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."