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The Book of Q’ab iTz – David Herrerias

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Categories: art, sabbatic craft, Tags:

The Book of Q'ab iTz coverSince forming in 2018, Atramentous Press have quickly built a significant catalogue of releases, with this being their fourth title already. The Book of Q’ab iTz is one part magickal record, one part art portfolio, with the latter being what author David Herrerias is best known for. Mexico-born, Sweden-based Herrerias has created cover art in his distinctive wispy style of oils for black metal acts such as Irkallian Oracle, Akhlys and most spectacularly, Nightbringer, as well as featuring in occult publications from Three Hands Press, Anathema Publishing and others.

The Book of Q’ab iTz is divided into two sections: a written preamble that takes up a little under half of the work, and the Book of Q’ab iTz proper, which consists predominantly of illustrations by Herrerias. This latter section is, in turn, divided into two codices, presenting formulae of the Androgyne, and of the Xoëtic Alphabet respectively. The written preamble does two things: first, it presents an explanation of the modalities out of which the illustrative content emerged, with Herrerias describing his approach based on the Sabbatic Tradition as found in Andrew Chumbley’s Dragon Book of Essex, Qutub and Azoëtia. These are presented as either instructions to the reader, or as diary recollections of Herrerias’ own work. This preamble also  provides something of an explanation for the illustrations, with an exegesis, still somewhat veiled in obnubilating occult language, of the symbolism and the themes. Unfortunately, as all this written comment occurs in the first half of the book, it somewhat divorces it from the corresponding images, and the correlation between the two sections can be forgotten as you move forward (or subject to a constant flicking betwixt pages and the marking of places with fingers).

The Book of Q'ab iTz spread

The images of Codex I, Formula of the Androgyne, are presented in a variety of usually dense and detailed styles, with a heavy calligraphic element being perhaps the most common motif. Here, Herrerias writes in a lovely, florid hand, often layering the text over images, or otherwise creating dense surfaces of typographic colour. While hard to read, even if you do speak Spanish, the text from some of these images is translated and printed, without explanation, in a section before the main images. Other than this curlicued text, the artwork here contains as its main feature a prevailing theme of the corporeal, featuring a variety of human bodies and individual body parts, usually dissolving or evolving into various forms. Phalluses and multiple sets of breasts abound, including several appearances by the winged-penis that is the fascinum, featuring, sometimes overtly, others covertly, in a variety of images.

David Herrerias: The Book of Q'ab iTz spread

In Codex II, the images differ little in overall style, but there is an increasing emphasis on the incorporation of Mesoamerican motifs, with the usual pallet of western occult imagery being joined by figures that would not be out of place in Mayan codices. This relates to Herrerias’ integration of his Mexican cultural background incorporation into the Ophidian and Sabbatic path, with most notably the Tlacuache (Opposum) and the Tecolotl (Owl) featured throughout as significant totemic forces that mark the “moment of experiential ecstasy at the Witches’ Sabbat.” This is, perhaps, the most interesting element of The Book of Q’ab iTz as it provides a unique innovation of the array of symbols, and one that, if initially incongruous, begins to have a certain appeal.

David Herrerias: The Book of Q'ab iTz spread

While presenting a body of work that is consistently his own, Herrerias employs a variety of styles for which, in some cases, there are some clear touchstones and precedents. Chumbley seems the most obvious, in particular the use of facetted plains and jagged, eldritch tendrils that have always been evocative of Lovecraft’s references to unsettling non-Euclidian geometry. Austin Osman Spare also lends a pretty indelible mark on the work, most immediately with Herrerias’ use of intense self-portrait in which he stares out at the viewer, recalling the same gaze from Spare in a multitude of images. Similarly, a totemic painting comprised of three faces stacked one upon the other seems like an obvious riff on Spare’s Mind and Body from 1953, while anytime human figures merge and dissolve into amorphous shapes, or steles combine frontalist godforms, sigils and mystic letters, it’s hard not to think of Spare’s oeuvre.

The final selection of artwork in The Book of Q’ab iTz moves Herrerias away from the pen and brush and towards the lens, with a series of black and white photographs documenting the formula of the Xoëtic Alphabet. Each of these darkly-toned images is accompanied on the preceding page by a brief, if cryptic, explanation of each stage in the process.

David Herrerias: Formula of the Xoëtic Alphabet

Given the effort that has gone into a title like this, from the choice of stock to the quality of printing, not to mention the hours spent by Herrerias in creating the images, it’s a shame more of the same wasn’t applied to finessing the text. There are deficiency in both editing and proofing, with the lack of the former meaning you can have a single sentence that runs to seven lines, while the absence of the latter sees the conflation of ‘its’ for ‘it’s’ and general spelling and grammatical mistakes. While Herrerias does admirably for someone whose first language, one assumes, is not English (and some areas are better than others), it would have been a kindness to have a more rigorous editor to tighten the run-on sentences, lipo the other bits of literary flab, and keep the tenses making senses.

David Herrerias: The Book of Q'ab iTz spread

The Book of Q’ab iTz has been released by Atramentous Press in four editions: standard hardback, the Somatic special edition, the Telesmatic deluxe edition, and a trade paperback. The standard edition of 333 exemplars has a natural terracotta cover with central insignia and printed spine, binding approximately 120 pages of a weighty 150 gsm Munken Rough stock and natural heritage blue endpapers. The Somatic edition of 33 wraps the same in a goatskin cover, with gold foil insignias blocked to cover and rear, five foiled ribs on the spine, enclosed in a felt-lined cloth slipcase. Finally, the thirteen exemplar Telesmatic edition binds the above in polished goatskin cover, but houses it in a full leather solander box with a foil blocked title on the front and ribs to spine, and comes with a sigillic talisman by Herrerias on nagual-made paper from Mexico.

Published by Atramentous Press

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Welsh Witches – Richard Suggett

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Categories: folk, witchcraft, Tags:

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

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Categories: esotericism, sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

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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