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Source Magic: The Origins of Art, Science & Culture – Carl Abrahamsson

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Categories: art, magick, Tags:

Source Magic coverCarl Abrahamsson’s Source Magic marks his third appearance for Inner Tradition, having debuted in 2018 with Occulture, a work which considered the intersection of the occult with art and culture, and then releasing a biography of Anton LaVey in 2022. This new title follows in the footsteps of Occulture by being released by Park Street Press, a lesser known Inner Traditions imprint which focusses on psychology, consciousness studies, and psychedelics. And like Occulture, this is a work concerned with the way in which magic has infused human history and culture, being, as Abrahamsson terms it, a node around which all human activities revolve. This premise is very much in Abrahamsson’s wheelhouse, allowing him to do what he often does and focus on particular, often recherché, little pockets of occulture that can then be expertly and enthusiastically contextualised within a greater whole. The point of difference, as Nicholaj de Mattos Friswold notes in a foreword, is an experiential one, with Abrahamsson zeroing in on various places or moments he has been personally involved with; experiences that he describes as being “malleable nodes of wide-eyed amazement” whose reception creates a constant influx of magical stimuli.

As part of this focus on the personal, Abrahamsson’s modus operandi is about discovering the magical and numinous within the everyday, of cultivating an accretion of significant experiences, be they editing, as he does, the journal The Fenris Wolf, a rather more exotic expedition to Tibet, or something seemingly more mundane, such as finding significance in a trashy Mondo film. As a result, Source Magic explores a variety of small yet vital fragments from within this holistic magical worldview, with each providing an opportunity for greater explorations of adjacent ideas. This fragmented nature also denotes the process behind this book, with many of the chapters having been previously published in magazines and journals, or presented as lectures.

It is journeys that fittingly begin this collection, setting off with two entries that use as their equally fitting narrative, that most magical type of journey, the pilgrimage. In the opening We’re On the Road to Somewhere, the pilgrimage is one effectively to Ernst Jünger, with Abrahamsson detailing a trip through Tyrol from Wien to Upper Swabia, arriving at the Jünger-Haus in Wilflingen, before ending the journey in Zurich. The second pilgrimage is to Morocco, focussing heavily on the Master Musicians of Joujouka, who provide an interesting nexus betwixt Abrahamsson and related occultural touchstone such as Brian Jones, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Brion Gysin and the Beats. The essay’s title Panic Pilgrimage underscores a particular interest in the caprine trickster figure of Bou Jeloud, who is credited with teaching the Master Musicians their music, and who was assumed by Gysin to be a local variant of goat-footed Pan. In both of these entries, Abrahamsson writes with an enthusiasm that lifts the narrative far beyond mere travelogue, never missing a moment to muse on some great magical truth, or to inject a little humour, such as when he self-deprecatingly describes himself doing a “slightly hesitant, Swedish old guy dance” to the swirling, transportive music in Joujouka. In the first pilgrimage he is able to wax about the beauty of the land, buildings and the Schwarzwald, and then equally turn that enthusiasm and delight to Jünger, writing ecstatically of being mesmerised by the experience within the Jünger-Haus.

Like the twin pilgrimages that opened Source Magic, the next three entries are very much of a kind, sharing similarities and connections by being portraits of two significant occulture figures: Derek Jarman and his occasional collaborator Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. Gen receives two pieces, one originally written for The Brooklyn Rail arts journal, while the other is the introduction from Genesis P-Orridge: Temporarily Eternal: Photographs 1986-2018, a book of photos of he/r, taken and published by Abrahamsson. Both pieces bear witness to Abrahamsson’s three decade association with Gen, and given that both were written after he/r death, there’s something of a eulogistic, sometimes near hagiographic, tone. The first piece feels like a brief obituary at eight pages, appearing amongst a slew of other eulogies for Gen in The Brooklyn Rail a month following h/er death. It paints a personal picture of Gen and covers off major moments of h/er life, before ending with a prickly suggestion, judiciously not included in The Brooklyn Rail version, that anyone that might criticise or find fault with Gen is just a hanger-on who wouldn’t have had a career without them. The second entry tells a longer tale, documenting more fully Abrahamsson’s thirty year association with Gen, and commendably not feeling at all like a repeat of its shorter predecessor. Genesis then bleeds he/r way into the next chapter, Tripping the Dark Light Fantastic, a discussion of cinema that has as its foundation a meditation on Derek Jarman’s 1981 short film In the Shadow of the Sun, for which Throbbing Gristle provided the soundtrack.

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The moving image once again features in a paean to the Mondo shockumentary films that Abrahamsson so adores, and then in a consideration of Patrick McGoohan’s classic television series The Prisoner. The latter doesn’t just lionise the series but places it within the context of its time, with the growth of psychedelic counterculture and its innate opposition to systems of control. Ambrahamsson ties this unruly spirit back to antecedents in New Thought movements, seeing The Prisoner as a Thelemic myth, or a Gurdjieffean wake-up-call.

There is a carefully considered sensibility to how the entries in Source Magic have been curated and sequenced here, with the earlier grouping of pilgrimages and the nexus of Jarman/Genesis finding a latter mirror in various pieces on Ezra Pound and Austin Osman Spare. The first focuses entirely on Pound, largely through his relationship with his long-suffering publisher James Laughlin, who had founded the New Directions publishing house on Pound’s advice. In the second, Abrahamsson compares Pound and Spare, delivering on the punning promise of the title, Spare Me a Pound, and highlighting some of the similarities between both men. Of particular note is their mutual use of ideogrammatic methods to achieve clarity in communication: Pound in his incorporation of Chinese characters (most notably in The Cantos), and Spare in his use of sigils and the alphabet of desire.

Some of the entries that make up Source Magic feel less concerned with specific artists or works, and instead focus more on philosophical or metaphysical concepts, with the artist and genres simply providing the essay’s foundation, a leaping-off point. A discussion of magical realism, for example, nominally namechecks familiar authors of the genre, most notably Jorge Luis Borges, but quickly pivots to a consideration of magical realism in, well, reality. Here, Abrahamsson notes how the modern online-informed life of the 21st century is often suffused with what is fundamentally magic as meme, mirroring the type of memetic magic templated by the occult groups such as the Illuminates of Thanateros and TOPY. In another, an opening mention of Abrahamsson’s occult journal The Fenris Wolf provides a gateway to a general discussion of the actual Fenrir of Norse cosmology.

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Source Magic concludes with a reprint of an interview with Abrahamsson, conducted by Iris and Matthew Samways for the Canadian record label Flesh Prison, who released his cassette album Reseduction in 2021. It is an interesting but hardly essential read, running to five pages like an unexpected appendix.

In all, this is an interesting collection of essays, with, arguably, something for everyone, though conversely, not everything will be for everyone, with, in the case of this reviewer, the more metaphysical and psychological speculation having less impact than those grounded in a particular artistic practice. Source Magic is presented in a fairly no-frills manner, with text design and layout by Kenleigh Manseau, who uses Garamond as a body face and the understated Nexa as the display for chapter titles (with the equally restrained Trajan Sans as chapter numbers). This austerity is continued in the graphical side of things, with the book containing zero illustrations, something of a surprise considering how many of Abrahamsson’s themes concern the visual arts.

Published by Park Street Press


Revival of the Runes – Stephen Edred Flowers

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Categories: germanic, runes, Tags:

Revival of the Runes coverOf late, Inner Traditions have released several books by Stephen Flowers in which older titles, previously published in small runs by his Rûna Raven Press, have been reworked into more complete versions. It comes as a mild surprise, then, to find that with the exception of pages 52-83 (published by Rûna Raven in 1998 as Johannes Bureus and Aldalruna), this book is an almost entirely new work. That is not to say that it necessarily covers ground unfamiliar to anyone that has followed Flowers’ oeuvre over the years, as the reader will encounter faces familiar, especially if you have read any of his books on the German runic renaissance or Nazi occultism. Like his 2017 work, The Northern Dawn, this book constitutes a part of a trilogy, though just to be difficult, it’s a different trilogy to that one, with Revival of the Runes being part two in an unnamed series focusing on the history of the Rune Gild. The first volume remains to be published, but confusingly, the series has already concluded with its final volume, the previously reviewed History of the Rune-Gild, which was written, just to be difficult again, by Flowers under his pen name of Edred Thorsson, and published not by Inner Traditions but by the Gilded Books imprint of Arcana Europa Media.

Subtitled The Modern Rediscovery and Reinvention of the Germanic Runes, Revival of the Runes traces said revival from the Swedish scholars of the 1500s and 1600s, into the Enlightenment, flowing into the Romanticism of the 1800s and then into the Germany explorations of runic mysticism both before and during the Third Reich. Flowers assumes little of his readers, and any prior knowledge they might have, and begins not with this modern rediscovery, but with a fairly thorough historical primer on the runes, covering off both elder and younger futharks as well as the Anglo-Frisian, with a particular focus on examples of inscriptions and their esoteric implications.

Revival of the Runes spreadThus, it is 43 pages in before we get to the first modern period of this history, what Flowers defines as the revival phase spanning from the Renaissance to the Baroque over the two centuries from 1500 to 1700. Flowers begins with the brothers Magnus, Johannes and Olaus, continues into another set of Swedish brothers, Laurentius and Olaus Petri, before considering Johannes Bure, Olof Rudbeck and the one exception in this almost-all-Swedish line-up, the Danish Olaus Wormius. As with many of the figures discussed in this book, each person receives a fairly brief biography, running to a couple of pages at most, and as little as two thirds of a page. The one disproportionate exception is Johannes Bure, since Flowers’ aforementioned Johannes Bureus and Aldalruna from 1998 has done all the work, and so, instead of a couple of paragraphs, Bure gets a hefty 32 pages on both his life and his adulrunor system. Of course, this emphasis is fitting, given the importance of Bure in the emergence of both runic esotericism and its exoteric grounding, with adulrunor embodying a complex cosmology and interpretation of the runes that recalls the types of idiosyncratic and often Judaeo-Christian-tinged systems that German runologists like Guido von List, Karl Maria Wiligut and Siegfried Kummer would develop centuries later. Flowers’ consideration of Bure is aided in addendums by the work of Thomas Karlsson, whose The Adulruna and the Gothic Cabbala (published separately in only Swedish, German and Italian, and then as part of Nightside of the Runes) is acknowledged here as the most extensive English work to date on Bure.

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The three chapters that follow share the brevity of some of the previous biographies, with Flowers speeding through three centuries of the Enlightenment, Romanticism and nineteenth century Neo-Romanticism in a mere nineteen pages. This rather fallow time, from which only Johan Göransson warrants a separate biography, leads to the considerably more active periods of the new Germanic rebirth during the first three decades of the twentieth century, and then inevitably, runology’s evolution under and within the Third Reich. Again, things proceed at a fairly brisk pace, and this is an introduction and overview for many of these figures and movements, rather than a detailed study, for which the reader is encouraged to consult some of Flowers’ more specialised titles; a suggestion that he himself makes throughout the text. Sigurd Agrell is the only runologist to get more than a passing reference before the narrative moves on to a larger consideration of von List and his Armanen system, as well as later figures such as Kummer and Friedrich Marby. As in his other titles, Flowers’ approach to the runes in National Socialist Germany is a restrained and pragmatic one. There’s no Nazi occultists summoning unspeakable horrors from beyond the moon here, and other than a section on the SS-aligned historical think-tank known as the Ahnenerbe, the overriding message is about the Nazi use of the runes as marketing, with the esoteric aspect of a rune being more in its power as an evocatively and specifically Germanic brand, rather than something inherently magical.Revival of the Runes spread

Given that this revival of the runes effectively extends up into the present or at least the relatively recent, things turn somewhat autobiographical in the tenth chapter, grandly titled The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology and the Re-Emergence of the Rune-Gild, when Flowers documents his own part in this rebirth. For readers of his previously reviewed History of the Rune-Gild: The Reawakening of the Gild 1980-2018, or of the biography of Flowers by James Chisholm printed in Green Rûna (upon which the former is based), this will be a familiar tale. Flowers acknowledges the awkwardness of this situation, this insinuation into the narrative as he calls it, testifying that in writing this book he has attempted to remain as objective as possible, but effectively, needs now must. The retelling of his role, though, is not excessive, and is in keeping with the sparsity shown in other areas of this book, with Flowers giving a brisk history of rune publications and organisations from 1975 onwards, often shot through a biographical lens noting how he sat in relation to each of them. Despite the vaunted objectivity, there’s still a very personal angle here, with, for example, an annoyance still tangible in the travesty that Ralph Blum’s seminal (though terrible) The Book of Runes was published in 1982, beating Flowers’ Futhark to the shelves by two years. As Flowers laments, despite a version of Futhark being completed by 1979, it was then subjected to nine years of publishing purgatory from both Llewellyn and Weiser, until Weiser finally pressed print on it four years after acquiring the manuscript. Blum is not the only one to get it in the neck here, and there is the traditional Edredian airing of grievances when it comes to briefly surveying the less than stellar runic literature that emerged in the following decades. Donald Tyson (who was previously birched in Thorsson’s History of the Rune-Gild) gets it once again, while the poor, dearly departed Michael Howard receives quite the lathering and is tarred as “one of the worst offenders.”

As in the above examples, there’s always something of a distinctive Flowers tone when it comes to his books, a snarky irascible quality that makes his allegiances crystal clear, and his annoyances palpable. If he wore a bonnet, you can be sure a bee would get in there. Such is the case throughout Revival of the Runes, and it can distract to the point of tedium. Of course there’s the de rigueur moaning about ‘Marxism’ and ‘political activism’ in academia (there has to be at least one mention per title it would seem, and this one has several, with the reader looking wearily to the horizon as every now and then a little gripe about the state of the academy inevitably heaves into view). But beyond that almost expected angry-uncle-at-Thanksgiving invective, there are other strange little get-off-my-lawn moments, like when, as an abrupt contemporary analogy, he categorically states that “IT guys” (his air quotes) apparently “keep things complex and ever-changing” solely to ensure future employment. Oh, so that’s how technology and expertise works, the inexorable march of progress is just there to keep the plebs one step behind. Those sneaky IT guys, what will they think of next? 6G? A flying car just when I’ve got the hang of these wheel things? Methinks at some point there must have been a particularly gruelling morning with technical support on call trying to get the dialup working at the hof. One’s mileage will vary as to how much this tone detracts, or adds, to the overarching narrative. If nothing else, it makes Flowers’ writing style distinctive and idiosyncratic; much like the equally arch tone of this reviewer, oh snap.

Revival of the Runes spreadRevival of the Runes concludes with Flowers’ vision of an ‘integral runology for the future,’ a largely Edredian philosophical musing, followed by two appendices. The first is a chronology of the runic revival, beginning in 1554 with the posthumous publication of Historia de Omnibus Gothorum Sueonumque regibus by Johannes Magnus, and ending in 2010 with the creation of the Futhark: International Journal of Runic Studies. The second appendix is a reprint of a brief article from 1986 on the claimed runic origins of the peace symbol in which the Elhaz rune is imagined to have been inverted and placed in a circle; an idea that carries as much weight as the satanic panic idea that it was an inverted and broken cross. This is a strange inclusion not just because of how inexplicably incongruous the article’s placement is, but also because this speculation has been long debunked, given that the creation of the nuclear disarmament symbol by designer Gerald Holtom is well attested, as is its incorporation of the semaphore representation of the letters N and D.

Revival of the Runes is very much a trade paperback, rather than a thesis, an overview with subjects covered briefly (save for the blessed Johannes Bure), and in which, despite a ten page bibliography, the only actually works cited within the text are almost entirely those of Flowers himself. It has been formatted with text and layout design by Virginia Scott Bowman, using Garamond for body, along with Gill Sans and Futura as contrasting san serif headers and sub headers. The rather fetching Highstories is used for chapter headings and as the cover face, where it sits next to a low-opacity version of the Ahnenerbe’s emblem, which is an, um, interesting choice of symbols to lead with there, Inner Traditions, but you do you. Less problematic is the choice of a lovely hero image, with the cover using one of the image panels from the Golden Horns of Gallehus; although considering the book’s modern subject, the fifth-century date of the Gallehus horns peculiarly makes the Ahnenerbe emblem the more relevant of the two images.

Published by Inner Traditions


Aleister Crowley in England – Tobias Churton

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Categories: esotericism, thelema, Tags:

Aleister Crowley in England coverWith its blockbuster subtitle declaring The Return of the Great Beast, this sequel from Tobias Churton picks up where his previous work, Aleister Crowley: The Beast in Berlin, left off; a title that was in itself a sequel to his other books documenting Crowley’s time in America and India respectively. Given the chronology surveyed in the previous titles, we are safe in assuming that the ‘in England’ here does not refer to Crowley’s time spent in England for the majority of his life but rather his return there for his final fifteen years from 1932 to 1947. In doing so, Churton is able to conclude his multiple volume biography of Crowley and focus on a period that is relatively little explored, but which shows that the near penniless Great Beast still got a lot done, even if it was only cooking a lot of curries, and being on the perpetual scrounge in both the actual and the astral.

Churton has a brisk style of writing that combined with the type’s large point size, and the surfeit of images, propels the reader forward at quite a pace. Enabling this still further is that some of what is presented here are fleshed out diary entries, or details from letters, with little room for editorialising or much in the way of elaboration: Crowley had lunch with someone, he moved lodgings, he wrote a letter to such and such, he did a sex magic operation for money, and he carped about the Agape Lodge in California (despite them doing a damn sight more for Thelema than he was). This brevity isn’t necessarily a criticism, merely a comment on how the narrative contains much that is minutiae, with little padding added beyond what has been left by Crowley’s own hand. This ably conveys the intricacies, and frequent mundanities, of Crowley’s everyday life, even if said moments are not necessarily all that detailed, and with each entry moving us rapidly through the months.

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With that said, there are moments where the piecemeal nature of some of the sections may have gotten the better of either the narrative, such as it is, or the editor and layout designer, with abrupt sentences descending into a unintelligible mess of uncertain intent. Sometimes a sentence needs to be read several times before its intent is clear, not because of any complexity but rather due to its economy, with so little to be gleaned from a minor concatenation of words. There are other strange moments, such as a section from pages 28-30 describing the content of three letters, which begins abruptly with two non sequitur, single-sentence paragraphs, one from October 1993 and the other from the more recent “some years ago.” The more recent event is the sale by Weiser Antiquarian of the letters decades after they were written, but by leading with the description of the letters’ sale, rather than the context in which they were written, the reader becomes discombobulated by this jumping forward in time. In a similar manner, the narrative of Crowley’s day to day and current events is temporally upended on page 80 when a one-sentence paragraph noting that the Buchenwald concentration camp was opened in 1937 is followed by one that begins by describing how the LAShTAL Aleister Crowley Society website reported in 2011 of the sale of a letter written by Crowley on Piccadilly Hotel stationery, momentarily making it feel like the two events were relatively concurrent. It’s all very confusing, as if notes and scraps have been cut and pasted and never fully massaged into tense-correct shape.

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Whilst we’re being critical, there are other little quirks that tend to grate, most notably where it appears that having to constantly refer to Crowley by name got tiresome, and as a result, sometimes, out of nowhere, he can be variously referred to as 666, Therion, and most startling in its incongruity, Baphomet. While most readers will be aware of Crowley’s proclivity for pseudonyms and titles, it’s not clear why it stops there. Why not call him Perdurabo, Ankh-f-n-khonsu, Mahatma Guru Sri Paramahansa Shivaji  or a little sunshine as well?

Inevitably, comparisons must be made to other books that cover the same period of Crowley’s life, with the obvious one being Richard Kaczynski’s definitive Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley. Kaczynski has a greater narrative sense, an authorial overview that makes for easier reading, and as a result, there’s a lot less of the jarring little events and piecemeal nature seen here. What Churton’s work does have going for it is the sense of immediacy, with the diary-like quality creating a somewhat intimate insight into Crowley’s day to day life and allowing the reader to see what an unpleasant, arrogant, irascible and ultimately exhausting scoundrel he must have been to interact with personally. Also, it must be said that Crowley’s constant attempts to get the war-time British government to employ him as an adviser or expert come across as sad, especially with the way in which his consternation was palpable after each time a long-suffering bureaucrat declined his offer.

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Despite this emphasis of the smaller aspects of Crowley’s life, this period did include some significant magickal outputs, and Churton spends a great amount of time documenting the creation of the Thoth tarot deck in collaboration with Lady Frieda Harris. All events in the process, from Crowley’s first introduction to Harris up to the tarot’s completion and publication, are covered, taking the reader on a comparable journey to its creators. It’s moments like this that show the worth of Aleister Crowley in England, with its fairly well illustrated survey of the tarot and its evolution, indicative of one of the benefits of this title as something one can dip into for the details, without having to read a longer narrative.

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Aleister Crowley in England is presented as a hardback edition, bound in blue beneath a dustjacket with a rather fetching photographic montage design by Aaron Davis, with Union Jack and all, just so you know it takes place in England. Typesetting by Debbie Glogover uses Garamond for body copy with titles in Gotham Condensed, and other display text in a combination of the stoic sans serifs Gill Sans, and Legacy Sans. Photographs are used profusely throughout, though their presence can seem disproportionate and arbitrary, such as when someone who receives only a single passing mention is rewarded with a portrait, while more significant figures have none.

Published by Inner Traditions


Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder – Claude & Corinne Lecouteux

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Categories: folk, Tags:

Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder coverLike Claude Lecouteux’s recently reviewed Mysteries of the Werewolf, Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder, this work was originally published in French and here receives its first English edition, with Inner Traditions giving it the hardcover treatment, wrapped up nicely in a green dustjacket. Like the previously reviewed title, this is an anthology of source material, but this time Lecouteux is joined by his wife, Corinne, a translator specialising in tales and legends.

Interestingly, comparing the new title with that of the 2013 original, Contes, Diableries et Autres Merveilles du Moyen Age, only the ‘wonder’ now remains, with the diableries being replaced by the slightly more palatable witchcraft. As one might expect, then, this new title is somewhat of a misnomer as the witchcraft content within these pages is so slight as to be effectively negligible. Even a section on devils and magic concerns itself with general legends of diabolism with not a single witch amongst its cast of characters. Instead, these tales of wonder run the gamut of folklore, divided into fairly self-explanatory chapters that cover off animal tales, oddities and wonders, deviltry and spells, the supernatural spouse, both licit and illicit love, wisdom and stupidity, and heroic legends. Indeed from the pleasant alliteration of the title it is ‘wonder’ that is the operative word here, with the entries often being examples of medieval miracula and mirabilia, popular narratives of the fantastic that, as Les Lecouteux note, were often mined by romance writers of the Middle Ages to form their own tales. Applying Caroline Bynum’s seminal definition of the terms, these tales are examples of mirabilia, in that the detail “natural effects we fail to understand,” and miracula, that is, “’unusual and difficult’ events… produced by God’s power alone on things that have a natural tendency to the opposite effect.” Also puzzling is the book’s subtitle, The Venomous Maiden and Other Stories of the Supernatural, given that said tale, concerning a maiden fed poison her entire life in order to become a vehicle for revenge, is hardly the most representative entry here.

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In their introduction, Les Lecouteux provide an overview of the types of tales within, categorising them into five types: legends of the dead, demonic legends, historical legends, Christian legends and etiological legends. In an important caveat, they mention that to present these tales verbatim would be only of interest to specialists, so all of them have been rewritten into a consistent manner, free of redundancies and tedious appeals to God’s mercy and omnipotence, as was the style of the times. This creates a readable narrative with Jon E. Graham’s translation also flowing freely and complimenting the text nicely.

The first section with its examples of animal tales is the shortest at a mere six entries, though stories in which animals appear as the spirit forms of people do bleed into the following chapter on various oddities and wonders. One of the longest sections concerns the idea of the supernatural spouse, but there are few entries, with each of the tales being exhaustive retellings of medieval legends of courtly love, including those of Seyfried von Ardemont, Frederick of Swabia, and two swan knights, Aeneas and Helias. A similar thing occurs in the heroic legends chapter where many of the pages are devoted to single entries variously retelling the stories of Velent (Völundr) from Þidrekssaga af Bern, the anonymous 14th century romance Valentine and Nameless, and the hagiographic legend of Saint Oswald.

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A source of frustration mentioned ad nauseam in the review of Claude Lecouteux’s Mysteries of the Werewolf was that title’s lack of contextual information and referencing, with all the entries largely adrift in terms of time, space and authorship. Mercifully, that is not the case here, and indeed Les Lecouteux appear, intentionally or not, to have made up for the omissions in the previous work with a veritable surfeit of supplementary information. Every entry has a listing of the source, one that more often than not is also footnoted to point to the particular edition in the bibliography. Not only that, but almost all of these tales conclude with an italicised explanation by Les Lecouteux, citing provenance, influence or elucidating themes and motifs. The thoroughness does not end with these though, and Les Lecouteux provide an extensive appendix of various folk tale type classifications, including Antii Aarne’s numbered system from The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and a Bibliography, the moral themes of F. C. Tubach’s Index Exemplorum: A Handbook of Medieval Religious Tales, and the extensive index of motifs from Stith Thompson’s Motif-Index of Folk Literature. Keys to these indices appear at the end of many, though by no means all, of the entries. The inclusion of such classifications is a valuable tool and while the cross-referencing of these indexes may be limited to folkloric specialists in its usefulness, its inclusion is unobtrusive and can be ignored if simply reading for pleasure or general research.

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All in all, Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder has much to recommend it as a compilation of well referenced medieval legends. The text design and layout by Debbie Glogover presents the work in a pleasant fashion, with the body text set in Garamond, minor headers in Gill Sans and Myriad, the antique NixRift for the header of each entry, and Shango, based on F.H. Schneidler’s elegant classical serif Schneidler Mediaeval, for the main and chapter titles. A feathered woodcut image sits behind each chapter heading, a various smaller images, of varying reproduction quality, are spread throughout the body of the text to keep things interesting.

Published by Inner Traditions


Mysteries of the Werewolf: Shapeshifting, Magic & Protection – Claude Lecouteux

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Categories: folk, Tags:

Mysteries of the Werewolf coverOriginally published in 2008 as Elle Courait le Garou: Lycanthropes, hommes-ours, hommes-tigres, Claude Lecouteux’s exploration of werewolves sees its first English translation with this 2021 edition from Inner Traditions; now featuring a title and subtitle more appealing to that publisher’s audience. Lecoutex is a familiar figure in the world of European folklore, with Inner Traditions having issued the English translation of his various works on dwarves, the spirits of the dead, the wild hunt and the almost alliterative triumvirate of witches, werewolves and fairies. Despite their mass market status as Inner Tradition titles, each of these volumes is a valuable resource, with Lecouteux displaying an easy erudition and familiarity with his subject.

Mysteries of the Werewolf differs from his other works both in its specificity and its approach. Whereas previous titles have broadly and discursively covered their subject matter, Mysteries of the Werewolf feels more like a reference work, being largely a source book or collection of case studies. An extensive introduction provides the only concentrated section of prose via an outline of werewolf history, touching on various appearances of the phenomena in myth, legend, and contemporary cinema, as well as general discussions of werewolf belief, trials and the explanations given for them.

Subsequent chapters take the case study approach, grouping the entries under Lecouteux’s broad headings of becoming a werewolf, diabolical pacts and spells, clothing and hides, being discovered as a werewolf, were-creatures and doubles, and finally, the freeing, healing or expulsion of werewolves. Each entry is preceded with a title (the majority of which are of Lecouteux’s own devising), and a subtitle giving location and date, but infuriatingly, there is no mention of the actual source. Instead, where available, the subtitle is endnoted and the corresponding source can be found by laboriously flicking through to the notes near the conclusion of the book. Incorporating the title and author, sans the publishing information, into the heading would have provided considerably more context for each nugget of knowledge, which are now rendered practically anonymous. Knowing at a glance, for example, that the first entry on Irish werewolves comes from Nennius, whilst a different one comes from Gerald of Wales, gives the reader a surprising amount of information, contextualising the information within its place and time and also pointing potentially to the author’s intent or credibility. Without it, and without the wearing out of fingers whilst trying to find the endnotes, one might assume that the references are nothing more than relatively recent summaries, rather than primary sources.

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This lack of background information renders some of the entries incomprehensible, or at the very least doesn’t help the reader understand what is happening in a particular narrative. This is most evident in an entry titled The Bastards, unhelpfully subtitled “France, twentieth century,” which is actually an excerpt from Henri Pourrat’s Légendes du pays vert. Now sheared of its context, the reader is given what appear to be three different summaries of werewolf activity confusingly interspersed with elements of dialogue that assumes the reader has better bearings within the narrative than they conceivably do. Considering that the value of a book such as this is as a reference, the relative anonymity of each entry makes its annoyingly unfit for purpose.

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While the recurring themes found in the groupings of each chapter should be self-evident, it is surprising that Lecouteux doesn’t provide anything in the way of summary or analysis in order to draw out connections or highlight differences. Instead, save for the odd footnote, these excerpts are presented unordered and as is, with no geographical or temporal groupings, thereby sending the reader careening through space and time. Not all accounts are from Europe and Scandinavia, and Lecouteux does occasionally travel further afield to China and Japan, adding to the disorientating feeling. These entries are somewhat incongruous giving that they mainly deal with transformation into tigers, rather than wolves, and while their inclusion under the previous edition’s subtitle of Lycanthropes, hommes-ours, hommes-tigres is appropriate, here they feel out of place in a discussion of the ‘mysteries of the werewolf.’ This is especially so given that, other than their transformation into an animal, the weretiger shares little of the folkloric elements associated with the European werewolf, and if said animal transformation is the only prerequisite, you could include all manner of things, even, why not, the Animorphs young adult fiction series from the 1990s? That’d be fun.

Mysteries of the Werewolf spread

Showing that he’s far from done with providing source material, Lecouteux concludes Mysteries of the Werewolf with an extensive appendix of testimonials from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries. These are, once again, listed without author or source, information that is only endnoted, and given that these are all intended as direct transcripts, this omission seem even more egregious here, shearing each piece of its context. This is exacerbated by the way in which some entries do open with minor background information from Lecouteux, but this is inconsistently applied and others were apparently not so deserving.

As stressed ad nauseum throughout this review, whilst promising, Mysteries of the Werewolf is hamstrung in its mission of being a thorough reference work due to its, well, lack of immediate references. This can hamper not only its usability but also its readability, as the infuriatingly anonymous appearance of the sources leave the reader contextually untethered, until eventually they’re unwilling to go on if every entry necessitates thumbing through the rear of the book for missing relevancy. If one isn’t as perturbed by this as your humble reviewer is, then Mysteries of the Werewolf can be viewed as a valuable reference book with a near complete, or at least highly representative, collection of European werewolf lore, with weretigers thrown in for fun.

Mysteries of the Werewolf spread

Mysteries of the Werewolf is available as an ebook while the only print version is as a hardcover edition with a pleasant blue-hued, claw-marked dustjacket over a blue binding; and the title foiled in silver on the spine. Text design and layout comes at the hand of Debbie Glogover, with body set in Garamond, with Cantoria and Fabello as internal display faces, and with the strong fang-like serif stylings of Bronzier for the title. Woodcuts of varying quality are sprinkled throughout the pages as the only form of illustration.

Published by Inner Traditions


The Magian Tarok: The Origins of the Tarot in the Mithraic and Hermetic Traditions – Stephen E. Flowers

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Categories: hellenic, hermeticism, mesopotamian, tarot, Tags:

The Magian Tarok coverInner Traditions and Stephen Flowers seem to have a lucrative and fulfilling relationship, reissuing many of his works from over the years, usually in revised, expanded and more substantial versions than their humble first pressings on Flowers’ own Rûna Raven Press. This is one such title, originally released in a preliminary edition following its effective completion in 1992, then more widely by Rûna Raven Press in 2006 and finally again in 2015 by Lodestar Books. Suffice to say, with a cover design by Aaron Davis and layout by Debbie Glogover, this incarnation has all the effortless class one would expect from an Inner Traditions title.

The Magian Tarok follows a slightly atypical trajectory, placing, as its subtitle makes clear, the origins of the tarot in Mithraic and Hermetic traditions, rather than any of the more usual suspects, credible or not; an idea touched on briefly by Flowers in his book Hermetic Magic. In his introduction, Flowers details how the inspiration for this book long preceded its 1992 completion, having its inception in 1981 whilst he was researching in Germany. Here, the idea had an unlikely source, being found in the academic works of the Swedish poet and philologist, and promoter of the Uthark theory of the runes, Sigurd Agrell.

Flowers begins by talking tangentially, and in somewhat surprisingly glowing terms, about postmodern theory, but, of course, one as perpetually gruff and traditionalist as he isn’t referring to *that* postmodernism, oh no, heaven for fend. Instead, he is talking about, you know, the real one; the one that probably chops wood with an axe, smokes cigars, drinks whiskey, and has a moustache, rahhhh. Needless to say, Flowers can’t resist shaking his fist at those “Marxists and crypto-Marxists” on his lawn, hijacking postmodernism and storming poor, defenceless academia, saints preserve us. This is a peculiar little spittle of invective that once again highlights the incongruity of the relationship betwixt Flowers and Inner Traditions; a company one can’t imagine spends a lot of time railing against the modern world, not when there are books to be sold about vibrational nutrition, healing crystals and tuning the human biofield. This is particularly so as Inner Traditions are the kind of publisher that comes to mind in Flower’s preface when, in the very first paragraph, he laments that the modernisation and desacralisation of the tarot “has gone so far that one can even now buy “Teen Tarot” packages;” as if this apparently inconceivable proposition was one of the veritable signs of the apocalypse, right up there with human sacrifice and cats and dogs living together. Lawks, save us all from the twin evils of teenage girls and post-structuralist academics, they assail us from all sides.

The Magian Tarok spread

To ground the book’s central hypothesis, Flowers spends a considerable time, 52 pages in all, summarising Mithraism, along with its antecedents and contemporaries: Zoroastrianism, Magianism and briefly, Stoicism. This immediately provides a perfect encapsulation of some of the problems with the writing found in The Magian Tarok; something that comes as a surprise given Flowers’ experience and mileage as an author. Despite its 52 pages, this one chapter contains only five cited references, all from Franz Cumont’s seminal if not unassailable The Mysteries of Mithras, with all other secondary sources uncited, thereby leaving the reader to entirely trust Flowers’ description of these religious systems or to guess the source from amongst the three page bibliography at the back. Two of these citations relate awkwardly to a summary of Cumont’s highly speculative recreation of the story behind the tauroctony (the familiar if enigmatic slaying of the bull by the Roman form of Mithras), which, given the text’s block quote formatting makes it appear to be a direct quote from The Mysteries of Mithras, which it isn’t. This lack of sources other than Cumont is problematic given that so much of the writing is riddled with weasel words and false appeals to authority. There’s an abundant use of qualifiers like ‘maybe’ and ‘perhaps,’ but even more egregious are those appeals to false authority with phrases such as “it has been said,” “some say” and “some believe,” as well as references to some unspecified “most early scholars” and their descendants, the equally anonymous “some recent scholars.”

In addition to issues with referencing are some sloppy editing moments where whole sections of information are repeated redundantly, almost as if a few notes have been fleshed out one way and incorporated into the text, only for the author to rewrite the same information and insert it into the body a few pages later, appearing to forget doing it the first time. On page 15, for example, Flowers introduces Zarathustra and relates how this Iranian priest identified the embodiment of absolute divinity as Ahura Mazda (Lord-Wisdom), with all other gods and goddesses as abstract principles created by them. A brief five pages later, with the details still fresh in the memory of the reader, if not his own, Flowers disorientatingly introduces Zarathustra again and tells how he identified the embodiment of absolute divinity as Ahura Mazda (Lord-Wisdom) with all other gods and goddesses as abstract principles created by him. In other instances, concepts are discussed before they are defined, with, for example, Zurvanism being mentioned several times, albeit only by name, before a full explanation comes pages later, finally introducing Zurvan as if they hadn’t been mentioned in passing prior.

The Magian Tarok spread

After this lengthy grounding, Flowers moves on to a consideration of stoiechia, by which is meant the letters of the Greek alphabet, thus providing the book’s first hint of a pathway between Mithraism and the tarot. Flowers presents an esoteric, Mithraic interpretation of each letter, seemingly based entirely on the work of Agrell as no other sources, ancient or modern, are mentioned. Thus, the bull symbolism of alpha (or at least its Phoenician antecedent aleph) relates to the tauroctony; beta, as the second letter, is the lesser god and second principle of life in Zoroastrianism, the malevolent Ahriman; whereas the third letter, gamma, refers to Mithras who in Greek texts, according to Flowers, was “often called” triplasios (‘three-times-as-much’) and which he takes to imply the idea of a Mithraic trinity. It is worth noting that the names of these many Greek texts are not cited and the primary, if not only, use in Greek of the triplasios term for Mithras is by the 5th-6th century Christian theologian Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, where he employs it in the sense of thrice-great, rather than a trinitarian threefold.

This is all very speculative and it often feels like an association is made using the barest of symbolic simulacra, which is fine when one is doing an esoteric investigation for oneself, but less so when these correspondences are ostensibly being presented as an ancient belief system with a lineage that also stretches forward at least two millennia into the modern age. As the Greek letters do not have the rich symbolic associations of Hebrew or the runes, a meaning often has to be drawn, with some effort, from their numeric value using a simple Mispar Hechrachi-style number-for-letter formula. As a result, things get reachier the further into the alphabet one goes, with one of the reachiest being the eleventh letter, lambda, which is said to be associated with growth and vegetative virility. To get to this, Agrell noted that an excerpt from the Zoroastrian scripture Bundahishn tells how from five parts of the slain cosmic bull sprung 55 types of grain and twelve kinds of healing herbs. Discounting the twelve herbs, Agrell introduced the number 11 and tortuously argued that since 5 times 11 equals 55, then 11 must be the number that signifies growth and vegetative virility; not the referenced 5, nor 55, and certainly not 12. Like we said, so reachy, and that’s not even taking into account that the Bundahishn excerpt in question has Ahriman and his evil forces as the killers of the bull, not Mithra, who in his Iranian form is never associated with that act.

Undaunted with the sketchiness of this assignment to the Greek alphabet of myriad Zoroastrian and prochronistic Roman Mithraist elements, the next chapter moves forward in time with an assumption that said esoteric attributes were transferred from the Greek letters to their Latin equivalent. Little time is spent on this evolution and instead Flowers takes it as read and moves swiftly on to Agrell’s interpretation of the tarot, admitting for the first time that it would be untenable to suggest that the tarot trumps existed at this period in their later card form, but rather that their symbolism was then extant and conveyed in the esoteric import given to symbols, such as the Greek and Roman letters. Only later, the theory goes, were these arbitrary (and seemingly reverse-engineered) associations given pictorial form in the cards of the tarot; assuming an uninterrupted lineage of centuries.

The Magian Tarok spread

Flowers goes through each of the trumps, giving Agrell’s interpretation and fleshing out the information with additional details. There’s a lot of wrangling of imagery drawn not just from Mithraism’s limited symbolism but also ancient Egypt, Greece and more broadly, Hermeticism, all of which has to then be inelegantly tied back to Mithraism in order to fit the brief; although sometimes the stretch was apparently too great to bother with. Thus, the wand-wielding Magician is linked to a was-sceptre-holding Set, but then Flowers has to make this relevant to Agrell’s hypothesis with a hand-waving claim that “it is also likely” that during the Persian rule of Egypt, their Mithra was identified with the native Set. Similarly, The High Priestess is just, well, any queen-like goddess figure, so yeah, let’s say Isis, and well, maybe Cybele, and then let’s see if we can tie this in to Mithras based merely on the proximity of their respective cults, Yeah, that’ll do. Next! What, another goddess figure for The Empress? Ahh, that must have been Diana for, um, reasons. These Mithraists weren’t exactly bothered about encoding many figures unique to their ill-defined cosmology into these cards, any old god will do, almost as if these magi had the benefit of four millennia of mythological hindsight at their disposal.

Throughout this analysis, any coincidence is looked upon as proof and any inconsistency is acknowledged as something that must have changed, albeit for unspecified, mysterious reasons. Thus, The Fool is an image of the tauroctony, but the bull has been turned, naturally, I guess, into the jester figure, with his cap and bells read, for the first time by anyone ever, as bull’s ears. Mithras himself is completely absent, but lo, a dog seen in the tauroctony is there in the trump; although let’s ignore the fact that the dog is parasitically licking the bull’s blood in the former, while trying to warn the Fool of imminent danger in the latter. Not to mention that the dog first appears in the Marseilles deck, and not in any of its 15th century predecessors.

Ultimately, none of the interpretations of the cards are very convincing and the entire premise fails to move beyond confusing correlation for causation. Rather than showing that there was some ancient template for the 15th century tarot deck, inconceivably carried through time for over 1500 years by a secret magian brotherhood straight out of Dan Brown’s tawdry fiction, the swish of Occam’s Razor would argue that the 15th century designs, like any other creative output, drew their imagery from a vast array of extant sources and influences, both esoteric and mundane. Once again, if it was simply a matter of retroactively applying a Greek, Hermetic and tiny sliver of Mithraism to the symbolism of the tarot, in a manner done, for example, by anyone designing a new tarot with a specific cultural variation, then that would be fine; even if the links are, as mentioned, often tenuous. The issue though is with the implausible central hypothesis that all this happened the other way round, all managed by magian adepts with a knowledge of Hermeticism, two versions of Mithras (both Persian and Roman), who were also cognisant of a future where mere playing cards could become a system of divination (and then desacralized by those damn teenagers). This sloppy scholarship is exacerbated by the attempts to give names to these non-existent Roman trumps, as if that’s what they would really have been called, claiming for example that the original Roman name for Strength “was probably Magnitudo,” that for The Hanged Man “the evocative interpretation was probably Noxa,” that the Roman name for Temperance “was likely Pluvia, “rain (water),”” and that The Devil “would have carried the name Quirinus.” Even with those weasel word caveats, these are pretty bold claims to pull out of the aether and I could just as easily say, with comparable certainty, that The Tower was originally almost certainly most definitely called Geminae Turris (and the other tower was removed from the card’s imagery at some point because, you know, reasons).

The Magian Tarok spread

As an argument for a theory best left in the 1930s, the content of The Magian Tarok has little to recommend it, stretching symbolism, time, logic and the reader’s credulity. At best, one could say the book is merely a prima facie presentation of Agrell’s theory and is not intended as either critique or advocacy, But beyond the tarot theory itself, as a history of Mithraism it is also lacking, rife as it is with its lack of reference to both primary and secondary sources, and with its preponderance of weasel words, setting the discerning reader adrift in a sea of uncertain provenances and fruitless speculation. Given the relative obscurity of Mithraism, a clearer, more referenced consideration of the topic would be recommended, with less reliance solely on Cumont, as some of his once popular theories have attracted criticism over the years, beginning in 1971 with John Hinnells and R.L. Gordon at the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies.

The layout of The Magian Tarok comes, as ever, by way of the expert hand of the aforementioned Debbie Glogover, who sets the body in Garamond, with Brioso, Goudy Oldstyle and Gill Sans as display faces. Images are dotted throughout the book and the tarot trumps are represented four-fold in each example, with a row of three cards drawn variously from the Visconti-Sforza, Marseilles, Grigonneur, Rosenwald and Mantegna decks, topped each time by a larger featured image from the photographic tarot of Amber Rae Broderick.

Published by Inner Traditions


Infernal Geometry and the Left-Hand Path – Tony Chappell

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Categories: esotericism, magick, satanism, Tags:

Infernal Geometry and the Left-Hand Path coverIn his recently-reviewed History of the Rune-Gild, Stephen Flowers tells how his interest in the Church of Satan was originally piqued by enigmatic references in their literature to the nine angles. This interest was then extended to the Temple of Set, which Flower joined, and whose founder, Michael Aquino, had originally written the Ceremony of the Nine Angles that was included in Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Rituals. Flowers would rise to become the grand master of the Temple of Set’s inner Order of the Trapezoid, and now, several decades later, both he and Aquino bookend this book from the current grand master of the Order of the Trapezoid, Toby Chappell, providing foreword and afterword respectively to a thorough exploration of what the subtitle refers to as “the magical system of the Nine Angles.”

As this initial cast of characters suggests, this is a book that considers ideas from the Church of Satan and the Temple of Set, but it goes beyond this to touch on the geometry of Pythagoras, runic symbolism, as well as the mysticism of the Germanic revival (such as that of Karl Maria Wiligut), and the weird literature of Howard Philip Lovecraft, Frank Belknap and related authors. Indeed, Lovecraft and his genre of cosmic horror looms large within these pages, with the Church of Satan’s Ceremony of the Nine Angles, which acts as a frequent reference throughout the book, being an invocation of the entities from his eldritch cosmology.

These nine angles are represented visually here by an isosceles trapezoid within which sits an slightly irregular inverted pentagram, its two uppermost points touching the top corners of the trapezoid, and its horizontal line sitting just above the quadrilateral’s lower line, through which the lower tip of the pentagram breaks. The angles nine are, thus, found at the four points of the trapezoid and the five points of the pentagram, and each of these is assigned a keyword or concept so that the design forms a psychocosm comparable to the qabbalistic tree of life or the septenary Tree of Wyrd. These keywords map out the stages of a journey that can be applied to anything, be it magic, cosmology or the creation of a piece of art, beginning with chaos, ending with perfection, and along the way meeting order, understanding, being, creation, sleep, awakening and re-creation. In this way, and as noted by Chappell in discussing other uses of the number nine and mystical geometry, this infernal set of nine angle resembles the enneagram popularised by Gurdjieff as a model of human psychological types and processes; though, it must be said, that the nine-pointed star-esque enneagram, despite looking like its bottom has fallen out, is more aesthetically pleasing than the awkward pentagram and trapezoid combo used here.

Infernal Geometry chapter title and nine angles overview

For someone who never found trapezoids all that magickally appealing (come on, it’s a slopey rectangle, go tetrahedrons!), there was always the suspicion that the shape and the extra five angles needed to make up the nine angles had been picked somewhat arbitrarily, and therefore any attempt to assign meaning to it was effectively occult reverse engineering. If that’s the case, then well done Mr Chappell, as Infernal Geometry and the Left-Hand Path spends a lot of time shoring up the significance of the nine angles, and uses the work of previous grandmasters of the Order of the Trapezoid (Aquino, Flowers and Patricia Hardy) as the theoretical grounding.

One of the book’s first deeper considerations of the angles and their keywords returns once more to the Ceremony of the Nine Angles and assigns to the four angles of the trapezoid the big four of Lovecraftian cosmology: Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep and Shub-Niggurath. This does give one pause because this means they signify respectively the stages of chaos, order, understanding and being, when surely it should just be chaos, chaos, chaos and even more chaos but with goats. Obviously, this is a somewhat dated bone to pick, considering the Ceremony of the Nine Angles was published in 1972, but the image here (and in a lot of subsequent Lovecraft-inspired occultism) of the Old Gods as spooky but largely benevolent gods who can be invoked for one’s self-improvement, flies in the face of Lovecraft’s vision for his creations. When the Outer Gods and Great Old Ones are often depicted as having the kind of disregard for humanity that a mammoth would have for a flea, it takes some wilful misreading of Lovecraft to turn them into beings who can, in the case of Yog-Sothoth, be asked to “guide us through the night of thy creation, that we may behold the Bond of the Angles and the promise of thy will.” At best, Lovecraft’s Chthulhu mythos seems a better fit for an anti-cosmic system, in which the only reason any adherent would address them is so that the cosmos and all creation can disintegrate into a gibbering mass of madness and non-being.

Infernal Geometry R’lyehian alphabet

This bone-picking has to be pushed aside, though, as Lovecraftian-inspired cosmology and Aquino’s interpretation of it plays a significant role in the contents of the book; so much so that it could almost have been mentioned in the title. And it is Aquino’s Ceremony of the Nine Angles, along with his Call to Cthulhu and LaVey’s Die Elektrischen Vorspiele, that form the lion’s share of the content here, with Chappell providing perhaps too thorough an analysis of the three rites, constantly returning to them as the touchstones of this angular magic. Along with this is a restatement of the principles of satanic magic as put forth by LaVey in The Satanic Bible and The Satanic Rituals, and so, for anyone with some experience in this here occult milieu, things can feel very familiar, and just a little dated, with this canonisation of magical theory from the 1970s.

Infernal geometry ritual instructions

When it comes to examples of angular ritual work separate from the three ritual prototypes, things are remarkably conventional. Despite all the talk of the angles as a unique system, and the promise in Lovecraft’s fiction of a different, reality-distorting approach to ritual, what is presented here is the same old stuff. Yes, there’s now enneadic symbolism to employ, instead of, say, a standard calling of quarters, but otherwise it’s just the usual stuff: light some candles, draw some symbols, say some things, oh, and sit on a throne. Said symbols, geometric shapes representing each angle and referred to as signs of the nine angles, are inconsistent in weight and appearance, as are another set of nine figures that are designated as seals of the angles rather than signs. Neither set are particularly appealing aesthetically, feeling awkward and unremarkable, and certainly unworthy of the sense of mystery felt by Robert Blake in The Haunter of the Dark. One could sympathetically say that this lack of appeal fulfils the brief of the Lovecraftian angles being strange and unsettling (because the lack of design consistency unsettles this reviewer) but really it feels like a missed opportunity. While yes, Lovecraft, despite wishful thinking to the contrary, had the benefit of writing fiction with all the license that provides, no one in occultism seems to have quite managed to replicate his ideas of geometry that has an indefinable wrongness that allows space and time itself to open up. The ritual chambers used here, based on the original Church of Satan instructions from the 1970s, for example, basically specify no curved surfaces as the extent of angular concerns (and I can’t imagine that many ritual spaces are overflowing with such anyway), rather than anything like the mind and time-altering non-Euclidean geometry explored by the witch Keziah Mason in The Dreams in the Witch House.

Signs of the angles

Chappell writes with a capable and effortless-style throughout Infernal Geometry and the Left-Hand Path, using a measured delivery that often belies the occult nature of the subject material.  It does feel longer than it should be, with the main content alone, sans appendices, running to over 240 pages. Part of this is due to a degree of repetition and recapping, with angular seals, and the trapezoid and trapezoid-pentagram combo being printed in multiple instances, ritual refrains repeated in full across multiple rituals, and main points in the body text being restated for the sake of a little too much thoroughness.

Infernal Geometry and the Left-Hand Path concludes with a substantial series of appendices, six in all, providing significant source documents, as well as the first complete publication of an aesthetically pleasing R’lyehian alphabet, created in 1992 by a knight of the Order of the Trapezoid, Sir Tmythos. The other appendices provide something of a hoard of angular mysticism, with several key texts that precede Chappell’s meisterwerk from the hands of Aquino, Flowers and Hardy. Aquino provides two pieces: an article on Lovecraftian ritual and his version of a Lovecraftian language, with a handy glossary (originally printed in the weird fiction zine Nyctalops), and a commentary on the seal of the nine angles and the symbolism of each angle (published in May 1988 in Runes, the private journal of the Order of the Trapezoid). These elements are also explored, first by Flowers in an article from the March 1998 issue of Runes, and by Hardy in a piece called Keystone from 1992. Meanwhile, Flowers’ contribution, also from Runes and previously republished in his anthology Black Runa, is The Alchemy of Yggdrasil in which he first discusses elemental concepts in northern cosmology and creation before relating these to the idea of angular magic.

Seals of the angles

For those wondering if, with all this talk of nine angles, the similarly named Order thereof gets a mention, the answer is no; which is perhaps to be expected given the contentious exchanges between Aquino and the ONA’s Anton Long in the 1990s. However, with the second chapter’s   discussion of various instances of enneadic symbolism from other mystical traditions, the absence of any mention of, for example, the Order of Nine Angle’s Rite of Nine Angles seems a significant omission. With that said, there’s something a little thrilling about seeing a book like this, with Satanism and Setianism mentioned so nonchalantly on the rear cover blurb (let alone within the pages themselves), published by a relatively mainstream publisher like Inner Traditions. It’s not this specific publisher’s first foray into darkness, with Flowers’ Lords of the Left Hand Path being perhaps the first and best example, and similarly, the main titles of the Church of Satan were obviously available as Avon’s mass market paperbacks before this. The professionally presented works of Inner Traditions seem a respectable step up from the insular world of preach-to-the-choir occult publishing, though, and Chappell joins the ranks of Flowers and Don Webb as published Setian authors of note, thereby highlighting the Temple of Set as an occult order that can get authoritative and fairly rigorous works published and made available to a broad market. Mmmm, that’s good dialectics.

Text design and layout for Inner Traditions are once again expertly handled by Debbie Glogover who uses the now seemingly standard combination of Garamond and Gill Sans for body and subtitles respectively. Titles are in Adam Ladd’s lovely hand-drawn serif face Botany, while Tide Sans by Kyle Wayne Benson gets a tiny shout out for its subtle use in chapter numbers

Published by Inner Traditions

The soundtrack for this review is Lustmord – The Place Where the Black Stars Hang, one of several dark ambient works suggested as a ritual soundtrack by Chappell.


Nightside of the Runes: Uthark, Adulruna, and the Gothic Cabbala – Thomas Karlsson

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Categories: germanic, nightside, qabalah, runes, Tags:

Nightside of the Runes coverOriginally released by Ouroboros Produktion in 2002 as Uthark: Nightside of the Runes, this book has had its title flipped, and its page count inflated, by Inner Traditions; a publishing house that is home to a surprising amount of runic content alongside more conventional metaphysical fare. To do this, Nightside of the Runes takes the original content of Uthark, and adds a second part based around the Adulruna, and Gothic Cabbala of the subtitle. The latter is Thomas Karlsson’s Adulrunan och den Götiska Kabbalan, a work previously available only in Swedish, German and Italian. And fun fact, the cover here more resembles that of the original edition of Adulrunan och den Götiska Kabbalan than it does Uthark: Nightside of the Runes.

The concept of the Uthark has its origins in the work of Swedish poet and runologist Sigurd Agrell, who argued that the runes should be ordered, not with Fehu at the start, but at the end, thus beginning with Uruz to make an uthark not a futhark. While there are a few examples of a sequential listing of runes in which they could begin with Uruz instead of Fehu, these may simply be errors or erosion, such as, most famously, the Kylver stone from Gotland, where a vertical line before the Uruz could be the remains of Fehu. Karlsson himself doesn’t labour much for the validity of the theory, saying that irrespective of how it is held, the Uthark is a magically potent version of the rune row that corresponds well with Old Norse language and myth.

Perhaps the most interesting application for the Uthark is in how it changes things numerologically, with the value of each rune moving one along when using a letter-to-number cipher, with, for example, Hagalaz becoming a more pleasing 8 and Nauthiz a fitting 9. On the other hand, confirmation bias, pareidolia and apophenia being what they are, you could probably work out some esoteric significance betwixt a rune and a certain value no matter what number it was assigned.

Nightside of the Runes spread with Uthark interpretations

Despite the title of this half of the book (and of the previous standalone edition), the Uthark doesn’t always play a huge role here, save for the occasional esoteric nugget that can be assigned to runes and the reshuffled aetts. Instead, this is a general rune magic primer, with everything you would expect in it: a section on the meaning and symbolism of each rune (and another variation of this same listing later on with meanings simplified for the purpose of divination), a brief guide to runic yoga in the style of Friedrich Marby, an exploration of the cosmology of the nine worlds, and a guide to ritual, including brief considerations of galdr and seiðr. The most notable innovation here is Karlsson’s presentation of the Uthark order of runes as a journey to Hel along the Helvegr, with each rune marking a stage on the journey, beginning with Uruz as a fitting gate to the underworld and ending with the less satisfying interpretation of Fehu as the magician in their state of completion.

The original body copy of Uthark has been edited for this release, tidying up and finessing the words here and there, but not going all out and altering Karlsson’s voice as it appears in the original, translated by Tommie Eriksson (whose name doesn’t seem to be credited in this new edition). As a result, the writing still comes across as the work of someone with English as a second language, though not horribly or unforgivably so. Phrasing can be a little awkward at times, and sentences are often short, abrupt eruptions, where another writer would have combined two or more of them together for greater flow.

Nightside of the Runes spread with labyrinths and ship grave meditations

Having previously read Uthark, but not Adulrunan och den Götiska Kabbalan, it is the latter that proves the most exciting part of the book to get to. Karlsson gives something of a prelude to this in the Uthark section with a brief chapter on runosophy and cabbala, which does introduce some redundancies when you get to Adulrunan proper. While the book’s first half is indebted to Sigurd Agrell, in the second half that role is performed by the Swedish antiquarian and polymath Johannes Bureus. Agrell and Bureus share certain similarities, despite the gulf of centuries, being figures possessed of a singular vision and unique interpretations of the northern mysteries. Both created innovations of the existing futharks, with Agrell’s one-place-along shuffling of the runes of the Elder Futhark having a parallel in the work of Bureus, who grouped the runes of the Younger Futhark into sets of five, and removed the inconvenient final sixteenth rune, Yr, to make a symmetrical three rows of five Adulrunes, as he called them.

Stephen Flowers provides prologues to both the Uthark and Adulrunan sections of this book, and also acts as the translator for the latter. His introduction to Adulruna is quite substantial, running to ten pages and providing what follows with a thorough context, highlighting the cultural and hermetic milieu from which Bureus, and the broader field of esoteric Gothicism (as Karlsson calls it), emerged. With Flowers providing the translation, The Adulruna and the Gothic Cabbala does feature a significant change in Karlsson’s voice from that of Uthark, lacking the staccato quality, with sentences now flowing longer and smoother.

Nightside of the Runes spread with Adulrunes chapter

The other noticeable difference is a considerably more academic approach, with the content here forming the basis of Karlsson’s 2010 doctoral thesis Götisk kabbala och runisk alkemi: Johannes Bureus och den götiska esoterismen. This is particularly evident in the first chapters of  The Adulruna and the Gothic Cabbala which consists of an academic literature review of Bureus and Gothicism in general, and is then followed by a citing-heavy chapter defining Western Esotericism and name-checking all the usual suspects (Dame Frances Yates, Antoine Faivre, Henrik Bogdan, Wouter Hanegraaff, Mercia Eliade etc.). This makes for two very different halves of a book, with the academic grounding of the second half contrasting strongly with the practical, hands-on enthusiasm of the first.

It is the hermetic influences that played a large role in what Bureus created, with esoteric Gothicism drawing on elements of alchemy, cabbala, astrology and ceremonial magic; including clear nods to figures who loom large within this pantheon such as Paracelsus and Dr John Dee. As such, Bureus makes a fitting role model for Karlsson, whose Dragon Rouge organisation has a similar eclectic approach, employing elements of cabbala, including the nightside, and goetia, but with a strong focus on indigenous Scandinavian traditions.

Nightside of the Runes spread with Bureus rune cross

Bureus’ system involves a dense, interwoven cosmology and a very specific nomenclature that is, to put it mildly, idiosyncratic; and Karlsson does an admirable job of documenting it thoroughly and as clearly as can be done with something as ornamented as it is. For example, Bureus posited a rather unique take on the Germanic pantheon in which, based on the runic formula of TOF, Thor was the preeminent god (an androgynous combination of feminine and masculine worshipped since “primeval times” as the “great invoker”), while Odin and Fröja were his children and messengers. This, as was the style of the time, then incorporated elements of mystical Christianity, with Fröja as the Holy Spirit and Odin as a version of Christ, the son of God, who descended into flesh and then returned, ascending to heaven, providing, as mediator, a process for others to follow. Bureus argued that this reflected a version of the philosophia perennis which had remained pristine in the north far longer than in the lands to the south. This incarnation was eventually corrupted when a wandering master of witchcraft and his wife assumed the names of Odin and Fröja. They received worship and turned this pure proto-Christianity into heathenry with its dreaded worship of wooden idols (and worst of all, changing the order of the formula to FTO, with Fröja now worshipped at the beginning of life, Thor during life itself, and Odin at old age and death).

Suffice to say, there’s not a lot of value to Bureus’ system if you’re purely pagan in orientation, or if you adhere to the archaeological record, with his conception of Germanic belief being, to put it diplomatically, highly speculative. But it is, if nothing else, fun. And that’s what makes Nightside of the Runes a worthy purchase, as it provides perhaps the most accessible and in depth information in English on Bureus’ convoluted cosmology and interpretation of the runes; as well, of course, as Agrell’s slightly less esoteric Uthark.

Adulruna sigil

Illustrations in Nightside of the Runes consist of the original line drawings from the original edition of Uthark in the first half, and an exhaustive collection of images from Bureus’ publications in the second. These are rendered in black and white with the contrast turned well up to remove any colour or texture of the original print material, thereby giving them a consistent weathered and arcane look.

Nightside of the Runes is available in Kindle and hardback versions, with the latter wrapped in a dustjacket over its black boards and the title foiled in silver on the spine. Layout is by Inner Traditions’ Debbie Glogover with the body in a dependable Garamond, and headings in a distressed Appareo that contrasts with the san-serif Gill Sans of the subheadings. Appareo is a nice touch with its almost-slab serifs and worn edges approximating the face used on the original edition of Adulrunan, and conveying less of the runic side of this book and more of a sense of the later gothic manuscript or grimoire. Continuing this style, each chapter heading incorporates a crop of the sun image from the book’s cover (originally from the title page of Bureus’ Svenska ABC boken medh runor), sitting above the title as a pleasing archway.

Published by Inner Traditions

Review Soundtrack: Therion – Gothic Kabbalah  (as with many Therion albums, Thomas Karlsson provided the lyrics to this album based on the work of Johannes Bureus)


The Secret of the Runes – Guido von List

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Categories: germanic, runes, Tags:

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

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

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

Futhark spread

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

Runic symbols and title page spread

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

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

Published by Destiny Books


The Fraternitas Saturni – Stephen E. Flowers

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Categories: germanic, luciferian, magick, runes, thelema, Tags:

Fraternitas Saturni coverVerbosely subtitled History, Doctrine, and Rituals of the Magical Order of the Brotherhood of Saturn, Stephen E. Flowers’ The Fraternitas Saturni is the fourth edition of a work originally released by Llewellyn in 1990 as Fire and Ice, with the equally prolix subtitle of The History, Structure, and Rituals of Germany’s Most Influential Modern Magical Order – The Brotherhood of Saturn. Since that initial version, the work has been published again by Llewellyn in 1994, and then in a revised edition by Runa Raven Press in 2006. This 2018 incarnation is both revised and expanded, as evidenced by the already lengthy appendices lettered from ‘a’ to ‘i’ now extending to ‘l.’

At its release, as Flowers notes in his introduction, Fire and Ice was the first book to discuss the Fraternitas Saturni at length, and it would be hard to think of any title that has done much more since. In the English speaking world, it is Flowers who still seems to have the monopoly on this particular field of German occultism, with all the risks that having a single interlocutor entails. As Flower also acknowledges, the material contained in The Fraternitas Saturni dates from before 1969, so doesn’t necessarily reflect the beliefs and practices of the order after that date, or today.

One of the first additions to this new edition is found in the initial consideration of the occult milieu from which the Fraternitas Saturni emerged. Here, in addition to his previous discussion of quasi-Masonic lodges such as the Freemasonic Order of the Golden Centurium (FOGC) and obviously the Ordo Templi Orientis, Flowers now discusses the neglected but influential role of Adonism. He devotes several illustrated pages to this school of magical thought and its foremost proponents, Franz Sättler’s Adonistische Gesellschaft, as well as giving still further information as an appendix.

Other changes are largely subtle, with the one thing of obvious note being the amount of new images added to the text; something very much in evidence in the Adonism section. The pictorial elements in the original Fire and Ice were limited to a few diagrams, already well-worn photographs of Gregorius and the bust of GOTOS, and two hand drawn illustrations by James Allen Chisholm. All of these recur here, but in better quality (save for Chisholm’s pictures which look a little 8bit), and they’re joined by a swathe of supporting images, including examples of publications and portraits of key figures.

Fraternitas Saturni sigil

The Fraternitas Saturni begins with the aforementioned discussion of the occult subculture that birthed the order, with Flowers providing a thorough overview of German occultism of the period, noting in particular the way in which Thelema infused some of the major variants. While the OTO absorbed Thelema to become Crowley’s principle magickal order, the Fraternitas Saturni embraced the philosophy, but neither its cosmology, nor Uncle Al’s suzerainty. Instead, as Flowers details, the order promulgated a mythos that merged Gnosticism with Luciferianism, in which Saturnus is a demiurgic figure associated, not just with the typical saturnian characteristics of melancholic introspection and initiation, but with Lucifer (as the sphere’s highest octave) and Satan (as its lowest). For those with aphotic inclinations, there’s a certain appeal to this cosmology, with its combination of metaphysical speculation, plutonian-hued deity forms, and the handy appeal to authority that arises from its use by an order now almost a century old.

The other particularly striking aspect of the order’s belief system, and one which is fairly unique in its application, is the use of the egregor GOTOS, whose name was an acronym based on the name of the order’s 33° grade, Gradus Ordinis Templi Orientis Templi. Considered an embodiment of the order, but also as a pre-existing entity attached to Saturn, the GOTOS egregore took the place of the ascended masters and secret chiefs so typical of other occult organisations of the time, guiding initiates through their journey. The difference being that GOTOS was understood to be a thought-form manifested by the order’s members, rather than some dubious dudes in robes kicking it on a mountain somewhere in far off lands.

Subsequent chapters in The Fraternitas Saturni explore more of the order’s beliefs (but more from a philosophical rather than cosmological perspective), and the structure of the order (including a detailed listing of grades). An outline of their actual magical work and rituals follows and these, as one would expect, have a strong focus on masonic-style lodge work, but there is also a sacerdotal element, with an extensive list of liturgy-rich sacraments that includes the use of various type of elemental eucharist. Two other areas of ritual in which the Fraternitas Saturni are known are electrical magic (which Flowers touches on all-too briefly) and sexual magic (for which two rites are outlined).

Including index and bibliography, The Fraternitas Saturni runs to 207 pages, but just over half of that comprises the book proper, with the rest consisting of extensive appendices. These include several long Fraternitas Saturni rituals (three masses and the Gradus Pentalphae), various letters between Crowley and order founder Gregor A. Gregorius, and instead of his pragmatic suggestions regarding sex magic from 1990, Flowers includes an initiation rite from the Freemasonic Order of the Golden Centurium. The other appendices new to this edition include more details about Rosicrucianism and the Bavarian Illuminati, and the welcomed consideration of Adonism. There are also some lessons for neophytes from order member Master Pacitius (artist, architect and the producer and production designer for F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, Albin Grau), which are provided as one of the rare example of his written occult work.

The cover of the original Fire and Ice in 1990 featured an evocative painting by N. Taylor Blanchard, a darkly hued view of the sigil of Saturn suspended against a range of mountains, all lit from behind by an effulgent light. It was a mysterious image that, other than the Saturn sigil, didn’t seem to reflect too much that was specific to the Fraternitas Saturni, and was very much of its time; with many of the books by Flowers (as well as other Llewellyn authors) employing painted cover art, some better than others. The cover of this 2018 version is also of its time, with the oils of the 1980s and 1990s giving way to a strong graphic look that sets the title and sigils (highlighted with a subtle spot varnish) over a low opacity image of the bust of the GOTOS egregore. It’s nice, a simple but classy treatment, as is true of the covers of many books from Inner Traditions.

The Fraternitis Saturni spread

Inside, the copy is treated with an equally adept hand by the good folks at Inner Tradition. Whereas the original Fire and Ice had Llewellyn’s typical-for-the-time solid and functional layout with a slightly too large, almost slab serif face, and not a lot of space around it, The Fraternitas Saturni uses a classic serif at a respectable size for the body, with subtitles in a san serif, housed in roomy, but not too roomy, margins. The hierarchy makes it eminently more readable than its predecessor, and the reduced page count and larger page size, makes it more pleasant to hold.

This new edition of The Fraternitas Saturni makes for a worthwhile acquisition, whether you don’t have its previous incarnations, or simply want an excuse to reread it, now some 28 years after you may have read it the first time. As testified, the redesign from Inner Traditions will assist in this, making it feel not just eminently more readable, but just a little bit fresh and new. Throughout the book, Flowers writes with an unadorned, thoroughly competent style, with everything presented in a somewhat matter of fact manner.

Published by Inner Traditions

Review Soundtrack: Various Artists – Saturn Gnosis