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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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Runic Lore & Legend: Wyrdstaves of Old Northumbria – Nigel Pennick

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Categories: germanic, runes

Runic Lore & Legend: Wyrdstaves of Old Northumbria coverOriginally released in 2010 as the broadly titled Wyrdstaves of the North, this book from Nigel Pennick has now been rereleased in 2019 by the Inner Traditions imprint Destiny Books, with a new title that is even broader, but with a subtitle that is more specific. As this subtitle indicates, the focus here is on a version of the 29 runes Anglo-Saxon Futhark (itself an expansion of the 24 runes of the Elder Futhark) that around 800CE had four more runes added to it, thereby completing a fourth aett/airt with Calc, Cweorth and Stan, and one standalone final rune, Gar.

It’s impossible to overstate Pennick’s role and influence in contemporary runic magic, being something of the English counterpart to the American Stephen Flowers, with books by both authors sitting alongside each other in the shelves of Scriptus Recensera and surely many other occult libraries. While Pennick has dealt broadly with all manner of runes and other elements of paganism and folk traditions over the last forty years, the Anglo-Saxon Futhark and its Northumbrian variant is not something he has shied away from, and many of his books include its additional runes as a matter of course. With Runic Lore & Legend, this inclusion becomes a focus and Pennick contextualises the futhark within its Northumbrian locus, a site where various cultures and traditions intermingled.

Illuminated runes by Nigel Pennick

This context is substantial and consists of several preparatory chapters, rather than diving headfirst into the runes themselves. After a brief but comprehensive survey of Northumbria’s history of invasions and colonisations, Pennick turns to a considerable meditation on the place and space, discussing what he titles the spirit landscape of Northumbria. Here, he discusses various features of the land and how they would have been perceived and used as part of a metaphysical framework, and how this use evolved over time with the successive waves of colonisers. It’s an effective way to preface what follows, building a solid and palpable sense of place. This purlieu is contextualised still further in a spatial and horological sense with a chapter on Northumbrian geomancy, in which Pennick talks of the division of the landscape and the year into quarters and then eights. This isn’t something necessarily unique to Northumbria, or to Pennick’s writing for that matter, and reflects practices found throughout Germanic Europe, from which he draws examples by way of comparison.

The sections on the runes themselves, divided into chapters for each airt, uses a familiar pattern, with each rune (along with its name and core meaning) acting as a heading, followed by usually up to a page of explanation. These explanations give a synopsis drawing from rune poems, usually The Old English Rune Poem, naturally, along with examples from a concept’s mundane equivalent, suggestions of magical usage, and closing with tree and herb correspondents.

Runic Lore & Legend spread

Pennick concludes Runic Lore & Legend with several chapters investigating examples of the runes and their import in Northumbria and its legends. This effectively allows for a greater exploration of themes associated with a select few runes, as not all are covered. Up for a greater focus are Haegl and the symbolism of the number nine, along with the magical use of knots and knotwork patterns; Ing and various ideas associated with kingship, including divine kings and the Christian perpetuation of this concept of apotheosis with canonisation of saints; and Yr and a raft of associations with archery. The most significant one, in size as well as relevance to this reviewer, is a deep dive into serpent legends as a manifestation of the Ior rune and Iormungand.

Given the amount that Pennick has written on these subjects over the years, anyone familiar with his work will find certain areas that are, well, familiar. The explanation of each rune is particularly notable for this, with the symbolism consistent, as one would expect, and while the entries are not simply cut and pasted from Pennick’s previous publications, it’s clear that they provided the template for what is here, albeit with significant editing and rewriting that moves it beyond lazy regurgitation. The same is true with images, where there’s a return of some illustrations used in other Pennick books, such as his illuminated runes (which someone needs to digitise and turn into a font) and a rune circle with bird in flight, as seen on the cover of the classic Runic Astrology from 1990.

Runes and airts by Nigel Pennick

Runic Lore & Legend is laid out to the usual high standard of Inner Traditions/Destiny Books, with text design by Virginia Scott Bowman and layout by Debbie Glogover. The body is set in Garamond, all classic and eminently readable, contrasting nicely with the sans serif Avenir used for subheadings. Chapter headings use Mehmet Reha Tugcu’s dynamic Njord face, which also features prominently on the cover, providing a perfect modern type choice that suggests the angular nature of the runes without in any way feeling obvious. The chapter headings sit atop a gradient-feathered photograph of a contemporary runic bracteate, which if we were to be picky (what, moi?), features the 24 runes of the Elder Futhark and not the full and more appropriate Northumbrian compliment of 33. It should also be meanly mentioned that the designers don’t seem to have had access to a runic typeface with all of these 33 characters, as the rune faces used to head up each rune’s section are inconsistent, some crisp and angular, some distressed and some looking bespoke and hand drawn, all with a distractingly obvious variety of weights.

Photographs feature throughout as illustrations, often acting to document Northumbrian features of notes, such as runes in situ, and in one intriguing instance, a lupine doorknocker at a church in York, which Pennick suggests is a representation of Fenrir swallowing Odin. Twinned with these photographs are a selection of reproduced drawings and etching, drawn from a variety of sources and predominantly used to illustrate apropos scenes from folklore and legend.

Published by Destiny Books.

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The Secret of the Runes – Guido von List

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Categories: germanic, runes, Tags:

The Secret of the Runes coverHere at Scriptus Recensera we have reviewed a number of books from the early 20th century Germanic runic revival, all translated by Stephen E. Flowers/Edred Thorsson. Now we turn to a work from arguably the granddaddy of them all, Austria’s Guido von List. List is pivotal to the runic revival because it was his system of Armanen runes (revealed to him during an eleven month period of temporary blindness), rather than the conventional Elder or Younger futharks, that came to dominate German runology. In addition to being adopted by most subsequent runologists of the period, the Armanen futhark became, according to Flowers, almost ‘traditional’ in the circles of German-speaking runic magic.

Das Geheimnis der Runen was originally published, as a periodical article in 1906, and then as a standalone publication in 1908. Exactly eighty years after that initial publication, this English translation by Flowers was released as The Secret of the Runes. Flowers opens the book with a substantial introduction, 40 pages in all, providing a comprehensive biography of List, as well as summaries of his system, his influences and his influence. This is a brisk, engaging read that documents List’s life in an amiable way, with Flowers conveying a fair bit of affection for Der Meister, as he calls him. Compared to the biography, the consideration of List’s influence and influencers is briefer, with the former quickly touching on key figures, including other runologists and members of the National Socialist leadership, but not delving too deeply into these. Amusingly, Flowers lists himself as a more recent example of a wearer of Listian influence, but does it by referring, with some third-person distance, to Edred Thorsson, as if he was a completely different person.

After a little introduction, Das Geheimnis der Runen proper begins with perhaps the book’s most accessible section and a now-typical listing of the runes, along with their attributes, a corresponding rune poem drawn from the Ljóðatal section of Hávamál, and a paragraph or so of explanation. While List follows convention in most cases, there are some idiosyncratic interpretations here, with Fehu, for example, being given associations with fire-generation and destruction, in addition to the usual wealth and cattle. Similarly, for Kaunaz he makes a primary interpretation of the rune as signifying the World Tree, seemingly placing greater emphasis on the somewhat incongruous sixth charm from the Ljóðatal rather than the etymology of the rune’s name.

Futhark spread

List follows his exploration of the Armanen Futharkh with an explication of his core theory in which the wisdom he was a conduit of had both a metaphysical and mundane expression. This employed a tripartite system that allowed three layers of meaning (based on the eternal cosmic law of entstehen-sein-vergehen zum neuen Entstehen/arising-being-passing away to arise anew) to be applied to almost anything, producing exoteric, esoteric and even more esoteric levels of meaning. This meant that certain Armanen principles ascended to influence Christianity, rather than be obliterated by the process of conversion, while a corresponding downward drift saw similar ideas encoded, in some manner, into folk customs. List’s particularly striking example of these is the way in which runic elements were incorporated into heraldry, not just with obvious images of runes and related symbols such as the fylfot, but even with simple geometric designs that he, at least, can discern as runeforms. In an illustration placed at the start of the book, List collects together a range of heraldic devices and shows how the simple division of the field on a shield could generate runic shapes, with, for example, a thurs rune being created with either (to use the nomenclature) a per bend with counter pile, or with a counter pile bend, or the inverted counter wedge bend. To this relatively simple device List can’t help extract (or assign) an additional symbolism perhaps never intended for four lines on a shield, seeing the first two designs as a phallic “uprising of life,” while the last in its inversion is a sunken thorn, “the death thorn.”

Runic symbols and title page spread

This section betrays the original status of Das Geheimnis der Runen as an essay because, despite its length and discursive nature, there are no chapters to break up what begins to read like a ramble. In List’s original publication, headers encapsulating the themes covered beneath them were featured on each page, but these are not included here, and without them, the length, despite the relative brevity, can feel interminable and the writing aimless. It’s why at the start List is talking about heraldry and then by the end he’s onto pastries, having passed hands, hair and breasts along the import-laden way.

Das Geheimnis der Runen is very much a book of its time. As a guide to List’s Armanen interpretation of the runes it does fine, and mileage may vary for the rest and its focuses on theory and his interpretation of folk custom and etymology. While the later provides evidence of his belief in a tripartite system that provided three layers of meaning, the linguistics don’t often ring true and seem naïve or fanciful; understandable given his dilettantish rather than rigorous involvement in the nascent field, and the way in which many of ideas were guided by his occult insights, for whatever they are worth. As always, though, given the lack of other works by List available in English, it remains an essential addition to the early 20th century runic revival section of anyone’s library.

Published by Destiny Books

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Rune=Magic – S.A Kummer

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Categories: germanic, runes, Tags:

Rune=Magic coverTranslated and edited by Edred Thorsson and published in 1993 by his Rûna Raven imprint, Siegfried Kummer’s Rune=Magic was originally released as Runen=Magie exactly 60 years prior. Rune=Magic is, in some ways, a condensed form of Kummer’s considerably larger Heilige Runenmacht from 1932, and was the fourth volume of Germanische Schriftenfolge; a series which also included Der Alfred Richter’s Heilgruß: seine Art und Bedeutung and Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels’ Ariosophisches Wappenbuch.

While Heilige Runenmacht is a comprehensive guide to the 18-rune Armanen Futharkh of Guido von List, providing both a thorough exegesis and a complex system of exercises, Rune=Magic offers just a few gems, as Kummer terms it, of wisdom and rune-magic. Kummer eschews the lengthy explanation of each rune in favour of brief, single paragraph synopsises, with which he opens the book. Similarly, the systems of rune yoga and runentänze, which are given a great deal of space in Heilige Runenmacht, are here replaced with runic hand exercises, notes of yodelling as a magical technique, and a series of standalone exercises.

Rune=Magic page spread with rune circle

The first of these consists of three individual exercises that build upon each other, beginning with the casting of a somewhat atypical protective rune circle, within which the subsequent activities take place. With the circle cast, the practitioner performs an initial meditation based around the Man rune (which in the Armanen system and the Younger Futhark resembles the Elhaz rune, rather than the Elder Futhark’s m-like Mannaz). The final ritual in this sequence transforms the practitioner’s Man rune stance into a visualised light body, an energy form known as the Grail-Chalice that once completed, attracts higher, spiritual cosmic influences.

In place of the rune yoga and runentänze of Heilige Runenmacht, Kummer offers a literally scaled down system befitting the size of this volume. This takes the form of runic mudras (though Kummer does not use that term), a collection of hand gestures corresponding to each rune. Or rather, almost each rune, as Kummer leaves out a gesture for Yr, which as the Todesrune, may have been, as Thorsson suggests, considered too negative to be used. Karl Spiesberger, who subsequently elaborated on Kummer’s system, would later correct this omission and created a Yr mudra. Each of Kummer’s mudras works in the same way as the larger rune yoga forms do, being associated with particular vocalisations, meditations and astral colours, and producing aetheric and olfactory results.

Rune=Magic page spread with mudras

The rest of Rune=Magic feels a little like a collection of miscellanea, with nothing particularly substantial and instead consisting of various short, largely unconnected pieces. There’s a list, with an accompanying diagram, of 24 important glands and higher centres of the body, and some magical rune formulas that either effect change or represent concepts such as wisdom and primal love. Then, as a natural conclusion, there are morning and evening consecrations and a poetic rune banishing.

As one would expect, Kummer’s cosmology and general approach has much in common with that of his runological contemporaries such as Peryt Shou, Friedrich Marby, and of course, List. There’s a certain dated style of etymology that ultimately seems dependent on the type of deism or monotheism that seeks to have its Judaeo-Christian cake and eat it too, but with Wotan-flavoured icing. Thus, the kind of linguistics that wouldn’t stand up in morphological court are used to see the name of God in the word ‘yodel,’ with the affirmative German ‘ja’ apparently evolving into the divine names Ya-weh, Yeho-va, Yo, Ya, Ye, and Yuh. Similarly, and in a slightly problematic moment, Kummer says that the Jews stole the word ‘jude,’ (“to which they have no right” apparently), which he says is a purely German word meaning ‘the good,’ similar to ‘Goth’ which is taken to mean ‘good’ or ‘godly.’

The other area which Kummer has in common with other runologists and Shou in particular is the use of then current technological nomenclature, embracing the paradigm of radio waves and antenna when discussing energy that the adherent could channel or generate. With this comes a heady sense of the cosmic, as mentioned in a previous review of Shou’s work, creating an endearing retro-futurist technological quality.

Rune=Magic illustration showing the high holy Grove of Light

Rune=Magic is a slim volume, so much so that its 45 pages are saddle stitched and stapled. Inside, the body copy is set in a brittle-looking serif face that, by intent or not, is suggestive of the original publication’s period. This is offset with chapter headings in an obviously intentional condensed Fraktur-style blackletter, which is perfect for that archaic German feel. Images from Kummer’s original are scanned and reproduced well, with no pixilation or artefacts. Given its size, especially in comparison to Heilige Runenmacht, there’s inevitably a feeling that more could have been said in Rune=Magic. It’s not a primer as such, being too brief in some of the fundamentals even for that, but it does introduce some key and, at the time, unique techniques. Ultimately, though, the value of Rune=Magic is in its role as a historical document, and still one of the only, if not the only, works by Kummer translated into English.

Published by Rûna Raven Press

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Trickster, My Beloved: Poems for Laufey’s Son – Elizabeth Vongvisith

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Categories: devotional, germanic, rökkr, Tags:

Trickster, My Beloved coverAs its matronymic subtitle suggests, Trickster, My Beloved is a collection of devotional poems for Loki, written by Elizabeth Vongvisith and published by Asphodel Press. In her introduction, Vongvisith describes the book as the fulfilment of an oath, identifying works of heart, mind and hands as some of the best offerings that can be made to the gods. It is a physically slim offering at only 60 pages, but a profound one nonetheless.

Published in 2006, a lot has since changed for the public view of Loki, with his profile rising dramatically, as any Marvel-tainted search results on Google, Tumblr or DeviantArt will testify. More pertinently, the Troth this month rescinded their ban on the hailing of Loki at Troth-sponsored events, suggesting a certain degree of rehabilitation for the troublesome god. The Loki in these pages doesn’t necessarily seek the kind of respectability offered by the Troth, or the fame, fanfiction and silly helmet that comes courtesy of Tom Hiddleston (had to Google to check the correct name, naturally), being instead more mercurial and capricious.

As a godwife of Loki, there’s a certain degree of intimacy in Vongvisith’s writing, which helps that air of devotional fervour. Loki is presented as a lover and constant companion, a presence whose spirit can sometimes seem almost all consuming, creating words that are redolent of the fervid depths evident in some Hindu religious devotional material. Vongvisith doesn’t shy away from Loki’s other wives, though, and has poems for both Angrboda and Sigyn. In Victory, she addresses Sigyn as her Lady of Endurance, an underappreciated figure with hidden strength and significance. Meanwhile, in Angrboda’s Lament, Vongvisith has Angrboda relate key moments of her and Loki’s interactions with the Æsir, ending each verse with a plaintive folksong-like refrain of They will take away my love, and bury him, until it concludes with the bittersweet variation They have taken my love, and buried me with him.

The sense of personal loss in Angrboda’s Lament and Victory is something of a trademark of the poems included in Trickster, My Beloved, and occurs again, in its most striking and effective manner, in The Price. Here, Vongvisith addresses Loki, describing as a seer how his children were taken from him and how the intestines of his own son were used to bind him, all drawn in heart wrenching detail that disintegrates into paroxysms of apoplectic rage.

Trickster, My Beloved spread

The ties familial that are hinted at in the poems for Angrboda and Sigyn are also found elsewhere, with Vongvisith addressing other members of Loki’s family. In For the Lady of the Leafy Isle, she speaks to Loki’s mother Laufey as any daughter-in-law might, testifying to her strength and thanking her for the welcome into her house and family. Similarly, For Surt is a paean to the fire giant who here, and in other books from Asphodel Press, is identified as the foster-father of Loki. And finally, In the Dark, one of the longest poems here, describes an underworld encounter with Loki’s daughter, Hela, in language so vivid that it practically acts as a guided visualisation.

Although they are not necessarily intended as such, the clear imagery of In the Dark, or the invocatory tone of For Surt and some of the poems addressed directly to Loki, all reveal a potential for ritual or liturgical use. Words written in devotion, rather than supplication or as a wand-wielding threat, seem so much more numinous and valuable to personal practice.

Trickster, My Beloved is presented purely as text with not a single accompanying illustration, which is a slight shame, as the evocative imagery could easily have sparked a few images from any talented illustrator. One such illustrator, Milwaukee-based Grace D. Palmer, does provide the cover image, a painted image of a naked Loki, single lit match in hand, presumably about to be, in the words of the song, burning down the house. The layout follows Asphodel’s familiar style, with nothing exceptional but a still solid and functional look.

Published by Asphodel Press

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The Fraternitas Saturni – Stephen E. Flowers

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Categories: germanic, luciferian, magick, runes, thelema, Tags:

Fraternitas Saturni coverVerbosely subtitled History, Doctrine, and Rituals of the Magical Order of the Brotherhood of Saturn, Stephen E. Flowers’ The Fraternitas Saturni is the fourth edition of a work originally released by Llewellyn in 1990 as Fire and Ice, with the equally prolix subtitle of The History, Structure, and Rituals of Germany’s Most Influential Modern Magical Order – The Brotherhood of Saturn. Since that initial version, the work has been published again by Llewellyn in 1994, and then in a revised edition by Runa Raven Press in 2006. This 2018 incarnation is both revised and expanded, as evidenced by the already lengthy appendices lettered from ‘a’ to ‘i’ now extending to ‘l.’

At its release, as Flowers notes in his introduction, Fire and Ice was the first book to discuss the Fraternitas Saturni at length, and it would be hard to think of any title that has done much more since. In the English speaking world, it is Flowers who still seems to have the monopoly on this particular field of German occultism, with all the risks that having a single interlocutor entails. As Flower also acknowledges, the material contained in The Fraternitas Saturni dates from before 1969, so doesn’t necessarily reflect the beliefs and practices of the order after that date, or today.

One of the first additions to this new edition is found in the initial consideration of the occult milieu from which the Fraternitas Saturni emerged. Here, in addition to his previous discussion of quasi-Masonic lodges such as the Freemasonic Order of the Golden Centurium (FOGC) and obviously the Ordo Templi Orientis, Flowers now discusses the neglected but influential role of Adonism. He devotes several illustrated pages to this school of magical thought and its foremost proponents, Franz Sättler’s Adonistische Gesellschaft, as well as giving still further information as an appendix.

Other changes are largely subtle, with the one thing of obvious note being the amount of new images added to the text; something very much in evidence in the Adonism section. The pictorial elements in the original Fire and Ice were limited to a few diagrams, already well-worn photographs of Gregorius and the bust of GOTOS, and two hand drawn illustrations by James Allen Chisholm. All of these recur here, but in better quality (save for Chisholm’s pictures which look a little 8bit), and they’re joined by a swathe of supporting images, including examples of publications and portraits of key figures.

Fraternitas Saturni sigil

The Fraternitas Saturni begins with the aforementioned discussion of the occult subculture that birthed the order, with Flowers providing a thorough overview of German occultism of the period, noting in particular the way in which Thelema infused some of the major variants. While the OTO absorbed Thelema to become Crowley’s principle magickal order, the Fraternitas Saturni embraced the philosophy, but neither its cosmology, nor Uncle Al’s suzerainty. Instead, as Flowers details, the order promulgated a mythos that merged Gnosticism with Luciferianism, in which Saturnus is a demiurgic figure associated, not just with the typical saturnian characteristics of melancholic introspection and initiation, but with Lucifer (as the sphere’s highest octave) and Satan (as its lowest). For those with aphotic inclinations, there’s a certain appeal to this cosmology, with its combination of metaphysical speculation, plutonian-hued deity forms, and the handy appeal to authority that arises from its use by an order now almost a century old.

The other particularly striking aspect of the order’s belief system, and one which is fairly unique in its application, is the use of the egregor GOTOS, whose name was an acronym based on the name of the order’s 33° grade, Gradus Ordinis Templi Orientis Templi. Considered an embodiment of the order, but also as a pre-existing entity attached to Saturn, the GOTOS egregore took the place of the ascended masters and secret chiefs so typical of other occult organisations of the time, guiding initiates through their journey. The difference being that GOTOS was understood to be a thought-form manifested by the order’s members, rather than some dubious dudes in robes kicking it on a mountain somewhere in far off lands.

Subsequent chapters in The Fraternitas Saturni explore more of the order’s beliefs (but more from a philosophical rather than cosmological perspective), and the structure of the order (including a detailed listing of grades). An outline of their actual magical work and rituals follows and these, as one would expect, have a strong focus on masonic-style lodge work, but there is also a sacerdotal element, with an extensive list of liturgy-rich sacraments that includes the use of various type of elemental eucharist. Two other areas of ritual in which the Fraternitas Saturni are known are electrical magic (which Flowers touches on all-too briefly) and sexual magic (for which two rites are outlined).

Including index and bibliography, The Fraternitas Saturni runs to 207 pages, but just over half of that comprises the book proper, with the rest consisting of extensive appendices. These include several long Fraternitas Saturni rituals (three masses and the Gradus Pentalphae), various letters between Crowley and order founder Gregor A. Gregorius, and instead of his pragmatic suggestions regarding sex magic from 1990, Flowers includes an initiation rite from the Freemasonic Order of the Golden Centurium. The other appendices new to this edition include more details about Rosicrucianism and the Bavarian Illuminati, and the welcomed consideration of Adonism. There are also some lessons for neophytes from order member Master Pacitius (artist, architect and the producer and production designer for F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, Albin Grau), which are provided as one of the rare example of his written occult work.

The cover of the original Fire and Ice in 1990 featured an evocative painting by N. Taylor Blanchard, a darkly hued view of the sigil of Saturn suspended against a range of mountains, all lit from behind by an effulgent light. It was a mysterious image that, other than the Saturn sigil, didn’t seem to reflect too much that was specific to the Fraternitas Saturni, and was very much of its time; with many of the books by Flowers (as well as other Llewellyn authors) employing painted cover art, some better than others. The cover of this 2018 version is also of its time, with the oils of the 1980s and 1990s giving way to a strong graphic look that sets the title and sigils (highlighted with a subtle spot varnish) over a low opacity image of the bust of the GOTOS egregore. It’s nice, a simple but classy treatment, as is true of the covers of many books from Inner Traditions.

The Fraternitis Saturni spread

Inside, the copy is treated with an equally adept hand by the good folks at Inner Tradition. Whereas the original Fire and Ice had Llewellyn’s typical-for-the-time solid and functional layout with a slightly too large, almost slab serif face, and not a lot of space around it, The Fraternitas Saturni uses a classic serif at a respectable size for the body, with subtitles in a san serif, housed in roomy, but not too roomy, margins. The hierarchy makes it eminently more readable than its predecessor, and the reduced page count and larger page size, makes it more pleasant to hold.

This new edition of The Fraternitas Saturni makes for a worthwhile acquisition, whether you don’t have its previous incarnations, or simply want an excuse to reread it, now some 28 years after you may have read it the first time. As testified, the redesign from Inner Traditions will assist in this, making it feel not just eminently more readable, but just a little bit fresh and new. Throughout the book, Flowers writes with an unadorned, thoroughly competent style, with everything presented in a somewhat matter of fact manner.

Published by Inner Traditions


Review Soundtrack: Various Artists – Saturn Gnosis

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

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Categories: folk, germanic, Tags:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Troll Inside You spread

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

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

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

Published by Punctum Books.

Published by Punctum Books.

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Visual Magick – Jan Fries

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

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

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

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

Jan Fries: Loki

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

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

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

Jan Fries: Access to a Tree

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

Published by Mandrake of Oxford.

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