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

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Categories: folk, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

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

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

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

Frontispiece to Witch as Poison

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

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

Circulatum Sabbati

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

Veneficium colour plates

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

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

Published by Three Hands Press

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The Roebuck in the Thicket – Evan John Jones & Robert Cochrane

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Categories: robert cochrane, witchcraft

The Roebuck in the Thicket coverSubtitled An Anthology of the Robert Cochrane Witchcraft Tradition, this book is, unsurprisingly, a collection of articles about Robert Cochrane’s witchcraft tradition, written by Cochrane himself and his successor, Evan John Jones. As one would expect, the majority of these are from Jones, with Cochrane posthumously justifying his name on the cover with four. The articles are largely drawn from occult magazines, with those by Cochrane coming from the pages of Pentagram and New Dimensions, while Michael Howard’s The Cauldron is the sources of those by Jones.

Howard opens the proceedings with a thorough introduction that acts as an overview of both Cochrane’s craft, and how the writings that are compiled in this volume came to be. This will be a familiar story for anyone with a passing knowledge of Cochrane and his brand of traditional witchcraft, hitting all the usual beats, in particular those key moments of public publication, where his use of small articles in possibly equally small occult journals still had remarkably far-reaching effects. This then expands into a broader consideration of the aftermath of Cochrane, including a brief history of The Regency and the influence of Jones’ Clan of Tubal Cain-infused books, Witchcraft: A Tradition and Sacred Mask, Sacred Dance. The familiarity of some of the history here makes sense when you realise that this chapter provided a test run for Howard’s comprehensive Children of Cain, with the narrative following a similar trajectory and some of the paragraphs here being almost the same, save for some judicious editing, ten years later.

As Howard’s introduction touches upon, the four articles from Cochrane are part of traditional witchcraft history. This collection, though, doesn’t include Cochrane’s first public writing on witchcraft, a 1963 article in the Spiritualist newspaper Psychic News, in which he proposed the idea, more popular now than it was then, that witchcraft was not paganism per se, but rather a mystical dual observance system that, nevertheless, “retained the memory of ancient faiths.” This sentiment, this out-of-the-gate contrariness, encapsulates Cochrane’s philosophy and his slightly smug antagonism towards conventional witchcraft/wicca. This sentiment does come through in the articles that are included here, particularly the excoriating and archly titled Witchcraft Today from the November 1964 issue of Pentagram, the newsletter of the Witchcraft Research Association.

You know that old cliché about witches being born and not made, of coming home to the belief system as if it was something you always knew but just didn’t have a name for it? Well, Cochrane feels a lot like that for me. Not, heaven forfend, his system of traditional witchcraft itself (though some of the aesthetics and cosmogony have a personal appeal), no, it’s the snark that feels like coming home, it’s the snark that feels like something I always intrinsically knew – though putting it into words and giving it a name was never a problem, naturally. Despite being written 55 years ago, the issues with conventional witchcraft that Cochrane mentions seem as prevalent now as they have been throughout this past half century. Like some hipster witch, Cochrane speaks from the smug position of someone who believes that amongst a sea of pretenders their tradition is the only right one, but at the same time, he critiques wicca-style witchcraft with a fairly pragmatic, and more reputable, approach. His concerns were with the patronising romanticism and escapism inherent in modern day witches seeking refuge from the 20th century in an all-beneficent spirit of nature who bore no relation to the multiplicious real world red in tooth and claw, or for that matter, any extant agrarian folk magic belief system: “civilised sophisticates running round behaving like simple peasants and simple peasants who have never heard of such things.”

It’s not all owning the normies though, and two of Cochrane’s pieces have a practical, rather than vituperative, aspect. In an article originally published in New Dimensions magazine, Cochrane gives an account of a spelunking esbat ritual, written in a travelogue style rich in anecdotes, dialogue and minutiae. The other is a response to a question in Pentagram about the use of knots and cords in witchcraft, which allows Cochrane to drop a few folklore gems along with examples of ritual use.

The Roebuck in the Thicket page spread

There endeth Cochrane’s lesson and, save for an astrological reading analysis as an appendix, the rest of the contents of The Roebuck in the Thicket, are provided by Evan John Jones. In the 1990s, Jones began publishing a series of articles in Howard’s magazine The Cauldron, covering aspects of Cochrane’s craft and also that of the Clan of Tubal Cain as then led by Jones. Attentive readers may be aware of my nostalgic affection for that period, having read those issues of The Cauldron when they were first published; with the copies still within reach to this day.

Spanning a decade, these contributions made Jones a regular figure in the pages of The Cauldron, and their inclusion here makes for a nice, concise little retrospective of this role. It begins with a discussion of the symbolism of the stang before various explorations of Clan of Tubal Clan cosmology and their ceremonial application, such as the rose within the grave and the ritual of the castle, and the rite of the two circles. Jones continues with explanations of other symbols used by the clan, including the titular roebuck in the thicket, the spiral, and the morning and evening stars.

It’s not all killer, and there is some filler, as one might expect of any body of work drawn from submissions to occult publications, where the need for contributions can so often outstrip the things of note to write about. A particular favourite that moves away from the theoretical or historical and into the anecdotal provides an interesting twin to Cochrane’s earlier account of the cave-bound esbat ritual. Here, Jones tells how his circle lost a ritual space but found a new and, at least initially, improved one, writing in a format that provides a guide and suggestions about general magical space, while appearing to simply tell their tale, sprinkled with a hint of folk horror and dread.

Jones is, as ever, a pleasure to read. He writes with confidence and clarity, but without the hubris and smugness that those speaking from within the comforts of a traditional can be susceptible to. His articles here provide a thorough, if compartmentalised, overview of Cochrane’s tradition, or at least what it may have evolved to under Jones, as not every piece is in thrall to the past magister and may represent the natural evolution of the system.

Images in The Roebuck in the Thicket are pretty much limited to a few poorly reproduced photographs of Cochrane and some of the key witchcraft figures mentioned therein: William Gray, Doreen Valiente, Ruth Wynn-Owen and Evan John Jones. This is disappointing, particularly when it comes to the contributions from Jones, as his articles in The Cauldron were often accompanied by illustrations from the always reliable Nigel Aldcroft Jackson. As a result, the book comes across as very much a no-frills archive, just in it for the words.

Speaking of words, as is typical of this series of books from Capall Bann, proofing is abysmal, with a surfeit of errors, usually repeated or extraneous words, rather than outright spelling mistakes. Comparing the book with some of the original articles, it’s clear that the errors have been introduced in the production of The Roebuck in the Thicket, with one of the most amusing being a reference to a sacrament of brad and wine. Lucky Brad, I guess.

Published by Capall Bann.

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Hekate Liminal Rites – Sorita d’Este & David Rankine

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Categories: classical, goddesses, paganism, underworld, witchcraft

Hekate Liminal Rites coverThe goddess Hekate looms large over at Avalonia, and in addition to this colon-deficient title, the Glastonbury-based publishers have released The Temple of Hekate by Tara Sanchez, two anthologies both edited by Avalonia owner Sorita d’Este (the equally colon-wanting Hekate Her Sacred Fires and Hekate Key to the Crossroads), as well as d’Este’s own more recent work Circle for Hekate – Volume I: History & Mythology, yay, colons. If that wasn’t enough, d’Este also founded the Covenant of Hekate and runs the semi-regular Hekate Symposium. Suffice to say, if indeed faith without works is dead, d’Este should be pretty assured of some eschatological rewards from her matron when the time comes.

d’Este and collaborator David Rankine give a hint of their intent with the book’s verbose subtitle: A study of the rituals, magic and symbols of the torch-bearing Triple Goddess of the Crossroads. This is expanded upon in the introduction where they talk of coming across various items relating to Hekate whilst researching other projects, describing this book as part of a long term project that brings together such nuggets as they relate to ritual practices. As such, the book details information on historic charms, blessings, herb and root magic, dreams and divination, effectively providing a toolkit of authentic, referenced magickal items and procedures that can be incorporated into one’s own Hekate-themed modalities; and not just some handheld modern rituals to slavishly follow, as some disappointed reviewers on Amazon were obviously looking for.

Because of this, Hekate Liminal Rites can be a little dry. In places it sometimes feels like an info dump, where research notes have been entered into chapters, without much from d’Este and Rankine to glue them together. That contextual glue can also be absent between chapters, simply because a chapter’s focus on a particular area in which Hekate is documented can be brief and standalone, sharing little with the chapters that precede or proceed it. This is, obviously, inevitable given the style of the book, and as a criticism has little solution, but is mentioned to provide a sense of the content’s style and its resulting reading experience.

Hekate Liminal Rites page spread

One of the most interesting things that d’Este and Rankine draw attention to is the syncretic nature of Hekate, where her associations in the ancient world weren’t monolithically Greek, but instead often placed her in concert with deities from Egypt, Mesopotamia and later even Christianity. In spells for love and protection from the Greek Magical Papyri, Hekate appears alongside Ereshkigal, the Sumerian goddess of the underworld and an obvious cross-cultural equivalent. The same association is found in defixiones, simple binding spells made on lead tablets, with Hekate being joined by Ereshkigal and other names in a string of voces magicae. In other instances, Hekate appears in the company of angels, with a spell from the Greek Magical Papyri addressing her alongside the archangel Michael (as well as Hermes, Mene, Osiris and Persephone), while in others, angels are identified as the minions of Hekate, who is entreated to send them forth to aid the supplicant.

Given their theurgic emphasis, the Greek Magical Papyri plays a large role within Hekate Liminal Rites as a source, as do the Chaldean Oracles. But d’Este and Rankine also draw from the entire classical canon, beginning with Homer, the Greek dramatists, and up to Roman historians and the Early Church Fathers, as well as extending well beyond this to a smattering of occult sources like Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. As such, there’s a wealth of material to draw from and Hekate’s ritual correspondences, types of ceremonies and procedures, are all covered off magnificently. This ritual framework also allows other areas of Hekate to be touched on, with spells from various sources providing opportunities to consider her animal forms, herbs and potions, associations with the underworld, and even her relevance to Solomonic magic. These are all presented in a brief, utilitarian manner, making for a brisk but pleasant read; with extensive and blessed citing of sources throughout.

Hekate Liminal Rites is available as a 193 page paperback, printed like most, if not all, Avalonia titles by print-on-demand company Lightning Source. There’s not much of the way of internal illustration, with only a handful of statue photographs and reproduced prints. With that said, the cover image of a triform Hekate from Joanna Barnum is pretty great and more of that on the inside would have been neat.

Published by Avalonia

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Welsh Witches – Richard Suggett

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Categories: folk, witchcraft

Welsh Witches coverThis, the second book released by the fledgling Atramentous Press, is subtitled “Narratives of Witchcraft and Magic from 16th and 17th Century” and presents exactly that. While other titles from Atramentous have had a philosophical emphasis, this book is focussed on matters practical, providing a thorough documentation of its very particular subject matter.

Welsh Witches is a combination of disquisition and documentation, with one part of the book providing a survey of witchcraft in Wales, and the other presenting court records and pre-trial transcripts verbatim. Establishing the book’s credentials, everyone’s favourite pagan academic uncle, Ronald Hutton, introduces Welsh Witches with a foreword in which he highlights that the documents presented here allow us to hear the voices of those accused of witchcraft, and their accusers, albeit meditated by the method of recording as court proceedings, and as translations into English of Welsh oral examinations. Hutton notes that few witchcraft pre-trial proceedings from Britain have survived (in Essex, for example, where over 450 suspects were indicted, the documents were entirely discarded), and that the Welsh examples are therefore the earliest such records still extant.

Suggett works as a Senior Investigator of Historic Buildings at The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales in Aberystwyth, and is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the Learned Society of Wales and the Society of Antiquaries of London. He is also the author of the 2005 work A History of Magic and Witchcraft in Wales, and so, as you would expect, there’s no problem with the quality of the writing or the analysis here. He begins with a summary of Welsh witchcraft, both broadly and in detail, providing many examples, all beautifully and mercifully annotated with citations. This is a richly drawn image, with multiple examples to draw from, and Suggett gently and expertly corrals the information with his insights. In some ways, it is a humble picture here, there are no grand sabbats or nights on the Welsh equivalent of Bald Mountain, and the accusations of witchcraft are embedded within a mundane setting, seemingly themselves part of that mundanity.

Triskelion design by Carolyn Hamilton-Giles

In the second section, the trial of Gwen ferch Ellis, a woman from Betws-yn-Rhose convicted and hung for witchcraft in 1594, is singled out and presented in detail as a revealing illustration of sixteenth century popular magic. It also, Suggett notes, provides example of connections with some Elizabethan writers on demonology. Suggett presents Gwen’s tale with a compelling, readable manner, and notes that her life would have been one of historical obscurity were it not for the details provided by court records. He draws attention to a charm which, upon request, Gwen recited to the bishop examining her, and highlights the way it combined nominally Christian elements, such as addressing the trinity, and appealing for Christ’s intercession, with features that would have been alien to both Protestant and Catholic ears. There is an atypical appeal to the three Marys, and to three consecrated (and unexplained) altars, as well as a multidirectional call to guard against predation from above and below the wind and the ground, at the centre of the world or anywhere in the world, from the ‘wolf of a man’ and from Satan, the ‘evil thing of hell.’

The rest of the book, two thirds of its total length, is then made up of transcripts of pre-trial and trial documents. These begin with the earliest legal reference in Wales with the 1502-1503 case against Thomas Wyrriot, who, aiming high, had hired a witch from Bristol, Margaret Hackett, to destroy the Bishop of St David’s, Pembrokeshire. There are sixteen cases in all, including various crimes such as consorting with faeries, image magic, and that old favourite, detecting a thief with charmed cheese (that’s using charmed cheese for the detecting, not for detecting a thief in possession of a charmed cheese). It ends in 1699 with the case against Dorcas Heddin, the last prosecution for witchcraft heard at the Court of Great Sessions, in a case with elements otherwise missing from Welsh tradition: a long-standing relationship with the devil as the man in black and demons exchanges of drops of blood. For each record, Suggett provides a helpful summary of the case, giving context and unwrapping some of the narrative obscured by archaic language, before thoroughly documenting every, erm, document.

Welsh Witches endears itself with its seriousness. It is not a book for practitioners, set in a slip of myth, with all the risks to accuracy that that entails, but is instead a serious work of history, no matter how quotidian. The verbatim trial and pre-trial records provide a valuable resource for reference, even if they are not the most obvious thing to read purely for pleasure in their entirety, given their archaic spelling and phrasing which has been retained.

Verso and recto pages in spread, typesetting by Joseph Uccello

Aesthetically, Welsh Witches is gorgeous, even in its standard edition. Bound in a blue cloth, it features what has already become the standard Atramentous style, with a verdant ornamental design from Carolyn Hamilton-Giles on the cover, spine and rear. This is debossed and foiled in black, with the title, author and a central leporidaen triskelion foiled in silver. A similar approach is found on the back, with the Atramentous logo foiled in silver amongst the black-foiled filigree, while title, author and an ornamental device on the spine are all in gold. Hamilton-Giles’ illustrative work regrettably does not feature inside the book, but the typesetting by Joseph Uccello is worth noting. Uccello displays a deft hand, with a clean, serif style used throughout for both body and display, although running titles are rendered in a heavy, somewhat incongruous blackletter face that I’m not sure about. Section title pages are nicely designed with a combination of Roman and Italic styles and an ornamental element, but these defy convention by occurring on verso rather than recto pages in the spread, making them less effective as titles and somewhat jarring in their positioning. Annoyingly, since this happens on the first title, all it would have taken is to recto that one page, and all the subsequent title pages would have bumped along onto the opposite side of the spread.

Due to its very nature, Welsh Witches is textually dense with nothing in the way of in-body illustrations. Instead, two of the sections end with several pages of relevant images. Printed on the same stock as the rest of the book, rather than as glossy plates, these are facsimiles of court documents (such as the arraignment for Gwen ferch Ellis below), excerpts from other documents, or current photographs of pertinent locations.

Welsh Witches spread with images

Welsh Witches is available in a standard edition and a now sold out deluxe edition. The standard edition of 777 copies consist of 250 pages, hardbound in buckram cloth with two colour foiling, natural wibalin endpapers and a bookmark ribbon. The deluxe edition of 13 copies was bound in full navy blue goat skin, two colour foil block to front and rear, gold foil to spine, charcoal grey Strathmore Grandee endpapers, and a book ribbon. It was housed in a navy suedal slipcase covered in black cloth.

Published by Atramentous Press

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Masks of Misrule – Nigel Jackson

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Categories: folk, luciferian, qayin, robert cochrane, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

Masks of Misrule coverEarlier this year we reviewed Nigel Jackson’s Call of the Horned Piper, and let’s just say we’ve got the Jackson bug as we return to another of his books released by the nice, but aesthetically questionable, folks at Capall Bann. In Masks of Misrule, Jackson turns his focus to the horned god of witchcraft, a figure he identifies as having roots at far back as the Palaeolithic era. The horned god, as detailed by Jackson and by Michael Howard in his foreword, is at his core a simple hunter deity, but beyond that he is more, being a multiplicious cosmic god of life and death, of boundaries and their crossings, of the night and the furious wild.

The chapters of Masks of Misrule delineate how this horned god can be viewed, drawing threads from across both time and distance. As the White Stag of Anwynn he is a Celto-Arthurian god of the forests, seen in figures as diverse as Cernunnos, the Breton St. Cornely, and the one-eyed guardian of the wood in The Mabinogion. He is leader of the Wild Hunt, the verdant Green Man, and the Saturnalian, goat-horned Christmas fool. And finally, he is the man in black, the lord of the sabbat and the hidden father.

Jackson also uses the horned god as a gateway that facilitates broader discussions of the themes of traditional witchcraft. Identifying the skull and crossbones as a persistent craft symbol of the horned god as Lord of the Red Skull, for example, allows Jackson to divert into a wide-ranging discussion of skull and skeletal symbology, bringing together examples from across the world, before returning to witchcraft in particular with toadsmen rituals and intimations of the Rose Beyond the Grave. Similarly, the discussion of the horned god as the man in black and master of the sabbat allows for a broader discussion of the sabbat and its symbolism, along with ritual accoutrements such as the obviously relevant stang.  The Rose Beyond the Grace

It is in the consideration of the horned god as master of the sabbat that we first see what separates a work like Masks of Misrule from the more typical witchcraft books, be they practical or historical. This is especially noticeable given conventional attempts to create distance from anything with the sulphuric whiff of diabolism; something that has been part and parcel of the history of modern witchcraft since the beginning, and remain largely unabated today. Still, it’s something that, despite the preponderance of horns on the cover of this book and others by Jackson and his colleagues, may go under the radar until you dive deeper into the pages. In the case of Masks of Misrule, this diving and discovery happens to its fullest extent late in the piece, when things get very specific and the book concludes with discussions of Lucifer, Qayin and Azazel.

Nigel Jackson: Horned God

As the Masks of Misrule title suggests, there’s much here that discusses the horned god as a figure of disruption, disorder, and naturally, panic and pandemonium. Jackson highlights the role of the horned god as overseer of times when liminality reigns, when the formula becomes one of ritual reversal, reflecting a greater cosmic rescission, a literal annulment when the world and the cosmos threatens to return to its primordial state, the sacred void of Ur-Khaos. In this regard, Jackson also incorporates Loki, highlighting his role as both mischief maker and the destructive Dark Fire-Lord of Misrule; while also mentioning that tantalising hint, as per Bill Liddell, about Loki being venerated by some East Anglian covens.

Nigel Jackson: Misrule

Throughout Masks of Misrule, Jackson writes clearly and competently, dropping bite-size chunks of information, almost always, as is the style, free of the specific citing of references. In additional to the encyclopaedic content of Masks of Misrule, Jackson does occasionally provide his own asides, bringing the threads together through an expositional voice that is authoritative and invested. There’s a sense that this isn’t theoretical for him, nor something that he has regurgitated from elsewhere, despite various touchstones, such as Robert Cochrane Clan of Tubal Cain and Andrew Chumbley’s Sabbatic Craft, being obvious.

It is the allure of the dark and diabolic that makes Masks of Misrule appealing, and ensures that it feels exceptional, with the diabolic interpretation feeling a lot more tangible than the usual nameless and bland presentation of the male principle. While darkening it up is something that has become increasingly popular when discussing witchcraft (as the surfeit of goat-faced traditional witchcraft books testifies), Masks of Misrule, feels like one of the originators, backed up with a wealth of knowledge that imitators may be lacking.

Masks of Misrule is once again illustrated throughout with Jackson’s own images, presented in a combination of heavy woodcut styled designs and finer, more illustrative works. These are, as ever, one of the highlights of the book, with a sense of mystery and numinosity, and just the right amount of sigils and, to use the vernacular of King Missile, mystical shit.

But as is also often the case with Capall Bann titles, the external appearance of Masks of Misrule does the work a huge disservice, so much so that judging this book by its cover would surely mean most people pass it by. One of Jackson’s beautiful hand drawn images is cut out and coloured in Photoshop and then placed unsympathetically over Photoshop-generated clouds and an ambiguous landscape that appears to have been generated with the Photoshop liquefy tool, but which gives the impression of Bryce 3D generated water (just needs some random geometric forms floating in the air). Meanwhile, the incongruous typeface of the book title has been attacked with text effects, featuring bevel and emboss, gradients and textures; as well as a little errant vertical line down the right hand side. And finally, as in other Capall Bann books, proofing could be better and Jackson conflates ‘it’s’ with ‘its’ – but he does it with such consistency that it almost becomes endearing.

Published by Capall Bann

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

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Categories: esotericism, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

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

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

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

The Witching Other dustjacket

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

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

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

Image by Carolyn Hamilton-Giles

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

Spread of pages

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

Published by Atramentous Press.

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Call of the Horned Piper – Nigel Aldcroft Jackson

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Categories: folk, luciferian, sabbatic craft, witchcraft

Call of the Horned Piper coverIt is sometimes hard to keep track of the various Nigel Jackson, Michael Howard and Evan John Jones titles released on Capall Bann. There’s not a lot of them necessarily, but the titles are somewhat interchangeable, and the covers are similar, if not in style then at least in theme (you’d better believe there’ll be horns on there). That’s not a criticism per se, simply a recognition that Jackson and his colleagues mine a very particular seam

After struggling through a fair amount of poor occult writing, where authors either can’t write or overreach whilst trying to sound more esoteric or more academic, reading Jackson here is something of a relief. Sure, he habitually types ‘it’s’ when he means ‘its’ but besides that most unforgivable of sins, he can actually write, creating a flowing narrative that is easy to read and at the same time, sophisticated and erudite. In some instances, he shows a particularly refined ability for the picturesque, with the first chapter beginning with a theoretical scenario of a witch preparing for transvection, written in a beautifully descriptive way.

In other instances though, as is the style of the book, Jackson just presents information in something of a fact-dump manner; albeit still well written. This kind of data (instances of witch accounts or folklore examples for the most part), will be largely familiar to anyone from these circles of traditional craft, which may be why there’s such a dearth of citing of sources. While the common knowledge nature of these facts makes this lacking of references slightly forgivable, one does find little gems that makes one wish for a place to go for more information – like the brief remark that Swedish witches preferred to use magpie forms when shapeshifting…. oooh, tell me more.Charivari image by Nigel Jackson

Call of the Horned Piper is divided into short, unnumbered chapters addressing various witchcraft themes, and these are grouped in the contents section into broad, unnamed segments that the reader won’t necessarily notice when reading the book from start to finish. In the first, Jackson considers what one could define as the sabbat and the wild hunt, emphasising the goddess lead versions of the Heljagd under Holda, Hela and Herodias, before moving on to her male counterpart, the Horned Master. This acts as a fulfilment of a statement of intent that Jackson makes at the start of the book, placing the witch’s ride at the centre of the image of the witch, with the broomstick being the preeminent symbol of this topology. By drawing together myriad threads provided by sabbat transvection and various other supernatural journeys, taken by either practitioners or deities, Jackson highlights the way in which this shamanic mystery with thousands of years of provenance lies at the core of Traditional Craft.

Later, Jackson incorporates other far flung strands of folklore, such as even werewolves and vampirism, showing how, in the footsteps of Carlo Ginzburg and Éva Pócs, these seemingly less esoteric aspects of legend play into the image of supernatural, shamanic-style journeys. Indeed, one could say that Jackson provides an entry level version of theories by Ginzburg, Pócs and the later Emma Wilby, heavy on examples but light on detail, and from a more hands-on, personally involved and less academic perspective.

Hela by Nigel Jackson

Jackson concludes Call of the Horned Piper with a practical section, providing information on tools and hallowing the witches compass, as well as a guided visualisation, Mysterium Sabbati: Riding on the Witch Way. There’s not a lot here but as a core toolkit it suffices and the theory and lore that precedes it contains enough information for practitioners to fill in the gaps and develop their own rituals in a Traditional Craft mould.

In all, Call of the Horned Piper has much to recommend it. It contains a wealth of information that can lead to more indepth investigation when you track down the uncited sources, and it comes from a specifically endemic place, with Jackson clearly providing the bones to existing modalities. Of specific personal appeal is the way in which Hela appears throughout the book, particularly in Her guises as a witch goddess of the underworld, with Jackson making several references to her.

Image by Nigel Jackson

Call of the Horned Piper is illustrated throughout by Jackson himself, which, as Gemma Gary does in her books, adds an additional layer of interest, omneity and authenticity. Jackson employs a variety of styles, largely differentiated by the weight of stroke. There’s woodcut (or woodcut-styled, it’s hard to tell) images, high in contrast as is the nature of the medium, and then there’s detailed, fine-line ink drawings. While there’s a certain rustic charm to the woodcuts (and I’m particularly fond of the image of Hela), it is their more intricate siblings that really appeal. These recall some of the work of Andrew Chumbley or Daniel Schulke, with icons that are beautifully archaic, festooned with hand written text and more mystical sigils than you can shake a stick at. Unfortunately, their effectiveness is lessened by repeated use, with some of the images reappearing throughout the book at various sizes as unnecessary fillers. Jackson’s fine line pictures also include more illustrative images, such as his stunning Fraw Holt, which I recall on the cover of an issue of The Cauldron so many years ago. In these, Jackson renders fey figures with an imperial distance and acerose features, in a timeless, evocative style that seems weighted with meaning.

The, how you say, roughness of Capall Bann productions has been noted before here at Scriptus Recensera, and Call of the Horned Piper is no exception. The book title on the spine is so large that it seeps onto the front and back covers, as does the Capall Bann logo, while the title on the cover is off-centre. The typeface choice and treatment on the cover leaves something to be desired, as does the orange gradient, which makes the book look prematurely sun faded. The image on the front, a striking woodcut by Jackson, is treated unsympathetically, askew within an unattractive white frame, with a dotted magenta trim line visible around the edge for some reason.

Published by Capall Bann

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Angurgapi: The Witch-hunts in Iceland – Magnús Rafnsson

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Categories: folk, germanic, grimoire, runes, witchcraft

Angurgapi coverIn 2002, Strandagaldur, also known as the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík, Iceland, hosted the Exhibition of Sorcery and Witchcraft, which one assumes evolved into or contributed to the museum’s permanent exhibition. Shortly after the opening it became evident that there was a need for a short book on Icelandic sorcery and witchcraft, one that reflected the questions asked of museum staff by visitors Icelandic and foreign; especially given the dearth of texts on the subject outside of academia. Angurgapi: The Witch-hunts in Iceland is exactly that. It is by no means a survey of the museum’s collection, for which there is now a catalogue, and instead gives a pithy and concise survey of Icelandic witchcraft, using the framing device of witch-hunts to delve a little deeper in places.

It is, though, the witch-hunts in Iceland that the book devotes much of its space to, beginning with a summary of several notable early cases. What immediately becomes clear is that contrary to the continental stereotype, it was men who received the most convictions for sorcery in Iceland, and not just any men but men of the cloth. In many cases, accusations of witchcraft seems to have gone hand in hand with clerical infidelity, with Rafnsson presenting several examples of priests who were accused of witchcraft as well as fathering children or engaging in adultery or sexual assault. Even Gottskálk Nikulásson, the last Catholic Bishop of Hólar from 1496 to 1520 (who had multiple mistresses and sired at least three children), was thought to be a sorcerer, and the author of an infamous grimoire called Rauðskinna.

One exception to this template, indeed its polar opposite, was Jón Guðmundsson the Learned, who, as his name suggests, was something of a 16th-century Icelandic Renaissance man, being a writer, artist, sculptor, and an observer and documenter of nature. He ran afoul of the authorities when he criticised the murder of a group of Basque whalers in the Westfjords, and this ultimately led to accusations of witchcraft when a book he had written was used as evidence of diabolism. Jón admitted to writing the now lost volume and defended it as a book of healing without any evil purpose. While the image of Jón as a polymath with inclinations towards natural philosophy would seemingly make authorship of a grimoire unlikely, a listing of the book’s sections preserved in court documents reveals not herbal cures, but spells of the type found in other black books: charms against elves, madness and fire, or spells for providing victory in war or against storms at sea, amongst others.

Spread including pages from Lbs. 1235, 8vo written by Jón Guðmundsson the Learned

It is these types of grimoires and their attendant spells and charms that figure largely in the Icelandic accounts of witchcraft, rather than the transvection, sabbats and other diabolical congregations of their continental colleagues. As Rafnsson notes, almost a third of the Icelandic witchcraft trials centre on the possession of grimoires and other examples of rendered magical staves, charms or sigils. While many of these have been destroyed (with court records documenting two instances of a punishment in which the guilty party was made to inhale the smoke of the burning pages), what has survived presents various interesting themes: a juxtaposition in references to pagan and Christian deities, the combination of continental influences with entirely indigenous elements such as magical staves, and the role played by copying in transmitting this information down through the years.

Spread with image of the codex Lbs. 143 8vo

What comes through clearly in the various accounts of witch trials is the sense of paranoia and fear prevalent at the time, where accusations of witchcraft often appear to be acts of self-preservation, where the accuser, even sheriffs and priests, could themselves easily become the accused. There is also a sense of disproportionate punishment, where admission of knowing and using a simple non-malicious charm could lead to exile or death. With some relief for the reader, Rafnsson does document the change in beliefs and values as society progressed, past cases were reassessed and found wanting (though small comfort to those who had been executed), and, as happened elsewhere, those who made accusations of witchcraft were increasingly more likely to be convicted for wasting the court’s time, rather than seeing their neighbours pilloried.

After a heart felt memoriam noting the loss of life and humiliation experienced by those accused of witchcraft, Angurgapi concludes with a little travelogue of the Icelandic witch-hunts, devoting four pages to various notable locations, each presented with a photo and a brief explanation. These help provide context to some of the accounts that have preceded it.

Rafnsson writes throughout Angurgapi in a clear, no-nonsense manner that is an effortless joy to read. Without much adornment, the facts are presented in a matter of fact but sympathetic manner that is surprisingly engaging. As such, Angurgapi achieves what it set out to do, providing a brief but by no means superficial survey of a topic for which there is still little thorough documentation of.

Spread including an image of AM 434d, 12mo, a grimoire measuring only 8x8.5cm

Angurgapi runs to a mere 85 pages but feels weightier due to the hardcover binding and wrap-around glossy cover (went a little overboard on the old Photoshop Texture filter there, folks). Inside, the pages are also glossy and colour images abound. These include beautiful scans of original manuscripts, principally spreads from grimoires, sourced from the National Library in Reykjavík. Text is formatted cleanly and confidently, albeit in nothing but humble Times, and there are little nice touches, like the overly large page numbers rendered in an uncial face. There is one reservation with the layout though, with the text alternating between three styling choices: body, block text and image captions. The block text, usually an addendum to something in the main text, are set in a grey box and styled at the same point size as the body, but with less, rather than more, of an indent. In some cases running to several pages long, they often awkwardly interrupt the main body and aren’t successfully identified as secondary in hierarchy. The same is true of image captions, which are rendered in an italicised face only a few point sizes smaller than the body, meaning that despite being centred and placed in relation to their respective image, the eye often reads them as if they are a continuation of the main text.

Since the release of Angurgapi in 2002, Strandagaldur have expanded their publishing, releasing the aforementioned catalogue, as well as various archival publications of grimoires: Tvær galdraskræður, a bilingual bringing together of two manuscripts, Lbs 2413 8vo and Lbs 764 8vo (aka Leyniletursskræðan); Lbs. 143,8vo (aka Galdrakver) as a two book boxset featuring a facsimile in one and translation in multiple languages in the other; and a complete facsimile edition of the galdrabók Rún with translation. All thoroughly recommended.

Published by Strandagaldur

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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

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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Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways – Gemma Gary

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Categories: folk, witchcraft

Here at Scriptus Recensera there’s no shortage of reviews of Troy Books, erm, books. This comes largely down to matters practical: they are both affordable and desirable, with even the standard editions being presented in an attractive, cloth-bound format with embossed cover designs, and beautifully formatted and illustrated within. They’re also easy to review since they are eminently readable, consistently professional and usually devoid of the kind of errors so typical of occult publishing. As such, though, when it comes time to read and review Gemma Gary’s Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways, one wonders how differently this will fare amongst not just other previously reviewed Troy Books books, but also amongst Gary’s other written works.

Traditional Witchcraft, with its somewhat generic title amongst a veritable sea of Traditional Witchcraft books, can at least make a claim to being one of the originals of the current crop, first published ten years ago in 2008, with this being the third edition from 2015, following a revised second edition in 2011. In the intervening years, Gary’s skills have grown as a writer, becoming someone who I find admirably effortless to read. This isn’t always the case here, with occasionally tortuous phrasing, peculiar usages of semicolons, and the odd run-on sentence which you can’t imagine encountering today.

Traditional Witchcraft provides something of a template to other books that have subsequently come from Gary and Troy Books. There’s an overwhelming emphasis on folklore, which is naturally for the most part specific to Cornwall. While there is a substantial bibliography at the back of the book, there is zero citing within the body, so all of this lore comes across, intentionally or not, as personal, experiential knowledge. That said, it is interesting to review the bibliography to get a sense of where things have presumably come from. It is divided into folklore and broader witchcraft sections, with the former featuring a surfeit of works from Kelvin Jones’ Oakmagic Publications, while the latter has a healthy nod to Capall Bann’s triumvirate of Jackson/Howard/Pearson.

This grounding in folklore, including a welcomed consideration of the Bucca, gives way to a thorough introduction to Gary’s Cornish system of witchcraft, which takes up the rest of book’s two thirds. For anyone familiar with traditional witchcraft, there won’t be anything here that’s entirely unfamiliar or revelatory, but it is consistently given that little Cornish flavour. Gary begins by introducing the tools of cunning, at the forefront of which is the staff, which she describes as being as important to traditional witchcraft as the athame is to Wicca. This assemblage of accoutrements also includes a knife, cup, bowl, cauldron, sweeping tools, various types of stones, necklaces, and noise makers such as drums and wind roarers. Gary provides a brief description of each of these and then information on empowering them with a technique called hooding.

Gary then explores the cosmological setting of Cornish magic in The Witches’ Compass, using that rubric to outline a system in which the quarters are imagined as four roads emanating from the axial circle. Each road is associated with a particular form of intent, and with it a range of correspondences including seasons, elements and familiar spirits. These roads are worked with a Compass Rite in which a compass round is drawn and then walked before the specific magical act begins. Gary then provides an outline of the Troyl Hood, a procedure that is used to close any rite or workings.

With the emphasis in Traditional Witchcraft of matters folkloric, there is a significant section on witchcraft as a trade, with an exploration of charms and practical magic. This begins with a brief preamble of the types of employment a witch might find before detailing various planetary virtues and their associated powders, oils and incenses. Then follows a wide selection of charms for all kinds of sympathetic magic, the kinds of things that will be familiar from any type of folklore collection, utilising familiar simultaneously mundane and exotic ingredients like horse shoes, dead toads and knots. Gary rounds things off with what any witchcraft book needs, a survey of the ritual year, but this isn’t so much your standard Imbolcs and Beltanes, and instead have a Cornish twist, with the quartenal Furry Nights of Allantide, Candlemas, May’s Eve and Guldize being joined by the summer zenith of Golowan and the midwinter solstice of Montol. These are each presented with an explanation and then an example of a corresponding ritual.Coming to the conclusion of Traditional Witchcraft, Gary ends with a beginning and provides a chapter on initiation, with a wide ranging discussion of its history and precedents, before providing a ritual for solo initiation into her Ros an Bucca hearth.

At over 200 pages, Traditional Witchcraft is a solid introduction to Gary’s oeuvre and Cornish witchcraft in particular, free of much in the way of artifice or pretension. The Bucca looms large within its pages (and on the cover of the paperback edition), while there are also tantalising mentions of Ankow, the Cornish personification of death who is here seen as a Hela-like hag of death and transformation. Interestingly, snakes also figure largely in the contents of Traditional Witchcraft, something that is perhaps not often found in similar contexts and something which adds a certain appeal for this reviewer. Gary repeatedly refers to the idea of igneus snakes as expressions of tellurian power that can be drawn up from the earth and into the body in a kundalini-like manner.

As is the Troy Books style, Traditional Witchcraft is illustrated throughout with Gary’s unmistakeable hand, though her trademark stippled stylings still seems somewhat inchoate here, and she explores a variety of other techniques; one even looking reminiscent of Daniel Schulke’s atavistic, two tone botanical considerations in Viridarium Umbris. Joining these full page and interstitial illustrations is a large collection of photographic plates by Jane Cox, either showcasing relics of note, or documenting practical acts of magic.

Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways is available in two editions, a generic paperback version and a hardback edition. The hardback is presented in a claret red binding, with black end-papers, black and red head and tail bands and with silver foil blocking to the front and spine. In addition to these two available editions there were also a special limited edition (bound in green cloth with a unique image blocked in copper foil on the cover), a fine limited edition and a special fine edition. The fine edition, limited to 25 copies, was hand bound in scarlet hand finished goat leather with gold foil blocking to the front and spine, marbled end papers, red head and tail bands and marker ribbon, enclosed in a lined slipcase covered in red library Buckram cloth. Finally, the five exemplars of the special fine edition were hand bound in dark green fine hand polished and finished goat leather, with hand tooled raised labyrinth design on the front and gold foil blocking to the spine, with marbled end papers, capped spine ends, and gold marker ribbon, enclosed in a lined slipcase covered in green library Buckram cloth.

The title is also available as a four-CD audio book, created in conjunction with Circle of Spears Productions and read by actress and voice artiste Tracey Norman.

Published by Troy Books

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