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 RushkoffThis 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: catchwordbranding.com|
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: CrownRoyal.com|
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.