Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Sacrificial Universe by David Chaim Smith

Fulgur Ltd. 2012. 120 pages. Small folio. Black and white illustrations.

Available in two editions:

Standard edition:  Cloth-bound hardcover with dust-jacket. Limited to 800 copies.

Deluxe edition:  Quarter-bound leather hardcover with dust-jacket and slipcase.  Limited to 88 copies.  Sold out at publisher.

"The entire lower world was created in the likeness of the higher world. All that exists in the higher world appears like an image in this lower world; yet all this is but One." -- The Book of Zohar

Fulgur Ltd. has a unique (and crucial) role in the occult publishing industry. While most esoteric publishers focus primarily on beliefs, techniques, formulae, and philosophies of various traditions (from ancient and contemporary) -- essentially creating 'how to' books --  Fulgur Ltd. takes a far more abstract approach to the way it presents magical practice. To date, the publisher's primary focus is publishing works which explore and celebrate the esoteric in art (primarily visual art). They have published books featuring esoteric artists such as Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule, Barry William Hale, and of course, Austin Osman Spare. This approach has recently blossomed into a full esoteric art exhibition titled "I:MAGE" held last May in London.

In 2012, Fulgur Ltd. added David Chaim Smith to their talented lineup and published The Sacrificial Universe. It is an utterly fascinating book containing artwork reminiscent of symbolic alchemical illustrations. Smith's work also appears to pay homage to the celestial, and often cryptic, artwork of Dionysus Andreas Freher (1649-1728) which accompanies the mystical texts of Jakob Boehme. Each image is like a window into the inner mechanisms of the universe, revealing how all things are possibly interconnected.

The book contains 30 full-page plates, five folding triptychs, and a quadriptych. The artwork contained within The Sacrificial Universe is stunningly unique, yet I think it is fair to compare it to Smith's style a few artists in particular. It has biomorphic/biomechanic aspects reminiscent of H.R. Giger, the structure and spiritual depth of Dionysus Andreas Freher's works (as aforementioned), and has the textual elements and diagrammatical presentation and function of the "magical machines" of Paul Laffoley. One of the most curious and paradoxical aspects of Smith's art is that he uses physical matter: organs, Alchemist's flasks, roots, horns, and other amorphous and organic forms to illustrate highly spiritual non-material principles.

The Sacrificial Universe is not written for the beginner. The book presents a highly complex Kabbalistic philosophy (or an exceedingly simple one depending on one's understanding). Those with little understanding of Qabalah (however one chooses to spell it) may have difficulty following his logic and conclusions -- but that is part of the beauty of art; even with little understanding of Qabalah one may still be able to intuitively glean esoteric understanding by Smith's remarkable artwork. Various elements and form may resonate with some readers on an instinctual or unconscious level. That said, readers will benefit greatly by having a basic understanding of Hebrew, as nearly all of Smith's works incorporate Hebrew letters into their design and structure. Thus, each piece is essentially a coded cipher loaded with many potential layers of meaning.

The book is divided into three parts:

Part One
  1. The Birth of the Sacrificial Language
  2. The Heart of the Matter
  3. Sacred Geometry of the Serpent's Crown
  4. An Ocean of Copulating Reflections
  5. Mysteries of the Double Hexagram
  6. The Nine Keys
Part Two
  1. Penetration of the Dream Membrane
  2. The Magical Language of Biomorphism
  3. The All-Burning Prayer of Cognizance 
Part Three
  1. The Gnosimic Verses
  2. Three Seals
  3. Three Aspects of Gnosis in Six Manners of Investigation
  4. The Heart Adorned with the Serpent's Crown
  5. A Blazing Mirror of Itself
  6. Commentary on the Stages of Ideational Contemplation
  7. Funeral for the Empire of Witness

This is not 'New Age' Qabalism. Smith has stated that his primary influences are Medieval Qabalistic (Kabbalistic) sources such as The Book of Zohar, The Book of Contemplation, and The Fountain of Wisdom. This makes for some heavy reading. I'll be honest and admit that a few parts were a bit beyond my understanding. I do not fault the author; he does his best to explain highly complex concepts as best he can, rather, Smith helped me discover the gaps I have in my understanding of advanced Qabalistic thought. This is not a book to be hastily devoured. I suspect it will require a great deal of study, pondering, and revisiting from serious readers as the book slowly reveals its secrets over time.  Each image is worthy of hours of contemplation.

Fulgur Ltd. has built a solid reputation for printing very high-quality books; The Sacrificial Universe exemplifies their high standards. The Deluxe version of the book is quarter-bound in beautiful, dark gray, morocco with gray cloth boards. It includes a hand-written limitation number and is signed by the author. The title is blocked in red on the spine. The cover contains a Qabalistic device (also blocked in red -- one of Smith's diagrams) which stands out nicely against the dark gray background. The book includes custom endpapers and red head/tail bands. Artwork and text is printed on heavy paper with a matte finish. Page ends are finished in silver foil lending the book a lavish look. A sturdy slipcase in matching gray cloth is also provided.

Like the standard edition, the Deluxe edition comes with a dust-jacket which has a very interesting and unusual texture -- almost rubbery.  The cover sports one of Smith's illustrations. I have always found it perplexing why Fulgur includes dust jackets on their Deluxe and slip-cased books. Why cover up a beautifully bound leather book with a paper dust-jacket? A slip-case provides ample protection making a dust-jacket superfluous. Of course one can always remove the jacket, but most collectors prefer to keep their books 100% intact. Furthermore, dust-jackets can become easily worn or torn by sliding the book in and out of slipcases. In my opinion, clam-shell cases work much better for books with dust-jackets, as one lifts the book directly up and out rather than sliding and creating friction. To minimize wear, I have chosen to cover my dust-jacket with an archival jacket protector. I prefer Brodart's Just-A-Fold III jacket protectors. They are polyester, very durable, and are 100% acid free -- see photo directly below.

The Sacrificial Universe is a must-have for anyone who appreciates esoteric art regardless of one's path or area of study. Smith's art transcends cultural barriers through the use of sacred geometry, universal forms, and natural symbolism. His works are visual journeys that take the viewer on a kaleidoscopic and labyrinthine path of inner discovery and alchemical transformation. I am in awe of his talent and greatly look forward to his next book, The Blazing Dew of Stars, to be published soon by Fulgur Ltd.


  1. Could not agree more with you about this artist, perhaps the best to come out of this "occult revival" , his organic architecture is astounding and I , for one, will be following him very closely. I regretfully missed the deluxe edition, but was at least prepared for the blazing dew of stars deluxe.
    your review of this work is spot on, I could not be happier with my standard copy and plan on buying several as gifts. A unique artist and definitely the best of Fulgur esoterica.

    1. Gehazi -- It is a good thing you were prepared for the deluxe version of The Blazing Dew of Stars -- it is now sold out!