On The Threshold

Some while ago, whilst listening to The Mystic Menagerie Podcast, co-presenter Dan Baines mentioned an article he had discovered in the May 1921 edition of The Occult Review, which made mention of a very curious book.  This issue of The Occult Review may be read here, but the pertinent passage is quoted below:

“On April 3 last, at Kingston-on-Thames, there passed away Mr. John Herbert Slater, a writer better known to the book collector than either to the occultist or the man-in-the-street. He was, however, the author of an interesting work entitled Problems of the Borderland, which certainly deserves a greater popularity than it has ever obtained. Probably most of those who knew Mr. Slater as the author of Book Prices Current and Engravings and Their Value, little suspected that this kindly and genial gentleman was deeply interested in occult research, and in especial a keen student of the philosophical side of occultism. Problems of the Borderland claims to be “a summary of some of the elementary teachings of a very ancient faith, which, though not generally known, have nevertheless been preserved to us, to some extent at least, by the writings of mediaeval and later adepts, and also by tradition.” A perusal of the book, which still remains at the original price of 3s. 6d. net, is well worth the while of every serious student of the occult.”

Dan, whose blog may be read here and is always a treasure trove of material on fairy lore, the supernatural, and all things weird and wonderful, had managed to get hold of a copy of this old book and had discovered that it seemed to exhibit strange properties, such as completely vanishing for a while, only to later reappear in a room where it had never been.

Intrigued, I determined to hunt down a copy myself.  It wasn’t easy and it certainly wasn’t cheap.  I could find only two copies for sale online worldwide, and at prices close to three figures.  I ordered the one which promised to be in best condition and sat back to await its arrival.

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When I received it, the book was indeed in good condition for its age.  Nevertheless, the paper was so old and brittle that the pages literally cracked as I turned them, no matter how carefully.  This rare book could so easily become rarer still.  So the question became, was it worth preserving?

The answer is a definite Yes!  The book is not quite what I expected it to be upon ordering, but it has a quaint, antique charm all its own in its use of language and its notions.  But it certainly deserves to survive and to be read by a new generation of readers.

To get the negatives out of the way first, it is most definitely old-fashioned in both its language and its attitudes.  Some of the sentences are so tortuous, lasting entire paragraphs.  But this is a feature of its time and those occult readers who have read the writings of many of the Golden Dawn or Theosophical luminaries will have struggled through much, much worse.  The book also contains a strongly ascetic tone which is at odds with my own conception, but this too comes with the territory.

What this book has to offer are some insights into the fourth dimension, its nature and its influence, and the ways in which we humans interact with it, which are quite unique in their thought and nuance in my experience.  The author’s speculation upon spirits and the means by which they may influence and manifest, through to actual materialisation, is also one of the most thorough and rational discussions I have read on the subject.

So there is plenty of gold to be mined from this source, and it is a damn shame that so few people have ever read it and that it looked as though it would in all likelihood vanish altogether.  For this reason, I decided to republish Problems of the Borderland, and it is now available on Amazon and Lulu for considerably less than Dan and I paid for it.

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There is no ebook version, as this simply felt completely inappropriate for this title to me.

The Amazon edition can be obtained through these links for the USA or the UK.

The Lulu edition is obtainable here.

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Runes of the Blood

So…  I wrote a new book, my third book about runes.  The first, Aegishjalmur: The Book of Dragon Runes, taught a curriculum of the Elder Futhark of 24 runes, tying them in with my Apophis programme of Draconian Magic:  Norse dragon lore, best in the world!  The second of my runic titles was Runes of Mann, which was a catalogue of the runic monuments on the Isle of Man, my home, together with a few brief suggestions for their practical use.  The new book, Runes of the Valiant, is a more thorough account of the theory and practice of the Younger Futhark, the 16 rune row which was used by the Norse settlers on the Isle of Man.

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This is a very personal and meaningful project for me, a chance to take all of the lore and practice I have acquired over the years and apply it to the specific runes used by my own ancestors, because there is actually quite a philosophical and pragmatic leap in the transition from the Elder Futhark to the Younger, which occurred at the dawn of the Viking Age.

Before a rune worker can make the shift from the Elder rune row to the Younger, he / she must address several fundamental questions and deduce satisfactory answers for them, in order to understand the new dynamic behind both the philosophy and the base meanings of the runes:

  • Why was the 24 rune Elder Futhark reduced to the 16 rune Younger Futhark?

  • What became of the ‘missing’ eight runes? Are they to be ignored, or were they combined with other runes?

  • How did the ancient runemasters decide which eight runes to condense?

  • Why sixteen runes specifically? Why not some other number?

  • Have the meanings of the remaining runes changed to accommodate the reduction of the rune row?

These questions are all addressed in the pages of Runes of the Valiant, together with considerations of updated models of cosmology and so forth, based upon the new arrangement.  Specific practical methods of using the Younger rune row are then presented.

The Isle of Man is a place which the Northmen did not simply raid.  Instead, they chose to settle here, establishing themselves as Lords of the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles, intermarrying with the existing Celtic population and establishing a rich mixed heritage.  Nevertheless, when speaking of Manx heritage, the Celtic is often emphasised at the expense of the Norse, ignoring the richness of the intermingling.  The Norse heritage is still represented in the many carved runic memorial stones; the burial sites; the place names; and of course – most powerfully – in the Manx bloodline itself.

It is my hope that this book will give that heritage a new lease of life, perhaps stimulating some to Seek after the Mysteries their forefathers sought.

For Love of Lulu

As a self-published author, I go where the readers are.  Which means, of course, that my prime medium for sales is Amazon, with their CreateSpace publishing arm for paperback books, and Kindle for ebooks.

Now a lot of authors knock Amazon, but I never have and I’m not going to now.  Certainly, they’re not perfect and some of their policies regarding reviewing and so forth have caused considerable frustration and upset to some friends of mine.  But when it comes to getting books in the hands of readers as quickly and as cost effectively as possible, they really can’t be faulted.  And that’s what it’s all about.  An author should never forget that a good service is a service that’s good to the reader, and readers love Amazon.

Their pricing and royalty rates are pretty good too.  They’re not the best that are available to self-published authors, but they’re plenty good enough.  The quality of their printed books is high also.  Probably 95% of my book sales are made through Amazon and it’s a working relationship I am very happy with.

But if people ask me where they can get hold of my books, I often direct them towards Lulu.  This is because I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Lulu, for the following reasons.

  • They were one of the pioneers of self-publishing, one of the very first companies to say, “Hey, authors should be able to publish and market their own books!”  I admire that pioneering spirit, that visionary zeal, so all my books still have a presence there.  Indeed, Lulu is usually the first place that a new book of mine will appear.
  • Lulu are good to authors.  Their royalty percentage is very good, higher than Amazon’s, so I get a little extra every time someone buys from Lulu.
  • Lulu are good to readers.  There is ALWAYS some sale, discount, free shipping or other special deal going on.  Discounts of 20% – 30% are quite common.  If you’re planning to buy, always check Lulu’s home page for their current deals and grab yourself one.  If there’s not one that meets your needs, come back the week after and there probably will be!  You can save big time if you buy using Lulu’s regular discount codes.
  • This one’s a biggie for me:  Lulu publish hardbacks, but Amazon don’t.  My own shelves creak under the weight of beautiful hardback editions of all my books (and they really are beautiful quality books).  So if you want the best possible quality edition, you can only get it from Lulu.

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The only things I don’t do on Lulu are ebooks.  The advantages offered by Amazon for exclusivity in their Kindle Select programme are too good to be ignored, for myself and readers alike:  all of my Kindle titles are free to read for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

But if you’re looking to buy a print book, take a look at Lulu.  You’ll also find a whole load of titles there that simply aren’t available anywhere else, so take your time and browse.

Lulu’s home page can be found here, where you will find details of their current deals and discounts, with codes.  And my own Lulu author pages can be found here (hint, hint, wink, wink).

Why Magic?

I performed my second bizarre magic show this weekend.  Once again, it was a great evening, and once again I learned from the experience and have made adjustments to improve the next show.  It was very well attended, much more than I expected.  Indeed, the function room was almost full.  My heartfelt thanks to all who came to support the evening.

But …  Why am I doing this?  I know that there are people wondering why, after all these years, I have started performing magic?

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It’s actually an interest I have had for a long time.  I have always been fascinated with myth and magic and have a library full of books on these subjects.  I have been buying props and routines for stage magic for approximately eight years, delighting in discovering how the effects work, and learning just how much of the impact of magic is due to the creation of a powerful atmosphere, achieved by drawing the audience in with an evocative story.

I am, first and foremost, a storyteller.  I love to craft stories and characters and write novels about them, drawing readers into the world I have created.  But bizarre magic performance offers me a new and more immediate opportunity:  the ability to tell stories expressively to an audience and gauge their reaction in real time.  It is a very satisfying and immersive kind of storytelling.  The kind of supernatural themes that run throughout bizarre magic performance suits my style also:  tales of spirits, hauntings, curses and murders.

That’s all very well, so why not just tell stories?  Why bother with the magic?  This is simply answered.  Doesn’t a film benefit from special effects?  The ‘trick’ is the punchline to the story, the clincher that makes the audience go wow, or sends a chill down their spine, or simply say, “How the hell did he do that?”  Tricks occasionally fail, of course, and for various reasons, not all of them preventable.  Sometimes I may become so engrossed in my tale that I forget to set up the trick properly; sometimes an audience volunteer may simply forget the thing they had to remember in order for the result to manifest.  Each show so far has had one or two routines that haven’t gone completely to plan.  But that’s okay, so long as the remaining 80 – 90% do work out.  And even the ones that don’t have their ‘special effect’ work quite as it should are still appreciated for their most important element:  a damn good story.  I will, of course, keep aiming for a completely flawless show, but I won’t lose any sleep when things go wrong.

There’s another element to consider too.  The ‘trick’ isn’t the real magic of the performance.  The true magic is the stimulation of the audience members’ imaginations through the stories told, and the awakening of their sense of wonder.  This is real magic:  for them to leave thinking the world is a little bit stranger and more wonderful than it was when they came in.

A New Way Through the Labyrinth

As readers of my perverted series of comedy fantasy novels, the Rampant Damsels range, will know, I always like to indulge myself by including one chapter which is formatted as a ‘choose your own adventure’ escapade, allowing the reader to steer their own course through a section of the story, using their ingenuity to select a path through the atrocities and depravities secreted within the numbered paragraphs.

So far, readers have plundered a dungeon to battle the Demon Lord at its heart; attempted to rescue a kidnapped Elf-maid (who had no intention of being rescued until she’d succeeded in seducing her hunky kidnapper); tried to get laid in a brothel (considerably more difficult than it sounds, apparently); guided a vicious, foul-tempered old codger through a desert; tried to find a way back to their home reality from a multi-dimensional nightmare.

I am currently writing the sixth book in the series, Starship Damsels, which features the alternate universe sci-fi alter-egos of the usual characters (first introduced in book #5, Damsels and the Dark Arts).  I’m half way through the book, the ship has crashed on an artificial planet made of space junk, the crew are scattered and must find each other and effect repairs and … it seems like a good candidate for this title’s ‘choose your own …’ entry to me!

In the past, I have always painstakingly flowcharted the adventure before beginning, then I’ve numbered all the options, then written the numbered sections, then reallocated the numbers, then gone through and changed all the links to match the new numbers, then playtested thoroughly to make sure I haven’t missed or mistyped a link …  You get the picture.  It’s a lot of work, even for a single chapter length adventure, with less than a hundred options.

But now I’ve discovered The Gamebook Authoring Tool.  It’s a great piece of software that allows me to simply start typing.  Every time the path splits and there are multiple choices, it generates the new locations, allots them numbers, displays them on a detailed flowchart and labels them with the text of the choice that leads there (which is adjustable if desired to provide a better memory prompt).  All I need to do is write the damn story, with all of its meanderings as the whim takes me.  I can see at a glance where everything separates and comes back together, it’s obvious which threads I’ve left hanging and need to go back to.  And best of all, when I’ve finished, it will randomly reassign all the numbers (except those I assign as start and finish, and any other specifically designated as immovable by me) as many times as I want till I’m satisfied, updating all links to match automatically.  It then generates a text file in one of several formats, which I can paste into my manuscript and format to suit.  All of that fiddly nonsense gone and dealt with, all I have to do is write!

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The Gamebook Authoring Tool

This is so amazing, so time-saving, and if your gamebook comes in at less than 100 numbered references, it’s even free!  To date, all of the Damsels  chapters have been less than 100, this one may be too (though maybe not; I notice I’m producing a lot more material since I don’t have to chart and track it all by hand!)  But I’m going to pay for the Pro version with my next pay anyway.  It’s pretty cheap, only £39, and it’s quite simply a piece of software that I’m pleased to pay for and support.

If you write this kind of thing, give it a go.  You won’t be disappointed.

Read Any Good Runes Lately?

Amongst all the other things, such as writing books, recording podcasts and staging magic shows, people sometimes forget that I give readings.  After all, let’s be perfectly honest here, it would be impossible for me to be involved in all of the magical and mystical  material I surround myself with, collecting old, haunted items, etc., and not give readings!  And whilst not wishing to blow my own trumpet too much, I give damn good readings, as many people will testify.

I read Tarot (of course), favouring the dynamic images of the Crowley Thoth deck.  I read runes, and am a recognised Master in the Rune-Gild.  I read the Celtic Ogham also.  I am also passionately obsessed with the old technique of bibliomancy, in which oracles are sought from the pages of a book to answer questions posed by sitters.

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The Thoth Tarot deck; Ogham cards; Runes

I have another magic / mystery night booked for 8 October (more on that in the next blog) and have resolved that from now on, at the conclusion of each show, I will offer two or three brief five minute readings for those who might be interested in hanging around for a few minutes at the close of the show.  These brief readings will be at no extra charge, but will be considered part of the show.

I will be concluding the October show with an astounding demonstration of the efficacy of bibliomancy and how a book may offer a profound and very personal oracle to answer a person’s question, with much supplemental material to flesh out the reading.

At future shows, I will rotate between the various reading methods, but there will always be something on offer.  Those wishing to avail themselves of a reading need not wait for a show, of course.  I offer much more detailed and in depth readings for private sitters:  £20 for a comprehensive half hour reading.  This may be given in person, or via Skype or even email, so is not limited to locals.

My readings are renowned for their accuracy, specifically for picking up on those points which you may have overlooked in regard to a question, giving matters a whole new perspective, which can help enormously in finding a solution.

Send an email to manxbull@yahoo.com for further details or to request a reading, or send me a private message on Facebook.

An Evening of Wonders

On the evening of Saturday 3rd September 2016, the staff of Shoprite supermarket, Ramsey, Isle of Man, met for their summer staff party in the Buffs Club.  I also attended; I used to work with them before transferring to another location.  I hope everyone who attended had a great, entertaining night.  For me, it was particularly special, as I was the entertainment.

This was my first show as a semi-professional magician / mystery entertainer.  And it was a real baptism of fire.  Anyone who stands up to perform in front of others will testify that it is considerably more difficult when those people are well known to you than when they are complete strangers.  It’s very difficult to slip into your stage persona when they know you as someone completely different.

The evening went very well.  Not perfectly, but very well.  I’d been afraid there might be a failure or two, but there were no outright flops and most things worked perfectly.

My presentation is a story telling routine enhanced by props and effects, rather than a stream of banal ‘tricks’, and these stories tend to revolve around matters macabre and sinister.

For the first half of the show, I had gathered together a few of my simpler routines, all themed around witches and occultists of the past and the fates they had met.  The tales started in the Fourteenth Century, moving gradually forward to more modern times, as the shade of Aleister Crowley was called upon to deliver us a message from the spirit world.

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All items packed, ready to depart for the venue…

All of these early stories and effects went smoothly and without a hitch, eliciting a pleasing number of exclamations.  The routine I was most uncertain about, a mild waking trance induction to make someone ‘see’ a spirit on cue, worked perfectly well, in spite of the ever increasing alcohol that was flowing.  I did have a ‘get out’ story in place in case this less predictable routine failed, but it wasn’t necessary.

In the second half, I moved on to talk about curses, presenting a couple of yarns around those themes.  It was here that my inexperience showed.  For these kinds of routines to work, I need to choose the ‘volunteer’ very carefully, someone who will really respond and ‘go with the flow’ of the story, getting into it.  By now, the drink was freely flowing, so the choice was even more critical.  This led to a couple of routines not failing, but falling a little flatter than I would have hoped.  They worked and the reaction was one of “Ah, okay then” instead of awe.  This is my own fault, I should have chosen more critically instead of according to my pre-selected plan.  A lesson to learn for those occasions when the alcohol is strongly in evidence:  choose the ‘assistant’ who is transfixed by the show, not the ‘good sport’ or ‘the one from the table that hasn’t had a turn yet’.

Not that this minor lull in momentum was disastrous, people were still interested and watching, and I’d saved my favourites for last.  I love haunted books, and I used an old diary in a demonstration of psychic ability, telling a reader the images that went through her mind as she read randomly chosen entries in the diary.

The closing effect was my favourite among those I currently have in my arsenal, as two volunteers placed playing cards between random pages in a cursed copy of Dennis Wheatley’s The Satanist.  As the lights were turned out and a black candle was lit, the cards eerily rose up from between the pages of the book, displaying Infernal scorch marks upon their surfaces.

It was a good night, and I was heartened that everyone seemed to really enjoy it.  It certainly gave me the taste to do more, and soon.  I’ll be hosting another show in November, though I’ll be available too if anyone wishes to book me before then.

The next show will be quite different, of course.  Less than half of my routines were used in this first show, and I’ll be mixing them about from one show to the next, depending upon which themes I want to play with.  There are a couple of favourites that will appear regularly, but many effects will come and go, swapping in and out of the setlist as the stories I wish to tell dictate.  There are also no less than three further new routines on their way to me at the moment.

What’s more, as any real magician should, my own creative juices have been stimulated and I am starting to develop my own stories, props and effects based upon the Norse and Celtic lore of the Isle of Man.  I’m currently gathering together the props to create a runic necromancy effect I’ve devised.  Watch out for ‘DRAUGR’ at a future date!

Anyone wishing to book for a function or private event, please contact via email at manxbull@yahoo.com or message me on Facebook.