Datura: Explorations in esoteric poesis

Datura: Explorations in esoteric poesis


Ruby Sara (Ed.)

Fine edition

Limited to 35 copies; full vellum stamped in gold, hand-made endpapers.
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Standard hardback edition

Limited to 500 + 32 hors commerce copies; handbound in silver cloth, stamped in silver with the Angel’s trumpet.
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Bibliothèque Rouge edition

Unlimited paperback; isbn 978-0-9567203-6-8
– £16

8vo (240 × 160 mm)
160 pp

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Datura: Explorations in Esoteric Poesis is an elegant collection comprising the work of 26 leading poets from the occult and pagan communities, accompanied by six essays on the agony and ecstasy of the creative process.

The lady of moth and moon unfurls her shy and deadly petals. These navigators of the midnight sea – occultists and poets and devotees seeking after that which seduces them – are familiar with the dream of intoxication that follows her scent. She is the woman in the song, the night-blooming narcotic, gorgeous and strange. She is the horned blossom, the guardian of the threshold, the keeper of madness.

This collection includes recognised major poets, we are indebted in particular to Penelope Shuttle for her contribution and that of Peter Redgrove. From triadic rubaiyat to sestina, acrostic, lyric, free verse and praise hymn this is poetry in full flower.

Datura contains modern published poets alongside new writers whose work shows them strong enough to keep such company. This is a literate and narcotic text which will inspire both ritual practice and further incursions into living poetry.

Ruby Sara writes: ‘for me there truly is no difference on a metaphysical level between poetry and magick – they are the same movement, and you cannot have true magick without poetry (or true poetry without magick). Poetry is the language of magick, it is magick given voice and form. On a practical level, the human voice is a critical instrument in various manner of spellcraft, as is language … history bears this out thoroughly I think… and in my experience, spellcraft is hugely enhanced by applying to it the music and rhythm and articulate beauty of invocative, resonant poetry.’

Contents + contributors

Preface – Ruby Sara
The Poetry of Magic – Paul Newman
Becoming Poetry – Erynn Rowan Laurie
My Grandmother’s Hands: Defixiones and the poetic process – John Harness
Mead and Ravens – Mr. VI
Charm Maker: Lover’s Speculation and Inbreath – Ruby Sara
Shimmer, Sparkle, Spin and Burn – Veronica Cummer

And the work of 26 poets:

Ruby Sara; Penelope Shuttle; Peter Redgrove; Caroline Carver; Paul Newman; John Harness; Christopher Greenchild; Paul Holman; T. Thorn Coyle; Mr. VI; Geo Athena Trevarthen; ∼Ariel; Veronica Cummer; Erynn Rowan Laurie; Sara Amis; Chris Page; Michael Routery; D.B Myrrha; Elizabeth Vongvisith; Anna Elizabeth Applegate; David Trevarthen; Pamela Smith-Rawnsley; P. Sufenas Virius Lupus; Rebecca Buchanan; Patricia Cram; and Mark Saucier.



The lady of moth and moon unfurls her shy and deadly petals. These navigators of the midnight sea – occultists and poets and devotees seeking after that which seduces them – are familiar with the dream of intoxication that follows her scent. She is the woman in the song, the night-blooming narcotic, gorgeous and strange. She is the horned blossom, the guardian of the threshold, the keeper of madness.

The terrible mistress and the exquisite lover.

Datura: An Anthology of Esoteric Poesis is an exquisite, star-lined nest of these dreams – the poems and meditations of twenty-six unique voices from contemporary Pagan and occult communities.

The artists and thinkers represented in these pages cover a range of traditions and practices, as well as a wide variety of poetic style. Form poetry is well represented, from triadic rubaiyat and sestina to acrostic, as is lyric free verse and praise hymn. The imagery is rich and strange, which is only to be expected from a band of night wanderers, moonflowers and august lilies. Truly, these poems are a wealth. A wealth enriched by the addition of six essays exploring the history of esoteric poesis, the application of poetry to magical practice, the filidecht – sacred poets of the Celts, the transformational process of the act of poetic creation, the awe in meeting poetry out on the lonely road and in the face of one’s god, and the roles of the poet in the greater community. These essays and poems together offer the reader a truly engaging, intriguing and mysterious glimpse into the inner workings and poetic depth of the contemporary occult literary artist.

It is the wish of this book to bring that dream vision to many people, riding on the haunting scent of the witch’s blossom, that botanical bridge between old and new worlds and their deep magics, to the rich, magnificent flowering of literary tradition and the pursuit of the Great Work.

I am indebted to Peter Grey and Alkistis Dimech at Scarlet Imprint for their incredible support for this anthology. Thanks also to all the contributors to this project, for their talent and enthusiasm, and to my partner, Stephen Pettinga.

And, always, thanks to those capricious and terrible dæmons, those spirits and gods who inspire us, these difficult, gorgeous ones, these muses and genii – filling our blood with poetry and fire. We are awash in thanks and praise to you, o kin, o adversaries, o beloveds in the night, salting our tongues and blessing the work. Beauty! Illumination! Forever and ever.

It seems fitting to write these words on the cusp of Imbolc/Candlemas, the season of poetry and fire, when the Pagani lean their hearts toward Brighid, that goddess and patron saint of poetry, that fierce, red-haired, snowdrop woman.

May the words in this volume salt your heart; may they find a home in your blood; may they kindle a terrible fire within you, and in the depths of the night, may they bloom in your spirit like a narcotic flower, annunciating unto you all those shattering and exquisite secrets that ferment and burn at the heart of the Work.

Ruby Sara
Candlemas, 2010


A review by Ashley Naftule on Spiral Nature

To be honest, I’ve dodged a serious bullet with Datura. When its editor, Ruby Sara, put out a call for submissions on Scarlet Imprint last year, I almost submitted a handful of poems for inclusion. The thought of an anthology of occult-themed poetic work and essays on the mystical aspects of the creative process struck quite a nerve with me, and I was eager to contribute. Luckily a combination of a busy life at the time and a creative dry spell prevented me from sending Sara anything by the deadline, and after reading through Datura, I’m deeply thankful that the few pieces I was able to conjure up never got sent her way. For even if they were accepted and published in the pages of Datura, the quality of the content is so high my work would have looked like utter shit next to everything else between its covers.

Datura contains the work of 26 poets, that work being a mix of 6 essays and 47 poems. When I picked up Datura, I was really eager to read the essays. Scarlet Imprint has published three other anthologies in the past – Howlings, Devoted, and Diabolical – and their occult essays were absolutely stellar. While I do love poetry, and have a deep fondness for the Pagan and fortean realms, I’ve read enough awful odes to Odin and tree-spirits (and composed quite a few myself, to be fair) that the thought of a book devoted to such poetry might be a risky gamble. I figured that six good essays could make up for some lousy astral-poetics. Thankfully while the essay-work is every bit as good as I hoped it would be, the poetry in Datura manages to keep its nimble-feet from stepping into the bear-trap of twee Pagan clichés.

The book has a mix of pieces by established poets like Penelope Shuttle and posthumous work by Peter Redgrove, and work by new writers like Ariel, whose poem 'EGRE-GORE' reads like William Burroughs composing a cut-up at the Renaissance Fair, and I mean that in the best possible way. There are so many evocative fragments and resonant lines strewn through Datura’s pages: “her voice in my ear sounded like a pomegranate seed tastes / Ah, the earth, always turning up like a bad penny / the swift boat that turns around the island is a signal in the fibers of his skin.”

The poetry is very visceral, and while some of it is fairly esoteric and will probably baffle people who don’t have the slightest clue what names like Abraxas and Inanna could mean, most of Datura does come across as an accessible read for someone who cares not a whit about the occult but loves some good poetry.

As for the essays: if the rest of Datura was the literary equivalent of a toppled-over port-a-potty, 'The Poetry Of Magic' by Paul Newman alone would have justified the books existence. It’s a wonderful piece that discusses animism and occult currents that sweep through so much of poetic history, discussing Coleridge, Dylan Thomas, Yeats, 'Hymn To Pan' by Crowley, the 'nightmare collage' of Eliot’s 'The Waste Land,' and Ted Hughes. Newman’s piece does what all great pieces of cultural commentary should do: it immediately instils in the reader a burning desire to dive into the depths of work that the commentator casts a light on. I’ve never any Hughes but after reading 'The Poetry Of Magic' I’m eager to give him a whirl.

The other essays are also quite good. 'My Grandmother’s Hands' by John Harness discusses the Roman practice of Defixiones and the meaning of the phrase 'to cast a spell,' Mr. VI’s 'Mead & Raven' talks about Odin and the madness of poets (the one line that sticks out of his piece the most is when he writes on the need for balance between Left Hand and Right Hand practices: 'an equal worker of both hands- not a practitioner of the so-called middle way, but rather a creature of flight & burrowing both'), 'Becoming Poetry' by Erynn Rowan Laurie that delves into the Celtic view of the creative energies being like a cauldron inside the body boiling over with fervent words, and editor Sara’s fantastic 'Charm Maker' essay which includes this succinct description of her creative process:

Catalyst. Pentecost. Write. Despair. Edit. Despair. Edit. Read out loud. Despair. Edit. Read out loud. Laugh. Make tea. Close eyes. Reopen Eyes. Edit. Edit again. Stop and pray: There but for the grace of my god goes this poem … for it is finished! Wait three weeks. Edit.

My only complaint with the book is its price.

Scarlet Imprint are a talismanic book publisher from the U.K., which means limited print runs, fancy binding (the books are beautiful, all of them), and absolute murder once pounds are converted into U.S. dollars for yours truly.

Considering the niche market they work within and the relatively narrow appeal these books hold, I can’t blame them for their pricing, and I sincerely hope that they are able to keep publishing for years to come. But it is the main reason why I have a hard time recommending their excellent books to folks I know in the States. Aside from out-of-print Kenneth Grant books, the Scarlet Imprint books are the priciest tomes in my collection, and its hard to write a review of this book (which is outstanding) without pointing out that if you’re ordering it internationally you are looking at around $75 (in U.S. dollars, that is).

I do hope that one day Scarlet Imprint may be able to produce cheaper versions of their older books or even issue anthology samplers of their material for a wider audience, because as occult publishers go, I can’t think of anyone else right now publishing material as vital, as compulsively readable, and forward-thinking as they are. Here’s hoping that reaction will be positive enough to Datura that they and Ruby Sara put their heads together and produce another collection of ecstatic verse in the future. And maybe I’ll be able to craft work worthy of rubbing shoulders with their current scribes if and when the next call to submit goes out.

(From Spiral Nature; first published on Plutonica.net as 'Creatures of Flight & Burrowing Both: On the magick & poetry of Datura' on 12 May 2010)