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

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Welcome to Balkan's Arcane Bindings

The grimoire tradition has a long and colorful history.  Sadly, many 'heretical' texts were destroyed by religious zealots and superstitious mobs.  However, enough hoary titles survived the flames to give us a glimpse into this fascinating tradition.   Today the tradition is currently going though an enthusiastic revival thanks to renewed interest in magick and the occult.  New and original grimoires are being written for those who wish to honor and reawaken ancestral practices, while others are creating post-modern magical handbooks for the 21st century sorcerer.  Modern reprints and new translations have put long out-of-print texts (centuries in some cases) back into the hands of scholars and practitioners.  Credit must also be given to small press publishers.  Many of their titles are works of art and a testament to the bookbinder's craft.  Their high quality and artful design will assure the survival and circulation of esoteric texts for another few hundred years or more. 

In this blog I will put particular emphasis on the exemplars of each title by exploring and celebrating their craftsmanship, magical intent, and stunning beauty.  These are topics that are often overlooked in many book reviews.  I will also occasionally revisit older occult texts and comment on their contents and bindings.

Thank you for visiting this blog.

B. Balkan

(For an in-depth history of the grimoire tradition I highly recommend Owen Davies', GRIMOIRES: A HISTORY OF MAGIC BOOKS).