The Price of Occult Books, Part 5 – The Author’s Perspective

Now that we’ve gone over occult publishing from the perspective of publishing (1 and 2), libraries, and collecting – what about the role of creators and editors?  Fortunately, I can give some perspective on this as well.

I write a lot of different pieces, although these days they all come back to the topic of ritual magic. (For anything who thinks there’s big money in the field, the Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia is still my best seller.)  That includes both academic works (journal articles, book chapters, and the like), and editions of texts geared toward a more popular audience, whether longer works with fewer illustrations (Book of Oberon, The Long-Lost Friend) or shorter ones which have the full text reproduced (Experimentum Potens Magna).

My writing and editing can take different tactics for different reasons.  Some projects are being part of the academic conversation, which are among the expectations of me in a college setting.  This means publishing in academic forums, which sometimes have a particular price tag attached due to the nature of that field.

We also have the shorter manuscripts that have elements that will be of interest to readers, whether graphics, handwriting, or other aspects thereof.  A facsimile edition of such a work is useful and notable – and comes with an appropriate price tag.

A longer edited work of a mainly textual nature, such as The Long-Lost Friend and Oberon, is the area in which it is possible to create affordable editions suitable for a larger audience.  (I acknowledge that “affordable” for a $60 retail book may be considered relative by some readers.)

This does lead to situations in which some of my creations are not available to many readers, and it’s one I’d like to address.  I’m going to start examining my options for making these more broadly available, without violating my relationships with the publishers, artists, and other individuals who made the original creations possible.  I can already tell it might be difficult, on top of everything else I’ve got going on, so please feel free to ask where I am on it.

Next time, I conclude with some thoughts on what authors like me and publishers can do to help to make their work more accessible.

 

 

 

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Published in: on August 30, 2017 at 2:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Price of Occult Books, Part 3 – The Role of Libraries

In previous posts, we’ve talked about factors that drive up the price of occult books, and books that are high-priced despite this.  I only have part of the story here, and I’d encourage people to comment on what they know.

Are libraries the solution to these problems?

They would seem to be, at first.  You’ve got a large number of institutions which have entire budgets dedicated to acquiring material for its users, defined in terms of a particular community of scholars or practitioners, or the public at large.  They have immense databases that provide information from thousands (I’m being very conservative here) of different publishers.  What’s more, these libraries often lend their books and articles to other libraries, thereby maximizing the ability of even small town centers to access works from around the world. Wouldn’t this be a great boon for the occult community?

Libraries are a great boon, but this does not mean that they do not come with their problems.  One of these is the greatest explosion of information that the world has ever seen, most of which comes with a price tag that’s often substantial.  At the same time, library budgets have not increased.   This ProQuest whitepaper from last year shows that four-fifths of the academic library respondents have reduced their purchasing power for monographs, either due to budget reductions or because their flat budgets give them less purchasing power.  And the United States is much better off than the UK, where libraries are being closed and staff being slashed in favor of volunteers, as part of an austerity-based governance philosophy.  Thus, as the amount of information rises, the ability to process and provide that information to the public shrinks.

Most of the cost associated with this is driven by large publishers interested in short-term payoffs to shareholders rather than providing information to the public.  This has led to an emphasis on books priced at a point where libraries are the intended purchasers.  I don’t know the publishing end, but my uninformed guess is that publisher marketing is one part detailed analysis, trend-watching, and number-crunching, and one part pawing through goat entrails in the woods on a dark night.

Thus, you end up with a situation where publishers decide they’re going to sell to libraries, but libraries are buying less.  Thus, they need to drive up the prices to meet the new margins, which makes the books more expensive, while libraries are buying less… The net effect is to lower the number of books that can be purchased, at a time when more books than ever are appearing.  This situation is likely to become more messy as the years go by, and the end result may not be beneficial to scholarship.

What about interlibrary loan?  This does do a great deal to mitigate this situation, but it only helps so much. All of the lending libraries are under the same financial constraints as the others, which often means that books have to be borrowed from farther away, with increases in shipping and time.  Libraries are often unwilling to lend newly-released books they’ve purchased for their own patrons, and some charge fees or place other restrictions on the service.  Further, I’m just discussing U. S. libraries here – I get the impression that ILL services are fairly good in Europe, and I’m not sure about the rest of the world.

Having set the stage, let’s turn to books on the occult.  We face special challenges here. First, libraries typically seek purchases in particular fields that meet the needs of their patrons.  In academic libraries, these are largely based upon the traditional divisions of the disciplines.  Items that do not fit neatly within these divisions, such as esoteric books, may not be purchased simply because it doesn’t fit the model.

Also, occult books bring with them a set of preconceived notions about the topics within that affects their treatment.  I would love to believe that librarians would not exclude such books simply because of their subject matter – and I believe the vast majority would not do so – but some would.  On the other hand, we also have communities in which such books are looked upon with suspicion, and where patrons might be less likely to ask for them – or to steal them to avoid the judgment of anyone.  The theft of occult books from libraries would make for a fascinating study, but anecdotal evidence indicates it’s a real problem for many libraries. And even the impression that it’s a problem might cause librarians to divert their funds elsewhere.

Also, let’s not forget that many occult works these days are being released by small presses, outside the regular distribution chains.  If you were able to buy a book from Amazon, or a similar one from a small press that required a special invoice and that required you to check to make sure you’d received the item after payment, which one would you choose?  Most of us would choose the former – and that’s a risk we’d be taking with our own funds, let alone those of an employer.  Thus, a great number of the books released these days on occultism are not likely to be purchased by a library anywhere.

This brings us to purchasers and collectors, who will be the topic of my next post.

 

Published in: on April 28, 2017 at 6:29 pm  Comments (2)  

The Price of Occult Books, Part 2

In our first part, I looked at some factors that I think may drive up the price of the book in justifiable manners.  On the other hand, there are some practices that I think are less excusable, and I’d like to talk about them here.

When thinking about this post, however, I realized that an emphasis on small presses might seem unfair.  Fortunately, the large ones provide much better examples.  Let’s take a look at a few, which I’ve picked largely because they’re free of the potential cost-increasing factors mentioned in the first part.

Let’s take the Cambridge History of Magic and Witchcraft in the West.  This is the best historical summary of the course of Western magic that I have ever read.  The authors of the chapters are top-notch, it uses appropriate but sparse black and white illustrations, and it’s a hardback without any fancy binding.

It’s also $165 retail, which I consider to be completely unacceptable.  Even the Kindle edition is over $100.  This is well over the amount I want to invest in a non-primary text, and I only own it due to the generosity of my parents at Christmas.  (It fell out of a broken bag into a drift of dirty snow a few days later, of course.)  It’s a shame that such a useful, informative, educational work should be so expensive that only collectors and larger libraries can possibly purchase it.

Then we have Brill.  Oh, what can we say about Brill?  We have this great edition of Agrippa’s De Occulta Philosophia in the original Latin, with footnotes covering the influences, an in-depth introduction, and other goodies.  This is $150 – although I suppose you have to make up the losses in sale for publishing a book in Latin somehow.  Past offerings have sometimes been over $200.

If you scroll through their catalog online running a search on “magic,” you’ll see – hey, some of these prices have dropped considerably.  Sure, if you want the Corpus of Mesopotamian Anti-Witchcraft Rituals, there’s a substantial cost, and I’m sure many readers will still find a $60 paperback outrageous, but it appears they’ve slashed their prices effectively in half from some of those I’ve seen in the past and included a paperback edition here or there.  So, slight kudos there.

I was also going to cite the Ashgate Research Companion to Medieval Magic, another work from reputable scholars in the field at a price point around $150, if I remember correctly.  It appears that the book has been transferred to Routledge, so we’ll have to keep an eye on it.  We should bear in mind, however, that the Ashgate Research Companion to Nineteenth-Century Spiritualism and the Occult is now available only as an $120 ebook – and, for the record, contains very little about the “occult.”

This leads us to another exacerbating factor – large publishers’ use of buzzwords in titles to drive sales.  Small presses, in my experience, are very up front in their descriptions of their works. If they say that a work is an exploration of some “current,” for example, I know I can safely ignore it.  (That’s my preference, and yours may differ.)  If an academic book has “magic” or “occult” in the title, it might be a work dealing with those topics exclusively, or someone might have thrown in a chapter on those topics at the last minute so they could make it more salable.  Thus, not only are you buying an expensive book, it could be a practically useless one.

My most expensive purchase in this regard was Karl Bell’s The Magical Imagination: Magic and Modernity in Urban England, 1780-1914.  Given that I regularly write about nineteenth-century magicians such as George Graham and Frederick Hockley, I thought it might be a good purchase.  What did not find, however, was the index online, which I believe has been posted since the book appeared.  If you scroll down to the entries on “magic,” you can see why I was disappointed – and out over $100.

I’m sure that many readers will have thought by now, “But these books are priced for library purchase, not for private individuals!” Next time, I’ll deal with that question, while also turning the focus back to smaller presses.

 

 

Published in: on April 23, 2017 at 3:14 pm  Comments (4)  

John Harries’ Book of Incantations

I’m trying something to see if it works out: embedding a manuscript from the Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, or National Library of Wales.  The work is the notebook of John Harries (c. 1785-1839), a cunning man of Cwrty-Cadno, Carmarthenshire.

Most of the book consists of materials taken from elsewhere, but the first treatise is a handwritten version of the Goetia which seems to include some seals not present elsewhere.  I offer it for your appreciation – just don’t ask me to pronounce any of the Welsh words above.

https://viewer.library.wales/build/lib/embed.js/* wordpress fix */

Update: No luck with the embed, so just try this link.

Published in: on January 9, 2017 at 1:07 pm  Comments (2)  

My English/Cornish Adventure, Part 2

On the second day of my trip, I went to the railroad station in Truro and picked up a nice little blue Audi and drove off.

US people often wonder whether driving on the left in the UK is difficult.  I didn’t think so.  Of course, if you’re tooling around country roads between Cornish hedges, there’s often little or no difference between the left and right sides of the road.  It turns out that my chief problem was believing all the speed limit signs were in kilometers and not miles.  I think this was highly annoying to people on the highway, but once I got off the main roads, it wasn’t bad.  There seems to be a reluctance to tool about in Cornwall, some of which is cultural and some the price of gas, so no one was following me for long enough to be bothered.

I decided to do a northeast coast run on my first day, so my first stop was Tintagel, the medieval fortress and supposed location where King Arthur was conceived.  It’s an impressive site, especially if you’re up for a scramble or two up and down the sides of hills.  There’s not much left of the castle at all, but the views more than make up for it:

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Here’s a shot after climbing the cliff into the castle proper:

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You can’t see Merlin’s Cave, the tunnel that runs through the head of the peninsula, save at low tide.  I hadn’t checked the tides beforehand, but I managed to luck out.

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I didn’t cover the whole site, because I had a more important goal:  the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic at Boscastle, where I wanted to view a few books in their small but excellent library.  In particular, I wanted to view their photocopy of Lenciewicz’s manuscript that we published in Oberon, to see if the earlier reproduction was in better shape.  (It wasn’t, but I did get a reading or two out of it.)  The staff was quite helpful in getting me set up and helping to guide me around the collection (Dewey system, for any curious librarians), as was Tom the Dalmatian.  After that, I partook of the museum collection, of which I’d heard a great deal over the years.

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A shelf of magical ingredients!

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A reconstructed cunning woman’s hut.

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Is this Austin Osman Spare’s scrying crystal?

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Here I am, massive-humidity hair and all, with the museum’s famous goat mask.

At the museum’s small gift shop, I stopped to pick up a few books, most notably Mark Norman’s Black Dog Folklore and Cassandra Latham-Jones’ Village Witch.

…and now I’ve realized this post is far too long without getting into the rest of the day, so I’ll cut it off here.

 

Published in: on August 8, 2016 at 12:40 pm  Comments (2)  

Spirits in the Library – Lilith

queen of the nightFor the next contestant in our series, let’s look at Lilith.

Lilith first comes to our attention in Sumerian times, where she appears as a hostile spirit known as “Lilu.”  Biblical texts are often ambiguous about her, but the oral tradition of Judaism establishes her as the first wife of Adam and develops her character as a night-spirit who kills infants due to her own lack of children.  Lilith shows up rarely in grimoire, but she has since been largely rehabilitated in contemporary literature.

(Note: I’ve included a picture here of the “Queen of the Night” stela at the British Library, even though there’s little scholarly support today for the figure depicted being Lilith herself.)

Bane – A two-part entry, dividing a two page entry for “Lilith” from a short one of “Lilith the Lesser.”  It deals with the Mesopotamian and Judaic lore in some length, as well as an impressive list of alternative names for her.  Bibliography includes a number of good sources on the topic.

Belanger – Oh, this is nice.  A column and a half on Sumerian and Babylonian mythology, a little less on the Jewish folklore than I’d expected, and a bonus mention of the Munich Handbook.

de Plancy – Now, this is weird.  Just a short paragraph, covering her mythology as an attacker of infants, and her presence in Wierus and other works.  There’s a great deal more that could have been said here, even given that some of the Mesopotamian material was not available to them.

Gettings – Rather surprising here, this entry includes not only the material and other sources, but also “Gnostic and Rosicrucian medieval traditions,” which sounds a bit dubious, as well as fictional appearances.  It also has a depiction of Lilith as a demon from a Hebrew amulet.

Guiley – This is quite the good entry – over two whole columns, dealing with various religious and magical sources.  She could have probably pushed back to Sumerian mythology a little harder, and one set of statements about Lilith appearing in other belief systems – including Mexican and Native American – is highly suspect.

Lurker – A brief paragraph covering her appearances in the Old Testament, the Talmud, and Babylonian belief.

Mack – A four-page section, which deals with a broad range of folklore from Pagan, Jewish, and Christian sources, including a strange tale about Solomon using a mirror to unmask her.

That should do it.  Next time, my summary and recommendations.

 

Published in: on September 2, 2015 at 9:22 pm  Comments (1)  

Spirits in the Library – Mephistopheles

For our fourth installment in our series (for the first three, see here), we’ll be looking at Mephistopheles.

Mephistopheles FaustMephistopheles is an unusual demon, insofar as his first appearance was in works of fiction based upon the life of the magician Georgius Sabellicus Faustus.  When grimoires began to be attributed to Faust, Mephistopheles followed along as one of the spirits with which magicians could make conduct and work.   At the same time, he’s accumulated an impressive list of appearances in the various incarnations of the Faust legend across many types of media.

Most of the books we discussed had entries on Mephistopheles, with the only exception being Mack.

Bane – Notes the fictional origins of the prince of demons, as well as his later inclusion into grimoires.  Oddly enough, then claims that certain aspects turn up in “medieval literature” (which would have predated its appearance).  A nice bibliography, as it mentions Butler’s Ritual Magic.

Belanger – This draws upon both the fictional and grimoire traditions, and is likely the most lucid of the entries.  It would have been nice to see it branch out into the figure’s uses in more than simply the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, however.

Davidson – A nice paragraph, listing both fictional and grimoire appearances, though not quite systematically.

de Plancy – Nothing more than a brief and purple description of the horrible effects he has on humans, followed with a reference to the Faust entry.

Gettings – One paragraph referring entirely to the fictional sources, with no mention of the grimoires.

Guiley – This entry covers both Mephistopheles in Faust and in the grimoires, moving back and forth between the two for reasons I have yet to determine.  Nonetheless, it does touch on both the fiction and the magic.

Lurker – A short paragraph, with a misleading statement that it was “the name of the devil in the literature of necromancy and magic in the late Middle Ages.”

On this one, I felt Bane did the best, followed by Belanger and Guiley.

Who’ll be next?  We’ll find out in a week!

 

Published in: on July 21, 2015 at 4:23 pm  Comments (4)  

Spirits in the Library – Baron

Last time in our Spirits in the Library series, we looked at various demonic dictionaries’ entries on Asmodeus.  This time, we present another such spirit – Baron.

Baron, Folger V.b.26.  Property of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Baron, Folger V.b.26. Property of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Baron’s a curious one, who floats around the edges of the grimoire tradition.  His most famous mentions come from the transcripts of the trial of Gilles de Rais, which describe him being offered human remains as what seems to have been a spontaneous “hey, why not?” gesture on the part of the (human) baron as part of his magical rituals.  Baron also shows up in the Book of Oberon, as well as a smattering of other sources around the edges.  I’ve selected him due to his status as an infamous but little-appearing spirit, which might test the thoroughness of the sources.

Having checked my sources, it seems I might have done far too well with this one.  The vast majority of our reference works have no mention of him whatsoever, even after I searched for variant spellings and for Gilles himself.  The only one who deals with him at all was de Plancy, who only gives a brief paragraph.

This one was a huge surprise.  Given the variety of selections, I was prepared for at least some of them to be missing Baron, but not for his near-complete absence.   He does receive attention in de Plancy (who I assume all these authors are examining) and Butler’s Ritual Magic, so he’s not completely out of left field.  I think some more examples might help us decide how all of them stack up.

Published in: on June 22, 2015 at 3:51 pm  Comments (4)  

A New England Sojourn

I spent part of last week in New England, with Donovan K. Loucks, keeper of the H. P. Lovecraft Website, and his lovely wife Pam.  I arrived on Tuesday, driving up to Providence after work and ending up quite exhausted.

I wasn’t too exhausted, however, to head into Cambridge to visit the Harvard University Archives, trying to obtain some background that might be useful for future projects dealing with the Widener Library.  My carefully-copied archive number turned out to be illusory, but the staff were very helpful in figuring out what documents might be most relevant for my search – although they’d have to be called the next day.  That was fine with me, and I filled out the rest of the afternoon visiting the Boston Public Library to consult old directories to fill out my knowledge of the place in the Twenties.  After that, I returned to Providence to attend Donovan’s birthday party for H. P. Lovecraft, complete with a one-man retelling of “The Call of Cthulhu” by dramatist David Neilsen and Donovan’s own walking-while-sitting tour through Lovecraft’s Providence.  Also, there was cake.

Lovecraft Birthday Cake

The next day, I was back at the Archives, which I finished rather early.  Having learned the previous day of the outrageous parking rates in Cambridge, I realized it was in my best interest to hang out some more, visiting various bookstores and the Peabody Museum.  On my way out of town, I stopped out of curiosity at the Seven Stars bookstore, only to find perhaps the best store for books on the Western mystery traditions in this country.  I walked out with a few items to fill out my collection, including Kenneth Grant’s Outside the Circles of Time, which will give readers some idea of the place’s comprehensiveness.  I then returned to Providence, and my memory fails me as to what occurred that night.

Friday, we all headed out for the North Shore, in order to investigate the places that might have inspired Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth.”  We headed north and then worked our way south, beginning with a lengthy stopover in Newburyport, and then heading south through Ipswich, Rowley, Essex, Rockport, and Gloucester, with a lengthy detour at the latter to visit the rock formation, Mother Ann, which served as the inspiration for “The Strange High House in the Mist,” despite the lack of mist and the fact that it was neither high nor house-bearing:

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We made our way back, stopping in Manchester for groceries and a bookstore, and in Salem for Italian food and a nighttime ramble through the Charter Street Burial Ground and past the house that inspired “The Unnameable.”

Saturday, we had had enough of jetting about, so we played games for most of the day.  We couldn’t sort out A Study in Emerald in time, but we did play Elder Signs and quite a bit of Rock Band.  That evening, we headed downtown to visit the Providence Public Library’s Lovecraft Readathon, after which we headed over for Indian food at Waterfire, which was spectacular as always.

WaterFire Providence

After that, we came back to receive a crushing defeat in the game Witch of Salem, in which you must fight back the forces of darkness while assisting Bob, the Witch of Salem.  The game is much like Arkham Horror in that you’re trying to close gates, save that you are unable to communicate to the other players whether a gate exists at a location.  I speculated that the Witch of Salem was a drama queen who enforced our silence to enhance his own self-importance.

The next day, we played some Rock Band and I drove home.  It’s always great to see the Louckses, and this trip raised my number of “stories inspired by sites in Providence” by two, so it was all for the best.

Published in: on August 24, 2014 at 10:59 pm  Comments (2)  

Pulaski County Library in Jeopardy

I wanted to give a quick update on my childhood library, the Pulaski County Library.   For ten years, the main branch in Somerset, Kentucky, based in the old post office, was the place I gained a love for science fiction, horror, and the paranormal.   It was in its stacks that I was introduced to the works of H. P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Andre Norton, Basil Copper, Daniel Cohen, and many other wonderful authors.  In addition, its interlibrary loan service was the starting point for many of the sources used in The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia.

Now that library, and its sister systems, are in trouble.  They just built a new building, and some people on the fiscal court decided that they didn’t like that the taxes set by the library board had been increased.  When I say “increased,” I mean that someone with a $100,000 property had to pay $4 more than they did three years ago.  So, the fiscal court took the step of circulating a petition to dissolve the library board that sets the tax, because we wouldn’t want to overreact, right?

Ah, but the state of Kentucky says that if you shut down the library board, you shut down the library.  And the workers are all laid off.  And everyone has to keep paying the taxes to pay off the debt for the new building.  And you can’t open another library until all the debts are paid.   Which will be several years, at least.

These minor caveats seem not to have been mentioned in the petition.

You can find out more about this whole mess here.  To be clear, the opposition position can be summed up as, “Um, we didn’t know we’d shut down the library, but the process demands we do it anyway.  Also, oversight?”

So it’s not really clear what the solution to this mess is, aside from mine, which involves a cross-country roadtrip, the location of the signed petitions, and a can of gasoline.  If you care about libraries, please let people know what’s going on, so that news will reach someone with knowledge of Kentucky petition law or a personal army.

Published in: on November 10, 2012 at 9:16 am  Comments (1)