A New Approach to Ogham Reading

I am passionately interested in the Celtic ogham characters and their use in divination, and have written three books on the subject:  The Book of OghamThe Ogham Roads, and the booklet How to Read Ogham, which was written under the pen name Orry Whitehand.  (All three titles are available from Amazon.)

The ogham fews have always proved to be a very clear and illuminating way of giving full and insightful readings.  The general way of using them is for the client to draw slivers of wood marked with oghams from a bag, which are then arranged according to a pattern (generally based upon the fivefold Celtic cosmological structure) in order to be read and interpreted.

It is whilst wearing my ‘mystery entertainer’ hat that I have begun to devise a new way for the oghams to be selected, one which gives the client a much greater sense of immersion and which draws upon their own subconscious impression of the meanings of shapes and sounds.  If your client’s own subconscious can offer up its contents to you for reading, how much more pertinent than simply drawings sticks from a bag?  It also makes the client feel much more personally invested in the reading, and they go away feeling that they have had a genuinely magical experience.

The technique is simple.  The client is relaxed and placed in a light, waking trance, still perfectly aware of their surroundings, but their minds turned inward and open to the promptings of their own subconscious.

Ask the client to close their eyes, then begin to guide them on a mental journey, describing the things they see and hear as they enter more deeply into the trance state.  The landscape should be suitably Celtic, such as a deep forest, or a coastline, or highlands.  Select the type of landscape which you feel best suits the tenor of their question.  Be sure to emphasise the non-visual impressions of the place which will help them to enter deeper trance too.  For example, if a coastal region, describe the texture of the rocks, the surging motion of the sea, the feel of the wind and the spray on their face, the sounds of gulls, the scent and taste of salt in the air … you get the picture.

When they feel centred and ‘present’ in the place, guide them to a specific meeting place, such as a cave by the shore, a hut in the hills, or a grove in the forest.  Here they meet a figure who embodies their subconscious understanding of their situation, those insights into their question which they know deep down but have not consciously realised or accepted.  Obviously, don’t describe the figure to them in these terms:  it may be a wise man or woman, a druid, a hermit, or it may be a fairy creature, perhaps a tall, regal, shining woman or a small, gnarled, gnome-like figure.  Perhaps allow them to perceive the figure for themselves and describe it to you instead of the other way around, if you feel they are sufficiently immersed by this point?

Once they have found the figure, describe how it will begin to offer them symbols which may be read and interpreted as an answer to their question.  These symbols will be ogham fews.

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The beauty of ogham in a situation such as this is that each symbol is a simple combination of two factors:  (a) whether the notches are to the right, to the left, diagonal or straight across; (b) how many notches there are, between 1 and 5.  For example, from the diagram above, the ‘T’ ogham is three notches to the left of the stem-line.  This makes them very easy to visualise even if you have only seen them for a few seconds before.  The client would be shown very briefly a chart similar to the above before entering their trance, and would now be asked to accept one ogham at a time from their guide, describing its number of notches and their position, till all places on the reading layout were filled.  Note that they do not have to remember the letter values of the symbols, indeed it is better if they don’t and are simply reacting to subconscious prompts.

Note that it is also possible – and may in some instances be preferable – for the client to hear the guide speak to them, uttering one sound for each ogham to be drawn, instead of a visual symbol.  This would then be allocated the appropriate few from the chart and noted for the reading (if more complex sounds were made, the initial letter is taken).

When all of the places in the layout have been filled, the client is led back to the place they began and gently brought out of trance, opening their eyes once more in the waking world.  But the reading layout is now full and may be read and interpreted by the reader as normal.  The difference is that the client feels much more a ‘part’ of the reading, more immersed in it, having journeyed to discover the fews personally, and the subconscious has also been much more deeply engaged, leading to the likelihood of more profound insights.

Rekindling Old Fears

Every self-published author knows the importance of editing.  But when publishing ebooks, there’s an additional element to take into account.  No matter how perfect your manuscript may be grammatically, no matter how precisely each word may be spelled, no matter how immaculately each page may be formatted, you may still be thwarted.

When a file is converted to Kindle format, it undergoes all manner of changes.  If you prepare the print version of your book first, preparing a print-ready PDF file, then choose CreateSpace’s default options to create an interior file suitable for Kindle, the resulting ebook will lose much of its formatting.  The simple fact is that although their use is encouraged, the Kindle conversion process does not treat PDFs kindly (pun intended).

My early ebooks were all produced from PDFs in my naive innocence, and I wondered why the page breaks were lost, with one chapter sometimes running into the next; formatting was lost; text justification was scrambled; the fonts I had employed to display runes etc. were stripped away…  despite the painstaking work I had put into my initial document.

With time – and many more books – comes knowledge and experience.  So here are a few tips for those of you who may be preparing your first ebooks:

  1.  Always use a .doc file, not PDF.  This way you will retain the majority of your formatting.
  2. Remember to remove any blank pages at the front or rear of your document, between chapters, etc.  Blank pages on Kindle just look like errors, so tighten up the document and eliminate the blank space.  Also if you are in the habit of starting chapters half way down a printed page, bear in mind that on a Kindle display, this may push the beginning over onto the next display page, so strip away any empty lines at the beginnings of chapters.  Get rid of drop capitals too, they display very weirdly on Kindle.
  3. Remove all headers and footers and page numbers, or there’ll be tears when they pop up right in the middle of random sentences.
  4. If you use specialist fonts, Kindle won’t display them, converting them to a default font instead.  The only way to get around this is to insert any special text in runes or whatever as a graphic, or if their use is extensive, see the paragraph below.

If your book contains many illustrations or a lot of fancy fonts, or if the retention of the precise layout is particularly important, there is now an alternative.  Amazon have now made available ‘Kindle Textbook Creator’ software, which will create a Kindle book which is the exact image of the print volume.  The downside is that the cost of the resultant ebook is increased and that these ebooks will not display on the original Kindle ereader:  they will only be readable on a Kindle Fire, iPad or other tablet, or a PC or Mac.  Nevertheless, for certain titles, this is a godsend.  I could not have produced an ebook edition of my Runes of Mann without this tool.

With all that I have learned of Kindle publishing, I have started revisiting my earlier ebooks and uploading fresh files for them, which will display much cleaner formatting, making them that bit easier to read.  Aegishjalmur has already been done and today I have updated For Fear of Little Men, my collection of dark Celtic folktales.  The other titles will follow suit.

If you have already purchased these ebooks, you will be able to freely download the updated version by going to the ‘My Account’ section on Amazon, choosing to manage your digital content, then instructing to download to the appropriate device.

To celebrate the reinvigorated Kindle edition of For Fear of Little Men, here’s a video of me reading a complete spooky story from the collection:  Moddey Doo

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Finding New Ways toTeach

I’m known as a writer of occult books.  APOPHIS was published in 2009 and has since been followed by a steady stream of volumes detailing the Draconian Initiatory Path.  This core series has more recently been joined by a set of small instructional ‘How To’ booklets, written under the pen name of Orry Whitehand, teaching beginners to the Art the basics of practical methods such as conjuration, talisman making, astral travel and Tarot reading, subjects which there isn’t room to explain from the ground up in the more philosophically soaring volumes of the main series.  And now a new Whitehand series has been launched to focus upon the techniques of Lesser Magic.

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These books will continue to be the core method of transmitting my ideas and Teaching to the world, and there are many more volumes to come.  I always have at least the next three in development at any one time.  But books can only do so much and I have long been trying to establish methods of providing avenues for more direct, rapid and personal Teaching.

A year ago, I began recording a series of podcast lectures, in which I tried to articulate ideas in a more focused and immediate medium.  There are now twenty-six of these lectures, with two more being added every month, each about half an hour long, adding up to a tremendous amount of material.  Their titles are as follows:

#1 – The Word of the Void
#2 – Divination
#3 – What is a Spirit?
#4 – The Spirit of Humanity
#5 – Rune Postures (video)
#6 – How is Magic Dangerous?
#7 – Lesser Magic and Psychic Self Defence
#8 – The Enochian Calls
#9 – The Price to be Paid
#10 – Ritual on a Shoestring (video)
#11 – Walking the Worlds
#12 – The Black Pilgrimage
#13 – Order and Chaos
#14 – Life Work
#15 – A Persona That Suits You
#16 – The Foundation
#17 – LAShTAL
#18 – Opening the Eye in the Void
#19 – By Force of Will Alone
#20 – The World Tree (video)
#21 – Crises
#22 – Familiars
#23 – So What?
#24 – The Banshee
#25 – Lucid Dreaming
#26 – The Left-Hand Path

More recently still, I have begun recording a series of tutorial videos, one every week.  The first series of videos is a demonstration of how to read and interpret Tarot.  This series will be followed by others on such subjects as evocation and Lesser Magic.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, I have begun offering Skype sessions to people, which can be tailored to address their own particular questions and needs, discussion of the matters which are most important to them personally, or with which they experience the most difficulty.

The books will always be there, the bedrock Teaching that can be referenced whenever needed.  But these more personal and immediate methods offer a real difference in making magic personal and relevant to your needs.  These are the things that can never be captured in print.

So how do you access this stuff?  Quite simply, I have set up a Patreon, through which you can select the level of subscription and interaction which best suits your own needs.  Even the most frugal investment will give you access to the podcasts, with each progressive tier bringing access to the videos, to Skype sessions, to signed copies of books and printed acknowledgement of your patronage within future books, and so forth.

So please take a look and consider what this could mean for you.  There is a tremendous amount of material already available, with more added weekly.  There is a whole world of new, immediate, direct Draconian Teaching here ready for you.

https://www.patreon.com/user?u=3389166

Would You Trust This Man With Your Soul?

Another of the recent major changes and innovations I’ve been working upon is that after years of being an armchair collector of weird artifacts and bizarre tales, I have decided to take the plunge and merge my storytelling skills, my collection of weird oddities and my knowledge of the occult into an unholy union.  I will henceforth be offering my services as an entertainer, albeit a very sinister and macabre one.

I will be hosting evenings in which I will spellbind attendees with tales from the dark corners of history, eerie and frightening accounts accompanied by dramatic magical demonstrations.

If you have a taste for the macabre and love a ghoulish story, permit me to enthrall you with feats of magic, with psychic phenomena, with demonstrations of the paranormal, communications from spirits, Tarot and Rune readings.  We all love to be frightened, and I offer an evening of entertainment with enough shivers to delight the most jaded soul.  And who knows?  Perhaps I may even open a window to reveal a nightside world of wonder and mystery whose existence you had not previously suspected?

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Needless to say, the macabre nature of my shows means that they are most definitely not suitable for young children.  This is not kiddies’ party style magic, with bunnies in hats and lots of silk scarves!

I plan to begin hosting shows from November 2016, initially on a monthly basis.  Details will follow nearer the time.  The first show will be by invitation only, for family and friends who have been supportive of my writing.  Thereafter, tickets will be on sale.  I hope you’ll come along, though your knees be knocking and your teeth chattering.  You have nothing to lose but your soul, though I do promise to take good care of that … I want you to survive to come back for more and bring your friends, after all!

In addition to the shows and special themed evenings I plan to host myself, I will be available for private functions at a rate of £50 for one hour, or £80 for two.

So come along, you know you want to … Be a Devil!

Speak Up!

It’s well past time I started blogging again!  You know how it goes:  I’ve got so much going on that I don’t find time to blog, then I find that I need to write so many blogs to bring the thing up to date that I’ll never get it done!  So there may be a few in quick succession over the next couple of weeks, hopefully returning to a more regular pattern thereafter.

One of the most noteworthy pieces of news is that I am going to be one of the speakers at the Occult Conference 2017 in Glastonbury in February.  You can find their website, with ticket and schedule details, etc., by clicking on the link here.  And the conference Facebook page can be found here.

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The Conference has a great line-up of speakers and presenters, plus some great entertainment laid on.  It promises to be tremendous.  Just take a little time now to go to the site and look over the schedule, then tell me how excited you are!

For me personally, this will mark a return to live presentation of ideas after far too many years away.  I used to be a regular speaker and presenter at the Conclaves of the Temple of Set and I have missed it.  The dynamic exchange which occurs at these live events far exceeds what can be accomplished in even the best book.  Nothing beats direct connection and speech.

And it’s exhilarating.  I think everybody who speaks in public always experiences some degree of nervousness just prior to the event.  But when the initial nerves pass and the passion ignites and that dynamic rapport is established with the other people present, it is truly transformative.

And I don’t just mean as a speaker.  I’ll be attending the other talks and workshops with rapt attention and enthusiasm, enjoying the sparks of holy flame being struck there.

My own theme, of course, will be Draconian Magic in Theory and Practice, concluding with a practical experience of Opening the Eye in the Void, the core initiatory experience of The Apophis Club.

My thanks to Sef, Matthew and Kevin for extending the invitation and smoothing the path.

So if you’re in the UK, here’s one for your diaries.  See you there!

The Hero of Our Own Story?

What do you do when you discover a great new book, or a fantastic author?  You tell your friends, right?  Or that’s what I’ve always done.  The number of times my friends and I have run between each others’ houses, frantically waving some amazing new literary world that we’ve discovered, wanting to share it with each other.  Because the more minds a story lives in, the richer it becomes, every new reader adding a little bit of themselves to their perception of it.  That’s the magic of stories; it’s real.

Increasingly, I find that the books that really fire my imagination simply aren’t found on the shelves of my local bookshop any more.  They’re small press titles, or they’re indie titles, or they’re published overseas.  I need to rummage on the internet to find the kinds of stories that thrill me.  And the internet is a big, wide ocean of stuff, where it’s difficult to find anything except by chance.  But still we find our little treasure troves of titles and recommendations on here, and we find stories and authors that enchant us anew.  And yes, we want to share them, don’t we?

So in between other blogs, I’ll occasionally highlight a book or author which has really bowled me over, shouting it out in the hope that others may shout their own discoveries back to me.  And for this first blog review, I want to shout out about Molly Tanzer and most especially her latest novel, The Pleasure Merchant, which is the best read I’ve had in years.

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This isn’t the first Molly Tanzer book I’ve read.  I’ve also enjoyed A Pretty MouthRumbullion and Vermilion.  These three titles (two collections of short stories and a novel respectively), whilst not precisely horror by any means, all fall into the category best described as ‘weird fiction’, and thus might be assumed to be more in line with my own weird tastes than The Pleasure Merchant, which is a more purely historical novel (albeit exceptionally weird in its own wonderful way).  However, much as I love the three earlier titles (and I do; I really do), Merchant is just such a special tale that I can’t relegate it to second place behind anything.  Hang on a second!  Am I in fact saying that this is the best book I’ve read?  EVER?!  You know what, for these past several months I do believe that’s precisely how I’ve been viewing it, though I haven’t said so much in words before.  But what is certain is that this is a book that needs to be read, and it needs to be read by YOU, right now!  This story needs to be felt across the whole world!

Okay, fanboyish exultations aside, what’s it all about?  Here’s the curious thing, it’s just such an oddity, breaking all the received rules about what a story should be, but doing so gloriously, hilariously, sexily and outrageously.

On the surface, the book is about an apprentice wig maker named Tom Dawne, who loses his job as collateral damage of a prank which causes a gentleman to lose face.  No wig maker’s business is going to last long if it goes around causing gentlemen to lose face, so although he is proven to be innocent of wrongdoing, Tom’s presence at the periphery of the event causes his master to fire him.

Tom’s fortunes take a turn for the better as he is immediately hired as a personal assistant and companion to another gentleman, swiftly rising within the household to be his new master’s confidant.  He gains social standing, money, fancy clothing, and all manner of saucy dalliances in the process, but he also forgets himself.  He forgets where he came from, he forgets the promises he made to others, he comes to think of himself as invincible and forgets that every good turn in his fortunes has been the result of pure luck, not his own judgement.

And here’s where it gets so very clever.  You see, although the book is all about Tom, he’s not actually the narrator, nor is he really the main character.  This focal individual is not properly revealed until half way through, and the titular Pleasure Merchant does not appear until slightly after that.

There’s a popular saying that we are all the hero of our own story, the story of our own lives that unfolds within our own consciousness.  This may be true, but it is the brilliant audacity of this book to reveal that Tom, whose tale it tells, is not actually the hero nor the main character of this story.  I don’t want to spoil it, but suffice to say that after winning so high through luck, the one time when he becomes arrogant enough to believe himself to be in control and to take the reins of his own destiny … well, he quickly discovers that he was but a passing character in a larger story after all.

It is a masterpiece of storytelling confidence to tell a tale like this from a perspective like this, subverting expectations (and subverting a lot more along the way too!)

Apart from everything else, it’s just so well told, so immersive, with enthralling characters and situations.  There are plenty of laughs, plenty of intrigues, plots and counter-plots, and a healthy dose of cheeky smut, set at just the right temperature to boggle the eyes and bring a blush to the cheeks.

So hey, pals, I’ve found a GREAT book!  Off you run and have a whale of time reading it.

Keeping Yourself Covered

Back in ye olde days of indie publishing, it used to be the work of moments to tell an indie title apart from a conventionally published one simply by looking at the cover.  The indie books would be the ones with no cover art, amateurish cover art, a hilariously bad CG image, or a photograph which only had a vague relevance to the subject matter.  But it was the story that mattered, right?

But in a saturated market, that simply won’t wash any more.  You need to be noticed and it’s as simple as that.  Simply consider how you purchase books yourself if you’re browsing for something new at Amazon.  You might narrow your search down to a genre you’re interested in and then you scroll down, glancing at the titles and the thumbnail cover images.  So if a book doesn’t have a cover that leaps out and grabs you, you’re not going to buy it.  And what’s more, it’s not enough to have a good cover image; you also have to put some thought into how effective that image is going to be when it’s shrunk down as a thumbnail, because that’s how most people are going to be exposed to it.  If it’s too murky or too busy, it’ll not be effective, no matter how gorgeous it is at full size.

Fortunately, these days it’s easier and more cost effective than ever before to source a really good cover, something that wasn’t the case a few years ago.  I want to give a few samples here from cover artists I have used and the experiences I’ve had with them, giving them a shout out so you may consider your needs for your own next cover art.

Rampant Dames cover finish

Rampant Damsels was the first book I self-published back in 2009 and I knew I wanted something special for it.  I scoured the Net trying to find an artist / cartoonist with the right style for the comedy fantasy image I wanted, who was open for commissions.  I eventually found the portfolio of British cartoonist Ian Baker, who produced the above masterpiece for me, costing me some £220 at the time if I recall correctly.  But it’s a beautiful image that meant I actually sold a few books, encouraging me to continue on instead of shriveling up and dying.  The image is colourful, striking, bold, simply composed so it stands out as a thumbnail, but full of detail at full size, and leaves the viewer in no doubt that the title exudes a kind of raunchy humour.

The next three covers I want to show were all prepared for me by a great guy on Fiverr named Boris.  He is fast, sources a wide selection of images based upon your brief and offers nine or ten alternate covers for you to choose from, he’s VERY cheap and a really great guy to work with, coming up trumps every time.

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‘Vicars and Tarts’ cover by Decovski

The first job I put his way was for erotic comedy novel Vicars and Tarts.  I had a few suggestions for the cover:  if possible, I wanted the colour to be a warm orange tone to suit the holiday theme of the novel; I wanted it to feature a Bible to reference the titular vicar, and a pair of lacy panties for the tarts; I also wanted these latter to be draped over a glass of red wine, as a reference back to the previous book in the series, Water Into Whine.  The above cover contained every single element I had asked for.  There was also an alternative, which in some ways I preferred, it being a photograph of a pair of panties draped over a glass of red wine.  However, it lacked the Bible and the orange tone.  I probably would still have gone for that alternative if I was judging purely by personal preference, but here’s where you have to be canny when selecting a book cover.  The cover chosen above was a much trendier, more modern style of image, and WOW, does it ever stand out as a thumbnail!  And these were the decisive factors.  The book sold relatively well right from launch and continues to do so, so I obviously chose well.

The Waters Of Life

Boris’ next commission for me was a much more sombre one, for the horror novel The Waters of Life.  For this, I specified a stone sarcophagus in a vault, with a sinister hooded figure, and just look at the macabre black and white stock photo Boris discovered for me and adorned with suitable title fonts!  Again, he provided several alternatives, some of which were great and very tempting, but this one is just so full of eerie menace it was a no-brainer.  It also reduces down to a suitably sinister and effective thumbnail.  It did the trick, the book sold instantly and well.

EARTH MOTHER

By now, I was becoming painfully aware of the shortcomings of some of my earlier novels which had never performed well, all of them with half-arsed cover designs.  It was time to start putting my house in order and relaunching some of these old titles with properly designed covers.  I began with a horror novel titled Earth Mother, which had never sold well at all, but which attracted raving reviews from the few people who did read it, so I knew the problem wasn’t with the writing.  Boris produced the above image based upon my description of the book, using the dark green colour tones I requested together with a bright green font and matching eyes for the Elemental horror, which really stand out and make a striking thumbnail image.  The results?  This cover only cost me £15, but in the three weeks since the book was relaunched it has sold more copies than in the previous three years!  Speaks for itself, doesn’t it?  Spending just a few quid on a decent cover can make that much difference!

I had been continuing to write new titles in the Damsels series in the meantime, and a couple of the middle titles in the range definitely need new covers now too, a job I’ll be getting round to.  But when I came to write the most recent, Damsels and the Dark Arts, I decided that it really needed a decent cover, something which would do it justice.  So I decided to commission an artist once again.  Some books just need original artwork and can’t be served by stock images and that’s just the way it is.  Once again, I wanted to find an artist who could really capture the look and feel of the characters and the books’ humour.  I scoured hundreds of fantasy artists on Deviantart before commissioning Kelsey Bigelow to produce the cover, pictured below.  She used the original Rampant Damsels cover as reference for the two main characters, but updated their clothing at my request, she included other elements I requested, such as the important skeleton key, she used the Tarot card ‘The Devil’ as a template for the image as suggested and gave the whole image a range of beautiful blue tones as I had specified.  Sheer perfection, probably my very favourite book cover ever!  The cost?  About $200.  Artists (and good ones) can be got for less, of course, but I was very choosy about getting an artist with a specific style.

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Damsels and the Dark Arts, cover art by Kelsey Bigelow

Most recently, I had another old novel recovered, this time my contemporary Celtic fantasy, The Wave Sweeper.  This one was done for me by Rachel McGrath, herself an exceptionally talented author and illustrator, who really succeeded in producing the goods here, as pictured below.  This was the first time I have opted for a cover image which wraps around the whole cover, and it’s extremely effective.  The imagery, fonts and colour tones are all illustrative of the book’s blend of warm melancholy.

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These days, it’s not a struggle to find a highly capable cover artist and you don’t have to pay a fortune for it any more.  But it’s certainly not optional:  your book needs a decent cover if it’s to have any hope of selling.  My own experiences of the jump in sales after upgrading Earth Mother and The Wave Sweeper have proved just what a huge difference it makes.  Make sure it’s what you want, make sure it conveys the mood, and make sure it makes a good thumbnail!