Friday, 21 September 2012

New title: Exu and the Quimbanda of Night and Fire

As we reach the Autumn Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere we announce our newest title, now available to pre-order.

Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold's Exu & the Quimbanda of Night and Fire, is the strong companion to Pomba Gira and together with her gives the most complete account of this sorcerous cult. This is an encyclopaedic study of the devilish opposer.

Full details here:

Exu is the fusion of Umbanda, Angolan sorcery, European demonology and Kardec's spiritsm, erupting in a uniquely Brazilian cult of practical magical action. Spells, workings, hierarchies and origins are all given in detail. This is an essential text for students of the grimoires, Satanism and Traditional Witchcraft, as well as those drawn to, or working within, the cults of Quimbanda, Candomble, Santeria, Palo Mayombe and the ATRs. Quimbanda is a living tradition that gets results. It is a massive storehouse of magical lore, heresies and history which has absorbed aspects of Goetia, Grimorium Verum, Red Dragon and even Huysman's La Bas.

Frisvold is an intiate and gives an insider's view, drawing upon his years of experience in the cult. With access to texts, manuscripts and personal testimony, this is the most definitive work on Exu available in English. His previous works have gained acclaim amongst the most demanding of critics, those within the cult itself. 

The origin of Exu is explored from the iconic Baphomet of Eliphas Levi and the influence of St Cyprian the patron saint of necromancers, back to Umbanda and the traditional African religions. Exu revels in a unique heritage that encompasses a Gnostic account of the crucifixion mystery, the concealed nature of St Michael Archangel and the native Shamanism of the Caboclos. A forceful spirit, Exu presides over the kingdom of the world, and offers a fierce path for those that would have him as companion. He asks, what does it mean to be a man?

The Seven Legions of Exus are 'hot' spirits, and their work is considered black magic. The perils of this work are given, with the dangers of obsession by the Qlippoth and vampirism described. Guidance is offered and the path to ascension shown. This is a mature understanding forged in night and fire.

An octavo book of 336 pp illustrated with ten portraits of Exu in pen and ink by Enoque Zedro, and over 120 pontos riscados/seals.
Explicit workings for good and ill, a herbarium and details of offerings, powders and baths and songs make this an essential resource. Frisvold also discusses the fearsome Exu Mor for the first time, a subject not treated in his previous works.

The standard Caveira edition
769 exemplars

The boards are dressed in black moire cloth with a sunken letterpress panel depicting Exu Caveira.
Head and tails bands, archival quality paper, textured red endpapers.

£44 plus postage
UK pre-order
European pre-order
USA, Canada and Worldwide pre-order
(The standard hardback is expected to ship by All Souls Day)

The fine bound Mor edition
70 exemplars

Full black goatskin, extravagantly blind stamped with tridents about a gilt medallion heart.
Raised bands on spine, sombre marbled endpapers, ribboned, slipcased and reeking of cigar smoke and iron.

£200 plus secure postage

Fine edition is now Sold Out

(Bibliotheque Rouge
paperback and digital (epub and mobi) editions will also be available in due course.)

Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold is an anthropologist and psychologist who over the course of the last fifteen years been studying, both academically and practically, African and Afro-derived cults in the New World. This has led to a multiplicity of initiations into Vodou, both from Benin and Haiti, Santeria, Kimbanda, Palo Mayombe and Ifá. He belongs to the council of elders in the Ogboni society of Abeokuta, Nigeria. He has for the last decade lived in Brazil where his studies and involvement in traditional forms of metaphysics, faith, cult and witchcraft is a constant theme in his life.

His previous works with Scarlet Imprint are Pomba Gira & the Quimbanda of Mbumba Nzila, and Palo Mayombe - The Garden of Blood & Bones and an illuminating essay on Ifa in At the Crossroads.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

At the Crossroads- Living Traditions Review

 Review courtesy of Living Traditions magazine: 
At the Crossroads has been released in various editions including eight hundred cloth bound editions and sixty four in goatskin. While Scarlet Imprint is releasing many of their books in ebook format (pdf only), I recommend this one in hardback as it is superbly presently, profusely illustrated with many images in colour and simply beautiful to hold and read. There is no paperback edition of this book due to its versized format. 

The concept of the crossroads is pregnant with meaning; in traditional cultures the boundaries of a culture marked the line between safety and danger, outside the boundary was where witches, sorcerers, trolls and wild spirits lived;it was the world of the untamed. Where two boundaries crossed creating a crossroads this was considered a place of immense power and danger, prisoners and criminals were hung at the crossroads and it was considered the location for evoking the devil himself during the medieval period. In pre-Christian times where leylines crossed was a major point of power and such connections covered the whole of England and can also found in many other countries. 

At the same time at the interface of cultures is the crossroads where creativity looms. There is so many exciting developments at that nebulous line where one culture meets and intermingles from another, whether we consider Mithraism or Gnosticism or even the hybrid cunning traditions which resulted from Christian and Pagan contact the results are challenging and significant. There is always a fine line between organic contact and syncretism, isolationism and appreciating where traditions touch, merge and create a living culture of magic and sorcery. These essays explore traditions at the crossroads and offer many traditions that we may not at first even consider. 

Folk traditions and the Solomonic Revival opens this work by exploring the connections between the worldview of the grimoires and various forms of traditional African magical practise. Gone is the psychological view of modern magic which reduced the gods to complexes and archetypes and advocated is a return to the old ways of appreciating the spirits as they really are. It is not a matter of cultural misappropriation but being open to going beyond the narrow blinkers of the Western Mystery Tradition which is sadly locked primarily within the outdated Golden Dawn worldview. By examining folk traditions we can appreciate a new way of practicing magic which will open a new world or us. 

The article on necromancy is a real eye opener. Necromancy is a subject too often ignored in western magic and relegated to being part of spiritualism which is seen as somehow less value as an occult practise. The reality is that necromancy was an intricate part of all the pre-Christian traditions and for that reason alone we should reappraise its value and use. Since the grimoire tradition had its ultimate origin in the Hellenistic traditions necromancy was of far greatest significance than many modern magicians locked in the Kabbalistic headset have noticed. Historically the spirits of the dead became demonised and replaced with hierarchies of fallen angels, demons and forces of evil and destruction. 

At the Crossroads continues examining specific traditions as Ifa and offering a truly engrossing essay on the history of the Ju Ju discussing all manner of Voudoun, Witchcraft, Santeria and Goetia. There is so much in this volume that is hard to discuss it all, there is lots of coverage of diverse traditions ranging from Santeria to Grimoire magick and a deep understanding of the intersection between traditions especially the new evolving understanding of the relationships between the Goetia, Hellenistic sorcery and African Tradition religions. At the Crossroads is also interspersed with superb poetry.

Monday, 17 September 2012

A forking of paths

 Modern Witchcraft - Building a future from history is a grand and ambitious theme for a one day conference. It is to the credit of the Cenre For Pagan Studies that they posed the question. My intuition is that the day, however unifying in theme will in time be recognised as less cauldron and more forking of paths.

This observation should not be taken as denigrating the event in any way, which was professionally run, well attended and with erudite presentations. I am not going to give a blow by blow account of the proceedings either. What concerns me is the ideas and the currents that I can ascertain stirring beneath the surface of witchcraft. It is a witchcraft we are passionately drawn to in our own individual ways, a crucial point which I will return to.

For a forking of paths to occur, there must first be a coming together and this truly was. Wicca is assessing itself, older, hopefully wiser, and paradoxically more naked than it has ever been. This is a witchcraft that has accepted Triumph of the Moon, and the disenchantment, even auto da fe of some of its most cherished myths. It is a witchcraft that is literate, self-aware and diverse. Many traditions, covens and approaches were present. Those who only know the digital shadow of Wicca, or view it in absentia as Traditional British Witchcraft, may be unaware of the dilemma which I wish to expose, not with the supposed candour of the tabloid press that Doreen Valiente and the Pagan Front/Federation battled against, but with clearer and less salacious motivation. 

Rufus Harrington summed up the problem, he mused wistfully on the romantic ideals that drew him to Wicca, the ideas of the persecution, the revolutionary opposition and yes, the sexual frisson. All these seem absent in the Modern Pagan Witchcraft that is now being proposed as orthodoxy, if not as absolute then certainly as the dominant strand. They have become haraam. This is in no small part due to the work of Ronald Hutton, whom the day honoured. His approach placed him at odds with both the academic establishment and entrenched ideas within the pagan community. To quote the metpahor used by Rufus, both are fearsome dragons which he poked with pointy sticks. Hutton has prevailed and it was his vision that the day articulated. We still witness some unpleasant personal attacks on Ronald Hutton, but he remains profoundly grounded, approachable and obviously joyful. As the only celebrity paganism has, and with obvious charisma (weirdly enhanced by his somewhat Austin Powers sartorial splendour), it would be easy for him to fall foul of egotism. This is not the case. He is a credit to his professions. I simply thoroughly disagree with his conclusions about the way that witchcraft should proceed into the future, which does not impute upon his scholarship of the past.    
Hutton in attacking the foundation myths is not engaged in a deliberate project of disenchantment. Far from it. He has a solution as well as a critique. For him, modern pagan witchcraft is the flower of English culture and history. It draws upon the mythic histories and stories which are embedded in the land. He names Kipling, Shelley, Swinburne (and many an holy bard) as part of our lineage. He sees beauty in ritual and the survival of an hermetic knowledge cloistered in our academies. It is a compelling narrative, and beautifully told. He proposes that it is in the artistry of our ritual, our imprecation of the Goddess, our drawing down, that we can be accepted as part of culture.

It is here however that the roads fork, and in my approach to witchcraft, definitively. Hutton wants us to step away from the sense of victimhood and injustice of a witchcraft that defines itself by the trial records of the inquisition. We are not to be defined by the torments inflicted by the hounds of god, nor the propaganda of curse and blight. The witch has been set up, rather like the Monty Python scene in the Holy Grail:

We are not, according to Hutton, to define ourselves in opposition, or to demonstrate our social difference, but should instead join the inter-faith family. I reject this as anathema. We stand outside.

The solution of Ronald Hutton is that we become the fully fledged form of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Yet, where are the Shelleys, the Swinburnes, the great artists? They seem conspicuously absent on the modern scene. A few fantasy writers, however gifted in their genre, does not make a compelling case.

Why should we accept a religious paganism as our future over the operative witchcraft which was the stock in trade of our predecessors, for both good and ill?

Our culture has not embraced paganism or witchcraft, it has simply stopped openly persecuting it. We were given examples during the day of how Doreen Valiente and the PF worked tirelessly to acheive this respectable status for us. However, this is an argument articulated in a total cultural vacuum. Though they no doubt had an impact, the wider disenchantment of culture is a process of mono-cultural corporate capitalism. The modern world simply does not care about us. The witch hunt has turned on Islam in search of a  'demonic' conspiracy. The value system is simply the bottom line. We are portrayed as harmless cranks for the most part and trotted out at Halloween for a cheap joke. The danger, the fire, the frisson that Rufus Harrington remembered is becoming just that, a memory.

Hutton artfully gave examples of how the same historical evidence can be read to reveal contradictory meanings. So here is mine. Modern Pagan Witchcraft as it is being proposed seems to bear no relationship to Witchcraft itself.

The label 'Pagan' was initially adapted as an umbrella term by the 'Pagan' Front BEFORE anyone was self-identifying as pagan. Now we have a large number of people defining themselves as pagan ministered to by a small network of initiatory covens. The number of covens is collapsing as formal initiation falls away. This was attested to on the day by an Alexandrian initiate, who dared to suggest that the rise of the hedgewitches and the eclectics was leading to a witchcraft so diffuse as to be meaningless, (he was more circumspect in expressing it) but I have heard this complaint from many quarters and from within many lineages.

Far from being healthy, the argument could be made that modern pagan witchcraft is already on the wane. The lack of fire is evident in the dearth of young people at this, and many other events. Modern pagan witchcraft seems irrelevant to the concerns of their lives, it is tangential to their struggles, which are about to become immeasurably harder. 

We are not in the midst of an extinction crisis, or the death of the oceans, we are far past the tipping point. Witchcraft must respond to this or it is empty escapism. I have been assertive in expressing this and will continue to do so, see more  here and the blog entry Question 13. Our future is not one of pastoral bliss, but of industrial collapse, famine and war. This future is far nearer than we dread. We are in crisis, ecological, social, political and spiritual: yet I see precious little of this communicated in the world of witchcraft, which in assessing the legacy of the great and good of its founders risks becoming irrelevant in the here and now.

My lineage is diffferent, and in keeping with the stated position of Ronald Hutton, equally viable. For me Witchcraft is neither 'pagan' nor a 'religion'. It is explicitly grounded in opposition, revolution, the land, the European spirit tradition, and yes, sex, drugs and ecstasy. It does not apologise. It is outside of the mainstream culture which is raping and destroying the world. It fights back.

There is another more uncomfortable history which we should not excise. The witch or shaman is an ambivalent figure. They break taboos. They go to places that others cannot, and miraculously return. They curse and kill as well as cure. You should be afraid of them.

This is why the current generation are looking to a supposedly Traditional Craft for their answers rather than seeking out Wiccan covens.This is why we are publishing books about Brazilian and Cuban witchcraft that have a living tradition of effective magic. This is why we are looking again to the grimoires and a spirit tradition in the West which stretches back to the Goes and the ancient world.

 I would prefer witches rediscovered Jules Michelet and encountered the work of Jack Parsons and their transformative and transgressive power, rather than trading it in for harmless coexistence with a culture that is in catastrophic failure. (Those who have not come across Jack Parsons may enjoy the presentation I gave on the subject here, a talk I also gave at the PFSW.)

The elements which I define my witchcraft by seem to be as razed as the stubble fields of Autumn in the golden future of Roland Hutton. The road forks, but I hope that this parting can also be made in the manner of friends. My prediction is that the troublesome word 'witchcraft' will eventually be excised for the more accurate 'modern paganism' and will be pursued by those who choose that path. Initiated Wicca will follow the same arc of decline that Masonry has. I am delighted that people find meaning and beauty in their ritual. I was happy to give Ronald my enthusiastic applause, to celebrate the life and work of Doreen Valiente, to recognise the work that John Belham-Payne et al do. But we walk another way, more perilous, more fraught, and more cogent with our reading of history.     

These words are mine, as are any misunderstandings of the ideas presented by those who spoke.

Peter Grey