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A Rose Veiled in Black – Edited by Robert Fitzgerald and Daniel Schulke

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Categories: devotional, goddesses, thelema, Tags:

A Rose Veiled in Black coverFocusing its attention on the figure of Babalon, A Rose Veiled in Black is the second volume in Western Esotericism in Context, a series from Three Hands Press which began with the previously reviewed Hands of Apostasy and continued with the also reviewed Luminous Stone. It features essays from ten writers: Amodali, Robert Stein, Erik Davis, Caroline Wise, Daniel A. Schulke, Frater A.I., Gordan Djurdjevic, Grant Potts, Manon Hedenborg-White, Richard Kaczynski and Robert Fitzgerald. Along with these written pieces are visual contributions from names both familiar and unfamiliar: Barry William Hale, Hana Lee, Linda MacFarlane, Liv Rainey-Smith, Mitchell Nolte, Nicole DiMucci Potts, Sarah Lindsay and Timo Ketola.

Aleister Crowley naturally looms large within these pages, and co-editor Robert Fitzgerald kicks things off with a discussion of the various appearances of, and allusions to, Babalon in the Master Therion’s The Vision and the Voice, his record of travelling through the Enochian aethyrs. This is a text that is cited time and time again throughout A Rose Veiled in Black and Gordan Djurdjevic covers similar ground to Fitzgerald, but also surveys the glimpses of Babalon that can be gleaned in The Book of the Law, and briefly touches on Leah Hirsig’s relationship with Crowley and Babalon herself. Hirsig gets more of her own focus in “I am Babalon,” a piece by Richard Kaczynski, who fastidiously documents the life, before and after Crowley, of the woman who identified herself as Babalon and as the mother of several magical children, including Crowley’s subsequent Scarlet Woman, Dorothy Olsen.

A more experiential approach comes from Amodali of Mother Destruction/Sixth Comm fame, whose wonderfully-verbose-titled Introductory Theoria on Progressive Formulas of the Babalon Priestesshood addresses what she sees as fundamental misinterpretations and distortions of the archetypes and formulas of the sexual gnosis key to Babalon’s magic. To this end, Amodali draws on her over 25 years of magical experience to present a ritual formula, informed by Dr John Dee’s De Heptarchia Mystica, in which practitioners forge the Body of Babalon, in a tasty taster of her long-forthcoming title The Marks of Teth from Three Hands Press.

A Rose Veiled in Black spread for Introductory Theoria by Amodali

Other contributors offer practical options too, either as instruction or documentation, with Robert C. Stein detailing a Liber Nu-based working he performed in Australia in 1985, within an asteroid or comet-formed crater under a sky occupied, as above, so below, by Halley’s Comet. Meanwhile, in Seven Chalices of the Lady, Grant Potts presents a group rite, originally performed at the Bubastis Oasis OTO, Texas, in 2013. Drawing on a Red Tara practice from the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the rite associates the chakras with the seven Babalonian chalices of the title, seeking to attune the body of light to the Thelemic current and the mysteries of Babalon.

Towards the end of A Rose Veiled in Black, co-editor Fitzgerald returns to make his own practical septenary contribution with a Rite of the Seven Keys of the Kingdom, a ritual for achieving communion and congressus with Babalon, with liturgy drawn from the Enochian keys, The Vision and the Voice, Liber Cheth vel Vallum Abiegni and Dee and Edward Kelley’s original 1587 transmission from the Daughter of Fortitude. Fiztgerald’s partner in editing, Daniel Schulke, meanwhile, provides a lengthy meditation on Babalon’s theme of abomination, which he relates to the quintessentially Cultus Sabbati taboo-breaking Formulae of Opposition and abjection; though that latter post-structuralist terminology is not used here. Schulke effectively makes an unstated case for the release of this book by a publishing house more often associated with witchcraft, contemplating the relationship betwixt Babalon, Abomination and witchcraft. He draws intersections between Babalon’s cup of fornications and the witches’ cauldron, and highlights other ways in which her imagery has analogues in the systems of the Cultus Sabbati. Then, of course, there’s John Whiteside Parsons, who definitively referred to his Babalon-focused system as The Witchcraft.

A Rose Veiled in Black spread for Waiting for the Scarlet Apocalypse by Manon Hedenborg-White

Next to Uncle Al, Parsons is the Babalon devotee who gets the most mileage in A Rose Veiled in Black, with Manon Hedenborg-White giving over a substantial 33 pages to Uncle Jack and his place in the mythos of Babalon. Hedenborg-White begins with a solid history of Parsons and his various interactions with Babalon (citing extensively from George Pendle’s Strange Angel) before devoting a significant amount of space to highlighting the difference between his conception of Babalon and that of Crowley. While the Babalon of Crowley’s The Vision and the Voice is removed, residing in the astral, and largely passive, Parsons’ Babalon is a goddess with agency and the ability, and will, to move into the material realm, giving orders and fomenting revolution.

This view is something also explored by Erik Davis in Babalon Rising: Jacks Parsons’ Witchcraft Prophecy, in which he describes it as emblematic of Parsons’ “magickal feminism.” Both Davis and Hedenborg-White portray Parsons and his vision of Babalon as being ahead of its time, with the contrast between Californian Uncle Jack and the Victorian Crowley being particularly notable; though Davis does not shy away from calling Parson’s earnest views somewhat essentialist and slightly cheesy. The fulfilment of Parsons’ witchcraft prophecy, which had predated even Gerald Gardner’s publication of Witchcraft Today in 1954, saw the growth of witchcraft as a counterculture, often feminist, movement, in the latter half of the 20th century; with Davis suggesting it was no accident that the particularly militant and vociferous strands began in Los Angeles.

A Rose Veiled in Black spread for Emblematic Arcana of Babalon by Frater AI

Perhaps the most outlier of contributions here comes from Caroline Wise who almost admits as much in the narrative of her Dreaming of Babalon and the Bride of the Land. This begins abruptly, placing the reader in an unexpected narrative in which Wise is flying, quite reflectively and with great clarity, over the landscape of Glastonbury in what one eventually realises is a dream experience. It ends with flashes of the number 156 and a message from Babalon instructing Wise to ‘find me in this land.’ Wise’s work has always had a sense of the geographical about it, in particular her many pages spent on the road goddess Elen, and this is what occurs here, with her following Babalon’s directive and seeking to find her within the magical landscape of Glastonbury. This draws heavily on Katherine Maltwood’s idea of the Glastonbury Zodiac, great (theoretical) landforms within the region’s hills, streams and roads that appear to represent the twelve signs of the zodiac, with Wise’s journey predominantly focusing on themes of the grail cup, the constellation of Virgo and echoes of Mary Magdalene.

Mitchell Nolte: Our Lady Babalon

A Rose Veiled in Black concludes with another distinct approach, with Frater A.I.’s Emblematic Arcana of Babalon, in which he provides a meditation on certain themes and symbolism associated with Babalon, represented as a series of sigils and emblems. Reminiscent in some places of Hagen von Tulien’s stark black and white designs, these images draw on commentary from The Vision and the Voice along with tarot and qabbalistic symbolism to illustrate concepts such as Babalon as the disposing intelligence of Cain, her seven-headed mount and the City of Pyramids, and the Egg of the Babe of the Abyss.

In all, there is a wide variety of work in A Rose Veiled in Black, ranging from good to great, and with no obvious missteps or huge dips in quality. The work is proofed fairly well, with only a few howlers slipping by: in his piece on Leah Hirsig, Kaczynski quotes from the Gnostic Mass and has Chaos as the sole “Viecregent” of the Sun, rather than, surely, ‘viceregent,’ while Hedenborg-White’s piece has one instance in which the names of Babalon and Parsons are transposed, leading to the head scratching genderfuck of “the goddess asks Babalon to give his mortal life in exchange for her incarnation… Parson responds: ‘I am willing.’”

Liv Rainey-Smith: Babalon

A smattering of black and white images are scattered throughout A Rose Veiled in Black (with some Babalon henna designs by Nicole DiMucci Potts providing a consistent but atypical interstitial style), but the bulk of visual contributions are found as full colour plates in the centre of the book. These are all, suitably, quite luxurious, with the most notable examples being ones in which oils, acrylics and their digital approximates, render Babalon in swathes of fleshy brushstrokes. Mitchell Nolte’s digital Our Lady Babalon has her bare-breasted and enthroned within a dense tableaux that has something of Gustave Moreau’s regal, decadent splendour about it. Timo Ketola’s pastels on paper Babalon carries a similar feeling of opulence with libidinous folds of cloth cascading from a chalice-wielding Babalon. The chalice reappears in Linda Macfarlane’s Babalon, where she stands strong before an acrylic-rendered septagram, her hair a Kate Pierson-like mane of red and her left arm snake-entwined. Finally of note is Liv Rainey-Smith’s 2014 woodcut with hand-applied garnet, purpurite, tigers eye, bloodstone and jade in which Babalon most closely resembles her apocalyptic description, riding upon the seven-headed beast and carrying the cup of her fornications in her hand.

Layout is expertly handled by Joseph Uccello in a functional serif for body and subheadings. The only flash of glamour comes from the titles, which are rendered in Moyenage 32, a blackletter face with a hint of the modern, which feels strangely fitting here without falling into the trap of being obviously Babalonesque (neither overly ‘occult’ or stereotypically ‘feminine’).

Spread with Devotion by Hana Lee and Babalon by Timo Ketola

A Rose Veiled in Black was made available in two editions: a standard hardcover edition with a dust jacket, limited to 1,092 copies, and a deluxe edition of 77 copies, quarter-bound in scarlet goat with marbled papers. The standard edition is bound in red cloth with text foiled in gold on the spine, while the dust jacket bears the image of Babalon by painter Linda Macfarlane, who has previously explored a number of other Babalonian themes.

Published by Three Hands Press

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Telesmata: New Images of the Sabbatic Mysterium – Daniel Schulke

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Categories: art, sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

Telesmata catalogue coverHeld in November of 2018, in Mortlake and Company’s Seattle gallery space, Telesmata was an exhibition of work by Daniel Schulke, with its subject matter encapsulated in the subtitle promising new images of the Sabbatic Mysterium. The catalogue of the exhibition is presented in a 180 by 250mm, perfect bound format, with a substantial page count of 48. It should be noted that not all of the images shown in Telesmata are featured in this catalogue, but they are available in an online gallery on the Mortlake and Company website.

My first encounter with Schulke’s artwork was in the icon-like images of his Viridarium Umbris: The Pleasure Garden of Shadow, all high contrast black and white tones, with forms both human and arboreal featuring prominently. The most obvious continuation of this work is Daimonic Intelligence of the Mandrake, an oil on canvas work, used on the posters for the exhibition, which reprises an image found, rendered in lines of ink, in the opening pages of Viridarium Umbris. On a whole, though, that pen and ink style is absent from the work of Telesmata but there are familiarly-formed figures, and naturally, the themes remain the same.

Daniel Schulke - Daimonic Intelligence of the Mandrake

It is oils that dominate here, with only two submissions in watercolour on paper (representing female and male sacrifices to the Sabbatic Egregore Ozzhazæl respectively). The themes of most of the paintings will resonate with anyone familiar with the Sabbatic strand of witchcraft, predominantly illustrating ritual formulae: figures swirl around the field that is The Blood Acre in one, the phallic arcanum of the Stone God is illustrated in another, while Eokharnast, the first horse, appears with a corporeal, humanoid projection in a painting from 2018.

Telesmata spread

Schulke works largely with flat plains, his figures often appearing against muted or entirely black backgrounds, but when they do appear in landscapes, they recall the work of Christos Beest with their sense of hermetic numinosity, heavy with import due to their isolation within the land. His female figures in particular recall those from Viridarium Umbris, all almond eyes and perpetual nubile nudity, but now enfleshed in painterly skin.

Daniel Schulke - Female Sacrifice unto Ozzhazael

Perhaps the most striking and evocative of the images presented here are ones in which Schulke has used plant-derived materials as the sole medium (with iron as a fixative). He explains that the works are entirely experimental, coming from meditations on the source plant, thereby creating an image of the plant’s spirit. Included in the catalogue are representations of the daimons for eucalyptus, walnut, oak and unspecified tannins, with each bearing arboreal faces within twisting, phantasmagorical forms that are decorated with voluted bark-like markings.

Daniel Schulke: Ink Daimon: Tannins

As its 48 pages suggest, this catalogue takes the opportunity to do more than simply document the work, and said work is preceded by a significant introduction from Schulke, and proceeded by another brief text on materials. In his introduction, Schulke talks of the way in which painting is a fundamentally magical act, creating images that are by their very nature occult, due to the way in which layers are built one upon the other, both revealing and concealing. For him, then, a magical image is a ritual object in an immediate sense, but also one that reflects an accumulation of knowledge and experience.

Telesmata's concluding third section, Substance

In the concluding third section, Substance,  Schulke underscores the magical process behind painting with a meditation on the way in which it alchemically blends together various ingredients, not just in the pigments, but in the material on which they are applied, creating a matrix of tree oils, resins, wood and linen fibre. He concludes this point with a brief herbal (and whatever the mineral equivalent would be), consisting of nineteen types of plants, stones and metals that can be used for painting.

Published by Three Hands Press in conjunction with Viatorium Press

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The Language of the Corpse – Cody Dickerson

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Categories: folk, germanic, Tags:

Language of the Corpse coverBearing the subtitle The Power of the Cadaver in Germanic and Icelandic Sorcery, Cody Dickerson’s The Language of the Corpse is a short little treatise from Three Hands Press. Running to just 76 pages, undivided by chapters and with type set at a fairly large point size, it is an enjoyable one-sitting read that feels more like an extended essay or brisk thesis than a full book. This puts it in the company of another recent title from Three Hands Press, Richard Gavin’s The Moribund Portal, with which it shares a certain focus on matters of quietus.

As the title and subtitle make obvious, the subject in hand here is a corporeal one, concerning itself with both symbolic and actual use of human remains for metaphysical purposes. Dickerson frames this consideration with Óðinn, who as Valföðr and Hangadróttinn, makes a fitting embodiment of the themes of death and vital remains that follows. While he doesn’t feature prominently throughout the rest of the book, it’s clear with this introduction, and his return at the conclusion, that from Dickerson’s perspective, he oversees it all.

The Language of the Corpse spread

The book’s remit allow Dickerson to amble through a variety of related objects, predominantly associated with Western Europe and more specifically with Scandinavia, where reanimated corpses loom large as symbols of eldritch alterity. Indeed, if there’s one theme here it’s how the remains of the dead, be it an entire body or the singular hand of glory, provided a method of congress between this world and others. For example, those Iron Age people whose bodies have been found in peat bogs may have been victims not of just sacrifice (in itself a form of connecting with the divine) but of augury, with their intestines read for import and wisdom. As Dickerson eloquently puts it, the corpse then acts as an agent by which the living gain access to the wisdom of the gods, becoming “a symbol of the highest degree of exchange between man and the divine,” and thereby the greatest possible offering.

It is this sense of communication, of touching the divine, which can then be seen in the other examples that Dickerson draws on from across a substantial span of time and distance. Whether it’s figures sitting on burial mounds in saga literature, the necromancy of sixteenth and seventeenth century Icelandic sorcerers, or the belief in the apotropaic and sanative power of an executioner’s touch, there is a sense of death acting as a transmitter of power and knowledge, and for good as much as for ill.

The Language of the Corpse spread

There’s a certain familiarity that occurs in The Language of the Corpse, with little areas being covered that anyone immersed in this here milieu will, or should, have at least a passing awareness of due to their ubiquity. The intersection of mandrakes with this topology is the most obvious one, hitting all the usual talking points when discussing their connection with death and the gallows. Similarly, a brief foray into the idea of mumia, a protoplasmic cure-all made from human remains, echoes a similar survey of the subject from Daniel Schulke’s recently reviewed Veneficium.

Dickerson writes in a style that fits rather well with Three Hands Press. While not as ornate or antique as some of his companions, he nevertheless deftly employs a well-furnished lexicon and is able to dip into a conversational, but not too informal, turn of phrase when required to address the layreader. This is all, in turn, competently and thoroughly proofed, with no significant complaints from your humble reviewer.

The Language of the Corpse front design

The Language of the Corpse has been made available in three editions: a trade paperback, a hardcover edition of 1,000 copies with a dust jacket, and a deluxe edition with special endpapers and quarter leather binding. The dust jacket and paperback version features a collage designed by Bob Eames, based on The Physician from Hans Holbein’s The Dance of Death, while the front and back of the hardcover edition is debossed with a lovely floral skull motif, cruelly hidden by said dust jacket.

Published by Three Hands Press

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Of the Witches’ Pact with the Devil – Francesco Maria Guazzo

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Of the Witches’ Pact with the Devil coverIn October of 2017, Three Hands Press in association with Mortlake and Company, presented Witch-Ikon, an exhibition featuring what was described as “contemporary imagery of witchcraft emergent from the occult, esoteric and fine art milieus,” with work by Marzena Ablewska-Lech, Tom Allen, Claudia Avila, Francisco D, Dolorosa de la Cruz, Rik Garrett, David Herrerias, Timo Ketola, Rory MacLean, Roberto Migliussi, Johnny Decker Miller, Liv Rainey-Smith, K Lenore Siner and Benjamin A. Vierling. In addition to a 48-page, full colour exhibition catalogue (not to mention a similarly-named publications of essays and art that is still forthcoming), Three Hands Press released this little volume and made it available at the gallery.

Of the Witches’ Pact with the Devil is an excerpt from the Montague Summers-directed translation of Francesco Maria Guazzo’s 17th century witch hunter’s manual Compendium Maleficarum; said here to be the seventh chapter of Book 1, but in all other versions consulted it was listed as Chapter VI. Whether it’s the sixth chapter or the seventh, as it titles suggests, this excerpt deals with one of those key moments of the sabbatic narrative, making it ripe with imagery, and one for which that imagery was given very real form with the accompanying legendary woodcuts that have graced the covers of a thousand black metal demo tapes.

Of the Witches’ Pact with the Devil chapter

Guazzo describes the pact between the witch and the devil as either expressed or tacit, with the former performed in the presence of the devil, and the latter as a written petition that may be submitted by a proxy if the supplicant is afraid to speak directly to their new master. Common to both forms are certain matters that Guazzo arranges under eleven headings, beginning with an initial denial of the Christian faith to facilitate the removal of the chrism and the rubbing off the mark of baptism, and ending with an oath to never accept the Eucharist, to destroy all other church relics and to proselytise for the devil.

Designed by Daniel A. Schulke with execution of type by Joseph Uccello, Of the Witches’ Pact with the Devil is printed in two-colour letterpress by Dependable Letterpress, giving the book some lovely tactile and olfactory qualities, with its subtle debossing of the body copy (still more pronounced in the titles, subtitles and images) and the whiff of inks. Uccello renders the body in a serif face that’s hard to pin down but has the right mix of readability and a hint of the archaic, while the page headers are in a lovely blackletter-style variant of the Espinosa Nova face. This rotunda style is also seen on the cover and is used for the in-body numbering of the stages of the witches’ pact, which are further offset from their companions by being printed in red. Proving, its versatility, the one drop cap in the copy uses an illuminated style of Espinosa Nova, while the crosses that dot the book as decorative ends are drawn from its glyph set. Five of the original woodcuts from Compendium Maleficarum are used as illustrations, including the infamous image of the osculum infame.

Of the Witches’ Pact with the Devil spread

Of the Witches’ Pact with the Devil is presented without comment (save for the original footnotes of the Summers translation), so it feels more like a curio or replica than a contemporary reification of praxis. This is something confirmed by the unique production, and its attention to detail. Unfortunately, the content has not been privy to the same eye, and it is an imperfect transcription, featuring a smattering of errata, with transposed letters, and missing or wrong words. It’s not rampant, but there’s enough of it for it to become noticeable and set you off looking for more.

French flap from Of the Witches’ Pact with the Devil

Of the Witches’ Pact with the Devil was made available in a softcover edition of 400 hand-numbered and hand-sewn copies, and a hardcover edition of 40 now sold out copies. Handbound by Klaus-Ullrich Rötzscher of Pettingell Bookbindery, the softcover is bound with a letterpress cover printed on brown card with French flaps, while the hardcover is in a full gilt leather cover with handmade endpapers. The French flaps of the softcover version featuring an image of the devil enthroned, extracted from one of the unused woodcuts, mirrored to face inwards on their respective flap, with a different Latin phrase beneath it; all with the same letterpress debossing of the cover and back elements.

Published by Three Hands Press

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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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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.

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Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism – Daniel A. Schulke

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Daniel Schulke’s body of written work has often reflected his role as verdelet of the Cultus Sabbati, with a frequent focus on matters botanical, most notably with the significant volumes Viridarium Umbris and Veneficium: Magic, Witchcraft and the Poison Path. This is a theme that is continued with Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism, albeit in a slimmer, more digestible format than those weightier esoteric tomes.

Presented as a trade paperback of a little over 130 pages, the lion’s share of this book explores plant mysticism through the thirteen pathways of the title. In addition to this, as testified by the subtitle And Other Homilies on Botanical Magic, are three standalone but obviously related essays, one of which is previously published. The book appears to be something of a harbinger of Schulke’s long-gestating but imminently forthcoming Arcana Viridia (The Green Mysteries), a tome he has been working on for 25 years.

Schulke defines the thirteen pathways as philosophical routes to the mystery, each presupposing a spiritual and philosophical stance and also a momentum; make of that what ye will. Given the brevity of this book at 144 pages, the description for each pathway is equally and expectedly brief. They are, for the most part, free of much in the way of practical exercises or application, and instead present core philosophies that are associated with each path, allowing the practitioner to do their own thing within the framework. Thus, the opening Pathway of the Virgin is associated with the concept of Katharsis and has a theme of beginnings with ideas of preparation, providing effectively a botanical take on the grade of the neophyte. Similarly, the penultimate Pathway of Embodiment, Ensomátosis, makes a fitting denouement, concerning itself with the making the plant mysteries flesh, of focusing oneself and one’s work on particular plants to create a complete magical symbiosis with it.

These thirteen pathways lead, in turn, to a set of thirteen gardens: little imagined zonules, each embodying a particular theme. These gardens can be reached by one or more pathways, and a single pathway may, we are told, perambulate multiple gardens. These gardens are more vividly illustrated than their preceding pathways, with Schulke using his rich lexicon to create detailed, slightly disorientating vignettes of rare plants, verdant foliage, decrepit follies and hallucinatory scents; places in which a sense of mystery lies around every turn.

Like the pathways that led to them, the theoretical nature of these gardens, with their brief descriptions and lack of explicit practical exercises, means that one finds oneself flicking through them pretty quickly: “name of the garden, check… list of plants in said garden, check… concept associated with garden, check… ummm… I probably should be taking more of this in…” *turns page* It’s something of a relief, then, to get to the three considerably more long-form essays that conclude this book, giving something meatier (of the plant-based variety, that is) to sink one’s teeth into.

Each of these essays can be said to be concerned with the transmission and reception of plant-related knowledge. The first, Transmission of Esoteric Plant Knowledge in the Twenty-First Century, was reviewed previously in its appearance in Verdant Gnosis: Cultivating the Green Path Volume 2 and provides an overview of various methods of receiving plant-related knowledge, with both a survey of historical examples and proposals for several future models. For Occult Herbalism: Ethos, Praxis, and Spirit-Congress, as would be expected, Schulke breaks down occult use of plants into the three categories of the title. The theme spirit congress is continued into the third essay, The Green Intercessor, where Schulke considers the idea of the esoteric knowledge of plants being revealed by supranatural entities, such as fallen angels, faeries and the spirit helpers of some North American shamanic practitioners.In all, Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism ultimately feels like what it almost certainly is, a taster of what is to come. As a little subset of what one assumes is in Arcana Viridia it’s a nice enough tincture of information, but one that the reader can breeze through without much sticking to the cerebral walls.

Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism is available in three editions: a trade paperback, a hardcover edition with a dust jacket of 1200 copies, and a sold out deluxe edition of 28 hand numbered copies quarter-bound in brown goatskin and autumn marbled paper.

Published by Three Hands Press.

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Plants of the Devil – Corinne Boyer

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

With Daniel Schulke’s recent Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism and his forthcoming Arcana Viridia: the Green Mysteries, Three Hands Press seems to have something of a botanical focus of late, and Corinne Boyer adds to that with her Plants of the Devil. Having previously released Under the Witching Tree: A Folk Grimoire of Tree Lore and Practicum through Troy Books, it’s pretty clear where Boyer’s interests lie, and this makes a good fit with the current emphasis of Three Hands Press.

Rather than treading a familiar path through a witch’s garden with all its usual botanical suspects, Boyer’s focus is specifically on the garden of the devil, that is, plants that in folklore have an association with the devil, whether they be connected directly with witchcraft and maleficia, or not. This can sometimes be a minor connection, with one, perhaps little known, folk name having a diabolical variant, amongst many others. Inevitably, this can feel a little circumstantial, but Boyer sees a profundity in these names, assuring us that even if this connection seems trivial, it isn’t for students of the deeper mystery.

As a trade paperback of some 160 pages, Plants of the Devil is a relatively slim volume. It is divided into chapters that categorise the devil’s plants into broad areas of focus: painful or poisonous plants that bear his name, plants that were ill-omened or unlucky, plants that were used against him, and plants that were used to invoke him. Boyer writes effortlessly, with a capable tone that is free of too much in the way of convoluted occult writing; albeit occasionally a little too generous with the commas – rich, indeed, for me to say, yes.

Artwork by Marzena AblewskaThe content of Plants of the Devil is quite encyclopaedic in nature, in that the consideration of each plant provides something of an info dump, harvested from a variety of sources. These sources, all correctly and meticulously cited, are often encyclopaedias and guides in themselves, and what this means is that the gems of information they provide are often without much in the way of context; a context which may well have been lacking in their original entry too. It is a minor quibble, but what this means is that there is no way to tell the value of a particular belief about a plant, or a quality attributed to it. One poorly remembered and potentially misrecorded anecdote, or all out lie, from a singular source long dead, could be sitting alongside a genuine and widely held belief. There’s probably no way to remedy this unintended equivalency, and it is just something that one finds oneself noticing as one goes through the book.

Illustrations in Plants of the Devil are provided by Marzena Ablewska, whose work can be simply described as voluptuous. These, for the most part, take the form of full page, pen and ink illustrations that are densely populated with a surfeit of both plant, human and reptilian forms; all delightfully sensuous and corporeal in their intertwining tableaus. Her work, so redolent of Hans Baldung, makes for a power evocation of the spirit of witchcraft and the transgressive feminine; and a fitting compliment to Boyer’s words.

Artwork by Marzena Ablewska

Due to its unique focus, Plants of the Devil, makes for a satisfying meditation on diabolus est hortus, with both the relative brevity of the work, and Ablewska’s illustrations, helping to tighten the lens still further. It is beautifully presented, with a competent layout style that has a hint of the archaic about it without telegraphing it too much or being overbearing.

Plants of the Devil is available in a variety of formats, the most humble of which is a trade paperback version with colour cover, as humbly reviewed here, and available from sellers such as Amazon. More exciting are the limited standard hardcover with colour dust jacket of 1000 copies, a deluxe edition in quarter red pigskin and slipcase, limited to 41 hand-numbered copies, and a super special edition in full red pigskin and slipcase, limited to 17 hand-numbered copies.

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The Luminous Stone: Lucifer in Western Esotericism – Edited by Michael Howard and Daniel A. Schulke

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Categories: luciferian, sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

This compendium of essays on the role of Lucifer in Western Esotericism represents the last significant contribution to occult publishing by Michael Howard before his passing in 2016. In addition to his role as co-editor, he provides an essay and is joined by Frater U.:.D.:., Robert Fitzgerald, Ethan Doyle White, Fredrik Eytzinger, Richard Gavin, Raven Grimassi, Lee Morgan, and Madeline Ledespencer.

The Luminous Stone is the third entry in Three Hands Press’ Western Esotericism in Context series, following on from previous explorations of Babalon and Traditional Witchcraft. As with any compendium such as this, the most interesting contributions are ones that explore territory less travelled. Any consideration of the usual biblical or folkloric accounts, and the intersection thereof, are going to be pretty uninspiring, without much, if anything, new to offer. Mercifully, there are instead several explorations of completely alien territory. Such territories are ones in which the Luciferian spirit of inventiveness seems to have been fully embraced by its adherents, with each providing something of an idiosyncratic interpretation.

The occult scene of 19th century Paris as described by Madeline Ledespencer is a prime example of this, with Ledespencer showcasing two figures, L’Abbé Boullan and Maria de Naglowska, each with a Luciferian supra or subtext, but each with a unique take on it. After a less than stellar start from this volume’s first two contributors (English as a second language for one, and just a bit stilted for the other), Ledespencer’s piece is refreshingly well written, with an ebullient style that reads easily and conveys a sense of both the love and knowledge she has for her subject matter.

As one would expect from a Three Hands Press book, there’s the occasional nod to the Cultus Sabbati and the work of Andrew Chumbley. Robert Fitzgerald’s The Hidden Stone: Devotion, Lucifer and the High Sabbat uses the Cultus as an example of a modern witchcraft sodality with a particularly Luciferian anatomy, focussing, by way of example, on Chumbley’s rite A Lover’s Call to the Angel of Witchblood. Fitzgerald steps through the rite line by line in order to untangle its cosmology, making a little more sense of Chumbley’ picturesque prose. In a similar area, Ethan Doyle White considers the role of Lucifer in broader contemporary pagan witchcraft, tracing the tantalising mentions from the original witch trial records into the modern era and the various works of Doreen Valiente, Robert Cochrane, and the Farrars et al.

In Teachings of the Light, Michael Howard returns to material covered in his Book of Fallen Angels, a work that seems a significant touchstone for many of the authors included here. He describes his encounters with Madeline Montalban, and gives an overview of the system of Luciferian magic from her Order of the Morning Star. This provides a little more depth than his previous discussions of her system, placing it within the context of the occult milieu in which she existed and noting the connections, for example, with the Atlantean mythos of Dion Fortune and Gareth Knight.

A less recently seen but welcomed faceless face is Frater U.:.D.:., whose piece, the gloriously titled ‘Non Seviam’ as Ontological Paradigm, oh yes, begins dryly enough, discussing Lucifer’s antinomian qualities, before briefly taking a more interesting turn and considering him in relation to the Fraternitas Saturni; of which the frater has been a member for over thirty years. It is an instance like this, where an insight is provided into an organisation’s particular understanding of Lucifer, that provide some of the most satisfying content in this book; as is the case with the essays considering the Cultus Sabbati, or Madeline Montalban’s Order of the Morning Star.

The consistently disappointing Raven Grimassi keeps the disappointment consistent with Lucifer in the Lore of Old Italy, a clumsily written piece, full of sentence fragments, redundancies, spelling mistakes and non sequiturs, always meandering without any clear direction. As highlighted in a previous review, Grimassi’s grasp of history seems casual at best. In one case he refers to the “Middle Ages and Renaissance periods” (as if they were synonymous), but then uses an event from the 17th century as an example of his claim. Another contribution also somewhat disappointing in its lack of thorough proofing is The Latent Radiance, which opens this anthology: a single sentence runs breathlessly to seven lines, there are prochronistic references to inhabitants of Canaan between 1200 and 1000 BCE as ‘Jews,’ rather than the more accurate ‘Israelites,’ and everyone is hyperbolised as ‘renowned.’ It does use the word ‘sodality’ though, which seems to be the new ‘praxis,’ given its popularity in this volume (poor ‘praxis’ only gets a single look in).

The Luminous Stone features cover art by Francisco Divine Mania (with the rather gloriously Symbolist and Decadent-styled Garden), while the interior is punctuated occasionally with the black and white silhouetted images of Hagen von Tulien. It’s not always clear if von Tulien’s images relate to the essays that precede or proceed them, but they are as striking as ever. I’m particularly partial to the one that looks like an airline safety card, in which the hazard appears to be a sorcerous attack; the only option seems to be to panic.Slayer of Ignorance by Hagen von Tulien

Overall, The Luminous Stone is an enjoyable volume, if a little underwhelming. Its 150 pages fly by, and while there are some very good contributions, there’s less of a sense of this being as essential a read as, say, Hands of Apostasy was. There’s a few glaring spelling and formatting errors that are somewhat unexpected due to the usually high standards of Three Hands Press. Raven Grimassi’s piece is particularly prone to this, referring to ‘Gain Mysteries’ when surely ‘Grain’ is intended, and having St. Jerome miraculously turn into St. James between paragraphs. He’s not alone though, and in another essay, an explanatory note is incorporated, italic styling and all, into the Robbie Burns poem it is commenting upon. The best of these errata, due to its surreal qualities, is in Lee Morgan’s piece The Lucifer Moment, where he notes that the ubiquitous image of the Luciferic anti-hero means we are ready to see Lucifer in a new way “very shorty” …which certainly would be a startling new look for the Light Bearer; and indeed, one could argue that an encounter with a diminutive fallen angel would create that paradigm-shifting moment of Morgan’s title.

The Luminous Stone is available in a total run of 3049 copies: 2000 as a trade paperback, as well as a hardcover edition of 1000 copies bound in green cloth with colour dust jackets, and a deluxe edition of 49 copies quarter-bound in goat leather with hand-marbled endpapers. The paperback version, conveniently available via Amazon, features a stiff, weighty card for the cover and reverse, making for a tight binding that requires a little more effort than usual to keep the book open.

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Hands of Apostasy – Edited by Michael Howard and Daniel A. Schulke

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

Apostasy_lgIn my mind, I always find this book from Three Hands Press occupying the same mental space as Serpent Songs from Scarlet Imprint. Both are compendiums of essays on various witchcraft topics, with a focus on what is referred to as traditional witchcraft. And both take themselves pretty seriously.

With eighteen authors contributing to this collection, there’s a wealth of viewpoints and writing styles, with both sides of the Atlantic getting some coverage, and styles both academic and anecdotal being featured. By accident or design, North America gets the early focus with Douglas McIlwain talking briefly about his stateside family tradition, while Cory Thomas Hutcheson’s Killing the Moon is a thorough investigation of witchcraft lore from the mid-to-southern Appalachians. The lunacide of the title (and its solar analogue) is an initiatory ritual element found throughout the south, ranging from the Appalachians to the Ozarks. A focus on folk practices is found elsewhere in this volume, with David Rankine considering the influence of witchcraft and natural magic on the grimoire tradition (a reversal of the common narrative of low witchcraft borrowing from high magic), while Gary St. Michael Nottingham covers similar  territory with a survey of conjure-charms from the Welsh Marches. As with Rankine’s essay, Nottingham shows an interaction between the grimoire tradition and folk magic, documenting the source texts from which various charms would have been sourced.

There are several essays that take a more conceptual, rather than practical or documentary, approach, using themes from traditional witchcraft as lenses through which a greater philosophical picture can be explored. Most notable of these is the longest essay here at 45 pages, Martin Duffy’s The Cauldron of Pure Descent, which considers that magical accoutrement most firmly associated with witches, the cauldron. Given the length of his essay, Duffy is able to, if you’ll pardon the obvious, throw many things into the pot, creating a thorough exploration that embraces not just witchcraft but Palo Mayombe, alchemy, and various strands of mythology. In The Man in Black, Gemma Gary considers the devil in witchcraft, although less as the horned master of Sabbaths and more as the enigmatic stranger encountered by witches in times of need and moments of isolation and reflection. Michael Howard’s Waking the Dead almost rivals Duffy’s length with its investigation of necromancy which begins somewhat encyclopaedically, rather than discursively, before finding its feet towards the end when Howard assimilates the assiduously assembled information into a sabbatic craft context.

Andrew Chumbley does rather well contribution-wise for someone who passed on in 2004, providing two pieces, The Magic of History: Some Considerations and Origins and Rationales of Modern Witch Cults. As their titles suggest, both are broad in their concerns, rather than specific, briefly surveying the history of modern witchcraft and the intersection with Chumbley’s own sabbatic craft brand of traditional witchcraft. Also participating from beyond this mortal veil is Cecil Williamson, founder of the Museum of Witchcraft, whose rather short article looks at two little known magical techniques, moon-raking and the ritual of the shroud. This slight essay previously appeared in The Cauldron, and is prefaced with a preamble by that magazine’s editor, Michael Howard, which is only one page shorter than Williamson’s actual words.

As one would expect, the sabbatic craft makes a significant contribution to this volume, with Chumbley’s two pieces being joined by The Blasphemy of Things Unseen by Daniel Schulke. Schulke writes in his usual florid style, embellishing his words with archaic flourishes in a meditation on the role of night, darkness, secrecy and the void in witchcraft and specifically the sabbatic cultus. But the most interesting exploration of Chumbley’s oeuvre comes from Jimmy Elwing with Where the Three Roads Meet. Subtitled Sabbatic Witchcraft and Oneiric Praxis in the Writings of Andrew Chumbley, this is an admirably sanguine and removed biography of Chumbley, providing a meticulous analysis of the themes in his writing; and one of the highlights of this compendium.

Timo_Ketola_sabat

Elsewhere, Radomir Ristic’s Unchain the Devil considers Serbian witchcraft and seems to act as a teaser for their full book Witchcraft and Sorcery of the Balkans now available from Three Hands Press. Levannah Morgan’s Mirror, Moon and Tides is the only purely experiential piece here, clearly and authoritatively explaining their personally grounded techniques of mirror magic with little need to recourse to the authority of either tradition or the academy.

There is a certain rigour to most of the material here, whether it’s deference to academia with a thorough embracing of citing and referencing, or less thoroughly, an explicit identification of experiential knowledge or tradition. The same cannot be said for the rather anomalous contribution from Raven Grimassi, who plays to type and writes with the broad and speculative strokes one would expect of a Llewellyn author. His piece, Pharmakeute, is typical of Llewellyn woolly thinking, full of unreferenced references to unspecified ancient times and unspecified ancient ancestors; a precedent set in the first sentence which boldly and broadly states “ancient writings depict the witch as living among the herb-clad hills” – which writings, which witch, which herb-clad hills? In an amateur attempt at anthropological psychology, Grimassi speculates that a magical worldview may have been influenced by the ancestral experiences of living in forests – these ancestors and their wooded location remain unidentified, adrift in some imagined olden days, distant from all the other unspecified ancients who can’t have had a magical worldview because they lived on hills, plains, mountains, in caves, by river and lakeside and, I don’t know, maybe anywhere that wasn’t a potentially lethal forest. While discussing mandrakes, Grimassi wonders if the idea that mandrake had to be harvested using a dog pulling on the plant (lest the harvester be killed in the process) was created by witches in order to discourage laypeople from effectively raiding their stash. Yeah, cool story bro, except that the technique has a significant pedigree dating back to at least the first century CE where the Romano-Jewish historian Josephus made the first written mention of a presumably well extant belief. I guess some ancient witch from the olden days must have been playing a long game and dropped the skinny to Titus Flavius so he could spread the word on their behalf.

With its diverse collection of writers and subject matter, there’s something in Hands of Apostasy for everyone; well, everyone interested in traditional witchcraft that is – if you’re after something on fly fishing this may be less useful. The highlights are definitely Martin Duffy’s exhaustive consideration of the cauldron and Jimmy Elwing’s analysis of Andrew Chumbley. The low lights go without saying.

Hands of Apostasy comes in standard hardcover edition of 1000 copies, in full pewter book cloth, with a glossy fully colour dust jacket. The internal pages are made of a stark, not entirely attractive white stock and the text is formatted in a capable, functional style. Almost all of the nineteen articles are prefaced with illustrations by Finnish engraver Timo Ketola, whose finely rendered volumetric style provides the book with a cohesive, slightly timeless style that is, given his background, just a tiny bit evocative of metal aesthetics. A limited special edition of 63 copies in quarter goat with corners, hand marbled endpaper, and slipcase, is now, of course, sold out.

Published by Three Hands Press.

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