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Trolls: An Unnatural History – John Lindow

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Categories: folk, germanic

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

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

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

Spread featuring images by Johan Fredrik Eckersberg and Peter Nikolai Arbo

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

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

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

Spread featuring an image by Theodor Kittelsen

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

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

Published by Reaktion Books

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The Moribund Portal – Richard Gavin

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

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

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

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

The Moribund Portal spread

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

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

Published by Three Hands Press.

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

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Categories: germanic, runes, Tags:

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

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

Illuminated runes by Nigel Pennick

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

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

Runic Lore & Legend spread

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

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

Runes and airts by Nigel Pennick

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

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

Published by Destiny Books.

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The Wicked Shall Decay – A. D. Mercer

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Categories: folk, witchcraft

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wicked Shall Decay spread with poorly vectored witches

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

The Wicked Shall Decay spread with appalling tree, or something

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

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

Published by Three Hands Press.

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The Secret of the Runes – Guido von List

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Categories: germanic, runes, Tags:

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

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

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

Futhark spread

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

Runic symbols and title page spread

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

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

Published by Destiny Books

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Zazen Sounds #5

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Categories: art, esotericism, magick, music

Zazen Sounds #5 coverZazen Sounds is both a record label and the name of this small sub-A5 magazine published by Acherontas V.Priest of the similarly named black metal band Acherontas, and the dark ambient project Shibalba. The magazine’s goal appears as a legend beneath the title on the cover, “serving the spiritual background of the art of music” and to this end it combines interviews with predominantly black metal musician and occult artists and publishers, plus a few articles about matters magickal.

Being my first encounter with this magazine, the thing that strikes you immediately about this fifth issue of Zazen Sounds is the look, which creates the chronometrically-disorienting feeling of reading a ‘zine from decades ago. While it may not have the physical cut-and-paste construction of yesteryear, there’s a rough and ready quality to the layout that all the digital tools of today haven’t corrected. Things are also really tight, but more about that later.

The bands featured in interviews here are an interesting bunch with different styles but some certain commonalities. It’s here that the old-zine feel is confirmed, with references to various Satanic and magickal groups known primarily for their time in the early-to-mid nineties, such as the Order of Nine Angle and the Order of the Left Hand Path. Just as some of the black metal aesthetics on display here don’t seem to have moved on much from that period, so these references to older magickal groups feel almost nostalgic for a simpler, and yet more mysterious time. This is affirmed when some of the artists, betraying their age, wax lyrical about the pre-internet days of tape trading and the returning of stamps, while lamenting some of the characteristics of the modern age.

This interview line-up consists of Lvcifyre from London, Germany’s Dysangelium, Finland’s Slave’s Mask and Iceland’s glorious Svartidauð, while the Greek-born/London-based Macabre Omen kind of get double-billing with Alexandros Antoniou interviewed twice, both as a member of Macrabre Omen and as his project The One. For the non-metal side of music, there’s an interview with Liesmaic of the delightful Deverills Nexion, which naturally sees some of those references to the ONA; and showing their roots in black metal, some de rigueur bemoaning of the genre’s current state compared to nineties glory days.

Zazen Sounds #5, Deverills Nexion spread

The language in some of the interviews is what you would, perhaps unfairly, expect from black metal bands, a little vainglorious, a little pompous, all caught in the bind of having to say things without coming across as too enthusiastic or risk having the little masks of occult obscuration fall. As a result, it’s something of a relief to take a break from the turgid prose with the first of the article contributions here, a piece on Voudon Gnostic oracular systems by Sean Woodward. This is a refreshingly well-written piece, though it does descend into a swamp of gematria words and values later on, which can make your eyes glaze over if you’re not that way inclined.

The other articles in this issue are an exploration of the German poet Stefan George by Cornelius Waldner, and two pieces that one could describe as discussions of personal process. In the first, When Reason Fails, the Soul Speaks, painter and illustrator David S. Herrerías, who may be familiar for work in both occult publications and on metal albums (with a book forthcoming from Atramentous Press), gives thoughts on art as a magickal method and a way of connecting to and exploring the unconscious. Meanwhile, Multi Layeredness by Tay Köllner Willardar Xul-Lux considers just that, the idea of layers as a principle that can be applied to either magick, music, or any other form of art.

In addition to the interviews with musicians, Zazen Sounds has interviews with Finnish record label The Sinister Flame, and with two Canadians, occult publishers and artists respectively. Gabriel McCaughry of Anathema Publishing talks largely about his exquisite publishing imprint (and a little about his black metal band Blight), while in the longest interview in the magazine at 13 pages, Chris Undirheimar of Blood and Fire Ritual Art covers, naturally, a variety of topics relating to his art, philosophy of life and working out. His rather spectacular painting Loki Thursakyndill also graces the cover and (in mirrored form) the back of this issue.

Zazen Sounds #5, Slave's Mask spread

The layout in Zazen Sounds doesn’t exactly make it conducive to reading, nor does it do the content justice. While titles and lead text are rendered nicely enough in an archaic serif face (all caps for the titles, italic for the lead), the body copy is crammed into fully justified, heavily-hyphenated columns of a monotonous and somewhat incongruous sans serif. Paragraphs are treated inconsistently, sometimes within the same section, and can have either a first line indent or no indent at all. Interviews suffer the worst as questions and answers sit snuggly next to each other, differentiated only by the bolding of the former, creating impenetrable walls of dense typographic colour. Also, some sections don’t end on their own page, and instead the remainder flows onto another page, making the following interview start up to a quarter of the way down. This contributes to everything feeling claustrophobic, and it doesn’t need to, as a little adjusting of the layout for more space, such as the removal of small or often redundant images, would have allowed things to breath. Then there’s a lack of attention to detail that sees a couple of images pixelated into illegibility, little to no proofing and editing on the contributions from non-native-English-speakers in particular, and one interview that accidentally repeats a page worth of questions and answers, woops. It’s a shame as this lack of rigour distracts from the content, and just a little polish would have helped live up to that noble aspiration of combining music, magic and art.

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Rune=Magic – S.A Kummer

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Categories: germanic, runes, Tags:

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

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

Rune=Magic page spread with rune circle

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

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

Rune=Magic page spread with mudras

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

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

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

Rune=Magic illustration showing the high holy Grove of Light

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

Published by Rûna Raven Press

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

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Categories: folk, sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

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

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

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

Frontispiece to Witch as Poison

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

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

Circulatum Sabbati

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

Veneficium colour plates

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

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

Published by Three Hands Press

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The Seven Faces of Darkness: Practical Typhonian Magic – Don Webb

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Categories: classical, egyptian, magick, typhonian, Tags:

The Seven Faces of Darkness: Practical Typhonian Magic coverAs a sequel to the December review of Set by Judith Page and Don Webb, we get nostalgic with a look back at the first book from Webb to make it into the nascent Scriptus Recensera library. Published in 1996, the year that Webb would become High Priest of the Temple of Set, The Seven Faces of Darkness identifies itself on the title page as the first volume of the proceedings of the Order of Setne Khamuast, a Temple of Set order that Webb was then the grandmaster of. There doesn’t seem to have been any subsequent volumes to these proceedings, but what is presented here speaks to the order’s raison d’être of combining scholarship with magical practice. The blurb on the back of the book suggests a similar motivation, mentioning Webb’s hope that it will be “a partial antidote to the fuzzy thinking of the occult world,” – wonder how that turned out.

The other intention of The Seven Faces of Darkness, mentioned on the back cover of the book, is to reclaim the wisdom of Late Antiquity, and that is very much what we get here with a focus on authentic examples of Typhonian sorcery, principally from the Greek Magical Papyri. Before getting to those examples, though, Webb begins with a personally-voiced introduction and then provides a broad overview of the source material, focusing, by way of an early example, on three representative rituals: two from papyri (one in Greek and the other in both Greek and Demotic) and one from a curse tablet found in a well in the Athenian Agora. For each of these, Webb highlights how they relate to Set, in particular his syncretisation with the Greek figure of Typhon, a natural figure to appeal to when performing maleficia.

In the third chapter, Webb does a slight jump back by regrouping and focussing on Set; almost introducing him anew despite referring to him multiple times in the previous chapters. He gives a brief history of Set, beginning with what traces there are in the predynastic period and culminating with more recent events deemed significant, like the founding of the Church of Satan, Michael Aquino’s reception of The Book of Coming Forth By Night in 1975, and a Temple of Set heb-sed festival, under the guidance of the Order of Setne Khamuast, in Las Vegas in 1995. Webb then discusses attributes and symbols of Set, and considers his role in three locations: in the Duat, on earth, and in the sky; a fairly standard tripartite cosmological division.

Seven Faces of Darkness page spread

The largest section of The Seven Faces of Darkness contains a selection of spells from the Greek Magical Papyri and a few other sources, which are presented, one assumes, verbatim, usually with a note from Webb at the end. These spells, for the most part, cover the kind of things you come across in any compendium of folk magic, with formulae for creating sexual attraction, breaking up relationships, and restraining enemies. While some of these are only tangentially related to Set, others, though, have a particularly interesting Setian emphasis, such as the Spell for Obtaining Luck from Set from PGM IV 154-285. Here, the practitioners both summons and identifies themselves with Set, describing all of Set-Typhon’s activities as their own. In so doing, it provides a rich Setian liturgy, with Set addressed in all manner of evocative terms.

At just over 100 pages, The Seven Faces of Darkness should feel like a brief volume, but it’s surprisingly detailed. There’s the discussion of Set providing a good cosmological base, another chapter dealing more with modern Setian magickal theory and a guide to ritual, and then the exploration of the various spells from the PGM, which gives examples of genuine Typhonian sorcery and provides a toolkit of forms, tools and techniques drawn from Hermeticism and its Egyptian syncretism that can be adapted for personal use. As such, The Seven Faces of Darkness feels a little bit more essential as a guide to both Set and his magick than the recently reviewed Set: The Outsider. The exploration of Set from a mythological perspective while detailed is not that extensive, but it provides enough for anyone not familiar with him as a neter to get a sense of his complexity. Similarly, Webb’s discussion of ritual hits a lot of useful beats when it comes to setting up a system of magical praxis, including a listing of tool, several ways to approach working with Set, and a schema of festivals to celebrate throughout the year. This worth is somewhat hidden by the formatting, which is very utilitarian, so speaking of which…

Seven Faces of Darkness page spread

The Seven Faces of Darkness is formatted in Rûna Raven’s style of the times, which appears to have involved a sole rudimentary word processor. This means everything is messy and cramped with very little room to breathe. Ugly, archaic underlining is used for emphasis and everything (paragraphs, first paragraphs, subtitles, block quotes) have a first line indent. It’s those now atypical underlines that are the worst though, cutting thickly underneath bits of text, but coming across, such is the brutality of their placement, as if they are strikethroughs correcting copy.

The cover design by Timothy Weinmeister (who also contributes some select internal illustrations) features a striking image of Set against a pyramid and temple peppered horizon. The reproduction, though, is soft and regrettably, it’s clear that a high resolution version of the artwork wasn’t used.

Published by Rûna Raven Press.

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

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Categories: robert cochrane, witchcraft, Tags:

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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