Saturday, 13 July 2013

Great Snakes: Serpent Songs reviewed

Serpent Songs review, courtesy of Pennies for the Boneyard:

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, or you wouldn’t have come here.”

-Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Wonderland seems to be burning down around us.
Like a rogue golem, patient and tireless, modernity is crushing magic underfoot, shod in hobnailed “Reason”. Respect for the quiet places has been lost, replaced by the relentless barrage of holy images from lit screens, crawling with whispered promises. With unlimited information only a keystroke away, society has become numb, illiterate, placid. They no longer fear the night, because the lights never go out.

Some of us see the fires, almost hidden in the glow of the lights, the screens. Nightclad, anachronistic, we dress our faces in the ashes, and stand ready to champion the forgotten.
Across the ash-drawn mandala of Peter Grey’s Apocalyptic Witchcraft, we find the undulating trails of Scarlet Imprint’s newest release: Serpent Songs.

Curated by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, Serpent Songs collects 15 essays on Traditional Craft, offering an intimate study of the people and practices that remain aggressively alive and feral, despite history’s effort to roll them into the sea.

Having recently developed an urge to learn more about Traditional Craft, Serpent Songs crawled into my home like a granted wish. With the muddying that has accompanied the half-baked commandeering of regional practices , the chances of finding reliable information has been hit-and-miss, at best. With the precision and quality I’ve come to expect from Scarlet Imprint, and Mr. Frisvold, this book certainly hits the mark.


Caught in the stiff, heavy pages are names like Robert Cochrane, Andrew Chumbley, Evan John Jones, Tubal Cain, and the Bucca. There are discourses on English Cunning Folk, Stregoneria, and even some hoodoo. Johannes Gårdbäck shares a fascinating look at Swedish Trolldom, explaining the practice as he describes a visit to clients, and the work he does to help them (“Trolldom”); Sarah Lawless offers a primer on the use of animal remains, which includes a number of beautiful photographs (“Mysteries of Beast, Blood and Bone”); Arkaitz Urbeltz, and Xabier Bakaikoa Urbeltz present a pair of very interesting articles on the traditional practices of the Basque people (“Lezekoak”, “But the House of my Father will Stand”); Richard Parkinson discourses on the transition of displaced clerical Exorcists to private work, and how this contributed to English Craft (“Exorcists, Conjurors, & Cunning Men in Post-Reformation England”); and Jesse Hathaway Diaz touches on the somewhat prickly subject of following multiple paths (“Passers-By: Potential, Crossroads & Wayfaring on the Serpent Road”). With further essays by Gemma Gary, Shani Oates, and more, Serpent Songs combines historical studies with pulse-personal contemplations to bring the reader a bloody-raw look at Traditional Craft, free of pretense, and unneeded polish.


Well known for their marvelous books, the standard hardback Sylvan edition of Serpent Songs is a fine example of what Scarlet Imprint has to offer. Bound in olive cloth, with black and gold serpents on the cover and spine, and almost hypnotic endpapers, it is a tribute to the beauty of simplicity.
This book is an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning more about Traditional Craft, but, more than just a study resource, it is a potent reminder that magic still blooms in the world. Far from withering under the strain of all the forces that would brush us into the past, we remain–patient and poisonous.

We were here when it started. We will be here when it ends.

Serpent Songs, curated by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, from Scarlet Imprint

This review can be read in the original context here:

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