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Visual Magick – Jan Fries

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

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

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

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

Jan Fries: Loki

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

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

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

Jan Fries: Access to a Tree

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

Published by Mandrake of Oxford.

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Craft of the Untamed: An Inspired Vision of Traditional Witchcraft – Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold

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Categories: faery, folk, sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

craftoftheuntamedThere is no shortage of books about Traditional Witchcraft upon the shelves in the Scriptus Recensera library, filled as it is with worthy contributions from Michael Howard, Gemma Gary, Shani Oates, Andrew Chumbley, Nigel Jackson and others. And that’s not to mention the works of the pretenders and imitators that haven’t been granted access to these hallowed halls. The question that arises, then, is whether Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold is able to bring anything new to the table. Frisvold certainly seems to think so, cutting my musings off at the pass and making his case early on for one major point of difference: a focus not just on the British and Scandinavian sources for witches, but on the parallels that are to be found in Italy and even further afield in South American expressions of magic, especially those connected with African diasporic religions. Thus, a consideration of the crossroad in witchcraft inevitably makes a brief detour into the comparable symbolism in Yoruba belief and Vodou, facilitating a full circle of motifs when ‘the kingdom’ from the Cult of Exu finds an analogue in the Witches’ Sabbath.

Frisvold makes another distinction at the outset, noting that similar books are often highly eclectic in their approach, uncritically embracing myths and legends, with an attendant use of etymology and epistemology. However, there is often little to differentiate what is presented in this book with the style of, say, Michael Howard, Nigel Jackson and Shani Oates, three authors who, to my mind, have often written with an encyclopaedic, info-dump approach that embraces folklore, legend, myth and etymology in a rather broad manner. Frisvold’s sources are a little different from those of Howard, Jackson and Oates, though there are certainly some common ones; and titles from Cappall Bann do make a significant contribution to the bibliography. Instead, Frisvold draws heavily on material from Hermeticism and the Western Tradition, with an obvious and fairly frequently fondled touchstone being found in Cornelius Agrippa.

There is a utilitarian approach to the writing here with a conversational tone that precludes much in the way of scene setting or background exposition when information is presented. Frisvold obviously knows his stuff (except perhaps for the bit about Robert Johnson dying at the crossroads, wahhh?), so there’s no feeling of him skimping on the details out of ignorance, and while you don’t need to over explain things to an occult audience (where a certain familiarity with the material is expected), it still feels like more context could be provided before the nuggets of knowledge are dropped. The brevity of Frisvold’s writing is also evident in a lack of transitional phrases tying paragraphs together, with ideas often being abruptly introduced as if they have no immediate relation, to the subjects that have gone before. This leads to a jarring effect when blocks of information appear, if only briefly, as if they are non sequiturs, barren of any relation to the wider discussion.

This slight lack of focus bleeds into the chapters, which, although given clear titles and themes, don’t necessarily reflect an obvious flow throughout the book; suggesting, although I have no evidence to corroborate it, that they started as individual essays. These chapters cover off various areas of witchcraft, with the first one being the aforementioned consideration of the symbolism of the crossroads. Chapter two, Solomonic Magic, is a wide-ranging slightly unfocused discussion that covers more than what its title would suggest, lurching from grimoire magic, to folk concepts of the Devil, to liminal Roman and Etruscan deities and ultimately to inverted crosses. The focus is tightened a little more in a discussion of blood and ancestry in systems of witchcraft and, inevitably, beyond. Arguably the most successful chapter is one in which the gaze lingers on a central theme for longer with a consideration of the Witches’ Sabbath and the traditions surrounding the Mount of Venus. I am rather partial to the emphasis Frisvold gives to Hela, focusing on Her role as an initiatory goddess of witchcraft and the underworld, addressing Her as “Ninefold Mother, Hel, Herodias, Holda. Queen of Elphame, Queen of Venus’ mount.”

Many of the chapters conclude with a practical activity that put into action what has just been discussed. Thus, a chapter that could be broadly said to be concerned with sympathetic magick concludes with a series of brief malefic spells, such as a poppet charm for harm and healing, and a procedure for creating a mojo bag for protection. In the chapter on the Witches’ Sabbath, instructions are given for a rite of transvection using flying ointments, while the consideration of blood ties is concluded with a procedure for feeding the ancestors

audreymelobeardsley

Each chapter in Craft of the Untamed is prefaced with a black and white illustration by Audrey Melo, who also provides the painting that features on the cover. The reproduction of these internal illustration varies widely in quality, with everything from acceptable to quite pixelated, to goodness me, they’ve put pixels in their pixels so they can pixel when they pixel. These images are also wildly inconsistent in style, with Melo having no discernible look of her own and instead riffing on the aesthetics of various familiar esoteric artists. There’s a few atavistic Austin Osman Spare motifs, a fairly convincing Aubrey Beardsley pastiche, and a couple of images that are an obvious tribute to the unknown artists of a thousand wishful metal album covers scrawled across a thousand school exercise books. One image takes Brian Froud as its inspiration and by inspiration I mean that at its centre is one of his rather distinctive characters, economically traced, without credit.

Craft of the Untamed is better formatted than many Mandrake of Oxford titles, with none of the cramped styling that is usually found amongst their books. In place of it, though, and proving I’m never satisfied, is an overly generous leading that almost approaches double line spacing in depth and which, although allowing things to breathe, does result in just 30 lines of text on a page. This count is reduced even more when the style is applied to what ends up being rather spaced out invokations that can’t help but be read in a stilted, broken tone worthy of William Shatner. There’s an unfortunately typical lack of attention to detail in the formatting and proofing: chapter headings can’t decide if they’re meant to be bolded or not, the first page of each chapter flaunts convention and includes the header with the book’s author and title in it (as do all other pages, regardless of the content), and there’s a reckless disregard for punctuation, with a surfeit of missing, redundant or misplaced commas.

With its overgenerous leading, Craft of the Untamed makes for what feels like a slimmer volume than its tally of 180 pages would suggest. When this is twinned with Frisvold’s brisk style of writing, the reader can find themselves skipping quickly through the pages. As an overview of some of witchcraft’s themes, Craft of the Untamed meets its brief, and the point of difference, largely unpromised at the start, is a tendency to relate these to Western Occultism and Hermeticism, with Frisvold’s affiliation as a Traditionalist occasionally coming through via this approach.

Published by Mandrake of Oxford

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Tubelo’s Green Fire – Shani Oates

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Categories: luciferian, robert cochrane, witchcraft, Tags:

tubelosgreenfireSubtitled Mythos, Ethos, Female & Priestly Mysteries of the Clan of Tubal Cain, this is a collection of articles by Shani Oates, current Maid of the Clan of Tubal Cain. Anthologies can often be a less than satisfying reading experience, with the piecemeal nature of the presentation never engendering the focus that a singular work can provide. This is certainly the case here and there was just something a little disappointing about discovering that what I thought was a going to be a focussed book on the mysteries of the Clan of Tubal Cain is, by its very nature, broader and not nearly as specific as its retrospectively applied title promises. In saying that, the essays have been grouped into sections, so there is a semblance of order, with divisions devoted, as the subtitle denotes, to female mysteries, male mysteries, priestly mysteries, and Clan ethos.

The essays that form this collection are taken from various pagan magazines, principally Hedgewytch and Michael Howard’s The Cauldron, but also White Dragon, Pendragon and the New Wiccan. The subject matter falls into the broad remit of the Clan of Tubal Cain, having the same polymathic qualities possessed by Robert Cochrane, drawing on folklore, mythology and general witchlore to create a vision of a coherent and very particular form of witchcraft.

Oates writes in a style not too dissimilar to that of her mentor, Evan John Jones, and fellow travellers Nigel Jackson and Michael Howard, in that it is anthropologically broad and encyclopaedic but not overly critical, casting wide thematic nets that are not always necessarily tethered with specific citations. This net sometimes embraces the works of so-called alternative history, a field that could be said to have something of the magical in itself, since its logical leaps and less than rigorous familiarity with the facts is suggestive of metaphysical paradigm building, where peer-review is less important than an internally consistent worldview. Thus, in Mythopoesis, Laurence Gardner’s Genesis of the Grail Kings is referenced, extensively and uncritically, in a discussion of Mesopotamian cosmology, where perhaps recall to more reliable, or even primary, sources would have been advisable; and would have inspired more confidence.

Mythopoesis introduces the opening section of writings on the mythos of the Clan of Tubal Cain, and, despite my misgivings about Gardner as a source, it is an interesting, well written overview of matters witchcraft and Qayinian, beginning in the broad, speculative world of alternative history before ending with a discussion of ritual tools and praxis. This is followed by a welcome discussion about Goda, the pale goddess of fate in the cosmology of the Clan of Tubal Cain, in which Oates brings together various linguistic traces of the name, as well as summarising Cochrane’s thoughts on the goddess, collected from his various correspondences. The third chapter in this section, is missing, suggesting some great esoteric mystery… or mayhaps just a clerical error.

The book’s abruptly promoted fourth chapter is a dissertation on Hekate and opens the section on female mysteries. Each of these pieces is a broad consideration, and its seems to very much be Oates’ modus operandi to take a core subject as an opportunity to explores related tangents, often bringing them ultimately to bare within a witchcraft frame of reference. Thus the female mysteries are explored from the root themes of courtly love, Salome’s seven veils, the hand of Fatima, Sheela na gigs, and the Day of the Dead (which marks a stylistic diversion from most of the other essays with its more travelogue structure and voice).

Under the rubric of male mysteries Oates is able to consider the Wild Hunt (covered in two essays), the Green Knight (of Sir Gawain fame), and solstice traditions, all presenting a fairly consistent theme of the king of the greenwood. There’s a certain continuity of these themes into the section on priestly mysteries, with arboreal kings figuring in the essay The Divine Duellists, but otherwise the topics at hand are new, with considerations of the Fisher King, the symbolism of cranes, and the mythic analogies of entheogens (which provides summaries of all the usual suspects: Wasson, McKenna, Allegro).

Finally, the section on Clan Ethos could be said to follow the lead of its first essay’s title, Musings on the Sacred, with these contributions being considerably less encyclopaedic than their predecessors, with more of a discursive quality. The most interesting of these are ones that deal more specifically with Robert Cochrane and the Clan of Tubal Cain, fulfilling the original promise of the book’s title. The Mystery Tradition considers the difference between paganism and witchcraft, reflecting on Cochrane’s differentiation betwixt the two, while A Man for all Seasons considers magickal inheritance and Cochrane’s ideas of the witchblood. The remaining essays explore various clan-related ritual procedures, including initiation and the division of ritual forms into three rings of divination, spell-casting and communion.

Qayin by Liza Miskievicz

For a Mandrake publication, Tubelo’s Green Fire doesn’t do too badly in the old formatting stakes, with an overall consistent and perfunctory layout that doesn’t overly interfere with reading. That said, the point size of the body is a smidgen too large, and the margins on all four edges are too tight; as is, naturally, the gutter. This leads to a slightly claustrophobic feeling whilst reading, with even the endnote references rendered in the uniform size of the main body, and the titles in nothing more than a functional larger version of the same typeface. A lack of attention to detail means that each essay retains its original referencing style, and these come in all shapes and sizes, appearing as in-text citations in some cases, and as end notes in others (with even the formatting of these differing between usages). There’s also a few idiosyncratic, but inconsistently applied, punctuation quirks, such as randomly presenting some names, and in some cases, words, within single quote marks; a peculiarity that is then inexplicably compounded still further by occasionally presenting some of these quoted words in italics with no rhyme or reason.

The pages of monolithic typographic colour within the book are occasionally (and I mean very occasionally) interspersed with simply rendered illustrations by Liza Miskievicz. The cover bears an image, The Fortunate Isle, by the always wonderful Nigel A. Jackson, made significantly less interesting by being unimaginatively inverted; and the less said about the accompanying title in an unnecessarily distressed typeface, coloured zombie-movie-green, the better.

Published by Mandrake of Oxford. ISBN 978-1906958077

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Nightshades: A Tourist Guide to the Nightside – Jan Fries

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Categories: magick, nightside, typhonian, Tags:

nightshadesMy first encounter with Jan Fries was his Helrunar, which I first saw sitting tantalisingly in Wellington’s Pathfinder bookshop (now long departed home of all matters occult, but mainly self-help books and cassettes of whale song). The text in Helrunar was accompanied by black and white illustrations (including a lovely one of a piebald Hela and Níðhöggr) and it is similarly styled images that are the focus of this book.

Before getting to his pictorial guide to the Nightside, Fries gives a fifty or so page introduction to the themes therein. As ever, Fries takes a conversational style in his writing, not being one for occult obfuscation, and he positively bubbles with enthusiasm for his subject. Covering everything from the neurochemical components of love to the use of the Sephirothic tree and the nature of the Nightside in general, Fries comes across as a polymathical guru (or Joseph Campbell), sparking little realisations of truth as he leaps from one subject to the other. There is something a little mid-90s chaos magick in his approach, where magick is seen as being grounded in psychological and physiological experiences and frameworks, and your mileage may vary when it comes to your enjoyment of that method.

Wrapping up his introductory essay, Fries gives a biographical note explaining the origin of the images that follow, revolving around an intense series of encounters with his Holy Guardian Angel and journeys into the Nightside that began in 1982. Created between 1981 and 1983, the images were usually sketched directly upon exiting trance and then inked later, and Fries describes them as expression of “an experience and a state of intense emotionality.” Some of these images have been published before as a picture book, Visions of Medusa, others are part of an unnamed book of journeys to the Ancient Ones, while the third section, Nightshades proper, concludes the book with images of the 22 Qliphothic entities.

The images that Fries presents here are indicative of his style which is unique amongst occult art. While his closest comparison would be Austin Spare, it is only due to both artists having the same atavistic quality in their work, and Fries mines a more cosmic, ever so slightly science fiction oeuvre that feels indebted to the wide and vaguely organic vistas of Moebius. Never one for shading or thick lines, Fries renders the tone and mass of his figures as unfilled spaces, giving them an otherworldly quality of translucent bubbles. With 71 pictures in total, not all of them can be stunning, but those that are, truly are. In some ways, the most successful images are the Qliphothic Nightshades, which for the most part, have a consistent look and feel. For anyone familiar with these entities from direct experience or from the works of Kenneth Grant and others, there’s a definite moment of recognition that occurs when turning these pages.

In the introduction to this book, Mogg Morgan describes how, in 2008, he and other Oxford occultists worked with some of these images, making copies that they then coloured as an act of focus. Unfortunately, that feeling of photocopied transmission pervades the book, with some images looking a little worse for wear: greys, on those rare occasions they occur, losing any subtlety and becoming splotchy; and blacks that can be speckled and inconsistent. This is compounded by the choice of paper. Given Fries’ use of fine line, his art requires a weighty paper that can sympathetically ground his ethereal images, however, Mandrake have gone with a cheap, thin, and clinically white stock that has all the personality (and quality) of a ream of photocopy paper. It is actually physically unpleasant to touch (possibly from all the bleach used to whiten the paper) and leaves the images often looking scratchy and poorly reproduced. To its credit, the book is large format and hard bound, but even here, the cover image is blurry and pixelated in places, suggesting that it is a low resolution picture that has been recklessly enlarged for print. While it may not have been necessary to go to the extent of the straight-to-eBay section of occult publishing, a little more quality control and attention to materials would have made this an essential volume.

Published by Mandrake of Oxford. ISBN 978-1-906958-45-9

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Tankhem: Seth & Egyptian Magick – Mogg Morgan

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Categories: egyptian, magick, thelema, typhonian, Tags:

Tankhem coverMogg Morgan’s Tankhem is subtitled Seth & Egyptian Magick, and this, and the promotional blurb, gives the prospective reader the impression that they will be getting an exploration of Set, informed by the life of the Nineteenth dynasty pharaoh Seti I; and the use of Seti’s temple complex at Abydos as an astral temple in magick. Morgan begins with a prolegomena to Egyptian magick that sets forth the case for Set(h) as a much neglected but important figure in Egyptian mythology. This is followed by a Kenneth Grant-inspired consideration of the role of Set in Thelema, embracing the slightly darker side of Crowley that sees Aiwass as Set/Shaitan. After this, though, things begin to lose focus and each subsequent chapter seems to be a separate essay unrelated to the last, and sometimes with little connection to the titular subject of the book.

Chapter 3 is a consideration of the temple of Seti I at Abydos, which Morgan believes is crucial to an understanding of Set. This is an interesting premise, but instead of writing about it himself (or giving any evidence that he’s actually been there), Morgan ends up quoting extensively (by which I mean page after page) from the writings of Omn Sety. Known to her parents as Dorothy Louise Eady, Omn Sety was a London-born Egyptologist who also believed that in a past life she had been a priestess in Ancient Egypt called Bentreshyt. As interesting as Omn Sety and her two lives are, it seems odd to quote so extensively from her, especially when any good writer should know how to paraphrase.

While Omn Sety’s chapter (and let’s be fair, most of it is by her) is on topic, Chapter 4’s discussion of sex magick comes out of left field and, if I’m reading the endnotes correctly, is indeed a previously published article. Following that, Chapter 5 turns, quite unexpectedly, to an exploration of the life and magickal system of William Butler Yeats. This is a rather interesting chapter and one comes away feeling that Yeat’s contribution to occultism has been sadly underrepresented, but it certainly seems to have been written for something else, with very little relevance to Seth & Egyptian Magick. While chapter 6 moves back on topic with a consideration of Ursa Major in Egyptian stellar mythology, the way in which themes previously discussed are introduced anew makes you wonder if yet again, this is a previously written piece that has been slotted in.

Morgan has an informal conversational style of writing which could be charming if he stayed focused. But the casual tone gets particularly infuriating in Chapter 2, Setinism, where he gives an overview of the various contemporary strands of Satanism, particularly La Vey’s approach. Sounding like a conversation on an internet forum or email list, this chapter is littered with “it seems to be,” “from what I’m told,” “it is said” and “apparently,” with the most egregious example coming when he says “as far as I can remember – the Satanic Bible works with lots of god forms from the medieval grimoire tradition.” Either it does or it doesn’t; sure, we may not be expecting APA referencing here, but was there really no time to dig out a copy and check?

The layout and design of Tankhem can only be described as appalling. The cover image is pixelated and adorned unsympathetically with de rigueur Egyptian-font-choice Papyrus in all its un-kerned glory. Inside, Papyrus is used extensively for subheadings and the running header (but with a faux bold applied so that the trademark organic distressing of the font disappears anyway), while the endnotes of each chapter are rendered in the same none-too-small serif font used for the body text. Faring even worse are the pages and pages of extracts from Omn Sety, which are jarringly presented in a huge 14 point san serif font which leads to a meagre 27 lines a page.

Like any guilt-tripping parent, I’m not angry, just disappointed. The prospect of a book considering Set, the temple at Abydos and Egyptian magick in general held so much promise. But it is let down by the lack of focus, cruelly enabled by the bad formatting.

Published by Mandrake of Oxford. ISBN 1869928-865.

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