I recently finished the Bibliotheque Rouge Digital edition of Serpent Songs from Scarlet Imprint, edited by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold.
The book is a collection of 15 essays on various themes having to do with what the author terms Traditional Craft. This is not a book specifically on one theme. Not specifically about witchcraft, or even limited to the practice of traditional magic, the collection includes some works of theory, polemics, and academic arguments, as well as a few essays which are more practical in scope. As such, the book didn’t feel like a proper anthology which generally has a unifying theme or order, but more like a collection of disparate elements. Not that several of those elements weren’t amazing, but just that they all felt discrete. It was similar in style to rambling through and reading different blogs linked to from each other.
All in all, I think it was rather a mixed bag, as such collections often are. Not every subject covered or writing style will appeal to everyone. Though Scarlet Imprint does publish some very beautiful hand-bound hardbacks, I’m glad I have the kindle edition; I don’t think “Serpent Songs” will be something that I’m going to read multiple times. I took notes on a few of the essays, and a few of them made excellent bedtime reading.
I can’t really predict what other people are going to find inspiring and useful in the work, but my personal highlights were as follows:
Gemma Gary : “The Witches Cross”- Gary’s essay on the Spirits of the night and of the liminal place of the witch mirrored many of my own thoughts and developments of our working group. It contains an example of a working to attain congress with the spirits. Gary’s writing is both clear and evocative.
Stuart Inman and Jane Sparkes: “A Gathering of Light and Shadows” – Some good thoughts on the egregore of craft traditions, genius loci and lining up the mythic landscape with the actual one are to be found here. The style of both voices writing the essay could be distracting, but is quite natural, and the work is peppered through with personal stories and notes from their workings. In addition, Inman had this to say about the modern Hoodoo revival: “It became obvious that Hoodoo is not the rather pleasant new-age herbal magic portrayed in Stephanie Rose Bird’s Sticks, Stones, Roots and Bones, but a weapon, the only weapon of the unarmed and helpless, in a war fought over centuries. To be more precise, it is many things, but if you ignore this aspect of Hoodoo, its use to dominate, jinx, hex or curse, you deliver an emasculated version of it that is reduced to the same new-age eclectic mess that every other magical system seems to end up as.”
Xabier Bakaikoa Urbeltz: “But the House of my Father will Stand” – Urbeltz’s offering on the House in Basque tradition was, I think, quite stellar. While it offers a fascinating look at the little known (to outsiders) practices of the Basques, it got me to think about and examine my practice and beliefs from a wholly new and different perspective. I’m still thinking about the people who owned and loved our house before us and the role of hospitality and the hearth in Appalachia.
Richard Parkinson: “Exorcists, Conjurors and Cunning Men in Post-Reformation England”- I quite enjoyed this work on the links between clerical Catholic magic and the cunning folk of the early modern period. The supposition that clerical exorcists became professional ghost layers, spirit trappers and protective magicians after they were removed from the church is fascinating. It also provides a possible avenue of continuity of practice through time, and leads more credence to the idea that the church has a prominent place in our history as people reclaiming and inspired by the magic of the past.
Jesse Hathaway Diaz: “Passersby: Potential, Crossroads & Wayfaring on the Serpent’s Road” – Dealing with the practicalities of dual faith observance, Diaz’s essay provided new and fresh ideas for continuing our work with the Saints and their Reflections, or as he calls it the work of the Right and Left hand. After so many years of practice and work and reading, it’s nice to come across a new voice. I’ll be looking for more of Diaz’s work in the future.