Over at Balkan’s Arcane Bindings, B. Balkan wrote about some potential futures and trends he’d like to see be embraced by Esoteric Publishers. One trend already in place that he noted is the sheer increase of independent publishing in this area. I agree with him that readers can continue to expect the growth of new presses, imprints, and publishing houses in the field. And just like any other living organism these businesses will have to find a sustainable home to live in within the overall esoteric publishing ecosystem.
Here are my own ideas of what I’d like to see in Esoteric Publishing in 2014 and the coming years:
PARTNERSHIPS BETWEEN LIBRARIES AND PUBLISHERS
One of the things I would like to see myself is the development of partnerships between libraries and publishing houses. As a public library employee I can say that the collections development department is not very aware of -or probably concerned about- purchasing titles on the occult in general. When they do, they often come from long established American esoteric publishing houses: think Llewellyn and Inner Traditions. On top of that you’ll have a smattering of New Age titles. For seekers who can’t afford to get the latest limited edition, and since libraries -especially public ones- are run on ever tightening budgets, it would be a boon to both library and publishing house to become allies. The library can help spread the word to readers who might not have otherwise heard of an obscure title -browsing a floor full of books is quite different than browsing the internet. The publisher can help the library increase the uniqueness of its collection.
Currently the library I work does buy a lot of new music from independent labels and musicians. I’d like to see that trend be embraced on the book front as well with indie authors and cutting edge small presses.
We used to have our own print shop here. All our promotional materials were made in house -posters, flyers, booklets. It could have also been used to put out chapbooks and monographs by local authors and scholars. Now the two offset presses we once owned have been sold and the room has yet to be used for anything. In the future I hope to see this reversed. Publishing and library/archival work form a natural marriage.
Encoding augmented reality layers onto book pages that you can access with google glass or the camera/video recorder on your smartphone, is certainly a nice bonus, but it should go further. DJ Spooky has made an interesting Book of Ice as part of his larger artistic engagement with Antarctica. This book of graphics utilized QR codes in its graphics, to take you to certain webpages. Yet the book was only one part of the whole, which spread out across albums, gallery shows/ installations, video and other media. I
It would be interesting if those involved in publishing esoteric material worked on their projects in other mediums. Phillip Carr-Gomm turned his book Druidcraft into an audiobook with multiple narrators and sound effects. While the occult world has its share of podcasts, audio books made with the help of esoteric musicians is surely another way to reach people. In this way writers could also continue the revival of bardic traditions and contribute to the oral stream of learning, which is one part of the narrative.
Publishers like Three Hands Press are already doing excellent work in bringing artists, writer and publisher together in their triune workings. This could be further built upon with the kinds of events places like Treadwells Books and The Observatory are having for a growing community. Bringing in digital media, music, artwork, radio broadcasts, installations and other elements together can help us all tune in to the multimedia age. Books will be just one part of a transmedia operation.
Balkan covered very well the rise and return of well heeled craftsmanship to our beloved books. One thing he did not write about as such are “artist books“. Wikipedia describes them as: “Artists’ books or art books are works of art realized in the form of a book. They are often published in small editions, though sometimes they are produced as one-of-a-kind objects referred to as ‘uniques’. Artists’ books have employed a wide range of forms, including scrolls, fold-outs, concertinas or loose items contained in a box as well as bound printed sheet. Artists have been active in printing and book production for centuries, but the artist’s book is primarily a late 20th-century form.”
All books were uniques in the days when scribes hand-copied them with exquisite care to the art and craftsmanship. Some of these books were imbued with talismanic power. In the Irish tradition these include the book of Cathach of St. Columba. This book, whose title “Cathach” is translated as “battle”, was used to protect warriors of the O’Donnel clan before going to battle and assure victory. Before a fight it was customary for a monk or other holy person to attach the book around his neck in a cumdach (book shrine) and walk around the soldiers three times. It is the oldest surviving psalter in the world. Since the part of the Cathach that has survived include Psalms 30:10 to 105:13, it is also an interesting example of using the Psalms for magical purposes.1
Hand crafted book shrines made for contemporary recensions of magic and spirituality would be a welcome addition to the current making of talismanic books.
The Book of Durrow, which has been dated between 650 AD and 700, is an illuminated gospel manuscript, similar to its more celebrated kinsmen The Book of Kells. It found a home in the abbey of Durrow until that monastery was no more. Afterwards it was used as a magical cure for sick cattle. It found a new home in Trinity College in 1661.
William Blake forms another link in the chain of the artists book. His infernal method of printing using copper plates etched in reverse and bathed in acid is of itself a very alchemical process. The words and images he created from his visions were certainly touched by angels. Due to the painstaking labors of this process the originals were created as ‘limited editions’. And so it has been with many other artist books, even for the creators of ‘zines, whom can also claim Blake as spiritual ancestor.
B. Balkan did write about scarcity, which is certainly an element of the artist book. It is hard to say how many individual ‘uniques’ out there have been created by working esotericists and occultists. Cultus Sabbati is just one group who engages in creating individual texts/books for private circulation alone. Ian Corrigan wrote a useful post on “three kinds of magicians books” -being the kind they handwrite and keep for themselves. Of course I’ve long thought that a persons own journal or diary, full of dreams, visions, and the stuff of life is the greatest guidebook for the person who writes it -and perhaps can be of help to those who come after.
I think individual uniques for private circulation and perhaps public display in galleries, libraries and archives will continue long into the future.
THE BOOKS YOU NEED
Sometimes the thing you want in magic is different from the thing you need. And while I have wanted many books from a number of different publishing houses they haven’t been the books I absolutely needed push my work forward. The books which have been most helpful to me on my magical path in the past year have been those penned by Josephine McCarthy. They have all come out as trade paperbacks. I think it would be great to see them in ‘fine’ edition, or at least in hardback. But the content inside them is what really matters, and they are worth a lot more than the most expensive editions in my collection.
Taylor Ellwood, in writing on the glamour of the Pagan publishing industry, writes about how the books you buy should be relevant to your spiritual quest. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how many fancy folios are sitting on your coffee table as a way to make a statement about who you are. The books in your collection should be the ones that you will get coffee stains on, or battered up from taking them in your bag for the commute to and from work. I’m all for the craftsmanship and the work small presses and bookbinders are doing. I love it actually. Yet at the same time I’ve often gotten quite as much or more out of the paperback. So I most appreciate those publishers who have books available in both the fine and a more affordable standard editions. This assures that the books people need, people can get, despite your income bracket.
Another important thing to consider is that newer writers may often turn to self-publishing (not the stigma it used to be) or one of the small presses that isn’t also churning out books that would make a vegan mad. (Yes, I think the fine presses should work on more interesting bindings that would appeal to the veggie head crowd.) These authors won’t have the same resources at their disposal as bigger named folks in occult and magical circles. Yet their voices may be the ones most worth listening to. A lot of these writers may also forgo print runs all together in favor of digital books. As more digital books are published, I would like to see bloggers and magazines taking a more concerted effort to review this material, so people outside the authors circle can gradually become aware of their existence. That is why it is important as a reader to really look at the content of a book, and not just the way it is packaged.
1. Information on the Cathach of St. Columba was gleaned from the wikipedia entry on it and also from Celtic Churches: A History, AD 200 – 1200 by John McNeil, University of Chicago Press. This latter book is also where I learned about the Book of Durrow.