Sunday, January 26, 2014

WINNER: 2013 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), artwork/layout, and editorial rigor. Books are chosen from those released and delivered (in full) within the year 2013 (even though they may have a 2012 publication 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 2012 book may not actually be available until 2013 in some cases. Books will not be judged by their topic, theme, or content (other than grammar). This may sound strange, but I feel it is unfair and pointless to compare or make value judgments between 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, editorial competence, creativity, and beauty only.

Balkan's Arcane Bindings (BAB) is proud to announce its pick for the English language 2013 Esoteric Book of the Year.

*Note: A delayed entry: 
The Graveyard Wanderers (Copper clad version), published by The Society of Esoteric Endeavour was a likely candidate for an award this year. The sold-out book has been in the hands of readers for months. However, the deluxe copper slipcases for the 'Copper clad version' are still in production. Therefore the title must be pushed into 2014 and will be judged in the '14 awards.

The BAB Golden Talisman Award for 2013 Esoteric Book of the Year goes to....

Scarlet Imprint's Exu and the Quimbanda of Night and Fire by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold (Mor Edition).

This gigantic tome explores the origins of Exu, one of the most prominent spirits in the Quimbanda tradition. Exu is the Lord of Magic and represents masculine power, creation, and transformation. He can also be a trickster. Mr.Frisvold gives the reader instructions detailing how one is to work with Exu, including proper offerings, seals, magical powders, chants, and more. Within are ten illustrations and 120 pontos riscados/seals created by Enoque Zedro. His work is somewhat similar in style to decadent artist Aubrey Beardsley. This is a companion book to Mr. Frisvold's earlier work, Pomba Gira and the Quimbanda of Mbumba Nzila, 2011's Bronze Talisman winner. This is a tremendously important work, especially for those interested in ATR traditions and the grimoire tradition.

Exu (Mor Edition) is bound in full goatskin. The cover is decoratively blind stamped with a fiery design radiating from a goat skull device blocked in gold. This is a heavy book with sturdy construction -- 352 pages. Boards are thick to support the heavy textblock and are stylishly beveled. Exu has marbled endpapers, a black ribbon bookmark, and comes with a slipcase. Edges are gilt and have a dazzlingly bright sheen. The spine has four raised bands and sports the title, EXU, in large gilt letters. The publisher states, this edition is "reeking of cigar smoke and iron." When my copy arrived I noticed a faint yet distinct scent of cigar smoke. Either it was the power of suggestion, or Scarlet Imprint really did subject copies of the Mor Edition to a magical suffumigation. Observant readers may be aware that the Standard Edition of this book was released in 2012, however, the Mor Edition was not available until the first part of 2013 and is therefore judged among this year's releases. The Mor Edition of Exu and the Quimbanda of Night and Fire is limited to 70 copies. This is a magnificent production. Congratulations!

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

Ouroboros Press' Zoroaster's Telescope by André-Robert Andrea de Nercia and translated by Dr. Jennifer Zahrt (THE URN Edition).

Zoroaster's Telescope is a late 18th century work describing a fascinating divination system. The system utilizes 122 hexagonal tiles called "The Urn", each containing various planetary, zodiacal, and angelic associations. 37 tiles are drawn at random and formed into what the author calls "The Great Mirror". The diviner then studies the configuration and how the tiles relate to each other until answers begin to reveal themselves.

THE URN Edition of Zoroaster's telescope comes with 122 wooden tiles. Each tile has been engraved (laser engraved, I think) with various signs and attributions according to the book's instructions. The box in the photo is not included. I felt they needed a suitable container and happened to have a box that was the perfect size. This is one of the most unique divination systems I have ever used. It is somewhat complex, but it offers many layers of information. It is up to the diviner to decide how deeply they want to gaze into The Great Mirror. The only unfortunate drawback to the tile set is that a few tiles contain minor errors, mixing up Gemini/Pisces and Virgo/Scorpio signs (credit to V.H. Fra. Phaino for noticing this during our divination). At first I thought that perhaps the original diagram contained a blind (which the publisher faithfully reproduced), but the tiles to not reflect the way the tiles appear in the diagram. This minor oversight aside, Zoroaster's Telescope is an amazing system. Only 9 copies of THE URN edition (and 9 sets of tiles) were produced.

The book is bound in full vellum and contains a gilt lamp device on the cover. Vellum is hard to work with, but the result is stunning. The spine has seven raised bands, each outlined with a gilt line. It is finished with vellum head and tail bands, marbled endpapers, and a red ribbon bookmark. THE URN edition of Zoroaster's Telescope is easily one of the most unique books of 2013.

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

IXAXAAR's FOSFOROS by Johannes Nefastos (Astra Matutina Edition)

No one could mistake the Astra Matutina Edition of FOSFOROS for anything but a magical book. The designer was able to successfully walk the thin line between 'tastefully ornamental' and 'gaudy'. The result is the diabolically beautiful and daring example of esoteric publishing you see below. FOSFOROS is a "Study on the being and essence of Satan". At its core it is a philosophical system seeking to understand the concept of total unity, or oneness, which it feels can only be done by paradoxically studying extreme opposites, in this case God/Satan. The book is illustrated by M. Räisänen, Fra V-A and Pietari Hanson. The artwork is quite good, perfectly complementing the book's content. It is translated by J. Nefastos and I Meinlander; edited by M. Wightman.

FOSFOROS (Astra Matutina Edition) is bound in full goatskin. The leather's scent is rich and earthy (no trace of brimstone). The cover is stamped in sliver and red foil with a vesica pattern and central pentacle emblem. Edges are silver gilt. FOSFOROS has leather head and tail bands, pentacle-patterned endpapers, and a silver ribbon bookmark. I must add I feel the book would have benefited from a title on the spine. Leaving it blank was a curious choice. Still, it is a marvelous and stunning work -- one of the year's best. Limited to 55 copies.

2013 Honorable Mentions:
  • The Keys of Ocat: A Grimoire of Daemonolatry Nygromancy by S. Connoly (Funerary Templar Edition), published by Nephilim Press.
  • Serpent Songs curated by Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold (Serpentine Edition), published by Scarlet Imprint.
  • The Catechism of Lucifer by Johannes Nefastos (Leather Edition), published by IXAXAAR.
  • Arcanum Bestarium: Of the Subtil and Occult Virtues of Divers Beasts by Robert Fitzgerald (Deluxe Edition), published by Three Hands Press.
  • Occlith 0: Omniform by Joseph Uccello (Special Edition), published by Three Hands Press.
  • Rosicrucian Manifestos by Johann Valentin Andreae (NEQUAQUAM VACUUM Edition), published by Ouroboros Press.

2013 was an explosive year for esoteric publishing. The year saw the addition of a number of new esoteric publishers, but what stood out the most was the occult journals that have hit the market. See my earlier entry: A Brief Overview of Today's Esoteric Journals (only it wasn't quite so brief) for more details. I intend to post an update to this review in the near future to address some new and exciting journals, some of which are quite deluxe. 

I sincerely hope the dramatic growth within esoteric publishing is reflective of a growing readership. Are more people being drawn to the subject, or are current readers buying more books than previously? Perhaps what we are seeing is only a sign of an increasingly competitive market, one that I hope will remain driven by quality. In any case, it is encouraging to see new publishers arise, especially after so many claims that the days of "dead tree books" were numbered. The jury is still out on that one, but the e-book is certainly gaining ground. According to Pew Research, nearly half of Americans under 30 read an e-book in 2013.

Ever adaptable, much of the esoteric publishing world has developed the necessary shape-shifting skills to be whatever each individual reader desires. For some it is a convenient and space-saving e-book; for many it is a modestly priced hardback; for a few it is a magical operation performed via leather, ink, and gilt. All of these are the correct means of transmission. It is this sort of market-cunning that allows esoteric publishing to stay relevant in the 21st century.

There is a LOT to forward into 2014. A number of highly anticipated books have already been announced. Here are a few:
  • The long-awaited Ontological Graffitti by Michael Bertiaux, to be published by Fulgur Ltd. looks to be another fascinating exploration of the Voudon Gnostic current.
  • IXAXAAR's most deluxe publication to date: The Book of Achra Sitra: A Grimoire of the Dragons of the Other Side by N.A-A.218 (Deluxe Black Python Edition) will arrive in the first part of 2014. I hope interested readers have already secured a copy, as all copies (999 copies in total) have completely sold out prior to its release.
  • Scarlet Imprint's first release of 2014 will be the final volumes of Jake Stratton Kent's Encyclopedia Goetica series, The Testament of Cyprian the Mage (2 volumes). This marks the end of a truly monumental amount of research into the grimoire tradition.
  • Fans of David Chaim Smith will soon have his second volume of Qabalistic brilliance, A Blazing Dew of Stars, expected early in 2014 from Fulgur Ltd
  • 2014 will see the first volume of an ambitious series, THE MAGISTER, Volume 0: The Order of Revelation by Marcus Katz. It will be the first of 11 planned volumes (white quarter-leather), published by Salamander & Sons.
  • Ouroboros Press has recently announced a classic text from the late 16th century, Daemonologie. It will be printed in three editions, including the enticingly named "Hellmouth Edition", quarter-bound in snake skin and parchment.
  • Recently, fans of Mark Alan Smith received the standard edition (Blood-Pact Edition) of his newest work, The Altar of Sacrifice, and were stunned by its superb quality (myself included -- the standard edition is of the quality of most deluxe editions). However, early in the year a lucky few will receive the very limited Sacrificial Soul Edition, bound in black snake skin, published by Primal Craft.
  • Last but not least... perhaps the most anticipated book of the year (or even the decade for some) will be the legendary Dragon Book of Essex by the late Andrew Chumbley, made public for the first time by Xoanon Ltd.. It will be a mammoth tome at 882 pages. It has been a long wait for this one.

Have a great year, dear readers.

B. Balkan


  1. Thanks BAB!

    Although good luck picking this year's winner, the line up for 2014 is incredible!

  2. Balkan, do you know of any Australian binders who deal with the quality of bindings for a publication similar to those of

    1. Dear PowerNine -- I have not seen the craftsmanship of any Austrailian bookbinders (that I recall), so regrettably I cannot give any specific recommendations. However, below are a few links that may be worth exploring. Best of luck! Bookbinders