Behold! Presented to you, bold reader, in suitably sinister font, it’s the latest brand-new retro phenomena on the occult scene today – talismanic publishing! Roll up, roll up for your fine edition, bound in toad skin tome. These are beautiful objects, sacred and talismanic publications (which we’d like to sell to YOU). They will look so much cooler in your library than your battered copy of 777, your spiral bound copy of Sorcery as Virtual Mechanics or those dodgy Carlos Castenda paperbacks. Visit our website! Check out the skulls, the stark quality graphic design and sense that, finally, this is it! You’ve seen The Ninth Gate, now for just <<insert amount in dollars and link to paypal here>> you can hold real magick in your hands!
According to Balkan’s Arcane Bindings it’s been said we are in a new ‘Golden Age’ of occult publishing, at least as far as fine talismanic production is concerned. But should we judge a book by its cover?
Now please understand I like fine edition books. In fact I’ve stopped paying into a pension scheme and started buying them instead because I feel they represent a much better investment. I figure that in the future I’ll be able to sell my collection to pay for my dotage. I’ll be able to shuffle off this mortal coil at an advanced age, having flogged my collection, to pay for all the kindly nurses, holidays in the sun, sex, drugs etc which I hope to enjoy in my old age. However if, to quote Jim Morrison, ‘the whole shithouse goes up in flames’. I will at least have some nice acid-free paper that I can burn in order to keep warm as I struggle through the radioactive wasteland looking for tinned food.
I’ve produced talismanic editions myself. Some years ago an enterprising chap asked me and my co-author Greg Humphries to produce some ‘talismanic’ (his words) copies of Now That’s What I Call Chaos Magick. We did this by obtaining 30 copies from our publisher Mandrake of Oxford and then writing additional notes and creating original artworks, by hand, directly in those copies. (Having done a brief websearch I can’t see any of these left for sale and so I confidently predict they will be worth a fortune by now.)
Some of the new wave of talismanic publishing might be traced back to the work of Kenneth Grant. Kenny G. certainly had style and his original Typhonian Trilogy (nice hardbacks with a smart lamen of The-Occult- Order-formerly-know- as-the-Typhonian-OTO on the spine) was groundbreaking stuff. I did have a set of the first editions once, lovely books. Read them when I was 14 and was well hooked by the eldritch magick which Kenny G. promulgated from his unknown atavistic transmission blah blah blah… Anyhow I sold them years later because, while they were cool, they didn’t really have much to offer except their style which I’d already grokked fully. Grant’s work became prized, the reprints of classics like Nightside of Eden andOutside The Circles of Credability simply flew off the shelves. When Kenny started pumping out his later work, like Beyond The Mauve Zone (now on Amazon for £550), it was being snapped up. It was obvious that there was money to be made and that magicians can’t resist a well produced, left hand path stylee monograph.
As a practitioner one of the problems I see with the current ‘golden age’ of fine occult publishing is that most of the books which I’ve encountered just don’t work for me. If I look in my physical library it’s the battered paperbacks which are the books I use repeatedly, not the fine editions that I own. In fact lots of the talismanic books I’ve encountered are both retro in their content as well as their style. Personally I don’t give a hoot (or ‘howl’) what number of legions of spirits there are in the Grand Grimoire of Some Old Git from Dayez of Yore. Neither do I care whether his sigillum doth looke like a cat being buggered with an coathanger surmounted by a badger skull rampant. I don’t care about the so-called Traditional Craft with its radical re-interpretation of which elements go in which quarters and the oh-so-mysterious arcanum of having the pointy stang of Tubby-Cain among its paraphernalia. So I guess the corpus of literature from this stream of the ‘golden age’ of occult publishing just isn’t for me, at least in terms of finding texts that I return to again and again.
Now I’m not saying there are not great books in fine editions. And there are certainly some good publishers out there. Scarlet Imprint for example have begun to release their material in fine, paperback and ebook formats and if the material is really aimed at practitioners, not just collectors, this makes total sense.
Fine art objects that many of the ‘talismanic’ offerings are, they are just that – art objects. I like a nice bit of vellum and gold leaf as much as the next wizard. I’ve worked with both substances and so appreciate the skill required. But in Balkan’s blog and on a facebook discussion today there’s appears to be a certain amount of wringing of hands about these books being re-sold for ‘astronomical ’ prices and collected by people who are not really into the occult. But that’s what happens to art when it becomes commodity. I really can’t understand how people in this game wouldn’t expect this to happen to their beautifully crafted volumes. And since it’s my pension plan I’m delighted to see the early signs are that I’m making good investments. Hail capitalism! Hail Satan!
Personally I think that books like PiHKAL and TiKHAL are more interesting as grimoires (and have more genuinely useful diagrams) than The Sworn Book of Who-ever, however tasty the binding. And I want to inhabit a magick that doesn’t look like a medieval parody of obfuscation, or worse, a triumph of style over substance. Magick should certainly draw on its rich past, but while we’re busy Hoodooing it up and pretending to be Creole slaves, or hinting darkly that Cunning Craft is an ancient lineage, maybe we should be looking to the future rather more? A grimoire, to make any sense to me as a practitioner, needs be a grammar of the language of now. Where in all this old skool puff is the neuroscience? The psychology? Indeed where exactly did the 20th century of magical culture go, let alone an engagement with the 21st?
Magick as a praxis only develops by doing, so whether it’s a a slim volume from the Aquarian Press Paths to Inner Power series or a finely tooled Enochian tome, whatever inspires us to actual work is good. And as I’ve explained I’m all for fine editions as art objects. My library is looking pretty sexy this days with hardcore booknography. I also get to keep them in mint condition because, for the most part, these are not the books that get a good thumbing.
As I wrote earlier today on Facebook :
I once flogged a first edition Azoetia which was dedicated by Andrew Chumbley to me. Nice book in many ways (mostly ’cause it was a gift), and I guess worth $$$ now, but not the sort of thing that I’d bother re-reading so it was fair game to go. The fact I could flog it for more money now is, frankly, the only reason I miss it.
I’d rather have a sense that the information I’m getting in a book is cutting edge, embedded and alive in real-world culture now, than worry about it’s physical dimensions and binding style. It’s the information that for me is the magick in a book, but if people want to collect the wrappers then, as a collector, I say ‘bring it on!’
Check out the real alchemists using the practical grimoires mentioned in this post here:
and a link to a fine edition of that classic The Necronomicon here: