Friday, January 25, 2013

WINNER: 2012 Esoteric Book of the Year

*A note on how books are judged.

Books will be judged by the following criteria: binding, materials, design, talismanic intent & method of consecration (if applicable), layout, and editorial rigor.  Unlike last year, this year I have decided to pick from books actually released in 2012 rather than books with a 2012 copyright date.  This is because many books tend to encounter publishing delays.  This is especially common in esoteric publishing for a number or reasons.  For example, a 2011 book may not actually be available until 2012 in some cases.  Books will not be judged by their content.  This may sound strange, but I feel it is unfair and pointless to compare or make value judgments on different magical paths or traditions (like comparing apples to oranges). While I do my best, I am not qualified to judge and assess every single magical system the world has to offer; I very much doubt such a person exists.  Therefore, books will be judged by their craftsmanship,  creativity, and beauty only.  So without further ado Balkan's Arcane Bindings (BAB) is proud to announce its pick for the English language 2012 Esoteric Book of the Year.

The BAB 'Golden Talisman Award' for '2012 Esoteric Book of the Year' goes to....

The Society of Esoteric Endeavor & Treadwell's Books edition of Devils & Spirits by Anon.

When it comes to contemporary publications, I consider this book to be one of the crowning jewels of the entire Balkan collection.  Devils & Spirits absolutely epitomizes the concept of a magical grimoire.  It exudes an aura of hoary mystery, uncommon luxury, and implicit danger.  This is not some re-imagined compendium of spells, nor it is a post-modern attempt at redefining sorcery -- this is a text with historical merit.  Devils and Spirits is a reprint of 17th century spells, charms, and practices as recorded in two anonymous texts; one a grimoire of conjurations, and the other a discourse on the nature of devils and spirits.  Each originally appeared in the appendix of the 1665 edition of Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft.    This edition includes an introduction by Christina Oakley-Harrington, proprietor of Treadwell's Books of London.

What makes this edition particularly important is that it was created through a collaboration between one of the finest esoteric publishers of our day (TSoEE) and a popular occult bookstore, Treadwell's Books of London.  This, in my opinion, gives Devils and Spirits unique historical significance.  The book is, in essence, an emblematic specimen of the fine occult publishing world at the dawn of the 21st century.  Limited to only 14 copies.

Devils and Spirits is bound in full Spanish leather displaying wonderful natural striations.  Hand tooled border and includes numerous gilt devices.  Decorative, two-tone, gilt-stamped title.  Marbled boards.  Comes with matching marbled paper bookmark.  Printed in two colors (black and red).  Includes felt-lined, lidded, slipcase with marbled lip.  Slipcase lid bound in matching leather.  The craftsmanship is astounding.  Bookbinding at its finest.  Congratulations!

In second place, the BAB 'Silver Talisman Award' goes to...

The Society of Esoteric Endeavor's Experimentum compiled by Frederick Hockely with translation and transcript by Dan Harms.

Yet another exciting release from The Society of Esoteric Endeavor.  Experimentum is made to look as close to the original manuscript as possible.  The pages are full-color giclĂ©e facsimiles of the original handwritten pages.  The quality is so good and deceptively realistic that a casual observer may mistake it for an original manuscript.  Dan Harms provides a translation of the text (the handwritten script can be difficult to read at times), a brief essay on the history of the text, provides thorough notes on the text, and includes a bibliography.

The book is half-bound in supple, blue, sheepskin with tooled accents.  Marbled boards are treated with beeswax, making the book water resistant and lending it a soft sheen.  Experimentum comes with a slipcase standard; however, an optional lidded slipcase and/or chemise can be custom ordered.  The chemise is blue cloth, blocked in gilt, and lined with blue suede.  Flaps on each side can be lifted to reveal tipped-in plates.  One is a fascinating full-page image from the book.  It is fully restored with screen-printed metallic inks (gold, silver & copper) to reveal how the original must have looked before the fine detail was obliterated by time.  The lidded slipcase has matching marbled paper on three sides.  The separate lid includes a leather label blocked in gilt.  The chemise and lidded case provide exceptional protection for the book.  Expermentum is limited to 100 copies.

In third place, the BAB 'Bronze Talisman Award' goes to...

Primal Craft's The Scorpion God: Forbidden Wisdom of Belial by Mark Alan Smith (Venom Edition).

I continue to be impressed with the work of Mark Alan Smith and his talented bookbinders.  His previous work, The Red King, won last year's Silver Talisman Award.  His dedication to his chosen path comes through clearly in is writing.  Mr. Smith's books are not simple manuals detailing his unique witchcraft current; they are an essential physical component and direct manifestation of his practice.  The books in the 'Trident of Witchcraft' series give the reader the impression that they are almost conscious.  Some talismanic books serve as homes for resident spirits, or 'bottle' for the genie.  In Mr. Smith's case, his books are the actual flesh.

Third volume in the 'Trident of Witchcraft' series, The Scorpion God is a hefty tribute to Belial.  Unlike the first two books (The Queen of Hell and The Red King published by Ixaxaar), The Scorpion God is published by Primal Craft, the author's own publishing house.  Size and format match the first two volumes for an attractive uniform set.  It is bound in a beautiful shade of full olive goat (close to the hue of very old vellum) and bears the gold seal of the scorpion.  A delight to touch.  Gilt edges and ribbon bookmark.  Evocative and dramatic interior artwork by Namtaru Creations.  Each copy (73 total) is consecrated, signed, and sigilized by the author using ink that was ritually infused with his own blood.  A truly talismanic work, one that the author claims will never be reprinted.

2012 Honorable Mentions:

  • Theatrum Chemicum Britanicum compiled by Alias Ashmole (Vellum Edition), published by Ouroboros Press.
  • Veneficium: Magic Witchcraft and the Poison Path by Daniel Schulke (Deluxe Edition), published by Three Hands Press 
  • The Psalter of Cain by Various (Deluxe Edition), published by Xoanon Ltd.
  • The Toadman: Lore and Legend, Rites and Ceremonies of Toadmanry and Related Traditional Magical Practices by Nigel Pennick, published by The Society of Esoteric Endeavour.
  • The Sacrificial Universe by David Chaim Smith (Deluxe Edition), published by Fulgur Ltd.
  • Mandragora by Various (Cthonia Fine Bound Edition), published by Scarlet Imprint.

2012 was a very exciting year for esoteric publishing.  A great number of wonderful texts saw publication, making this year's judging extremely difficult.  However, one publisher really stands out:  Ben Fernee of The Society of Esoteric Endeavour really had a spectacular year with a number of showstoppers, much like Scarlet Imprint did in 2011.  Mr. Fernee has really taken esoteric publishing to a new level (or one not seen in centuries) by offering optional lidded slipcases and chemises with his most recent publications, a feature rarely seen in the publishing world these days regardless of genre.  Many thanks, Mr. Fernee.

2012 saw the publication of a number of nicely bound and inspired magical texts and insightful essay collections; the The Book of Azazel by E.A. Koetting (Special Reserve Edition) from the new publishing house Nephilim Press and Scarlet Imprint's At the Crossroads (Compassed Edition) come to mind. The year also saw the release of a few books destined to become modern classics, such as Daniel Schulke's Veneficium: Magic Witchcraft and the Poison Path from Three Hands Press (the Deluxe Edition bound in snakeskin and Shantung silk is particularly beautiful -- see pic) and Liber Falxifer II: The Book of Anamlaqayin by N.A-A.218 and published by Ixaxaar.

While we didn't experience a Mayan apocalypse, we did see a significant number of classic magical texts that were discovered, reprinted, and saved from obscurity.  The 2012 Silver Talisman award recipient, Experimentum, is a perfect example.  2012 also saw the publication of another important classic work, Theatrum Chemicum Britanicum, thanks to Ouroboros Press.  Their sturdy vellum and leather editions will ensure this work sticks around for a few more centuries.  A dear friend remarked that the stunning white vellum edition (complete with white ribbon closures) looked like a wedding registry book (see pic).  Amused, I responded, "It is... a chymical wedding".  If I were to judge books by their esoteric content, Theatrum Chemicum Britanicum would likely take this year's gold.  There's a reason why Sir Isaac Newton owned a copy.  It is a masterpiece.

Lastly, another very noteworthy reprinted manuscript that may have flown under the radar of many of my readers in 2012 is Der Freund in der Noth - Or - The Friend In Need: An Annotated Translation of an Early Pennsylvania Folk-Healing Manual by Johann Georg Hohman, translated (for the first time in English) and annotated by Patrick J. Donmoyer.  It is published by The Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center.  This is an extremely obscure and primary source work relating to the American folk-magic tradition know as Pow-wow, a.k.a. Braucherei.  It is now available for the first time since 1813.  Previously unknown or forgotten charms and practices can now be accessed and utilized by modern practitioners, further enriching the tradition.  It is a sturdy, albeit humble, book (much like the tradition).  The Friend is Need includes an impressive amount of scholarly research, facsimiles of the original text (with English translation on the opposite page), and commentary by Mr. Donmoyer who has a particularly keen understanding of this fascinating tradition.

As we look forward into 2013, there are already a number of highly anticipated books on the horizon:
  • The 'Mor Edition' of Exu and the Quimbanda of Night and Fire by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold (Scarlet Imprint) should arrive any day.  This massive goatskin tome is bound to make a deep and lasting impression within some circles.
  • Ixaxaar has plans to release a pair of diabolic texts penned by Johannes Nefastos, The Catechism of Lucifer and FOSFOROS.  
  • Three Hands Press shall release the long-awaited ARCANUM BESTIARUM by Robert Fitzgerlad.  This will include 55 original woodcut illustrations by Liv Rainey-Smith.  I am a great admirer of her work.
  • Salamander & Sons is rumored to release a new limited work in the Golden Dawn tradition within the near future.  
  • Also be on the lookout for The Book of St. Cyprian by Humberto Maggi from Nephilim Press.  
  • And of course we mustn't forget the 2013 Esoteric Book Conference scheduled for next September.  

Have a great year, dear readers.


B. Balkan

1 comment: