Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Status update

Dear readers,

I apologize for the delay in posting my next book review.  Unfortunately, I have had to deal with a number of serious medical issues within my immediate family recently.

I thank you for your continued patience.  My hope is to post my next review within the next few weeks.

A sneak peak at my next review:

Next up...  A review of the 'Deluxe Edition' of Andrew Chumbley's The Leaper Between.


B. Balkan

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Brief Overview of Today's Esoteric Journals

After devoting so much attention to fine bindings I thought I would change things up this month and dedicate an article to another noteworthy and dynamic segment of esoteric publishing; namely, Esoteric Journals.  Recently there has been a surge of new publications devoted to a wide array of occult topics ranging from: spiritual paths (both traditional and modern), exploration of  esoteric themes through art, and serious academic study of Western magic and its impact on culture.  While journals devoted to Witchcraft or Hermeticism are certainly nothing new, what sets many new journals apart from their predecessors is their high quality (VERY deluxe in some cases) and elevated academic standards.  The latter stems from new-found interest within academia that has raised the bar for today's esoteric journals.  Cheaply produced 'zines' and spiral-bound booklets of past decades have matured into sturdy textbooks filled with insightful peer-reviewed studies and often include beautiful and magically charged artwork.  For these reasons current esoteric journals deserve significant attention.

Just like their predecessors of past decades, many current journals still contain raw and powerful essays describing personal experiences and individual practices; however, they also typically contain a healthy amount of academic research.  Most of this has been made possible because of the internet.  This is not to say that earlier journals (say, from the 70s to mid 90s) didn't attempt scholarly articles, rather, most authors simply didn't have access to crucial materials.  As a result, gaps in knowledge were frequently filled with educated speculation at best, or biased and fanciful fabrications at worst.  Thankfully things have changed.  Today one can research remote archives from the comfort of one's own living room.  Libraries of rare and previously unknown documents detailing forgotten practices are now available in digital format, and only a click away for the curious.  This has allowed researchers to make incredible discoveries and has allowed them to separate fact from fiction.

There is no doubt that personal observations, subjective interpretations, and relative experiences can often be instructive and inspirational to readers, but only to a point.  The same is true with scholarly research; one can know the facts behind a certain tradition or practice, but frequently the meaning behind it is lost, or is purely speculative. This is why editors of many current esoteric journals have chosen to go with a balanced approach utilizing both subjective experiences and a fair amount academic rigor: not too fanciful, nor too dry.  In short, a middle-ground that most of us can comprehend and one in which we can all relate.

So what are the titles of these publications?  I have included a list (below) of current esoteric journals along with a brief description of each.  This list is by no means complete, and I apologize to those I have inevitably overlooked.  Some of the following titles are venerable publications that should be well known within the occult community; some have only recently printed their debut issue; others are still forthcoming.

  • Journal for the Academic Study of Magic (JSM)   This is an excellent journal, and one of my personal favorites due to its wide range to topics.  Publication has been sporadic, but is worth the wait.  JSM's 'journals' are more like books.  Most issues are over 300 pages.  
         From a publisher:
"A multidisciplinary, peer-reviewed print publication, covering all areas of magic, witchcraft, paganism etc; all geographical regions and all historical periods."  

  • SiLKMiLK MagiZain      SiLKMiLK is a highly creative journal/magazine covering topics ranging from alchemy, chaos magic, witchcraft, art, and beyond.  Issues have become increasingly deluxe, including audio/video CD/DVDs.  SiLKMiLK is a surreal treat for artists and futurist magicians.

  • QLIPHOTH Esoteric Publication   QLIPHOTH is an impressive newcomer.  The premiere (and most current) issue has already sold out.  It includes a 50 min audio CD of ritual music (wonderful stuff).  The journal includes essays, poetry, and artwork from notables: Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule, Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold, S. Ben Qayin, and Kyle Fite, among others.  As the title implies, QLIPHOTH deals with the darker side of magic, therefore some may want to proceed with caution. 

  • Hermetic Virtues    Hermtic Virtues is an online-only publication with issues available in .pdf format and has been published quarterly since 2007.  The journal's primary focus is Hermeticism with particular emphasis on the exploration and study of magic within the Golden Dawn tradition.  Frequent and notable authors include Chic and Tabatha Cicero, Aaron Leitch, Nick Farrell, and Darcy Kuntz.  
         From the publisher:
"We hope that, over time, it will become a repository for hermetic knowledge and research. It is designed to be a place where people of good will from all orders, groups, places and backgrounds can communicate to freely share what they have discovered in the course of their exploration for the greater good of all and the expansion of our intellectual and spiritual horizons."

  • ESOTERICA     ESOTERICA is published by the University of Michigan Press and is,
 "A peer-reviewed academic journal devoted to the transdisciplinary study of Western esotericism: Western esoteric traditions including alchemy, astrology, Gnosticism, gnosis, magic, mysticism, Rosicrucianism, and secret societies, and their ramifications in art history, history, literature, and politics."  
ESOTERICA has been published on an annual basis since 1999 in an online-only format.  Past articles are archived on their website and can be viewed for free, though you may want to consider a donation.  More recently, instead of their usual online format, they have chosen to publish essays in book form (generally over 300 pages).  Esotericism, Art, and Imagination was published in 2008. The most recent book, Esotericism, Religion, and Nature was published in 2010. These books offer remarkable insight into oft-overlooked areas of Western magic. I eagerly await their next release. 

  • The Cauldron     This is an indisputable classic. Where would the Witchcraft/Pagan community be today without The Cauldron?  In far poorer shape I'd wager. Their newly revamped website states, 
"The Cauldron, edited by Michael Howard, is a non-profit-making, independent, privately published magazine featuring serious and in-depth articles on Traditional Witchcraft, Wicca, Ancient and Modern Paganism, Magic and Folklore. It has been published quarterly in February, May, August and November since 1976."   
The Cauldron  has been a prime resource for witchcraft studies for over a generation and continues to provide brilliant articles written by the tradition's leading voices.

  • CLAVIS: Journal of the Art Magical    I'm extremely excited about this new collaborative effort between Three Hands Press and Ouroboros Press.  The debut issue is due any day now.  This highly anticipated journal promises to be an exquisite publication.  It will be available in softcover and hardback.  
        From the publisher:
 "CLAVIS is a journal of the advanced occult disciplines, produced by esoteric publishers Ouroboros Press and Three Hands Press. Born of the desire to serve an increasingly sophisticated esoteric community, its pages wed the dual arenas of scholar and practitioner, our aim to serve as a magical resource for years to come. In accord with the Emblem of our work, the journal provides unique access to magical strata and currents of esoteric thought not found elsewhere. Our pages feature Magical Theory and Practice, Hermetic Studies, Comparative and Esoteric Religion, History of Magic, Folklore and newly-emergent fields of syncretic occult praxis."      

  • Abraxas: International Journal of Esoteric Studies     Abraxas is published on a roughly annual basis with issued #3 due this autumn.  After only two issues Abraxas has proven to be one of the most deluxe esoteric journals in print (particularly the limited hardcover edition).  It is printed in an extremely large format (large quarto) with over 200 glossy and full-color pages.  Abraxas is more expensive than most journals; but let me assure you, its scholarly articles and breathtaking artwork are worth every penny.  
From the publisher:  
"Abraxas aims to represent the best of the international esoteric scene in a high quality printed format. As a bi-annual journal, it seeks to offer relevant and thought-provoking features: ranging from essays that are scholarly and engaging, to images and sounds that challenge and inspire. Our print run is limited, and every issue employs lavish colour and exotic papers – providing for the reader a rare sensory sorcery. Indeed, it is our intent that Abraxas should embody that magical, creative nexus which feeds both mind and soul. And in a world fraught with troubles, our approach is refreshingly non-partisan and inclusive… join us!"    
Yes, join them.

  • Starfire: Journal of the New Aeon     Starfire dates back to 1986.  This large and high-quality journal is published every few years, and is available in both softcover and hardback.  In 2011 Starfire published ECPYROSIS: The Best of Starfire Vol. 1, making long out-of-print articles and essays (1986-1994) available once again.  Starfire is primarily geared towards those working in the Thelemic/Typhonian currents.

  • The Gnostic: A Journal of Gnosticism, Western Esotericism, and Spirituality    I was happy to hear that The Gnostic has plans to continue.  The Gnostic #5 has recently been published.  Each issue is unique.  I thoroughly enjoyed Lance Owen's essay about Jung's Red Book in issue #3.  In my opinion, The Red Book could be one of the most illuminating grimiores in modern history.  Issue 5 includes,
"Interviews with Gary Lachman on Hermes Trismegistus, Patrick Harpur on the soul, and Nicholas Baker-Brian on the Manichaeans. Sean Martin on David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus, Jeffrey Kupperman on the Neoplatonic roots of Hermeticism, Dean Wilson on the links between Enochian magic and Gnosticism, and a brilliant article by Stevan Davies on the Odes of Solomon and the origins of Christianity. Sorita D'Este on the Great Rite. The theology of Nick Cave. The bright side of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. Scott Finch's Gnostic comic, short fiction, a Cathar travelogue, reviews and more!"
 I am particularly looking forward to the interview with one of my favorite writers/philosophers, Patrick Harpur, author of Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld.  As for "The Bright Side of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian".  Is such a thing possible?

  • Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly   Southern Conjure or 'Hoodoo' has been generally ignored by most contemporary occultists until fairly recently. It is for this reason that was thrilled to see a journal devoted exclusively to Southern Conjure arrive last year.  It is finally getting the recognition it deserves, as it is an extremely practical, down-to-earth, and most importantly, effective system of magic.  Interest is on the rise, and extending far beyond the American south.  It is a full color and large format journal.  Regardless of its 'Quarterly' title it has so far proven to be biannual   
        From the publisher:
"Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly (HCQ) journal is the first publication of its kind that focuses on New Orleans Voodoo and hoodoo and related African-derived traditions. It shares historical and contemporary information about aspects of the conjure arts, including magico-religious practices, spiritual traditions, folk magic, southern Hoodoo, and religions with their roots in the African Diaspora. Each issue of Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly brings you original and traditional formulas, spells, tutorials, conjure artist profiles, information about New Orleans Voodoo, Hoodoo, Louisiana folklore and more!

         From the publisher:
"The Pomegranate is the first International, peer-reviewed journal of Pagan studies. It provides a forum for papers, essays and symposia on both ancient and contemporary Pagan religious practices. The Pomegranate also publishes timely reviews of scholarly books in this growing field. The editors seek both new interpretations and re-examinations of those traditions marked both by an emphasis on nature as a source of sacred value (e.g., Wicca, modern Goddess religions) as well as those emphasizing continuity with a polytheistic past (e.g., Ásatrú and other forms of 'reconstructionist' Paganism). The editors also seek papers on the interplay between Pagan religious traditions, popular culture, literature, psychology and the arts."

         From the publisher:
"A rigorously peer-reviewed scholarly journal, Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft draws from a broad spectrum of perspectives, methods, and disciplines, offering the widest possible geographical scope and chronological range, from prehistory to the modern era and from the Old World to the New. In addition to original research, the journal features book reviews, editorials, and lists of newly published work."

  • Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition    JWMT is a non-profit, online-only, biannual journal that began in 2001.  Its primary focused on the Hermetic tradition with a balanced approach for both student and scholar.
         From the publisher:
"Within the virtual pages of this Journal you will find the writings of students and scholars of the Western Mysteries. The goal of the Journal is to not only provide information on the many different traditions which make up the Western Mystery Tradition, but to also further the Western Mystery Tradition as a living tradition or group of traditions. The Journal will promote this goal by providing new rituals, poems and artwork as well as by sharing the experiences of those writers who are active in the Mysteries with its reader.
This Journal is dedicated to beginner and adept, student and scholar alike. Each issue will contain scholarly articles on the Mysteries, but the reader will also find anecdotal accounts, poetry, new rituals, book reviews and more."

**Edit** 10/6/2012     Here's a significant journal I had previously overlooked.

  • Alchemy Journal    Alchemy Journal is started in 2000 and continues to publish quarterly.  The publishers have graciously provided all the issues between from 2000-2007 on their website as free .pdfs., though you may want to consider a donation.
          From the publisher:

"The Alchemy Journal is devoted to the Divine Art, Celestial Agriculture, the Mother of all Science and Wisdom, the ancient Art of Transformation: the Great Work as known by many names.
Since 2000 the Alchemy Journal has published an eclectic array of material, both scholarly and personal, logical and emotional, practical and spiritual, everyday and occult, including essays, articles, poetry, visual art, interviews, and summaries of operative alchemical processes, along with book and website reviews, sources and resources, and the latest conference, lecture and workshop announcements."

**Edited 10/20/12**

Thanks to Scarlet Imprint for reminding me of this one. It had completely slipped my mind and certainly deserves to be added to the list.

THE FENRIS WOLF.    The Fenris Wolf has been published on a roughly annual basis recently, the most current volume being #5. The first three issues are now available together in a single volume.  Volumes are generally around 300 pages and contain essays from very well known and forward-thinking authors in the esoteric field.  Essays run the full gamut of occult topics, from psychedelics to geomancy, though they tend to favor a somewhat Thelemic and post-modern approach.  If one desires to know what the future holds for magic and esotericism one need only pick up copy of The Fenris Wolf.

From the publisher:

"The Fenris Wolf is a research journal focused on the human mind, developments in comparative magico-anthropology, and on the occultural implications and applications of these fields of study."

Forthcoming journals:

         From the publisher:
"Hagstone aims to provide the opportunity for witches and magical practitioners of varying backgrounds, ideologies, and subject positions to promote and engage in intelligent, critical discussion and sharing. When witchcraft and magic are concerned, misinformation and misrepresentation rule, and Hagstone boldly puts one step forward in an effort to change that. Many people (practitioners and scholars alike) do not understand, on a fundamental level, the unending variety and innovation that exists today, pioneered by those who call magic and witchcraft their home – and thus Hagstone is born. Hagstone is not witchcraft 101."

         From the publisher:
"PILLARS will be the periodical journal of Anathema Publishing which we hope to be able to release first on a twice a year basis starting from the Autumnal Equinox of 2012. PILLARS aims to be a body of essays consisting of adversarial articles based on mystical researches and experiences, artworks and poems aptly woven and rich in symbolical meaning. Nourishment for the mind and the essence of the True-Self, as flesh is torn and blood is poured on paper in order to elevate mortal souls beyond the cosmic stretch of the Demiurge."

Lastly, I encourage everyone to subscribe to a journal.  It is the best way to stay as current as possible regarding esoteric topics.  One is guaranteed to find educated discussions, critical analyses, inspiring personal accounts, stunning artwork, and interesting recent discoveries.  No matter what your path, there is likely a journal that is applicable to you whether you're a practitioner, student, or scholar.  Or perhaps you may discover a whole new path of which you were previously unaware, as journals are a great way to be exposed to a broad range of diverse topics.  If you've allowed your subscription to lapse, maybe it's time to give your favorite journal another shot.  And if you're feeling really adventurous, try submitting an essay of your own.  Your work may see print and inspire others to embark upon new paths of their own.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Spirit of Magic by Eamonn Loughran

The Hell Fire Club.  2011.  36 pages. Duodecimo (Twelvemo).  Black and white scans and photos.

Available in three editions:

Standard cloth edition: limited to 730 copies.
Quarter leather edition: limited to 36 copies.
Full leather edition: limited to 11 copies.

The Spirit of Magic: The History of Appolonius Tyanensis -- The History behind Eliphas Levi's Evocation of the Ancient Greek Magician Appolonius of Tyana published in his 'Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie' 1854 is Eamonn Loughran's second book.  His first was Secret Symbols of the Hell Fire Club.  His current book is an essay exploring the link between Western occultism and Greco-Roman magic and how it has influenced magicians, particularly Eliphas Levi.  The Chaldaean OraclesCorpus Hermeticum, and the 'Emerald Tablet of Hermes' have long been part of the foundation of Western Magic, as have the influential writings of Neoplatonic philosophers like Proclus and Iamblicus.  However, historians and occult researchers are discovering that we've inherited a lot more than just philosophy.  There is increasing evidence that Western magical systems and practices (particularly features of grimoire magic and necromancy) may have roots that reach beyond the Renaissance and back into antiquity.  Jake Stratton-Kent's monumental Geosophia is a prime example of an impressive body of research that makes a solid case for this connection.

In London on July 24th, 1854 Eliphas Levi attempted to make direct spirit contact with the ancient miracle-worker, Appolonius of Tyana.  Appolonius is said to have performed a similar operation in his day by attempting to summon the spirit of Achilles.  Levi's description of the event is included in the book.  He comes off as a person quite shaken by the experience.  One cannot help but notice the influence of the Spiritualist movement in Levi's words.  Spiritualism was nearing its peak in popularity at the time.  Levi describes a 'cold spot' when the spirit began to manifest.  His arm became numb where the shade touched him, and remained so for many days.  The entity claiming to be Appolonius seemed to drain Levi of his energy.  Levi states, "I experienced an intense weakness in all my limbs, and a swooning sensation came so quickly over me, that I made two steps to sit down, whereupon I fell into a profound lethargy..."  Levi claimed he was never the same after the visitation, feeling a "singular attraction towards death.." that he was never able to shake.  He later warned others from attempting similar spirit contact, as he considered it far too perilous.

The edition reviewed here is one of 11 full leather editions.  The book is bound in black leather with a deep pebble grain.  The deep grain is so pronounced that it almost feels like lizard hide.  The boards are very rigid and solid.  The most striking feature is the cover's unique a leather inlay.  The ubiquitous SATOR magic square is blocked in gold upon crimson leather.  The inset crimson leather is smooth and of a softer texture than the surrounding leather.  This adds to an interesting interplay of color and texture.  Hell Fire Club has used a similar technique previously with their Z3 book, a beautifully presented facsimile of an original Golden Dawn document.   The spine is blank, likely due to the intense leather grain and the slimness of the volume (only 36 pages).

The book opens to solid red endpapers.  With such a lavish outward presentation I was a little disappointed that the interior quality did not match the outer.  The pages are extremely thin, allowing images to show through in some cases.  Some images are a bit pixelated.  No page numbers are provided.  It concludes with a Bibliography.

Overall it is an attractive and interesting little book.  The monograph was part of a Hell Fire Club dinner presentation on the subject.  Loughran's brief study provides intelligent analysis of Western magic's link to antiquity and examines some of the tradition's earliest contributors.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Psalter of Cain by Various

Xoanon Limited.  2011.  112 pages.  Octavo.  Illustrated in three colors (red, gold, & black).

Available in three editions:

Standard edition (crimson linen): limited to 701 copies.
Deluxe edition, three-quarters burgundy goat w/ crimson linen & slipcase: limited to 171 copies.
Private edition, full crimson goat with slipcase: 16 copies privately distributed.

The Psalter of Cain, a.k.a. Psalterium Caini, is the first volume from Xoanon Limited to feature multiple contributions from members of the Cultus Sabbati and its outer order, The Companie of the Serpent-Cross.  As the title implies, the book contains a series of short devotional works written for the adoration of Cain (alternately spelled Qayin).  These come in the form of litanies, instructional rituals, paeans, benedictions, and charms.  Many of the works are highly symbolic, passionate, and poetic, enough to be appreciated by those unfamiliar with the Cultus Sabbati or Cainite mythology.

Many of the book's rites call for specific symbolic items that can be procured without too much trouble: nails, horseshoes, candles, stones, lanterns, wine, etc., making most rituals very practical, feasible, and more importantly, actually doable.  The only exception was 'The Oblation-Rite of Eokharnast' which requires three horse skulls.  A single horse skull might be difficult for most people to obtain, let alone three.  Perhaps a crafty person could construct horse skulls out of plaster or some other material as a suitable substitute.

But this is nothing new; exotic items are part of a long magical tradition.  Material components that are difficult (or near impossible) to acquire, or those that put the seeker at a high level of risk, have been a feature of Western magic for centuries, though less so in modern times.  Materials used in the construction of a The Hand of Glory would be a good example.  There are many theories behind this:  One theory is that it serves as a test to see how serious or devoted a magician is to actually doing the work.  Is the magician willing to follow every laborious step and procedure, often at great personal expense?  Or will they fudge things a bit and simply make do?   The process of actually procuring rare materials and making magical items by hand is often the very point of the whole exercise.

Another theory stems from a simple fact: spells that are impossible to replicate cannot be proven ineffective.  Authors of such books gain a certain mystique or reverence by accomplishing tremendous magical feats (or so they claim) while readers are then set up to fail, as it is highly unlikely they would have the means to complete some rituals exactly as written.  A more savvy reader may recognize a book's underlying intentions and not be distracted by literal interpretations and misdirection.  Some famous works, like "The Kabbala of the Green Butterfly' are simply fool's errands which I suspect were written with tongue firmly planted in cheek and intended to keep idle hands occupied with harmless busywork, a built-in fail-safe to weed out the suckers.  Fortunately The Psalter of Cain does not require anything unreasonable of the reader; a few household items and an open mind will do.

But I digress...   Psalter of Cain's somewhat anonymous authors occasionally shed light on their influences and seemingly diverse magical backgrounds.  'The Cup of First Murder' clearly indicates a Golden Dawn influence with its declaration, "Hekas, Hekas, Este Bebeloi!  Others have a reoccurring symbolic color theme: red/black/white, traditional colors commonly used in folk-magic from Finnish witchcraft to Pennsylvania Dutch Braucherei.  There are many hidden meanings behind these colors.  One of the most obvious and common uses is: red for blood, black for muscle/tissue, white for bone.

One of my personal favorite inclusions was 'The Rite of Five Nails'.  It is a beautiful and extremely clever ritual that is likely to resonate with practitioners of diverse traditions.  Readers are likely to discover their own personal meaning and interpretation in The Psalter of Cain's poetic rites.

Cain has become a fairly popular patron in contemporary occultism with various paths drawing upon his attributes and mysteries: Cain the first murderer; Cain the first tiller and father of lunar sowing; Cain the first tamer of horses; Cain the outsider and pariah.  Even Cain's descendant, Tubal Cain, master of the forge -- a sort of proto-Vulcan, has seen a resurgence of interest (publicly) among Traditional Witchcraft groups (see Shani Oates' Tubelo's Green Fire).  2008 saw the publication of another Cainite (Qayinite) devotional book of necromancy, Liber Falxifer by N.A-A.218, followed by its sequel last year, Liber Falxifer II - The Book of Anamlaqayin .  Liber Falxifer focuses mostly on Qayin's (the author's preferred spelling) darker aspects.   In these works the author depicts Qayin as a figure very similar to Santa Muerte as venerated throughout Central America.

Cain has played a part in witchcraft for a very long time, much like Hecate and Lilith, but I find it interesting that he is experiencing an enthusiastic revival in the public realm.  Even more interesting is why.  What is it about our age that calls out to Cain's mysteries?  Many consider our times to be very Mercurial with rapid communication and technological change.  Perhaps Cain is the flip-side to so-called 'progress', the darker underbelly that generally goes unnoticed amid all the commotion.  Modern society's conveniences all come at a price, a price (environmentally and socially) that is generally ignored or kicked down the road.  Perhaps the 'First tiller' will have the final word, as the old adage says, you reap what you sow.

Table of Contents:

Prefatory Epistle                                                    Frater A.D.K
Canticle of One                                                     Frater A.D.K
A Rite of the First Furrow                                      Frater M.D.
The Execration                                                      Frater A.H.I.
Forging the Flense of God                                     Frater A.H.
The Cup of First Murder                                       Soror S.I.
The Corpse-Knot                                                 Frater A.D.K.
Benediction of the Red Earth                                 Frater A.H.I.
Song of the Mark                                                  Frater A.D.K
The Seven Dedications of Exile                             Soror I.S.
Translation and Epiphany                                      Frater R.I.
Entreaty of the Staff                                              Frater A.H.I.
Assumption of the Witch-Hyde                             Frater A.G.
The Welkin of Cain                                               Frater A.H.
The Perfum'd Skull                                               Frater A.H.I.
A Charm for the Road of the Down-Going Sun     Frater A.D.K.
The Arrow of the Moon                                       Frater A.B.A
The Litany of Thorn-Branches                              Frater A.I.
Charm of the Forge                                              Frater A.D.K.
The Rite of Five Nails                                           Soror T.A. & Frater A.A.
The Hammer's Song                                             Frater R.I.
The Golden Ossuary                                            Frater A.H.I.
The Birth-Rite of Gnosis                                       Frater A.H.
The Nine Waymarks of the Polestar                     Soror T.A. & Frater A.A.
Oblation-Rite of Eokharnast                                 Frater A.H.
The Black Priory                                                  Frater A.Z.
Decree of Abnegation                                          Frater A.D.K.
Consummatum                                                     Frater A.H.I.
Provenance of the Texts

The copy reviewed here is one of the 171 'Deluxe editions'.  The design of the book is an absolute delight.  It is three-quarters bound in burgundy goatskin and crimson linen.  The book offers an interesting interplay of textures by contrasting supple leather with coarse-weave linen.  The leather is edged in gold adding a dramatic effect and welcome decorative break between the two shades of red.  A serpent device containing the Hebrew letters Qoph (ק), Yod (י), and Final Nun (ן) - Qyn, or Cain, is blocked in gold on the left side of the cover.  The spine has four bands and contains the title 'Psalterium Caini', also blocked in gold.  Endpapers are a rich chocolate moire.  Head and tailbands cleverly continue the red/black/white theme.  A black ribbon bookmark will hold one's page when reciting.  A metallic lead-colored slipcase protects the book.

The pages of The Psalter of Cain are a rare treat.  Xoanon spared no expense and printed the book in letterpress by Dependable Letterpress of San Francisco. Letterpress if far more difficult and expensive than standard modern printing, but the results are worth it.  One can actually see where each letter has bitten into the page and created a minute indention.  One can actually feel the letters when one gently passes their fingers over the text.  But it's not just the text, the stunning and powerfully suggestive artwork by Soror T.A and Fraters A.A. and A.H.I. is printed in the same method creating beautiful and crisp designs in black, red, and gold (see photos).  The paper is creamy, smooth, and heavy enough to accept the type without a trace of ghosting on the reverse page.

Overall, The Psalter of Cain is a serious, informative, and spirited book for those looking to work within this particular system or spiritual path.  While the book's scope may be very narrow (as intended), it succeeds in providing a wealth of information on the subject.  This is not a book intended to be read only once. Readers blessed with a bit of intuition and insight will likely return to this book again and again for creative inspiration or devotional reference.  Its handsome and sturdy presentation reflects the sacred nature of the works and ensures that it will hold up well with frequent use.  One of The Psalter of Cain's greatest strengths is the timelessness of its magical workings.  This is essential to a book's longevity and relevance.  All books are somewhat a product of their day.  This is unavoidable.  We have all read magic books published in the 60s and 70s (pick your century) that seem quaint and outmoded.  They were likely treated with all seriousness in their day, but now may seem a bit silly to contemporary eyes.  This is because books that last beyond a generation usually speak to core human needs and desires.  They also know how to ignite a sense of wonder in the reader.  The Psalter of Cain does all these.  It is likely to be carried with reverence into ritual spaces for generations to come.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Blood of the Earth: An Essay on Magic and Peak Oil by John Michael Greer

Scarlet Imprint.  2011.  178 pages.  Octavo.  No illustrations.

Available in four editions:

Digital epub/mobi
Bibliotheque Rouge edition (paperback)
Finite edition (cloth): limited to 747 copies.
Black Gold fine bound edition, full Nigerian goat: limited to 55 copies.

“According to Daloway, oil had intelligence, it had purpose ... and it also had its agents.  These beings, Daloway speculated, might be parts of itself, able to move independently man-shaped and mansized for purposes of camouflage, composed of a sort of infernal black ectoplasm or something more material than that—a darkly oleaginous humanoid spawn. Or they might be, at least to begin with, living men who had become oil's worshipers and slaves, who had taken the Black Baptism or the Sable Consecration—as he put it with a strange facetiousness.”  
-- Fritz Leiber "The Black Gondolier"

The Blood of the Earth by John Michael Greer is the second magicio-political release from Scarlet Imprint, the first being their remarkably prescient title XVI.  Unfortunately for us, I fear The Blood of the Earth will be equally prophetic.  In essence the book's central theme is the Peak Oil phenomenon, a reference to an era that began around 2005 when world oil extraction peaked before the current and inevitable decline.  Greer, a leading Peak Oil researcher, estimates (along with many scientists) that we only have a few decades remaining before the price of a barrel of crude is no longer economically viable, and that's being charitable.  He points out how vulnerable the developed world is by its total dependence on cheap non-renewable energy.  Without it, Industrialized society as we know it simply cannot exist.  Most readers will instantly point towards other sources of energy: wind, solar, geothermal, biodiesel, etc., but none of these even come close to providing the same energy output as petroleum.  Furthermore, the energy needed to build the infrastructure for the aforementioned 'solutions' would require large amounts of cheap energy; without it, it's a net energy loss.

Greer argues there was a time in the 60s and 70s when we still had enough oil reserves to make the shift to alternative sources.  If we'd invested our oil wealth into the production of alternative energy technologies and rationed it carefully we could have made the transition.  But we didn't.  Instead, we've spent the last 30+ years wasting energy like drunken sailors, all the while telling ourselves, We'll think of something when the time comes.  The time is nigh and we still haven't come up with our energy miracle.  Nuclear power is too dangerous, as Fukushimia Daiichi disaster has proven; cold fusion was a pipe dream; ethanol fell flat.  But the solution/breakthrough/miracle is just around the corner, right?  Do you know what this kind of thinking reminds me of?  It reminds me of the people who believe in The Rapture.  They believe that any day now Jesus is going to show up and whisk the righteous up and away to the gates of Heaven, who are conveniently The Rapture believers.  While they bail on us (doesn't sound very Christian, does it?), the rest of humanity is doomed down on earth.  Greer feels the likelihood of finding a miracle solution is very very low.  I would say it's about the same odds as Jesus showing up with a limited amount of free passes to Heaven.  It's not going to happen.  Sorry.

So what does this mean?  It means that the latter half of the 21st century is going to resemble the 19th century far more than it will the 20th; it means we'll have to get by with a lot less; it means abundance and convenience will be a thing of the past.  Now, a book like this could easily turn into nothing more than a treatise of handwringing or a series of angry accusations at various control structures.  Greer deftly sidesteps all that by basically saying, We lost -- get over it -- and here's how you can make the best of a dire situation.  Furthermore, instead of filling pages with paranoid notions of stockpiling food stuffs and weapons, or praying for an as-yet uninvented technology that will sweep in and save the day -- no pie-in-the-sky solutions here -- he provides three modest and practical recommendations as a place to start that will likely be helpful in the future:
  • Learn one thing (how to grow vegetables, how to make soap, how to raise chickens, ham radio, etc.), 
  • Give up one thing (one's car, tv, A/C, long showers, etc.), 
  • Save one thing (knowledge via books, preserve skills and crafts, memorize things). 
Greer feels that once energy becomes too expensive to be practical all these ebooks, programs, .pdfs, and other ephemeral ware will be as inaccessible as forgotten languages -- incomprehensible Atlantean relics.  He believes that if we can slowly acclimate ourselves to our likely future (sooner rather than later) it won't be quite so jarring.  It's a very sensible approach -- no ammo hoarding involved.  Those who have already adjusted will be the ones most likely to thrive and have marketable skills to teach, barter, or trade.  Who knew I was already on track with my book collection?

This leads to the other major theme within The Blood of the Earth, what Greer calls 'The Myth of Progress'.  Ever since the Industrial Revolution people have been taught to believe that technological advancement is inevitable, that things will continually get 'better' (usually defined by monetary wealth), more abundant, and by and large things generally did, that is, until recently, or unless you're part of the world's majority who has never experienced the riches of Western nations.  This is all predicated on the erroneous belief that a finite energy source (oil) will somehow enable infinite progress.  Greer argues we've been sold a lie.  The last 150 years is nothing but an anomaly in the history of man -- a brief flare-up creating the illusion of infinite growth and infinite potential, only too inevitably settle back into old patterns and modest, sustainable societies.  Greer eloquently states,

"In order to make sense of the future bearing down on us, it's necessary to recognize that the priviliged lifestyles of the recent past were the product of the chain of historical accidents that handed over half a billion years of stored sunlight to be burnt at extravagant rates by a handful of of the world's nations.  Now that the supply is running short, those lifestyles are going away, and since the decline in petroleum production is gradual rather than sudden, some people are losing access to them sooner than others.  The automatic reaction of the part of most people facing this challenge is to cling to their familiar perks and privileges like grim death; the problem with that reaction, of course is that the deathgrip in question very quickly becomes mutual."

 It won't be pretty, but we really don't have much choice in the matter.  We gave up that option 30 years ago when we started eating our own seed corn, so to speak.

So about now you're probably wondering what all this has to do with magic, right?  Besides being a leading voice in Peak Oil, John Michael Greer is also the Grand Arch Druid of the AODA (Ancient Order of Druids in America).  Greer believes that though magic we can transform our social consciousness as a society to better prepare ourselves for the perils that lie ahead.  He suggests we move beyond binary thinking and start using tertiary logic which Greer says, "defuses the binary reaction so that whatever issue is up for discussion can be put back into its actual context, and is no longer seen exclusively through the filter of food/nonfood, predator/nonpredator, and the like."  This is not a political Left/Right issue; it's no use pointing fingers and placing blame.  The damage has been done.  Reenacting tired old political battles is like rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic.  New methods and new modes of thinking need to be developed.  This incluses the use of magic to affect change. Greer states, "magical combat is a struggle of narratives or, if you will, of ways of structuring experience."  So by restructuring the context by which we live our lives we can more readily adapt to future changes.  This is within our power.  This isn't just positive thinking, nor does it involve breaking the laws of physics with our minds -- we can't just magically produce more oil from nothing.  To paraphrase Grant Morrison, no matter how much you will yourself to be King of the Moon, it's not going to happen.  Everything has limits.  Instead, we need to willfully shift our lives over to a new mode of existence -- a new narrative, as Greer says --  where oil is relegated from lead protagonist to an insignificant background character.  It won't be easy, but nobody said it would be.

Now the physical book...

The copy I will be reviewing is one of the 55 copies of the 'Black Gold' edition, as in Texas Tea.  It is bound in full, black, Nigerian goat.  It comes in a sturdy slipcase wrapped in black linen. Its simplicity and design is extremely minimalist and austere, a fitting choice for a book dealing with the various crises we'll face in the near future.  No Baroque ornamentation, no Medieval woodcuts -- just sleek black leather with simple deco-style geometric shapes gilt-blocked into the cover representing a weeping sun.  It's a high-impact look that is charged with symbolic meaning.  The title and publisher are stamped in gold along the spine.  The leather is soft and begs to be touched (in fact I'm holding it right now).  I'm continually amazed by the variety of scents various leathers have to offer.  This goatskin has a faint marine scent; kind of nice actually, like salty spindrift on a gloomy day.

  Upon opening the book the reader is dazzled by specially commissioned endpapers marbled in -- you guessed it -- black and gold cleverly designed to mimic the look of an oil slick -- gilded cobwebs floating on tar.  Sadly I suspect this is what the waters of the Gulf of Mexico may have looked like after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  The book sports black head and tail bands, gilded edges, and a crimson silk bookmark.  The paper is cream-colored, heavy, and stiff.  This seems to be the standard of their fine editions.  The text block has very large margins (1.5 " sides and 2" bottom).  This gives the text plenty of room and a very classic look.  That said, with all that room available I wish they had chosen a font that was just a little larger.  The font struck me as a hair too small.  This size may be fine for younger readers, but it's a bit of an eyestrain for those of us with a bit of gray.  Other than the tiny font size the text is sharp and clear.  Greer concludes with a welcome Bibliography and Index.

Some may think that a lavish edition like this flies in the face of ecological responsibility or caters to consumerism.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  These books are bound by hand and designed to last, likely far longer than you or I.  Scarlet Imprint calls it, "a book designed to endure through the long decline of industrial civilisation." adding, "... our hardbacks are the antithesis of mass-production consumerism."  Indeed.  The more durable the container, the more likely its survival.

This may all sound very bleak, like some dystopian Sci-Fi nightmare; however, the author stays remarkably positive.  You see, this is because he puts his faith in humanity, not the artifacts with which we surround ourselves.  We're continually sold artificial meaning, a purpose by proxy through mindless consumerism.  Our plastic Messiahs hold no salvation.  Unlike Al Gore and other false paragons, Greer leads by example.  For Greer the transition will be easy.  For starters, he has never owned a car, does not own a TV, and grows much of his own food.  It's no wonder he's not fearful of the future.  From where he sits, the coming crisis may be nothing more than a small bump in the road, but for the rest of us, unless we learn to live with less (and soon), we're setting ourselves up for a rude awakening.  The Blood of the Earth should serve as a real wake-up call for those unfamiliar with the reality of Peak Oil.  Consider this book your alarm clock: are you going to face today's challenges or just hit 'snooze'?

Finally, I want to state my appreciation to Scarlet Imprint for continually publishing material that is far outside the norms of standard occult publishing.  It's very refreshing.  Their forward-thinking books take risks, break with conventions, and most importantly, challenge readers to take personal action.  Their ever-growing library burns white-hot with Promethean fire.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Infernal Colopatiron by S. Connolly

Official Melissa Press  2012.  118 pages.  Illustrated.  Octavo.

Black Faux Leather Edition (Standard): limited to 220 copies.

Burgundy Bonded Leather Edition: limited to 30 copies.

The Infernal Colopatiron is Official Melissa Press' debut fine binding.  It's an impressive start.  The book's author,  S. Connolly, comes out with guns blazing.  Connolly eschews poetic riddles and academic-speak in favor of a writing style that is very straight-forward and raw.  Her approach is refreshingly honest, unpretentious, and practical.  But be warned: this is not 'Intro to Magic 101'.  There is no hand-holding in The Infernal Colopatiron.  Rudimentary details are glossed over, or avoided all together, as the author assumes the reader is already well acquainted with basic procedures, formalities, and concepts.  A novice would be lost by the end of Chapter One. The author marches right along; it's up to the reader to keep up.  In fact, S. Connolly almost comes off as an esoteric Drill Sergeant.  Right in the intro she writes:
"You'll also find this book is not written in flowery language or prose that attempts to mimic fifteenth century grimoires, or talk in cyclical metaphor meant to baffle the reader with bullshit.  Too many modern publishers of limited edition hardcovers publish that nonsense.  
...  This is not a book of simple magick for the mildly curious. ...
You either know your way around a Daemonolatry ritual construct or you don't.  So if you're not familiar with Daemonolatry and something isn't clear to you, that is not my failing as an author.  It's your magickal education that is lacking and it is up to you to do the work to rectify any lack of knowledge."
See what I mean?  No coddling here!  Personally, I think her attitude is wonderful.  The occult publishing industry could benefit from a few more writers willing to dish out the 'tough love' approach.  Of course an in-your-face writing style can easily be warped into a big ego trip, but S. Connolly easily side steps this temptation by staying on task and even includes self-depreciating comments, believing there is always something to be learned from one's failures.  She also freely admits her own limitations, a trait I found very refreshing.  For example, she writes:
"Now I'd like to take a moment to discuss the raw sigils printed in this book.  These sigils were hand drawn by a real working magician (me), not artists.  I did not write this book to be pretty and sit on a shelf looking pretty.  I wrote it to be used.  So don't expect professional artwork herein.  Not all magicians are professional artists and it would be silly to expect they should be.  I can scarcely draw a stick figure."
I must say, her unapologetic bluntness really grew on me.

The book is essentially a mixture of personal experiences and practical formulae, all dealing with the art of theophany (spirit summoning) which involves the opening of gates or portals through ritual and using them as a conduit for direct spirit contact.   I realize there is endless debate between occultists who feel spirits, demons, god-forms, etc. are nothing more than Jungian archetypes with no objective 'realness' vs. those who believe entities are sentient beings that can be summoned into physical appearance.  S. Connolly is of the latter camp, or at least mostly.  She feels that given enough practice and skill, visual manifestations are indeed possible.

As aforementioned, a portion of the book is devoted to personal experiences. These include experiences with paranormal phenomena and recorded results of personal workings.  Her personal stories help provide context for the book's information while assisting readers by way of example.  In many ways this section reminded me of Lon Milo DuQuette's highly influential book, My Life With the Spirits, an amusing autobiographical journey filled with cautionary tales of 'goety gone wrong' and other gems of sagely magical advice.  The rest of the book includes a list of "Infernal Gatekeepers".  This includes the book's namesake, Colopatiron, the angel or genii who rules over the 9th hour, as found in The Nuctemeron of Apollonious of Tyana.  Also included are their respective sigils, attributes, and uses.  The book concludes with a number of rituals, magical recipes, and rites.  Connolly also gives a number helpful tips and pointers on technique.

The edition reviewed here is one of the 30 Burgundy Bonded Leather editions.  It's attractive in its pure simplicity -- a very sleek and modern grimoire.  Its 'no frills' presentation perfectly suits the no-nonsense attitude of its author.  The book is fully bound in highly textured burgundy bonded leather.  For more on bonded leather please refer to my review on Sepher Raziel.  The boards feel very solid and have a high sheen.  The cover is blocked in copper with an ouroboros device and the seal of Ocat, the Gatekeeper of the Dead.  The title is also blocked in copper on the spine.  Endpapers are dark gray with a linen texture.  Regrettably, the binding is perfect-bound (glued) rather than sewn-signatures, thus no head/tail bands.  Paper is a crisp white with a smooth satin finish and of moderate weight (80#).  I should note the paper has an assertive synthetic smell like that of new running shoes, which could be attributed to a paper-bleaching agent or perhaps the type of ink.  It's not wholly unpleasant, just strange. Acrid odors emanating from a book about demons is probably a good sign.  Illustrations consist of classic woodcuts and the author's own diagrams (all black and white).  The text is sharp, clean, and remarkably free of typographical errors (unless they eluded me), the latter being a rare feat these days due to over-reliance on SpellCheck.  Cheers to their proof reader.

My only criticism of The Infernal Colopatiron is that it seems a wee bit padded.  I see little reason why a slim book of only 118 pages requires 16 different chapters.  Some 'chapters' are as little as two pages.  Each chapter heading and conclusion generally creates empty space ranging from about 1/2 to 2/3 of a page.  Thus with 16 chapters there are collectively roughly 8 pages of empty space throughout.  This brings the book to barely over 100 pages.  It could have also benefited from including a Table of Contents.  Connolly clearly has a lot of insightful information to impart to her readers, so why such brevity?  The book left me wishing it had a bit more meat on the bone.  Perhaps this is just an appetizer for something greater.  I would normally hope for an expanded edition sometime in the future; however, the press claims that it will never be reprinted.  Hint* Get it while you can.

Each copy is signed, consecrated, and sigilized by the author.  One more thing of note: each copy includes a curse.  Official Melissa Press has come up with a creative way to combat plagiarism.  Anyone who reproduces the work will activate the curse and incur their wrath.  It reads:
"For him who stealeth or illegally copy, scan upload this book, let it change into a serpent in his hand and shall Leviathan judge him.  For each illegal copy he creates, something of value, whether person, life, or money will be taken from him.  Let him languish in pain crying out for mercy, and let there be no surcease to his agony till he sing in dissolution.  Let the gatekeepers gnaw his entrails if he ever attempts the magick within and let the flames of Hell consume him forever.  By Lucifuge and Amducious, it is done."
So don't copy their book!  Or anyone else's for that matter.  Hopefully my quotes are not enough to trigger my doom.  I think the spirits will recognize that I mean no offense.  Leviathan and I are on pretty good terms anyway.  That said, if this is the last book review I post, you all know my fate.

Over all The Infernal Colopatirion is a refreshingly down-to-earth and contemporary grimoire.  S. Connally comes off as confident; and more importantly, competent with nothing to prove.  Her diverse background and years of practical experience are apparent throughout the text.  After this impressive fine bound debut I greatly look forward to future titles from Official Melissa Press.