Monday, December 19, 2011

Coming soon: Balkan's pick for '2011 Esoteric Book of the Year'

As this winter solstice approaches, soon I will announce my pick for the BAB '2011 Esoteric Book of the Year' (along with second and third places).  I may also retroactively award a 2010 pick, as this blog did not exist a year ago.  It was quite a year for talismanic texts and should be acknowledged.  Winners will be announced sometime in the next few weeks.

Books will be judged by the following criteria: binding, materials, design, talismanic intent & method of consecration (if applicable), layout, and editorial rigor.  Eligible books must have a 2011 copyright date.  I will  not judge books by their content, as it is unfair and pointless to compare different magical paths or traditions (like comparing apples to oranges).  While I do my best, I am not qualified to judge and assess every single magical system the world has to offer; I very much doubt such a person exists.  Therefore, books will be judged by their craft, creativity, and beauty only.

I am still waiting for a few possible last-minute contenders for 2011, such as Scarlet Imprint's Pomba Gira and the Quimbanda of Mbumba Nzila by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold (Rainha da Figueira do Inferno edition), The Rosicrucian Order of the Golden Dawn's Golden Dawn Rituals and Commentaries by Pat Zalewski (Deluxe Leather edition), and Three Hands Press' The Children of Cain by Michael Howard (Special full black goatskin edition).

Thank you all for taking the time to read this blog and for all the positive messages I have received.


B. Balkan

Monday, November 28, 2011

Magic Secrets attributed to Guidon (Translated from Norman French by Philippe Pissier)

The Society of Esoteric Endeavour  2011 (Orig. circa 1670).   88 pages.  Illustrated (some colored).  Decimo-octavo (Eighteenmo).

Paperback, limited to 180 copies.

Magic Secrets is a collection of Norman folk-magic charms and remedies alleged recorded by a 17th century Cunning Man.  The book states that it was originally published in 1670, though dates and authors were often exaggerated or fabricated in the grimoire tradition to imbue them with an air of authority or legitimacy.  Its first known appearance was in the appendix of The Grimoire of Pope Honorious.   In many ways it is perhaps a precursor to other small charm books, such as the Romanus Buchlein (1788) and Johann Georg Hohman's Long Lost Friend (1820).  Like RB and LLF, Magic Secrets includes practical charms for the protection of livestock, charming of firearms, blood-stopping, reducing fevers, and instructions for creating protective wards and talismans.  The vast majority of the book's charms are related to animal husbandry, such as charms for protecting sheep, or healing horses.  This follows an earlier publication from The Society of Esoteric Endeavour, Society of the Horseman's Word, a book of equine charms detailing the practices of the legendary Scottish 'Horse Whisperers'.  Magic Secrets also includes anonymous commentary discussing the history of the book and background of some of the charms.

The charms in Magic Secrets are largely written from a Christian perspective and often call upon the favor of Christ and angels.  Considering the time and place of origin, this is hardly surprising.  However, like many European grimoires, the book occasionally walks a fine line between piety and blasphemy.  Blasphemous passages are written in Latin, presumably to hide their true meaning from others when spoken, as it would have certainly raised a few eyebrows, if not a few pyres.  Sudden heretical statements, intended to deliver a shock, were occasionally used as a magical healing technique to perhaps scare or chase away unwanted malign spirits.  One might compare it to wearing frightful masks to scare away evil spirits, especially on Halloween.

'The Peddler'  17th century France
As much as I love the recent wave of beautiful and fine-bound talismanic books, it is also refreshing to see a publisher willing to pay homage to the inexpensive, paperback, occult books that were circulated around Europe for hundreds of years, such as the Bibliotheque Bleu books.  These were the spell books of the common folk.  Even the illiterate valued these works, as they would often infer their own meaning from the book's printed symbols and diagrams or feign understanding when in front of clients.  These books are as much a part of occult history as the expensive, leather, tomes treasured by the educated and wealthy.  It should also be mentioned that Scarlet Imprint and Hadean Press have also continued this tradition by publishing inexpensive, paperback, occult works in their Bibliotheque Rouge and Guides to the Underworld series, respectively.  This flies in the face of those who claim specialty occult publishers only market to high-end collectors.  In the end, it's the content that matters.  It is my opinion is that a combination of both approaches best ensures the survival of the material.  Paperbacks (and even e-books) reach a far wider audience, keeping traditions alive, while sturdy bindings can almost guarantee a book's survival for generations, that is, barring any future book-burning crazes.  Unfortunately history is filled with many, and magical grimoires in particular have proven to be especially susceptible to the torches of zealots. 

In order to be historically accurate, the book is issued in paper wraps and has a somewhat rough-hewn binding.  The cover is printed with a talismanic design and is waterproofed using an age-old method that involves rubbing the cover with beeswax and then burnishing it with a smooth stone, all done by hand of course.  The paper is intentionally designed to have a rustic look and feel, much like the charms contained within.  It is given a yap binding (an overlapping cover, often seen in older Bibles) and has clipped corners.  According to the publisher, "Hahnemahle Medieval Laid 130 gsm paper" was chosen, as it closely resembles 17th century paper created with the mould-made production method.  The linen texture of the paper is amazing.  It feels very organic, and is flecked with natural fibers.  Pages have a natural deckle edge at the top.  The majority of copies (copies 1-154) have uncut pages, leaving it up to the reader to slice open each page with a pen-knife.  Further adhering to tradition, the publisher chose to print Magic Secrets using lead type, an admirable but expensive decision.  Though the publisher uses impressive printing methods and materials, the overall presentation of the book is very practical, including its size; it can easily be carried in a jacket pocket.  This book isn't intended to be a show piece -- it's designed for use.

I have a tremendous respect for Ben Furnee, the mastermind behind The Society of Esoteric Endeavour's publications.  His love for books and remarkable attention to historical detail, no matter how humble, comes through in each binding.  When one holds one of his hand-bound books one also experiences his passion, conveyed powerfully through the the magic of the bookbinder's art.  But be warned: his enthusiasm is contagious.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gullveigarbok by Vexior 218

Fall of Man  2010  242 pages.  Illustrations by Helgorth and Vexior.  Octavo.

Standard Edition: Maroon cloth, limited to 500 copies.

Deluxe Edition: Full maroon leather, limited to 62 copies.

Gullveigarbok is a grimoire devoted to the understanding and adoration of Gullveig, the highest feminine principle of darkness within Norse mythology.  She is often described as a giantess and is considered the mother of werewolves and of the black arts.  Gullvieg has three feminine forms: mother, maiden, and crone.  This triumvirate of feminine principals, along with her association to witchcraft and darkness, is somewhat akin to the three-faced aspect of the goddess Hecate.  However, one should not consider them one and the same.

Much of the book is devoted to exploring the Norse sagas (The Elder and Younger Eddas), particularly their darker points.  It's clear that Vexoir 218 has extensive knowledge of The Eddas.  The author invites the reader to put themselves into the mindset of early Scandinavians to better understand how they may have looked at their physcial and spiritual world.  One of the central tenets of Gullveigarbok is that Gullveig represents an anti-cosmic force, or as the author calls it, "Chaos-Gnosticsim".  In this sense the book falls somewhat under the Luciferian (as personified by Loki) banner as it deals primarily with acausal energies.  According the Norse myth, Gullveig comes from Niflheimr, a world of mists, darkness, and black ice.  The black ice, called 'rime', represents a kind of frozen or static chaos.  In modern terms we might consider this anti-cosmic and symbolic substance something like dark matter.  Niflheimr is also the land where the Rime-thurses (creatures of darkness and cold, or shadowy ice giants) originate.

In addition to exploring the magical underworld of the Eddas, Gullveigarbok also provides incantations/songs and unique examples of bind-runes and staves for working runic divinations and practical magick .  The author also describes a type of meditative trance-work, called 'seta', which can be used as a method of astral travel to the underworld.  Vexior 218 chose to retain the original spelling of many Norse names and terms rather than Anglicize them.  This can make reading a bit more laborious for some, but considering the context of the book, I believe this was a wise decision.  Respect for tradition is a central theme throughout the text.  Fortunately the author has provided a pronunciation guide for readers in the Introductiion.  Also included are extensive footnotes further elaborating upon key elements of Norse myth and passages from the Eddas to back up claims.  There is also an Appendix and much-appreciated Index.  One final additon is a beautiful fold-out chart of the Norse Underworld.

The Deluxe edition is a true work of art.  It is hand-bound in rich, maroon, leather.  The mysterious 'LYKYL' bind-rune, which according to the author symbolizes 'Loki within Gullveig', is embossed into the cover.  This bind-rune is comprised of three 'Ansuz' runes, looking like three keys.  The 'Ansuz' rune means: transformation, breath, animating-spirit, and communication.  The three runes joined could also represent the three-fold aspect of Gullveig. The spine includes two raised bands and a raised runic title that is very striking.  The outer edge of the book's cover is decorated with fine tooling -- little hatch marks that lend delicate texture to the book's edge.  The scent of the leather is remarkable.  If I close my eyes I could almost swear I'm sitting in a Ferrari.  The book opens to black textured endpapers.  It is further decorated with a red satin bookmark and finished red head/tail bands.

Gullveigarbok is printed in very high-quality heavy paper.  It is smooth,  fairly rigid, and of a medium cream color.  Text is crisp and precise.  Chapter headings are printed with maroon ink.  Sixteen marvelous pen & ink drawings are contained within its pages (many full-page).  The plates 'Gullveig, Heidr, and Aurboda ascend from Nifelheimr', 'Heldrasill', and the chapter heading art for 'Gullveig in Aldna' are particularly well done and striking.  The rear of the Deluxe edition has a black envelope fixed to the inside cover.  Inside sits a black card with a LYKYL bind-rune hand-drawn in silver ink and signed by Vexior 218.  What I find most amazing is that Gullveigarbok is the first release by Fall of Man.  Never have I seen such a fine debut title from esoteric press.  They've certainly set the bar high right from the start.  Keep an eye out for their next release, Threshold: Black Magic and Shattered Geometry.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

XVI: BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE OF GOD edited by Alkistis Dimech & Peter Grey

Scarlet Imprint   269 pages.  Illustrated (full color).  Octavo

Standard Edition: Natural linen cloth, limited to 700 copies

Kill All Kings Edition:  Full scarlet goat, slipcase incised with roman numerals, limited to 44 copies.

I would like to start this review with an enthusiastic congratulations to the publisher, Scarlet Imprint.  Their 'Kill All Kings' edition of XVI has recently been shortlisted for the Limited Edition and Fine Binding category of the British Book Design and Production Award.  This is an incredible achievement, and a first for the occult publishing world.  It appears that fine, talismanic, occult books are finally getting the respect they deserve.  Quite frankly, the reality is that esoteric books of this caliber can no longer be willfully ignored.  Further evidence of the shift towards acceptance can be seen with the amount of mainstream media attention this year's Esoteric Book Conference received.  In Scarlet Imprint's case, this recognition couldn't happen to better people.  In my correspondences with Scarlet Imprint, both Alkistis and Peter (owners) have always struck me as intelligent, warm, and gracious.  These are great people doing the Great Work.  Congratulations must also be given to all the fine artisans and craftsmen behind these books.  Lets hope this is the first of many awards to come.

The Tower by Tabatha Cicero
from The Golden Dawn Tarot
The book's title, XVI, refers to 'The Tower' card of the tarot.  Many of the book's essays theorize how 'The Tower' may best symbolize our particular point in history better than any other card.  Metaphors abound within the book's pages, such as the 'The Tower' possibly symbolizing the destruction of the Twin Towers and 911 attack, and perhaps a dramatic (and traumatic) birth of the 21st century.  'The Tower' card is represented by the Hebrew letter 'Peh' (פ), meaning 'mouth', a time to raise one's voice and be heard.  Taken with its other correspondence, Mars, it is a direct call to forceful action.  The book is electrifying; the lighting striking the tower -- a literary cattle prod.   XVI's intent is to jolt armchair occultists out of their endless navel-gazing and daring them out into the streets.  What was once cozy and safe has been shattered by the flaming sword.  The book argues that it's time for some to mature their practice, take it beyond theory, and make it crystallize in the outer world by utilizing the energies available to them, especially that of XVI, The Tower.  In short, it's time to channel sixteen, not act sixteen. 

With the so-called 'Arab Spring' and the even more recent Occupation of Wall St., the timing for this work couldn't be better.  One might even say XVI is a 269 page declaration of war.  As occultists, we know our most potent weapons are our unique cultural memes.  These concepts, beliefs, and sigils contain more power than any arsenal.  Just look at Alan Moore, arguably the most influential magician in the world (sadly absent from XVI).  The iconic Guy Fawkes mask from his graphic novel V For Ventetta (a sigil if there ever was one) has become the face of the Anonymous group and a symbol for political uprising and civil disobedience all over the world -- social movements strong enough to potentially topple nations (or ivory towers).  That, dear readers, is power.  Moore is the Merlin of our age.

It would take far to long to discuss each individual essay and provide enough content to do each justice.  Therefore I will comment on the book as a whole, as I believe this is a case where the end result far exceeds the sum of its parts, a truly synergistic effect.  Contributing authors represent a rich cross-section of paths, systems, practices and philosophies.  Both new and old voices from several continents helps create a diverse perspective.  XVI isn't interested in preaching to the choir.  How wonderful it is to see Peter Carroll, the 'godfather of Chaos Magick', still contributing keen insight even 20+ years after the publication of his foundational work, Liber Null.  Also included is another Chaos Magick founder, Ramsey Dukes, expert in magical demolition work.  What kind of revolutionary book would it be without these gentlemen?  The only other notable absence, besides Moore, is the 'Wrecker of Civilization' himself, Genesis P-Orridge. 

  • Peter Gray - Foreword 
  • John Michael Greer - Magic and the End of History:  The shape of time, the myth of progress and the fall of civilisation
  • Ramsey Dukes - XXXII, Not One Tower But Two: The forbidden pleasures of 9/11 and the fight for freedom
  • Carl Abrahamsson - Everything Must Go...On!  Metaprogramming the future through art
  • Eric K Lerner - The Tower:  Shango, santeria, phallic magick and the tarot
  • Raven Kaldera - Being the Change:  The path of a trans-gender plant shaman, from permaculture to bdsm
  • Michael Idehall - The Tower of Babel: Qliphothic initiation on the averse path and the astral realm
  • Peter Grey - Seeing Through Apocalypse:  John Dee, Babalon, brain chemistry and apocalypse denial
  • Dr George J Sieg - Occult War for the Aeon:  Aeonic warfare from, iot, oto, ona, to evola and the church, as civilisations clash
  • James Wasserman - Defeating a Vile Threat: Advocating patriotic thelemic resistance to attacks on our liberty
  • Hafiz Batin - Orgy in Matter:  The spiritual warfare of an Ismaili gnostic in the West
  • Dr Dave Evans/Francis Breakspear - Twin Infinities:  Chaote on Crowley, car crashes and identity crises
  • Stephen Grasso - Things Fall Apart:  Fighting dystopian doomsayers with Vodou
  • Kyle Fite - Falling into Fire:  An initiates journey through Burroughs, Blake, Hesse, Crowley and Bertiaux
  • Julian Vayne - The Ecstatic State:  The war against some drugs and the ritual use of ketamine, toad venom and foxy methoxy
  • Orryelle Defenestrate Bascule - The Tower Crashes:  Direct artistic intervention, babble babel, and both theatrical and ecological action
  • Peter J Carroll - Eschaton:  The godfather of Chaos magic enchants for the eschaton
  • Alkistis Dimech - Coup de Foudre:  Woman and revolutionary witchcraft from the sabbat to collapse, from Michelet to Jack Parsons to now

Artwork by:

  Stafford Stone
  Kyle Fite
  Fredrik Soderberg
  Orryelle Defenestrate - Bascule
  Hafiz Batin
  Michael Idehall
  Eric K Lerner

There's a reason this book is a contender for an award: it's gorgeous!  It is bound in full scarlet goat skin, a fitting shade of red for its associations with Mars.  The title is blocked in black on the cover and spine.  The high-impact title and heavy grained leather (Highland?) lends to a dramatic and austere look.  Every element of its design says, "This is a serious book -- proceed with caution".  The book is protected by a slipcase (also scarlet) that is cut way in a 'V' revealing a portion of the book.  It is incised with the title, XVI.  Upon opening, the reader is greeted by dazzling golden endpapers -- not a gaudy and shiny gold, but rather a rich and lustrous gold.  The tome is decorated with scarlet head and tailbands.  XVI wears its scarlet ribbon bookmark like a tribute to the mark of Madame Guillotine.  Text is printed on heavy light-cream paper.  Chapter headings, designed to reflect the contemporary nature of the work, are printed bold in a combination of red and black.  There is no trace of bleeding even after frequent use of large, bold, letters in heavy ink.  Interior art is both contemplative and primal.  Kyle Fite's piece, "The Rise of Ra Hoor Khuit" is particularly striking.  Each book includes a limited fine art print by Eric Lerner.  Fore-edges of the book are blackened.  It's a nice touch, adding further severity to the book's aspect.  I haven't encountered blackened edges since the Durtro Press edition of Thomas Ligotti's Teatro Grottesco. 

It is my hope that XVI is the first of many occult books focused on direct social action. We need more books like this, books that inspire readers to take some responsibility and make a real impact in the world, rather than play it safe and just talk about it.  If people want to be the next Giordano Bruno, John Dee, Cagliostro, Jack Parsons, or Aleister Crowley, they'll really need to kick it up a notch or two. There's one thing all these magicians had in common: they took risks, often putting their careers and even their very lives in danger for their art, some paying the ultimate price. That's a lot more commitment than endless theorizing within the echo chamber of a small cadre of one's friends. Occultists have always been wed to politics, culture, and the trajectory of nations; our era (or aeon, if you must) is no different.  The spirit residing within XVI doesn't whisper or delicately suggest: it roars.  It howls, "Now is the time.  Step up and make a difference, or forever be part of the problem."

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Secret Meeting in Rome by Raymond Bernard

Brazen Serpent   108 pages.  Illustrated.  Full color.  Octavo.

Full leather (two colors, two varieties) with ribbon book marker, limited edition of 108 copies.    

A Secret Meeting in Rome was originally published in the early 1960s.  This current edition has been translated from the original French by Timothy W. Hogan, who also provides the introduction.  At its core, A Secret Meeting in Rome is a highly esoteric text falling within the traditions of Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, and even Sufism.  The story is written much like a journal.  A gentleman has a chance meeting with a stranger in Rome who turns out to be a adept of a secret society.  Later, they find themselves in a hidden crypt or grotto beneath a church.  Here they encounter 'The Cardinal in White' who explains their chance meeting wasn't chance at all, but rather had been orchestrated by unseen forces.  While in the subterranean grotto, the gentlemen go through an initiation making them part of an ancient order.  The Cardinal in White is a symbolic figure in Western esotericism symbolizing an elevated or enlightened state of consciousness.  A similar figure is encountered in Gustav Meyrink's surreal and esoteric novel, The White Dominican.

The book is written using a heavy amount of symbolism and allegory.  Much is written in code, and therefore functions on many levels; a meta-fiction, if you will.  One could say the plot is just the carrier for the signal.  Clues to hidden meanings are given in some cases, but by and large one needs to be a student of the Western Mystery Tradition (or even be an initiate) to understand the book's hidden content.  Even the book itself has hidden meaning.  For example, the book has 108 pages.  108 is also the number of copies printed.  The number 108 plays a key part in the story.  According to the book, 108 is the "prophetical number".  The book claims there are 108 years between periods of active and inactive existence of the Rosicrucian Order.  108 can be made into 9 (1+0+8).  9 equals the Hermit card of the tarot which has symbolic meaning linked to the book.  The text explains that 108, "is, above all, 'the periphery' of a triangle based on the number 37 of which the total of the sides is 111, a Christos number, which symbolizes the summit.  It is, thus, the number of accomplishment."

The book itself is very impressive.  It is bound in two different types of leather: medium grained dark blue leather boards and half-bound in a lighter grained, soft, black, leather (calfskin, I think).  The cover is stamped in gold with the Templar cross sporting the alchemical phrase, "Materializing the Spiritual, Spiritualizing the Material".  The title is stamped in gold on the spine between two raised bands and decorated with golden Templar crosses at the tail and head.  Shimmering, black, satin endpapers create a very lavish look.  White/blue head and tail bands.  A black satin ribbon is appreciated but seems a tad thin (only about 1/8th inch wide).  The font is large and an odd choice; 'Arial', I think.  But at least it's easy on the eyes.  Fonts are like coats: better a tad too large than a tad too small.  In addition, the text margins seem a bit narrow.  For example, the text sits only 1/2" from the top and side edges.  3/4" would have been a better choice, making the text block look less confined.  The paper is of heavy weight and has a smooth satin finish which creates occasional glare -- part of the trade off for smooth paper. 

Very minor quibbles aside, it's a striking publication from a relatively new press.  If 108 is the number of 'accomplishment', then Brazen Serpent certainly met their goals.  For those unfamiliar with Brazen Serpent, they are "A Denver-based publishing house specializing in Western Mystery Tradition Masonic Esoterica, Hermetic philosophy, and related material."  Their other two recent releases, Novo Clavis Esoterica and The Secret Psychology of Freemasonry are equally stunning.  Brazen Serpent appears to be part of a burgeoning movement within Freemasonry whose goal is to reemphasize esoteric teachings within the order. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Egyptian Secrets or White and Black Art For Man and Beast, attributed to Albertus Magnus

Egyptian Publishing Company.  208 pages.  Octavo.  1930  (Press and year not stated)

(Revisiting an old classic)

Hardcover with dust jacket.  Translated from the original German.

Egyptian Secrets is a classic among folk magick practitioners, especially among those who practice Hoodoo and Pennsylvania German Pow-wow, a.k.a. Braucherei.  Its charms and herbal remedies have been used for generations to stop blood, charm firearms, heal animals, break hexes and many other practical uses.  The majority of spells and charms included tend to focus on treating domesticated animals and curing minor personal ailments such as wart removal, ointments for burns, and treatments for gaut and jaundice.  Thus, the charms and remedies therein are interesting indicators, as they represent the needs and concerns of a mostly rural society at a time when doctors were very scarce, leaving many to fend for themselves.  In many ways it is comparable to the American folk magick grimiore, The Long Lost Friend, by John George Hohman.

The book itself consists of three parts.  No reason is given why the book is divided thus.  Each part contains seemingly random charms and remedies without following a pattern or theme.  Additionally, each section contains its own separate index.  Thus, if one needs to look up a particular charm one would need to check all three indexes.  This makes the book somewhat difficult to use efficiently, especially considering that, as in the case of blood-stopping, speedy retrieval of a charm would be essential.  One wonders at the logic of this.  At least the indexes list the charms alphabetically.  I suspect copies of Egyptian Secrets often contained many inserted bookmarks or dogeared pages to assist in locating particular charms.  Seventeen blank pages are included at the rear, presumably for notations.

Occult scholar, Joseph H. Peterson, has traced the history of Egyptian Secrets back to the early 18th century.  The book has no connection to the famous Dominican bishop Albertus Magnus (1193 - 1280).  His name was likely added for name recognition to boost sales, an early form of spurious celebrity endorsement or 'star power'.  The title is somewhat of a misnomer.  In this case 'Egyptian' refers to Gypsies (or the Roma).  This is due to the erroneous belief that Gypsies had an Egyptian origin.  Further, there is also little evidence that these charms are of Roma origin.

Physically the book is not terribly impressive and is printed rather cheaply, as is common of the era. The dust jacket sports a Faustian figure summoning or commanding imps (black & white).  The same image is printed on tan canvas boards.  Pages are medium weight pulp paper and have darkened significantly over time due to acid content, though they remain in fairly good condition.  I have treated each page with a de-acidification spray called Archival Mist from Preservation Technologies.  With a bit of luck, this will stop (or at least slow down) the book's deterioration.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Book of Paramazda

Hadean Press  46 pages, includes tables.  Small octoavo.  2010.

Bound in full, dark green, speckled calfskin.  Limited to 28 copies, 26 of which were offered for sale.

Recently available in paperback.

The publisher claims that The Book of Paramazda is a received book akin to Crowley's much celebrated Liber AL.  The author remains anonymous, though it appears to be a contemporary text.  The publisher also claims the book is a "enciphered magical system and an apocalyptic vision of the Aeons".  For now I'll have to take Hadean Press' word for it, as I've only just begun to peel away the layers of this mysterious book.  For starters, who is the mysterious figure, Paramazda, who claims to be "beyond the Light and the Dark"?  Looking closer at the name might give us a clue. 
From the Greek 'Para' we get, beside, above, or beyond. 'Mazda' can be traced back to a proto-Iranian Zoroastrian deity representing the 'uncreated god'. The name means 'intelligence' or 'wisdom'. So one could interpret 'Paramazda' as 'above/beyond uncreated wisdom', meaning 'wisdom manifest', much like the Theosophical concept of 'Sophia'.  Thus, the title could be interpreted as, 'The Book of Manifest Wisdom'. The phrase "beyond the Light and the Dark" could indicate one who has risen above the darkness of ignorance and who has also moved beyond the initial lightning flash of understanding and into pure awareness.  Only the anonymous author can say for sure.

The text itself is somewhat of an enigma.  It contains various diminishing words of power, such as the Lord of the Aeon:


It contains a few planetary and elemental examples of the above as well, along with magic squares, invocations, and alphanumeric tables. The litany of specific gods and goddesses and frequent mention of Aeons puts this book firmly within the Thelemic tradition.

The majority of the book contains a series of paeans and symbolic vignettes divided up into groups of 'aeons', each corresponding to specific elements and days of the week. Also included is an unusual version of English gematria. Using the book's own system, the name PARAMAZDA equates to 26-1-12-1-21-1-8-6-1 = 77  Interestingly, in Jewish gematira, PARAMAZDA equates to 678, meaning: holy bloodline; the rising sun; Pandora's Box.  In standard English Gematria PARAMAZDA equals 486.  Other words that equate to 486 are: hermetic; Horus; source; God's child -- to name a few.

I can see already that this book will take years to tease out its mysteries.  I have only begun to scratch the surface.  The application of its own gematraic system to decipher possible hidden meanings within the text is quite a daunting task, to say the least.  Thus, I will revisit this book in a future update when further secrets have been gleaned.

The calfskin binding is a smooth, matte, hunter green with dark speckles.  Marbled endpapers create a kaleidoscope of black, russet, green & gold.  Black head and tail bands.  The text is printed on beautiful cream colored Fabriano paper (from one of the oldest paper mills in Europe) which has a soft, natural grain.  The title is stamped in silver foil on the cover.  Spine is blank.  Each copy contains a tipped in bookplate with the title stamped in silver, a sigil hand-drawn by the anonymous author.  It also states the book's limitation (limitation also hand written on the title page).  Each copy comes in a green, padded, box.  It's obvious that each copy was given individual attention by the binder.  I sincerely hope Hadean Press continues to produce more riddle-filled gems such as this.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Cantus Circaeus by Giordano Bruno

 Giordano Bruno (1548 - 1600)

Ouroboros Press   138 pages, woodcut illustrations.  Duodecimo (Twelvemo).  2009

Heretic Edition (why settle for anything less?)  Bound in full vellum over boards with 3 raised bands.  Limited to 300 copies (no limitation stated within).  Also available in cloth and goatskin editions.

Originally published in Paris in 1592, Canus Circaeus (The Incantations of Circe) is now available in English for the first time, thanks to Darius Klein's translation from the original Latin.  The book presents itself in three parts or dialogues: 'First Dialog between Circe and Moeris', 'Second Dialog the Art of Memory', and 'The Nolan's Other Art & Riddle'.  The first part is a dialog between the aforementioned Circe and Moeris.  It cleverly reveals planetary correspondences through conversation instead of the usual tables.  This section includes some interesting woodcuts originally from Das grosse, alteste, vollstandigste Aegyptischpersische Planetenbuch [1890] depicting the planetary gods/goddesses.  Each planet's section begins with its planetary symbol; however, the symbols for Venus and Mercury seem to be missing.  Either they are also curiously absent in the original text or this was a very minor editorial oversight.

* (Update) The editor has solved the mystery of the 'missing' planetary figures stating, "the symbols of the planets ... are meant to be ornaments on blank spaces in the text and are anticipatory marks [like old catchwords] to the planetary figures which are found on the pages following them.  The 'missing' Mercury & Venus were not necessary as the text flow did not require them."  Thank you for the explanation, Mr. Kiesel.  I had been curious about that one.

Following their planetary discussion, a gathering crowd is turned into animals.  Each transformation represents the people's faults and weaknesses as represented by a given animal: swine, apes, birds, and other beasts.  This leads to 33 questions about the nature of various animals and which human traits are symbolized therein.  Again, it's a creative way of presenting correspondences, only this time they're more totemic or therianthropic in nature.

The second dialog, 'The Art of Memory', is a conversation between Alberic and Borista.  It follows with a set of practices designed to elevate one's level of recall using various techniques such as forming mental images and mathematical arrangements. 

The last part, 'The Nolan's Other Art', is presented as a riddle.  It's very brief, but in essence it's a mini set of 24 correspondences: column, anvil, table, fire, etc, etc. (which can be further divided into subsets) that one can apply to the world.

The full vellum Heretic Edition is bound with incredible skill and attention to detail.   The title is gilt stamped in gold on a red leather label. The front and rear are gilt stamped with the Ouroboros logo. Vellum is notoriously hard to work with.  Thus, I have enormous respect for the folks at Ouroboros Press for even considering it -- even more so for pulling it off so beautifully.  The look and feel of the vellum is astounding.  Bone-white in color, it has a smooth natural grain and creamy texture somewhere between silk and suede, like holding a hairless little animal.  This gives the illusion of being delicate, yet vellum is one of the most durable binding materials there is.  This volume is likely to be around for a very long time.  A burgundy colored bookmark compliments like colored marbled endpapers.  To continue the animal analogy, the color and pattern of the endpapers looks remarkably like meat.  Pages are off-white color, sturdy weight, and uncut at the bottom.  This, combined with a well-chosen font lends to high readability.

As can be seen, this isn't a typical esoteric book. Cantus Circaeus reveals its mysteries though conversational narrative rather than procedures, enigmatic drawings, devotionals, or formulae.  It's likely this was intentional, as one had to be subtle and tread lightly in Bruno's day.  Unfortunately, even seemingly innocuous (even playful) esoteric 'conversations' didn't prevent Bruno from being branded a heretic and burned at the stake only eight years after its publication.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cyprianus, Key to Hell

Society of Esoteric Endeavour   40 pages, including two fold-outs.  Illuminated.  Octavo.

Bound in genuine silk velvet (scarlet), limited to 60 copies.

This book is a near-exact facsimile of the original 18th century grimoire.  Like the original, there is no introduction or commentary.  The only difference is the book's contents, which are printed twice, once in the original mix of languages (Latin, Hebrew, Malachim, and 'Passing the River' -- the latter two as found in Agrippa's Three Books) and with a second version in English.  The English section is reproduced beautifully by a skilled calligrapher (no credit given).  Everything has been reproduced down to the finest detail, including irregular page lengths.  The publisher goes so far as to reproduce mysterious tiny slits found cut into the pages of the original.  Presumably these were used to hold the corner of a parchment talisman of some sort as part of the working.  Curious marks and notations are also reproduced.  The book boasts silken endpapers that are a lovely shimmering green.  Pages are bound with golden thread.  Numerous pages are illuminated with genuine gold leaf, including one page that is almost entirely solid gold.  Limitation included on a tipped-in paper at the rear.  The grimoire's full-color artwork, illuminated pages, enigmatic writing, and sumptuous binding make this volume an absolute marvel.

This book was made for the practitioner; by this I mean it was designed to be used.  Those looking for detailed analysis of its contents would be better served with the Skinner/Rankine edition, The Grimoire of Saint Cyprian: Clavis Inferni: The Key to Hell with White and Black Magic Proven by Metatron (Golden Hoard Press).  See Amazon widget to the right to order. 

This is undoubtedly a book of the Solomonic or Goetic tradition.  The book instructs the magician to use his power and authority (as a Christian) to command the infernal kings of the four directions to do his bidding.  While on the surface this may appear to be a diabolical text, as the magician is instructed to summon infernal spirits; however, it's really a volume designed for channeling Divine powers for the purpose threatening said spirits to follow one's commands.  For example, the summoner is instructed to state, "I N.N. fetter and bind you (name of spirit) at this hour and in this place through God the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and through the nine orders of Angels."  By this the magician acting as a proxy for the Divine.  Nowhere are there instructions for pacts or other malefic procedures typical of so-called 'black' magic.  One very curious note must be made: some of the Latin words are intentionally written backwards.  The publisher theorizes this was done intentionally so that the scribe wouldn't accidentally trigger the conjuration.  One wouldn't want to 'set it off' prematurely, I suppose.  In this way the linchpin stays safely fixed to the grenade.

Cyprianus, Key to Hell is about the closest some of us will ever get to knowing what it's like to hold a traditionally bound magical grimoire.  The present volume is more than a simple 18th century reenactment; it's proof-positive that the grimoire tradition is still very much alive.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Opuscula Magica Volume I: Essays on Witchcraft and the Sabbatic Tradition by Andrew D. Chumbley

Three Hands Press  152 pages.  Illustrated.  Octavo.

Standard Edition:  Cloth, limited to 726 copies
Deluxe Edition: Quarter black morocco with felt-lined slipcase, ribbon bookmarker, limited to 242 copies

 The current volume marks the first (of a planned 4) in the Opuscula Magica series by Andrew D. Chumbley.  Each volume is a collection of essays and artwork written and created by Chumbley over his tragically brief magical career.  Many previously appeared in occult journals from 1990 - 2003, such as The Cauldron.  The book also includes a few previously unpublished essays.

Table of Contents
A Short Critique and Comment upon Magic
The Heart of the Sorcerer
The Question of Sacrifice
The Hermit
The Secret Nature of Ritual
What is Traditional Craft?
The Golden Chain and the Lonely Road
Initiation and Access to Magical Power within Early Modern Cunning-Craft and Modern Traditional Craft
An Interview with Andrew D. Chumbley
Notes on Texts:  Volume

Many of Chumbley’s magical treatises have a very poetic / stream-of-consciousness style. His works often strike me as having the flavor of ‘received’ books in the manner of Crowley’s Liber AL or James Merrill’s The Changing Light at Sandover. Chumbley’s insight, vision, and passion set his works apart from other contemporary texts on witchcraft. However, his essays are strikingly more concise, sacrificing poetic license for clarity and scholarly rigor. The reader gets the impression of having been granted a rare glimpse into a tradition that has little resemblance to popular modern witchcraft. Fluffy ‘harm none’ New Agers need not follow. The essays range in theme, are gathered chronologically, and have a moderately cohesive flow.

The Deluxe edition is a fitting tribute the late Magister of the Cultus Sabbati.  The book is a quarter bound in luxurious black morocco and charcoal gray cloth.  An emblem of a duel-headed Horus is embossed in black upon an otherwise somber gray cloth cover.  It’s a subtle yet stylish design somewhat reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley's decadent illustrations.  The title is stamped on leather spine in gold leaf along with Three Hands Press’ iconic ‘shin’ logo.  The felt-lined slipcase is covered with matching gray cloth.  Upon opening, one encounters textured, jet black, art-paper endleaves embossed with a leather-like look.  The text is printed on very high-quality, crisp, satin white paper.  I might have preferred a shade of very light cream, as the pure white pages seem just a tad stark under good lighting.  Generous text margins are provided.  Within the text we are treated to a few of Chumbley’s pen & ink drawings and symbolically layered designs.  The book also comes with an attractive royal blue ribbon bookmark adding a vibrant splash of color to an otherwise darkly toned book.  Limitation hand-written at the rear.  Overall the quality of the binding is magnificent, as has become the standard of Three Hands Press.

Volume II of Opuscula Magica is scheduled to be released in just a few weeks.1