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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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Treading the Mill: Workings in Traditional Witchcraft – Nigel G. Pearson

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Categories: folk, witchcraft, Tags:

Treading the Mill coverThis volume from the lovely people at Troy Books is a 2016 expanded reissue of Nigel G. Pearson’s Treading the Mill – Practical Craft Working in Modern Traditional Witchcraft, a book that was originally released in 2007 by Capall Bann. With its rough-looking cover (disembodied, low opacity heads floating over a murky woodland), that particular incarnation has never moved beyond the ‘Inspired by your views’ list on Amazon, simply because yes, you really should judge a book by its cover. So, if nothing else, this Troy Books edition wins for having a lovely new cover to judge, care of the inimitable Gemma Gary.

In the company of this new cover is a new chapter, as well as a new introduction (and the original one too), along with revised text throughout the whole book, photographic plates from Pearson, and a smattering of internal images by Gary (largely as chapter headers). In his new introduction, Pearson notes that, in a sad loss for those oenologically-inclined, he has removed a chapter on the mysteries of the cup (with accompanying guide to winemaking), which is replaced in this edition with one on the creation and use of magical incenses.

The first chapter, as one would expect, concerns the creation of space and takes that very act, hallowing the compass, as its title. It’s a broader discussion than just that one rite though, and the rubric allows for a wider consideration of the basic toolkit of Traditional Witchcraft: covering of tools, the opening and dismissing of the compass, the calling and honouring of the directions, and a closing statement and thanksgiving. As this list suggests, this hallowing of the compass incorporates many ritual elements and tools that will be familiar to anyone that has encountered entries from this milieu before, but it also includes slightly atypical elements, in particular a guided pathworking for determining individual directional correspondences.

Treading the Mill page spread

Pearson writes effortlessly with a straightforward style that is without artifice, but which, as evidenced by the book’s 260 page length, is notably more detailed and elongated than one might expect for a title such as this. There isn’t necessarily any flab or undue verbosity to the writing, it just runs long, with Pearson taking his time to ease out points, often informally addressing the reader with hypophora; where a more concise writer might simply bullet, note it, ship it. For example, he provides two lengthy examples of procedures for compass hallowing, each filled with little asides and a conversational tone for what could easily be the driest of instructions. It’s impossible and unnecessary to attach a value judgement to this, as it is not bad writing or wrong writing, but simply the style and something for which time must be allowed when reading.

Treading the Mill, proceeds as one would expect of a title like this, covering many bases familiar, including wand creation (with a brief attendant consideration of the magical properties of various native British trees), spellcrafting (incorporating a variety of techniques under the rubric of natural magic, including herbs, potion and lotions), and the aforementioned section on incense and olfactory magic. Each of these receives a full and thorough chapter, with Pearson each time providing a little introductory theory and history, followed by broad advice, and then more specific recipes or listing of properties. It’s important to note that for all the thoroughness, Pearson doesn’t give much in the way of rituals, formulae or recipes that must be followed by rote, instead offering a general framework and enough information for the practitioner to work out their own specific approach. The reason for this may be gleaned in the prelude to the section on spellcrafting where Pearson states that the efficacy of a spell lies within the person performing it, rather than the spell itself.

Image by Gemma Gary

The acknowledged so-called low magic of the preceding chapters then gives way to a different emphasis with Entering the Twilyte, in which the focus is not on sympathetic magic but more on transvection and others examples of travelling in spirit. Pearson makes a distinction between the spirit travelling of the Craft and the full-on possessive states of voudon, or the heightened sensations of ecstatic religions, presenting instead something with a more sedate aura, where awareness and control is maintained. Like the compass hallowing at the start, this involves a fair bit of guided pathworking and visualisation, which Pearson acknowledges is looked down upon by some traditional witches but which is, he says, just “good old-fashioned Witch magic” that has been part of his own training, and used by other traditional crafters, past and present. And for those who think they are unable to visualise anything, he’s got one word for you: “piffle.”

The final two chapters of Treading the Mill turn to the beings encountered, first with what are defined as spirits, and then with the powers or gods. Spirits is a broad definition that runs from environmental genii locorum such as land wights and sea spirits, to familiars and fetches, all the way to the Almighty Dead and the Elven and Faerie Folk. Pearson provides a veritable bestiary of these various creatures, and for some, includes ways of working with them: a rite for communing with your fetch, or a guided pathworking to visit the ancestors, for example.

Treading the Mill page spread with photograph plate

For the gods, Pearson makes the point straight out of the gate that traditional witchcraft is not a nature-based fertility religion like its ignominious sibling Wicca, and so the gods of this system, while having associations with nature and the land, are seen as more cosmic forces that, to render it poetically, “have their being in the realms of the stars and the dark space beyond and between them.” These deities are not given names in this system (though Pearson acknowledges that they have analogues in some mythologies and that those names are used by some practitioners), but instead have broad titles that describe their roles. For the male there are the King of the Wildwood, the Lord of the Mound, and the Master of Light, while the female is the Witch Goddess who is both the Great Queen and the Black Goddess. For each of these, Pearson provides a thorough description, along with little rites and workings for connecting with them.  

While inevitably there’s not a lot of revelations in Treading the Mill, with it covering territory that multiple authors have explored (and will continue to do so), Pearson presents it all as a cohesive, internally consistent system. His thoroughness, while making it longer than other such tomes, works to its advantage, giving the reader a carefully considered and complete window into this version of traditional craft.

Treading the Mill page spread with chapter heading

There’s a comforting weight to Treading the Mill, with its 260 pages on a nice 90gsm stock, bound with solid coverboards. The formatting within adds to that feeling of stability, with its deft and confident layout, providing nothing sensational but rather a clear and clean look with just the right amount of witchy archaisms. It is this, and the content itself, that makes Treading the Mill sit effortlessly on the shelf in the company of other Troy Book titles from the likes of Gemma Gary and Corinne Boyer, with its scrappy Capall Bann beginnings all but forgotten.

As with many titles from Troy Books, Treading the Mill is available in a multitude of formats, from, at one end of the economic scale, a paperback edition with a gloss laminate, to, at the other, a fine edition of 15 hand bound examples in red goat leather with gold foil blocking to the front and spine, housed in a fully lined black library buckram slip-case, blind embossed to the front. In the middle range of affordability and availability is the standard hardback edition with red endpapers, bound in black with gold foil blocking on the spine, and wrapped in a buttermilk 120gsm matt dust jacket. A now sold out special edition of 250 hand-numbered copies was bound in black recycled leather fibres, with gold foil blocking to the front and spine, and red endpapers and head and tail bands. Finally, there’s the patented Troy Books Black Edition version: a limited hand-numbered edition of 250 in Royal format, 234 x 156mm, bound in black recycled leather fibres, with black foil blocking to the front and spine.

Published by Troy Books

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Crafting the Arte of Tradition – Shani Oates

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Categories: folk, robert cochrane, witchcraft, Tags:

Crafting the Arte of Tradition coverAfter their first forays into occult publishing with the Pillars journal, Anathema Publishing presented their first stand-alone title with Crafting the Arte of Tradition by Shani Oates. Since then, at the time of writing, they have followed this up with two books by Craig Williams, one by Anathema owner Gabriel McCaughry, and two further titles from Oates. With an expanded paperback edition of Crafting the Arte of Tradition now available from Anathema, let’s get a review of the classic hardback original from 2016. Full disclosure time, I have had pieces published by Anathema Publishing in the past, and have worked for them as a copy editor. Will this have an effect on this review? Let’s find out.

Normally the reviews here at Scriptus Recensera leave the discussion of the book’s appearance to the end, but let’s switch that up and start off by judging this book by its cover. It’s beautiful. Brown where many occult publishers go black, Crafting the Arte of Tradition has a confident appearance, with a sigil blind debossed into the cloth cover, and the title and author in gilt on the spine creating a contrast with the russet tone. Inside the cover, the beauty continues, as McCaughry displays a deft and sophisticated hand when it comes to typography, with chapter titles simply but effectively rendered in a combination of different styles and cases; though I’m not sure what I think about the use of the attractive and meaningless pilcrow (¶) in subtitles. That said, the margins are a little snug, and with the full justification of type, this creates somewhat intimidating blocks of typographic colour that fill the pages; something that appears to have been rectified in the new paperback edition.

Images throughout Crafting the Arte of Tradition are used sparingly and effectively, with Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos providing starkly beautiful line drawings as both full page illustrations and as fillers and end pieces. These are unashamedly indebted to Aubrey Beardsley, but Vasconcelos makes the style her own, adding innovation rather than relying on slavish imitation. Her forms have a regal, Marjorie Cameron-style elegance, arrayed in fantastical costumes and robes, sprinkled with just the right touch of distance and distain.

Work by Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos

As for the written content, Crafting the Arte of Tradition is very much Oates to a T. She obviously loves to write, though sometimes without consideration for the reader: brevity is sacrificed on the altar of verbosity, and paragraphs run long, stretching to as much as half a page in some cases. Oates seems to have studied at the same writing school attended by Andrew Chumbley and Daniel Schulke, or at least taken a postgraduate paper there, as her writing, which has been straight forward enough in the past, is unnecessarily ornamented and tortuous.

Crafting the Arte of Tradition is arguably part of a recent trend towards a more, how you say, philosophical or analytical approach to witchcraft, instead of the tired rituals-n-recipes formula that has dominated that branch of occult publishing for over fifty years. Peter Grey’s Apocalyptic Witchcraft provided a precedent for this (though his approach is more poetic than academic), while The Witching-Other: Explorations & Meditations on the Existential Witch by Peter Hamilton-Giles is a more recent example. What that means in reality, though, can be that simple concepts are given an unnecessary veneer of complexity due to the use of repetition, and the employing of language that obfuscates, rather than reveals.

Insignia of the Clan of Tubal Cain

Despite being ostensibly an explication of the craft as viewed by Robert Cochrane’s Clan of Tubal Cain, it’s sometimes easy to forget this as for the first couple of chapters, one finds oneself lost in an Oatesian swirl, within which it can be hard to understand or determine a particular focus. This is not just because of Oates’ obtuse language, but the structure, wherein there is often no flow, and paragraphs can begin abruptly as non sequiturs, as if you dozed off a little and have been rudely jolted awake. It is not that the words are obscure or archaic, which they aren’t, but that the phrasing that ties them together is clumsy and circuitous, with tenses changing, and flow halting, overwhelmed by the attempt to sound grander, more authoritative or more arcane than is needed. Improper use of commas plays a large part here, with that little flick being often poorly and inexplicably placed, making for an even more difficult read, and for one in which the immersion for the reader is constantly being broken as you go “What? That’s not how commas work.” The most generous assessment would be to call this writing a stream of consciousness, with all its abrupt leaps and sentence fragments, but even then, a little wrangling of words would have done wonders to instil some sense of, well, sense.

Crafting the Arte of Tradition spread

This lack of comprehensibility is compounded by sloppy proofing and referencing where stray or repeated words litter sentences, and where in some cases, sources have been cut and pasted and then not edited for accuracy. In one particularly egregious example, what is clearly an OCRed source text is quoted, but has been so inattentively dealt with that two errors introduced in the text recognition process occur in its single sentence length: ‘the’ has been scanned and left as ‘I lie,’ while a salt pit called the Old Biat is instead referred to ‘Old Bin I.’ As it is, this quote is incorrectly attributed and cited. It is not, as is unhelpfully and vaguely claimed, from “an historian by the name of Nash” but from The History of the County Palatine of Chester by J. H. Hanshall. The reference to Nash comes from the secondary source used by Oates (A Glossary: Or, Collection of Words, Phrases, Names, and Allusions to Customs, Proverbs, &c., which Have Been Thought to Require Illustration, in the Works of English Authors, Particularly Shakespeare, and His Contemporaries by Robert Nares) which quotes both Nash (that would be Dr Treadway Russell Nash, 1724 – 1811, for those keeping score at home) and Hanshall in the same section, but in relation to clearly different facts. The title of Hanshall’s work, but not Hanshall himself, is then cited by Oates as the source, despite having just claimed that this statement is by “an historian by the name of Nash… famous for his summation of the festival,” with the source and page numbering clearly just being lifted from Nares’ referencing of Hanshall. The same citing of a secondary source as if ‘twere a first occurs in the following paragraph where Oates again uses the entry from Nares’ book in quoting from “another historian named Lysons” (that would be the Reverend Daniel Lysons in his Magna Britannia: Being a Concise Topographical Account of the Several Counties of Great Britain. Containing Cambridgeshire, and the County Palatine of Chester, Volume 2 from 1810). This source is duly cited by cutting and pasting the truncated, authorless-citation format employed by Hanshall, rather than going looking for the original publication by the Reverend Lysons.

The above is highlighted in excruciating detail not to score points or to shame, but out of disappointment. When a lot of effort has gone into a book like this, as the glowing first half of this review is testament to, it is a shame when poor scholarship comes through like that in such a pellucid manner; especially when the resources are available to so easily get it right (all three books are available on Google Books and are fully searchable). When one is presenting a tradition and using historical documents to back up its themes, surely accuracy matters, especially when weak work in one area can make the reader wary of the rest. And speaking of references, for whatever reason Cochrane is referred to throughout this book with his birth name of Roy Bowers, which means that when his articles are referenced, they’re now nonsensically cited as the work of one Mr Bowers, when that isn’t the name under which they were published.

Work by Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos

It is only in later chapters of Crafting the Arte of Tradition that clear points, albeit laboured, rather than well made, can be discerned, and that’s possibly only because it’s broken up by clear subtitles that indicate the subject area. Here, Oates discusses various tools of the craft, locations of power and various other symbols from folklore, myth and legend, but there’s still an unavoidable sense of aimlessness, with no clear direction and with the various thematic locales wandered into as if by accident.

So in summary, come for the prettiness, wade through the wooliness. Crafting the Arte of Tradition is presented as a 200 page hardcover octavo with gilt lettered bonded leather spine, matching blind stamped cloth boards, metallic endpapers, colour and black and white illustrations, and appendices. It is limited to 300 copies of which 280 are bound as the standard edition; the remaining twenty comprise the Fjölkunnig special edition and are bound in full leather, instead of cloth boards. In the hand, Crafting the Arte of Tradition feels very solid with its leather binding, brown cloth and the slightly heavier than usual weight of the pages within.

Published by Anathema Publishing

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Wortcunning – Nigel G. Pearson

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Wortcunning coverAs Nigel Pearson explains in his introduction, this compact little volume from Troy Books documents a collection of herbal lore he was given access to in the early 1980s. The accumulated knowledge of a Sussex family group of witches, the information was assembled on a set of index-cards, housed within a box, with herbs and ailments spread across them in several, presumably multigenerational, hands. The information was recorded by Pearson, and the cards returned, but it was largely forgotten for the ensuing decades until his own interests coincided with the content of the herbal.

Befitting the index card format, there’s not a lot of information for each herb, with the entry usually consisting of the name, a month and/or planetary attribution, a subheading giving the ailment followed by very brief instructions on use. There’s also the use of what is described as a habitat code, a four by five grid system used to note a plant’s habitat and soil conditions. In addition to alphabetically listing the herbs, Wortcunning includes entries for various maladies, all of which provide a cross-reference to their treatment by listing the relevant plants.

Despite the sigil-festooned device on the cover, there’s little to no magical aspects involved in these cures and their application, with most being either imbibed or topically applied with nary a trace of ceremony or orison. Perhaps the most common practice here is infusion, with multiple recipes calling for the creation of tonics and teas, while poultices occur less. Similarly, there’s no poisonous path here, and while baneful plants such as henbane, datura and hemlock are listed, their only instruction is a stern one, telling the reader not to touch them.

Wortcunning spread with Sussex material

There is an ugliness, atypical of Troy Books, to how this information is presented, with the symptoms rendered with hideous outmoded underlines that brutally cut across the page, while the choice of italics for instructions and dosages comes across as bitsy and messes with the overall hierarchy. This messiness is compounded by some of the formulae using the at/@ symbol, which though it is applied in its traditional sense to mean “at the rate of,” feels incongruously modern and just ugly, like you’re looking at sentences of improperly formatted email addresses. Also, the use of the habitat code means that each entry ends with an untidy string of capital letters that need to be decoded by flicking back to the legend at the start, when that information could have been more simply written in full. Obviously, this code system is included (like the use of the @ symbol, one supposes) in deference to accurately reflecting the styling of the original cards, but there’s no denying it gets on the tits off this reviewer. Speaking of tits and the getting on thereof, may we draw attention to the infuriatingly consistent improper use of semicolons, where they are used where colons should be.

Wortcunning spread with herbal entries

Wortcunning has a lovely formatting conceit that allows it to be read either from the front or the back. While reading it one way presents the Sussex lore as recorded by Pearson, flipping it over gives the reader a slightly different book, with a thorough listing of the more traditional usages and attributes of the same herbs. This has the benefit of increasing the page count substantially, as the Sussex material only runs to a meagre 65 pages. It also, naturally, provides a lot more content, with the barebones and brevity of the first half contrasting markedly with its counterpart. Here, Pearson writes in considerable detail for each herb, adding in the magic and the history of each plant, and giving their symbolism and varieties of magical application. Although Pearson apologises in his introduction for the lack of encyclopaedic writing on each plant, the length of these entries (running from half a page to a more usual full page), suits the type of book it is and doesn’t skimp on the deets.

Unlike the barebones of the Sussex material, these entries are broken up with the occasional image of the respective plant, sometimes appearing at full or half page size but more often than not, as little thumbnails with text wrapping around them. These are clearly sourced from different locations, so there’s not a consistent style to them, with various stroke weights and degree of detail; though the overall style is, naturally, botanical illustration.

Wortcunning spread with herbal entries

The any-which-way formatting of Wortcunning is done very well, with the cover superficially duplicated at both ends, and the spine details formatted to be read either way, meaning that inevitably, and somewhat delightfully, you never know which ends you’ll be starting from when you pick it up with a casual glance. There’s always a lot of flipping involved (until you eventually notices that, oh, one cover says “A Folk Medicine Herbal” and the other “A Folk Magic Herbal”).

Wortcunning is presented in a 187 x 114mm pocket format on 193 90gsm cream paper pages, in a paperback edition, a standard hardback edition and a fine edition. The standard edition is bound in green cloth, with copper foil blocking to the cover and spine, with light black endpapers and black head and tail bands. The fine edition of 86 exemplars is hand bound in high quality, soft touch faux leather with copper foil blocking to the front and spine with marbled end papers. This is held in a fully-lined black library buckram slip-case, with copper foil blocking replicating the cover motif on front and reverse sides.

Published by Troy Books

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The Language of the Corpse – Cody Dickerson

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Categories: folk, germanic, Tags:

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

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

The Language of the Corpse spread

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

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

The Language of the Corpse spread

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

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

The Language of the Corpse front design

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

Published by Three Hands Press

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Trolls: An Unnatural History – John Lindow

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Categories: folk, germanic

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

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

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

Spread featuring images by Johan Fredrik Eckersberg and Peter Nikolai Arbo

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

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

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

Spread featuring an image by Theodor Kittelsen

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

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

Published by Reaktion Books

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The Moribund Portal – Richard Gavin

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

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

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

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

The Moribund Portal spread

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

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

Published by Three Hands Press.

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The Wicked Shall Decay – A. D. Mercer

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Categories: folk, witchcraft

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wicked Shall Decay spread with poorly vectored witches

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

The Wicked Shall Decay spread with appalling tree, or something

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

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

Published by Three Hands Press.

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Veneficium: Magic, Witchcraft and the Poison Path – Daniel A. Schulke

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Categories: folk, sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

Veneficium coverOriginally published in 2012, this is a second and revised edition of Daniel Schulke’s book on botanically and venomously-focused witchcraft. As the promotional blurb goes, this second edition contextualises Veneficium within a new trilogy of forthcoming books entitled Triangulum Lamiarum (‘Triangle of the Witches’); no word yet on the other two titles.

Rather than being a single work, Veneficium is a collection of essays by Schulke, although it’s not clear what the provenance of all of them is. Two are from Michael Howard’s magazine The Cauldron, and one, between editions, was published in the Three Hands Press journal Clavis, while a previous version of another essay was submitted as an undergraduate paper. The rest, one assumes, are standalone pieces that were never intended to be published elsewhere. Despite this, there is a semblance of order, and, for example, the opening The Path Envenom’d (originally featured in The Cauldron #126) leads quite naturally into Purity, Contamination, & the Magical Virgin, with both sharing broad themes of venom and toxins, and the latter almost acting as the albedo to the melanosis of the former.

Veneficium succeeds best when it focuses not just on witchcraft in general but on some very particular and rather grimmer and grislier modalities. Thus, a piece like Leaves of Hekat, which broadly discusses the various noxious herbs used by Thessalian witches, is great and all, but it doesn’t compare to a trilogy which follows it, in which Schulke puts a microscope on three aspects of what one could call core witchcraft. Each of these essays addresses an element recorded in western European witchcraft trial accounts, revealing the rich symbolism and potential application behind what might otherwise be thought of as nothing but a scurrilous and salacious detail. In the first of these, The Spirit Meadow, Schulke considers the meadow, such as Basque field of Aquelarre, in which witches gathered for sabbats, identifying it as a locus rich in ecstatic power, capable of being visited via oneiric revelation and dream incubation. Beneath this idea of the meadow as a zone out of this world is a layer of agrarian symbolism that Schulke uses to identify it as a place of hidden poisons and monstrosity. The meadow of the witches, thus, provides a way of exploring various species of plants that could be found in its mundane counterpart, plants such as more noxious forms of wheat, and most famously, the wheat parasite ergot. A piece like this is effective because of the way in which the description of the field and its noxious constituents builds the image in question within the reader’s mind, just as would be necessary for anyone seeking to visit it in their mind’s eye.

Frontispiece to Witch as Poison

The Spirit Meadow with its botanical curiosities gives way to The Matter of Man, where the poisons are the very components of the body and the magic in question is the corpse kind. Here, Schulke focuses on the idea of mumia, which, in addition to referring to the black resinous exudate scraped from embalmed Egyptian mummies to be used as a cure-all, is also employed, in the case of Sabbatic Witchcraft, as a term for sacrificial offerings derived from one’s own corporeality. The protoplasmic themes of The Matter of Man bleed (how apropos) into the next essay, The Witches’ Supper, in which Schulke unpacks the ideas behind the symbolism of sabbatic cannibalism and consumption, and includes a rather delightful list of nine poisons derived largely from putrefaction (so many potential death metal band names and album titles).

Throughout Veneficium, Schulke writes with the surety of one with a tradition behind him, ornamenting his language with archaic flourishes and expertly phrasing sentences in an often more complicated manner than is necessary. After all, why say “drinking it” when you can say “the act of its imbibition.”

Circulatum Sabbati

In all, as it was in its first edition, Veneficium makes for an interesting read, even if the nature of the anthological format means there’s sometimes a little bleed between essays, with repetition resulting when ideas or concepts from an earlier essay are introduced anew. The combination of fundamentally interesting topics, especially when things get all messy and corporeal, and Schulke’s authoritative voice creates a valuable addition to the library. It is all very theoretical though, and despite Schulke’s occasional experiential anecdote, there’s not much in the way of suggestions about what to do with all these poisons. This is especially true when much time is spent pointing out the unremitting virulence of some of them, and there doesn’t seem much practical application to gangrenous amputation or multiple organ failure.

Veneficium colour plates

The cover of this edition of Veneficium features a reprise of a stunning painting by Benjamin A. Vierling, Sacred Heart, which depicts various inhabitants of the poisonous garden growing from the ventricles of a ruddy heart. Vierling also contributes a skull-festooned title plate and ornamental elements, while layout is by Joseph Uccello, who expertly employs a clean, clear style with the body set in a compact serif face that borders on the slab variety; don’t know what’s going on with the reverse indents in the footnotes, though, or the way some of them abruptly extend across two pages when other lengthier ones don’t. And speaking of the footnotes, there’s some inconsistency with how references are treated in them, with some essays citing title, author and page number, and others, despite clearly referencing a particular passage in a text, only giving the author and title.

Veneficium has been produced in three editions: standard, hardcover and deluxe. The standard edition, limited to 2,200 copes, is a trade paperback of 192 pages with a four page colour insert, while the 750 copy hardcover edition includes a dust jacket. The 50 exemplar deluxe edition is quarter-bound in purple goatskin, with special endpapers and a gilt-stamped slipcase.

Published by Three Hands Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Troll Inside You spread

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

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

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

Published by Punctum Books.

Published by Punctum Books.

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