2009 Esoteric Book Conference

By John Coughlin

The first Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle was a huge success. The organizers (William Kiesel, Michael Kolson, and Catamara Rosarium) were present and on the ball keeping things running smoothly. The only recommendation I would make would be to publicize more since many locals said they were not aware of the event. Still attendance was very good and from all the bags of books I saw people carrying many of the vendors were happy.

I was especially excited that there was such a presence from the UK. Being able to meet with the wonderful folk from Fulgar, Treadwells, and Scarlet Imprint was a real treat. Many of the Immanion Press authors were also in attendance besides the authors there to present.

Vendors and Visitors:
As far as vendors go there was quite a selection of new and used books at the event being sold by Night of Pan Books, Ouroboros Press, Holmes Publishing, the Golden Dawn Trust, Immanion Press, Ars Obscura, Fulgar, ANJA, Feral House, and Waning Moon Publications.

Artists:
I missed the art apart from a quick run through of the room. Artists in attendance were Liv Rainey-Smith, Gabriela Sugier, Bryan Ward, and Orryelle Defensetrate-Bascule.

Presentations:
On Friday Thomas Karlsson, founder of Dragon Rouge led the first official Dragon Rouge magical working on the American continent. Dragon Rouge is a Scandinavian Left Hand Path order which is more well-known in Europe but which has been slowly finding interest in the States. I missed this since I was still traveling over the continent at the time.

Darcy Kuntz was the first to talk at the formal conference. He started with a note that his upcoming title, Temple Magic, was delayed since he had come across some additional photos and artwork to be added. He shared some photos of original Golden Dawn paraphernalia including an original altar top. The formal lecture itself discussed the early history of the Golden Dawn, from the initial stirrings through the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1882 thru the 2nd order Golden Dawn which is based on the Societas Rosicruciana in America (SRIA), touching on some of the mail political points which lead to the first order’s dissolution, such as the debates over the legitimacy of the Gold Dawn Cypher MSS by Waite and others. Darcy is an encyclopedia of information when it comes to the Golden Dawn and the lecture was packed with facts and dates.

Second up was Richard Kaczynski – sadly missed since had to man my table. His presentation was entitled “Occult Blue-Bloods and Black Sheep: How the ‘Social’ part of secret societies Spawned Generations of Spiritual Seekers” where he discussed the influences various 19th century secret societies and key members of those groups have had on each other as well as on newer groups which are still active today.

Third was a panel with Immanion Press (and some of their authors) and Waning Moon Publications (represented by me). We only had an hour so focused on the value of small press in giving voice to books and authors that the commercial publishers would ignore since they would not sell enough to sustain the large print runs such publishers make. Independent publishers tend to not put profit over their interest in manifesting books on topics they feel are important. Hence larger publishers tend to rehash the same 101-type material since the audience is larger and they stick with what they know will sell. Small publishers are more in touch with the needs and interests of their readers. There was not much time left for questions so some break-away discussion was taken outside for those interested. I’d like to see the panel back next year with more time since I would have loved to have heard more from the attendees.

Fourth was a presentation by Robert Ansell of Fulgur entitled “Exploring the Creative Sorcery of Austin Osman Spare’s Magico-Aesthetic” where many photos of Spare’s art were categorized to help define Spare’s methodology, and in particular how spare applied his philosophy of “Neither-Neither” as a basis for that methodology. Of particular interest were how other artists and musicians of the time began to employ some of these methodologies in their own work, and of course how they came to influence Crowley himself.

Fifth up were Peter Grey and Alkistis Dimech from Scarlet Imprint in their presentation entitled “Seven Heads, Seven Veils” where both Peter and Alkistis shared their personal work and revelations with Babalon, each having their own unique approach to their work. While very different in approach it was interesting how ultimately similar conclusions were made regarding the depth of gnosis one experiences with that goddess and how demanding She can be upon those who have the strength to work with Her. I was also impressed at how poetic and candid their presentation was.

Sixth was Thomas Karlsson’s presentation. I missed this presentation but was told by colleagues it essentially was a summary of the work contained in his book Qabala, Qliphoth and Goetic Magic.

The last presentation for Saturday was by Michael Staley, a member of the Typhonian Order. I do not know which one he did on this day but both his Saturday and Sunday presentations explored the work of Kenneth Grant, one on Imagination and Creativity and the other on Initiatory work. Sadly I missed both of these since I had to work.

There were several evening events for those who had purchased the deluxe package but I was too jetlagged and opted for the sweet embrace of Morpheus. These performances were by Elysium Obscura, Danse Perdue (butoh), and theatric ritual of Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule all which got glowing reviews from those who attended. (Still kicking myself for missing it!)

Sunday seemed to have a larger turn out and I was not able to attend the morning presentations since I had to mind my table. The presentations included:

Dr. Amy Hale examining Ithell Colquhoun’s conception of the numinous and its relationship to her art.

Michael Staley’s second presentation on Kenneth Grant’s work.

Brandy William’s presentation on the Chaldean Oracles and thoughts on how they could be adopted/adapted by modern practitioners.

I was able to attend the next three presentations.

Christina Oakley Harrington of Treadwells gave a presentation entitled “Flesh of my Flesh on the ecstasy of the Page” where she explored the common structure of the grimoires. She noted the power and significance of the physical construct of the handwritten book and how the act of copying a text by hand plays upon the transcriber. She shared her own experience of transcribing a Book of Shadows and how it connected her to the past when the book she was not transcribing was itself being transcribed. I thought her imagery of book as a lover was wonderful and given the nature of the conference it was clear by how many in the audience were nodding and smiling that she was not alone in that colorful association. I know I myself love to play with textures when binding books because the experience of handling a book is very visceral and intimate.

Next was Robert Ansell’s second multimedia presentation, “Bound by the Devil: The Arte of Talismanic books” where he presented and discussed many examples of talismanic books from the late 1800s thru to the 1980s. In examining the power of these books he made the point that an amulet reflects energy while a talisman refracts energy. Turns out many of these talismanic books embraced modern book designs for their time and we were left to ponder where the digital age will take us in that respect, tho at the moment it seemed clear that the book as a physical (not digital) construct was very much of paramount to most of us.
Daniel Schulke, current director of Xoanon Publishing was the next presentation. He discussed the magic of the Charming tradition of folk lore offering many examples their use, many of which are still in use today. Afterwards we were treated to photos of many of the internal books and papers of the Cultus Sabbati, who have many members versed in the art of book binding. This was a real treat.
I missed the music by Eyving Kang & Jessika Kennedy which closed the event since I had to man my table.

About John J. Coughlin:
John J. Coughlin has been a practitioner of the Occult Arts since the mid-1980’s. In that time he has worked with several groups, although he primarily prefers to walk a solitary, eclectic path. Also associated with the Gothic scene, John has incorporated his personal aesthetics and ideals into his spirituality giving him an often unique perspective. His pivotal work “Out of the Shadows” has lead some to consider him the father of Dark Paganism, given he was the first author to publicly explore that concept.

Preferring to consider himself an “obscure occult writer” due to his distaste for self promotion, John believes those who will benefit from his work will eventually stumble across it when the time is right. Professional writers are cursed with having to sacrifice their integrity to please the majority in order to sell their work to the masses. John does not seek to make a living off his writing and is therefore free to write about what he finds interesting and important regardless of its trendiness or political correctness. Much of John’s work remains in private distribution within the various magical groups with which he works.

Books by John Coughlin: “Out of the Shadows: An exploration of Dark Paganism and Magick”, “Ethics and the Craft”, “A Cthulhian Grimoire of Dream Work” and “Liber Yog-Sothoth”
As a lover and collector of books, John is also the founder of Waning Moon Publications where he produces both hand bound limited edition as and mass produced titles on various occult-related subjects.

More information about John Coughlin as well as his various web-related projects can be found at www.waningmoon.com.

The Wiccan Rede Project: Deborah Blake

The Wiccan Rede is arguably one of the most important tenets at the basis of modern Witchcraft practice. This is not to say that all Witches follow it, of course, although many of those I know do—even those who don’t call themselves Wiccans, per se. And there are many different versions, so saying you follow the Wiccan Rede is a little like a Christian saying they live by the word of the bible: one then has to ask, “Which bible?”

Just to be clear, I tend to use the shorter, simpler (and less ornate) version of the Rede:

Bide the Wiccan law ye must
In perfect love and perfect trust
These eight words the Rede fulfill
An it harm none, do as ye will
Lest in thy self defense it be
Ever mind the law of three
Follow this with mind and heart
And merrie ye meet and merrie ye part

To me, there are three simple but crucial pieces of spiritual “law” in this short poem: harm none, the law of three, and perfect love & perfect trust. Taken together, they pretty much sum up my take on Witchcraft. (Leaving aside, for a moment, the issue of connection with deity and nature, which is also at the core of my practice.) As you can probably tell, I am a lot less concerned with niceties like “kissing your hand times three” than I am with general attitude and behavior towards others and self.

“An it harm none, do as ye will.” On the surface, this is a rule that gives you permission to do pretty much anything you want, as long as whatever action you take does nothing to harm anyone else. Whoo hoo! Except, of course, that nothing is that simple. To begin with, it implies—and rightly so—that Witchcraft is a spiritual path based on personal responsibility. You are responsible for your actions towards others (this will be important for the next bit as well)—no blaming the devil, or even human nature. It is up to you to judge whether or not your actions will harm another, and act accordingly. This means constantly considering the consequences of everything you do. Suddenly seems a lot tougher, doesn’t it?

And then there is the often-ignored fact that “harm none” includes yourself. This means, in theory, that none of us should ever do anything that would have a negative effect on our health and well-being. (Thank goodness they decided that chocolate is health food!)

Can any of us truly live our lives every day without doing anything, no matter how small, that harms either ourselves or another? I doubt it. Even Gandhi couldn’t pull that one off, and he really tried. But what we can do is strive our best to attain that goal, and when we fall short, we can take responsibility for our actions and—if possible—undo whatever harm we might have done.

Say, for example, that you inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings by sayng something mean. First, you acknowledge that what you said was wrong, then you try to make that person feel better again. But then—and this is the important bit—you try not to do it again. It isn’t enough to say you’re sorry. Following the Wiccan Rede means doing your best to learn and grow, so you don’t make the same mistakes again.

“Ever mind the law of three.” Some Witches argue about whether or not there is really a threefold rule of returns, but most of them would agree that what you put out into the universe comes back to you, one way or the other. Call it the Law of Three, or Karma, but either way, it means that—at least in part—you are responsible for what you draw into your own life. This doesn’t mean that crappy things won’t happen to you, even if you are a nice person every minute of every day. But it does mean that a positive attitude is much more likely to result in a happy, prosperous, and fruitful life. And that a negative attitude will almost certainly circle back and bite you on the hind end.

It also means that if you purposely harm others (as you are forbidden to do), that harm will likely show back up on your doorstep one day. You will note that the Rede makes allowances for self-defense, however. You aren’t expected to sit back and let someone beat the crap out of you…but you’d better be sure you weren’t the one who started the fight!

Possibly the most important “law” in the Wiccan Rede, as far as I am concerned, is probably the most difficult one to follow. “Perfect love and perfect trust” is a concept that Wiccans talk about a lot—but what does it really mean?

For me (and I can only speak for myself in any of this), perfect love and perfect trust means that we accept each other as we are—imperfections, flaws and all—and love each other anyway. When we do so, we are channeling the love of the goddess and the god, and doing their work here on earth.

But it can be pretty hard to love some folks some of the time, and all folks all of the time, in an unconditional and nonjudgmental manner. Let’s face it—people can be difficult! (Not us, of course, but everyone else.) And this rule doesn’t mean you should just love other Witches, or people who follow your same belief system. Nope, sorry. It means everybody. Just like the “harm none” rule, there is no way we are going to be able to pull this one off, at least not all of the time.

But the point of walking a spiritual path—and the point of the Wiccan Rede—is to give us something to guide us as we live our lives. The gods don’t expect us to be perfect. I believe, however, that they expect us to work to be our best, and following the Rede to the best of our abilities is one way to try and do just that.

About the Author:
Deborah Blake is the author of Circle, Coven and Grove: A Year of Magickal Practice (Llewellyn 2007), Everyday Witch A to Z: An Amusing, Inspiring & Informative Guide to the Wonderful World of Witchcraft (Llewellyn 2008), The Goddess is in the Details: Wisdom for the Everyday Witch (Llewellyn2009), and the forthcoming Everyday Witch A to Z Spellbook (2010). She has published numerous articles in Pagan publications.

Her award-winning short story, “Dead and (Mostly) Gone” is included in the Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction: 13 Prize Winning Tales (Llewellyn, 2008). Deborah is currently working on her third novel and hopes to find both an agent and a publisher for her fiction soon. Deborah’s first novel, Witch Ever Way You Can, has been the winner or finalist in many RWA (Romance Writers of America) contests and received the EMILY “Best of the Best” Award. Her fiction is primarily Paranormal Romance, although she also writes Fantasy, Mystery and Young Adult.

Deborah had been interviewed on television, radio and podcast, and can be found online at Facebook, Twitter, My Space, and at her own website.

When not writing, Deborah runs The Artisans’ Guild, a cooperative shop she founded with a friend in 1999, and also works as a jewelry maker. She lives in a 100 year old farmhouse in rural upstate New York with five cats who supervise all her activities, both magickal and mundane.

This month Deborah will be presenting “The Real Witch: Witchcraft Basics for the Paranormal Author” on line. Click here to learn more.