Sunday, November 23, 2014

Tales, rails, and ales.

The Cascade Mountains as seen from the train.

I apologize for the delay in reviews, dear readers. I have just returned from a delightful two-week excursion to the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia via train. Trains are the perfect means of travel if one enjoys reading while traveling.

For this trip I chose to delve into dark fiction. Going with the train theme, I felt Stefan Grabinski's book, The Motion Demon (trans. Miroslaw Lipinski), was an appropriate choice. The Motion Demon is a collection of weird tales with one common theme: trains. Stefan Grabinski (1887-1936) is considered the "Edgar Allan Poe" of Poland. His tales are highly atmospheric and filled with dread. This book truly enhanced my travel experience.

Grabinski on trains:
"Now the world was plunged in dense darkness. Stains of light fell from the car windows, whose yellow eyes skimmed the embankment slopes. In front of him, at a distance of five cars, the engine sowed blood-red cascades of sparks, the chimney breathed out white-rose smoke. The black twenty-joined serpent glittered along its scaly sides, belched fire through its mouth, lit up the road with encompassing eyes. In the distance, the glow of a station was already visible."  
"The Sloven" -- Stefan Grabinski

First stop: Seattle, WA

Seattle is a wonderful and lively city. It has a distinct identity that makes it stand out among other American cities. It had been about 13 years since I had last visited Seattle, and I was surprised to see the amount of cranes in the air, and not of the feathered variety. There is an incredible amount of construction going on to meet the demands of a quickly growing city.

While in the city I met up with an old friend. She said Seattle is the fastest growing city in the United States. Later she and her husband gave me their "grand tour" of the city's more off-beat and unusual sites the city had to offer, like the Troll Under the Bridge and Gasworks Park. I would have liked to have spent more time in Seattle, but I needed to be on my way to my next destination.

The enormous "Troll Under the Bridge".

Second stop: Vancouver, BC

Downtown Vancouver is very unique. It is remarkably clean for a city of its size and very walkable. What impressed me the most was how quiet it is. Typically cities of this size (a bit over half a million people) produce a cacophony of noise: cab horns, loud stereos, and the low hum of industry. Vancouver had virtually none of these annoyances. Additionally, city has done a great job preserving its past. The best example of this is Gastown. Gastown is the oldest part of the city and is now a historic district of Vancouver. Walking around Gastown is like a trip back to the late 19th century, especially when done by night. One of district's most unique features is a large steam clock. Unfortunately the steam clock was undergoing repair while I was there. The district is filled with unique shops, restaurants, and art galleries.

Steam clock in Gastown. Image credit

The Lamplighter Pub. Corner of Abbott and Water Sts. Gastown.

While in the area I had to stop by MacLeod's Books at 455 W. Pender St.. MacLeod's is a marvelous used bookstore and the best Vancouver has to offer. The first impression one gets when entering MacLeod's Books is that it looks like the cramped warren of a book hoarder (and I know more than a few). Stacks of books are piled high everywhere. This is no neat and organized Barnes & Noble. No, it is an organized chaos and a delight for book lovers who enjoy rummaging around for hidden treasures, and those who enjoy hunting for books just as much as reading them. MacLeod's is absolute nirvana for bibliophiles.

MacLeod's books. Image credit

After a few hours of scanning shelves I asked one of the gentlemen behind the counter if he could direct me to where they housed their stock of rare and unusual books. He asked what subject matter I was looking to which I replied, "Folklore, Demonolgy, Witchcraft -- that sort of thing." "Hold on one moment", he replied. He returned with another gentleman who had been informed of my query. He gave me a knowing wink and said, "Follow me". 

I had expected to be escorted to a back room, or perhaps basement storage area. Instead, I followed the man outside and across the street. We walked about a block or so and stopped at a nondescript door with no signage whatsoever. He unlocked the door, turned on the lights, and motioned for me to come in, locking the door behind me. Much like the main store location, this room was filled with stacks and piles of books, some stacked over 6 feet high. I followed him to where he had stopped at one side of the room. He pointed to the shelves and said, "I think you'll find some interesting texts in here. Take whatever time you need." Then he disappeared into the rear of the building. 

He was absolutely correct. There were a number of interesting texts. Fortunately, their occult collection was filed neatly inside a few bookcases rather than haphazardly piled around. It was an impressive collection: 18th century alchemical texts, older editions of Crowley, and quite a number late 19th century books on Spiritualism. Moreover, there were a few very interesting titles by Harry Price dating back to the early days of psychical research. They also had a copy of a particular book I've been seeking out for quite some time dating to the 1850s. Alas, their copy was in rather poor condition, so I had to let that one pass.

Piles of books and narrow walkways at MacLeod's

Third stop: Victoria, BC

Next I took the ferry over to Victoria, a truly beautiful city by the sea. My time there was a bit rushed and so, regrettably, I was unable to explore Victoria's three top bookstores: Russell Books, Bolan Books, and the stately Munro's Books. I found it surprising that palm trees can grow in Victoria, even at a latitude as far north as 48.4 degrees.

Victoria's Romanesque Revival Parliament Building

I was fortunate enough to catch the last day of the Viking exhibit at the Royal BC Museum. They had an astonishing number of relics on display (on loan from Sweden), including one of the very rare Ulfberht (+VLFBERHT+) Viking swords.

I made sure I had time to explore Craigdarroch Castle while in Victoria. Carved into the wooden fireplace mantle in the castle's library are the words, "Reading Maketh a Full Man". I couldn't agree more.

Craigdarroch Castle

Later that afternoon I visited the Empress Hotel for high tea. The Empress Hotel, built in 1908, is a stunning example of Victorian extravagance.  Ornate woodwork, stained glass, and marble abound throughout the hotel.

The Empress Hotel. Victoria, BC.

One of my favorite parts of the Empress hotel is the exotic Bengal Lounge. The Bengal Lounge is laid out in 19th century safari decor -- one of those places where one would imagine encountering a gentleman with a monocle and waxed mustache reminiscing on about how dreadfully hot it was in Sri Lanka in-between puffs of aromatic Black Cavendish smoke drawn from a meerschaum pipe.

Bengal Lounge. Image credit Victoriaspirits,com

Fourth stop: Port Townsend, WA and the Olympic Peninsula

Yet another ferry. This time to Washington state's Olympic Peninsula. The Olympic Peninsula is a very special place. I was able to explore its temperate rain forests, trek some of its mountains, discover secluded beaches, and marvel at its vast pine forests.

View of the Pacific coastline at dusk.

Light creeping into the Olympic Peninsula's temperate rain forest.
View from atop Mt. Angeles.

I decided to spend a day and night in Port Townsend on the peninsula's northeast coast. Port Townsend's Historic District is a time capsule capturing what life was like for this maritime community a century ago. Today it is full of quaint shops, restaurants; and fortunately for me, bookstores. The best one was William James Bookseller. It had an impressive selection for a store of modest size, including display cases full of first editions and a large selection catered to local interests and Northwest history books. Another was a New Age bookstore called Phoenix Rising. Aside from Tibetan singing bowls, crystals, and incense they had a respectable amount of new and in-print esoteric books.

One of my favorite places in Port Townsend is a local taproom called The Pourhouse, a favorite watering hole for locals apparently. Initially I had a difficult time finding it. It's very well hidden. I walked right past its door twice before I figured out where it was. It has an incredible number of craft-beers available both on tap or by the bottle. The Pourhouse's seating area opens up right to the beach, an extremely picturesque spot. It's also very dog friendly. I counted at least six large dog lounging around the establishment. One of my favorite beers was a sour red ale (served in a brandy snifter) called Flanders Red from Destihl Brewing (6.1% ABV). It has a heady and fruity aroma and packs a sour punch -- a real delight. Also on tap was a rhubarb cider that was equally amazing. It was a good thing I did not drive there.

The Pourhouse taproom.

Fifth stop: Portland, OR

My stay in Portland was very brief yet very enjoyable. I had one main destination: Powell's Bookstore. Powell's is the largest bookstore in the world. It takes up an entire city block in downtown Portland. The bookstore occupies several floors and has 1.6 acres of retail space. Unbelievable. It truly has to be seen to be believed. It is open every day from 9 a.m. - 11 p.m. The place is so big that the staff at Powell's hand customers maps of the store upon entering.

I killed a whole afternoon at Powell's. One of the more interesting sections of the store is their Rare Books room. The rare books are kept in a separate climate-controlled room. They had a moderately impressive selection, but not as impressive as MacLeod's rare books. I suspect their stock turns over fairly quickly. I picked up a number of books, nothing too exotic. One of the more unusual of these was a peculiar book on scarecrow lore, The Scarecrow: Fact and Fable by Peter Haining.

It deserves mention that while I was there Chuck Palahniuk of Fight Club fame was there for a book signing.

For anyone traveling to Portland, Powell's Books is a must-see.

Powell's City of Books. Image credit: JParadisi.

Sixth stop: Back to Seattle

After brief forays around Olympia, WA and Tacoma, WA it was time to head back to Seattle to catch the long (but relaxing) train ride home. I must add that the people I met throughout my journey were extremely polite and pleasant (far more polite than my home city's inhabitants). People in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia are very charming, laid back, and welcoming people. I already look forward to a return trip.

B. Balkan

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Arcanum Bestiarum by Robert Fitzgerald

Three Hands Press. 2012. 245 pages. Octavo. Printed in red and black with black and white woodcuts.

Available in two editions:

Standard Edition: Cloth hardcover with full color dust jacket. Limited to 1400 copies.

Deluxe Edition: Full brown skiver. Limited to 49 copies. Sold out at publisher.

Arcanum Bestiarum: Of the Subtil and Occult Virtues of Divers Beasts is a remarkable oddity paying homage to medieval bestiaries of yore. The book's covers are the gates to an exotic menagerie where each animal has a unique story to tell. It is in such tales that we may glean meaningful symbolism relevant to our lives, or we may gain uncommon wisdom by seeing the world from an avian, reptilian, mammalian, or insectile perspective.

Mr. Fitzgerald makes an important comment about the book in the Preface, stating,
"This work concerns the occult or hidden virtues, attributes, and origins of specific animals presently abiding in the Zoosphere, along with explorations into their etymological and mythological roots. Its structure and design is based on bestiaries of the past, yet differs from them in that it does not seek to solely examine or transpose the virtues of animals in relation to any resonant principles in Man, except those relations deriving from an Ancestral or Atavistic source. Instead it seeks to discover them as they exist primarily in their unique and essential natures."
Arcanum Bestiarum (meaning: the Secret Menagerie of Animals) explores the virtues and correspondences of 46 animals. Ten of these are mythological creatures: Centaur, Basilisk, Dragon, and Monoceros (Unicorn), etc. The rest are mostly animals native to the northern hemisphere's temperate zone and familiar to those living in Europe and North America. Sorry, no Giraffes, Orangutans, or Kangaroos. It should also be noted that there is no marine life included.

Each animal includes a list of correspondences. Allow me to use the cunning Fox as an example:


Atavistic Power: Concealment

Magical Virtue: Cunning

Constellation: Vulpecula

Herb: Braken

Divine Patron: Inari

Mineral: Amber, Vulpinite

Estate of the Soul: Exile

Tarot Key: Fool

Chemical Element: Copper

Warfare Tactic: Stealth

Alchemical Process: Purgation

Body Part: Tail

Error: Passive Aggressive

Planet: Mercury

Emblems: Hedge

Saint: Cain

I was pleased to see that my own personal "Spirit Animal" was included in the book. The only clue I shall offer is that it has "wings". The author's comments mirrored my own personal experiences, and corroborated unique items of wisdom I've gained through close spiritual affiliation with this animal over many years.

There are a number of ways to make connections with animal spirits, whether they be spirit guides, totem animals, or familiars. The methods can vary greatly and depend on one's background, tradition, and personal belief system. Some, like the method I used, are remarkably simple. Sometimes all you need to do is ask. Years ago when I was told what my spirit animal was I was very surprised; not regarding what animal it was, rather, I was surprised I hadn't guessed it before. The clues were all around me; they had been my whole life. I highly recommend making contact. In a simplified/reductionist way one could look at it as a zoomorphic Myers-Briggs test.

Whenever possible, animals (like the viper and wolf) include relevant magic squares (mainly from The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage). There is an impressive amount of superstition and folklore written about each animal, including augurial signs and their meaning.

An old friend of mine, Mr. Kit Trodahl, a practitioner of Totemic Shamanism, also owns a copy of this book. I asked him if he would like to share his thoughts on it. He agreed. Considering this is his area of expertise (not mine), I felt he was likely to have unique insight on this subject matter.

Balkan: Did you find the book useful in your practice?
Trodahl: I did, but perhaps not in the manner in which you might assume. Let me preface this by saying the book was excellent with its presentation; the history and descriptions of the beastiarum were exemplary; and the woodcuts gorgeous. Mr. Fitzgerald obviously took great pains to research and document the animals he showcased, and he drew compelling links to alchemy, therianthropy, sorcery and even human/animal morphic fields. To further enhance this, each beast entry is also backed up by a superb listing of “Correspondences” that list a myriad of properties each animal possesses, ranging from sympathetic rocks and chemicals, to Tarot keys, avatars, and even combat tactics! The sheer amount of information covers almost all the bases of one’s potential options in terms of magick or pathworking, and the book is equally compatible (and comfortable) with both High and Low Magick pursuits.
However, where I feel this book is particularly useful is in its ability to present itself as a legitimate and elevated resource of information. Compared to the more mainstream and dominant disciplines, the information for totemic shamanism, therianism, shape-shifting via guising, or any other zoomorphic field is fairly small and limited. Aside from dedicated anthropological texts, the smattering of useful information has been few and far between, and as a consequence, most mainstream “information” is found on amateur message boards or in New Age books filled with erroneous facts, revisionist history, or generic pre-packaged anecdotes. With no disrespect intended to other authors in the field like Ted Andrews, Lupa Greenwolf, Rosalyn Greene, or Yasmine Galenorm, nothing they have can offer the same cogent power, authenticity, or scale of Mr. Fitzgerald’s work. He offers the credibility of an articulate and experienced practitioner, coupled with the collegiate oversight of a master of the information he presents. The Arcanum Beastiarum is not a token intro book for the enthusiastic dabbler; it’s an established system which will enhance the pathworking of those already versed in the subject matter who are looking for more ways to explore it.

Balkan: Was your spirit animal, familiar, or totem animal addressed in this book?

Trodahl: To an extent yes, but that is a rather complicated question to answer. In my pathworking, I use an exclusively feline current. However, in addition to that, I also narrow my pursuits down to specific totemic or theriomorphic aspects that only specific individual felines can provide. So while the book does feature the lion and cat---which I use, it doesn't have the leopard, lynx, or cougar. But to be fair, this book also has dozens of other animals to deal with.

Balkan: Any other comments you care to share, my friend?
Trodahl: There are two things I found noteworthy. The first is Mr. Fitzgerald’s reference to French author and folklorist, Claude Lecouteux. For those who are not familiar with Mr. Lecouteux’s works, his book Witches, Werewolves and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages inadvertently created an essentially new post-modern form of Therianism. In the book, we are given details on Germanic and Scandinavian myths and legends that propose a theory and practice in which a person has the ability to detach an astral double (the hamr)---a somewhat antonymous copy of the person, but one that is also bound to the “command self”. Among other things, the astral double can become an animal or werecreature. When I first read the book back in 2004, I had wondered if anyone else had picked up on the potential that this offered a new magickal system of exploration, so it was rewarding to see it was not lost on Mr. Fitzgerald.
The second thing I found interesting, was the use of mythological creatures in Arcanum Beastiarum. This was actually a bold decision. When creating a book based on beasts and their occult traits, one has to weigh fact and fiction. Existing animals and their explanations have certain expectations to be credible, but at least they have a leg up over mythological creatures. An owl or stag are existing animals you can tap into to form a usable pre-existing current. What is also important is --- since they are real animals --- is that when they live and eventually die, they release energy, and those molecules that are diffused into the environment coalesce and later form the building blocks of new life. That is a real biological aspect that can be verified. But mythological beasts don’t have that luxury. When we tap into creatures of fiction, the belief in the dragon, basilisk, or phoenix is based on the same concept of blind faith in religion: You can believe, but you can’t prove. Where are the bones, ambered remains, or DNA that links us to a primal ancestor? How can we possibly use a mythological creature successfully? At least you can prove a cat or a dog is real by pointing to nature. You can’t prove that with fictional monsters. Plus there’s a big difference between harnessing a usable current from a mammal still waking the planet, and trying to tap into something that was only created in a story.

Where Mr. Fitzgerald shines, is, he offers an opt-out that does make mythological creatures legitimate and “provable”, in so far as we can “prove” anything esoteric or ethereal. Practitioners who use real animals can be a bit sloppier in their core beliefs because they obviously have the luxury of having a real animal to fall back on. Those who work with the mythological must work a little harder, and that’s done by each individual or group creating a usable meme to access. Much like using supernatural forces for sorcery or even tapping into other systems that call upon angelic or daemonic beings, if one creates the mental/spiritual/psychic infrastructure; and taps into the shared history of it in primitive cultures as a demonstration of mental proof instead of physical proof, one can then build upon that as a real framework to bring about a new current they can tap into. And what is that? You guessed it: magick.
So what does that all mean? It means that if someone walked up to me and said they were a real “otherkin” dragon; I’d probably roll my eyes and walk away thinking they were an imbecile. However, if a person walked up to me and said they were tapping into a draconic current, and if they articulated the ancient history and folklore of dragons in most every culture on Earth; reinforced the shared belief of dragon imagery---especially in Europe and Asia as being beacons of mythological awareness in the mass consciousness; and if they used that collective timeline of thousands of years of cryptid history to reinforce it as an theriomorphic phenotype, I could accept that as a real current because even if the practitioner lacked physical evidence, they didn’t lack the spiritual or mental evidence. And that’s exactly the foundation Mr. Fitzgerald offers with his mythological creatures.

Balkan: Thank you, Mr. Trodahl.

Trodahl: My pleasure.

Now for the book itself...

For this review I shall be commenting on the Deluxe Edition of Arcanum Bestiarum bound in full brown antique skiver. For those unfamiliar with skiver, it is a very thin and soft leather made of the grain side of split sheepskin. It was a popular leather for bookbinding in the 19th century, and is very soft and smooth. The downside is that skiver tends to scuff and will dent easily. The leather has an interesting and pleasant aroma. Call me crazy, but it has a scent of what I can only describe as paste and toast.  

The cover has a blind stamped emblem of a goose's foot. The three-toed shape resembles the Elder Futhark rune "Algiz" (also "Elhaz"), meaning "Elk", and is considered a defensive ward of protection.

"Algiz" (also "Elhaz") rune

The book has endpapers marbled in an array of tan, copper, gold, russet, and black. The pattern reminds me of the plumage of a Pheasant. 

Pheasant plumage. Image credit


The spine has three raised bands. The title is stamped in copper in a calligraphic font. Black head/tail bands and black ribbon place marker. Pages are cream and of very heavy weight. This is presumably to prevent the heavy, dark, and high-contrast illustrations from bleeding through and creating "ghosting" on the reverse pages. It also lends the book a very sturdy heft and feel.

Keeping with the Medieval theme, there are 55 spectacular woodcuts throughout the book by Liv Rainey-Smith. Her artwork is very clever and highly symbolic. She is able to expertly dance the fine line between grim and whimsical that few can pull off, putting her alongside great illustrators like Edward Gorey, Lee Brown Coye, and Stephan Gammell. One of my favorites is her portrait of the owl. A closer look will reveal a grinning skull hidden within the owl's feathers -- an ingenious illusion (see below). This is symbolic of the screech owl's reputation as an ill portent. Furthermore, common folk belief states the owl's psychopompic screech is an omen of death. 


Other pieces contain alchemical symbolism and processes. Her Pelican illustration symbolizes the pelican flask, a circulatory distillation device used in alchemy. It is also an important Rosicrucian symbol. The pelican pecking its own breast, bleeding to feed its young, symbolizes self-sacrifice and philanthropy. Many Christians feel the pelican symbolizes Christ, giving his life for the sake of others.
"He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him." -- John 6:56 (KJV)

A Rosicrucian frieze.

The Deluxe edition of Arcanum Bestiarum comes with a limited edition (49), hand-numbered, woodblock print titled, "Animalia". The print is protected by hand-made tissue-like paper infused with dried herbs or bits of a dried plant.  I would be curious to know what plant it is and if there is a magical intent behind it.

Arcanum Bestiarum is an incredibly useful work for those looking to work with animal spirits either directly or on a purely symbolic level. Those looking for a beastly counterpart to Robert Simmons and Naisha Ahsian's amazingly comprehensive mineral book, The Book of Stones, may want to look elsewhere; there is nothing slick or modern about this book. With its antiqued skiver binding (or the parchment-like dust jacket of the standard edition) Arcanum Bestiarum is a lovely tribute to earlier times. This is a useful compendium of correspondences that every magician should have on their shelf. Liv Rainey-Smith's beguiling woodcuts nearly dance off the page. These, combined with Gail Coppock's expert calligraphy, make the reader feel as though they've discovered an antique "Book of Wonders". This is a book to be cherished, and is likely destined to become a classic on the subject.

Thanks again to my good friend, Kit Trodahl, for sharing his experiences with the book.

*A note on the reader's poll: What is the most important esoteric book (or series) of the 20th Century? 

Over 160 readers voted on this (very unscientific) poll. It was very close. Andrew Chumbley's Azoetia received 20% of the votes. However, Crowley's Magick: Liber ABA (Book Four) received 21%, making it the narrow winner.

Congrats to The Beast 666, and congrats to the late Mr. Chumbley for a very close second.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Magic and Memetic Marketing: A Tale of Two Books

Dear readers,

This month's book review will be a little break from my usual structure. In this review I will explore two contemporary books on magic, not necessarily their content or their fine bindings, but rather how they are presented and marketed. A tale of two books. Typically I critique the craftsmanship of deluxe editions; however, in this entry I will instead look at two standard editions with emphasis on presentation, branding, and packaging.

Epoch: The Esotericon and Portals of Chaos by Peter J. Carroll &Matt Kaybryn
Arcanorium College. 2014. 216 pages. Landscape Quarto. Full color with many full color illustrations. Includes 54 over-sized, full color, "cartomagical" cards.

Available in a single edition.

Trade hardback: No limitation stated, however the first 100 copies are signed by the author and artist.

Anthology of Sorcery: Book 1 by various (no editor stated)
BecomeALviningGod. 2014. 353 pages. Octavo. Black & white illustrations.

Available in two editions.

Standard Cloth Edition: Limited to 400 copies. Sold out at publisher

Deluxe Edition: Full leather. Limited to 100 copies. Sold out at publisher.

I often wonder about future of esoteric publishing: Where it it going? What form it will take? What content will remain relevant in our fast-paced and digitized world? And... Is the future already here? I have discussed some of these themes a number of times before, including here. When I discuss new limited editions and other hard-to-find books the words of futurist and author William Gibson often come to mind, "The future is already here -- it's just not evenly distributed." -- The Economist, December 4, 2003  

Is the future of magic and esoterisicm one that will always be looking back to days of secret lodge meetings, hidden rites in darkened groves, or private alchemical discoveries lost amid crumbling archives? Is it safer to continually look backwards to re-imagined and historically questionable golden days of yore, or should we keep our eyes fixed on the horizon, eagerly ready to adapt to (and adopt) whatever memes and technologies the future has to offer? The future used to be a slow trickle of change, often small enough that entire generations could ignore it if they so chose. Today the future is coming at us in a torrent -- a tsunami of data and society-changing gadgets. Entire paradigms are created and destroyed overnight like castles in the sand. It can no longer be ignored. One has the choice to ride the wave or be drowned by it.
"The tribal community lived in the totality of circular time; the farmers of God's universe understood before and after; workers of the clockwork universe lived by the tick; and we creatures of the digital era must relate to the pulse." -- Douglas Rushkoff
This pulse, a staccato drumbeat compelling us to be on the cutting-edge of all the newest developments, gadgets, and their endless apps & functions is unavoidable today. For better or worse, this is the ever-increasing tempo of our society. There are good and bad aspects of this of course. There are a number of genuinely useful applications available, even some with potentially life-saving potential. But what about the others? Are they really "time-saving" devices?

When faced with continuous and rapid change many people do their best to stay on top of tech trends for fear of falling behind (socially and professionally) and thus potentially becoming out-of-touch with their peers. The downside, as I see it, is that it forces us to live continually in the now -- no time to look back and reassess, evaluate, or question; no time to plan a strategy or resistance. This is exactly where the media and business world would like us to be, that is, so overwhelmed and over-saturated that we simply accept whatever we are given. After all, each device promises to make our lives easier, right? Bread and circuses right in the palm of our hands. However, some of these adopted devices turn out to be akin to the folkloric changling child masquerading as something normal and wonderful until one realizes they've been nurturing something ghastly. The old bait-and-switch.

I am not immune to the aforementioned societal pressures.  Luddite as I am, I was the last of my peers get a cell phone, finding the idea of being at everyone's beckoning call disturbing. I like my silences. Though once phone booths started disappearing and went the way of the betamax I had little choice but to reluctantly adopt the cell phone. Now it appears I will be pushed into the world of Smart phones soon. It seems that calling and emails are far too time consuming for the post-modern technophile. Information must be compressed into a text or tweet resulting in communications of lower fidelity and higher levels of noise to signal ratio. We're communicating more, but we're certainly not communicating better. Somehow I doubt I will have the same experience reading a .pdf of Glanvill's Saducismus Triumphatus in the sterile blue-white glare of and iPad, punctuated by random cartoon-like blips and beeps, as I would reading from stiff and age-darkened pages by candlelight with a glass of Amontillado at hand. Perfectly aligned aesthetics are everything.

So in the spirit of looking forward and a rapidly changing world, I would like to look at two very contemporary magic books. Epoch: The Esotericon and Portals of Chaos is a Chaos Magic book (a post-modern current if there ever was one) while Anthology of Sorcery: Book 1 is exactly what it says, an anthology of sorcery. The various authors provide a distinctly contemporary approach to magic, including some notables, like the ever-humorous Lon Milo DuQuette.

Dystopian Corporate Logos. Image Credit:

One of the most obvious characteristics of goods and services in our age is aggressive product branding. Branding is used in a myriad of ways of course, from company logos to iconic styling. We are bombarded daily with subtle (and not so subtle) marketing techniques. Thus it was only a matter of time until someone in the esoteric book market decided to use the same branding techniques as, say, Crown Royal whiskey, or slogans reminiscent of Nike's "Just do it".

Remember the "occult scare" created by this logo?
 Image credit: Proctor & Gamble

When I received Anthology of Sorcery: Book 1 from BecomeALivingGod (<--- surprisingly no ™) I recognized immediately that I had received an unusual beast. In my hands was a black cardboard box that read, "BecomeALivingGod: Real Magick, Real Results." Each of the four sides contained a single word, "Omnipresence, Ascension, Omniscience, Omnipotence" respectively. One certainly cannot accuse BALG of setting the bar too low. Inside the box was a black velveteen bag, again sporting the BecomeALivingGod logo. I immediately thought of Crown Royal whiskey. For those unfamiliar with it, each bottle comes in a trademark royal purple draw-string bag, that is, if you're into that Canadian stuff. I have been told the bags make excellent tarot card bags.

Image credit:

Inside the bag was a black book. Not just black, all black. With its black boards, black endpapers, black ribbon marker, black head/tail bands, and blackened edges, Anthology of Sorcery: Book 1 is the literary equivalent of a "murdered out" assault vehicle, to use the vernacular of the young. The regular edition is bound in black satin. Taken as a total package, it struck me as a rather well-designed marketing strategy. It certainly stands out. It may sound excessive, but the cardboard box and the bag help protect the book in shipping (and after), so they do serve a practical purpose. Ixaxaar ships their books in a black cardboard box with the Ixaxaar logo as well. Sometimes it it the little things that matter. Anyone who has ordered from Scarlet Imprint surly appreciates how each book is carefully wrapped in black paper.

I realize there are lot of strong opinions out there regarding the BecomeALivingGod website and its owner E.A. Koetting. However, for the purpose of this blog I am going to stick to reviewing their book only. If my readers would like to read more, Frater Barrabbas has a very fair and informative review of BecomeALivingGod and Mr. Koetting on his phenomenal blog, Talking Ritual Magick, here.

Overall Anthology of Sorcery: Book 1 is a sleek and attractive book from a new publisher with a very 21st century flair. It's a great start, though there is still room for improvement. The boards seem a little too thin for the paper weight and have a tendency to bow slightly with the text block, or it could just be my copy. The paper has a satin finish, which really helps the images pop, but I find it a bit too glossy for my taste. It causes occasional glare on the page making reading difficult at times. I found myself re-positioning the book more than I should need to. More of a personal preference, really.

One can see the sheen of the paper in this photo.

In complete contrast to the Stygian Anthology of Sorcery: Book 1 (for better or worse) we have specimen #2, Epoch: The Esotericon and Portals of Chaos by Peter Carroll, the father of Chaos Magic (though one could argue it began with A.O. Spare). Forget the all-black thing (even if all-black is the standard uniform for most Chaotes) -- the cover looks like psilocybin ice-cream. For whatever reason -- call it a "genre archetype"-- Chaos Magic books have traditionally sported covers that are (perhaps not surprisingly) chaotic, fractal in nature, and colorfully frenetic. This book is no different. I cannot think of a single Chaos Magick book that has an artistically restrained cover; perhaps Joshua Wetzel's The Paradigmal Pirate,.. maybe. The rest are tie-dyed treatises on reality-hacking and viral sigils. Read enough of those and you will find yourself speaking in E-Prime and doubting your own shadow.

Epoch: The Esotericon and Portals of Chaos is an over-sized paradigm-shifting trip through world mythologies and literary cosmologies (Carroll clearly loves the Cthulhu Mythos). It even has its own website -- here. Carroll also includes his 21st century interpretation of the Qabalah, what he calls the Chaobala. No doubt some will see this as refreshing and forward-thinking while others will see it as heretical. I've found that the latter is always a good sign.


The book also comes with an over-sized (dare I say super-sized?) deck of "cartomagical tools of the 21st century" created by the author and artist, Matt Kaybryn. The cards are laminated and fairly durable. The first thing one will likely notice is the artwork. Each "Altar Icon" card in the deck depicts a god, goddess, element, planet, or entity. Mr. Kaybryn has given many of the gods/goddesses a modern update. Horus is portrayed as a young punk which is particularly apt. Thoth is particularly striking. Unlike traditional tarot card art through the ages Mr. Kaybryn's art is digitally created. Another sign of the times, perhaps. I have mixed feelings about digital art. When used wisely, and in many cases sparingly, it is a wonderful medium. I occasionally create digital art myself. However, the Achilles heel of digital art is the human face, for now. Many of the figures look lifeless, like colorful manikins. Shuffling though the deck is like a journey through a wax museum. The eyes in particular look empty and strange. The cards containing elements, creatures, and cosmic forces are far better. I like these quite a bit. Digital art is much more forgiving when it comes to amorphous horrors.

Bucking the trend, the publisher, Arcanorium College, decided to resist the tremendous urge to sell on Amazon and instead chose to sell exclusively through Weiser-Antiquarian Books. Yes, the book can be found on Amazon; but if you notice, Weiser-Antiquarian is the actual seller. Good choice. I've found Weiser-Antiquarian to be very reliable and always have fair prices.

As one can see we have two very contemporary books here. Each is very different from traditional esoteric books in their own way. They are essentially products of our times: assertive branding & marketing, distinctly contemporary packaging and art design, and a conscious (conscience?) choice to set up distribution through independent booksellers.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

READERS' POLL: What is the most important esoteric/magic book of the 20th century?

Image credit: Idea Venue

Dear readers,

Now that we are a decade or so removed from the 20th century, I began to wonder, what is the most important esoteric/magic book of the 20th century? For example: What book has had the most lasting impact? What book has been the most influential? What book has preserved an entire tradition? What book has the greatest potential? Perhaps more importantly, What book has changed the world? I thought I would let my readers decide.

How one defines "important" is up to the reader. As one can see below, the choices span a wide range of traditions. They also cover the entire century, from works written at the dawn of the 20th century, to books written at the century's close. One may also notice that the authors range from practicing magicians to folklorists. For the purpose of this poll I have included individual books and book series, as many series constitute a large single system of practices. Additionally, some books have been published as multiple volumes and later as single volumes. In other cases single books contain multiple books, as Crowley's Book Four also contains Liber AL vel Legis (The Book of the Law).

I have also included the choice of "Other", as there are assuredly many very important books not included in this list. Those choices can be written in the comments section below this post and will be included in the poll. You can find the poll in the column to the right. The poll will run for roughly 2 months, at the end of which a winner will be decided.

The choices are:
  • Magick: Liber ABA (Book Four) -- Aleister Crowley
  • The Secret Teachings of All Ages -- Manly P. Hall
  • Liber Null & Psychonaut -- Peter Carroll
  • The Book of Pleasure -- Austin Osman Spare
  • Drawing Down the Moon -- Margot Adler
  • The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic -- Israel Regardie
  • The Typhonian Trilogies -- Kenneth Grant
  • The Kybalion -- The Three Initiates (William Walker Atkinson)
  • Azoetia -- Andrew Chumbley
  • Hoodoo - Conjuration - Witchcraft - Rootwork by H. M. Hyatt
  • Other?

*** Edit  10/4/2014

The results of the poll have been finalized. 

Over 160 readers voted on this (very unscientific) poll. It was very close. Andrew Chumbley's Azoetia received 20% of the votes. However, Crowley's Magick: Liber ABA (Book Four) received 21%, making it the narrow winner.

 So, What is the most important esoteric book (or series) of the 20th Century? 

According to my readers it is Crowley's Magick: Liber ABA (Book Four).

Congrats to The Beast 666 and congrats to the late Mr. Chumbley for a very close second.