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.

1 comment:

  1. Just to note, the standard edition is a marvelous piece of the printer's art in itself. Bound all in the red linen, it has the latin title embossed in gold in letters that feel a qaurter-inch deep, and the english name the same on the spine. I assume the book-block is the same. As a former offset pressman I was amazed to see what real letterpress can do, especially in the line-art.