Categotry Archives: hermeticism

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Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism – Algis Uždavinys

Categories: classical, esotericism, hellenic, hermeticism

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

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

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

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism contents

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

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism spread

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

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

Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism spread

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

Published by the Matheson Trust

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(h)Auroræ – G. McCaughry

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

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

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

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

Illustration by José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal

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

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

Page spread

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

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

Illustration by José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal

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

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

Illustration by José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal

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

Published by Anathema Publishing

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The Blazing Dew of Stars – David Chaim Smith

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

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

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

David Chaim Smith: Secret Gestation of the Gnosime

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

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

David Chaim Smith: The Blazing Dew

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

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

David Chaim Smith: Unfurling the Dreamfire

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

David Chaim Smith: The Metacartograph

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

Published by Fulgur

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Distillatio – Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule

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

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

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

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

Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule: The Wild Hunt

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

Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule: Alchymic Birds on the World Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published by Fulgur

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Pillars: The Scalding of Sapientia – Edited, compiled and curated by G. McCaughry

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Categories: esotericism, hermeticism, luciferian, magick, robert cochrane, witchcraft, Tags:

The Scalding of Sapientia is something of special issue of Anathema Publishing’s Pillars journal, which at time of writing has had three soft-cover issues in its first volume; all of which have since been compiled into a single, hardbound Perichoresis Edition. The Scalding of Sapientia sits outside this issue structure and goes straight for the hardcover, with a standalone clothbound volume wrapped in a 3/4 dusk jacket. This special edition finds its purpose in its theme, Lucifer as an exemplar of magickal consuetude, making it, along with previously reviewed books from Three Hands Press and Black Moon Publishing, part of a vigorous renaissance for the light bringer. It is Lucifer’s role as this light bringer that The Scalding of Sapientia concerns itself, casting its net wider than just a consideration of him as a mythic figure, and also exploring various themes of Luciferian wisdom, sacrifice and praxis, as well as other personifications of wisdom such as the Gnostic goddess Sophia.

The contributors to The Scalding of Sapientia are a varied bunch and amongst the fourteen writers there are only a few names that immediately leap out as recognisable: Shani Oates, Craig Williams, Carl Abrahamson, Johannes Nefastos and Anathema owner Gabriel McCaughry. Things do start off slowly too, beginning with Kogishsaga, a long poem by Nukshean of the Alaskan black metal band Skaltros. Preceded by a preamble itself several pages long, the poem, which provides the lyrics to a Skaltros album of the same name, runs to eleven pages. It is presented as somewhat intimidating blocks of text, bisected only by the individual song titles, rather than more easily digestible verses. As such, it’s one of those things where you go “Well, this is nice enough and all, but I’ll come back and finish this later after I’ve read the rest of the book.” Once one realises that these are black metal lyrics, the phrasing and intonation makes more sense, and if you like, you can try and follow along while listening to the album and its corvid vocal stylings; this reviewer lost track pretty quickly.

The allure of America’s Pacific Northwest and its other mountainous and arboraceous regions is something that comes through clearly in Nukshean’s Kogishsaga and the same is true of the following contribution from Paul Waggener of Wolves of Vinland and Operation Werewolf. Both Nukshean’s piece and Waggener’s Sacrifice: Discipline & the Great Work emphasis the virtue of tribulation and time spent alone in the wilderness, with Waggener’s approach being largely an excoriation of those that don’t follow such an approach.

Johnny Decker Miller: Durtro

The first piece here that truly piques the interest is Johnny Decker Miller’s The Dreadful Banquet. Subtitled Sacrifice, Luciferian Gnosis & the Sorcery of the Bone Trumpet, it explores various examples of wind instruments made of bone, in particular the kangling, the human thigh trumpet used in Tibetan Buddhism. Heavily indebted to the work of Andrew Chumbley, Miller relates this instrument, its aesthetics and use to Sabbatic Craft and witchcraft in general, highlighting how an atavistic ritual such as the Tibetan Chöd can have an equivalent in more Western climes.

It is these kind of pieces, merging research with suggestions of contemporary praxis, that are ultimately the most satisfying amongst the content of The Scalding of Sapientia. They stand in contrast to more philosophical musings about the nature of the left hand path, metaphysical cosmologies, or the virtues of living alone in a cabin in the woods; none of which feel anywhere as revolutionary or revelatory as the authors probably hope they do. At this point in contemporary occultism, pretty much everything has been said in those avenues, and given that publications such as these are directed towards the choir, there seems little benefit in expatiating them once again.

There is a strong emphasis within The Scalding of Sapientia on the experiential, of exteriorising the interior, and representing one’s personal approach to the acquisition of wisdom. Sometimes specific examples are given, and other times the practical side may be a little veiled, cloaked in philosophical speak or biographical accounts bordering on the hagiographic. In addition to the personal recollections in the aforementioned contributions from Nukshean and Paul Waggener, Craig Williams provides a succinct introduction to his Cult of Golgotha, while Camelia Elias talks of her relationship with Lucifer and of being a prodigious two year old reciting Mihai Eminescu’s poem Luceafarul. Likewise, Graeme de Villiers intersperses a dual observance mass for Our Lady of the Two Trees with a biography both magical and mundane, and Anathema-stalwart, Shani Oates writes a somewhat peregrinating paean to the entities she works with, beginning her narrative as a child who was often thought to be a changeling left by the Fey.

Spread including artwork by Adrian Baxter

From an aesthetic perspective, The Scalding of Sapientia is a delight. Elsewhere we’ve lauded the look of releases from Anathema and this seems to have reached its apex with this release, making them the producer of some of the most beautiful books in occult publishing. McCaughry has a wonderful typographic eye, working with a suite of faces and techniques that says multiple things: occult, classic, yet paradoxically modern. Along with that, there’s an admirable use of white space and hierarchy that assists in creating that sense of rarefied environs.

Then there’s the artwork featured throughout, which feels very curated, such is the quality, with nary a dud amongst them. Consisting of predominantly black and white images, as well as some muted and murky colour ones and a few photographs, the highlights are those such as Johnny Decker Miller illustrating his own essay, Chris Undirheimer’s eitr-tinged inks (above) and Adrian Baxter’s ikon-like botanicals. All three artists specialise in what you would hope for in contemporary occult illustration: delicately rendered fine lines and beautifully defined forms that are redolent of engravings. And skulls, always skulls. Also worthy of note is Robert W. Cook, who traffics in blackened drips and eldritch rhizomes, hued in a gloaming effulgency.

The Scalding of Sapientia was made available in two editions, a standard edition of 600 copies, and an artisanal Cutis Novis edition of a mere twelve exemplars. The standard edition consists of 208 pages on Cougar Natural 160M archive-quality paper, hardbound in a gorgeous Bamberger Kaliko metallic cranberry red bookcloth, with gold foil stamp on the spine and cover, and the sigil for this volume blind debossed on the back. Inside are Neenah Dark Brown endpapers with a burnished leather and finish, and the entire book is wrapped in the aforementioned 3/4 dusk jacket featuring the artwork Hortus Aureus by Denis Forkas Kostromitin. I’m not totally convinced by this partial dust jacket as it looks a little messy, with Kostromitin’s artwork not integrating with the gold foiled image by Undirheimer on the cloth front, and only the title on the spine bringing the two elements together.

The Cutis Novis edition is bound in a mottled, highly textured calfskin leather, with the sigil for The Scalding of Sapientia blind debossed on the front. The spine features raised nerves and the title and Pillars sigil foiled in gold, while the interior includes additional handmade endpapers. Included with each of the deluxe editions was a pine wood seal with the McCaughry-designed Scalding of Sapientia sigil burnt at knife point by Undirheimer and consecrated with the blood of both artists.

Published by Anathema Publishing

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Hermes in the Academy: Ten Years’ Study of Western Esotericism at the University of Amsterdam – Edited by Wouter J. Hanegraaf and Joyce Pijnenburg

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Categories: esotericism, hermeticism

Published in 2009, this volume commemorates the establishment ten years prior of a chair and centre of expertise for the study of Western esotericism at the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Amsterdam. While the writing in this anthology touches upon the wide gamut of Western esotericism including alchemy, hermeticism, and kabbalah, the first section is more pragmatic and concerns itself with the creation of the chair for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents, as documented by Roelof van den Broek, while Wouter J. Hanegraaff considers the state of esoteric studies in the academia of the late 1990s. The same is also true of some of the book’s other sections, in which the writings about writings have been categorised into sections of Studying Western Esotericism in Amsterdam and Western Esotericism in International Perspective.

The second section, Glimpses of Research, provides just that, with a selection of representative research pieces spanning the neoplatonism of the Italian Renaissance to twentieth century Danish esotericism and a few bits in between. It begins with a pure glimpse of research with an essay on the Byzantine philosopher George Gemistos, AKA Plethon (1355/1360-1452), but then, almost inextricably, things drift back to writing about writing about magic. The two following pieces Kocku von Stuckrad’s Astrologia Hermetica: Astrology, Western Culture, and the Academy, and Marco Pasi’s The Modernity of Occultism: Reflections on Some Crucial Aspects, both effectively concern themselves with how their fields have been, perhaps unfairly, perceived in academia. Stuckrad’s Astrologia Hermetica briefly surveys how astrology has in the past been treated with almost embarrassment, where studying its historical uses always had to be qualified with a disavowal in any literal belief in the ‘wretched subject.’ Pasi’s The Modernity of Occultism, on the other hand, addresses the perception of occultism as fundamentally reactionary and authoritarian, an image made glibly real by the stereotype of the elitist magician seeking unlimited power. Pasi turns this assumption, made principally by academics in the first half of the last century, on its head, highlighting how the growth in esotericism in the twentieth century undid many of these claims. Focussing in particular on the Theosophical Society and the Golden Dawn, Pasi shows that in regard to matters relating to gender, body and sexuality, the self, colonialism and religion, those strands of Anglo-American occultism, at least, were progressive and, he argues, anticipating rather than just being representative of broader societal change.

Things turn more personal and reflective in the third section of Hermes in the Academy with Studying Western Esotericism in Amsterdam, in which five writers each briefly reflect on their time in Amsterdam academia. There’s not much to these, each being over in a flash, but they’re charming little pieces, showing how the university attracted would-be hermetic academics from around the world.

And then everything wraps up with part the fourth, Western Esotericism in International Perspective, in which discussion turns once more explicitly to the chair at the University of Amsterdam with paeans from further afield, contextualising it within the greater milieu of occult academia Thus, Antoine Faivre, holder of the chair of History of Estoteric and Mystical Currents in Modern and Contemporary Europe at the École pratique des hautes études in Paris, speaks of the history of that particular chair dating back to 1964, and of its subsequent collaborations with its Amsterdam equivalent. Meanwhile, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, holder of the chair of Western Esotericism at the University of Exeter, focuses less on the Amsterdam chair with a lens turned instead to the study of Western esotericism in the United Kingdom, framed first within his own journey of study, before expanding on the achievements of the Exeter programme. Dame Frances Yates naturally looms large in this section and elsewhere in the book, with Allison P. Coudert, who studied under her, noting her important role as a legitimising force in the academic place of Hermeticism.

In all, Hermes in the Academy doesn’t entirely feel like it knows what it wants to be. The representative research often feels incongruous, lacking context alongside the reflections on the history of the chair and studying at the University of Amsterdam, and not feeling all that representative. Indeed, the brief little pieces from students in the third section are some of the most engaging contributions, and their mention of their specialist subjects areas are more intriguing than what is included here. As such it is the ‘writing about writing’ that becomes the most enjoyable part of this volume, with the various discussions about esoteric academia being more satisfying than the esotericism itself.

Published by Amsterdam University Press

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