This year The Witches’ Almanac visits with Peter Grey and Alkistis Dimech of Scarlet Imprint, an independent publishing house specializing in talismanic, esoteric, and occult books. Founded in 2007, Scarlet Imprint is among the leading publishers of the occult world. Their titles include The Red Goddess; Datura: An Anthology of Esoteric Poesis; and Pomba Gira and the Quimbanda of Mbumba Nzila.
Scarlet Imprint has established a potent presence in the field of high quality occult books. Tell us about Scarlet Imprint’s mission and how this venture began.
Scarlet Imprint happened by the hand of fate. We had to publish The Red Goddess in a particular talismanic fashion to fulfil a promise Peter made to Her. 156 copies were consecrated and sold by word of mouth under the Scarlet Imprint banner. At the same time we had begun our work with the Goetia together and Howlings was born from this. Precious little practitioner material was finding its way into print and Howlings was conceived to tip the balance from the purely academic and biographical obsessions of the establishment, and give voice to the radical work we knew was being performed in the living magickal community. Howlingswas also charged with a specific designed intent, which we continue to pursue, moving away from the ‘dark’ occult tome towards an aesthetic of beauty, form, and function, harmoniously conjoined. This informs their entire creation, from design and typography to the materials which we choose to work with. This work supports the fine book arts and traditional skills that are being lost in a world of mass production.
Our mission with Scarlet Imprint is to champion new writers alongside those already established, to encourage dialogue and cross-fertilisation. We want to show that there is not one true way, but rather there are a multiplicity of creative approaches, which blur the artificial tribal boundaries that have been staked out between magick, witchcraft and paganism.
As interest in our work grew, it became clear that there are many practitioners and students who cannot afford our hardback or fine editions. Bibiliothèque Rouge makes our books available to all, unlimited and in a budget format. Our priority is that the ideas and work of our writers takes root in and supports the modern pagan and occult communities. It is also a response to the changing conditions in the world; perhaps our Work with Babalon makes us a little more apocalyptic than others, but our feeling is that we have entered a critical time in our relationship with the world and with Nature. It would not be appropriate to restrict information or cultivate exclusivity, and indeed this has never been our intent with Scarlet. We have now expanded Bibliothèque Rouge to include digital versions of our work, in a further commitment to make the material available and in keeping with the spirit of the information age. We are the only talismanic publisher to do so as far as we are aware, as we believe that the value of the work is not in the creation of artificial scarcity.
What is the process of transforming simple books into talismanic objects?
People tend to fixate on the end of the process, the act of consecration, and this is a mistake. The creation of a magical book begins far earlier. A good analogy is a boxing match, though what happens in the ring is of utmost importance, the outcome of the fight is decided months in advance, in all of the preparation which leads up to the first blow being struck. In this, it is the boxer who trains with intent in every preceding action who will triumph. Magic is about impeccable acts and a magical book is the result of thousands of processes, each carried out with awareness.
As with stage magic, much of what we do is deliberately concealed. If we were to delineate and deconstruct the book, it would not reveal the mystery, just as vivisection does not truly tell us about the living animal. There are clear implications in the use of colour, material, binding, and typography. These are the signatures of the indwelling spirit of the book, not simply aesthetic choices.
As with all talismans there is a need for a timing element, something explained clearly in Picatrix, Key of Solomon, et al. For a talisman to function, it must be prepared in the right way at the right time. This necessarily differs with every book; as a result, all of our books have a very different feel to them and specific magical tasks. Here is also the issue of number, another important part of the symbolic calibration and all of our hardback and fine editions are numbered by hand with specific inks. Some also have additional inclusions, which we prefer not to describe.
Smoke is another thing that we can talk about, as suffumigation forms an essential part of the talismanic art. When we worked with the Goetic incense blended for Howlings, we encountered more inhuman figures on our way to post the books than actual people! Perfume is critical to evocation.
This talismanic art was once central to magic, but is now neglected, as if circle work is the only valid approach. We know that the living impact of these books will encourage others in their creation of talismans of their own, not simply books. This knowledge has been carried to us through the grimoire tradition, where the procedures and principles are clearly laid out. It is then the individual art of the practitioner, which must be harmoniously distilled into the object to raise it into independent life.
From our correspondence with our readers, we know that the simple possession of these books can trigger cascades of synchronicities, encounters, and initiation. From a Pomba Gira sashaying past to miraculous escapes from car crashes, from collapse of old certainties to the glimpses of new futures, there is a certain risk in inviting these spirit houses into your life. This has incidentally proved as true of the paperbacks as the fine editions. We take equal care over them all.
Knowledge is not guaranteed with even the most beautiful library of vellum-spined treasures. It requires that it is embodied. The book knowledge must become body knowledge. The simple art of reading is the beginning of a process of transformation, and not the end. Read the words aloud, invoke the spirits from the books and recognise them in the world around you and in yourself. This is after all, a living and unfolding art.
Witchcraft and magic traditions have their roots in ancient soil, but we are living in the 21st century. While some might think that modernity demands that these things ought to fade away, instead there is a resurgence of interest in the occult. Is the art evolving, are we a part of a story which still has many chapters to write or are we bound only by the past?
Traditions evolve. There is no seal on the prophetess; the divine revelations are continually given tongue. Repetition of form is meaningless, unless it is filled with living breath; this is magick. Modernity has failed to answer the challenge of spirit and has failed in its stewardship of the natural world. Witchcraft and magic are returning with a vengeance.
Without history, our capacity to know who we are is severely compromised, so we recognise the value of tradition, but not at the expense of ignoring new green shoots from the old tree. Our practice must be relevant and engaged with the world we find ourselves in.
Witchcraft and magick are undergoing a renaissance not witnessed since the Golden Dawn, with a fresh understanding of the role of the grimoires in transmitting knowledge from the ancient world; an infusion of life from the African Diaspora religions; and the boundary transgressing enthusiasm of Western practitioners. There is dramatic and groundbreaking work going on which promises to raise us from a revival to a revolutionary and living current. There is both more to write and to embody.
Humankind is by nature innovative and evolving and it would be a mistake for us to think that tradition itself does not change. As a result of this, we can claim both tradition and continual renewal, the immortal rose flowering out of soil enriched with blood and ground bone.
Can you speak to our Almanac readership about aspects of magical practice that transcend individual levels of attainment? In this, I mean to elicit your sense of immutable truths that could be useful on the journey for anyone, whether they simply have casual interest or are seasoned practitioners?
No matter where one is – or thinks one is – on the path, there are certain perspectives, attitudes and practices which are eternally valuable. To retain the mind-set of a student, to be receptive, flexible, honest, and self-examining. Daily practice, self-discipline, and devotion are the key. These deceptively simple acts may elude those who are beguiled by the idea of complexity. Keep a sense of humour, understand the value of friendship and community and empathy and Love. Ensure that there is a physical component to your path, whether yoga, martial arts, rock climbing or running, or gardening. Develop your intent, but not to the detriment of your intuition. Read voraciously and widely. This is your path, not anyone else’s. Do not delay, begin this moment. Finally, and vitally, keep going.