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.