black cube by Erica Frevel that acts as something of a prelude to what follows.

The Cult of the Black Cube comes in two editions, standard and auric, both printed on 115gsm wood-free high quality Lessebo Design paper, and several black and white illustrations throughout. The standard cloth hardcover edition is limited to 720 copies and is bound in blue-grey fine cloth, with a silver Saturn sigil debossed on the front, lettering in silver on the spine, and Surbalin moiré endpapers. The 52 hand-numbered copies of the sold out Auric Edition were fully hand-bound in Saturnine black leather, with a sigilised and embossed lead plate, individually consecrated to the deity, embedded on the front.

Published by Theion Publishing

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Infernal Geometry and the Left-Hand Path – Tony Chappell

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Categories: esotericism, magick, satanism, Tags:

Infernal Geometry and the Left-Hand Path coverIn his recently-reviewed History of the Rune-Gild, Stephen Flowers tells how his interest in the Church of Satan was originally piqued by enigmatic references in their literature to the nine angles. This interest was then extended to the Temple of Set, which Flower joined, and whose founder, Michael Aquino, had originally written the Ceremony of the Nine Angles that was included in Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Rituals. Flowers would rise to become the grand master of the Temple of Set’s inner Order of the Trapezoid, and now, several decades later, both he and Aquino bookend this book from the current grand master of the Order of the Trapezoid, Toby Chappell, providing foreword and afterword respectively to a thorough exploration of what the subtitle refers to as “the magical system of the Nine Angles.”

As this initial cast of characters suggests, this is a book that considers ideas from the Church of Satan and the Temple of Set, but it goes beyond this to touch on the geometry of Pythagoras, runic symbolism, as well as the mysticism of the Germanic revival (such as that of Karl Maria Wiligut), and the weird literature of Howard Philip Lovecraft, Frank Belknap and related authors. Indeed, Lovecraft and his genre of cosmic horror looms large within these pages, with the Church of Satan’s Ceremony of the Nine Angles, which acts as a frequent reference throughout the book, being an invocation of the entities from his eldritch cosmology.

These nine angles are represented visually here by an isosceles trapezoid within which sits an slightly irregular inverted pentagram, its two uppermost points touching the top corners of the trapezoid, and its horizontal line sitting just above the quadrilateral’s lower line, through which the lower tip of the pentagram breaks. The angles nine are, thus, found at the four points of the trapezoid and the five points of the pentagram, and each of these is assigned a keyword or concept so that the design forms a psychocosm comparable to the qabbalistic tree of life or the septenary Tree of Wyrd. These keywords map out the stages of a journey that can be applied to anything, be it magic, cosmology or the creation of a piece of art, beginning with chaos, ending with perfection, and along the way meeting order, understanding, being, creation, sleep, awakening and re-creation. In this way, and as noted by Chappell in discussing other uses of the number nine and mystical geometry, this infernal set of nine angle resembles the enneagram popularised by Gurdjieff as a model of human psychological types and processes; though, it must be said, that the nine-pointed star-esque enneagram, despite looking like its bottom has fallen out, is more aesthetically pleasing than the awkward pentagram and trapezoid combo used here.

Infernal Geometry chapter title and nine angles overview

For someone who never found trapezoids all that magickally appealing (come on, it’s a slopey rectangle, go tetrahedrons!), there was always the suspicion that the shape and the extra five angles needed to make up the nine angles had been picked somewhat arbitrarily, and therefore any attempt to assign meaning to it was effectively occult reverse engineering. If that’s the case, then well done Mr Chappell, as Infernal Geometry and the Left-Hand Path spends a lot of time shoring up the significance of the nine angles, and uses the work of previous grandmasters of the Order of the Trapezoid (Aquino, Flowers and Patricia Hardy) as the theoretical grounding.

One of the book’s first deeper considerations of the angles and their keywords returns once more to the Ceremony of the Nine Angles and assigns to the four angles of the trapezoid the big four of Lovecraftian cosmology: Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep and Shub-Niggurath. This does give one pause because this means they signify respectively the stages of chaos, order, understanding and being, when surely it should just be chaos, chaos, chaos and even more chaos but with goats. Obviously, this is a somewhat dated bone to pick, considering the Ceremony of the Nine Angles was published in 1972, but the image here (and in a lot of subsequent Lovecraft-inspired occultism) of the Old Gods as spooky but largely benevolent gods who can be invoked for one’s self-improvement, flies in the face of Lovecraft’s vision for his creations. When the Outer Gods and Great Old Ones are often depicted as having the kind of disregard for humanity that a mammoth would have for a flea, it takes some wilful misreading of Lovecraft to turn them into beings who can, in the case of Yog-Sothoth, be asked to “guide us through the night of thy creation, that we may behold the Bond of the Angles and the promise of thy will.” At best, Lovecraft’s Chthulhu mythos seems a better fit for an anti-cosmic system, in which the only reason any adherent would address them is so that the cosmos and all creation can disintegrate into a gibbering mass of madness and non-being.

Infernal Geometry R’lyehian alphabet

This bone-picking has to be pushed aside, though, as Lovecraftian-inspired cosmology and Aquino’s interpretation of it plays a significant role in the contents of the book; so much so that it could almost have been mentioned in the title. And it is Aquino’s Ceremony of the Nine Angles, along with his Call to Cthulhu and LaVey’s Die Elektrischen Vorspiele, that form the lion’s share of the content here, with Chappell providing perhaps too thorough an analysis of the three rites, constantly returning to them as the touchstones of this angular magic. Along with this is a restatement of the principles of satanic magic as put forth by LaVey in The Satanic Bible and The Satanic Rituals, and so, for anyone with some experience in this here occult milieu, things can feel very familiar, and just a little dated, with this canonisation of magical theory from the 1970s.

Infernal geometry ritual instructions

When it comes to examples of angular ritual work separate from the three ritual prototypes, things are remarkably conventional. Despite all the talk of the angles as a unique system, and the promise in Lovecraft’s fiction of a different, reality-distorting approach to ritual, what is presented here is the same old stuff. Yes, there’s now enneadic symbolism to employ, instead of, say, a standard calling of quarters, but otherwise it’s just the usual stuff: light some candles, draw some symbols, say some things, oh, and sit on a throne. Said symbols, geometric shapes representing each angle and referred to as signs of the nine angles, are inconsistent in weight and appearance, as are another set of nine figures that are designated as seals of the angles rather than signs. Neither set are particularly appealing aesthetically, feeling awkward and unremarkable, and certainly unworthy of the sense of mystery felt by Robert Blake in The Haunter of the Dark. One could sympathetically say that this lack of appeal fulfils the brief of the Lovecraftian angles being strange and unsettling (because the lack of design consistency unsettles this reviewer) but really it feels like a missed opportunity. While yes, Lovecraft, despite wishful thinking to the contrary, had the benefit of writing fiction with all the license that provides, no one in occultism seems to have quite managed to replicate his ideas of geometry that has an indefinable wrongness that allows space and time itself to open up. The ritual chambers used here, based on the original Church of Satan instructions from the 1970s, for example, basically specify no curved surfaces as the extent of angular concerns (and I can’t imagine that many ritual spaces are overflowing with such anyway), rather than anything like the mind and time-altering non-Euclidean geometry explored by the witch Keziah Mason in The Dreams in the Witch House.

Signs of the angles

Chappell writes with a capable and effortless-style throughout Infernal Geometry and the Left-Hand Path, using a measured delivery that often belies the occult nature of the subject material.  It does feel longer than it should be, with the main content alone, sans appendices, running to over 240 pages. Part of this is due to a degree of repetition and recapping, with angular seals, and the trapezoid and trapezoid-pentagram combo being printed in multiple instances, ritual refrains repeated in full across multiple rituals, and main points in the body text being restated for the sake of a little too much thoroughness.

Infernal Geometry and the Left-Hand Path concludes with a substantial series of appendices, six in all, providing significant source documents, as well as the first complete publication of an aesthetically pleasing R’lyehian alphabet, created in 1992 by a knight of the Order of the Trapezoid, Sir Tmythos. The other appendices provide something of a hoard of angular mysticism, with several key texts that precede Chappell’s meisterwerk from the hands of Aquino, Flowers and Hardy. Aquino provides two pieces: an article on Lovecraftian ritual and his version of a Lovecraftian language, with a handy glossary (originally printed in the weird fiction zine Nyctalops), and a commentary on the seal of the nine angles and the symbolism of each angle (published in May 1988 in Runes, the private journal of the Order of the Trapezoid). These elements are also explored, first by Flowers in an article from the March 1998 issue of Runes, and by Hardy in a piece called Keystone from 1992. Meanwhile, Flowers’ contribution, also from Runes and previously republished in his anthology Black Runa, is The Alchemy of Yggdrasil in which he first discusses elemental concepts in northern cosmology and creation before relating these to the idea of angular magic.

Seals of the angles

For those wondering if, with all this talk of nine angles, the similarly named Order thereof gets a mention, the answer is no; which is perhaps to be expected given the contentious exchanges between Aquino and the ONA’s Anton Long in the 1990s. However, with the second chapter’s   discussion of various instances of enneadic symbolism from other mystical traditions, the absence of any mention of, for example, the Order of Nine Angle’s Rite of Nine Angles seems a significant omission. With that said, there’s something a little thrilling about seeing a book like this, with Satanism and Setianism mentioned so nonchalantly on the rear cover blurb (let alone within the pages themselves), published by a relatively mainstream publisher like Inner Traditions. It’s not this specific publisher’s first foray into darkness, with Flowers’ Lords of the Left Hand Path being perhaps the first and best example, and similarly, the main titles of the Church of Satan were obviously available as Avon’s mass market paperbacks before this. The professionally presented works of Inner Traditions seem a respectable step up from the insular world of preach-to-the-choir occult publishing, though, and Chappell joins the ranks of Flowers and Don Webb as published Setian authors of note, thereby highlighting the Temple of Set as an occult order that can get authoritative and fairly rigorous works published and made available to a broad market. Mmmm, that’s good dialectics.

Text design and layout for Inner Traditions are once again expertly handled by Debbie Glogover who uses the now seemingly standard combination of Garamond and Gill Sans for body and subtitles respectively. Titles are in Adam Ladd’s lovely hand-drawn serif face Botany, while Tide Sans by Kyle Wayne Benson gets a tiny shout out for its subtle use in chapter numbers

Published by Inner Traditions


The soundtrack for this review is Lustmord – The Place Where the Black Stars Hang, one of several dark ambient works suggested as a ritual soundtrack by Chappell.

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Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism – Algis Uždavinys

Categories: classical, esotericism, hellenic, hermeticism

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism coverIn the preface to Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism, Juan Acevedo, director of the publisher Matheson Trust, provides an initial outline of the work, being one in which, he says, Dr. Uždavinys’ intoxicated enthusiasm for his topic is tempered with a need to carry out exposition in a discursive and academic manner. It is a work which, would you believe, moves uneasily between the apophatic and the cataphatic, and we all know what kind of shenanigans that leads to. No? Alrighty then.

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism runs as a single, 99-page monograph, divided into 24 chapters or sections that are given titles in the contents page, but infuriatingly, not in the actual body. Without these appearing within the body, the journey that Uždavinys takes the reader on can feel a little unstructured, as he jumps from one topic to the other without preamble. Laborious though it is, it becomes helpful to flip back to the contents page when encountering a new chapter, just to give you a sense of what is coming; and even then, that sometimes helps little.

Its sub-100 pages belie this volume’s density, with Uždavinys employing a multi-layered, polymathical style of writing that crams the pages with as much information as possible and often seems to divert into detail. Conversely, though, Uždavinys avoids using any theoretical framework or providing definitions of terms, so his highly specialised lexicon can be intimidating for those not familiar with it. Contrary to the title, there’s not always a lot of Orpheus involved, and this is no clearer than in the first chapter which begins, sans Orpheus, with a discussion of madness as a melancholy-like gift of the gods that can be poetic, telestic or prophetic (poietike mania, telestike mania and mantike mania).

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism contents

Indeed, the roots that Uždavinys speaks of are more likely to be found in Egypt and more broadly, Mesopotamian, most notably Babylonia and Assyria. Even here, though, Platonism itself begins to lose its status as the focus of the text with Uždavinys spending an inordinate, though enjoyable, time considering the nature of prophecy and divine utterances in ancient Mesopotamia. These mantic experiences are explored exhaustively and range from the kind of channelled material generated by priests and priestesses standing within temples and embodying the gods, to local prophets who received messages from the gods involuntarily. This thorough exploration is divorced from what one would assume, given the title, is the focus of the book, and when Uždavinys does make reference to parallels in Greece he uses the rather less than satisfying, and possibly euphemistic, example of Pythagoras teaching from behind a curtain.

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism spread

That isn’t to say there isn’t any mention of Orpheus or Orphism here, and the following four sections explicitly bear his name in their titles. Given the scarcity of extant information about a mythic figure like Orpheus though, and the lack of definition Uždavinys gives in turn to Orphism, these sections are brief, considerably more so than those that precede and proceed them, before yet another tangent is enthusiastically and abruptly pursued.

To return to the introductory words of Juan Acevedo, whether Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism does indeed move uneasily between the apophatic and the cataphatic this reviewer cannot say for sure, but it does succeed in its inability to sit still, ensuring that little gems spark interest amongst the turmoil of Uždavinys’ generously-described “discursive manner.”

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism spread

With the expectation generated by the title ignored, what Uždavinys provides is an interesting consideration of a variety of matters of interest to the esotericist, whether it be prophecy, initiation, divine inspiration, cosmology and eschatological conceptions of the soul. That these are hidden away within Uždavinys’ somewhat desultory text may make the journey all the more satisfying.

Published by the Matheson Trust

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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.

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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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Howlings – Edited by Alkistis Dimech

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

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

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

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

Chimeric image from the internal title page

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

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

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

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

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

Howlings page spread

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

Published by Scarlet Imprint

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The Serpent Tongue: Liber 187 – Jake Stratton-Kent

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Categories: esotericism, qabalah, Tags:

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

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

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

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

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

A page spread from The Serpent Tongue

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

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

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

Published by Hadean Press

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

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Categories: esotericism, sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

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

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

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

The Witching Other dustjacket

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

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

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

Image by Carolyn Hamilton-Giles

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

Spread of pages

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

Published by Atramentous Press.

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