Mandragora: Further explorations in esoteric poesis

Mandragora: Further explorations in esoteric poesis

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Ruby Sara (Ed.)


Fine edition

Limited to 32 copies; bound in full antique goat, sunk coffin and copper blocking, handmade endpapers, copper edges, ribboned and presented in a slipcase
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Standard hardback edition

Limited to 450 + 50 hors commerce copies; bound in copper crushed cloth, stamped in black with the spirit of Mandragora
– £40

Bibliothèque Rouge edition

Unlimited paperback; isbn 978-0-9567203-5-1
– £15

8vo (240 × 170 mm)
246 pp

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Précis

Mandragora: Further Explorations in Esoteric Poesis is a companion volume to Datura, comprising nine extensive essays and the works of 48 poets. A chthonic and deeply rooted work. Pulled from the ground, its shrieks threatening madness, carved and anointed, given form and breath … so it is, the Word walks.

Dreams and revelations put to paper form the body of this second anthology of esoteric poesis. Datura, that silver deadly bloom, unfurled its petals to reveal the harmonics of inspiration born of moonlight, a narcotic song sung by a siren. Mandragora continues in this tradition, yet thrums also with its own chthonic music – the pulse of stars beneath the earth. The blood-body and the soul-mind meeting each other in the word, in things that grow and shift below – mycelia and nutritive rot, the green heart of a seed turning in the lightless deeps.

The poetry in Mandragora drives deep into the humus heart of experience – spellwork, praise, story, song. From the breathless brevity of haiku through the humming rhythm of the long meditation the thread of hidden history runs, telling in mosaic the story of the occultist, the witch, the worshipper, the scholar and the celebrant. Like Datura, this is a work of many voices from a rich diversity of practice, each burning the wick to illuminate a piece of the Great Work. Some voices will be familiar to those readers of the first anthology, some will be new, and all are testament to a continuing dedication to the sublime and challenging work of poetic and artistic craft in our communities.

In addition to the rich wilderness of poetry represented in these pages, Mandragora also presents nine essays on the nature of the strange, mad, chymical wedding of poet and magic, and the occult euphoria that follows it through time and space. Throughout these pages we glimpse the ghost of Orpheus, that god-touched and wandering patron of verse, in explorations of the poet as seducer of the gods, the role of verse in ritual theatre, and the poet in relationship with the Muse. Twice we are invited to fix our hearts on the lives and works of specific voices from the history of esoteric poetry in essays on Ted Hughes and Fernando Pessoa. The prophetic voice of the poet is explored, specifically in relationship to Brigid, as is the role of poetry in the grimoire tradition, the use of the cut-up technique in poetry and magic, and the relationship of poetry to the ongoing conversation between science and occult practice. In these essays the poetic word is grounded in tradition and history, rooted in thought – a face given form and a spirit animating its limbs.

Contents + contributors

Essays:
The Poet as God Seducer – P.Sufenas Virius Lupus
Black Venus and Wise Hermes – Phil Legard
On Cut-Up – Alexander Cummins
A Spell to Awaken England – Peter Grey
Magical Verse in Ritual Theatre – Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule
Burying the Poet – Erynn Rowan Laurie
On Pessoa – José Leitão
Houses of Death – Jimmy T. Kirkbride
Head of Orpheus – Michael Routery

plus the work of 48 poets

Adriano Camargo Monteiro; Adrienne J. Odasso; Alexander Cummins; Alison Leigh Lilly; Anna Applegate; Anthony Rella; Ariana Dawnhawk; Brock Marie Moore; Caroline Carver; Chris Page; Christopher Greenchild; Craig Fraser; Erynn Rowan Laurie; j/j hastain; Jenne Micale; Jennifer Lawrence; Jessica Melusine; Jimmy T. Kirkbride; José Leitão; Juleigh Howard Hobson; Juliet Johns; Katie Anderson; K.H. Solomon; Levannah Morgan; Literata Hurley; Mama Whodun; Mark Mandrake; Mark Saucier; Mark Valentine; Michael Routery; Mike Slater; Miriam Axel-Lute; Orryelle Defenstrate-Bascule; Paul Holman; Paul B.Rucker; Peter Dube; Peter Grey; Phil Legard; P. Sufenas Virius Lupus; Rebecca Buchanan; Ruby Sara; Scott Schroder; Shaun Johnson; Slippery Elm; Stuart Inman; T. Thorn Coyle; Valentina Cano; and Voxx Voltair.

Excerpt

Preface

The mandrakes give forth fragrance,
and at our doors are all manner of precious fruits, new and old,
which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.

– Song of Songs 7:13

In secret and in supplication, the people plant roots in their pockets and dream of love. And starlight. They make spells for dancing, pray for the heat of lust or the bloom of passion to flush in the skin of those they desire. Lovers become lost in the perfume that rushes from the root of Aphrodite Mandragoritis, Lady of the Mandrake. Beneath the gallows the seeker hunts for these same plants, grown from the seed of death, their roots reaching down past the tunnels and caves of nocturnal animals, down into the core of the underworld, where the Night Queen reigns and gives solace to the souls in Her care. Where the midnight sun burns bright as a comet in the black iris of the world serpent and illuminates the Real.

Echoes and revelations. Ripped from the ground, the mandrake cries down through ages of human story in a primal shriek straight from the core of the planet – the sound of madness, the perfume of love, the fruit of death. Witch’s manikin and sorcerer’s root, rioting up from the soil in the gardens of Hecate and Circe.

Echoes and revelations. The root. The voice. Mandragora.

Love, madness, death. The mandrake’s voice touches each and each in its time, and it should come as no surprise that the poem should do the same. Both are roots tapping the essence of esoteric inquiry. The essence of magic. Digging in the dark.

In poetry life is simultaneously reified and rarefied … the taproot of the word holding back the curtain on what is. True revelation. A moment spent with the moon and the evening star becomes a conversation with a sweet and terrible god. Day-old light collapsing between the branches of trees gives away its secrets in the rise of smoke. Dreams become archangels, sending their body-shattering voices out to brush the eyelids of easily heartbroken animals fragile with sleep. On waking, we hum with it. The luminous dance of burning copal, rough brick and guttering candle.

Such dreams and revelations put to paper form the body of this second anthology of esoteric poesis. Datura, that silver deadly bloom, unfurled its petals to reveal the harmonics of inspiration born of moonlight, a narcotic song sung by a siren. Mandragora continues in this tradition, yet thrums also with its own chthonic music – the pulse of stars beneath the earth. The blood-body and the soul-mind meeting each other in the word, in things that grow and shift below – mycelia and nutritive rot, the green heart of a seed turning in the lightless deeps.

Yes, the poetry in Mandragora drives deep into the humus heart of experience – spellwork, praise, story, song. From the breathless brevity of haiku through the humming rhythm of the long meditation the thread of hidden history runs, telling in mosaic the story of the occultist, the witch, the worshipper, the scholar and the celebrant. Like Datura, this is a work of many voices from a rich diversity of practice, each burning the wick to illuminate a piece of the Great Work. Some voices will be familiar to those readers of the first anthology, some will be new, and all are testament to a continuing dedication to the sublime and challenging work of poetic and artistic craft in our communities.

In addition to the rich wilderness of poetry represented in these pages, Mandragora also presents nine essays on the nature of the strange, mad, chymical wedding of poet and magic, and the occult euphoria that follows it through time and space. Throughout these pages we glimpse the ghost of Orpheus, that god-touched and wandering patron of verse, in explorations of the poet as seducer of the gods, the role of verse in ritual theatre, and the poet in relationship with the Muse. Twice we are invited to fix our hearts on the lives and works of specific voices from the history of esoteric poetry in essays on Ted Hughes and Fernando Pessoa. The prophetic voice of the poet is explored, specifically in relationship to Brigid, as is the role of poetry in the grimoire tradition, the use of the cut-up technique in poetry and magic, and the relationship of poetry to the ongoing conversation between science and occult practice. In these essays the poetic word is grounded in tradition and history, rooted in thought – a face given form and a spirit animating its limbs.

Pulled from the ground, its shrieks threatening madness, carved and anointed, given form and breath …  so it is, the Word walks. It has been a sincere privilege to work on these collections, to make pilgrimage in a world of words simultaneously raw and full of feral grace. I remain incredibly grateful to Peter Grey and Alkistis Dimech of Scarlet Imprint for their belief in and commitment to the root, flower, and fruit of poetry in our communities. Many thanks also to the contributors to this work and to all who have expressed their support and enthusiasm for these anthologies; and to those individual friends and beloveds, fellow pilgrims without whom my world would be small indeed – chief among them my partner, Stephen Pettinga, for whom the stars in the center of my chest burn like candles in the dark. So the mandrake speaks, and says: yes, there are worlds within worlds within worlds, each more faceted and more complex than we can imagine, though we seekers and singers and human animals do our most beautiful best to try … and poetry remains a bejeweled and star-lined vehicle for that project. It is my sincerest hope, friend reader, that the poems and essays in this collection send their stories down into the bedrock of your dreamworld – dancing and shaking there in the burning ground … following the voice and tapping the root – and lead you back out again with the fiery tongue of one who has tasted the hidden history of the Real …  and the starry secrets beneath the soil.

Ruby Sara
The Advent of Spring, 2012

Reviews

A review by Phil Legard on Larkfall

Original review published on Larkfall, 3rd August 2012.

Poetry is a very stupid thing to be good at. Poems are basically like dreams – something that everybody likes to tell other people but nobody actually cares about when it’s not their own.
– Nadine

It’s magic – it’s not about magic, it’s not like magic: It IS magic. It’s real magic. […] Incantations, spells, ceremonies, rituals – what are they? They’re poems. So, what’s a poet? He’s a shaman, that’s what he is. A fucking good poem is a weapon. Not like a pop gun. It’s like a bomb. A bloody big bomb.
– Ted (Hughes)

Two quotes from fairly recent films – respectively Tiny Furniture and Sylvia – that perhaps sum up two different attitudes to poetry. We might even harbour both opinions: to me, something like David Jones’ The Tutelar of the Place is a ‘bomb’ – a poem that, as Kafka so lucidly put it, is the axe to the frozen sea inside me – a violent, emotive force. On the other hand, I regret to say that most poetry I encounter – as with all art forms – unfortunately falls into the ‘boring dream’ category. It is a tortuous and hard won prize to be a poet, a title which many assume all too eagerly.

With this in mind, I’ll say it myself: the idea of an anthology of esoteric poetry is not an appealing one. Both esotericism and poetry promise a glimpse into a world of experience beyond mundane reality, and yet – more often than not – come out as half-baked, cliché-ridden episodes of self-indulgence. In this respect it may be no mean feat for Scarlet Imprint to stir up excitement for Mandragora, their second anthology of esoteric poetry. Granted, it’s fairly easy to sell a new grimoire (- diabolical pyramid schemes that promise so much, yet often return so little) or to sell an anthology of essays (- at least a couple will be worth the entrance fee), but a volume dedicated to poetry is an altogether different matter.

So, having written the above, I am happy to report that Mandragora is an incredibly successful venture. This beautifully crafted – and weighty volume – is a companion to 2010’s Datura. As such it demonstrates the publisher’s continuing commitment to the areas of magic and mysticism which they consider vital: an intellectual, aesthetic and ethical stance that sets Scarlet Imprint apart from a number of other contemporary imprints that declare themselves to be ‘talismanic’ publishers.

The work of the 48 poets anthologised here is complemented by nine substantial essays on historical, spiritual, artistic and magical approaches to poetry which should justify the price of the volume alone. It is the essays in particular that I’d like to concentrate on in this review. These pieces are diverse, covering Classical, Celtic, and modern approaches to poetry, magic and esotericism. What is apparent is that they have so much in the way of a shared mythos that they complement one another beautifully: Hesiod, Orpheus, Amergin and – most importantly to me – the concept of divine frenzy – are discussed from different angles throughout.

The ideas of divine frenzy are a particular area of interest to me: they speak of visionary states, the filling of the soul by something beyond human limitations and compelling the receiver to act upon them in some way. The frenzies had an ambiguous place in the Classical psyche: Eros was a curse, a malady and madness sent from the gods, which would drive even the most rational man to insane feats. Yet it could also inspire great poetry and move the soul to express transcendent truths, most often through the medium of poetry. Here, poetry is the language of the soul powerfully moved or in ecstasy. In the early 16th century, the frenzies were rehabilitated and incorporated into the Hermetic patchwork of Renaissance magic by Pico della Mirandola, his contemporary Lodovico Lazarelli, and latterly in the works of Cornelius Agrippa and Giordano Bruno. In Mandragora the frenzies, of furores, appear early on in P. Sufenas Virius Lupus’ beautiful essay 'The Poet as God-Seducer.' Grounded in Celtic and Classical approaches to poetry, Lupus’ essay paints an extraordinary picture of the antique poet as a feared and respected member of society – as capable of destroying the reputation of a man with well chosen words as he is of inspiring with the visionary furore of divine love. I was initially dubious about the subtitle of the book: Further Explorations in Esoteric Poiesis, but this opening essay makes the connection between poiesis (begetting, or bringing forth) and poetry explicit: in the Greek world the poeta is the maker, and in Anglo-Saxon he is the shaper, or scop. This essay is a perfect introduction to poetry in the ancient world, and also an explanation of why poetry was and – most vitally – is relevant. Lupus also contributes a poem, Hadrianus Exclusus, which speaks with the voice of Hadrian as a romantic bond and invocation to his favourite, Antinous. It is an evocative and powerful piece, provoking parallels with both Robert Graves’ analeptic channelings of the Roman world, and the seership evidenced in David Jones’ poems of Roman Britain.

My own essay, 'Black Venus and Wise Hermes' looks at a fairly wide range of magical poetry – including violent hymns of compulsion in the Greek magical papyri, the exposition of ritual poetry in the tradition of Agrippa as found in the Libellus Veneri Nigro Sacer attributed to John Dee, a somewhat more naive charm found in the Folger manuscript, and the role of poetry in the initiatory furores of Lodovico Lazzarelli.

It falls to Al Cummins to bring us to the modern age with his essay 'On Cut Up.' The very term, cut up, will make most readers immediately think of the work of William S. Burroughs, whose relevance to the magical subculture has been discussed since the 70s. More interestingly, Cummins also talks about the relationship between cut-up, divination, aleatoric art and our own inner lives, as well as the relevance of the technique to the manifold streams of modern poetry, in particular Yeats. I was also pleased to see a discussion of Jeff Noon’s Cobralingus techniques, which borrowed from music production in viewing words and poetry as an audio stream, fed through a number of effects pedals and processes. I remember being particularly drawn to this approach in the late 90s and writing many pieces with the technique – and, in the light of an emergent element of my own research regarding the reclaimation of the poetry of everyday speech, a reminder of the Cobralingus technique is timely.

Peter Grey contributes an enlightened overview of Ted Hughes’ work, a man who spoke with the violence of frenzy, closely followed anthropological work on shamanism, believed in the literal power of words (for example, his belief that he could call animals by making poems in their likeness) and – like Kathleen Raine – recognised the relevance of the occult, Neoplatonic inheritance laid at the feet of the poet and the challenge of keeping it a vital, powerful force in the present day, particularly in the face of critical misapprehension.

Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule shares Hughes’ opinion: [verse] is made to be spoken aloud … its rhythms only come to life when it is read aloud. This discussion of poetry in the context of his ritual theatre performances, this is an amusing, readable and practical piece of work, drawing upon the experience of performing poetry through anecdote and reflection, lifting rhythm, voice and movement from the page and into the world of action.

The Celtic world emerges once more in Erynn Rowan Laurie’s Burying the Poet, a meditation on the chthonic, otherworldly prizes of poetry in Celtic antiquity. Poetic talent – imbas – is here a gift from the underworld, of fairy companions, Brigid and Ogma, cauldrons of inspiration, dream-incubation and prophecy. The frenzies can well up from below, as often as they fall from above.

I had never encountered Fernando Pessoa until coming across José Leitão’s essay on this many-faced enigma, a Renaissance man of the early 20th century who declared: It is my wish to be a creator of myths, which is the highest mystery that any member of humanity may operate. He was poet, philosopher, critic, astrologer, experimenter with automatic writing and associate of Aleister Crowley. Leitão presents Pessoa and his philosophy in magical terms: Pessoa the magus – or perhaps Pessoa the Medium – commanding or giving body to a number of heteronymous spirit-personalities (Alvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis, Alberto Caeiro), whose nativities it seems were intimately worked out by Pessoa. A fascinating poet and personality and, as he writes himself, a lord

Of interbeings, of that part of us
That lies between our waking and our sleep,
Between our silence and our speech, between
Us and the consciousness of us …

Following an exploration of the birth-charts of Peossoa’s heteronymical personas, Jimmy T. Kirkbride’s 'Houses of Death' opens with a compact history of magic from antiquity to the present day. I feel that this would perhaps have been better integrated into the author’s main argument: that magical literature has been ignored by the modern science, but has been a vital catalyst for artistic movements. The profound subjects of what creativity actually is and how it fits in with art, science and spirituality, alongside how language and poetry – from the Psalms to the present – creates and transcends our reality are brought up, as is the possible grey area between them that poetry and magic may inhabit. However, the relationship of these topics and the vast panorama of magical and alchemical history detailed in the greater part of the essay is unfortunately not elucidated upon. This is a shame since Kirkbride is obviously a well-read, eloquent author whose grasp of his chosen subject is readily apparent.

The final essay is Michael Routery’s excellent 'The Head of Orpheus: Hesiod, Plato and the Muses,' which perfectly complements the Lupus’ opening work in discussing the mythical and historical contexts of poetic inspiration and seership and placing them in relation to our present situation. Almost echoing Rowan Laurie chthonic inspiration the last words of this piece, and of the book itself are: Lives shift when we bring up the dark and shining gifts of the underworld.

The “dark and shining” poetic highlights in the volume are for me Christopher Greenchild’s The Names of Ancestors; T. Thorn Coyle’s After Amergin (opening: I am the shine of neon on black leather); Rebecca Buchanan’s Fragment Burge-Gottner 4.1; Erynn Rowan Laurie’s Lost Text; the aforementioned work of P. Sufenas Virius Lupus; Jessica Melusine’s The Whole Land Dancing; Shaun Johnson’s Haiku for the Goddess; Alison Leigh Lilly’s The Hunter and Jenne Micale’s Hymn to Proserpine (an old theme given new life).

The volume opens with a quote from Martin Heidegger, which I found personally meaningful since various strains of my own work have been converging on his conception of poetry and its relation to truth. However, to dwell on one particular fragment of the quote: poetry reveals the world. Given that all the poems here are written by people involved in esoteric pursuits of one form or another one intrinsic value of this volume is that it expresses the worlds, thoughts and feelings of practitioners. For those in pursuit of a phenomenology of magic, here is a rare glimpse into numerous souls.

Ruby Sara has done an admirable job editing and collating such a coherent volume from what would at first seem to many an impossibly diverse field. As the essays highlight there is a visionary, hidden, ancient stream running throughout poetry. Ted Hughes, Peter Redgrove and Robert Graves recognised it – and were spellbound by the goddess they discovered to confusion of their critics – and Kathleen Raine expressed it eloquently in her commentaries on diverse poets from William Blake to Edwin Muir. Mandragora affirms this tradition and confirms its value, relevance and power in the present.