Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Liber Nigri Solis edited by Victor Voronov

Octavia & Co. Press     Illustrated.  Octavo.  2009

Standard Edition: Trade paperback, unlimited.

Deluxe Edition: Quarter-leather, limited to 39 copies.

Liber Nigri Solis (Book of the Black Sun) is a collection of the combined writings of two esoteric orders, Arcanum Ordo Nigri Solis and Ordo Hermeticum Sinistrum.  It is touted as "An Aeonic Astrochymical Grimore of the Black Sun".  The unknown writers claim the book contains "self initiatory workings, rites, and operations of sinister alchemy, initiating the practitioner into the gnosis of Sol Niger."

One of the main problems I've encountered when reading books written by closed orders/sects/clans is that said groups often engage in insulated group-think.   As a consequence, they become echo-chambers for their particular point of view or belief system.  This is all fine until they try to express their message to the outside world.  Many tend to use obscure or needlessly archaic terminology, colloquialisms unique to their area, or even completely invented terms that mean absolutely nothing outside their limited cadre of initiates.  As a result, the message or teachings become garbled or untranslatable.  Books become too heavy with temple jargon while shunning effective, recognizable, and everyday terms.  What may seem clear and defined to the author winds up as impenetrable nonsense to most readers who are not familiar with a group's slang.  Worse still when authors muddy the waters further with outlandish purple prose and horror fiction tropes and allusions.

One can find similar problems in the pedantic writings of many academics.  One can only stomach words like, 'eschatological' or 'epistemological' so many times on a single page before one wants to fling the book across the room (see Christopher Lehrich's The Occult Mind: Magic in Theory and Practice for an example of egregious overuse of the latter term).  However, there are a few very skilled writers who can pull it off effectively.   By using surreal prose, peppered with a little arcane terminology, they lull the reader into an altered state.  From this trance-like state their words work subconsciously and are understood intuitively.  In some cases, words and phrases are meant to be felt, not rationalized.  Examples include the often bizarre, yet fascinating, works by Kenneth Grant and Michael Bertiaux.  Liber Nigri Solis falls far short of this.  Instead, sentences like the one below come off  as needlessly verbose Lovecraftian mumbo-jumbo.
 "Incarnate their would-be avatars nevertheless infest all worlds as the profligate and prodigious children of the Parasite-God, an anti-race the verminous forms of which are the microcosmic shells cast off excrementally in the blind, unreflective placental spasms of the nameless Arch-Parent of the Gods of Sleep, the noisome ancestor of the half-remembered anthropoid First One and its parasitic twin."

At this point the reader may begin to doubt whether or not there is even anything of value within the text.  It appears to be a collection of poorly articulated ramblings, a manifesto or sorts that falls vaguely within the 'Chaos magic' tradition.  It even inverts the Chaote motto by stating, "Everything is false, but Nothing is Forbidden".  Unfortunately for this book, it never amounts to more than a turgid diatribe of speculation and convoluted language.  I suspect this book is where unwanted adjectives go to die.

There are some texts (particularly in the grimoire tradition) known to be intentionally opaque or include misdirecting 'blinds' to hide their true meaning from unworthy eyes, but I don't think Liber Nigri Solis is one of these.  The author(s) clearly have a wide background of occult knowledge.  It's a pity they couldn't pull it together into something more coherent.  I stopped taking the book seriously when I encountered the word 'dark' for the thirteenth time on a single page.  Everything in Liber Nigri Solis is "dark", "shadowy", "black", or 'anti-(fill in the blank) '-- and don't forget "sinister"!-- to the point of absurdity.  Perhaps it should have also come with a limited edition bottle of black nail-polish.  If my readers, or the authors of Liber Nigri Solis, really want to read something 'dark', I suggest they pick up Thomas Ligotti's The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, but make sure you remove all firearms from your home first.  You'll thank me later.

Though I must admit, the book did trigger a bit of nostalgia for me.  It reminded me of the time (many years ago) when as a young man I purchased the leather edition of the 'Simon' Necronomicon (1977 -- limited to 666 copies, of course).  Like the Necronomicon, Liber Nigri Solis discusses astral 'gates' and 'keys'.  I don't think it's an intentional hoax, like the Simon Necronomicon, but it does try very hard to be the darkest book on your shelf.

It should be mentioned that there are some people who swear by the magical efficacy of the Necronomicon, sometimes referring to themselves as 'Gate-walkers'.  I have no reason to dispute their claims, as I know of others who have successfully used Huckleberry Finn and The Little Prince for magical purposes too.  Therefore, it's possible that someone with a highly creative mind might be able to convert Liber Nigri Solis into something miraculous, like an intelligible book.  Good luck with that.

Questionable text aside, the book itself is fairly attractive.  It is bound in black quarter leather with gold and maroon hand-marbled boards.  The book is bound using an uncommon method called Bradel-binding, also known as German box binding.  Leather head/tail bands are a nice touch and lend some character.  The title page is sigilized in ink by the editor, Victor Voronov.   End-papers are a deep terracotta color.  The paper stock is a poor choice.  It's far too thin for this style of binding, as the stitching puts uneven pressure on the paper, creating a rippling effect on some pages.  The book lacks a title on both the spine and cover, not even a device of any sort.  This is unfortunate, as it would have given the book a bit more character and made it recognizable on one's shelf.  When viewed from the spine the book is black, unremarkable, and empty, a rather ironic reflection of the content therein.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A note on grimoire scalping...

The increasing popularity and publication of finely bound and limited edition esoteric books has been enthusiastically welcomed in recent years by both collectors and practitioners.  It's been said we are in a new 'Golden Age' of occult publishing.  However, increasing demand has also created an unfortunate side-effect: book scalping.  Recent esoteric books, some less than a year old, are now commanding astronomical sums on the secondary book market.  This is unfortunate, as it entices people to purchase these exceptional books for the sole purpose of reselling them for profit.  They have no interest in collecting fine bindings nor appreciation for the book's unique (and even sacred) content; they only see dollar/pound signs and a means to make a quick buck.

Many esoteric publishers, such as Scarlet Imprint, Fulgur Ltd., or Ixaxaar publish finely bound variants of their standard publications, usually limited to under 100 copies.  This can make acquiring copies somewhat difficult, as some books have been known to sell out in a matter of days or even a single afternoon.   I'll give a recent example: Last weekend Fulgur Ltd. sold all 88 copies of the Deluxe edition of The Sacrificial Universe by David Chaim Smith.  Pre-order began on Friday.  By Monday all copies were sold.  This is wonderful news for both Fulgur and Mr. Smith.  I should also note that, as of this writing, there are still copies of the standard edition available here-- this one should not be missed.  This clearly shows there is a large demand for fine editions.  Unfortunately, high demand and enthusiasm has led to predatory purchasing practices by some shady individuals.  Of the very limited copies available, a portion is snatched up by profiteers at the expense of legitimate readers.  With such limited runs, it's a shame that an increasing number of copies are not ending up in the hands of worthy and appreciative book lovers, as intended.  Instead they end up on ebay (as soon as the title is sold out) for a ridiculously inflated sum.

The Society of Esoteric Endeavour recently published Nigel Pennick's The Toadman: Lore & Legend, Rites & Ceremonies, and Related Traditional Magical Practices, limited to 150 copies and bound in toad skin.  Naturally, a book this unique sold out quickly.  The title is only weeks old and already someone is attempting to sell their half-leather copy on ebay for $1,263.50.  This is mercenary book scalping at its worst.  With a book this new, clearly the owner had no intention of keeping it, and only bought it to resell it for profit.  It's one thing to decide years down the road that one no longer wants a book and sell it at the going rate; it's quite another to buy it with immediate resale in mind.  Anyone can understand why a 20+ year old rare book may have a high price tag.  However, it looks pretty shady when someone asks a thousand dollars for a brand new book.  They're exploiting the publisher and reducing opportunities for genuine customers.

So what should be done to prevent this?  Can anything be done?  I think publishers may want to consider keeping track of who purchases their high-end editions.  A quick glance at ebay's occult book auctions will reveal that many scalped titles are being sold by the same individuals/sellers, some even brazen enough to show or list the book's limitation number.  This could easily be tracked to the buyer if the publisher wished to do so, and future sales could be restricted.  Many publishers already have a 1 book limit.  However, with so few copies, even a handful of grimoire scalpers can make a significant negative impact, leaving many legitimate buyers out of luck.

There could be a magical answer to this problem, though built-in curses designed to sabotage the efforts of would-be scalpers should be avoided (at least publicly).  Official Melissa Press did something similar to combat illegal scanning and file sharing.  Their newest title, Infernal Colopatrion, warns, "Also know that each copy has upon it a curse that will activate if someone steals your copy, or if the book is scanned or illegally uploaded."  While I appreciate the magical LoJack, statements like this could create some legal issues, as it could be viewed as a threat.  Throwing curses around in public generally isn't a good idea.  Official Melissa Press may want to have a lawyer examine the statement for potential liability issues, if they haven't already.

Lastly, unscrupulous re-sellers do a disservice to the publishers, authors, honest customers, and most importantly, the books themselves by reducing them to a commodity rather than a sacred text or work of art.  I urge all my readers to refrain from purchasing books from scalpers.  Please, only buy books that are offered at a fair and reasonable price.  Scalped books hurt the industry and its loyal readers.  If we pull together we can reduce the demand.  With our help grimoire scalpers will get stuck with pricey books they don't even want.